Archives for posts with tag: Behaviour

One of the most difficult challenges with sales training or sales effectiveness – and in fact any kind of change – is overcoming engrained behaviours. It’s only through repeated application of the new way, with all the pain and discomfort that comes with it, that the new way eventually becomes the accepted way and a second nature thing.

I was reminded of this recently in my table tennis endeavours. I’ve been playing competitively for decades, and I’ve always concentrated on putting the ball in different corners to move my opponent around. It is deeply and completely subconscious, after a million-plus repetitions.

I’ve been studying a lot of table tennis matches on youtube over the last few months, as I look for new ways to compensate for my gradual decline in fitness and sharpness due to Father Time’s relentless advances. I’ve noticed that a lot of the top players hit a lot of shots into the crossover, which is the awkward spot on the right hip – of the right-handed player – between the forehand and the backhand, effectively jamming them up.

This is not new. One of the first things we were taught as kids was hit to the corners against a short opponent, and into the middle for a tall player. Maybe twenty years ago our local club had a coaching session with a guest coach who again stressed the crossover tactic and quoted the statistic that the then star player in England, Desmond Douglas, would hit up to 40% of shots down the crossover.

I’ve been trying this with renewed effort over the last few weeks and – it’s really, really difficult! The sport is very quick and you don’t have much time to plan and execute. I find myself instinctively following my subconscious, time and time again.

The answer? As with sales, I need to practice more, and compete less, to untrain and retrain myself.


Many of us are in the business of imparting knowledge or experience. Teachers, lecturers, supervisors, mentors, trainers, consultants, managers, advisors. I think we all hope that what we impart is useful, in that it can be used.

I was reminded of this when I met with a colleague the other day. We were exchanging information and insight on various luminaries in the sales effectiveness and sales training business.

She shared an anecdote from a session she had attended with an internationally renowned sales trainer who is known for speaking her mind. After the keynote had finished, my colleague complimented the speaker on the session and said her talk provided much food for thought.

The sales guru, paused for a moment and said, ‘or food.’

And that’s a very important distinction. Food for thought means that we might think about what we’ve listened to and learned, but not necessarily act on it. We might not change our behaviour and ‘do’.

Food is something we actively consume and use, which gives us energy to progress, and do work. It influences our behaviour.

What about you? Are you providing food for thought, or food?

In 1990’s Scotland there was a great series of TV adverts designed to reinforce our recall of the Tennent’s lager brand by judicious use of words ending in their big red capital T. Younger readers may also be familiar with the summer festival T in the Park, which does exactly the same thing.

Anyway, these ads featured the pouring of half of a glass of Tennent’s in front of someone, who either laughed with joy or cried with sadness, depending on whether they were an glass-half-full optimisT or a glass-half-empty pessimisT.

These days we’re under increasing pressure – perhaps it’s our gradual Americanisation – to be incorrigibly upbeat and optimistic about everything. Our positive outlook alone will affect the outcome. It’s the positive spin we put on life and especially in marketing. This is true in parts. I’ve always described myself as a realist, occupying the halfway house, a hope-for-the-best-plan-for-the-worst space in between the two characteristics.

The other day I was chatting to my son who can sometimes be sweepingly downbeat in that glum teenagerish way. I told him he was sounding like a pessimist. ‘I’m not a pessimist Dad,’ he countered, ‘I’m a non-delusional realist.’

Which opens up a whole new can of worms. Is that the same thing as a pessimist, or is it a qualification of a realist, or is it suggesting there are many shades on the pessimist-optimist spectrum, or many grades to the axis?

I know, thinking too much…

Content marketing, the business of producing and promoting online the kinds of materials which educate and edify rather than overtly sell what you have, relies on an endless stream of idea and information, even in an era where constant recycling and repurposing is not only the norm but considered a best practice.

I do quite a bit of content marketing, paid and unpaid. In fact I suppose what you’re reading right now is a form of content marketing. It demands quite a portfolio of skills, like creativity, writing ability, attention to detail, and organisational prowess to name but a few. There’s one thing above all else, however, that it needs in my opinion.

You have to have a hunger. A hunger to acquire. Content marketing hunger is what drives you to devour information in the hunt for inspiration you can turn into information of value to the people who want to read your stuff. It’s a kind of inquisitiveness that has given me 599 ideas and counting for blog posts, and that’s just for my hobby, not my day job.

The information doesn’t have to be about your domain of expertise either. Information from all areas helps spark ideas that you can synthesise and shape into meaningful new content for your audience.

If you stay hungry, and stay curious, you’ll always have the catalyst for content.

Why do so many of us strive to be normal, to fit in? Is it our natural herding instinct, the safety in numbers? We don’t want to stand out too much, do we?

But what is normal?

Is it a basket of behaviours that can be grouped into a standard, a category or a stereotype? To me, normal is rather like ‘average’. Calculating an average number, or an average person can be a useful yard stick for grouping people or things, if it’s interpreted correctly.

But who is average? Who wants to be average? No-one is average. Average is a mathematical nicety describing a group, not an individual. It’s like when someone says ‘well most people would do that.’ Well, I’m not most people. Besides, how could I be?

So who wants to be ‘normal’? What is normal? Can one person really be normal?

