The Discomfort Zone

There’s a popular TED Talk called “100 Days of Rejection” – a young entrepreneur apparently not satisfied with the frequency of morale-crushing events in his life, went in search of more. To conquer fear, he sought out, and in fact manufactured, situations where immediate and emphatic rejection was almost certain.

Rejection is a feeling that salespeople know all too well, especially if they’ve spent much time cold calling. It can be painful even to watch – especially the sudden grimace that signals the prospect has hung up in the middle of the pitch. Then it often takes a few minutes of deep breathing to summon the resolve to dial again.

A hundred days of rejection can be squeezed into a single day of cold calling. Stories circulate about sales reps whose dread of the phone is so great that they resort to pretending to be on calls. That’s one way to minimize interruptions.

Modern selling is fortunately not so dependent on such a high pain-to-purchase ratio. We have better leads, a more sophisticated understanding of our buyers, and the soothing, impersonal balm of email. Even so, our individual comfort zones are hard to break out of. To reach out is to risk rejection.

The challenge of stepping outside our personal comfort zones is not unique to sales; it is intrinsic to any pursuit of ever-higher levels of performance. And individuals who reach the heights of professional skill in their chosen field (athletes are the usual example) will almost always acknowledge the importance of a teacher, coach, or mentor who just kept pushing them to go beyond average.

In the same vein, part of a sales manager’s job is developing – teaching, coaching, mentoring – the reps who work for them. Most managers will agree that helping team members grow and fulfill their potential is a source of great personal satisfaction, quite apart from how it contributes to the bottom line.

Of course, a manager’s personal sense of fulfillment is not always a priority for senior leadership. “Making the number” remains uppermost in everyone’s minds, and this is where a frontline sales manager’s own comfort zone is likely to be increasingly threatened as the year progresses.

To consistently hit sales targets, both senior leadership and the sales managers will need to answer a question that was posed in our recent Sales Manager Enablement Report: “Where should the sales manager’s focus be?” My colleagues Jim Dickie and Tamara Schenk, who authored the report, offer this concise answer: “High performing people, regardless of their role, focus on the intersection of what matters and what they can control. For the sales manager, that means managing the right activities and coaching the related behaviors (leading indicators) that lead to the desired results (lagging indicators).”

We’ve all heard the saying, “I know only half my marketing spend is getting results. I just don’t know which half.” In sales management, there is no need for this kind of guesswork. We know what gets results; we know how to train it; we know how to measure it.

Focusing on the growth/development your salespeople and sales managers allows you to avoid the discomfort zone of missed targets. Know that risking rejection and/or reaching beyond what’s currently comfortable is key to keeping up in today’s rapidly changing business environment.

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