Month 5 of my Dozen Months of Discovery is finishing up today and my challenge for this month was to write one blog article a day for the entire month of May, 31 days to be exact. As I write this post, this will be my final one of the month and I thought to share a few things I’ve learned throughout the month.
There are many people who write blog posts daily and have for years, for them this achievement is fairly pedestrian. I was originally going to learn the keyboard for this month but after a conversation in April with a friend and talking about sharing more of my message online, it became clear that a challenge like this would be good for me. I haven’t been consistent sharing my voice online besides my Podcast, which is mostly geared toward guest interviews. The written word is still very important on the internet and since I hadn’t blogged consistently in the past couple of years (5-10 posts a year), I wanted to challenge myself to get into a headspace where I can articulate my ideas into text and have to think through things more slowly versus just spitting off thoughts in my head while recording an audio Podcast.
With that, here are a few things I took away from the month:
Consistency is still the most important
This word has continued to pop up every month of the Dozen Months of Discovery and is a constant message shared with guests on the Just Get Started Podcast. Doing something once or twice is nice but putting the time and energy in to continually accomplish something takes more than just momentum; it takes discipline, prioritization, and grit. Whether it is a week, month, or longer or a different interval of time (launching a Podcast episode weekly), being focused on never missing this helps build the foundation to future success. One of the most glaring differences between anyone who achieved anything is putting in the work over an extended period of time. That has to be part of the equation.
You get better by practicing
Different than consistency, simply putting time into practicing something you are not great at improves that overall skill but it might help build others as well. For instance, I am not a great writer by any stretch but making a point to write every day helped improve my sentence structure, grammar, messaging, and most importantly my creativity. My writing has improved, even if just incrementally, but my creativity and observations flying around in my head were able to be articulated in a different way by making myself have to go through this daily practice. So keep practicing areas you are weak at. You don’t need to practice all of your weaknesses but weaknesses that might be essential to your overall growth, like writing, was something important for me to focus on.
Prioritize & Strategize
I’ve discussed the importance of prioritization before and when you have a challenge like this or anything that is important at the given time you have to make sure you understand where it falls on the priority list. It doesn’t have to be #1 but if this goal, however long, is important then you need to make sure it’s a priority or it’ll fall off early on when other “cool” things pop up and you’ll lose steam. Secondly, once you’ve recognized your priorities and have them listed, you need to strategize how you are going to fit them in during the day. Some days, I wrote my blog articles first thing in the morning while others I wrote right before bed at night. There are always a lot of balls to juggle each day and if you can think through what you’d like to get accomplished and the time it might take then you can make a simple to-do list to get these things done and block out the right time to do them.
Just Finish It
Everything prior is all leading up to the big takeaway, sometimes you just have to muster up the intestinal fortitude to get through “it” and finish. Some days get away from you and you might be tired but keeping your mind focused that you must keep the streak going can be enough to push you to the finish line. Remember, we all have bad days and we all have days that feel subpar but one of the most rewarding things you can do is finish whatever you had planned even when your tank is on “E”. That energy can propel you for multiple days going forward and be just the thing to pull out of your memory bank the next time you come across a tough timeline or situation and remind yourself that you’ve been here before and you’ve finished the race.
I look back at the past 31 days and it’s cool to see the great content I’ve put together, especially an 8-part series on a sales topic I had thought about writing for a year. Using this month as a motivator, I was able to complete those articles and will now be putting those together along with other content for a new Sales eBook in the coming months. These 31 blog posts may do nothing besides additional content sitting on my website but I take away the fact that I completed another challenge (5 out of 5!) in my Dozen Months of Discovery and can use those experiences for future personal and professional goals I have going forward. Sometimes putting a timeline and line in the sand can be helpful and if you struggle to achieve certain goals you’ve had in the past then maybe this is the time to put that time constraint around it.
Every opportunity is a chance to learn and grow and I hope you’ve continued to do that for yourself this year and will set a new bar for yourself next time with the aspirations of exceeding your expectations once again.
