Sales excellence and the comfort zone freeze

sales reps and comfort zoneSometimes great short-term sales success can be a bad predictive of future sales excellence.  Let’s take a look at why that might be and examine the consequences.

There are a number of market and company specific reasons why this troubling dilemma tends to materialize at various times.  In most cases when these factors are the source of the problem, sales reps has very limited ability to manage and correct the problem.  However, there is an alternative source of the problem that is directly related to the sales rep – is one they can manage and correct.  It’s all about the phenomenon of  “comfort zone freeze.”

Some sales reps achieve success and avoid failure by sticking to “the tried and true.” They stay in their comfort zone. They don’t, for example, sell the innovative solution because it requires work to get smart about the particulars or because it is risky due to potential “hiccups” in implementation that can’t immediately be solved.

Another permutation of the “comfort zone freeze” is the sales rep that assumes a cautious attitude simply because it’s safer from a financial perspective – “I’d rather go for a sure thing with a lower commission rather than going for a big hit and losing it all.”

What’s wrong with “tried and true” or a too cautious attitude?  Isn’t there a lot to be said for the old axiom – “better safe than sorry?”  But Sales in 2016 is going to be about disruption – which has implications for staying within one’s comfort zone.  Let’s look at two specifics:

  • Markets. Today markets are going through transformational changes. The healthcare and technology industries are classic examples. Buyers are changing what they buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it.  And in the future the dust is unlikely to settle and a new steady state is unlikely to emerge.  Instead the new constant is a constant state of change. In such a market environments there is limited room for the “tried and true.”  Doing the same old, same old is not going to carry the day.  If buyers change how they buy, sellers need to change how they sell.
  • New Products.   Due to market demands and advances in manufacturing technologies, companies will likely double their rate of introducing new products in the next several years compared to their recent past.  New products require sales teams to adjust and adapt their selling skills. The more innovative the product the greater is the need for upgrading.  In some cases it will not be a matter of doing a better job doing what you are dong.  It will require a “horse of a different color.”  It will be about doing something different.

What are the consequences?  Some will say there are none because this characterization of the future as a world of constant change is a story heard many times before that has never produced the projected dire results.  Possible … but the suggested market disruptions look like the real deal.  So if they are, what are the likely consequences of staying with the “tried and true?”

  • Sales Rep. Sales reps that don’t test the limits, that don’t adapt to changes in the buying environment, that simply limit their aspirations to doing a better job doing what they are doing are likely to leave “money on the table” and limit their long-term performance skill development. They will survive but are unlikely to prosper because they are continuing to repeat the same sales behavior while the buying world around them is changing.
  • Companies.  A new set of winners and losers tend to emerge during times of disruptive change.  Just because you are a market leader does not guarantee you will remain one. Such times provide great opportunities for small and nimble companies to make significant competitive gains. The problem for many big companies is doing too little, too late.

Buyers are changing the expectations they have about the people on the other side of the table today. They want sales reps who are trusted advisors not product facilitators.  Sales reps or companies that adopt the “let’s just stay the course” approach are likely to continuously erode their competitive advantage.  “Tried and true” is likely to reemerge as “Sorry and Sad.”

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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