Interacting with Sales Teams : The Four Zones

Have you ever talked to your team and noticed how differently each person listens?

I’ve found that people usually fall into one of four “zones” that influence the way they listen and learn. Interacting with coworkers and employees requires you to know which zone each person is in so you can communicate effectively.

The Zones:

1. The Dead Zone: People in this zone have checked out. Basically, they just don’t care. These folks are probably low to medium performers. They’ve lost focus and ambition, and have no desire to advance further.

2. The Comfort Zone: People in this zone are sitting comfortably in their own little world. They are complacent; they resist any change that is happening around them. These average performers will do just enough to get by, and won’t show initiative for anything else.

3. The Panic Zone: People in this zone feel anxious, nervous, frazzled, and overwhelmed. They care a lot — a bit too much; they are ambitious and take on a lot. Panic Zone members may not know how to manage their time productively – how to prioritize or know what’s important versus urgent.

4. The Stretch Zone: People in this zone are excited (but not overexcited), enthusiastic, and ambitious. They have a list of goals, ideas, and strategies. They care a lot and want to do things differently if it will improve things. These are probably your top performers.

Depending on the size of your organization, you may know all these people. No one stays in the same zone forever. For example; a person may begin in the Stretch Zone. But once they learn what is involved in the job, they may jump to the Panic Zone. As time passes and they get to know their job really well they may move into autopilot, resting in the Comfort Zone. If they’re not happy and motivated, they may start caring less and less and end up in the Dead Zone.

Coaching and Managing

Once you’ve determined the zone, you can begin to tailor your management and behavior to meet their needs.

Managing in The Dead Zone: This zone is dangerous because people who no longer care are resistant to trying anything new –  they are very close to leaving the organization. When coaching them, find out what got them into this zone — it could be for personal or professional reasons, or both. Then have that tough talk with them. Ask them if they think they are in the right role.   Many managers fail to recognize when someone is in the Dead Zone. They think that giving them new tasks or new hires to mentor will help them feel needed and get them out of their “funk.” Big mistake! The Dead Zone can easily infect your new hires.

Managing in the Comfort Zone: People who have been part of the old sales regimen may fall into this comfort zone. They are resistant to adopting new ideas and they’re stuck. But they can be managed, because they really care. When you talk to someone in the Comfort Zone, include strategies that shake them up and change their routine, their territory, their product responsibilities. or perhaps a new vertical market. It might also include putting them on a new project to manage, giving them the opportunity for recognition and reward. Be careful! Someone in the Comfort Zone who isn’t managed properly can eventually find themselves in the Dead Zone, where it might be too late for change. You might try pairing up your Comfort Zone employee next to someone in the Stretch Zone — they just may share some needed energy.

Managing in the Panic Zone: These people can be those who finally realized what is expected of them and are running scared; they may be senior team members who are overachievers with low self-esteem (e.g., who concentrate on meeting sales goals at the end of each month). Help them understand that panic isn’t the answer, and help them separate things that really need their attention from those that can wait. Be gentle. The last thing they need is pressure from you — they are putting enough pressure on themselves. Prioritize with them. Help them slow down, sort through, and organize what’s in front of them.

Managing in the Stretch Zone: We wish all our team members could be in the Stretch Zone.  Nonetheless, managing someone in this zone is delicate — you don’t want to kill their spirit, just keep them on task. Coach them to stay focused, enthusiastic, and ambitious, but keep them in check.

What percentage of your team is in each zone? For a larger team, you can afford to have all zones represented and coaching will be a priority. For smaller teams, you will need to hire with great care, aiming for Stretch Zone candidates.

Josiane Feigon is the founder and CEO of TeleSmart Communications. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Josiane is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on inside sales team and manager talent. Her book Smart Selling on the Phone and Online is quickly becoming the sourcebook for inside sales and forthcoming book, Smart Sales Manager [July 2013 release] will be the new playbook for sales managers who need to lead their teams through today’s 2.0 landscape.