The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Salespeople

In 1990, I’d just started a business that would prosper or die based on my sales success. No sales, no company. At the time, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” was making waves on the bestseller lists, so I picked it up. As popular as it was for leaders and goal-getters, I discovered the habits applied just as well to salespeople, and the book became my how-to manual for selling.

As my sales force grew to over 250 salespeople, we applied each habit to our interactions with clients. We grew by leaps and bounds, and I attribute much of our growth to the mindsets and practices we developed using the 7 Habits to help our clients succeed.

Here’s how you can apply the 7 Habits to achieve greater sales effectiveness:

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Proactive in this sense isn’t about taking initiative; it’s about taking responsibility. It’s the idea of being “response-able,” having the ability to choose our response in any circumstance. Instead of blindly reacting, we pause and act out of our values and priorities. In a high-pressure sales environment, choose the high road and stay focused on your goals.

Stephen Covey’s metaphor of “carrying your own weather” has always spoken volumes to me. To be successful in sales, our attitude is critical. No matter the challenge, great salespeople always see an opportunity. Clients and colleagues want to work with proactive people—people who see possibilities instead of obstacles.

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind

I recently interviewed executives from tech, banking, real estate and other industries about their experiences with salespeople. A common complaint was salespeople who requested a meeting and then squandered that time without a clear purpose. One executive said, “Sometimes it feels as if people are trying to make a sales call for the sake of logging some activity. They will schedule meetings and show up at the door, and I’ll find there’s very little reason for the call. Too often, salespeople are so excited about getting a meeting that they completely forget about what will happen in that meeting.”

Habit 2 means to begin each day, meeting or career with a clear vision of your destination, your big plan. Don’t confuse this with your quota or other short-term goals. Your end in mind answers the question of what you want out of your life and career. It frames your choices and actions. It is your compass.

As you craft your end in mind for your sales career, consider this question: How would you want your clients to describe you? When you’re faced with competing options, your end in mind will help you make better choices.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

As salespeople, we’re often pulled in many directions. Our days are filled with urgent requests from clients and bosses that can easily fill our day, our week, and – before you know it – our career.

Putting first things first is about investing small amounts of time every day into the important activities that get us closer to our big plan. It might be prospecting activity, learning or investing in key relationships. Plan these important activities for every week and stick to the plan.

Habit 1 is about choice. Habit 2 is about vision. Habit 3 is where habits 1 and 2 come together. It happens day in and day out, moment by moment.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Many salespeople think in term of their needs – quota, income and recognition. Win-win requires that you balance your needs with the needs of your client. To achieve that balance requires courage and consideration.

Win-win is about cooperation and collaboration, not competition. It means that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying, and it’s the frame of mind and heart of the most successful salespeople. The great paradox of selling is that the more we help clients succeed, the more we succeed.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

When I interviewed the executives I mentioned earlier, I asked, “What’s the biggest mistake you see salespeople make over and over?” I expected something highly nuanced or sophisticated at that level, but their answer was shockingly simple: salespeople didn’t listen enough.

If you’re like most salespeople, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to make your pitch. But in doing so, you may miss what your client is saying. You may miss the very insight that you need to help your client succeed and win the business.

Why does this happen? Because most salespeople listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen for queues to anchor your product or service to, so you can tell the client about your stuff. Discussions like this lead to meaningless proposals and wasted time.

Habit 6: Synergize

To put it simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one.” Synergy is the habit of collaboratively working with your client. Sales is not something we do to our clients (although many clients say it feels that way). So, stop pitching ideas and start inviting your clients to share in creating them.

Your account plan is a great place to start. Do it with your client, and don’t be afraid to share your goals for growth. If your intent is to help your client succeed, they will be happy to see your business grow as a result.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Habit 7 means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal. I find that many salespeople fall short on this one. They somehow think that they’re good enough and that they can “wing it” well. Practice? That’s for sports. Not so! I work with some of the most talented sales professionals in the world, and they schedule time for learning and growth, seeking feedback, practice and reflection. They’re getting better at their profession every week. Are you?

People marvel that “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is still relevant 30 years after its publication. But don’t overlook how you can apply its timeless advice to your sales career – and even more importantly, to helping your clients succeed. A new, 30th anniversary edition of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide in 52 languages, is launching on April 21. The new book, which is authored by Stephen R. Covey, includes insights by his son, Sean Covey, at the back of every chapter.

Register for a Free Webinar

On April 21, SMM Connect is hosting a webinar with Sean, who will be discussing the 7 Habits. Learn more and register for the webinar here.

Randy Illig is global leader of FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice. Illig helps to train, consult and coach leaders at Fortune 500 companies on how to win more profitable business and build sales cultures that win. Illig has coauthored a book (“Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play – Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship”) and has won awards from Ernst & Young and Arthur Andersen for his sales and leadership work.

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