Seven Habits to Lose, Seven Habits to Choose

Even in the best of jobs, it can be easy to slip into certain habits. Many of these behaviors, which all have a trigger, deliver some kind of reward. Ultimately, they often help us get closer to our goals as sales consultants.
    But habits can also have the opposite effect: preventing our success and impacting how we feel about our jobs. They’re not insignificant, either. Habits drive an estimated 45 percent of our behaviors, according to studies cited by Charles DuHigg, author of the bestselling book, “The Power of Habit” (Random House, 2014).
    What this means is nearly half of what we do, day in and day out, is sheer habit. It’s almost as if our brains are working on autopilot, making decisions about how to respond to the countless cues we experience on a regular basis.
    In truth, this is a sophisticated coping mechanism that frees up our brains to address more advanced needs for thinking and decision-making. Yet, particularly for those of us who like to think we’re fully in control, knowing that we’re acting so much out of habit can feel a bit alarming.
    Fortunately, there’s a significant silver lining: With awareness of our habits, we can actually become more in tune with our triggers, how we respond to them, and the reward (joy, power, freedom, etc.) we experience, which drives our behaviors and mindsets.
    As a sales consultant, it can be easy to slip into any number of habits. You have habits you’ve developed over time that are closely tied to your own experiences, and those based on your immediate work environment. But do you know what those habits are? How aware of them are you?
    For fun, start tracking some of your habits. Think about what you say, do or think relative to your average day at work as well as any challenges you face. What are you doing just because that’s the way things have always been? How often are you providing a response to a bride in exactly the same manner? What kinds of feelings generate “reward” for you – and how do you get those on a regular basis? Getting greater clarity around your habits opens the door to creating any changes you want to make.
    As DuHigg states, “Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom – and the responsibility – to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”
    In the bridal retail setting, habits surface and resurface, presenting to brides as examples of either great or not-so-great customer service. Once there’s awareness around these habits, those that don’t support your goals can be addressed and changed for the better, while those that do can be reinforced and sustained.
    With that in mind, here are Seven Habits to Lose and Seven New Habits to Choose.

Habit to Lose: Talking too much. In the sales world, it’s practically a sin to do the lion’s share of talking when you’re working with a customer. Most customers interpret this behavior as a big red flag that you’re not interested in them or their wants and needs. It’s also an indicator that you’re likely to be unsuccessful providing them with the experience and product(s) they’re hoping to get.

Habit to Choose: Listening more. Commit to following the 80/20 Rule – talking and asking questions 20 percent of the time and listening 80 percent of the time. When you do talk, make sure you’re choosing your words carefully, crafting what you say in ways that enable you to learn more about your brides. Ask open-ended questions, really listen to their responses, watch their body language, and then help guide (not force) the conversation in ways that evoke even more meaningful dialogue.
    For example, if a bride is struggling with a particular gown, go deeper and ask her “Why?” to get to the heart of the issue. Use what you learn to address her concerns and give her what she wants.

Habit to Lose: Overreacting. How often have you found yourself regretting something you said or did, realizing after the fact that you may have overreacted to a bride? It happens to even the best of consultants, particularly when put in challenging or stressful situations. Sometimes we overreact because we’re feeling a need to regain serious control. Other times, we might then unknowingly slip into the habit ourselves, mirroring a bride’s irrational behavior and making things more tense and dramatic than necessary. Problem is, overreacting only fuels fire and prevents progress toward your goal: resolving what’s at hand and efficiently getting the bride what she wants and needs.

Habit to Choose: Stop. Breathe. Think. When you’re feeling inclined to overreact, use this simple technique. Wherever you are, pause, take a few deep breaths, and think about your next steps. To help provide some direction, ask some “What if” questions…as in “What if” I respond in my usual way, what’s likely to happen? And then, “What if” I choose to respond differently, what may happen then? Call upon your emotional intelligence to soothe any fears you may have or innate desire to overreact. Let those few moments of thinking and simple breathing help reel in your response before it gets the best of you.

Habit to Lose: Worrying. Everybody has worries to some degree or another. In fact, research suggests women actually have a natural tendency to worry more because of activity that occurs in the prefrontal and limbic cortex. Authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman discuss this in “The Confidence Code” (HarperCollins, 2014), highlighting the work of psychologist Daniel Amen, when they write: “‘when the prefrontal cortex works too hard, as it often does in women,’ explains Amen. ‘It’s like the parking break is always on and you can get stuck on certain thoughts or behaviors, such as worrying or holding grudges.’”
    No doubt, some worrying can be helpful, such as when you keep thinking about how a bride might not have understood something important you tried explaining to her and it prompts you to communicate it again. But worrying can take on a life of its own if you don’t address it. It can even become a guiding force behind what you say or do when working with a bride. Any such imbalance will impact your ability to win respect, build the trust of your customers, and succeed in the sales arena.

