Sales reps, like most of us, have a propensity to stay within their comfort zone. Some sales people think that’s what sales management wants so it is an issue of expectations. Others are fearful of being branded as tough to manage or a loose cannon if they take too many risks. Yet others see their companies as espousing the virtues of risk taking but then labeling people as failures who don’t succeed.
While it is true that too much of anything is probably not prudent. It is also true that achieving top performance involves some risk taking. So the challenge may be developing the where-with-all to take “smart risks.” Let’s take a look within a sales context at some of the considerations that might go into achieving that goal.
As is the case when it comes to all types of risk taking there are some up-front actions that are helpful. Timing matters. Taking some form of risk after a string of sales successes vs. failures is an easy one. Also, reviewing your risk taking idea with a key player like your sales manager and checking to see if others might have traveled your intended path and how they did it, makes sense as well.
Another angle to smart sales risk taking is the potential payoff of the risk. No sense to take a big risk that has a small payoff. So for those that are up for the idea, what are some risks that could have a significant payoff?
- Selling at the senior level. Most sales reps have a comfort zone when it comes to on whom they call. For example selling to the senior level involves risks – getting it wrong is telling. However, if you can skillfully get to the right senior person, at the right time, with the right message, the payoffs can be substantial. The good news is today senior people are looking for sales people who can bring fresh new business insights.
- Leveraging underutilized resources. In any large company there are under-leveraged resources that could be helpful to the sales efforts – people in marketing, technical and engineering support people, implementation managers or senior sales managers. Now there are some political risks and some risks associated with getting non-sales types in front of customers. But if you believe in the importance of bring “fresh new business insights,” then skillfully leveraging others is one way to do it.
- Challenging the customer. Some smart people just wrote an entire book about this risk-taking scenario. Are there risks in challenging the conclusions and points of view of the person on the other side of the table – no question? But if you have done a really good job on your homework and you have been thoughtful about the “right time and right person” then the payoffs are there to be achieved.
There are some specific situations where challenging makes particularly good sense. For example: the customer may hold a misperception of your capabilities or is working with too narrow set of decision criteria or has a limited view of the solution options. Helping the customer to redefine these ideas can be helpful to you and to the customer.
If one travels the road smartly and with care, some of the risks can be taken out of risk taking. In today’s competitive markets staying in one’s comfort zone may avoid failure – unfortunately it may also prevent success.
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