Hitting quota when things are good is a diligence play. No out-bound prospecting is needed, the phone is ringing, the referrals are thick and fast and the quota is being crushed. A successful sales professional in this context is a diligent one. Returning calls, sending proposals when promised, following up, submitting invoices. Getting Sh!t Done. Nice work if you can get it. And if we were labelling this season in a sales career, we might call it Summer. Warm winds of willing buyers sloshing around for the sales person to serve and supply.
But when those market winds turn cold, when those phones stop ringing, when the warm leads dry up, what is called for from the sales professional then? Are they fit for selling in Winter? Have they got the muscle and stamina for the harder slog working with the icy gusts of client indifference, apathy, and stagnation? Can they find ways to be compelling and captivating when not much is happening.
A successful sales person when things are wintery is an insightful one. An inventive one. A seller who is more than purely persistent as clients get tired of yet another message to “check in”, ”touch base”, or “reach out”. CRM funnels at this point are often clogged with ”hope”. Sales meetings are full of “yeah, it’s gonna happen” rhetoric and everyone in the sales org is frustrated at the stalled and stagnant nature of things. Sales people like to move and they like things that are moving. So how might we put some intelligent energy into our business development during frosty winter times?
Sales craft peer-learning pods – these discussions are an addition to the diary. They do not replace the sales meetings already happening. They are a separate conversation about the craft of selling. In it the sales team share live cases with each other that are stuck. They use methods borrowed from other professions like medicine and education to use case work as a vehicle for skills acquisition. These 30-45 minute conversations examine in detail the work of one or two of their colleagues and together they explore how they might make sense of the client context, and what moves they might make. The goal is to improve the specific client context and the general capacity of the whole sales team.
Situational Awareness update – this is a round-the-room rapid-fire group conversation where the task is for everyone in the sales team to bring a fresh insight to the team. It might be a market development relevant to yourselves or to your clients. It might be a new start-up getting a toe-hold in your space or that of your clients. It might be a shift in regulatory policy that will have an impact. Prize for the person with earns the most “I didn’t know that” reactions in the team.
Insight harvest – we use that up-to-date situational awareness and deliver them to your clients by combining something new in their world, with something new in the world generally, and finally for maximum relevance we add something from our own world. The Venn diagram of these three pieces of information are a uniquely compelling insight that our client can only get from us.
Sales professionals who succeed in Wintery conditions bring intelligent unique insights that earn them a meeting in quiet times, and allow them to put legitimate force behind their pipeline proposals and unfreeze that CRM and make revenue flow.
In this section we anonymise a recent leadership case from our work to present it here as a surgeon might at a medical conference for the collective consideration of their colleagues. We invite you to share it, book-club-like with your colleagues for your own discussion at your next team meeting.
Lisa runs a project. It is an IT project that is behind its timeline and the business is getting impatient. She has a team of 7 people who generally speaking get along and get things done. However, she has a recent arrival - Tom - who was a great recruitment win who is starting to clash with a seasoned incumbent - Stephanie - who has been in the team since Lisa joined it two years ago. Both Stephanie and Tom are very talented and the project needs them. Lisa does not want to lose either of them. But Stephanie and Tom do not get along. They openly clash in team meetings, often with a passive aggressive approach. The rest of team notices it and have said to Lisa that it needs to be sorted out.
Lisa has spoken to each of them in their one on ones about the clash and they each claim the other being the trigger or being responsible for the friction.
How might Lisa deal with this?
BOOKS FOR THOSE WHO LIKE TO THINK
If you want the mainstream discourse, any airport bookshop can help. If you want to challenge the default thinking, we offer some books which might help. We find Abebooks.com a useful site for sourcing second-hand out-of-print classics.
