Artificial Intelligence – Stop worrying and start dreaming

Before A.I. – ‘I think, therefore I am’ – Rene Descartes

September 1996 was when I started university in the UK and its crazy to think that this was 21 years ago, because a lot has happened since that time, for me personally and also from a technological perspective.

Much like many of you reading this article, I recall being excited about moving to a new city from a small town to study for a degree and I remember day dreaming about my career choices once I left, which is why I was a little taken aback when I attended a breakfast function here in Auckland this week.

The event was for future entrepreneurs and many of the attendees were local university Masters Students, who had ideas which they wanted to validate and potentially commercialise.

These guys (generic term, not gender specific) were smart, passionate and driven.

I’ve got to admit that at times during the discussions; I experienced feelings of jealousy, inadequacy and insecurity, which were all born out of my own ignorance of the massive technological changes that are happening all around me and the awareness that there were people born after I started university who were more knowledgeable than me on these important subjects e.g. Blockchain.

I had FOMO, because here was a whole generation of young people, who were potentially more suited to operate in the business world of the future.

During the course of the event (and after my cortisol levels had dropped), the question of A.I. arose and what impact it will have on the workforce of tomorrow.

A postgrad student who had been relatively quiet up to that point, voiced his concerns that A.I. is a huge threat to his future job prospects and that he is fearful of what value he would have in the future.

His concerns were shared by pretty much everyone else in that room.

Here was a representative group of a generation that, moments before I was insecure about taking away my contribution in a future society, themselves feeling insecure about another generational change (A.I.) taking away their chance to contribute in their future.

The irony struck me straight away and I immediately was reminded that change wasn’t something to be afraid of, as long as you were willing to; not only keep learning, but also have the courage to apply that learned knowledge in new innovative ways.

As the eldest in the room :), I was eventually asked my thoughts on A.I. and whether I was concerned about its potential impact.

“I’m not at all concerned about A.I. as long as it stands for ‘Artificial Intelligence’.  As soon as it stands for ‘Artificial Imagination’ I think that’s when I’ll start to worry”

In my limited experience, the most valuable employees, sales people or businesses are the ones that can develop new ideas, can picture things that haven’t come before and have the confidence to explore possibilities that haven’t been mapped out already.

They are the ones that value imagination – dreamers.

If something has already been done, then it lends itself to be replicated and in turn commoditised.

This is ultimately what A.I. represents to me, the commoditisation of applied knowledge in known environments.

What I mean by this is A.I. will eventually be able to replace any roles in businesses and organisations, as long as those roles are operating within a defined framework, where they have a clear beginning and an end – Transactional.

Let me give you a Sales example; If I am an Account Manager who is transactional and going through the motions of ‘selling’ such as submitting RFP’s for contract renewals every two years, or solving supply issues in a reactive manner, then eventually I will be replaced by A.I. because the principles of what I am doing has been done before and a machine can replicate this via algorithms etc., just like a human brain can develop synapses over time by repeating behaviour (muscle memory).

Many Account Managers do this now, moving from one company to another, repeating the same things they learnt in Company A and applying this in Company B, whilst never investing, either through fear or laziness, in new approaches or ways of doing things.  They have stopped dreaming.

Eventually, a piece of technology will replace them, just like a millennial could replace me.

Unless of course, I, as a sales person am doing something that hasn’t been done before, then I am not being transactional, but instead I would be adding real value to the business or organisation I am in.

But in order to do something that hasn’t been done before, you have to first imagine it, and you have to be a dreamer.

As sales people, you have to do more than you (or your predecessor) have done in the past.  You have to imagine new possibilities and use all your skills to turn those possibilities into tangible opportunities for growth. Only then will you be of true value.

Sales, much like entrepreneurship isn’t about transactions, it’s about converting imagination into reality.

That is what the best sales people do and that is why the best sales people are also entrepreneurial by nature.

If you’re concerned about A.I., Millennials or something else taking your job, my advice would be to stop worrying about what you can do to stop it from happening (because you can’t stop progress) and instead concentrate on imagining what more you can do in your role – Start dreaming.

After A.I. – Somnio ergo sum’ – I dream, therefore I exist

Your haircut could be losing you $$$

Most of the sales guys I know get a haircut every 3 weeks and the general consensus on the reasoning behind this timeframe is;

Week 1 – After getting our hair cut a little shorter than we would normally walk around with, this first week we feel pretty good about ourselves.  We’re confident, energetic and I’d describe it as feeling ‘fresh’.

Week 2 – Our hair is now the perfect length and we’re not in any way conscious of it.  We’re comfortable and go through the motions in our morning routine when styling it.  Life is ‘all good’ and we’re working our way through the week with no real disruption to our flow.

Week 3 – This week we start having to use a little more styling wax than we feel comfortable with and are acutely aware that our hair is not sitting or falling as it should and we’re not looking our best.  We’re at the greatest risk of being on the back foot with customers and colleagues during this week.  All because we’re been trying to save money.

Now the reason I’m sharing this with you is because this morning, I decided that I’m going to disrupt this 3 week hair cycle; a cycle which has been in place for the last 18 years of my life and I’m going to suggest that if you’re in a sales role or own your own business, you too should consider doing this.

I have decided to get my haircut every 2 weeks, because the frugality of a 3 week hair cycle has all in likelihood just cost me a new customer worth thousands of dollars.

