If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you know I’m a huge believer in the power of creating and sustaining the right habits or rituals for sustained outperformance.
Without the right habits, no one can become a top performer, let alone stay one.
And I’m a firm believer in the fact that great sales performers are not born, they’re made.
Whether you buy into Malcolm Gladwell’s “10.000 hours of practice”, or any of the other research that has been released on the topic, the fact remains this: with the right amount of drive, motivation and “sticktoitiveness”, virtually anyone can become a top performer in sales. Or at least become a whole lot better.
Over the years, I’ve seen great sales performers with a wide variety of habits and rituals. Some are what you’d expect, some are surprising, and some are downright strange.
Here’s a random, non-exhaustive list of what I’ve discovered about the habits of great performers thus far. If you want to become a top performer in sales, you might want to adopt some of these yourself.
1. Put yourself first
Great performers understand the value and importance of starting their day on a high, and most start off their day with a morning ritual. I wake up well before dawn, and start every day with 20 minutes of meditation, followed by 15 minutes of yoga. By the time I hit my desk, I’ve usually also read a chapter in a (non-fiction) book and spent some time journaling.
Great performers understand that how you start your day sets the tone for the rest of it. By starting off by investing in yourself, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment, and you’ll be able to navigate your day with a quiet sense of balance and inner peace.
2. Work smart, not hard
Here’s the toughest lesson I had to learn when I left corporate: as an entrepreneur, commission-only salesperson or commodities trader, no one cares how many hours you put in. If your livelihood depends on your ability to generate results, working long hours won’t save you. There’s no hiding behind a carefully crafted “busyness smoke screen”.
The trick is to work smart instead of hard.
But what does that mean?
You start by identifying the 20% of activities that generate 80% of your results. Then, you work to maximise the amount of time you spend on that 20%, and you work to reduce the time you (often, have to) spend on the 80%.
Things I personally focus the majority of my time on ? Speaking with potential clients. Writing. Thinking (seriously). Building and developing processes. Trying to serve my existing clients beyond their expectations. Thinking about how to further grow the business.
The 80% I don’t spend time on ? Uploading videos and blog posts. Cold calling. Booking travel. Speaking with unqualified prospects. Chasing bad leads.
3. Carve out time for reflection
Great sales performers instinctively understand the importance of taking out time for reflection and purposeful discovery. They carve out regular moments where they ask themselves a single, all-important question: “How can I do better ?”
Here is a secret all top performers share: they know that true improvement is not incremental, but often comes in leaps and bounds. You don’t end up selling 4-5 times more than anyone else in your firm by doing the same thing just a little bit better.
You do it by changing the rules of the game.
4. Sit at the front of the class
When it comes to learning, top performers understand the journey is never over. If you look closely, observe keenly, there’s always something of value to be gained.
Average performers play with their smartphones, chat amongst each other or make funny drawings in their notebooks. They literally close their minds to new perspectives, and opportunities to learn. Top performers don’t – they take every opportunity to question their beliefs, learn something new and challenge their established thinking.
5. Learn to say “no”
The world is full of people, opportunities and events that will gladly take your time, energy, focus, advice and money. Learning to say no is a key skill that top performers have learned – and often the hard way.
6. Forget ROI, think ROT
If you’re a business, ROI is a great metric. But if you’re in business (and especially, if you’re in business for yourself, which most sellers are to some degree), you’ll need to focus on something else: Return On Time (ROT).
Top performers understand that the real trade-off of pursuing something is not just financial – it’s the amount of time, energy and focus they need to dedicate to it.
Invest your time wisely, for it’s the most precious thing you’ve got.
7. Focus on quality, not quantity
I’d rather have a pipeline with three strong opportunities than a pipeline with two dozen mediocre ones. Some clients aren’t worth doing business with. Others will gladly take your time, advice and intellectual resources, but have no intention of doing business with you.
If you don’t believe me, do this simple exercise: for the past 3 years, do a revenue breakdown by client. Just a simple breakdown of how much every client has generated throughout the period. Identify what they have in common. And relentlessly go after clients who look the same.