We all deal with stress in our own way and I’ve found that most of the “dealing” is rooted in childhood behaviors and situations that are not going away any time soon. There is hope though that you can change those behaviors and become a person who can deal with stress much better or whatever challenges you’d like to overcome.
I got to thinking about this with a work situation today when I was trying to get some information to a potential client and was waiting on others to finish their side of it before I could send it over.
In the past, I’d get anxious and be stressed out if things were taking a bit too long. I’d be checking emails or refreshing salesforce or whatever to help me cope and feel like I was at least checking and would be ready to pounce when needed. This was rooted in a lot of childhood issues I dealt with around wanting to make everything perfect because I was always fearful of being judged and not being good enough. I was always someone to go above and beyond in many situations especially when it was with people I didn’t know because of this need to make a good impression. Not a bad thing, I guess, but I’d get stressed and worry a lot. As I got older, this worry continued to transpire into my work and always having that fear of judgment in the back of my mind I’d bend over backward to get things done so quickly.
I still like to try and get things done quickly, that’s just how my personality is and I have a hard time sitting around when things aren’t complete. However, I recognized that it didn’t make any difference for (insert a given task) to be done 2 days earlier, for example, and therefore I became much better at prioritizing and staying patient.
What I have come to understand is that I need to prioritize very quickly the tasks coming across my desk and make lists / time stamps on when these need to be accomplished. If urgent, then let’s get it done but if not then don’t fret so much if it’s sitting there to do in a couple of days. This is where the patience comes in. One of my best traits I’ve learned as an adult and it transfers to many areas especially when dealing with stress and getting things done. It wasn’t always this way but as I prioritize things more clearly I don’t let my mind get cluttered anymore with focusing on it and I move on to the next important item.
The big step to make all of this possible was to address those feelings as a kid that I had to please others and look good in their eyes or I wouldn’t be worthy enough. Although I am continually working on this, I’ve all but conquered that tall mountain. My self-confidence is at a high level and I’ve come to grips that I’m not perfect and will never be. I’ve realized that if I am true to myself and the others around me that’s all that matters and I can hold my head high that I am living the life I want. Trust me, this took many years to work through and it’s a continuing process.
Here are the steps I’d go through and still do:
Sitting in thought and reflecting on my past
Have the self-awareness to recognize where I need to improve
Have the courage to make changes, slowly if necessary, to move in a better direction
Keep checking back in with myself and repeating this process to build a more solid foundation
There is no “easy” button, that’s for sure, but dealing with stress and anxiety and worry has been a big issue in the early part of my life and I made a commitment to change this, among other things. It took time and patience but I had a vision for where I wanted to go and trusted the process of getting better every day.
One last thought, I’d encourage a read of the book “Awareness” by Anthony De Mello as a starting point as it was a welcomed addition at the right time and helped a lot in these areas above.
I hope my story helps you in whatever areas you are trying to improve and please reach out if I can be a resource at all.
I’m thankful that I came across an article a few years back where Richard Branson had mentioned that he carried around a notebook to jot things down from time to time because he didn’t want to forget them. I never really thought of doing that in the past. I’d have ideas, thoughts, observations, etc and they’d come and go without any real consideration if they could turn useful down the road.
I decided about 18 months ago to order a couple of notebooks from Amazon (here are the ones I got) to start this process and try to form a habit around carrying it from various meetings or writing it in when ideas pop in my head.
It’s been a gamechanger!
I write down all types of notes from meetings with mentors, business ideas, or just a quote I see online that piqued my interest. Having these jotted down has helped me stop worrying if I was missing out on an idea but what it has done more than anything is to help organize thoughts that I had in the past and then reference them to see how I’ve grown. Things like what I thinking then, why was it important, what could I learn from it today that I didn’t learn during that time. It allows me to recalibrate in more real-time as I look at where I could have altered course or made a better decision.
This seems a bit old school with all of the digital options out there but just the feel of the pen and paper helps me remember things easier and gives me quick access since it is normally next to my computer or in my backpack.