I’d gone to see this potential new customer yesterday morning with my hair longer than I was comfortable with and I wasn’t on top of my game.

Although I had prepared for the meeting and been to the gym, self-doubt had still kicked in on the way to their offices.  I then couldn’t find a parking space nearby; had to run about 500m to ensure I wasn’t late and then realised I’d left my trusted notebook and pen in the car.

When I met with the Director of the business, I was flustered, fidgety and ultimately didn’t bring my ‘A’ game.

It was all the fault of my hair.

Well actually it wasn’t the fault of my hair.

My perception of myself (represented in this instance by my hair) was actually at fault.

By trying to save $243 a year by having my hair cut over three weeks, as opposed to 2 weeks, I had put myself into a situation whereby the slightest external factor (hair style) I had interpreted negatively as opposed to positively.

This all culminated in me losing self- confidence and ultimately; control over the meeting itself (I’m still yet to find out if I have lost the customer).

If you feel good about yourself, you will find that the world will conspire to bring good things to you, but when you feel like shit, you’ll find that things just don’t go your way.

You can put this down to positive vibes, karma, glass half full/half empty or any other of a hundred interpretations or beliefs, but one thing I’ve learnt in my life that I know to be true, is that waiting for the tide to turn positively in your favour is a waste of time, because nothing or no one person is going to change things for you, you have to do it yourself.

Positive changes have to start with you and then the world around you will fall into place, not because the world has drastically changed, but because you view such changes as positive due to your more positive state of mind.

The haircut anecdote I’m sharing with you acted not only as a reminder to invest in the future of my business and not be fearful of failure by focusing on frugality (that’s a lot of ‘f’ words in one sentence), but also revealed to me that negativity was still present in my day to day working week.

Changing from my former 3 week cycle is now no longer going to be seen as a missed cost saving initiative, but instead I’m going to see the additional $243 a year spent moving to a 2 week hair cut cycle as an investment in my business’ future success.

Whether it’s a haircut, dry cleaning your suits or buying a new car, make sure you invest in yourself, because as sales people and business owners, that’s possibly the best investment you can make to ensure you are always on top of your game.

Stop monkeying around; beanbags are not the answer.

I’ve always been a huge movie buff, ever since the TV was used as a rainy weekend babysitter in our house growing up, and as I grew up in the UK, this meant we were baby sat by the TV a lot.

It was on such a drizzly Saturday afternoon recently that I defaulted to this approach with my own kids by sitting them down to (selfishly) watching an old school sci-fi classic.  A movie with arguably the best twist ending ever, Planet of the Apes (1968)

I won’t ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen it, but it triggered a conversation in our house, which ended with the discovery that there is/was a proposed Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast of America to balance the Statue of Liberty found on the East coast.

Being the inquisitive person (geek) I am, this concept intrigued me and I read a little more about the idea and then how I think this applies to some of the issues we’re seeing in business, in particular when we talk about creating the perfect workplace culture.  (Stick with me, it’ll make sense I promise)

Many businesses here in Auckland are making dramatic changes by increasing the freedoms available to employees at work; be they flexible hours, casual clothing policies or beanbag breakout areas, all in the pursuit of a ‘better’ workplace culture, which will (hopefully) stimulate; collaboration between departments, product innovation and ultimately unlock revenue growth.

The anecdotal evidence I have suggests that in many cases, these ‘Google’ type changes have uplifted and disrupted people in equal measure, but have not brought about a better working culture in business.

Why?

After reading about the reason behind the proposed ‘Statue of Responsibility’, I believe it’s because something is missing to balance out the influx of beanbags into the CBD.

The psychologist and Holocaust survivor Victor E. Frankl (who was the first to envision a ‘Statue of Responsibility’) talks of responsibility being the positive counter to Freedom (represented by the Statue of Liberty), without which Freedom is merely an arbitrary action lacking any clear purpose.

This brings me nicely onto purpose in the workplace (Simon Sinek would be proud).

Without purpose and meaning at work, we will not be content with where we are and what we do and it is this which results in a poor workplace culture, irrespective of the number of beanbags in the office.

To be content, all of us as human beings must feel a sense of achievement and to achieve, we must set or be set a goal.

Which is why; we save money, run marathons or collect stamps.  A sense of achievement obtained through setting ourselves a goal.

Now, when it comes to financial growth, it is the role of business leaders to set goals and it is your responsibility as employees to take the appropriate actions to achieve them.

The same it is when it comes to workplace culture.

Businesses have generally set a clear goal on what they want in regards to a positive workplace culture; better team communication, increased interdepartmental collaboration and individual ownership, so it is now over to you to take responsibility to build that positive environment for yourself.

How?

1) Control your role – Take ownership of what you do every day, don’t be afraid to make decisions and if you make a mistake, fix it, put in a process to ensure it doesn’t happen again and most importantly, communicate it with those that need to know.  If that’s not enough for the business you’re in, then you’re in the wrong business.

2) Be ‘that’ guy – Always smile and say “Good Morning” to your colleagues as you walk into the office.  If you’re looking to others to kick start your day, you’ll be waiting a long time, instead get on with it and kick start your own.  After a while you’ll see that your colleagues just needed someone to show them the way.

