maria Zampini — November 1, 2012

I recently returned from a weeklong trip to Tucson for the Garden Writer’s Association Symposium. It was my first visit to the Desert Southwest (flying through Phoenix doesn’t count). It was a wonderful yet humbling experience; I always enjoy reconnecting with old friends and meeting new, enthusiastic plant people. On the other hand, I know there is a lot I don’t know about plants, and when I visit a location where the plant palette is entirely different from what I’m used to, well, it kind of puts me in my place.

The conference was held at the Westin La Paloma, which is a resort and spa. It was a spectacular setting and the GWA volunteers worked hard to put on a great conference. But what really enhanced the experience was the many Westin staff who went above and beyond the call of duty in being friendly, helpful and fun. This event and hotel stay brought plenty of plants, sun, and, yes, even some relaxation – nowadays, that’s a foreign concept to me. In fact, the last few days was spent with my West Coast counterpart Dawn Hummel doing some strategic planning.

The resort boasted five swimming pools, however we chose to head to the La Paloma Country Club at the Westin to work by the lap pool. (Working poolside is not a bad thing at all!) While there, we observed Jeff, a swimming instructor, teaching a toddler how to swim. As the little girl floated on her back – aided by the support of Jeff’s hand beneath her – she was learning about trust. In doing so, she went outside her comfort zone to conquer her fear of going under.

As usual you’re probably wondering, “Where the heck is she going with this?” Well, while watching Jeff I thought about staying in our comfort zones in business. This brings me to ask: Are you playing it safe? Are you and/or your sales team living inside a comfortable bubble, frozen by your fear of doing something different or new, watching the green world pass you by? Or are you willing to take a suggestion from author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy: “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”

I suspect that most in sales positions are not naturals, but have been very well trained. And even if they’re not born salesmen, a truly good sales manager can help nurture those individuals: build upon their strengths, minimize their weaknesses and help develop their skills by providing them with tools, education and support that will bring out the best they can possibly offer.

Now, generally speaking, most nurseries should already have a majority of their spring orders booked. If not, your next best opportunity to garner multiple, larger orders in a short time frame is at the winter trade shows. After that, as the spring season progresses, orders typically are smaller add-ons.

Whether or not you have a manager who is a leader, are you as an individual or as a sales team ready to make the most of the upcoming shows? What are your sales goals, and what is your plan to achieve them? You need to set goals for the show, prepare, train, role-play or just plain do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd. Or are you just eagerly awaiting time away from the daily grind at the office and are more concerned about where you’ll eat and what you’ll drink?

And, just because it’s a new year, it doesn’t mean you can predict you’ll “do better” and sales will increase. Both trade show and yearly sales scenarios will succeed only if you do your homework. If you want to get from Point A to Point F, whining about it won’t make it happen. You have to have a plan to go from A to B, B to C, C to D and so on, to even have a chance of being successful.

Granted, it is theoretically up to the sales manager to steer the ship. But remember the Titanic: The captain doesn’t always do his or her job to the best of their ability. Adding more salespeople to increase sales doesn’t get the job done. Wasting valuable time with long, boring sales meetings that end up being an opportunity for management to let everyone know who’s in charge is neither inspiring nor productive.

Keep in mind that many of us are growing essentially the same product. Having the best sales team is a major differentiation strategy that could help you and/or your company climb to the top of the mountain.

If you’re not as ready as you could be – or should be – for the trade shows or the new year, don’t be discouraged: There is still time to break out of your bubble and work to place you and your company ahead of your competition.

Maria Zampini is the president of UpShoot LLC. Her company’s focus is “living, sharing and supporting horticulture” through new plant introduction representation including LCN Selections. She can be reached at [email protected], and her website is’Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.’

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