I don’t want to be normal. I don’t want to be thought of as normal either.

In 2000, I was in San Diego, California, for a conference. The day before the conference started, I had some time to kill and I needed a new travel bag with wheels and one of those extendable handles. So I went to the local mall with a colleague to do some research.

We split up and I went into a couple of shops. I nodded my hellos to the staff and I didn’t speak any more to a sales assistant. In the second store found the bag I thought I was looking for. I left the store and went to go find my buddy for a second opinion, as he travelled for work more than I did.

20 minutes later we came back into the store. ‘Welcome back’, said the sales assistant, a handsome African American bloke in his late-20’s. The store was Sharper Image.

What struck was that the guy remembered me. When he said ‘Welcome back’, I took the unspoken part of this to mean:

  • I noticed you come in before
  • You’re important to us
  • We pay attention to our prospects and customers
  • I want you to know that
  • We want to serve you so that you can become a customer

I bought the bag.

I still have the bag.

Some time ago, quite a long time go, I wrote about fear and greed.

It was my Dad’s basic premise that much of human behaviour can be distilled into the explanation that it’s driven by these two forces.

If you look around what’s happening in the world and in your country today, or at least the stories that are being selected and channeled to us by the media, an uncomfortably large number of them are still confirming this basic hypothesis. It’s all a bit depressing if you spend too much time on it.

Then again, the vast majority of attention is hogged by leaders in their field: world leaders and politicians, army generals, captains of industry, entertainment a-listers, terrorists and arch criminals all make the news. Maybe it’s the people who have got to the very top of their group are the ones exhibiting these base characteristics. Maybe they’ve had to.

When I look around at my fellow human beings that make up the 99% of us, I don’t see the fear and greed so much.

It’s really hard to change the culture iof an organisation. It’s even harder to do it quickly.

This is because culture is made up of people, who themselves find it particularly hard to change their engrained behaviour, as you might expect. You’re expecting people to change who they are. Not gonna happen, at least not without a ton of effort, time and patience.

I remember working with a company in the last 2o years where we worked hard on establishing the mission and values of the organisation, those important things we stood for. The difference, however, between what was on paper and what was exhibited by people, from the CEO down, was considerable. The value statements looked great on paper, but that was not how the company behaved.

This is why culture eats strategy for lunch, and why it’s so important that, once you’ve genuinely established the culture of your organisation, you hire people who are true to that culture. It’s easier said than done.

People and culture don’t change. Sometimes people join a company and find the culture is different to their experiences of it before they joined. Other times people join a company thinking – or more likely hoping – that the prevailing culture there is a good fit for them. In either situation, if you find yourself in a business either where the corporate culture is not your culture, it’s a good idea to consider trying to find a company where there is a fit, preferably as soon as possible.

It’s always good to see people taking the initiative. It doesn’t happen anywhere near as often as it should. Having initiative and taking the initiative is a bit like putting ‘self-starter’ on your CV. Everyone feels it should be on there but few generally do it, at least not early in their careers.

I remember being on a train in London Paddington, about to head west, during the evening rush hour about a decade ago during the time when intercity trains were not just full, they were packed, in a Japanese commuting-style. This particular train was bound for south Wales, but stopped off at Reading, the first major stop 25 mins away and a city that was served by a train every 15 minutes or so. The train was packed, dangerously so.

Many of the travellers were heading for Reading, perhaps 40% of them in my very unscientific estimation. I happened to be standing wedged in a corner of one of the carriages when I overheard the conductor talking to a couple of colleagues. ‘I know what we can do,’ he said. Two minutes later, the conductor came onto the intercom, apologised for the schedule change and announced that the service would not be stopping at Reading.

There was a degree of huffing and puffing, the rain emptied to the point where everyone could just about get a seat, and we took off a few minutes late.

The conductor was probably not authorised to do what he did, but he got the train away, 500 passengers where able to get to their long distance destination on time, and 200 commuters to Reading were delayed 15 minutes getting home.

We need people to take the initiative and shoulder the consequences. That’s how we get stuff done.

I’ve recently been through an exercise to change the way I run. I’ve never benefitted from coaching and only really jogged or ran to keep the weight off and stay fit for more fun pursuits like soccer or racquet sports.

I’d also been picking up a few calf niggles over the last few years and thought it was something to do with my technique, rather than the more obvious reason which is the inexorable sway of time.

What I noticed was that people who run don’t actually plant the heel. The ball of their foot hits the ground first, rather than the heel. I was always heel first, as if I was walking, but a bit quicker. So I set about changing the way I ran.

Because it’s such a fundamental and constant activity, it takes a lot of conscious effort to change. It’s the same in business. If you’re comfortable doing things a certain way, you stay doing it that way. When you find it’s wrong, or it can be done better, you have to embark on a regular conscious process of upheaval or else you’ll give up and go back to the old way. You might not want to change, even if you privately admit it’s for the better. It’s too hard in the short term.

So it was with the running. Every single stride was a conscious effort, otherwise the mind would wander for a couple of minutes and I’d emerge from my reverie to find that the heel was back hitting first. Slowly, but surely, the new way becomes the new natural way, but it’s still so easy to slip the yolk early and step back – literally.