3) Social Club 101 – If you want an office environment where people head to the local bar on a Friday afternoon for a couple of cold beers (but currently all quietly disappear to join the traffic on State Highway 1), then be the one to organise it.  Make sending out a weekly invite a habit; accept that initial numbers will be low, but persevere, because positive changes do not happen overnight.

4) Break down walls – This one could be scary for some of you, but what if one day you took an interest in something someone was doing in another department in your business.  You could start it by saying something along the lines of “I’ve walked past this way for weeks and have no idea what you guys do” or “Apologies for disturbing you, but what does this whiteboard diagram mean?”  It doesn’t really matter what you say, what matters is that you connect to others in your business.

5) Stamp your mark – Don’t be afraid to be you and not your role at work.  You’re a person, not a corporate imposter and as we all know, people connect with people, not roles.  Stop behaving in the way you think your role should behave and instead be you, because that’s who was hired.

Culture comes from people not beanbags.

Your personal changes alone probably won’t lead to a positive workplace culture, but much like a statue, they symbolise to others your passion to create a positive workplace culture and they can act as a beacon of inspiration to others who want the same thing as you.

As always, if you like what you read, pat me on the back and reinforce my insecurities by liking or sharing this article.

If you want to read more totally amazing, thought provoking and dare I say it, life altering articles from this most humble of authors, feel free to click here.

You’re in Sales? Give it a rest.

A couple of weekends ago, I went mountain biking with a bunch of my friends to the Whakarewarewa Forest (Redwoods) down in Rotorua.

We’d driven down from Auckland the night before, hired bikes and gear and were expecting to be hitting the trails for at least 4 hours on the Saturday morning.

After about 2 hours of hill climbs and rapid descents down some pretty tough terrain, it occurred to me that not only were my arms and legs aching, but I wasn’t concentrating at all on what I was doing and I was on autopilot.

That’s not too bad when you’re pedalling along in a park on a Sunday afternoon ride with the kids, but when you’re flying down a hill at 40 kilometres an hour with trees either side of you, concentration is something you definitely need in your life.

It was when we reached the bottom of that particular run that I suggested to the other guys that we take a break and grab a coffee.  (C’mon, we are from Auckland)

As we were sipping on our double shot choca mocha soy lattes (in recyclable cups), I started to think about why and when my concentration had lapsed.

When we set off that morning, I was focused, I was reading the trail about 5 to 10 metres ahead of me and I wasn’t looking at my front tyre.  I was planning my turns before I got to the next corner and I was thinking about how my bike would land before I jumped off a ledge.  But, as the morning progressed, my focus shifted to only a metre or two in front of me and I stopped seeing what was coming up ahead of me.

That’s when the risk kicked in.

I was no longer thinking about; how I was going to tackle the next challenge, which was the best line to take; or how I was going to avoid the huge obstacle ahead of me.

Instead, I was just going through the motions because I was tired.

To be honest, I was actually quite lucky not to have hurt myself or worse.

It’s a similar thing in Sales.

We as sales people are expected; to operate at 100% at all times, to be motivated at all times and to have an abundance of energy which other departments in the business can only look at in awe, asking themselves how we do it.

Business itself benefits from this expectation and perception, as the energy that sales people put into their work equates to better productivity and profit each year.

We’re guilty of perpetuating this image ourselves by continually reeling off the ‘work hard, play hard’ line as we hit the gym at Les Mills at 6am, knock back a Berroca mid-morning and then skip lunch, all in the pursuit of being the best we can be.

The issue with this ideal sales person image is that it’s unrealistic and it deters us all from giving our best in the respective sales jobs we do.

Giving 100% effort, 100% of the time is impossible.  (There is a reason we have lunch breaks, weekends and annual leave)

It’s called having a rest.  And, I feel that if you’re in Sales, then rest is your friend.

Sales is a hard profession, one which taxes us both physically, mentally and most of all emotionally.

We’ve all seen sales people who look tired, worn out, or worst of all burnt out altogether, especially when they can’t see it themselves and their results are suffering dramatically.

These tired, worn out or burnt out sales people aren’t really helping themselves, the companies they work for or their customers, which is a terrible scenario for all involved.  This means that when the next restructure occurs, their name will be banded about behind closed doors.

How does this happen?

Well I can tell you that those sales people didn’t plan to burn themselves out, but they didn’t help themselves either.

Chances are they were amongst some of the best performers in their respective businesses, riding high on the adulation, burning the candle on both ends and being financially rewarded for their efforts.

At some point however, they didn’t notice that their attention had moved from looking at the road ahead, to only looking at their front wheel.  They became transactional, they became more cynical and they stopped seeing the opportunities that come with market change.

They became tired and they didn’t even know it.

Why?  Because they didn’t take a break, they wanted to make hay whilst the sun shone and then they got stuck in a rut and stopped thinking about how they could be successful tomorrow, as well as today.

They started skipping lunch breaks, regularly ‘catching up’ on emails on Sundays and not having a week, or two off between leaving the old job before starting the new one.

Sales people who are really passionate about their own long term success and that of their customers need to think more than a metre or two ahead of them.

They should be reading future market demands, the implications to their customers and how best their own business should navigate such changes way ahead of time.

That’s how to have the best chance of succeeding again and again, by taking the time to continually plan ahead and that can only happen when you occasionally stop and take a break from the day to day grind.

