Why Sales Ops Needs to Know the OK Zone

Some arguments never end. As a Colts fan living in Boston, the one that I run into all the time is whether Peyton Manning is a better quarterback than Tom Brady.

As soon as I mention I grew up in Indiana, my credibility is shot. It doesn’t matter what statistics or logic I bring to the table — anything I say to Patriots fans is perceived as a biased argument and further entrenches them against my viewpoint.

These arguments usually end with a “let’s agree to disagree,” and we move on to other, less volatile subjects. That’s fine in the world of football fandom, but not so much when you’re working in a professional capacity.

Sales Ops constantly faces the challenge of converting entrenched salespeople to new ways of doing things, and their conversion attempts often fail. That’s why the OK Zone is a key concept for Sales Operations.

What is the “OK Zone”?

The OK Zone is a management concept coined by Jen Overbeck in her article posted in the Harvard Business review. The idea is drawn from research conducted on attitude change by Muzafer Sherif and Carl Hovland, and is used to explain the dynamic of what happens when you try to change someone’s viewpoint (as illustrated by the Manning-Brady example).

We’re all willing to entertain viewpoints outside of our own, but only within a certain degree of difference from our own opinion on the subject. The range of views we accept outside of our own perspective is our OK Zone. If we are faced with an opinion that falls too far outside that band of acceptance, we not only reject it, but actively undermine it.

At its core, being good at Sales Operations is about being good at change management. The point of the job is to understand the current state of the sales team, identify an ideal state for the sales team, and guide it from the former to the latter.

Most companies are good at figuring out where they stand and what needs to change. Fewer are good at actually making changes happen. This is often the case because managers are prone to making changes with no consideration for their team’s OK Zone.

Using the OK Zone

Identifying your team’s OK Zone is essential to driving change. Salespeople are notorious for being entrenched in their ways, and for torpedoing initiatives they don’t agree with.

To overcome that inertia, Sales Ops has to find the common ground and take incremental steps to widen the OK Zone. From there, you can guide the perspective of the rest of the sales team to include the change you need to make.

Applying the concept of the OK Zone is similar to insight selling, in that the successful implementation of new projects hinges on Sales Ops ability to understand the sales team’s potential for change, and map out a solution that fits within its capacity.

For example, if your Sales Ops team is responsible for implementing a CRM with the end goal of increasing the organization and transparency of sales activity, you should begin by mapping out their current process for organizing leads, contacts, opportunities, and other pertinent information.

From there, you match as much of their current process as possible with features within the CRM. If you start out with that bridge between the old and the new, you’re staying well within the OK Zone, and letting your end users come to grips with the new process on their own terms.

Once your sales team is able to transfer key points of its old workflow into the new one, the OK Zone will be broader, and you can continue pushing for more expansive improvements without fear of pushback.

Using this step by step system, your team will be able to bridge the gap between where you are and where you need to be.

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