Escape Your Comfort Zone
Good things happen when technical experts overcome their fears and release their inner sales and networking abilities. Anyone can do it, you just need to learn how!
For many technical experts in this industry, the idea of sales meetings, networking events and large scale presentations is daunting – if not downright terrifying. But they are pretty much a requirement for successful surveying professionals. So if you’re going to be forced outside your comfort zone, you need to be prepared.
Here we examine the benefits of leaving your comfort zone and take a look at how ‘unnatural salespeople’ can nurture their skills and develop confidence. Push past those self-imposed boundaries and you become better placed to contribute to the growth of the organisation you work for and increase your value – and employability – in the market.
It used to be that a few senior people within an organisation would take responsibility for winning new business by ‘working’ their network – flying around the world, attending conferences, events and cocktail parties. They would then drop by the office like Santa Claus unloading their sackful of projects for the technicians to work on. But the days of the solo ‘rainmaker’ are over. Most surveying companies now adopt the ‘doer/seller’ model where everyone is expected to contribute to business growth by engaging in marketing and business development activities.
Organisations in the built and natural environment tend to employ very bright individuals who are technically extremely competent. But while technical experts are often introvert personalities – deep thinkers, independent workers – there is no correlation between this and being good at business development. In fact, the evidence suggests that introverts fair better at the art of ‘consultative selling’ than their extrovert colleagues, who can sometimes be a little less subtle in their approach!
Good business development is more about listening, understanding and applying technical knowledge (in that order) than it is about having the ‘gift of the gab’ or being charismatic. After all, a lot of buyers are equally focussed on the detail.
The motivation for escaping your comfort zone is not just about winning work and developing professionally. It’s also about taking the stress out of stressful situations, improving your confidence and giving yourself more options in terms of who and where you are employed.
Of course, different people have different comfort zones. Having worked for many years with surveyors, engineers and consultants within the built and natural environment, we have identified the common areas. Rest assured, if you feel uncomfortable with presentations and public speaking, networking, sales meetings or cross-selling, you are not alone. But while there’s no doubt that these scenarios can feel intimidating, there are plenty of ways in which you can help yourself to deal with them more easily.
Delivering a good presentation is a combination of knowing your audience, knowing your subject matter, keeping slides uncluttered (three bullet points max), and having a clear point to make. If you are well prepared you will undoubtedly feel more confident. Practice is also very important – you can do this at internal meetings and ‘in the field’ with a buddy or mentor.
When the time comes, take a few deep breaths to calm your voice. Then you just need to go for it. Remember – it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, most audiences warm to ‘real’ people who demonstrate they are human by showing a few nerves.
‘Working a room’ can be daunting. These tips should make those events more enjoyable and productive.
- Get the attendee list before you go – who can you contact in advance to arrange to see there?
- Arrive early, find the host and ask to be introduced
- Approach groups of three or five – the dynamics of odd numbers means that the group is more open to accepting others. Even numbers means people can pair off in conversation
- Keep moving but learn how to exit a conversation politely. Sometimes just saying, “Its been lovely to meet you but I must try to meet some other people too,” will be all it takes
Sometimes you will go to a formal meeting designed to discuss what the client is doing or what they are hoping to achieve and you have the opportunity to explain how you can help them realise their objectives. Sometimes these conversations are much less formal and take place over a coffee or whilst delivering a project. Wherever and whenever they occur be sure to structure the conversation. We recommend looking at the 3i Model – Inform, Investigate, Inspire (below). This puts the greatest emphasis on the Investigate part of any meeting – it’s your opportunity to find out as much as you can about the client and their needs. The most important skill here does not require you to leave your comfort zone… it’s simply to become a fantastic listener!
Discussing issues with clients outside our area of technical expertise is sometimes referred to as ‘cross-selling’. It’s an area that, on the face of it, should be simple – but the reality is often quite complex. One of the reasons for the difficulty is that this is a prime example of having to move out of our comfort zone because we need to discuss areas of work or client challenges that fall outside our technical expertise. Preparation is part of the answer – understanding not just what our colleagues can offer but also learning how their expertise can help our clients. Another key to successful cross-selling is learning to investigate the client’s world which means good, probing questions delivered with a real sense of curiosity.
Much of the key to escaping your comfort zone is in embracing new skills and building your confidence. Sometimes it can help to identify our own strengths and weaknesses first. Online tools such as www.strengthsprofile.com enable you to build a profile that identifies your realised and unrealised strengths, learned behaviours and weaknesses. Once you have uncovered the areas you need to improve on, you can take a focused approach to training, coaching or mentoring, or just look for the right self-help books or online videos.
Being a ‘rounded professional’ is now a requirement, not an option. It means we have to take responsibility for areas that our job demands where we may not feel naturally confident. The good news is that everything we have spoken about here is learnable. Yes, there are people who are born extroverts, charismatic individuals who possess the ‘gift of the gab’ – but those attributes are not requirements for any of us to succeed.
At Questas we know that even the most technically-minded people can become effective business developers. Learning new skills and developing the right habits are the key to enhancing your value. And that value is tangible. Your employer will certainly recognise and reward it, your clients will be keen to refer and recommend you, but most of all you will grow as a professional.
Developing skills outside our comfort zone, putting them into practice and finding out that a) it’s not that hard and b) the results are pretty good, does wonders for your self-esteem and self-confidence. And this, in turn, opens up more opportunities, allows you to build new (potentially lucrative) relationships and leaves you better equipped to take on challenging situations – both professionally and personally.
About the author
Gary Williams is a Business Development Consultant and Executive Coach. He works with leading professional firms in the built and natural environment, helping them build client relationships and win more work. He is passionate about developing sales confidence in ‘unnatural salespeople’.