Thanks for reading and hopefully you’ll be back next week.

Innovation isn’t anything new

Over the past couple of years there’s been an increasing amount of talk about innovation.

That’s not because there hasn’t been innovation before (obviously there has been), but because businesses have made the finite cuts they can to operational expenditure post G.F.C, they are now having to grow their profits through actual investment.

But what should a company invest in?

This question is why the big conversations about innovation have come to the forefront across all business channels recently.

In fact, I would go as far to say that ‘innovation’ has become such an important word in business, that those labelled as ‘innovators’ have now got a celebrity level following on social media similar to pop stars e.g. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

Such innovators in their respective fields certainly deserve credit for their new ways of solving problems, but I feel that businesses have got a little too focused in looking for the next ‘big, sexy’ thing to disrupt their industries tomorrow and are missing out on the opportunities under their noses today.

This is where Sales (and you in particular) come in.

I’ve spoken before, on how in order for companies to grow sales in today’s market, they have to add real value to their customers.

They have to offer a solution to a problem that sometimes, the customer themselves isn’t even aware of.

Whilst our colleagues in Marketing (hopefully with our input) are developing the shiny, new product or service to solve tomorrow’s problem.

It’s the sales person’s responsibility to identify today’s problem and deliver an appropriate solution to it; after all, that is what we are actually getting paid for (not just for ticking management KPI boxes).

To obtain real value for your company and your customers, a sales person also has to be innovative in their thinking, which means staying ahead of your competitors and even your customers.

How?

Firstly, it is important to understand that ‘innovation’ isn’t actually an exclusive word used by entrepreneurs and marketers.  You too are allowed to think innovatively, it just means thinking ‘solution’ as opposed to ‘sale’.

Secondly, it’s important to remember that innovation is anything that adds increased value to your customer.  You don’t have to think about whether it’s going to get you on the front cover of Time magazine.

Lastly, listen for a problem; as innovation isn’t just about building a new product or service.  Innovation can also be in the application of an existing product or service to a new industry.  The time it’s spent in your company’s catalogue is irrelevant to a customer.

I am confident that if you truly see the solution the product or service you are selling offers and what problem it fixed for your existing customers, you will find an alternative application for it in other areas or industries too.

Let me give you a couple of my own personal examples of what I see as innovative thinking in Sales;

1) Product

Whilst working for an FMCG company that supplied a Foodservice retailer, I noted that our historic growth had been driven by them opening new sites, as opposed to us actually adding any real value.

The main product we supplied was a key food ingredient that arrived at the customer’s site in a bulk format and then had to be manually processed into a crumbled form by a staff member for around 20 minutes.

This bulk product was regularly suffering from supply issues and this was also negatively impacting our relationship with the customer.

Although we had a pre-crumbled format, which had a more reliable supply chain, this had never been offered to the customer, because the ‘like for like’ per kilo cost was higher and our relationship had not developed beyond a transactional one.

After building a trusted advisor relationship with the customer over a few months, I suggested swapping supply from the bulk format to the crumbled format.

I demonstrated that the small increase in cost ‘per kilo’ was massively offset by the reduction in labour cost savings and the improved supply levels.

The customer agreed and additional value was obtained by the customer and my company.

2) Service

One of my most recent clients provide a service solution to the Professional services industry and have found themselves on a bit of a plateau in the past 18 months when it comes to growth.

RevUp were engaged to help get the revenue line heading back in the right direction.

After an initial review, it was clear that the problem that my client provides a solution for was not limited to the Professional services industry and is in fact a wider business issue of balancing the needs of productivity improvement in a service environment, with the individuals maintenance of their own personal wellbeing.

RevUp have successfully offered this solution to other industries and they are currently reaping the rewards of this innovative approach to a problem they had thought was unique to them.

These two examples aren’t there to try and demonstrate to you how innovative I am, but instead, they are there to show you how innovative we can all be, if we think about what problems our customers have, rather than what problems we have.   

Many thanks for reading and if you liked what you read, please feel free to share your voice by leaving a comment, or even just a like.

3 take outs for market leaders from the New Zealand 2017 Election

The scheduled article for this week was supposed to be about B2B Innovation, but in light of the recent election results dominating the news, I have decided to talk about what companies who are market leaders in their industry could learn from the 2017 New Zealand Election instead.

Now to start with, I want to make it clear that, although I do indeed have personal political views like anyone else, this article is not going to be discussing the perceived benefits or disadvantages of a Labour led government Vs a National led one.

Because it’s going to be a short week, I am very quickly going to highlight 3 take outs that I personally feel could serve as a timely reminder to all industry market leaders operating in today’s increasingly competitive commercial landscape;

 

1) Communicate your vision to the whole industry (even if they’re not your customers today).

The achievements or failings of the current National government is not the topic covered here, neither is whether or not the new Labour led government have a clear vision for the future.

All customers (much like voters) need to believe that a market leader has a clear plan for where the future of the industry (or country) is heading and that the vision has considered their personal place in it; otherwise they will either explore other options, or not even approach you to review yours.

Regardless of its own belief in its vision, a market leader needs to ensure that they are staying connected with ‘all’ their customers and are taking their current (and potential future) customers on the journey with them.

 

2) Keep connected with changing customer requirements.

What worked yesterday, may not work tomorrow, or even today.

