The Activities Leading to Sales Success can be Habit-Forming – by Dr. Dawn Deeter-Schmelz

Currently I’m working on a research project with some colleagues; among other things, we are looking at how habits develop.  As I was reading through the research on this topic, I learned some interesting things that can apply directly to salespeople and sales managers.

Habits are Goal-Directed

According to researchers*, habits play a role in the achievement of desired goals. By definition, habits involve repetition of behavior; for a habit to be developed there must be some desired end-state that drives that behavior.

Satisfactory Experience = Habit

Research* has shown that individuals are more likely to engage in the same behavior, i.e., develop a habit, when the result of the behavior is satisfactory. Moreover, habit strength has been shown to increase when combined with repetitions of positive reinforcement.

What do these findings mean for salespeople and sales managers?

First, salespeople seeking to achieve a specific goal (e.g., quota) might evaluate their daily activities and identify those activities that lead to goal achievement.  Next, look at these activities closely; can some become a habit, so that you engage in the behaviors without much thought? Could such habits lead to improved performance? Larry Kendall,  Ninja Selling instructor and founding partner of The Group, Inc., suggests the answer is yes.  At a workshop I attended last summer in Fort Collins, Colorado, Larry proposed that realtors who develop very specific daily habits, such as writing personal notes, can reap volumes in performance.  Impressively, Larry has the results to back up his claims. When you understand the relationship between good sales habits and performance, and identify the habits that lead to sales success, your performance can sky-rocket.

Second, because a satisfactory result increases the chance that a habit will develop, sales managers can assist.  Training can help ensure that the salesperson will achieve the desired result. Good coaching from the manager can encourage repetition of these behaviors, and ensure that the salesperson is on track to achieve goals. Sales meetings can be used to share ideas about good sales habits.

Finally, sales managers might look at the reward systems in place at their firms. Does your compensation plan reward behaviors that will lead to good sales habits?  Or does it reward something else? I once heard of a firm that wanted to increase its customer satisfaction scores, and as such put into place a bonus system that reward a reduction in the manufacturing process time. The thinking was that customers would appreciate receiving the product more quickly. But as more employees tried to achieve bonus, the quality of the product began to suffer and customer satisfaction scores dropped. If you want to encourage good sales habits, consistently reward only those activities that lead to the results you seek.

The good news is that once you’ve developed a habit, you are less likely to devote time thinking about whether or not you should engage in that behavior.  According to Aarts, Verplanken and van Knippenberg (1998), when a behavior becomes a habit, it is guided by automatic cognitive processes and triggered by situational cues.  So when faced with a certain situation, you will engage in the habitual behavior that will serve you best.

What sales habits have contributed to your success?



Aarts, Henk, Bas Verplanken, and Ad van Knippenberg (1998), “Predicting Behavior from Actions in the Past: Repeated Decision Making or Matter of Habit,”Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 28 (15), 1355-1374.

Verplanken, Bas, Henk Aarts and Ad van Knippenberg (1997), “Habit, Information Acquisition, and the Process of Making Travel Mode Choices,” European Journal of Social Psychology, 27, 539-560.

Dr. Dawn Deeter-Schmelz is the Director of the National Strategic Selling Institute at Kansas State University and the J.J. Vanier Distinguished Professor of Relational Selling and Marketing. She teaches great K-State students how to become outstanding professional salespeople! You can reach Dawn via e-mail at or find her on Twitter or at Sold on Sales, the blog of the National Strategic Selling Institute.


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