8. Build processes and rituals
One of the most powerful habits of great sales performers is the fact that they live by habits. What I mean is that they often have highly ritualised, habit-oriented working days that follow a predictable, logical structure.
Top performers don’t aimlessly wander through their day, falling prey to external events and circumstances. They very deliberately suss out, build and maintain habits, processes and rituals designed to sustain top performance.
No one’s good at everything. I’m great with languages, but I’m horrible at math. I love standing in front of an audience, but I’m poor at attention to detail. I like habits, but hate routine.
Great performers accept the fact that they can’t be good at everything, and that what makes them great is often a very specialised, small part of what they do. For everything else, they ruthlessly follow a simple, three-step process:
- Delegate – have someone else do it
- Eliminate – stop doing it
- Automate – build a process to automate it
10. Become a deep generalist
Clients are more demanding than ever before. They don’t want to have to explain the basics of their industry. Teach you how to read financial metrics. Or have to school you on the influence current politics have on the global economy.
They expect you to know these things. They expect you to be a generalist.
At the same time, they also expect you to have answers to their questions, and to be able to answer detailed questions about you, your firm, your products and services and your approach. They expect you to be able to go deep.
Top performers are deep generalists.
11. See things through to the end
A wise man once told me, “There’s three kinds of people: some have trouble starting things. Some have trouble keeping things going. And some have trouble finishing things”.
In the past, I was the kind of person who had trouble finishing things. I’m always distracted by shiny new things, and I love starting new projects. No more. Now, when I start something (which I do far less than I used to), I make a vow to myself to finish it. No excuses.
12. Carve up your day
Whether it’s Pomodoro, GTD, or simply the habit of “eating the frog” (see Brian Tracy), great sales performers understand there’s a rhythm to a day, and not all hours are created equally. They carve up their day by working on their MITs (Most Important Tasks) when they have the most energy (typically, first), building in breaks for re-energizing themselves, and leaving early enough to have some energy left to prepare for the next day.
13. Take time off (off)
When I’m working, I’m working. I don’t do Facebook, I don’t chat with friends and I don’t surf the Internet. When I’m off, I’m also not shy about taking the time off. I don’t check email, don’t call clients and I don’t actively think about my business.
But here’s the funny thing: I often get my very best ideas when I’m technically “off”. Like Nietzsche once said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”.
14. Give freely and openly
As posited by Adam Grant in his bestseller “Give and Take”, great performers understand that the practice of giving your time and attention freely and without expecting anything in return is a key strategy in professional advancement.
Great sales performers give freely, mentor others and actively try to find ways to help others in their network. Because they instinctively understand that what comes around, goes around.
15. Invest in yourself
Once per year or so, I run an open coaching program. It’s the only program that’s open to private individuals, and it comes at a reasonable, although substantial, investment. All participants in the program pay for it out of their own pocket.
And every year, I’m surprised. Because the people who show up and enter are always among the top 1-2% sellers in their company. They’re already very, very good, but they understand that in order to stay where they are, they have to invest in themselves.
16. Set 360-degree goals
Great sales performers don’t see life as divided into “work” and “life”. And they don’t talk about work/life balance, they talk about work/life integration.
When they set goals for health, wealth, mindset, relationships, career and their finances, they understand these are all parts of the same puzzle, not disjointed aspects of their lives that are at odds with each other.
17. Time box
Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
Time boxing ensures that you don’t spend more time than absolutely needed, whilst also allowing for enough time to produce work that is of a sufficiently high degree of quality and polish.
The list above is not intended as a comprehensive list of traits of top performers. This is not academic research (although many of these are supported by it).
There’s certainly more habits they share. Some may not adopt all the habits listed here. And some may not share any of these, and still be successful (often in spite of themselves).
But here’s what I will say: once I adopted them, each one of these has made a meaningful difference in my own results, professional satisfaction and sustained performance.
But what about you ? What powerful habits have you adopted ? Seen others adopt ? What set of traits or processes have you observed in top performers in your firm or industry ?
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