Simple thought and idea but I know I personally lacked this understanding and notes I wrote down on a scratch pad would get lost or I’d just listen to a discussion and never fully absorb all the main points. I’d loved to have looked back 10-15 years and see what I was thinking then.
If you are looking to organize ideas and have a roadmap from where you’ve come from then I’d encourage you to take Richard Branson’s advice and carry a notebook around wherever you go. I hope it helps you on your journey!
Consistency – conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.
I’ve put consistency as the last ingredient on the list because it tends to be the final piece that makes all of the rest work together very well. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has had sustained success in anything they do including sales without being consistent in their approach and work ethic.
There are tens of thousands of examples of short term wins by sales reps or maybe even hitting or exceeding their quota in a given year but it is the consistent professional who time after time continues to chop away and stay in the ring long enough to get to the next round. A Rocky metaphor is apropos here. There are always going to be bad months or quarters but when you continue to hone your skills, build up your book of business, and bring the right attitude to your work then you will only continue to succeed.
It is the sales professional who thinks they have figured it out, has a few big whales padding their pipeline, or is arrogant about their current place on the team that ends up getting complacent and ultimately frustrated when others pass them. These are the folks that tend to churn out of organizations at around the 9-15 month mark when their “ramp” is over and they’ve been found out by the rest of the team.
Consistency allows you to do a few things:
Build Repeatable Systems
Having systems that you can go back to over and over again can only be useful when you are consistent in the way you work both internally and with potential clients. If you continually do a lot of the same things and build repeatable processes behind those then that can ultimately help you carve out some of that wasted time mentioned above. Repeatable systems might be crafting similar email templates that you can customize on the fly, document client information the exact same way (I used OneNote and the Description section in my specific Opportunity), or can ask similar/specific questions in client interactions. This helps make sure you are working toward the partnership in the right way versus missing key information from one call to the next. Building these types of consistent systems in place can do wonders for your productivity and partnership discussions
Create Sound Habits
When you are organized in your efforts and understand how your week generally flows it helps you put up barriers to corner your time and not let the “time robbers” get in the way of it. When you focus like this great habits start to take form like proper time for “pipeline hygiene”, prospecting time, administrative work, and ultimately more time to spend in front of potential clients working through great partnerships. Habits take time to build but if you put the right systems in place and then focus on how to tackle those and what new habits can help achieve better results like task lists, blocking time, batching emails, etc it all starts to come together nicely.
Keep Ahead of the Game
As I said earlier, you are going to have bad months and quarters (sometimes just bad weeks if you are lucky) but they are inevitable. If you don’t get complacent in your efforts and strive to out-pace projections then this can help set you up for success down the road and not get behind. If you have a few good months and try to coast through the rest of the year you are hurting yourself because since nobody can see the future you can’t predict if some of the partnerships you thought were coming in will actually come to fruition. Get ahead and stay ahead and this can be beneficial in more ways than one.
Consistency tends to get thrown around a lot like a thing that everyone wants to get better at. I believe that building systems to narrow your focus on all the different things you come across in a given week needs to be prioritized in order to be consistent. When this takes form, you begin to week out a lot of the wasted time and can spend it on the right things.
Then it’s rinse and repeat. It’s not sexy but it’s effective. It generally is the people that are the least flashy and stay head down on their goal that tend to win in the long run. They know that staying consistent will generally beat out almost every other person in the long run when others get tired, complacent, unmotivated, or in a rut.
Consistency is a skill that can be learned and it just means to suck it up sometimes despite many barriers. Ultimately, once those minor barriers get worked out you have achieved a lot more than you thought you could and are that farther ahead.
If you want to succeed in almost anything and you have to have others involved then having and gaining respect throughout the process should be a high-value focus item for anyone. In life, respect is so critical and as you get into a sales role when you are working directly with your peers and potential clients, it becomes extremely critical.
