Successful (Sales) People Develop Great Habits
We all have hundreds of habits. Good, bad and indifferent.
Habits are rituals which result in reward and satisfaction.
Some habits are noticeable, some not — putting the kettle on in the morning to enjoy a simple brew or checking social media for a shot of validation in the world.
I have just finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. As almost a ‘sequel’ to Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, the author goes a step further in applying the science of Duhigg’s research to help deconstruct our worst habits and also find ways to form new better ones.
Clear doesn’t just point out the habits though, he provides tips to start questioning your habits and thinking about how you can really take action to develop new ones.
Habits are formed when we experience a satisfying outcome from a regular action.
After completing the habit a few times our bodies get used to the process:
See a CUE => TRIGGER an action => get a REWARD => Feel SATISFIED.
After enough repetition, we can even anticipate the reward and our bodies feel the satisfaction — without the reward!
Therefore, habits can be very powerful for motivation in our jobs.
Great Salespeople Develop Great Habits
Boosting motivation to overachieve your goals is normal for any successful professional.
However, reflecting over the last few weeks, habit forming is crucially important for sales success — and needs to be part of the day-to-day operating rhythm.
I have been working with a couple of start-ups that have early-stage sales teams, and the number one piece of advice I keep coming back to is the importance of Pipeline Generation to drive growth.
Pipeline Generation needs to be an ongoing activity, it needs to be relentless in terms of actions and in terms of quality.
Pipeline Generation in any business can solve ‘all ills’.
With a choice of good quality business to close, no ‘unnatural acts’ need to be performed to close business.
Unnatural acts = short term success which compromises long term business.
From a customer perspective — removing the unnatural acts of a sales cycle — means that the customer will buy what they need, rather than what someone needs to sell them.
A better deal, better value for money and more relevant to their needs.
From the vendor perspective, choice in the pipeline means that heavy discounting disappears, pressure is taken out of the pressure cooker, better quality business and typically more profitable.
To achieve choice though, as I’ve mentioned, Pipeline Generation must become habitual.
Pipeline Generation as a Habit
Firstly, Pipeline Generation must become a regular activity.
Not a one-off.
This is difficult for most organisations and individuals to get their heads around.
Pipeline Generation in businesses is usually ‘an event’. Pipeline Generation ‘days’.
Office Mondays. Weekly activities. Or a few days a month.
We exaggerate the task and it becomes daunting for everyone. A one-off cannot become habitual as the event lacks regular repetition and rewards to drive motivation.
‘No reward from Pipeline Generation? Of course, there are rewards??’
Of course, Pipeline Generation has rewards — but the gratification is delayed.
Reading Atomic Habits, Clear talks about the reason why we eat junk food, smoke, and drink caffeine; for the instant hit. Our bodies were developed on the savannah where the trigger of action (the habit) results in food (the reward) and ultimately quick satisfaction.
Unfortunately, this is why we often develop bad habits over good habits. Bad habits generally deliver a quick-short-term reward.
Think of the satisfaction on our taste buds of eating chocolate vs losing some weight and dieting for days.
The Ugliest Frog to Eat — Where is the Reward?
Humans need rewards to sustain motivation. Even with the smallest reward — they are on the right track.
But the nature of Pipeline Generation is soul-destroying. The task itself coupled with the lack of immediate rewards doesn’t make it something we jump to start, let alone want to commit long periods of time too.
Just think about it….
Spending a whole day on Pipeline Generation?
At your desk? (Think salespeople are mostly extroverts and like to chat).
Sending out letters, emails, InMail, making calls?
How many times do you hear No vs a Yes? Or hear nothing back at all?
It’s not making the idea of the action very attractive is it?
Brian Tracy talks in ‘Eat that Frog’ about our ability to procrastinate and put off the hardest, most important task until we really HAVE TO DO IT.
For salespeople, the ugliest, warty-est frog is Pipeline Generation!
Fancy EATING THAT FROG for breakfast, dinner and tea, every week or once a month?
Rethinking Rewards for Pipeline Generation
All companies experience a Pipeline Generation activity. Let’s face it, we have all been there.
And our response to any Pipeline Generation crisis?
We schedule a BIG PIPELINE GENERATION DAY (mountain to climb),
Which we schedule in the office (this is distracting),
With some prizes for activities and outcomes (short-term rewards).
[For anyone who has ever worked for me — yes — I know I did this too — 😄]
And did we get the results from that day?
