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Using Behavior Analysis to Impact Sales Revenues

How can sales trainers and managers use BA to boost sales?

Observing and assessing what people to say and do in given sales situations is not new. It can have a powerful impact on sales effectiveness when done well. From sales ranging from inside to field sales, from direct to indirect, from simple to complex it is not so much which is the best system but which is most appropriate for the job you need to do. What follows is an overview of the case for BA in improving sales performance.

Why measure what people say or do?

Many of us are unaware of how skilled we are and, more importantly for development purposes, we are very often unaware of exactly how we produced such skilled purposes. We could, of course, ask skilled performers how they have reached their level of ability. Unfortunately, many of their highly skilled performances are by now unconscious with apparently little effort or planning. In fact various research studies of expert performance skills – music, sport, selling has shown such analysis can be really misleading. The prize though is worth it. Moving Your Bell CurveIf we can analyse top performers and are able to develop those skills in others the pay-offs are often double digit sales revenue increases. For example, in my own sales productivity projects, with a range of clients, have produced sales increase ranging from 25% to 100% using a BA based approach.

Clearly, if we want to illuminate why some people are more skilled than others we need to measure what is going on. A crucial factor is to make sure there is a balance between sales outcomes (Lagging Indicators) and the sales behaviors/process used to achieve such results (Leading Indicators). This balance shifts as the complexity and length of the sales increases. It becomes crucial to know how more skilled sales people achieve sales progress, such as:

  • Get invited to bid
  • Gain customer’s agreement to visit a reference site
  • Help the customer develop their RFP

If you are interested in having Nick speak to your organization fill out this form.


 Why bother measuring verbal sales behavior?

The need for measurement is to better understand a situation or event to assess of what is going on. Generally, there is little that can be done well without some form of objective measurement. The better your method, the better you can understand your people’s strengths and weaknesses, the greater the control over the outcomes.

You might be thinking, why can’t experienced sales managers give feedback on their sellers’ performance without gathering detailed BA data. More to the point, how does gathering such data call for the extra effort needed in developing reliable and valid analyses.

The snag is with relying solely on a subjective approach is that observation and interpretation are notoriously difficult to keep apart. This usually leads to sales managers and trainers having a distorted understanding of seller behavior and what really leads to success or failure. Here’s a famous example:

Objection Handling or Prevention – BA Case StudySeeking Information to Persuade

In one study, sales managers reported that their sales people were not good at handling customer objections and pressed the training department to do more objection handling training. After the training, sales managers were still not satisfied. Finally, Neil Rackham persuaded the sales trainers to do a BA project.

What they found surprised them. There were large differences in the number of objections faced by each salesperson. They often found one salesperson having to face 10 times as many objections per selling hour as other people from the same team. Naturally, they drew the obvious conclusion: The people who were receiving so many objections must need re-training in objection handling. They asked Neil’s team for advice.

His team picked the behavior-analysis figures for 10 people who were receiving high numbers of objections and who were clearly candidates for objection-handling training. In all 10 cases, these people were also higher than average in the number of Advantage Statements they used in their calls.

Neil persuaded the company to try a bold experiment. “What I’d like to do,” he explained, “is to train these people in objection prevention. I think we can design a program which doesn’t even mention the word objection but which will do more for these people than the best objection-handling training ever could.”

The company agreed. They chose eight salespeople who had each received an unusually high level of objections from customers. As promised, their training didn’t say anything at all about objections or objection handling. Instead, they taught the eight people to develop Explicit Needs with the SPIN Questioning Model and only then to offer Benefits.

After the training, the company’s researchers went out with the eight to count the number of objections they were now receiving in calls. The average number of objections per selling hour had fallen by 55 percent.

(From: SPIN Selling © 1988 Huthwaite, Inc.)

This is a typical example of sales managers and trainers not separating observation and interpretation that so often leads to faulty conclusions.

Gaining People’s Trust – Case Study

Another classic case study of not separating observation from interpretation was when Linda Marsh and I were engaged in training mortgage loan officers.

The client’s biggest concern was that to meet the spirit of the new law of “knowing the customer” and “act in the best interest” they would have to design a comprehensive software application with over 130 fields for the officers to complete with customer. They concluded that officers would need training to go through the screens A to Z. In the field study the BA data showed something different. We found that those customers interviewed disliked this approach and felt interrogated. More analysis revealed that those mortgage loan officers who customers felt “acted in their best interests” did not follow the A to Z route but rather allowed the customer to talk while the officer moved between screens to complete all the fields. To do this, skilled officers used far more “signposting” of what they had achieved and what else needed to be covered in the interview. The data showed that more structuring behavior led to greater customer satisfaction.

