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We have all heard the quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” We don’t really know who first coined this, but it is a common mantra in Corporate America. Even though I have never heard anyone provide a counter-argument, we still run into company cultures that struggle to pull the trigger on decisions.

On a recent meeting with the CEO of a company, I asked this question, “Andy, what happens if you do nothing?”

This caused him to take a deep breath, purse his lips and bring his closed fist to his lips. As he stared off into the distance for a long time, I continued, filling in the silence, “What if nothing changes to raise the quality of prospects your sales team is bringing in? What if sales reps and sales leaders continue to feel frustrated and anxious about making the sales goals that have been put in front of them? What if your business looks like this today—and tomorrow—and the next day—and next month—year after year?”

When the conversation finally got going again, Andy and I had a nice talk about…the actor, Bill Murray.

Enter Groundhog Day

In the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman, Phil Connors, who has a general dislike for people. He is uncomfortable about his assignment covering the annual groundhog festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Phil is uncomfortable about interacting with the small-town people in Punxsutawney. He is uncomfortable working with his peers on this assignment. Likewise, no one who interacts with him on the fateful Groundhog Day is comfortable having to work with the arrogant, unfriendly disrespectful Phil Connors. Then the snowstorm hits and shuts down the town, forcing Phil and his team to stay another night. When Phil wakes up the next day he finds that he is reliving Groundhog Day all over again. In fact, each day plays out just as it did and Phil grows more and more frustrated the longer this goes on until he is inspired to change his attitude and daily behaviors to break outside his comfort zone.

Sales professionals and sales leaders often fall into this trap. They reach a point where they can pay bills and have a few bucks left over. We have heard them say that when they absolutely have to earn more, like fund for college, they can. But what if we ask them, why not now?

Every sales professional has a comfort zone. Their comfort zone is that earning level at which not much more than the bills are paid. Many sales professionals, unfortunately, get stuck here for the rest of their careers.

The reason they remain stuck is nothing more than the fear of failure. Here’s their thinking process. “I’ve struggled to get this good, and now I know I can pay my bills. When I didn’t know as much as I know today, I failed to make enough sales, and there were days when I wondered if I made the right decision. To be honest, there are sales I still don’t make today, but those are not my fault. Somebody or something else I can’t control caused them to slip away. I also don’t need to learn anything else because I’m perfectly content with where I am. Besides, I’ve seen all the supposedly new sales techniques, and they are just like all of the others. If you have been in sales long enough, you’ve seen it all. Same thing, new label. At least I’m not starting out now. I don’t know how the new salespeople survive.”

Risking failure is how a salesperson gets out of his comfort zone. It’s the next step in becoming more professional. Some will take it, some won’t.

Recognizing that they failed to make the sale is easy. The first step is disbelief that the prospect would ever consider someone else. “They made a bad decision going with someone else.”

The second step is fear. “I hope that doesn’t happen again. It would be like starting over.”

The third step is anger. Anger at the prospect, the company you work for, the economy or whatever for the prospect not buying. “Not my fault it didn’t happen.”

The fourth step, and most difficult to take, is acceptance that the sale was not made because you did not handle it correctly. “Must have missed something.”

The fifth step, and the one that gets you out of your comfort zone, is taking action to see that when you are in front of the next prospect, you don’t make the same mistake again. “I’ll try it this way next time.”

When sales professionals stay in a comfort zone it means only one thing: they have decided to stop increasing their earnings. They may also find their earnings going down because they start getting sloppy and start cutting corners.

The Solution: Hold them accountable and implement a process where they and you can identify how and when to course correct. Most importantly, tie their goals to corporate goals and watch their motivation for success change.

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