"The Navigator" News Blog

Old Habits Die Hard

Well, this missive is inspired by an injury, of all things.  But the article is good; read on.

One of the biggest impeders of selling success is the existence of pre-existing habits. Bad pre-existing habits, to be more precisely. Training, coaching, and troubleshooting techniques can fail – and fail badly – if old habits which conflict with new techniques and skills are not overcome.

I’ve learned a thing or two about habits in the last couple of days. See, two nights ago, I sliced the knuckle of my right index finger open on a grinder while working on one of my hobby projects. Some really loud and profane words were followed by a trip to the ER, where some very professional nurses and one doctor cleaned out the wound and stitched it up. These were the first stitches I’d received in my 42 years, if you’re wondering. But, the end of the process was taping my right index finger into a splint – which was a habit-changer in itself.

Some of the most basic things I do, things like carrying my keys and wallet in my right-hand pockets, suddenly became something between inconvenient and pretty darn painful. Breaking old – really old – habits has suddenly become essential as many things that I do (including typing this article) are darned near impossible with the splint. What is has done is reminded me of a basic 4-step process that I used to use years ago when I had to help salespeople break their habits.

Step One: Analyze the cost of the habit. In this case, “hurts like heck” is a good enough cost. Whether you’re looking at your own sales behaviors, or working with a salesperson to break their bad habits, the first thing you have to do is understand what the habit is costing the person. What is the impact on quality of sales calls? Is it impacting the quantity of calls performed? Remember – quality x quantity = results; if the bad habit is affecting funnel ratios or overall quality of activity, you can put a dollar figure to each instance of the bad habit. This should inject the urgency to fix it.

Step Two: Create an alternative behavior. Habits are formed and then reinforced because our minds can’t think of anything else to do in certain instances. That’s why it’s not enough to say, “stop doing that.” Instead, we must substitute a behavior. This is the reason that smokers, for instance, may chew gum or pop LifeSavers as part of their effort to quit. If I’d bought stock in LifeSavers when my Dad quit smoking, I’d definitely be more wealthy now; it wasn’t that he loved LifeSavers, it was that his fingers and mouth needed an alternative behavior.

In a selling situation, when we see our salespeople habitually doing something that harms their results, it’s not enough to say, “stop.” We must instead suggest an alternative technique that can substitute a positive habit for a negative one. Hopefully, the new technique is based upon solid knowledge of customer behavior.

Step Three: Create a reminder. The salesperson needs some signal or reminder that they are about to go down a wrong road. Sometimes a large note written at the top of a legal pad works. For me, I am consciously grabbing my keys and wallet with my left hand so as to remember to place them in my left pockets. I’ve had salespeople who needed to remind themselves to smile before teleprospecting that put a mirror in front of their desks. The reminder is probably going to need to be as individual as the habit.

Step Four: Reinforce the positive. In selling, the reinforcement is the positive reaction of the customer, or of the manager. In this case, fixing the habit is its own reward. In any habit-breaking effort, you are far better to reinforce the positive, however, than penalize the negative. Stay with it, stay consistent, and bad habits can and are broken.

For me, the reinforcement of breaking right-handed habits is less pain and less chance of popping my stitches; something of its own reward. I won’t say this has been a good experience, but it’s been a nice reminder of a successful old management technique. Hopefully you can use it to your benefit.