These findings markedly changed both training design and field coaching for the national roll-out of the new training to 6400 mortgage loan officers to be highly successful and led to the client being voted Mortgage Lender of the Year twice by an independent survey of consumers.

What is Behavior Analysis?

Behavior analysis is a method of putting things that people say into categories. Exactly what the categories are depends to a large extent on what is to be measured. The categories can be very simple such as, ‘Asking questions’ or ‘Giving information’. The categories could be more complex such as the categories used to analyze negotiation behavior. Whatever the chosen category it must, if it is to be a useful, meet six basic criteria:

  • Make sense at a common sense level.
  • Different from other categories – no overlap
  • Measurable
  • Accurately recognize it when it occurs with a high level of reliability.
  • People can vary how often they use it.
  • Related to effective performance.

Overall, it should be something that can be easily shown to have some an effect on other people for better or worse.

If you look at the category of ‘Asking Questions’ it should be clear that it meets all five criteria and hence it seems to be a good candidate for use as an analysis category.

Having chosen the categories they can be used to observe sales people and customers interacting. It is then possible to find out which interactions were successful and which were not. is then possible to identify which categories of verbal behavior are success related and which are not.

Once the behaviors are identified it is important to develop the right skills if the training is to be fully effective. Training’s the cost effectiveness is related to both the speed of the training and the trainees’ subsequent effectiveness. This makes it even more important that the right skills and behaviors are developed right from the start.

Behavior analysis provides an excellent method for observing and identifying the factors that are crucial to success in these situations.

How does BA help sales managers and trainers?

Developing Sales Skills Using BAWe found that people can be trained in a few days to observe sales people far more objectively. The training and the method of observation dictate that observers must separate their observation from interpretation of their data before they can draw conclusions.

The great thing about doing BA is that it forces observers to simply observe. Plus it provides a more objective record of a sales person’s behavior that enables better decisions to be made in training, performance assessment and talent management.. This data is also very useful for the learner to analyse their own behavior and be coached to draw their own conclusions which is often far more acceptable

By observing live situations and using various research techniques, including B.A., it has been possible to identify the success model used by effective negotiators and sellers as well as managers who must run meetings, appraise and persuade. In this sense B.A. is a key part of performance improvement.

Where can I learn more to help my sales team’s performance?

BA processes can be used at different levels of detail and thoroughness depending on your needs. An easy way to start is providing recordings of those sales situations which you need analyzing. Another option is engaging us to train a group of your people to develop and use a BA instrument for you to capture sales interactions so that they are reliable and accurate.

If you are interested in having Nick speak to your organization fill out this form.

Avoiding the Pitffalls of Strategic Planning


Getting people focused and committed on implementing a strategy has never been more difficult as von Moltke said:

Strategic plans do not survive first contact with the enemy, and hence must be always open to revision.

In today’s competitive environment every action has many reactions that aren’t easily anticipated.  This is probably a major factor why 60% of change initiatives fail in North America and why something is going wrong with strategic planning.

One area that many executives either ignore or only pay lip service to are the cynicisms that previous initiatives strategic planning have accumulated in the organizations psyche. Here are some that you ignore at your peril

Crucial to understanding your people, as Peter Senge describes, is identifying  where people are on the apathy-commitment continuum. He identifies two areas of personal need that they want satisfied in their working lives:

  • personal benefit which comes from compensation, benefits, position, recognition, or other non-tangible benefits
  • personal sense of fulfillment of their life’s purpose, vision, or calling.

Leaders need to grasp how well each person’s attitude and their contribution is met directly by company goals or objectives. Then they can assess where people sit on the apathy/commitment continuum. Any misalignment between personal needs and your strategy will generate unproductive or  counterproductive behavior, if not actively managed


Vision: The Guidance System for Partnering


Developing successful partnerships can only be accomplished if there is a strong and shared sense of vision.  It is the cornerstone, and launching point for successful partnering efforts.

Visioning in a partnership if different form other uses of the word.  It is much more than a defined set of shared goals and aspirations.  It exists to offer a tangible guidance system  which provides direction to both parties and helps them carry out their larger goals.  Such a system enables partnerships to overcome obstacles and achieve results.  When they lack vision they tend to drift around, or fall apart.


Leadership Skills Series 3: Handling Difficult People

This is the third in my Leadership Skills series to help Leaders assess where they need to develop their people skills. In my last Post I introduced the research-based model that led to many useful insights into how to create and manage effective meetings. I covered the impact of Filter and Amplifier meetings which were the names the researchers coined to distinguish the different ways in which ideas or proposals were managed. This Post focuses on people who are difficult for many to handle or feel comfortable with, and you may be one of these people under certain circumstances.

