How to Manage “Comfort Zone” Originators

Every company has originators who are pleasant, likeable and hit their budgeted goals every once in a while in a strong market. In many ways, these sales professionals are consistent but definitely not stars. These individuals may be helpful but when goals shift higher, they can’t seem to get out of their “comfort zone” and make the changes needed to improve their performance. Managers must to determine whether it makes sense to continue with the status quo or try to replace these individuals with better producers. Unfortunately, many managers opt for keeping them on with the hope that one day, they will reach their potential but they never do.

Similar to  inconsistent originators, comfort zone originators represent a challenging issue for managers. While these producers are generating some volume consistently, they can’t seem to take their performance to the next level when it really matters.

Mediocre originators are certainly frustrating to deal with because managers expend a lot of time and energy trying to improve their results to no avail. Often, managers believe the problem is motivational in nature and will devote their time trying to inspire these sales professionals to produce. Managers also tend to coach these individuals repeatedly on the same topics and yet nothing really changes. Only a strong refinance market boosts their sales performance.

In Suzanne Paling’s excellent book, The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver, she recommends seven steps to handling comfort zone originators:

  1. Review their sales performance as far back as possible. Has the originator performed at minimum or near it for a while? Usually, comfort zone originators will stay within a consistent range — never great and always on the low end of production goals. Identify if this applies to them.
  2. Track the time that you spend with the originator. You might be surprised how much it is. The key question is: Can this time be better spent with top producers?
  3. Think about revenues that have been lost if you had a better originator. Write it down. This number can be large. Just think, this revenue is going to your competition.
  4. Is it time to use an objective assessment to determine what is holding back the individual? It might provide valuable insight into something you may have missed.
  5. Do you have a sales policy and procedure that addresses this type of situation? If not, develop one that gives clear direction on how mediocre performance will be handled.
  6. When meeting one-on-one with the originator, select one skill that needs to be improved. Give the originator an agenda of what will be discussed at the meeting. Show the originator a chart reflecting their performance over time. Let the originator select the plan of action that he or she will focus on. This is not another coaching session.
  7. Don’t let the originator steer the conversation off course. Since many of the prior conversations might have covered some of the areas that need to be improved, the manager should not re-coach but be more forceful in having the individual explain the correct strategy to improve their sales results. The manager should establish a timeline for improvement and hold the originator accountable.

Similar to inconsistent originators, comfort zone originators will not help the sales team move to the next level when the market requires major changes in selling skills. This is definitely a problem if the team wants to succeed. Frankly, the manager needs to ask whether they can afford to carry this type of performance in the long run.