Forty percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and only 8 percent achieve them. Training leaders should take note of this abysmal statistic, because it reflects something critical about the difficulty of achieving lasting behavior change: In short, it’s hard.
Unfortunately, most sales training ignores this basic human reality. We throw salespeople and other employees into one- or two-day training programs and then expect them to implement all that new material without systematic support. This approach rarely delivers lasting results, yet we keep trying it.
Top sales organizations recognize the inherent difficulty of driving behavior change and use psychology to their advantage to win adoption from their sales teams. Here are five ways they do it.
1. Identify the Right Behaviors First.
Many organizations drop their salespeople into training programs without first asking whether it’s the right training for them or ask them to invest in new activities without first measuring whether those activities actually move the needle.
For example, consider arbitrary rules like, “Make this many cold calls per day.” While, theoretically, more cold calls should result in more sales, that’s not always the case, nor is it always the best use of a salesperson’s limited time. Top organizations invest in measuring sales behaviors to identify the ones that make the most difference and focus on driving those behaviors.
2. Connect the Behavior With the Salesperson’s Goals.
From the 1930s through the 1950s, it was believed that smoking was good for health, or at least neutral. Nearly everyone smoked, partly because it felt good and partly because they saw no reason not to. It was only when people realized how damaging it was that they began to give it up. That’s because change is hard, and the human brain doesn’t like to do hard things unless it understands why.
When it comes to sales behaviors, you can’t expect salespeople to change if what they’re currently doing feels good and they don’t see the point of changing it. To combat this inertia, find out what motivates each salesperson, and align the desired behavior change with those goals. For example, ask salespeople to record information in a CRM without giving them a reason to do it, and they’re unlikely to comply. But if you understand that they want to win more deals, and you demonstrate how using the checklists and other tools embedded in the CRM will help them do that, you’ll have better results.
3. Embed New Behaviors Into Existing Routines.
Experts in weight loss and exercise encourage people to work their new behaviors into their existing daily routine. For instance, instead of spending an hour at the gym every morning, you might exercise at your desk during your breaks or do pushups during the commercials of your favorite TV show.
This kind of behavior change is easier to maintain and more likely to succeed than changes that require a new routine. Desired behaviors can usually fit into a salesperson’s daily workflow. For instance, if the new behavior you want is for salespeople to share a specific piece of content at a specific point in the sales process, you can embed that content into the CRM system they’re already using and provide a notification using the same system. By putting it directly inside their workflow, you make it easy to embrace the new behavior.
4. Reinforce and Create Accountability.
People who are serious about their fitness goals hire personal trainers. A study from the National Institutes of Health indicates that about 73 percent of people who do so improve their fitness. The reason it’s so effective is that a coach reinforces behavior change and creates accountability.
Sales teams that are serious about performance improvement must invest similarly in reinforcement and accountability. Top performers develop systems that consistently reinforce new behaviors and hold salespeople accountable to them. Such a system includes effective coaching as well as reminders inside the salesperson’s workflow of the correct behaviors at the correct times.
5. View Change as a Process, not an End.
One of the leading causes of behavior change failure is frustration. If you’ve ever heard someone sigh that he or she has “fallen off the wagon” and isn’t even going to try anymore, then you’ve seen this frustration in action. Help salespeople see behavior change as a process rather than an end game to avoid the frustration that comes with inevitable mistakes and backtracking. Set reasonable “stretch” goals to avoid the de-motivating effect of unachievable goals, and provide ongoing support to ensure every salesperson understands that there is always more to learn.
Effective training works with human nature instead of against it, to deliver lasting results.