It’s the thing you always do because it worked before. Much like the delivery person whose route over the years has consisted of taking as many right turns as possible to save time, sales leaders have a tendency of relying on time-honoured habits in the execution of their work.
Be warned though: it’s a risky way of doing business and it can cost you plenty.
Take for instance the financial services client of mine who relied on a trusty cold-calling campaign to try and meet their sales numbers at the end of every quarter. Why did they keep doing this—taking that habitual right turn?
Because that’s what they always did.
And what worked in the past ought to work in the future, right?
What that client learned the hard way—earning a dangerously high, self-inflicted burnout rate, coupled with steadily dropping sales—was that their cold calling strategy was dead. That shift away from cold calling in the marketplace was years in the making. And yet they were acting surprised by this discovery. How did that happen? Because no one had stopped to ask: “does this thing we do still work?” Instead, they just kept making those right turns…even though all the rules of the road had changed.
Don’t cherry pick your facts.
One of the biggest errors I see in sales—and it’s one we are all prone to make—is we are selective with the facts we allow to inform our decision making. We insulate ourselves from the truth of our mistakes. This is what human behavior experts refer to as confirmation bias. The way to avoid that trap is to check your assumptions regularly and expose yourself to points of view that are different from the ones you hold. Especially those that are deeply held.
One of the most powerful benefits you get from hiring an outsider—whether it’s to lead the team, to get sellers from a different industry, or to engage a professional sales consultant or coach—is that you get an outsider’s perspective. Not only do they see the problems you are aware of, they see the underlying ones you’ve been missing. They are immune from the business-as-usual mindset that affects so many organizations. They are the ones who will be the first to see where you’re engaged in right-turn thinking and will challenge you on it. Recently a client of mine hired a new CRO from an industry that was outside of their business. After a month, he spotted serious flaws in their sales approach that—if left unchecked—would lead to a slow down. The previous managers weren’t bad managers. On the contrary, they were just moving and growing so fast that they didn’t have a chance to look up and see the potential roadblock. Only a fresh set of eyes asking “why” can help you with this.
Go inside, too.
Even if you don’t opt for outside training or coaching, you have a responsibility to yourself and to the people you work with to engage your critical thinking skills. Take time to re-evaluate your processes and methods. Whether it’s at the prospecting stage or closing stage, be willing to ask yourself:
- “Why do we do this?”
- What results are we getting?
- Are those results better or worse than the previous year?
- What do our clients want from us?
The trick to reconsidering your right-turn habits is to have an open mind and to not simply settle on the first ready-made answer that appears when solving a problem. In fact, the best clients I work with do this exercise on a regular basis. They pull together a cross-functional group of people who face customers every day. That can include people in sales, customer service, delivery, installation, AR, marketing and support. When trouble shooting a problem, they ask: “what are the pinch points our customer has when doing business with us?”
Be curious enough to ask those kinds of questions first, but also be scientific enough to dig into the data. That way you avoid the trap of repeating old behavior.
Always be reconsidering. Go looking. Do the digging. And be open to change. Do all of these things and you’ll put an end to right-turn habits once and for all.