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    Five steps to changing salesperson behaviors, according to psychology

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    Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or keep a New Year’s resolution knows first-hand how hard it can be to change a behavior. Despite good intentions, and entire industries dedicated to helping fix bad habits, many people continue to smoke, eat junk food, and fail to exercise.

    Lasting behavioral change is devilishly difficult.

    So why is it that we throw salespeople into sales training and then expect them to implement new habits and behaviors, and to stick with them over the long haul? We do this, and then we’re surprised when salespeople burn out or “rubber-band” back to previous behaviors.

    Instead, we should be focusing on how we can support lasting behavior change. Fortunately, psychologists and behavioral researchers have already done the work to show how to do it. Here are six steps, based in psychology, for achieving lasting behavioral change on your sales team.

    One: Connect the behavior with the goal

    Sales training goes to waste because companies do not invest in reinforcement and accountability.
    George Brontén

    Change doesn’t happen for no reason. For instance, in the 1930s through the 1950s, it was believed that smoking was good for health, or at least neutral. Nearly everyone smoked. It was only when people realized how damaging it was that people began to give it up.

    The same thing is true for sales behaviors. You can’t expect salespeople to change for no good reason, or even just for your reasons. Instead, you have to connect the desired behavior with their own goals. So, for instance, expecting them to record information in a CRM is futile if the only thing they get out of it is a meaningless-to-them report. If, on the other hand, you can establish that a new way of approaching customers or a new step in the sales process will improve their win rates, then you can give them a reason to want to change.

    Two: Identify the right behaviors

    This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’m constantly amazed at how many organizations ask their salespeople to do things that ultimately have very little impact on the bottom line. In other cases, the behavior change may have some impact on the bottom line, but not enough to justify the effort involved in developing the behavior change.

    A classic example is establishing an arbitrary rule such as “make so many cold calls per day.” It’s possible that more cold calls will yield higher performance, but is it the best use of the salesperson’s time, or are there other behaviors that would have a larger impact? To identify the right behaviors, you have to have a system in place that measures salesperson behaviors against results.

    Three: Align new behaviors with natural tendencies

    Experts in weight loss and healthy exercise habits 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 push-ups during the commercials of your favorite show.

    This kind of behavior change is easier to maintain and more likely to succeed. For sales teams, this means that new behaviors should fit into the salesperson’s daily workflow. For instance, if the new behavior you want is for the salesperson to share a specific piece of content at a specific point in the sales process, you can embed that content into the system they’re already using. By putting it directly inside their workflow, you make it easy to embrace the new behavior.

    Four: Reinforce and create accountability

    People who are serious about fitness goals hire personal trainers. Likewise, sales teams that are serious about performance improvement invest in coaching. Unfortunately, the majority of sales training goes to waste precisely because the company does not invest in reinforcement and accountability.

    To effect long-lasting behavior change, sales leaders must develop systems that consistently reinforce new behaviors and hold salespeople accountable to them. The right enablement system provides both built-in reinforcement and access to coaching, while providing managers with the insights they need to hold salespeople accountable.

    Five: 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 they’ve “fallen off the wagon” and so they aren’t even going to try anymore, then you’ve seen this in action. By helping salespeople see behavior change as a process rather than an end game, you can help them avoid the frustration that comes with inevitable mistakes and backtracking.

    In short, don’t just expect salespeople to adopt the behaviors you want them to adopt just because. Provide them with the motivation, tools, and support necessary to effect true behavior change, and higher performance will naturally follow.

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    George Brontén
    Published March 22, 2017
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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