Typically, you will work with one of these people who naturally behave this way and, in certain situations you may change the way you behave, often without realizing it.

How do you recognize you are dealing with one of these mysterious people?

Let’s look at one aspect of behavior – Reacting. It’s a group of behaviors you can choose to use; each of which when used repeatedly will have certain effects on the people you interact with, for better or worse. Let’s take the first of the Reacting Group – Supporting someone’s ideas or position – what’s your most likely response?

Supportive, likable…I guess

Yes that’s right.  Secondly, there is Disagreeing with someone’s ideas or position. How are you likely to feel?

Well, I could see them as negative if they are aggressive or defensive…

That’s interesting….funnily enough people don’t see people who are high in disagreeing as necessarily negative, because they are rational, and seen as more objective…if they stick to a person’s proposals or ideas and do NOT focus on the person themselves. If they do  get defensive or aggressive they are not disagreeing, they are Defending/Attacking. No surprise there about how such emotional people are viewed by colleagues and family members, for that matter.

OK, so who’s this mystery person… high “disagreer,” or defend/attacker?

Neither, this person is called the LOW REACTOR; they use lower levels of all three behaviors in both their verbal and non-verbal behavior, they show very little reaction to others

So, they are very quiet individuals..right?

Not necessarily. They may, for example, have high levels of Initiating and/or Clarifying behaviors. The only thing they avoid is Reacting.

Why is this Low Reactor a problem?

They give very little feedback about whether they approve of points you present. This tends to make people feel uneasy and people tend to handle them ineffectively. For example, even experienced sales people find it difficult to make their case convincingly when they are faced with somebody whose lack of response makes it hard to judge. One salesperson summed up the difference between high “disagreers” and low reactors.

“You know where you stand with someone who is prepared to disagree. What makes it hard with the Low Reactor is that he doesn’t’ even disagree!”

Some research to back up this comment was presented in the famous Xerox Research Project in the late 70’s  (Neil Rackham, Simon Bailey & Linda Marsh, Huthwaite Research Group), one element of which looked at this very point. The researchers showed that while high “disagreers” are harder to sell to, the hardest to sell were the Low Reactors.

How much different were sales people’s success rates?

It was quite striking. The researchers looked at calls which advanced to the next stage or a deal was signed. For average reactors, salespeople were successful in about 11 out of 20 sales, where selling to high “disagreers”  only 8 out of 20, and finally, Low Reactors only 3 out of 20 sales.

That’s a big difference…did they find out why selling to Low Reactors was so difficult?

It turns out that there are Five Common Traps people tend to fall into when trying to persuade a LOW REACTOR. Let’s see if you have experienced any of these…

Ok Go ahead… I am sure I have fallen into at least one and not realized it

That’s an excellent point…most people don’t know what’s happening to them … other than this person seems awkward to deal with.

Trap 1  – Losing Control Over Your Speaking Pace

Because people lose confidence in front of Low Reactors they do one of two things, either they talk faster to get to something that will spark interest or they run out of things to say due to the lack of reaction. For example, sellers’ normal speech rate was 119 words per minute (wpm) where it was 138 wpm when selling to Low Reactors and the number of pauses, or “umms” more than doubled. In fact, the number of redundant words significantly increased as well, like “Well, you see…what I meant to say…”

I bet this doesn’t apply just to sales situations?

Quite right, job interviews are another good example of finding Low Reactors – more situational – Interviewers know they are not supposed to support or disagree.

Fascinating, what’s the second trap?

Trap 2: Losing Sequence During Presentations

This was common in any situations where someone needs to make a verbal presentation. If either the decision maker or Leader is a LOW REACTOR or they are evaluating and making a big decision presenters will tend to jump around or lose sequence. In a study of 23 leaders, presenters “back tracking” occurred over 50% more often and “jumping the Gun” occurred 3 times as often.

What’s the Third Trap?

Trap 3: Over-Reacting. (Over-stating to get a reaction)

This is the most common and most dangerous trap to fall into. In a study of twenty-eight trade union officials and their management counterparts researchers actually observed real life labor negotiations and listened for emotionally charged statements.  The differences were stark when the low reactor was on either side of the negotiation table – nearly 50% more emotionally charged statements were made.

In another study of salespeople, selling to LOW REACTORS led to a drop in factual statements and overstatements went up from 4% average to 13% with LOW REACTORS also untruths went to 3% from 1%.

Well it confirms that sellers do lie on occasions..doesn’t it?

Yes, BUT, so does the general population…some of the time.

OK… two more to go,…what’s number 4?


The Five Traps

Trap 4: Asking Fewer Questions Than Usual.