NO COLLAR: The humane workplace and its hidden costs – by Andrew Ross (2003)
Look around your office. Are the air conditioning ducts exposed? Electrical conduit visible? Lights hanging on chains from the roughly hewn concrete ceiling? And are you meters away from a tap dispensing sparkling water next to organic green tea bags? You are in a modern day office environment which is manifestation what Andrew Ross calls the industrialisation of bohemia. This permissive workplace was designed to both physically and philosophically to chase off the blues. In researching No-Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs Andrew Ross (director of American Studies at NYU) spent sixteen months in New York’s Silicon Alley. He observed the daily practices at two new media companies, Razorfish.com and 360Hiphop.com as well as the business changes that ensued after the Internet bubble burst. Frustrated with media accounts that focused solely on the financial impact of Internet companies or the gimmicks of the dotcom offices, he set out to report on how employees themselves judge the New Economy workplaces.
We like the book for its brazen commentary on the shallowness beneath the tasty veneer of a funky workplace. Ross found that among employees there was a widespread belief that some kind of improved, if not ideal, society could be pursued within a company. He found that for employees who work and play in the same clothes, and whose social life draws heavily on their immediate colleagues, there are no longer any boundaries between work and leisure. Ever since the 1920s, managers had been making sporadic attempts to humanise the workplace with the goal of winning compliance and commitment from employees. And with the nascent internet being poorly understood by the mainstream workforce, a few employees had a monopoly on the knowledge and skill needed to develop outputs in the new medium and so had a relationship and powerful bargaining position to corporate owners and managers that was rare in corporate history. We can see parallels with the difficulty today in hiring good digital talent as the most powerful employers in the Valley offer packages and benefits that far eclipse anything the typical worker has been able to negotiate.
"No collar" is a reference to "white collar", the 1951 book by sociologist C. Wright Mills that described the alienation at work for the new middle class worker dressed in the grey flannel suit. In No Collar we can see that in a attempt to break with stodgy conservative stiff organisational traditions and customs, the arrival of foosball tables, kitchens, bars, lounges and stand-up desks perhaps only serves to re-cast the alienation anew. Ross describes the founders as enjoying an initial "sparkling run as the Alley's leading playboys....a posture [that] lost its allure and would soon become a liability to the company". We can see Uber's Travis Kalanick repeating this tale 15 years later.
For today's manager the book is a useful reminder that the current zeitgeist of heroic scheduling, always-on, work-life integration comes with a potential downside. If you are skeptical of the modern office environment and want to trace the roots of the current movement, you will enjoy No Collar.
A small morsel from the reputable path to expertise in professional capability.
TOUGH FEEDBACK TO SOMEONE YOU LIKE A LOT – You, Me, and This.
One of the more difficult things to do in professional life is deliver negative feedback to someone who you know and like a lot. There is a history and a relationship at stake. We are often asking ourselves "Will things between us be the same after this conversation?"
Drawing from the school of conflict resolution, negotiation and mediation is a small gesture that might be useful. Rather that the discussion being purely between two people, we can create a third element, (actor) to add to the process. This third element is a piece of paper with the name of the issue, or the essence of the issue described on the page. By putting the feedback together as a physical element we can separate the two people from the feedback issue. It is a psychodrama move that creates a triangle between You, Me, and The Issue. In this way, we can place the piece of paper on the table, and refer to it as something that needs to be dealt with, but not something that can dent the relationship that you and I have together. We might say something like, "I love our working relationship and look forward to many more good times working together in the future. I don't want anything to get in the way of what we have built together between us which is why I wanted to talk about this [as you point to the paper]. As a final flourish you can, at the end of the feedback discussion, pick up the piece of paper and scrunch it into a ball to discard as a gesture to display that You and Me are good, and this feedback thing is done and dusted.
A concept from the science of skill acquisition and a brand name for our firm, 10,000 hours refers to the amount of time it takes to get good at something. To master your craft. The number is derived from the academic writings of K Anders Ericsson who studied practitioners across a wide range of cognitively rich (you have to think to do them) domains. Anders found that those at the top of their game had no less than, and sometimes much more than, 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is working on the edge of one’s competence, getting feedback and pushing hard to improve. That guides everything we do here at 10,000 HOURS.