Influencer QA

How to Find Vital Behaviors

Dear Crucial Skills,

I am currently attempting to put the principles of Influencer to work, but I am struggling to find those vital behaviors that are more than hunches. I am looking for the vital behaviors that will lead to telemarketing sales and I’m wondering where I can go to find statistically supported, tried-and-tested vital behaviors for this outcome.

Searching for Research

Dear Searching,

Your question is relevant to everyone—not just those involved in telemarketing sales—because few of us can ever find statistically supported, tried-and-tested vital behaviors that deal with our specific issues. Most of the time, we have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do our own research. I’ll use your question to suggest some steps anyone can take to find and refine vital behaviors.

Here are the steps I follow: 1) begin with Google and Google Scholar to find tips and best practices; 2) create a process-flow chart that maps the temporal flow of the activity; 3) collect data on key points in the process; 4) use positive deviance—with myself and others; 5) set up an ongoing tracking system to analyze and adjust. Here’s what these steps look like:

1. Begin with Google and Google Scholar: I did some Google searches using the terms “telemarketing sales” and “best practices.” With these search terms, I mostly found marketing pitches for seminars. Google scholar was full of books and academic research that was not very interesting.

So I broadened my search and found a lot of useful tips by searching for the terms “telemarketing sales” and “tips.” These tips were a great place to start, but I was skeptical so I asked myself two questions: “How relevant are the tips to my exact situation?” and “How credible are they?” Most of the tips were somewhat relevant, but many had little credibility—other than sounding more or less plausible. Most came from commercial firms that are selling something and didn’t have any research data supporting them.

While internet research is a good place to start, be cautious with the information you find, and most importantly, never let a Google search be the end of your research. To find the most accurate behaviors, continue with the following steps.

2. Create a process-flow chart: Map a sales person’s day from beginning to end. What do these people do? Map the progression of a sales call. What is actually said and done? Try to capture a typical day and a typical call in five to seven steps.

In addition, it is helpful to map an “ideal process” based on what you know about the activity. For example, most sales calls include the following steps: Greeting, verification, questions, responses, information drops, and closes. Each of these steps is designed to move the customer further through the buying process—to bring them closer to a buying decision. Now you can compare what you actually do to the ideal activities you should perform.

3. Collect data: Next, begin collecting data. Of course you are most interested in the end results: number of sales and percentage of successful sales calls. However, also collect data on interim steps. Track “move forwards” on each step in the sales process you’ve mapped. Evaluate which step you excel in based on the data. Also look at the steps where you could use some improvement. Identify the exact steps or behaviors that need your particular attention.

4. Use positive deviance: If you have a sales team, the next thing to do is to look for the positive deviants: the salespeople who are markedly more successful than the rest. If you are on your own, look for the times when you’ve been the positive deviant. These are the specific calls, days, or weeks when you’ve been most successful. If possible, have the less successful salespeople observe and listen in on the most successful salespeople, and vice versa. Have the observers use the process-flow charts and the tips to guide their observations. Specifically, note the behaviors that set the positive deviants apart.

One of my favorite examples of this kind of positive deviance research comes from David Marsh and his team with the Save the Children Federation. They were working in refugee camps on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to reduce infant mortality. They’d mapped the birthing process from one week before the mother’s due date to one week after. Their team included physicians who had plenty of tips at hand. They identified the positive deviants—a few families who had never lost a child during childbirth—and trained families to observe each others’ practices. What did they find? The vital behaviors involved the father’s role. Successful fathers planned ahead for emergencies—they arranged to have a car and driver available—and they were present during the birth so they would know if an emergency was developing. These vital behaviors were quickly adopted across the camps, and as a result, they experienced a dramatic reduction in infant deaths.

5. Set up an ongoing tracking system: At this point, you’ve identified some behaviors that may or may not be vital. You acquired this list by finding researched best practices, examining a process-flow chart, measuring your results, and studying positive deviants. With this initial list in hand, you are ready to test your hypothesis.

Begin trying the two or three behaviors that seem most vital. Put all your efforts into these few behaviors. Set a goal to drive them through the roof. Meanwhile, continue to track your results—both the end and interim results. Don’t lose faith in the behaviors too quickly. Double or triple their use, and give them some time to work. Then analyze their impact, and make adjustments. Remember that the behaviors that are most vital to your success will change over time. For example, you may find that “making more calls” is the vital behavior that gets you the most traction early on. However, once you maximize your number of calls, a different behavior may be required to drive further improvement.

Good luck, and enjoy the process.