The ABC’s Of Managing Your Sales Team

Have you heard of the Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) Model before? In layman’s terms, it’s a Behavioral Science model that can be used to help people examine behavior, the triggers of those behaviors, and what drives those behaviors to happen again and again. Today we are applying this model to our sales teams and sharing what we’ve witnessed.


Let’s start with the ‘A,’ which is the Antecedent. This is anything you do to set up or trigger a behavior. For example, you can tell people you want something to happen, and you can send them an email, you can provide training, etc.

The ‘B’ is the actual Behavior by the salesperson.

The ‘C’ is the Consequence that happens after that behavior occurs. An example of a consequence could be that a person could get recognized, get rewarded, get paid, get punished, or there could be no consequence. Studies have shown that people spend 80% of their time on the Antecedent, the trigger, and 20% on the Consequence, positive or negative. When, in fact, the behavioral science people will tell you that they should be spending 80% on the Consequence, the reward, to truly shape a behavior.  When people get a reward or at least recognized, science tells us they want to repeat that behavior.

Changing Behavior

When talking with sales leaders who are looking to change behavior with one of their salespeople, we first ask, “What behavior are you trying to change?” We get answers such as, “We want them to find more opportunities,” or “We want them to ask better questions.” Or even “We want them to get their expense reports in on time.”

Next, we ask how they go about changing this behavior and, we get answers like “I tell them, then train them on it, then email them, or I show them, etc.” That’s good. But when we ask, “What happens when they perform that behavior that you are looking for?” The sales leader typically replies with *chirp chirp*. That’s right, crickets.

We find that most sales leaders don’t recognize or even acknowledge when that salesperson has performed the desired behavior. There is no reward, no recognition, no anything. That’s why most new habits don’t stick.

Real Life Example

The best example of the ABC model I’ve ever witnessed is when it came to training our dog. When she was a pup and went outside and did her thing, she would get an instant treat and a pet. She was rewarded right away for changing her behavior.

The same ABC model needs to be integrated into the changes you want to make within your sales team. Let me give you an example I hear a lot - say you want your salespeople to get five new opportunities a week. When they do land five new opportunities, the consequences should be acknowledging it, for starters. You could also go up to tell them exactly how they did a great job. Bring it up in your one-on-one or talk about it in a team meeting. Maybe you could show their name on a leaderboard for who got the most recent opportunities for the week. As an added benefit, if they are hitting their goal or more, they have a shorter one-on-one – a reward in its own right for many. If you encourage good behavior, it sticks.

Apply And Reshape

The same thing can be applied if they don’t land all five opportunities. Say, they improved from the typical one or two opportunities and go to three. First, acknowledge that they did well getting the three. That’s important because they are making progress. But now the other part of that discussion is to talk about what they can do differently to get the other two. Make this one-on-one discussion a positive experience

The Antecedent is setting the expectation around five opportunities, the Behavior is getting more, and the Consequence for achieving the goal (one of many) is recognition and shorter one-on-one’s.

Steps to take to really shape desired behaviors are:

  • Identify the behavior you want to change
  • Be specific when explaining that behavior. Such as, “Get more opportunities” or “Make sure you get your stuff in CRM” are not specific and therefore hard to accomplish. “Get five new opportunities per week” is more specific and measurable.
  • When you see that someone has executed the desired behavior, reward it right away. Behavioral Science will tell us that the closer the Consequence is to the behavior, the more likely the person will repeat it. 
  • Reinforce it consistently – if you do it just once and not the next time, the behavior goes away. Reinforce it until it is a habit.

If good behavior isn’t rewarded, then it can ultimately lead to job dissatisfaction. However, when the ABC Model is applied and reinforced to a salesperson's behavior immediately after, it promotes quick and thorough learning. It motivates others to continue to do good work. It also increases productivity by rewarding salespeople who have adopted that new behavior. It creates a happier, more positive work environment which can lead to more wins overall.

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