Neuroscientists have discovered a part of the brain they call the default mode network. This network becomes hyperactive when we’re in what’s known as a resting state. (This is actually a good thing after work, during a break, or on weekends, because this downtime refreshes the brain.) Like other animals, humans fall into default modes when performing difficult or even life-preserving tasks. Think of these default modes as the path of least resistance — doing whatever takes the least amount of work or mental energy.
I first heard the term default mode in my Anusara yoga class. My instructor told the students that everyone has certain tendencies. We default to these tendencies when we aren’t hyperfocused. Why? Because they’re easier. Our bodies naturally default to the easiest positions. We slouch our shoulders, or hang our head, or forget to breathe properly. When we’re not really paying attention, we tend to slide into default mode. Over time, in the workplace, these tendencies can lead to dramatic underperformance.
We all have default tendencies to overcome. These are the repetitive or destructive — and usually unconscious — behaviors that can keep you from making a sale. Sometimes, when you’re tired or distracted, they’re more pronounced, but default mode takes over for several other reasons. I use the acronym HELL to sum them up:
H = Habits
E = Ego
L = Lack of knowledge
L = Laziness
Habits: Many sales veterans are guilty of this. You’ve been doing something wrong for so long, you can’t see how it wreaks havoc on your performance. The good news is that bad habits can be changed — if we’re aware of them. If we’re disciplined about replacing old behaviors with new ones, we can change what we do and, ultimately, who we become.
Ego: According to research conducted by David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg, good salespeople have a need to conquer. This particular type of ego drive gives us the ability to claim greatness, to say, “I’m going to be number one, get promoted to CEO one day, and buy an island.” Bad ego, on the other hand, causes us to play the blame game and abdicate responsibility for a lost sale.
Lack of knowledge: This might be the most common reason newer salespeople default to their negative tendencies: They simply don’t know any better. Perhaps they haven’t learned the steps of their sales process, or haven’t mastered their product knowledge, or don’t have enough experience overcoming and isolating common objections. Is a lack of product or market knowledge the fault of the manager or the salesperson? If you’re not getting enough information from your manager, take responsibility. Ask questions. Seek out information from other sources. Refuse to become complacent.
Laziness: When I speak of laziness, I don’t mean we’d rather be lying on a deck chair drinking a margarita (although we might) or watching reruns of “Leave It to Beaver” and “My Three Sons.” I’m referring to the lazy moments when we aren’t purposefully engaged. We just go through the motions: We skip steps of our sales presentation, we fail to prepare, or worse, we shortcut our discovery and engage in premature demonstration syndrome.
If you’ve ever found yourself in sales HELL, congratulations. You’re human. Falling into default mode behaviors is a natural part of being alive, and it’s probably impossible to ever completely eliminate these tendencies.
So how do we climb out of sales HELL?
1. Solicit feedback: Whether you’re a skier, author, or parent, research shows that positive, immediate, and constructive feedback will help you understand what you’re doing well and what you’re doing poorly so you can practice, repeat, and master your best behavior. Otherwise, you’re just grooving bad habits deeper into your brain until you can do a terrible job without even having to think about it.
2. Take responsibility: No matter where you sit in an organization, blaming others is always a bad idea. Not simply because it alienates people or because it’s lazy or because it robs you of respect. There’s a deeper reason — one that won’t just cause short-term problems but will destroy your chance at long-term growth. You can start to take more responsibility immediately by changing your self-talk and the questions you ask yourself. Consider the following alternatives to some old standby excuses:
- “They didn’t have the budget.” Instead, think about where you could have improved. For example, “I didn’t show them the value. Did I find a problem? Was it big enough?”
- “They’re indecisive.” Maybe, but what could you have done differently? “I didn’t make a connection with all of the stakeholders. What else could I have done to build trust?”
- “Someone gave them a better deal.” Instead of blaming your competitors, keep your focus on you. “I didn’t differentiate our offering. How could I have asked better questions? What are the powerful statements I could have used to better differentiate my offer?”
3. Identify your most common default behaviors. So, be brutally honest with yourself. What are your default mode behaviors? Write them down.
Here’s a short list to get your brain going:
- Hearing a customer problem and immediately trying to solve it rather than uncovering why it’s a problem
- Giving the customer way too much information
- Selling features that aren’t important to the customer
- Talking too much during the discovery or closing process
- Not involving all of the decision makers
- Making your offer sound too good to be true
- Exaggerating product benefits … just this once
- Telling the customer how your product works instead of sharing with them how they’ll feel when they use, own, or engage with your product
- Not preparing ahead of time and just sort of winging it
- Telling the customer that their existing choices, partners, or way of doing something are all wrong, just so your solution sounds superior
- Telling the same tired sales stories
- Looking for what’s wrong with your customers instead of focusing on what’s right
- Asking questions on autopilot instead of generating genuine curiosity
All salespeople are driven to succeed. We want the best for our children, security, significance, and the keys to a bungalow on a faraway island. But remember, earning a slice of heaven starts with climbing out of sales HELL.
“When we’re not really paying attention, we tend to slide into default mode. Over time, in the workplace, these tendencies can lead to dramatic underperformance.”