As market leader, you may be doing a fantastic job delivering today’s requirements, but the needs of your customers (much like those of voters) are not static and are always changing.

It’s just that those changes are happening at a faster rate, because we are living our lives at a faster rate.

Products or services (much like policies) need to adapt at the same rate as customer requirements, otherwise you are not meeting the needs of the market.

 

3) Plan ahead for disruption.

Although market leaders may have chosen the market they operate in, the customers are the ones choosing who they buy from.

Whether its taxi rides (Uber), hotel accommodation (Air BnB) or home entertainment (Netflix), no industry is immune from disruption and market leaders need to always have one eye on the horizon and one ear to the ground to see what the future holds and hear what their customers are saying about it.

Even if you’re in a market leading position today, you must plan for possible market changes in your industry and never underestimate the possibility of a disruptor (NZ First) coming along to scupper the best laid plans.

I’m sure there is nothing revolutionary here for many of you, but there is no harm in being reminded of it on occasion.

Many thanks for reading and I promise next week’s article will be about Innovation.

My toothpaste is my pipeline

This morning I ran out of toothpaste.

Now normally, because of my frugal nature, love for efficiency and need for personal challenges, I try and predict how many squeezes of toothpaste I have left in the tube before I need to head to the bathroom cupboard to grab a replacement, thus ensuring I don’t ever run out.

Today was different.

That’s because this morning, as I had spread the last of the paste on my toothbrush, I was acutely aware of what was at stake; I had failed to replace the backup toothpaste the last time I went to the supermarket.

So, I put the head of the toothbrush under the running water of the tap and then sadly saw the paste drop off my brush and get washed down the plug hole.

I was no longer in control.

You may at this point be asking yourself what any of the above has to do with Sales.

Well, the link maybe tenuous, but my toothpaste problem; made me think of Sales and the risk of not always having more pipeline options in your business development activity.

As Sales people, we all have probably experienced at least one of the following two phases;

‘Beginners luck’ – This is when you’ve started a new business development role and after about 3 months in, when you’re settled and have a little confidence in what you’re talking about, you hit a sweet spot and manage to get some decent wins on the board.

‘On a roll’ – This is a time when you’ve been in the role for a little while now (no more beginners luck) and after a bit of a flat period, you start winning some new business and feel you can’t put a foot wrong.  Everything is going your way and the stars are aligning in converting your sales pipeline into revenue.

Both these phases feel great, but we all know that they never last.

Why?

I believe it’s because during those two phases, all we see is endless opportunity and are not afraid of missing out on the deal in front of us at that exact point in time.  We’re fearless because we don’t see a limit to our ability to win.

When we’re beginners we don’t know the size of the market or the number of prospects that are available to contact, so we don’t worry about making mistakes because we don’t really know what is at risk.

If we’re on a roll, it’s always when we have a number of deals on the go, so we’re not afraid of missing out on one, because we have plenty more chances in the pipeline.  We’ve done all the planning beforehand and have options, so right now we’re all about the close.

It’s when we start to feel that those same opportunities are limited, finite or that our pipeline is looking a little light and we become fearful of running out of chances that we then start to slump and see our results drop off.

We start to doubt ourselves, we start to panic and we develop fear.

“Fear leads to desperation and desperation scares potential customers off” – Not a Yoda quote

That’s why it’s so important to make sure you have a consistent forward looking pipeline of business development options.

If you can see that there is plenty more opportunity coming up, you’re less likely to be fearful of losing out of the customer in front of you and you won’t come across as desperate.

This isn’t to say you should throwaway potential customers, but keep some perspective on things and maintain a level of control on what is happening for you, rather than happening to you.

Three ways I do this are;

1) If I’m working my way through a prospect list of 50 contacts, I will always have an additional prospect list of a further 50 contacts prepared and waiting for me at all times. This way, I will not fear running out.

2) If I’ve got proposals to write, I will always do two or more at a time. This will put the pressure on me (which helps me focus) but also reduces my over reliance on the outcome of just one proposal and thus lessen the chances of me capitulating to the unreasonable demands of one of the other parties.

3) I always schedule allocated time in the diary for all business development activities needed to initiate a sales cycle. g. Regardless of how busy I am delivering to my existing customers, I still schedule in time to meet with new prospects, because they will be my existing customers tomorrow.

The lesson here is; you shouldn’t stop being efficient and productive with the last of the toothpaste in front of you, but if you want to avoid seeing your sales go down the drain, you too should always know you’ve got spare toothpaste in the cupboard.

So, did I walk around for the rest of the day with bad breath?

No.  I innovated.

I saw that my 5 year old daughter’s Mcleans ‘Little Teeth’ toothpaste was in the bathroom cabinet and I decided that having my mouth smell of bubble gum was a more favourable option than halitosis.

Is that really innovative thinking?

I’ll be discussing that topic next week.

My 10 tips for getting out of a Sales slump

One day I will retire from being part of the workforce and although I don’t know what kind of legacy I will be looking back at, or what success I will have had, I can say for certain that, what will be going through my mind will be…”it’s been emotional”.

That’s because I work in Sales.

There is an emotional roller coaster that all sales people are riding on a daily basis and I am no exception.  I love finding innovative solutions to market problems, converting opportunities when there appeared to be no chance of doing so and most of all, feigning modesty when I’m acknowledged for my achievements.

