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Crucial Influence

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.

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Influence

8 thoughts on “How to Find Vital Behaviors”

  1. brij

    Very good article. I learned a lot on how to go about sales.

  2. Elaine Starling


    Thanks for this insightful response. So often people want a “magic bullet”. There really is a quick and easy answer, but it takes following the steps you recommend to find it – those vital behaviors that make all the difference.


  3. John Shoucair

    Good article but I thought too complicated. I’d recommend readers take a quick look at “First, Break All the Rules”, Chapter 7, in the section The Art of Interviewing for Talent, and read the paragraphs under the heading #5. This will wet your appetite for more.

  4. Barb Sandvick

    I really find value in VitalSmarts training and think the newsletter is a great way to continue learning after attending classes. I do wish the Influencer training included more corporate examples like this month’s newsletter. Employees in our organization have had trouble engaging in the Influencer concepts and applying them. Based on some of their comments, I believe they have trouble relating to the social issue examples and videos when they are so pressed to quickly solve immediate business and personnel problems. Is there a resource I an use to provide them with more corporate examples of using Influencer concepts?

  5. David Maxfield

    The challenges we face often require both short-term and long-term solutions. In the short-term I often use my Crucial Conversation and Crucial Confrontation skills. I talk to the person about the business or personnel problem that has me concerned. I involve the person to resolve any motivation and ability blocks we discover, and to establish a clear follow-up plan.

    I begin using Influencer principles whenever the problem is more entrenched, involves broader social norms, or requires structural changes. We describe some problems as being “profound, persistent, and resistant.” These are the problems that merit an Influencer approach.

    A quick example: Suppose you have an employee who sometimes touches sensitive parts, leaving fingerprints that cause the component to fail six months down the line. This kind of problem is fairly common in the semiconductor industry.

    I’d begin with a Crucial Conversation or Crucial Confrontation. I’d explain why touching the parts creates problems, and I’d learn why the employee has sometimes touched them. I’d try to get a clear agreement and follow-up plan.

    But suppose it’s not just one employee who touches the parts; it’s most employees. And suppose I’ve already tried a few “solutions”–like explaining the reasons to avoid touching the parts and giving them gloves to use when they need to move parts–and these solutions haven’t produced lasting change.

    This would be the kind of situation when the Influencer approach would be ideal. Sure, it would be more trouble than a simple Crucial Conversation, but it would be worth it–because it would produce a comprehensive solution.

    Check out the worksheet we have on our website to see how you might craft a solution to a problem like this one.

  6. Susie

    I would like to add another tip. Ask a librarian/visit your library. There are many books available that will help people identify vital behaviors for any career or task and your librarian can help you identify titles and get a hold of them – for free!

  7. Tess Anderson

    Thank you! I was just beginning to realize that there was a temporal component to my behaviors. When, during the day, I do things is as important as the what. I know that first thing in the morning is a very productive time for me – I kind of wish I could have three or more mornings every day – then I would get tons done.

    Working at home is difficult at times – so many distractions and so many other things you could be doing rather than working – and it is very easy to draw up a to-do list that includes non-work objectives. Your advice about creating a process-flow chart and mapping out what successful days looks like will be fun to put into practice. I’d like to see if there is an optimal structure.


  8. James O'Meara

    @David Maxfield
    Like the advice on the worksheet. I was wondering if and or where a fishbone aka cause and effect diagram would fit in?

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