Spending two decades in the trenches of a front line, direct sales to enterprises focused on global and large scale corporate clients, I experienced many situations that provided obstacles, challenges, and direct failure. One thing is certain in sales and that is uncertainty. Agility, open-mindedness, creativity and having a thick skin are crucial attributes for coping in these type of sales environments. I thought today I would share stories and anecdotal observations I have accumulated over the years in my life as a Sales Pro.
Joining the Big Leagues:
I was working for a Fortune 10 size organization, in a specialized product sales role that included new and emerging technology services and products. I went through extensive training that included a week of On Board new hire training in Southern California and two weeks of in role training in Houston, TX. Throughout training, I was told that if you make it through to 18 months and you are at or exceeding quote, you were basically guaranteed a job for life and could choose to go anywhere within the organization. This was a tough role and the market segment I was assigned was below the enterprise space and was more geared toward corporate or less than 1000 employees. The quota was high, the products were complex and difficult to support and bill correctly and the systems were difficult to navigate and union rules provided challenges.
Meet the Neighbors:
At about a year into the role, I was becoming discouraged and anxious about achieving success in the role. I was using all the tools, asking for help, being mentored and nothing was popping. It was a slow day and I had scheduled “cold” calling time for prospecting. I had enough of dialing for dollars so I took a walk around the neighborhood. The neighborhood consisted of several square blocks of business parks. I crossed the street and entered the building directly across from my office. I looked at the directory and saw the name of a company that included a technology acronym and headed for their offices on the second floor. I walked in the office to see that this was indeed a “DotNet” type company. The receptionist was busy in a discussion with another co-worker so I strolled into the offices further to be greeted by a couple of young IT professionals. I introduced myself and stated that I did not want to be a disruption and asked if I could just drop off a card and schedule a formal meeting at a mutually convenient time.
Know your stuff:
As luck would have it, this was the time of convenience. The client was, in fact, a large consumer of the products and services I was selling and they were using a competitor’s product. The competitor’s product was failing and their service to their customers was failing. They were having issues with getting technical support. I offered a high-level review of the replacement service we had to offer and went over the technical configuration to demonstrate a simpler configuration, higher speeds, and better support metrics. At that moment, their biggest concern was speed and access to technical support. I asked if I could use their conference phone and dialed our technical support line and demonstrated that our first line of support would answer a technical support call within three rings. The tech support associate reviewed the metrics, service level agreements and current network status with the prospective client.
I was given a verbal order for 10 $1500/month/36month service products and was asked to send the contracts for the immediate services right away and to then work on several higher level solutions and to engage our product engineers for an additional road map and strategy work. One curious walk on a nice day to meet the neighbors, turned into my largest client, helping me to achieve Q3 and Q4 Director Awards and I made Gold Club. On top of the monthly commissions being earned on the sales, the company was also “Spiffing” this particular service and was awarded dozens of AMEX Gold Gift Certificates.
At three years into my role, and having passed through successfully the “18-month” threshold, I sensed the market shifting. I began exploring other opportunities throughout the organization and began to have some informal discussions with other divisions within the company and was verbally assured of a new role in a larger market, with a newer product with higher growth opportunities and engaged an internal coach to help navigate the transition. On the following Monday Morning weekly sales meeting, everyone was provided a little paperback book titled; “Who moved, my Cheese?, by Spencer Johnson, MD. After the standard boilerplate weekly sales meeting reviewing pipeline, deals, expected closes, etc. Our Sales Manager reviewed the book with us and gave us a homework assignment to read it and we would review in our next meeting. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it is about two mice friends that struck it rich with finding a cheese hole that provided all they could eat every day. They enjoyed the cheese find a day in and day out for a long time until one day, they went to the cheese location and the cheese was gone. Well, one of the mice went to the same spot over and over every day as he had done for many days, weeks and months and each day, expecting to find cheese, no cheese was found. The other mouse, knowing that the cheese had moved, ventured out and adapted and tried new locations and activities until he successfully found a new cheese hole. His friend, never believing he had to change to find the cheese, withered away and died. We reviewed the book at our next sales meeting and discussed the importance of being resilient and adaptable to change. Later that afternoon, the company announced that it had sold off several divisions, that a large Reduction in Force was taking place and the company I was going to end up being a part of was a fraction of the size but was left with the brand name. I left that company and role about three months later.
The marketplace can shift quickly and if you lack agility and are to set in your ways or don’t adapt and try new approaches or techniques, you will be left behind along with your sales and income. Keep your head up, look around and find the good things waiting to be discovered around you.