Respect – a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
Looking inside of an organization, I have found that respect has had a profound impact on being able to get things accomplished and arrive at a better place as a collective organization. When you are respected by others you are able to have your thoughts and ideas echoed and cheered for which might have a greater impact on helping them get adopted. Remember, this doesn’t always mean every idea will be great or accepted but it gives you more slack to be able to offer up those ideas and speak through them. I’ve often found that the most respected individuals also had the loudest voice because they spoke their mind, professional of course, and came at whatever situation it was with passion and exuberance. Others see this and get on board with the mission because they trust and respect you are also looking out for their best interest as well. As a sales professional, you are on the front lines with potential clients and hearing the good and bad about the company, industry, landscape of the market, etc and your voice has to be heard. However, if you haven’t earned the respect of your peers then it is going to be challenging to have your spot to share and have your ideas accepted.
How do you gain respect as a new sales team member:
Respect others and be graceful and polite in your approach
Speak up and share ideas – it still may take time to gain respect but often the new people have a fresh perspective on the issues they see so others are willing to listen. When you have your chance, articulate what you are seeing, be thoughtful in your approach, and try to present a solution along with the problem. Doing this early on will start to plant that seed of respect
Offer help – the easiest way to gain respect is to show you care. Help other peers when you see them struggle, listen in on calls and be interested in how others perform their job, ask other departments to shadow them to learn about their roles to make the relationship better, etc.
These are just a few ideas but it is really simple. Come in with eagerness to learn and share and that starts to rub off on people. If you show you are a team player from day one then you gain instant street cred for being approachable and genuine in your dealings with your peers. If you act as you know it all and come in with all the answers, that won’t go over as well. Be mindful of the situation and the groundwork others have laid and try to build upon it and not tear it down.
I’ve mentioned other ways that respect starts to be gained in a client relationship. Honesty, Candidness, Punctuality, Humility, and so on. There is no secret answer here. It’s that you just want to be a good human being with good intentions and communicate in a way that helps your potential client get further ahead.
Being polite goes a long way. Simple things like:
Do you use their correct name or ask them the name they prefer (Mike vs Michael)
Do you interrupt or them off often
Do you regularly show up late for meetings
Do you avoid answering their questions and change course
Do you take forever to follow up on emails
These are a few examples but it’s basic etiquette. I boil it down to how you might act on a first date. You’re going to be your best self (i hope). Do that every time when working with a potential client. The more you do it the more it becomes a habit.
Remember, this should be an easy one to remember but it’s hard sometimes and that’s why I think these characteristics are so important to work on and improve. Respect is earned and by proving that you are an honest, trustworthy individual who is looking out for the potential clients best interest then you have the chance to build respect early on. When you gain respect, it opens up a new set of doors with the relationship.
More information gets shared, Your calls get answered or returned quickly. You are the first to know of any changes in timeline or scope. It makes it easier.
It doesn’t mean you will earn every partnership, far from it, as there are other factors at play. However, wouldn’t it be nice to know if you didn’t earn the partnership and why very early after the decision versus emailing and calling a bunch to finally get a bland answer.
Focus on building the relationship early and often and the level of respect you receive from your potential clients will be in line with others in your organization even family and friends. That’s when sales get really fun when you can have a mutually beneficial relationship with a potential client and cut out all the noise that sometimes gets in the way.
Punctuality – the fact or quality of being on time
There are so many different paths to success that really knowing the perfect combination is going to be hard to pinpoint. The attributes I’ve laid out so far are what I have observed and experienced myself that are cornerstones to top-performing sales professionals. Punctuality is probably one that can be argued either way but I’ll share why I think it is paramount to any successful person, sales, or otherwise.
There is a great saying that goes, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” I think it fits well into this example.
When you are on time it generally means that you are prepared and organized. If you are prepared and organized then one can assume that you are good at the work you do, thorough, and always follow-up through on expectations.
Those go a long way when serving your potential clients. They recognize the little things in your interactions with them. Politeness and punctuality are generally two of the most glaring. I’ll assume everyone knows how to be polite so we won’t focus on that here. Remember, selling is as much about the product fit as it is about a trusting relationship. You are an extension of the company you sell for and therefore if you are professional, polite, and punctual in all of your interactions with the potential client then they are going to assume that’s how the organization is run as well and they’d be a great long term partner to have.