Asking more questions is usually a good thing to do with LOW REACTORS to find out where you are if nothing else! Especially; “How do you feel about this point?” Unfortunately 80% of people say they should ask more questions yet only 30% actually do. In one sample of 196 sellers questions fell by one-third to one half.

What’s the fifth trap?

Trap 5: Giving Too Much Information

For example, in selection interviews, law courts and other places where low reaction is normal, people often come away having given a great deal more information than they wanted to. In one study, sales people gave 50% more feature statements to LOW REACTORS.

Do we all fall into these traps?

No. Some people are more susceptible than others.

The 5 Traps: Your likelihood to fall into them

1 Pace 10-15%

2 Sequence 25-30%

3 Over Reacting/Stating 55-60%

4 Fewer Questions – 75%-80%

5 Blah,blah, blah (Talk too much)  75%-80%

What proportion of the population are LOW REACTORS?

That’s difficult to say considering factors like ethnicity and cultural differences – e.g. Scandinavians vs. Italians. What the researchers indicated is that the bigger the decision someone makes the more likely that their reaction levels will be lower. For example, in selling larger sized machines researchers found that LOW REACTOR levels rose from 18% to 46% and when people were making a decision for someone else Low Reacting goes from 16% to 47%.

How do you define Low Reactors?

Typically researchers found that Reacting Behaviors less than 10% of all behaviors identified a LOW REACTOR.But it’s clouded by reaction levels being higher in one-to-one situations, so for groups the number is 7%, and the other problem is with those people who just don’t say much at all.

What is the significance for Leaders?

Let’s look at how leaders could actually set up their people to fail (placing these traps in their way unintentionally). If you are not aware of how your reaction levels drop, and under what circumstances they drop, you can set up your people for progressive confidence loss. Are you a natural LOW REACTOR anyway? It is natural for many leaders, as they rise up the corporate ladder, to learn that reacting either in support or disagreement too quickly can create risks. So, many senior leaders exhibit the “keeping your cards close to your chest” behavior.

Your Low Reacting behavior can deplete your peoples’ confidence and create risk avoidance in their behavior. This can result in lower levels of informal communication, especially from junior staff members. The point is that Leaders may not want to lower their reactions with their people too often. For example:

Can you imagine leaders lowering their reaction levels during big presentations? Given the above traps, less experienced people might suffer a confidence loss and start to think you are disagreeing with them, when in fact you are thinking things through.

How are you going to set and manage team expectations to avoid – or at least manage – falling into one of the above traps?

Think about your expectations when people are preparing next year’s first round budget presentation. How apprehensive were they last time? How did this detract from an effective process and the team’s engagement?

How can you set expectations to improve this process?

For example, you might say:

“I expect that you will give me feedback on the impact of my behavior when making big decisions.” (How are you setting yourself up for unintended Low Reacting?)

“At the end of this meeting we will agree to expectations that I have of you and what you expect from me.”

“Before we start budget planning I expect people to come to a review meeting to assess how effectively the process and people’s preparation helped or hindered during that first round?”

Given that Low Reaction levels will occur, how can you help your people feel more comfortable?

Brief your people when you know your reaction levels are likely to fall. If several subordinates are presenting, it can be helpful to ensure certain reactions are planned. For example, say something like:

“I expect team members to give feedback directed at the expectations we set in the Review meeting…”

“I expect that all feedback will focus on the evidence presented and not how it was presented.”

“I expect that all proposals put forward during presentations are not rejected or accepted immediately.” (We owe it to the presenter to seek to understand and try to help their ideas come to fruition.”)

What Conclusion Can We Draw?

Low reacting levels are normal and often more situational, rather than an indicator of a person’s preferred behavioral style. As a leader, it is within your control to set expectations to avoid and/or manage the negative impact of such behavior.

Low reacting can be turned to advantage, forcing ideas to be fully explored before people react. It also facilitates a sense of team by encouraging Building rather than Reacting Behavior.

What can you do about this situation?

Madness can be defined as “doing what you have always done, yet expecting different results.” So, what expectations do you now have for yourself in terms of managing your reaction levels?

Doing different things is about “purposeful practice” and then getting feedback from others, What mechanisms or structures do you have in place to do this?  How are you going to restructure major interactions with your staff to lower their chance of falling into traps?

Great, but how can this help me?

This is probably the first thing on your mind after reading this Blog.
How about asking us?  The first call is free!  Just email me to set it up.
Don’t wait, get The Crispian Advantage working for you!. If our conversation leaves you needing more, we offer at a reasonable fee telephone and video coaching improve bottom line results.
If that still doesn’t do it, we’ll work with you on a solution.

For Help in Getting Your People on the Same Page 
Nick Anderson, The Crispian Advantage

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