Neal Benedict
February 1, 2017

As individuals, our tendency is to remain in a state of comfort. Comfort is defined as “a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint.” Most of us constantly strive to reach a state of comfort. Not because we are lazy or because we lack discipline, but in some cases because we work so hard comfort seems like our one true need. However, my friend and colleague Bill Eckstrom argues in his recent TEDx Talk that comfort can actually ruin you. Wow! Even thought I was saying to myself, “you know he’s right”, I never heard it articulated in quite that way before.

We live in at a time where comfort is highly valued, but Bill argues that being in a state of discomfort (complexity) is the only way to grow. This is an interesting conundrum faced by all leaders and is of importance to business owners. If the only way to grow is through discomfort and what business owner doesn’t want to grow, how do you keep your teams in that state of “discomfort” without creating an environment where chaos rules the day?

I tend to look at everything through the eyes of a sales leader. Sales leaders are measured, compensated, promoted and celebrated when there is growth. They look for growth under rocks, up in trees and even on other planets. They are maniacal about growth. So, if discomfort is the path to growth what should sales managers do to facilitate discomfort to drive growth?

Creating Discomfort that Drives Sales Growth

1. Establish strategic goals in addition to the quota

Establishing goals that allow your sales team to focus on strategic goals that they believe will help them grow their territory or account base (not today) in the future is valuable for pushing salespeople out of their comfort zone. Goals, like establishing a partnership, targeting an additional vertical market or simply targeting a particularly challenging client, will all help move salespeople away from comfort. Let them determine the goal so that they have ownership, but encourage them to make it a stretch goal

(Be thoughtful with this suggestion and try not to assign more than 1 strategic goal, otherwise, this can backfire and siphon time away from revenue-generating activities).

2. Travel to clients

Regular client calls with your salespeople are not only an opportunity to understand your clients, coach and help your team, and learn directly from them, it creates discomfort by changing up the normal routine and by reinforcing expectations set previously. It creates that “unpredictability” that takes our salespeople from comfort to complexity.

3. Train on sales skills regularly

Regular training on sales skills also creates discomfort. I have advocated in previous articles that 20 minutes of every sales meeting should focus on skill development. The practice of a new or unperfected skill always creates discomfort and causes growth. These skills can be anything from handling objections, improving on your ability to effectively tell a client’s story or even how to make a cold call. A focus on learning and practicing that skill will lead to discomfort and growth.

4. Personal development plans

Encourage each of your salespeople to create a personal development plan. These are areas where they want to develop a new skill or perfect an existing one. Help them focus on hard deliverables with fixed deadlines. These should be things they identify and truly want to work on. It can consist of classes, seminars, additional certifications or degrees, even personal goals.

5. Ownership

Encourage your salespeople to take ownership of certain items that aren’t part of their regular responsibilities. Have each sales person taken ownership of selecting and delivering the 20 minute skill development portion of the sales meeting or have them present the quarterly sales results at the next leadership meeting. These moments of ownership help take us from comfort to the complexity where growth occurs.

Of course, there are many additional ways to help your sales team to avoid slow growth that can come with comfort. Continuing to help your sales team move from comfort to complexity is a task as sales managers should pursue. Bill Eckstrom clearly articulates the risk of comfort and why as leaders we should be continually asking ourselves if our comfort is limiting our growth.