Whilst perhaps we saw a spike in pipeline, this may only have been attributed to the incentives and prizes and not a real reflection of motivation.
Gallup did a study- published in HBR which states that employees are rarely motivated (and certainly never long term) by financial incentives. Demonstrable and consistent progress coupled with appreciation and recognition is more of a motivator.
Employees are motivated by increments of appreciation and progress.
Great news — if employees need more consistency, results and appreciation and companies need Pipeline Generation to be a constant action — surely this is good for everyone?
Rethinking the Art of Pipeline Generation
So how can we achieve this?
I once managed an amazing sales guy who was a consistent overachiever.
The secret to his success, on reflection, was his habitual Pipeline Generation activities.
Bob planned his Pipeline Generation activities every Friday.
For Bob, there was no big task or mountain to climb because only a check and balance where needed.
That’s because Bob was thinking about Pipeline Generation EVERY DAY.
Habitually, Bob scheduled 8–10am every morning to email, call, follow up, develop and track his pipeline.
At 7.45 he would be at his desk (usually at home).
8am he would begin to start his activity, already planned out, just needing to execute.
Then he would go off for a coffee.
Whilst reading Atomic Habits, Bob’s habits practice came flooding back to me.
Not only had Bob created a regular habit — SAME TASK, SAME TIME, EVERY WORKDAY — Bob had also created a ‘reward’ at the end of the task to get a ‘hit’.
Bob’s CUE was sitting at his desk.
The Trigger / Action was the activity.
His Reward was the coffee.
Pipeline was abundant and even when Bob had too many deals, he didn’t stop. His deals just got bigger and the choice was better. (Many benefited from his excess pipe — btw!)
Habit Stacking to Eat Other Frogs
So, Bob got his hit — from his Pipeline Generation activities — could he have then built on that to build further momentum?
Clear also covers how ‘habit stacking’. Using the momentum of satisfaction from a habit to push you through a second barrier. Get bigger outcomes from one initial cue?
Employee well-being would be a great beneficiary of this momentum.
Perhaps you habit stack the Pipeline Generation with going to the Gym. [Another ugly frog]
Pipeline Generate 8–10 am then head to the Gym then grab a healthy brunch?
Ugly frogs eaten, body looked after, now you can take on THE WORLD!
Seriously though, Clear talks about habit stacking as a great way to achieve more by harnessing this momentum. Gratification will increase with multiple successes and rewards received. Let alone the boost in mental well-being.
Habitualise Quality Too
Back to Pipeline — if we can solve the creation of Pipeline and help employees with ideas to snowball momentum — but how do we ensure quality of Pipeline — which is another challenge in most companies?
Easy — habitualise quality too?
Great Pipeline Generation though isn’t just about stuffing the pipe and finding that initial opportunity.
Going back to Bob, Bob found a way to create patterns for qualifying Pipeline — ensuring deals developed according to plan.
Bob used MEDDIC, but any sales qualification technique of choice would have sufficed. Bob just ensured that he thought about his deals, in the same way, every time.
- Why do customers buy?
- How do customers buy?
- What process so they follow?
- What works, what doesn’t and therefore, the actions he needed to take.
Bob would have templates for each stage of the process (perhaps overkill) — but it secured pipeline predictability as a direct outcome of his habitual actions.
Actions such as — sending the same agendas, asking the same questions, delivering the same information back to the client.
Built up over time, the process seemed mechanical then — but now I see — it was habitual — which guaranteed the results.
Observe / Create Your Own Habits
I am not suggesting we all become Bob — but between Bob, James Clear and Brian Tracy — there are definitely some lessons.
Procrastination of unattractive tasks is very easy for all of us.
Well-being, whilst a priority, is easy to avoid.
To be successful, we have to walk the hard yards and look after ourselves.
As leaders, it’s worth considering the ugliest frogs we ask our employees to eat.
Let’s make them smaller, more manageable. Perhaps asking them snack on PG instead of force-feeding the feast!
The Cheat for Habit Forming
James Clear does offer a cheat to forming new habits if you commit yourself to something, be specific about the when, where, and what — then tell someone.
Committing to something every day (like Pipeline Generation) and telling 1–2 people (perhaps your other half and a peer) — your commitment to the task will increase dramatically.
Humans are funny like that. Self-commitments are easy to bail on. However, we care about what others think and don’t want to lose face. One of the best motivators of all!
So, maybe suggesting to employees — if you don’t trust yourself initially — CHEAT — use others to keep us honest is another way to start reforming our habits.
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