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Embracing Change in Sales: The 4 Quadrants of Transformation

by | Jan 1, 2024

Home » Sales Execution » Training » Embracing Change in Sales: The 4 Quadrants of Transformation

Change is indeed a fundamental aspect of the sales world, and it’s something that we encounter daily in our profession. Embracing change is not just a good practice; it’s essential for staying relevant in today’s dynamic business landscape.

In our industry, it’s not uncommon for sales professionals to become complacent or resistant to change, often out of a sense of comfort or fear of the unknown. However, true growth and success in sales come from being willing to step out of our comfort zones and embrace new paradigms and skill sets. It’s a challenge because it requires us to be vulnerable and humble, qualities that can be uncomfortable to confront.

Great salespeople make embracing change and constant improvement a habit.

Embracing change and continuously striving for improvement are hallmarks of exceptional sales professionals. To navigate the dynamic world of sales effectively, we can draw inspiration from Ken Wilber and his “4 Quadrants of Change” framework, which provides valuable insights into how individuals process and adapt to change.

Wilber’s framework encompasses four quadrants: the individual interior (I), individual exterior (It), collective interior (We), and collective exterior (Its). Each quadrant represents a different dimension of change, from our inner thoughts and beliefs to external systems and processes.

By delving into these quadrants and gaining a deep understanding of how change affects us personally and within the larger context of our sales team or organisation, we can establish the right habits and expectations. This knowledge allows us to approach the adoption and development of new skills with a strategic mindset.

Quadrant 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Quadrant 1 is akin to setting foot in a new city without a map; you don’t know what you don’t know!

This stage is characterised by “blissful ignorance” or, more pointedly, denial! Sales professionals in this quadrant are often completely unaware of the gaps in their skills or knowledge. They might be using outdated techniques or approaches without realising that these methods are no longer effective in today’s rapidly evolving market. It’s like using an old street directory in a city where the roads are constantly changing – can you really expect not to get lost?

This phase, however, is not merely a matter of unawareness; there is a deeper side to it. It’s also about the natural human tendency to resist change.

It’s common for salespeople to dismiss new ideas or methods with a “That won’t work for me” attitude but this is a defensive mechanism against the unknown and unfamiliar, which is a natural first reaction in the change process. When engaging in sales training, we emphasise gently challenging this denial and encourage an openness to new possibilities and methodologies. After all, in sales, as in life, the only constant is (should be) change.

The key to transitioning from this quadrant lies in cultivating self-awareness and a willingness to learn.

The salespeople we have seen grow from good to great are always open to assessing their current methods critically and accepting that there might be more effective strategies out there.

This is where sales training and coaching play a central role. The process illuminates areas of incompetence that the salesperson was previously unaware of. This awakening is the first step towards growth and improvement in the sales process. It’s about moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, where challenges are seen as opportunities to learn and develop.

Quadrant 2: Conscious Incompetence

As this uncomfortable realisation dawns – that we may not know quite as much as we thought we did – we are successfully entering the second quadrant, known as Conscious Incompetence.

Building on the city analogy, Conscious Incompetence is akin to being handed a map by a friendly stranger, only to realise just how many streets you’ve yet to explore. Salespeople in this quadrant become all too aware of their limitations and knowledge gaps. As they say, self-awareness isn’t always comfortable news!

This phase is where a salesperson might face the uncomfortable truth that their pitch isn’t resonating as they thought, or they struggle to handle objections they’ve never considered. I often talk about embracing this discomfort, as it’s a sign of real growth!

Here, salespeople start to recognise the need for new skills and strategies. They begin to understand that their previous approach might have been adequate but is not optimised for the complexities of modern sales environments. It’s a stage marked not just by a realisation of what they don’t know but also by a burgeoning desire to learn and improve.

The journey through this quadrant involves seeking out new knowledge, training, and perhaps most importantly, feedback.

It’s about transforming the phrase, “I can’t do this,” into “I can’t do this yet, but I will learn.” Again, this is where targeted sales training and coaching can be invaluable. They offer guidance and structure to the learning process, helping salespeople develop the skills they need to advance. In this stage, a salesperson must be proactive in their learning, seeking out opportunities to expand their skill set and understanding of the sales process. It’s about replacing old habits with new, more effective ones, and moving from a realisation of incompetence to the development of competence.

Conscious Incompetence, therefore, should be embraced as a stage of empowerment.

After all, it’s where we take active steps toward betterment! We start practising new techniques, learning about the latest sales tools, and understanding our customers on a deeper level. It’s a challenging phase but one that is integral to becoming a more effective and successful salesperson.

wooden pegs lined up as salespeople with red one in front representing consciously-competent sales skills

Quadrant 3: Conscious Competence

With any luck, your persistence and patience during Quadrant 1 will pay off, seeing you transition from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence. This is where the hard work starts to bear fruit as new skills become easier, albeit still requiring a fair amount of conscious attention. Salespeople in this stage have embraced new knowledge and skills and are now actively applying them.

