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How top sales performers crush bad conversation habits

5 min readMarch 22, 2019

Top performing salespeople that improve faster than the rest in their phone sales skills do things a little bit differently.

They find ways to coach themselves to success, and they learn the secrets to quickly identify and eliminate bad habits that turn off prospects.

The evolution of call recording products has enabled salespeople to do this now better than ever before.

While there are many sports analogies in the business world, game film, the practice of players reviewing video footage of themselves to spot areas of improvement, is a perfect comparison. “Film study” is something all athletes swear by, whether at the college level or professional.

Kobe Bryant, one of the most renowned names in sports (and a Revenue.io investor, by the way) says this about game film in his book Mamba Mentality:

“It was always fun to watch, study, and ask the most important question: Why? The biggest element that changed over time, however, was I went from watching what was there to watching for what was missing and should have been there. I went from watching what happened to what could have and should have happened. Film study eventually became imagining alternatives, counters, options, in addition to the finite details of why some actions work and others don’t work.”

Top salespeople are treating their sales call recordings with the same reverence that Kobe Bryant treats his game film. They view it as an opportunity to learn, become better, and excel.

To become better, you must become coachable

If you want to perform like a top salesperson, you have to be honest with yourself and open to feedback. This sounds easy – of course you are honest with yourself, right?

Are you, really? How do you feel about the sound of your own voice? How often do you pay attention to behaviors on a sales call and recognize that they need changing?

This is an exercise in sales coaching yourself. There are a lot of key traits to becoming truly coachable, and we detail them here. They include being an eager learner, being humble, self-aware, and ultimately having an open mind to change.

If you are in this place, you are halfway there. The other ingredient of successful sales call improvement is having the right tools available to you.

Listening to & annotating phone calls

If you are going to coach yourself to success, you need the ability to record & play back your sales calls, and you need the ability to annotate, or make notes on specific moments of those sales calls. This means implementing a high-performance sales coaching platform like Revenue.io’s conversationAI.

As you play back your phone calls, you want to listen for the key moments that turned the conversation. Key moments could be times where something you said earned the prospect’s trust, but they could also be times where you said something that damaged their perception of you.

Top performing sales reps make this process a habit, and block off time to review their “game film.” That can take many forms, but regardless of how it happens, top performers make it consistent.

We’ve seen many different structures for call review. Some salespeople will block off an hour or two at the end of every week to debrief themselves, some will schedule time at the beginning of the week to get their heads in the game, and others will even follow the “two to one” format where they make sure they listen to two calls before every one cold call to keep themselves sharp.

All of these strategies and tools serve to help salespeople find their best behaviors, catch their worst, and constantly change their approach to improve.

Conversations are made of habits

When cognitive psychologists try to understand conversations, they think in terms of mental habits. When we enter into a conversation, our minds are focusing on a lot of different variables. We are listening, thinking of responses, paying attention to nonverbal cues, avoiding or giving in to distractions. This means other parts of our minds are on autopilot, allowing bad habits to slip in and pollute the conversation.

Maybe this is through the use of non-words & phrases such as “like”, “you know” or “um.” Or, it could be negative interactions like talking over someone or interrupting.

Great salespeople are masters of awareness and mindfulness. According to psychology expert Art Markman, when focusing on habit change in conversations, “One of the first things that you need to do is to become mindful of all the habits.” When you annotate your own sales calls, you are training yourself to be aware and mindful. You become realize what exactly you are doing in conversations. You notice things you didn’t notice before. You start to recognize what triggers a habitual response or behavior.

It’s worth taking a look at the structure of habits:

  • Cue
  • Routine
  • Reward

In conversations, the cue is really important. This is what sparks your bad habit. That means as you are annotating your conversations, you don’t just look at what you say, you look at what they said before that prompted your bad habit. This is your signpost during a conversation to help yourself remember to do something different than you did before.

Some advice for habit change

  • Capture and remember signposts, and find ways to remember them during conversations
  • Don’t try to eliminate a bad habit altogether, but rather try to replace it with something else
  • Don’t be afraid of physical reminders – if you talk too long, get an egg timer to make sure you don’t drown the customer in monologues. If you say “um” too much, get a fidget toy to hold as your “um” reminder to keep it in your mind to stop.

As you continue to annotate your own calls, you will become more mindful of what happens during the call, and ultimately become a much better salesperson as a result. The best salespeople follow this process consistently, and realizes that it is never done. They live in a continuous, virtuous improvement cycle that helps them excel far beyond the average.

To become the best – you cannot act like everyone else.