Habit to Choose: Take action. To keep worry from controlling your behavior, notice when the dialogue of fear starts playing out and what those worries look and sound like. For example, you may have a deep worry around not making enough in commission this month. To address this, build an action plan. If you don’t feel you need a formal plan, at the very least, start taking small steps to counter your worries. Taking such action is the only way to tackle worry. It builds momentum, and momentum will play a big role in helping get you where you want to go.

Habit to Lose: Bad-mouthing. Ever caught yourself saying something negative about a competitor, customer or fellow staff member? Particularly when we’re feeling threatened or victimized by others, it can be easy to fall into this trap. But be careful! When customers observe this behavior, they will question your professionalism and wonder if you’ll talk about them, too.

Habit to Choose: Praise. Replace any tendency to bad-mouth with the habit of praise, frequently telling stories about brides and other customers that highlight what was/is wonderful about that person or a particular situation. When you do this, brides will come to know you as someone who loves her customers! And what if a customer slams another business to you? Avoid the tendency to join in. Instead, listen and empathize, but gracefully move the conversation forward, shifting it to focus on the present situation and the immediate goals. Then get busy and deliver!

Habit to Lose: Assuming. Customers can’t stand it when sales professionals make assumptions about them. Assumptions are dangerous because they can paint unrealistic pictures (such as stereotypes) upon which decisions get made and from which costly and embarrassing mistakes become more likely. As the saying goes, if we assume, it can make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

Habit to Choose: Always get the facts. Even if some socialite comes in to buy a gown, don’t assume she’s got a big budget. And the opposite is true – if someone who appears to be of lesser means comes in, don’t assume she can’t afford the gown of her dreams. Rather use a process of questioning and open dialogue to learn as much as you can about the customer before you. Whether that’s through an official registration form she’s filled out prior to her visit or simply through a meet-and-greet you have when she first comes into the shop, take the time to get to know your bride. Collect the facts about her, her fiancé, the budget, the wedding itself, and all those who are a vital “party” to her shopping experience and the event itself. Use this information to empower your selling strategies and the steps you take for its success.

Habit to Lose: Ducking confrontation. Rare is the person who loves conflict or tough selling situations. But whether it’s a sudden roadblock, a bit of gradual pushback, or an outright explosive confrontation, shying away from resistance can backfire in a number of ways.

Habit to Choose: Be grateful for challenges. When you’re put to the test, it can be an opportunity to learn. And when you choose to learn, you’ll grow both personally and professionally. Don’t see eye to eye with someone or feel as if you’re being attacked? Try saying a silent “thank you” in your head before responding out loud. This little shift in perspective can help re-frame your thinking, pave the way for coming up with more helpful ways to communicate, and simply make you feel better. Ultimately, this will build the respect of customers and make them more open to trusting you. That said, don’t allow people to hurt you; make sure you’ve got healthy boundaries when dealing with any degree of confrontation and be prepared to call in for the support of other staff members or even call it quits if the situation really deteriorates. Always learn from the experience and take away any valuable lessons you can.

Habit to Lose: Not honoring commitments. There’s no question that honoring your commitments can make or break your success as a bridal consultant. It starts with making promises you can keep. Then it’s about ensuring that you’re doing just that, avoiding the tendency to let things slip through the cracks. Honoring commitments matters regardless of whether they’re big or small; even something as seemingly insignificant as failing to call a bride when you promised you would could destroy her trust in you and put at risk your odds of making the sale.

Habit to Choose: Follow through. If you struggle with honoring commitments, create a process to track and follow up with promises. Put a verbal commitment in writing and send the proof of that commitment to the customer so it’s clear. Let other team members know what you’ve promised so that people around you can help support your commitment. (This is also smart in the event you’re suddenly not able to keep a commitment.) Also, learn to say “no” when someone asks you to do something you cannot honor. This won’t make you a bad sales consultant but an honest one, which will eventually weigh in your favor. If necessary, you can explain why you’re saying “no” to a particular request, but never feel the need to defend yourself. Simply give the reason and then move on to what is possible. Remember, keeping your word is about being honest and this is the cornerstone to all great sales professionals and the brands they represent.

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