How to Take Smart Risks and Win in Sales

By Heather Baldwin

Many of us have a tendency to play it safe sometimes.

“Salespeople look at what’s going on out there and don’t want to push the envelope too much,” observes Roz Usheroff, principal at The Usheroff Institute, an organization that helps front-line staff define a winning brand. “They don’t want to appear too radical. They think, ‘I want to keep my job, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.'”

There’s just one problem with this approach: it doesn’t push you forward.

Smart, creative risk-taking puts you in the limelight, makes you a contributor, and allows you to take control of today’s dicey sales environment – but the key word is smart; being a risk taker doesn’t mean being reckless. To boost the likelihood that your gambles will pay off, follow Usheroff’s six tips for intelligent risk-taking:

1) Trust your instincts. Don’t wait for complete certainty to make a decision. Complete certainty, if it comes at all, will come too late. Instead, trust your instincts. That’s what one executive did when his product-development team insisted that a new product wasn’t good enough. The executive’s gut told him the timing was right, and the market ended up responding enthusiastically. “If you have a good idea, don’t incubate it,” says Usheroff.

2) Ask for help. If your ideas require skills or knowledge outside your area of expertise, seek help. We often fear that asking for help will diminish us in the eyes of our colleagues and clients, but that attitude sets us up for failure.

3) Unleash positive energy. Fear, stress, and uncertainty can be your friends in tough times, but only if you learn to use them as motivators, rather than allow them to drain your energy, says Usheroff. “Remind yourself that progress won’t happen without taking a step forward into the unknown.”

4) Anticipate and act. Hockey great Wayne Gretzsky once said he never follows the puck. Instead, he skates to where the puck is going to be. Usheroff says sales reps must do the same by taking a hard look at customers, figuring out what their needs are going to be, and then positioning themselves there. If you’re constantly responding to events, rather than anticipating them, you’re going to be too late.

5) Learn from failure. According to one popular tale, when a young IBM employee made an error that cost the company millions, he tried to resign. Thomas J. Watson, the company’s founder, wouldn’t accept the resignation and reportedly said, “You can’t resign! I just spent millions of dollars training you.” In short, Watson understood that failure offers the best opportunity for learning.

6) Be realistic. While risk taking is good, recklessness is not. Before you dive after a new idea, verify that it’s reasonable. “Run ideas by people who you know have your best interests in mind,” says Usheroff. While you can’t wait for certainty, it’s still important to do enough homework that you’re confident your idea will have a better chance of winning than failing.

A reliance on the same old ways of doing things might feel comfortable, but it’s a sure path toward stagnation. Take the risk today!