Things I Won’t Do this Week

By Heather Baldwin

Everyone has a list – usually a long list – of “To-Dos.” To help your reps put a stop to behaviors that are hindering their sales effectiveness, ask them to create a “To Don’t” list, suggests Christie Sterns, president of Training Makes Cents, Inc., and author of 425 Seriously Fun Ways to Enhance Learning and Make it Stick!

Here’s how: At your next sales meeting, divide your reps into equal groups. Give each group a flip chart and ask them to come up with as many “To-Don’ts” as they can. These “Don’ts” can be behaviors they need to stop or habits they don’t want to fall into because they’re unproductive. Afterward, review and compile all the suggestions onto a single sheet of paper. Ask your reps to choose one or two things from the list that they really need to improve and to come up with a plan for improving it.

Sterns has facilitated this exercise for numerous sales groups and says she sees some common “Don’ts” come up time and again. One of the biggies: Don’t Interrupt. “Listening is always a huge issue,” says Sterns. “Salespeople often meet with a customer and tell, tell, tell. It’s incredible how many reps don’t ask thoughtful questions and then sit and listen to the responses, even though they know they need to.”

Sterns’ observation touches on the reason this exercise is so effective: reps know what they should be doing, but old habits die hard. Often, what they know they need to do and what they actually do are two different things. A “To-Don’t” list shines a spotlight on habitual problem areas and nudges reps into taking active steps to fix those problems. For instance, on the issue of listening, solutions might include reading books on how to listen, reviewing an article or tips on good listening skills before each conversation with a customer, taking a seminar on the topic, and asking colleagues to speak up whenever the rep interrupts or otherwise fails to listen well.

What other issues are common among sales groups performing the “To-Don’t” exercise? Sterns says “Don’t Wing It” usually comes up. Reps who have been selling their product or service for a while often feel they’ve seen it all and can get through a sales conversation without a lot of prior preparation. It’s a recipe for disaster, warns Sterns. Customers today are so well informed that anything less than meticulous preparation for each unique customer will make you appear like just another rep looking to sell something rather than an intelligent, well researched advisor. “Don’t Fake It” is fairly common among reps who know they need to stop verbally dancing around when they don’t know the answer to a question. And “Don’t Forget to Follow Up” is often mentioned by reps who need to do a better job of tracking their promises to clients and following through on every one of them.

Again, these may sound like very basic issues, but that’s the whole point, says Sterns. They’re so basic that reps tend not to focus on them, thinking they already know what they should be doing. That attitude, in turn, leads to lapses in performance. Your reps’ “To Don’t” lists will get them back on track.