However, with all the successes I’ve had so far in my sales career, there have been plenty of failures, whether it be missing out on a new business opportunity, losing an existing customer or failing to inspire a team I was leading, I have had to deal with my fair share of disappointments.

So, I’ve learnt that although failure is part of the journey, just like success is, it’s how I react to the failures that will contribute to how successful I will be as a sales person, which is why I do the following 10 things to get myself out of a slump following a disappointment in sales;

1) Open up a blank Word document

Victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan, J.F.K.

Accepting that failure is; lonely, part of a journey and that getting out of a slump is up to me alone; I start by writing down how I feel at my lowest point.  I write down my self-doubts, my concerns and my perceived failings, so when the next time I fail (which is part of life), I can look back at what I wrote and remind myself that I’ve been here before and I got out of it.  It’s a message to me to harden up.

2) Tell the world to F**k Off!

I’m 39 years old and I’ve learnt to accept that I cannot stop how I feel.  I can manage my emotions and I can understand them, but I cannot switch them off, because I am a human being.

When I face a failure, I have tried to be stoic, ignore it or let it go, but I have found the best thing to do is start by accepting how I truly feel, which is gutted.  And, when I’m gutted, I am angry.  When I get angry, I like to vent my anger to those who understand that I’m not looking for a solution, but I just want to let off steam, my family or friends.

So, to be crystal clear, I am definitely not suggesting that you swear at your manager, or your client, but don’t be afraid to share your true emotions and vulnerability with those that you trust.

It helps.

3) Look out of an aeroplane window

I always feel my holiday starts when I look out of the window, see the ground drop away into the distance and with it, my stress levels.

Why? Because, I’ve managed to get some perspective on how insignificant (in the grand scheme of things), that work issue I was worrying about for the past week or so, actually is.

I managed to separate my personal life, from my professional one.

My guess is that most of us can’t just take a holiday whenever we choose, so looking out of an aeroplane window is just not a practical option to maintain perspective, so instead we have to think of other ways to remind ourselves that a failure in a professional capacity does not make us failures as people.

I personally, look at my email signature and then look at the title of my role.  I then remind myself that my role title is NOT my name.  My role needs to get out of a slump, not me.

4) Release some dolphins

My five year old daughter asked me why I always go swimming or running in the mornings and I said it was to “release some endorphins”.  What she heard was the above.

Before I can think about moving forward, I always need to recharge the energy batteries which have been drained by the recent failure I’ve faced, so I have to do some exercise to get energised.

Not all of us are runners or swimmers, but there is something that you already do, from which you get reenergised, whether it is walking your dog, listening to music, or meditating.  Make time to do it and do it regularly.

You’re going to need to fuel for the journey ahead.

5) Dust off the war medals

I keep a folder in MS Outlook which is labelled ‘Achievements’.

It contains emails from clients awarding me new business, staff members saying ‘thanks’ and sometimes just well written email communications that I personally have been proud to send.

When I begin questioning what value I’ve added to a client or company, or when I get some bad news, I know that the worst thing that can happen, is that I start criticising my own ability and losing self-belief.

Self-belief is one of a sales persons fundamental attributes and when that is damaged, sales performance will very quickly follow suit.

For me, keeping an achievements folder is something that I can refer to in times of need, to remind myself that I am good at what I do and that I can add a lot of value.

6) Press the reset button.

Like waking up the morning after a hosting an awesome party, there is normally plenty of tidying up to do after the event.

A sale is similar, because it’s a journey of highs and lows and when the going is good, I can sometimes tend to concentrate on delivery and conversion, rather than preparation and organisation.

When a slump event (wakeup call) forces me to stop and look around, I realise that I feel disorganised, messy and cluttered, which hinders me from gaining clarity on my next course of action.

That’s when I press the reset button.

I close my office door, put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign and begin by tidying my desk.  Next it’s my email inbox, which I start to declutter by deleting or filing anything that does not need a response, then it’s the turn of all the files saved to my desktop because I was too lazy to save to the hard drive.

Lastly, I write a to-do list.  This will map out what my next course of action is.

7) Start building momentum

My pride will always push me to try and focus on winning the next big thing to try and prove myself again following a setback, but my experience has taught me to be patient and get in the right positive frame of mind and not rush to get back to where I was.

The reason is because I am more than likely going to fail, because I’m reacting rather than responding.

Instead, I start building my momentum with smaller wins.

This way my confidence is slowly restored with minimal risk to the bigger opportunities on the horizon.

Be it a responding to emails, carrying out a new promotional analysis on Excel, or moving prospects through the pipeline.

Start building the foundations, before you try and to build the skyscraper.

8) Carry out a post-mortem

You can’t safely move forward unless you understand what went wrong.

Now that I have started to feel more confident following the first 7 steps, I am normally ready to face the issue that got me in the slump in the first place and I’m also in the right frame of mind to analyse the issue objectively, which means I can look at what went wrong.

I go through all the email communications, playback the conversations in my mind and look at the feedback that the customer may have given me in relation to the bad news.

The most important thing I do in this step is to get a trusted colleague or manager to critically review what I did, to see if they can see something that I missed.

No-one likes criticism, but it’s better to learn and get better, than make the same mistakes again.

9) Make that change.

Following on from point 8; if you’ve identified a mistake, put in mitigating steps to avoid making that mistake again, no matter how unlikely it is to happen.

