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The One Thing You Need to Know to Change Sales Rep Behaviors (for the better)

It's so simple, you should've thought of it sooner :)

As a tech entrepreneur, I talk to as many people as I can to learn how healthcare companies interact with physicians and patients. I’m always on the lookout for ways to innovate on a seemly simple process that is anything but simple. As a software company, it is our job to make this happen for our clients. Even though we’re a technology company, our focus remains on the HUMAN. Interactions will always be about people connecting with people and we do not want our clients or their customers to spend a single minute fighting with software.

A recent podcast helped me reframe the way I think about how we can best help our clients (and as a result, their clients). It’s not only a relevant approach to our goals as a software company but it applies to most every facet of our lives.

In one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics, is a an episode profiling Angela Duckworth and a group of psychologists and behavioral economists stuyding behavior change. They’re experimenting with tactics to make behavior change “stick”. If you don’t already know Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and of TED Talk fame, be sure to check out her work..

There was one idea that really jumped out at me. Below is a transcript or you can listen here and jump to 31:30 in the podcast.

Kurt Lewin was a German-American psychologist who in the early 20th century developed several ideas that became central to modern psychology. Among them: that people’s behavior is strongly driven by two main external forces.

KAHNEMAN: There are driving forces that drive you in a particular direction. There are restraining forces. Which are preventing you from going there. The notion that Lewin offers is that behavior is an equilibrium between the driving and the restraining forces…Lewin’s insight was that if you want toachieve change in behavior, there is one good way to do it and one bad way to do it. The good way to do it is by diminishing the restraining forces, not by increasing the driving forces.

In most cases, Kahneman explained, we try to change people’s behavior with a mish-mash of arguments, incentives, and threats.

KAHNEMAN: Diminishing the restraining forces is a completely different kind of activity, because instead of asking, “How can I get him or her to do it?” it starts with a question of, “Why isn’t she doing it already?” Very different question. “Why not?” Then you go one by one systematically, and you ask, “What can I do to make it easier for that person to move?” 

There are many great examples where removing the restraining forces is the most effective solution to difficult problems. Like increasing 401K savings participation by requiring OPT-OUT instead of opt-in. Or reducing cavities by adding fluoride to public water instead of trying to get kids to take fluoride supplements. For most of us, removing an obstacle yields far and away the best results.

It’s so simple yet not the way we usually think about solving problems. I would love to hear some examples of how by making things easier, you made them better.

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