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Sales and Communications: 16 Bad Habits You Can Change

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Sales and Communications

Creating a positive experience for customers is every employee’s job, including those who work outside the sales department.

Unfortunately, training often overlooks key interpersonal skills for influencing others. Workers at all levels fail to understand that:

  • Customer expectations for the sales experience have increased.
  • Customers enjoy a broader, more competitive selection of products and services.
  • There is often misalignment between sales and service.
  • Customers define value both rationally and emotionally, yet less than 25 percent of salespeople are deemed proficient in core selling competencies.

Functional vs. Human Factors

“There are two sides to your job: functional and human,” write Marshall Goldsmith, Don Brown and Bill Hawkins in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There in Sales! (McGraw-Hill, 2011).

The functional arena of your job involves mastery of a product or service, including features, benefits, advantages, and proof of what the company does. You must know procedures, policies, process and pricing. You also need to master the computers, software and data systems that run the business and measure results.

Most of this functional mastery happens without customer interaction. The human arena determines whether you win, keep or lose a customer. Companies turn over 10 percent of their customer base every year, on average. Replacing this 10 percent, as well as adding to it, is a constant challenge that requires employee talent.

Every interaction with customers represents an opportunity to provide necessary information and ensure a valuable investment. View yourself as an educator who supplies everything customers need to benefit from your business. To accomplish this, you must learn to surpass their expectations.

Connecting Through Empathy

Empathy allows us to understand others’ feelings, thoughts and experiences. Customers must sense that you care about their needs.

Studies show, however, that our sense of empathy is eroding. The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan has collected data for more than 30 years, and researchers have found that young adults are 40 percent less empathetic than their counterparts in 1979. The ability to empathize dropped steeply in 2000, and narcissism rates have skyrocketed.

Many experts speculate that these trends can be attributed to increases in Internet usage, texting, and cell-phone and computer ubiquity. Regardless of the cause, the solution lies in regaining empathy.

Destructive Sales Habits

Goldsmith, Brown and Hawkins identify 16 negative habits that severely damage a customer’s sales experience:

1.  Failure to be present: repeated and annoying displays of behavior that indicate we’d rather be somewhere else, “some when” else or with someone else

2.  Vocal filler: the overuse of unnecessary and meaningless verbal qualifiers

3.  Selling past the close: the irresistible urge to verbalize and execute every possible step in the sales process

4.  Selective hearing: the absence of listening in the presence of a customer

5.  Contact without purpose: repeated, deliberate communication for no valid business reason (other than wanting to sell something)

6.  Curb qualifying: the tendency to judge a prospect’s means and motive superficially, from a distance

7.  Using tension as a tool: also known as “sale ends Saturday”

8.  One-upping: the constant need to top your conversational partner in an effort to show the world just how smart you are

9.  Over familiarity: the use of inappropriately intimate gestures

10.  Withholding passion and energy: the tendency to forget that people make decisions on the basis of emotion and later justify them with logic

11. Explaining failure: behaving under the erroneous belief that simply assigning blame, fault or guilt is enough to satisfy the customer

12.  Never having to say you’re sorry: an inability to apologize or accept responsibility for personal or organizational errors/injuries

13. Throwing others under the bus: sacrificing a colleague—often anonymous, often vulnerable and usually innocent—to cover up a functional failure

14.  Propagandizing: overreliance on organizational rhetoric and themes

15. Wasting energy: taking part in organizational blame-storming and pity parties

16. Obsessing over the numbers: achieving revenue, profit or productivity targets at the expense of metrics of a higher calling

It’s never easy to create a new habit, but you can easily choose to stop a bad one. Here’s the secret: Don’t try to change everything at once. Use the rule of three, whereby you identify only three of your bad habits and commit to stop doing them.

Most bad sales habits indicate an excess or deficit in either information or emotion. We usually share too much information or not enough emotion (or vice versa). This four-step action plan will help you neutralize bad habits:

1. Gather data. Notice the kinds of casual remarks others make about you. These comments contain key information that can help you improve your communications.

2. Find or develop a “mute button.” Allow seven seconds of silence to pass during your next conversation. You may find that this gap helps you listen more carefully instead of mentally working on your response. Also use this time to observe your conversation partner’s nonverbal communication.

3. Observe your own self-deception. Each of us denies certain behaviors to protect ourselves from discomfort. Identify what you can do—and stop doing—to achieve even greater success.

4. Work with a trusted peer, mentor or coach. Personal change rarely happens when we work in isolation. If it does occur, it’s usually harder to sustain. Studies show that sharing plans and following up with another person lead to long-term behavioral changes.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders to improve sales and communications? Enlightened leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Do I connect through empathy with customers to understand others’ feelings, thoughts and experiences?” Emotionally intelligent and sociallyintelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their peak performance leadership development and sales training programs.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help improve your sales and communications. You can become a leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist, executive coach and trusted advisor to senior leadership teams. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies and law firms assess, select, coach, and retain emotionally intelligent leaders. Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

For more information, please go to, write to, or call 415-546-1252.

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