If you lost a customer, put in reminders to keep in touch with that customer until the next contract review.

If you missed out on a new customer because your proposal lacked something, take the steps to improve the next proposal with the appropriate parties in your business.

Even if you have reviewed everything and found nothing, still change something.

For me, if I can’t pinpoint what went wrong, then I just mix things up to keep things fresh.

If I normally make phone calls sitting down, I’ll stand up to make phone calls.  If I carried out business development activities in the afternoon, I’ll shift the calls to the morning.  If my team aren’t hitting their numbers and I don’t know why, then I’ll change the format of our sales meetings.

10) Get back in the water.

Last summer I went with family and friends to a beach up on the Tutukaka coast and whilst there, one evening we saw what we believe to be a Thresher shark.  It was beautiful, yet scary.

Having just started ocean swimming, I knew that the next morning I had to get in the water, otherwise, I would not only be hesitant for myself, but I’d also be instilling my fears into my daughters.  So I went for a swim and I survived.

The same goes for Sales, the same goes for all of you.

Just because as sales people you and I may have faced the dreaded ‘F’ word (Failure), doesn’t mean that we’re no good at it and that we should stop selling stuff.

That’s what being a sales person is all about; overcoming the fear of failure and continuing to push forward.

Get back into the water.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to read this article and if any of you sales people are feeling like you’re in a slump and haven’t got that person you can vent, share or bounce ideas off, then feel free to get in touch with me and I’m happy to make time to have a confidential chat.

Sales as ‘Art or Science’ is holding your business back.

As New Zealand business owners, we need to evolve our perception of Sales as being either an;

ArtSales produced through the creativity or imagination of a salesperson’s relationships; or a

ScienceSales produced through scalable and repeatable systems and processes.

This is because in my opinion, both of these perceptions are outdated and we are now missing out on huge growth opportunities emerging all around us.

Traditionally, sales people like me had liked to add a little mystery and grandiosity to our chosen profession by saying that Sales was an art form; that couldn’t possibly be explained to the average person; we alone were capable of building strong customer relationships and identifying market growth.

Using the right side of our brain (our creative side) to build rapport, glean information about a customer’s problem and then use our imagination to propose a solution for which we could obtain value.

There wasn’t always a predetermined methodology that was being followed or evidence to the solution offered; instead the individual was using ‘gut feelings’ and influencing skills to get an agreement with a client.

The buzz was in solving a customer’s problem using an individual’s personal sales skills.

In more recent times, especially since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, organisations have sought to gain greater control and visibility over their sales function, because they ultimately wanted more predictability and stability from their revenue streams, something reliance on individuals wasn’t providing.

Companies run by more risk adverse parties, have invested heavily in implementing more left brain analytics into the Sales cycle through adding standardised systems and processes, which has contributed to Sales being referred to as a science.

Numerous CRM and ERP tools allow companies to analyse, measure and monitor (if training has been provided) current sales pipelines to keep things moving and let management know where identified deals can be improved.

The buzz now is in improving efficiencies through data analytics.

In my experience both of these views had merit and were apt for specific times, but they are flawed in the current business landscape of 2017/18 which is crying out for innovation;

Art places over reliance on an individual’s lone ability to identify external growth for a business at a time when those skills are in rapid decline, whilst the Science focuses too heavily on the assumption that all external growth opportunities have already been put into the companies ‘sales funnel’ and ignores market changes, as well as alienating the ‘sales artist’.

Businesses that still see Sales as an art are likely not getting growth because they are looking for a sales prophet to solve all their revenue problems, ignoring the need for their whole business to be Sales focused – The ‘lone wolf’ approach.

Businesses that still see Sales as a science are likely not getting growth because they’re busy making sure their internal management KPI’s are being achieved and ignoring actual customer requirements.  Instead, expecting B2B customers to seek them out and put themselves into the company’s pipeline via a website link – ‘Build it and they will come’ approach.

This is a ‘lose-lose’ scenario, because both approaches ignore the current market requirement, which is for business owners to have their whole organisation aimed at identifying, solving and managing the future problems of B2B customers in their world.

A Company, which wishes to grow needs to be geared towards the provision of proactive solutions to previously unidentified customer problems and the ongoing smooth management of that service offer post on boarding.

In the consumer environment, this is called CX (Customer Experience) and I think the B2B Sales space needs to catch up to this B2C shift pretty quickly, if we are to add true value and growth.

That is why I believe in an alternative to Art or Science, which I call ‘Sales Engineering’.

Engineering – Sales produced through weaving integrated structures & processes which connect future market demands, innovative business solutions and ongoing success management.

This end to end, whole brain thinking approach is fundamentally aimed at shaping an entire organisation to see itself as a Sales organisation (not just the individual sales person), which still develops innovative relationships & scalable systems, but at a macro level and centred around customer needs (as opposed to solely focused on its own gain).

Each business unit’s functionality is targeted towards the market place, with the customer’s user experience being at the centre of each and every decision made within the organisation.

It is this shared ‘Platinum Weave’ connecting all functions in a business with the wider market place that makes up a successful customer experience in a B2B environment.

The Sales function is still very much tasked with identifying opportunities and seeking solutions, but is supported by other business functions that are also geared to providing the necessary tools for a complete customer journey.

