Sales Performance Improvement – Habit Beats Knowledge Every Time
Sales Performance Improvement is the key driver for continuous sales improvement…better results, bigger results, faster.
If you’re in sales, sales management or running your own business then chances are you’ll be looking for ways to continually boost your sales performance. You’ll be looking for more customers, more profitable clients, in less time, bigger orders, larger average order values, higher conversions…
That’s business. It’s also human nature to ask…is this the best we can do? Can we do it better, easier, faster?
Plus, in sales, it’s a competitive environment. You’re forced to ask these questions. Your shareholders, competitors, stakeholders and bank will be asking you the same.
Here’s the truth about seeking continuous sales performance improvement:
”Once a certain level of skill, knowledge and competence is acquired, then driving Continuous Sales Performance Improvement has more to do with changing habits than increasing knowledge and skills”
You see, if you’ve been in a sales or sales leadership role for any time, you’ll most likely know everything there is to know and that you need to know…and your performance will reflect that.
That might be enough for you, your business, your clients.
But what about what you don’t know?
How important is that?
In his book –The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande strongly, and with good reason once you read his research, advocates the use of extensive check-lists to improve performance.
Sales Performance Improvement works the same way.
Gawande’s background is in medicine. Having piloted and then rolled out his check-list based methodology across many hospitals and medical facilities he details how a simple check-list has saved 100’s of thousands of lives. He proposes his way of working, the same methodology can be transferred to other industries – and I for one, strongly agree with him.
In truth, anything that saves that number of lives has to be worth a good look at. You’ll agree when you read his evidence. Simply put, if a humble check-list can save that many lives…what could the same do for your business, your sales performance and your sales results?
Worth a look?
So This Relates to Sales Performance Improvement How?
Here’s the premise:
No-one needs a check list for the simple stuff, where there are few variables, when the outcome is low risk, it’s a predictable action with a predictable outcome…
But check-lists have a distinct advantage in those situations where there is a higher level of complexity, more risk, a handful of variables and no guaranteed outcome.
This is the first and last time you’ll see me compare sales to heart surgery but there you go. You’ll see where I’m going with this…
In both, the risks are high, lots of complexity, variables, high levels of unpredictability, opportunity for errors and failure are all present.
So whilst we’re not talking about losing lives, we are risking something. Maybe losing margin, turnover, market share, customer confidence, shareholder confidence, brand value.
Digging deeper, Gawande makes the distinction between two types of error:
Ignorance – mistakes we make because we don’t know enough.
Ineptitude – mistakes we make because we don’t use the skills and knowledge we have in the right way.
He concludes that most errors happen because of the latter – ineptitude.
This suggests that the person actually knows all they need to know, they have all the skills they need to know.
Moreover, this ineptitude exists in simple and complex tasks.
Let me explain, the problems occur when old habits, entrenched ways of working. When the ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ mindsets overtake them. Or when the body is on auto pilot. Almost like conscious competence, but not quite as competent as one imagines.
That’s a perfect breeding ground for errors to take place. For example, the patient has complications or the sale derails. Simply because of lack of good habits, rather than lack of skills, knowledge or competence.
This is where the Sales Performance Improvement Check-list comes into it’s own.
It’s a check-list to use. A list to refer to when the sales process with a client is going off track. It’s literally a step by step guide in what to do to rescue it, bring it back on track, get it motoring in the right direction.
How simple is that?
Here’s an example:
In his book Gawande uses examples of Dr’s and medical staff not washing their hands as frequently as they should. Or as frequently as they thought they did.
Pay attention to that last statement. It’s very important because how many times do we think we’ve done something when actually we haven’t? Especially those repetitive tasks, the small tasks that matter but don’t really register at the time?
Gawande references the Dr’s failing to ask a simple question of the patient, or washing hands.
It’s the same in a sales environment, it could be remembering to ask the budget question early on, or finding out if this is a price comparison exercise or a genuine need with the client.
These are seemingly inconsequential questions at the time that have a HUGE impact on the quality of the sale and the chances of profitable conversion.
On a real life basis – if you’ve ever kept a food diary – you know that your ‘good food days’ were more like ‘ok food days’ and your ‘ok food days’ really should be called ‘oh hell! food days’! The power of the check-list in another format!
So, there’s no two ways about it when you’re thinking about sales performance improvement, or even better, continuous sales performance improvement then – Habit Beats Knowledge every time.
Summary: Sales Performance Improvement
Gawande concludes that having and rigorously using check-lists improves the chances of success and improves performance across the board.
My take away, is much bigger and more important than simply improving sales performance and here’s why.
Such a check-list based methodology actually changes habits. That is exciting because if you’re adopting this in your sales team, your business and your customer facing environment you’ve just created your baseline for continuous sales performance improvement.
One more thing:
If you’re putting this system in place, it dramatically changes the function of your sales manager…or Sales Performance Coach. Both functions now act as part auditor, part coach, part sales performance improvement specialist…which is how it should be…but more on that another day…
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