Small Steps in Sales

By Trevor Coltham

Change is constant in today’s sales world.

There’s often downsizing or reorganization going on. These programs are created to invoke change. 

All changes, even positive ones, are scary. Attempts to reach goals through radical or revolutionary means often fail because they heighten fear... One Small Step Can Change Your Life - Robert Maurer PhD.

Here at SG Partners we work with senior leaders who want to grow their businesses or at the very least stop their current decline. Many sales leaders have witnessed the decline within their sales teams for some time before they act.

When the pain is acute enough, they want a quick fix.

One common approach to fix sales decline is to run a sales training program. This will teach new skills and create a belief that salespeople will change. However, will the sales team change just because they have to attend a sales workshop and bring back a book full of notes?

When there is extra pressure on sales leaders and their sales teams to perform/change, fear kicks in. 

Especially when the goals of change are set far too high. The limbic system in our brains is triggered, and we therefore find it harder to focus on long-term goals.

But the ‘training will fix the problem’?

People can be overwhelmed by taking in new information in such a short period. Even if your salespeople are highly motivated, they will often struggle to implement a fraction of the new learning.


In his book ‘One small step can change your life’ by Robert Maurer, Robert explains what he means by taking small steps towards a goal. We can avoid the brain's fight/flight mechanism. We can also avoid distractions or procrastination.

Our minds can be easily overwhelmed, so a safety net is to seek certainty/comfort and do nothing.

Robert suggests there are two options:

  • Take large steps towards change > Feel fear > Activate fight-or-flight response > Seek short-term relief/comfort > Failure

  • Take very small steps > Bypass fear > Reduce the urge for immediate comfort > act and build constructive habits > Success

    By modelling a Kaizen approach (using by Japanese manufacturing companies), a great mentor/coach observes a person’s behaviour in the field and works with them to pick one thing and improve just that.

Coaching and mentoring are the gold standard in sustainable change.

These micro improvements implemented with a solid sales accountability plan will create the change required for your organisation with less stress and exponential growth over time.

Ask small questions

While our minds love to work on solutions, a BIG question like:

  • “How will I make this huge budget by 31 July” will trigger fear.

  • Breaking the goal into tiny tasks and asking smaller questions like; “What’s one new idea I can share with prospects?”

  • Asking questions like; “What’s the best possible outcome of the next sales meeting I’m attending?” or “Where else can I reach my ideal clients?”

These questions trigger ideas that inspire actions that will move towards the BIG goal.

Focus on small rewards

Many tasks must be done to achieve a BIG goal. Many of these tasks may even be unpleasant in the short term and only provide rewards later. For example, take cold calls. I know only a few people who love making them. 

Cold calls are key to developing new business, and they are very likely to be part of the process of achieving an ambitious sales goal.

Instead of focusing on the whole process, it’s useful to break down business development into a series of distinct steps:

  1. Develop the ideal client profile – build a list of potential target companies, research and find a possible contact in each, batch into a series of call blocks, make the calls in one block.

  2. Each time a step of the entire process is completed, reward yourself.

  3. This reward might be a favourite lunch or a cup of coffee.

  4. The reward may be quite small, it’s dependant on the task being complete.

  5. Within a few weeks, more work is complete in line with the goal with less internal emotional struggle.

To achieve a BIG goal aim to focus on the smallest step. The change over time is worth it