Examples include:

Marketing focused on opportunity identification and bid support.

Operations focused on ensuring smooth service delivery and responsive issue resolution.

Finance focused on ease of doing business and automated systems.

All this adds up to multiple touch points across a customer’s organisation, which not only secures new business, but protects existing revenue, because each department is providing a positive experience to the customer.

It is only when a customer has had a positive journey with you in the past, will they then trust you to guide them on their future one.

I’ll finish up by adapting a quote by the famous aerospace engineer Theodore van Karman, which best summarises what I’m trying to convey;

The ‘Sales Artist’ promised that which could be.

The ‘Sales Scientist’ analysed that which already existed.

The ‘Sales Engineer’ built that which never was.

Thanks for reading my article and if you’re keen to read more of what RevUp has to share, please click here.

7 steps to a Superhero Sales Team

Like having a script idea for a Hollywood movie, everyone also has their opinion of what is needed to make up a high performance sales team and not to be outdone, this is mine.

Over the years I’ve played a role in a couple of high performance teams, some average ones and way too many poor performing ones.

Whether it has been a team I was directing, or a team that I was a part of, I have experienced first-hand the mistakes companies, managers (me included) and sales people (again me) make and also seen (sometimes too late) what is needed to rectify those mistakes.

With the help of the Justice League and the Avengers and way too much time in front of YouTube, I’ve managed to group these into 7 steps which I’d like to share with you;

 

1. Superpowers

Sounds obvious, but to build a great team, you need to recruit great individuals who each bring something special to the table.

These people need to have the motivation, skills and ability to be great sales people.

I’m not necessarily referring to a natural born ability to sell, I’m talking about the capacity to listen, learn and apply knowledge when selling.

If they haven’t discovered their own personal sales superpower; self-belief, they aren’t yet ready to be part of a super sales team.

 

2. Logo

Each superhero in a sales team needs their own logo.

They need clarity on what part they play in the wider team, where their role, responsibility or territory ends and where their team mate’s begins.

This gives everyone in the team a clear view of what is expected of them and avoids people stepping on each other’s toes, which can cause massive disruption to a high performing team.

Make it clear to everyone, what part each of the individuals play.

 

3. SH.I.E.L.D.

Whether its kryptonite or gamma radiation, even people with superpowers have moments of weakness and vulnerability, as such they need to have an S.H.I.E.L.D. base to return to.

Environments, in which they can take off their mask, recoup and top up on the resources they need to keep fighting.

In order to provide innovative solutions, sales people need to feel comfortable to take calculated risks, learn from their mistakes and to know that someone has their back.

Sales heroes need a leader who can shelter them from the politics of an organisation, so they can get on with saving the (business) world.

 

4. The Joker

As with Batman and the Joker; a super sales hero is only as good as their arch nemesis; their competition.

Sales people are competitive by nature, that’s one of the reasons that they are in Sales, because they want to measure themselves against an antagonist or adversary.

If you don’t want members of the same team fighting and bickering amongst each other (which let’s face it is wasted energy), give them an external foe to compete with.

Unite your super sales team by showing them that the fight needs to be taken outside the four walls of their office.

 

5. Sky Beam

Why do all superhero movies have an ending involving an extra-terrestrial machine or other worldly portal which emits a bright beam of light into the sky?

It’s to give the group of heroes a collective target to hit; a focus.

Sales super heroes are the same. They need to know what they are aiming for and what they need to achieve.  For us, the beam is a number, a new customer or a personal goal.

Tell your sales team where they need to get to, make it visual and remind them of its importance.

And remember, if there’s more than one beam in the sky, all of a sudden you’ll find that they’ll be flying in different directions.

 

6. Gotham City

Who is the greatest superhero of them all? Well of course it’s Batman.  Not because he has the greatest powers, or the coolest costume, but because of his story, his motive…his purpose.

Most of us aren’t aliens from a distant planet, or members of a mythical Amazonian warrior nation.  But much like Batman, we sales people are all humans seeking a greater purpose other than a purely monetary one.

For Batman, his purpose, his reason for being is to protect Gotham City from that which threatens what he loves, that’s what keeps him going when the chips are down.

Great sales superheroes sell, not because they just want to hit a target, but because of what hitting that target represents.  They have understood the target is merely a marker on the road to a greater purpose.

 

7. Alter Ego

In today’s continuous business cycle of annual targets, quarterly incentives, monthly reviews and daily quotas, there is little to no respite before we are expected to suit up and get back out to bring in more revenue to save the day.

If you work in Sales, you’re expected to always be on top of your game.  But even the best superhero sales person needs to have downtime, when they can take off the mask, put on their spectacles and become their alter ego.

Make sure that your team celebrate their successes, reflect on the journey and get to enjoy the rewards that they have worked so hard to achieve.

Everyone needs a moment to stop, look out beyond the horizon and let their cape blow in the wind behind them.

 

Well that’s it from me this week and I hope you enjoyed the article.

If you haven’t read any of our previous posts, feel free to click here.

 

Post credit scene

Of course, no superhero themed article is complete without a post credits section.

Great sales people are naturally inquisitive, curious and in demand from other employers wanting their services.

So if you want to keep your A-list cast for next year’s installment, keep them wanting more of what you have to offer by showing them what is Coming Soon!

Next week – Why Sales is no longer an Art or a Science.