Are Your Team Operating Too Far Inside Their Comfort Zone?
Are your team operating too far inside their comfort zone?
It seems like far too long since I last put pen to paper and spoke about the world of sales! A few big wins for the company at the end of last year and I’ve been living on the road and in hotels ever since. A nice problem to have, but not the subject of todays post…
Plural noun: comfort zones
A settled method of working that requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results.
“If you stay within your comfort zone you will never improve”
I’ve been fortunate enough recently to work with several large groups of Field Sale Reps from a leading, genuine automotive parts manufacturer. One thing that became clear to me pretty quickly is how we all tend to operate within a comfort zone and unfortunately, for the vast majority of us, that is holding us back from making additional sales and for businesses it means we’re missing out on potential growth.
Let me paint you a picture with some headline figures of the role:
- 8-12 visits per day, sometimes more
- 90+% visits to existing customers with existing relationships
- Up to 250 target prospects per region
- A sizable opportunity with lapsed customers
- A massive opportunity to target new business customers
- Average time in role 10 years+
- Selling genuine (OE) products in a competitive marketplace
- Long established employers and competitors
Essentially, we discovered a strong trend. That the Reps were spending most of their time visiting customers where they knew they could get orders; where their relationships were strongest and where they felt most comfortable. They were spending most of their time in their safe zone. Is that such a bad thing? I hear you ask. Well potentially, yes. Especially since we were seeing only marginal and inconsistent additional gains at best from working like this.
You see, what tends to happen is that your customer visit cycle becomes a vehicle for you to collect the same orders every week, month or fortnight and if a Rep can do their number by doing this, they’re ok aren’t they? Technically yes, but from a business point of view, there is a smarter way to work and also increase a Reps’ sales faster.
What we were lacking was an effective prospecting plan. A way of targeting new business and lapsed accounts while still focusing on managing an existing customer base.
The challenges from the Reps’ perspective
- Existing Relationships
There was a general consensus that the reason the Reps were operating in this manner was because they were keen to maintain the relationships they’d already worked hard to build. A Fair point, but one that essentially boils down to being an excuse for operating in ones comfort zone.
Generally speaking the building of solid relationships is what gets us the ongoing business. From that point of view the hard work had already been done which raised a questions of both productivity and practicality on these specific accounts.
Is it either practical or productive to visit the same customer 4 times or more per month to collect the same relatively small, safe order each time?
Identifying accounts that received regular visits from us allowed us to start implementing plans on the forthcoming visits to discuss opportunities with a view to increasing their spend incrementally.
An effective process leveraging a strategic approach to identifying win-wins with each client worked well, and following this practice, it also gave us the opportunity to clarify with each customer that they felt they’d still receive the same level of great service if their monthly visits were reduced and on one of the weeks they’d receive a phone call from the Rep instead.
All of the customers were quite happy with this arrangement, which meant that Reps had suddenly managed to recover up to 20 working hours per month by working smarter whilst still maintaining great service levels.
In fact, we could identify some accounts that would have been equally pleased with 50% calls and 50% face to face visits.
We’d introduced a structured prospecting plan that ran alongside our visit cycles that was easy to manage and required no additional investment of time. Only reallocation of less productive time.
There’s simply not enough hours in the day. We’ve all felt that way at times. The truth is though, if we’re better organised and devote more time to planning and working smart it’s amazing what we can achieve!.
Finding a way of managing certain accounts in a less time intensive way meant creating time we didn’t have before to focus on customer acquisition and engaging with lapsed accounts to get them spending again. But conducting visits and finding decision makers on the road can take considerable time!
The proof is in the pudding so in all of the sessions, after a small workshop to get us prepped, we introduced live call out days where Reps were required to bring details of 10 new business accounts they wanted to target but hadn’t yet engaged with. In the most recent session, 7 reps managed to yield 24 planned meetings and 9 sales in wait for it…. Just 25 minutes! And all of a sudden the perhaps once skeptical Reps’ saw how effective using reallocated time in this way could be.
Try achieving that level of productivity on the road! What’s more conversion rates on these new accounts following our sessions had been commendable across all of the groups we worked with.
Starting from scratch
The reality of this situation was that we really hadn’t been engaging with many new accounts because we’d been operating within our comfort zone for so long so these new accounts needed a different approach. One we essentially didn’t have. The relationships weren’t already there and it wasn’t an order collection exercise. This was for all intents and purposes, new.
This was a pure new business development exercise now!
During a telesales training exercise we rolled out an effective repeatable process to over 1000 attendees in the same companies that continues to achieve excellent results.
We needed the same for the Reps; a structure for them to own and operate that would help them make the most out of every contact. And that’s what we did.
Similarly to the more strategic approach employed to building existing customer revenues, we focused on identifying opportunities with customers that presented high chances of getting them to say ‘yes’ to an initial order. Combined with a focus on doing better, longer term deals meant ever-building revenues were already waiting be collected for the next month and the existing orders from the original customer base continued to flow and were still coming in. That meant we were able to continually focus on identifying valuable opportunities for our customers so we could continue nurturing their spend increases rather than simply harvesting what was already there.
In truth, far too many of us in this type of role operate within the boundaries of a comfort zone. No matter how near or far those boundaries might be. It takes a certain type of person and strength of character to really succeed in a sales role like this. If you’d class your field reps more as order takers than business developers, or if your team on a regular basis voice any of the challenges we’ve discussed, think about how you can implement similar steps to help your sales people work smarter and grow your business faster.
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Comfort Zones Recommended Read* – Be Bold and Win the Sale: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Boost Your Performance