As we move into a new year, there is always excitement and hope for what is to come. We look ahead with aspirations for 2019. Yet we remain aware of the volatility in today’s ever-changing world. As the weeks move on, we learn to balance realism with our dreams. Sales organizations look to the future with an increasingly conservative outlook. This results in a culture of risk aversion in salespeople who play it very safe when executing their sales tactics. Staying in their comfort zone, they begin to constantly call on the same people and, therefore, remain very narrow in their account relationships. This inevitably leads to an increase in deal slippage and a decrease in win rate.
Therefore, the new year is a perfect time to encourage your salespeople to be bold, get creative, and try something new. Remind them that “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is what many consider to be the definition of insanity.
How can first-line sales leaders encourage Sales teams to take risks and increase sales performance? Perhaps a short story will help.
Take the hobby of tennis. To become better at your game, it is wise to engage the services of a tennis coach. An enthusiast shared that when he is on the court with his coach, she provides a safe learning environment. She teaches him the techniques, and then they play together. This exercise challenges his view of his own personal limits and the limits of the game. Because of his faith in the coach, he is comfortable leaving his comfort zone and increasing his risk. This has allowed him to trust his instincts and achieve a level of performance he could never achieve on his own.
The role of every first-line sales leader is exactly the same as the role of the tennis coach. Their responsibility is to create a safe learning environment whereby salespeople can execute outside of their comfort zones and push themselves to achieve things they never thought were possible.
There are four basic fundamentals to creating this type of environment:
- Develop a regular coaching cadence.
Coaching should be conducted at the same time every week. Look at specific opportunities in a committed and focused manner. Our research shows that an outstanding sales coach will be spending somewhere between 20-25% of their time here.
- Become a role model.
Just like the tennis coach, the sales coach needs to demonstrate the desired behavior that salespeople can replicate. However, in doing so, ensure you are building—not reducing—their currency in front of the client. Take risks yourself and be transparent. When you share your experience, you will share important lessons.
“The biggest risk is not taking any risk …In a world that is changing really quickly; the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” – Mark Zuckerberg
- Use sales tools for objective evaluation.
Most sales methodologies include some form of sales tools, often based in a CRM system. Insightful sales tools can bring objectivity to the coaching session. These tools have no emotional attachment to a sales situation and, therefore, can minimize subjective bias. Help your salespeople use them to fully evaluate situations so they can consider all possible outcomes and take calculated risks.
- Teach them to learn from failure.
As you encourage salespeople to get creative and to take more risk—call on new doors, implement political strategies, engage in more emotional messaging, or deliver a very strong point of view—they need to know that their coach has their back if things don’t go according to plan. The ultimate responsibility of the coach is to back their team and to instill an innovative culture. As their coach, you must teach them to learn from failure. Take time with them to reflect on decisions and uncover what went right or wrong. Determine what could be done differently in future situations. Be a role model for taking calculated risks and learning from them, no matter the end result.
Human beings only grow by taking risks. That is the only way that we learn to do new things.
"Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it, the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me." –Arianna Huffington
Your job as a sales coach is to create a safe environment where smart risk-taking is encouraged. As we move into 2019, encourage your salespeople to courageously tackle hurdles and take risks. When you help them learn from their decisions, you will watch your Sales team and your organization grow.
Personal Challenge: As you consider the four fundamentals, which resonate most with you? Which can you try first? Is there one that you think will be more challenging than another? Put some thought into how you can be a role model for your team and foster a risk-taking environment that leads to growth in 2019.