In this stage, salespeople can handle objections more skillfully, their pitches are refined, and they are adept at using new sales tools and techniques. However, this competence still requires conscious effort and focus. It’s not yet automatic; every successful action is a result of deliberate practice.

I often emphasise the value of this stage, as it’s where real transformation begins to take shape. Salespeople in this quadrant need to be diligent, constantly reminding themselves to use the new skills they’ve learned. It’s about integrating these new strategies into their daily routines until they become second nature.

One of the key aspects of this stage is continuous feedback and adaptation. Salespeople must seek and embrace feedback, using it as a tool to refine and perfect their skills. This is also a stage of refinement, where sales strategies are fine-tuned to fit different scenarios and customer types. The salesperson’s growth during this stage is palpable, as they begin to see the results of their hard work in their improved sales performance.

Conscious Competence is a demanding yet rewarding stage. It’s where confidence begins to build as salespeople see the effectiveness of their new approach. However, it’s important to remember that this stage still requires effort and attention.

Quadrant 4: Unconscious Competence

Upon mastering Conscious Competence, sales professionals ascend to the fourth and final quadrant: Unconscious Competence. This stage is the epitome of sales mastery, where the skills and knowledge acquired are so deeply ingrained they become second nature.

It’s akin to navigating that once-unfamiliar city as effortlessly as a London taxi driver. Here, sales techniques, objection handling, and relationship building are no longer tasks that require conscious thought; they are intuitive parts of the salesperson’s behaviour.

In this quadrant, salespeople handle various challenges with ease and agility. Their responses to objections, their pitch, and their ability to connect with clients are fluid and appear effortless. It’s the stage where selling has become as natural as breathing.

This doesn’t imply that the salesperson has learned all there is to know. Rather, it means they have reached a level of proficiency where adapting to new situations, techniques, and challenges is automatic and seamless.

Even at this advanced stage, your learning never stops. The best salespeople continuously seek new knowledge and ways to refine their craft, staying adaptable and ahead of the curve.

Unconscious Competence is not just about having skills; it’s about embodying them. It’s where a salesperson’s actions and reactions are both effective and authentic, leading to high levels of trust and rapport with clients. The sales process in this quadrant is characterised by a deep understanding of the client’s needs and a genuine ability to provide solutions.

It’s a level of competence that fosters long-term relationships and repeat business, which are key to sustained success in sales.

As good as it feels to be at the top of your game, you need to remain humble and open to continuous learning. The landscape of sales, like any other field, is ever-evolving. New technologies, changing customer preferences, and emerging market trends require even the most competent sales professionals to adapt and grow continually.

Applications in Sales: Cultivating the Right Attitude for Skill Growth

As you can now see, one of the keys to sales success isn’t just about understanding the various stages of skill development, but more about nurturing the right attitude towards this growth. Here’s how we can adopt a mindset that embraces continuous learning and improvement in sales, drawing from my experience and insights.

1. Embracing a Growth Mindset:

To excel in sales, start with a growth mindset. Be open to learning, coachable, and ready to apply new strategies. Confidence, not arrogance, in customer interactions is key. Balancing confidence with humility sets top-tier sales professionals apart. Embrace change eagerly to thrive and become industry experts in sales capability.

2. Motivation to Learn:

A fundamental aspect of skill development is your motivation to learn. If you’re motivated, you’ll seek out information and skills that you currently lack. For instance, if I needed to learn something outside my expertise, I’d be proactive in seeking knowledge from someone well-versed in that area. This same principle applies to sales – if there’s an area you’re not familiar with, be it a new sales tool or a technique, seek out that knowledge, internalise it, and make it a part of your sales competency​​.

3. Balancing Drive with Empathy:

In sales, there’s a delicate balance between having the drive to succeed and maintaining genuine empathy for your clients. It’s about caring for the people you serve. This balance is critical as it helps in building trust and rapport with clients. Avoid negative traits like jealousy, gossip, or anger, and keep yourself in what I call a ‘positive shell’. Always stay customer-centric. Remember, the best salespeople have a genuine passion for sales and the businesses they represent. They’re not just selling a product; they’re offering solutions that they truly believe in​​.

Conclusion

So, hopefully, understanding the 4 quadrants of growth can shed some light on why it’s important to step up, be a little vulnerable, and embrace change. As we say in the sales world, “It’s not a talkfest; it’s a development program.” I say, let’s develop through these quadrants, and let’s do it together. Because at the end of the day, it’s about creating an environment where an act of good faith can take place – that’s the essence of selling. And remember, keep your eye on the prize, and don’t be afraid to mess it up – that’s how you’ll truly learn and succeed.

 

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