How Responsible Can We Be in Sales? Taking Charge of Your Career – and Your Success

If you’ve ever doubted how responsible we are for what’s happening
in our personal and work lives – and how much power we have to change
the things we don’t like – then remember this:

We train and condition our customers to treat us the way we
want to be treated.

At a recent Engage Seminar, Maria, a public relations consultant,
took issue with this idea. She explained that her husband, Raymond,
was building a shed in their backyard when, for no apparent reason,
he suddenly decided to just stop.

Maria said that she repeatedly complained that it was an eyesore,
asked Raymond to finish the project, and even eventually gave him
a deadline to do it. When the deadline came and went, Maria first
yelled at her husband, and then gave him a new deadline.

When Raymond ignored that deadline, too, Maria was even more incensed,
going so far as to demand that he get it done. She gave him another,
final deadline, which he also promptly ignored.

Maria’s conclusion was that it was clearly impossible to train and
condition someone to do what you want them to. My response was that
Maria had, in fact, trained and conditioned her husband with great
success. The problem was, she had trained and conditioned him to believe
that her word meant nothing.

Recognize the real messages you send
Of course, Maria hadn’t intended to condition this response. But in
the course of my career, I’ve seen countless companies and salespeople
make this exact same mistake with their prospects and customers.

Take sales and discounts as an example. How often do you hold true
to your word when you offer a limited-time discount?

Many salespeople offer their customers special discounts if they’ll
place an order before the month-end. They threaten their customers
with statements like:

I can only offer you this discount if you buy before April 30th.
After that, it’s back to full price!

But the truth is, if the customer calls on May 5th with a nice, big
order and wants the discounted price, nine out of ten companies will
give it to them. What they don’t realize is that, by going back on
their word regarding the time limit, they’re also training their customers
to expect that they’re always going to sell at the lower price, and
that those "limited time offers" are available any time
they ask.

The fact of the matter is, we all train the people around us how
to relate to us all the time, whether we like it or not. But if, like
Maria, we fail to recognize the messages we’re sending through our
actions or inactions, we will often find ourselves faced with responses
we hadn’t expected – and probably didn’t want.

Silence is consent
The best way to counter these mixed messages in sales, is to never
say anything you don’t mean, or don’t plan to carry out.

If you say a report is due by 3 p.m. and your rep turns it in at
5 p.m., and you don’t say anything about it, then you’ve trained this
person that your deadlines aren’t real, and you don’t really mean
what you say.

In fact, silence can be one of the most powerful ways we train others
to respond to us with undesirable behaviors. This was precisely the
problem that John, a banker who attended one of our seminars, was
having at his branch.

Whenever his employees did something he didn’t like, John made a
point of not saying anything, hoping this silent treatment would let
them know how he felt about it. Unfortunately for John, his silence
instead had the opposite effect, as his employees kept repeating the
undesirable behavior.

This cause-effect relationship is just as true with customers as
it is with employees.

If a customer yells at you and you say nothing, you’ve just told
them that it’s perfectly all right for them to treat you this way.
And believe me, they will begin to repeat that behavior with increasing

Customers generally interpret silence as agreement, even if the intention
was just the opposite. That’s why so many people who hate conflict
and avoid addressing troublesome issues often end up creating major
conflicts anyway. If we say something is "no big deal" when
in fact it is a big deal, the result is that we train ourselves
as well as others to deny the truth.

Mean what you say, and say what you mean
Meetings are another great example of the power of our actions to
condition those around us.

Laurie, a government sales rep for a major software company, was
responsible for overseeing the implementation of a new software system
at her client’s site. This project required weekly meetings, which
would only be effective if the entire project team from both the client
and her own company attended.

At almost every meeting, someone showed up late. At first, Laurie
accommodated this problem by waiting to start the meeting until everyone
had arrived. This put a serious strain on both productivity and client
relations. Even more importantly, it trained the other attendees to
expect that Laurie’s meetings would always start late, prompting more
and more of them to show up behind schedule.

Here’s how Laurie was able to solve this problem. First, she told
her customer that she was responsible for the meetings always starting
late. Second, she promised that, in the future, the meetings would
always start on time, regardless of who was or wasn’t there. Third,
she kept her word, starting all meetings at the exact designated time
even if hardly anyone was present, and continuing through the agenda
without any backtracking for those who came late.

When the late arrivals requested a review of the information they’d
missed, Laurie politely refused, and simply continued on with the
agenda as scheduled. In other words, she retrained them to believe
that the meetings would start on time – and that she meant what she

Sure enough, it took only a handful of meetings before everyone began
showing up on time.

So the next time you find yourself faced with responses that strike
you as either surprising or unreasonable, ask yourself: How are you
training your colleagues and customers to deal with you?

By realizing how much we train and condition other people how to
deal with us, we can gain control of difficult situations, and regain
control of our careers – and our success.