A few years ago, I attended a business dinner function and was seated next to a semi famous nutritionist. We had a mutual friend at the table and the three of us engaged in a conversation after the nutritionist remarked at what I was and was not eating on my plate. The conversation revealed that she had a great track record of success in helping her clients lose weight and recover from chronic illness. I asked her what her secret was to get people to change their behavior, since people’s eating patterns are known to be one of the harder sets of habits to change. 

“I start by getting them to read the labels.” 

Sounds like a trite and feckless thing, just reading some labels. Why would people’s behavior change from such a small thing as reading a label? Because while it may be a small thing, it is a very powerful thing. Reading a label taps into a major force that drives human behavior. Awareness.

It reminded me of some great coaching I got on finances years and years ago. Track all your spending. Keep receipts on everything and categorize your spending in a report that you read once a month. You become aware that while that $4.16 you spend on a coffee in the morning seems small, it adds up to $125/month. That’s the cost of a cell phone plan, or the cable bill. No wonder budgeting is usually step 1 in any financial health plan. Once you realize what you are spending your money on, you’ll want to make changes.

The nutritionist would tell you that once you realize what you are eating, you will want to make changes as well.

Awareness powers behavior. What we do is based on what we focus our attention on. Our mind has an easier time doing the wrong things when it can trick us into not paying attention to them. This is a little mental game most of us play called “deletion”. We delete from our conscious awareness any information that is in conflict with our behavior. We do this to avoid the pain of failure, mainly failure to meet our own expectations. We feel shame when we fall short of our self perceptions. Shame is a very powerful negative emotion. Most behavioral scientists agree that shame is at the root of depression, eating disorders, and even suicide attempts. That’s a lot of pain to avoid, so the brain just plays little games and deletes or ignores anything that might cause shame. If you read the labels though, the fear of shame can play in your favor, by pushing you towards good behavior (eat fresh whole foods) and away from bad behaviors (scarf down a pack of oreos dipped in cool whip and cry yourself to sleep). I exaggerate for effect, but you get the point.

In the world of sales, your label is your activity. How many calls/dials/pitches/appointments/presentations/follow ups/proposals, etc. are you doing daily/weekly/monthly. Like the unhealthy person who just looks at the numbers on the bathroom scale, the unhealthy sales person only looks at the contracts closed or the commission check, but never “reads the label” to figure out what the ingredients are that make up that commission check.You get a big sale, you enjoy the sugar high for a few days and then flop back down into call avoidance.

You need to know what ingredients, in what proportion, contribute to the recipe of your sales success. That means that you need to log and track your activity. Even if your company doesn’t require you to do it, you can and should be keeping a tracking document of your activity. Simply being aware of what you are doing will prevent your mind from believing you had a good day or week when you didn’t.

Start a simple spreadsheet, and enter in your numbers every day. Pay attention to the trends of how you convert between each of the steps you are tracking. Don’t worry about a single day. The weekly/monthly trending is what is important. Most importantly, if you have a bad activity day (technical issues,not feeling it, whatever) don’t beat yourself up, just reset yourself and get back on the activity train the next day. Remember, the outcome of an individual call doesn’t matter. The conversion rate of the sum of all your calls is what matters.

There’s a reason all top performers in any field track data. They know that simply seeing the numbers, the words, fuels their success. Awareness powers behavior. The words on the label power the awareness. It all starts with the data. Give me the ingredients and the recipe and I can make the cake. Read those words on your label.

As Rudyard Kipling put it, “Words are the most powerful drug known to humanity”.