Stephen Covey is, and always will be, one of the most influential figures not only in my life, but in many people’s lives I know. His death tragically cut short an input to humanity that will never be forgotten.
His seminal work in the late eighties/early nineties took the business world by storm, and still is extremely influential today, as all manner of business people look to influencers for guidance and advice. The book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ is still highly regarded, and I thought it appropriate to revisit the concepts and apply them today to the sales environment.
If you haven’t caught it in print or audio yet, do so soon. You won’t regret it.
The seven habits revolve around how people can influence themselves and have an impact on others. Here they are, with my take on their applications in the sales world:
Habit 1 – Be proactive
Being proactive is about knowing where you have the ability or authority to take action, versus the things that you have no control over. Average salespeople blame circumstances, other people, the economy, or whatever they can to avoid taking personal responsibility for their results. Quality salespeople work within their area of control, or their sphere of influence, and ensure that they accept they need to take action on the things that are within their control.
Habit 2 – Begin with the end in mind
Before you go on a visit, take a few moments to picture what you want to achieve. How do you want the client to react to you? What choices do you want them to make on this journey? What realistically can you expect to gain in this particular meeting?
That acts as your destination, the end goal. It then enables you to think about the journey and how you will travel the distance to get there. You can begin your meeting, knowing what your objective is and work back from there. It gives you the confidence to ask questions and determine how you can progress when you go through sticky moments.
Habit 3 – Put first things first
‘Don’t prioritise your schedule, schedule priorities’ is good advice from Covey. Your management of yourself and your tasks is always going to have a massive influence on the results you achieve, as no-one will have a bigger influence on your attitude and behaviour than yourself. Planning effectively how you’re going to manage your territory or increase the value of the offering you make to the next prospect will be helped if you recognise that the big things come first.
Habit 4 – Think win-win
All negotiation situations require a movement of sorts. In many respects, it’s a battle, with one side not wanting to subjugate to the other for fear of losing face or decreasing margins. This to-and-fro mechanism can be exhausting and relationship-battering. It can often result in a win-lose mentality, where the salesperson and prospect battle it out to see who can get one over the ‘opposition’.
What if instead of win-lose, we focused on co-operation and win-win? Co-operation, Covey states, is a much better strategy for your sales mindset. It allows you to forge ahead in your bonds with the prospect, as you take the attention away from what you are selling and instead place it on making the prospect’s business thrive. If they win, it follows that you win too. That mentality will always build the trust and the bond between the two of you. Win-win will never see a loser!
Habit 5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood
One of our delegates’ favourite parts of our communication courses is the section on listening skills. It’s fun and intriguing to test out what you consider to be a strength, when in actuality our human nature is to think we know much more than we really do, and the implications of that can be immense.
Covey suggests that we see the world through the eyes of the other person, to get their perspective and ideas out in the open, and gain a clear understanding of what they consider to be ‘truth’ before we share our ideas of what is right or wrong. He doesn’t say you have to agree with them; simply understand their position.
It’s known as diagnosis before prescription. The doctor will always get a clear picture of the circumstances the patient is enduring before he or she prescribes a solution. Going with ‘gut-feeling’ may result in a poor diagnosis, and the wrong drugs being prescribed, which could be disasterous.
Similarly, proposing a solution before you have fully diagnosed a prospect’s situation could also prove ineffective. Seek first to understand the position. Ask deep questions your competition haven’t thought of. That way, you earn the right to make suggestions and ‘be understood’ by the prospect.
Habit 6 – Synergise
Another intriguing habit, this suggests that we make one and one equal three. How can your products and services actually add so much value to the prospect’s business that they outweigh the costs of introducing them? How can what you offer be so compelling that they simply will lose more than they gain if they don’t buy from you?
Synergising means getting much from the compounding of two forces than if they worked independently of each other. Their business would be much more profitable, more productive, save more time, be more competitive or have higher motivation with your products, wouldn’t they? Then synergise with them and enable them to build success with you.
Habit 7 – Sharpen the saw
This is the habit that ties all the other six together. Covey refers to the woodcutter who can get so much more done if he takes time to prepare the tools for the job before attempting to start.
In sales, we can often see the person who has strived to perfect their trade. They have done the research, read up about the competition, determined the best sales process to use, created their own persona and identified the business acumen that will give them the edge. In other words, they have taken the tools of their trade and sharpened the skills required to achieve their short and long-term goals.
Become the kind of salesperson that works hard to make selling easy. That way, you’ll achieve your goals with ease instead of struggling to motivate yourself to be average.
Some have said that Covey’s habits are simply common sense. But, as ever, sense isn’t always that common. What I see in Covey’s work is the reminder that we can always become more than we are at present, and if we strive to achieve better results in each of the habits, we will naturally see better returns, as they are based on rational human traits.
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