The flip side, which I was reminded of just last week, is not where you want to be. I was on a first discovery call with a potential client and we had built rapport throughout and the conversation was fluid so when they brought up that they had been exploring some other products I made sure I pried in a bit more and here’s what came out.
Brian: That’s great you all are doing some exploration to see what’s out there, who have you looked at so far?
Potential client: Just one other one at this point…like Gov something..or you know I can’t remember their name exactly
Brian: (in jest) I guess they didn’t make a great impression then, huh?
Potential client: Oh you don’t know the half of it. We called and had a conversation and scheduled a demo of their product and then when the time came for it the sales rep didn’t show up. They didn’t send a message or anything. So we called in later to find out what happens and not only did they not have a good excuse they weren’t even remorseful for missing the call in the first place. Let’s just say they didn’t leave a good impression on us.
Going back to the dating analogy from a prior post, if you were to stand up a date and then not even feel bad about it when they called you do you think that relationship will progress anywhere? It’s disrespectful to the other person and shows that you are thinking about yourself more than them.
Besides scheduled meetings, being prompt with proposals, emails, etc are also very important. I don’t believe you have to reply the minute a message comes in but I like to at least get back to someone within a half of day or at worst by end of day. If the message comes in during the afternoon then certainly first thing the next morning. If you are needing to gain additional information internally prior to responding at least take a minute to acknowledge their email and tell them that you are on it and will return the message soon (or put a more defined time on it). This goes for proposals or other important documents. When you agree on a time then hold yourself accountable to that time (or earlier). It amazes me how simple this notion is but yet it can be missed without properly organizing your efforts.
I’ve written a lot about outward-facing activities when working with potential clients as it relates to these attributes but it should be noted that many of these, including punctuality, is extremely important when working internally with other teams. Showing up to meetings on time, being respectful of getting back to emails that ask for your guidance/insight, and completing tasks when your voice is needed are all things that show you care about the greater mission and are helping the other members of your team succeed.
Sales can seem like an individual sport but it generally takes a village to make you successful. Someone had to build the product, someone had to organize sales materials, someone had to define the ideal client that fits the product, someone had to sell and implement other partners before you so you had great references. Unless you have done this all by yourself, you need others around you to support your efforts and therefore it is important to show up for these types of activities or discussions even though it may not be your top priority. The company needs to hear your feedback in order to improve and it’s an opportunity for you to share your knowledge and help everyone get to the next level.
Remember, A rising tide lifts all boats. Start by being on time.
Persistence: firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
I have to believe that persistence might be one of the attributes of top sales performers that won’t be questioned on this list. It’s real simple. You must have the ability to push conversations and stay on top of people to be successful because when working with humans there are a lot of commonalities that take place no matter which type of potential clients you are working with.
I could mention a ton fo them but will settle on a few of the major ones:
When They Say “No” Right Away:
This one took me a little while longer to figure out but when you understand the human psyche it actually makes perfect sense. People have been sold to in every which way throughout their lives so unless they are 100% actively searching for exactly what you say you offer then sometimes the early “no” or “not interested” is a reflex reaction that they don’t want to be bothered right now for a numerous amount of reasons you may not know about. This is where having persistence coupled with the fact that you believe you can really help the client based on the information you have can come in handy.
I had this situation come up on many occasions and one, in particular, was back in 2015 when I received a message back from an email that the person was not interested in what I was offering. Fair enough but I had some notes from conversations with this company in the past and really felt that we could help them make a difference with their business. I wrote a very professionally persistent email back explaining why a meeting for 30-minutes would be well worth his time and explained what I thought we could discuss. Long story short, he replied back and took the meeting and two months later they came in as a partner of ours. It was a great fit for their needs at the time and was a great partner and “logo” for our growing company. It turned out to be a win-win all around.
When They Say “Call Me Back In 6 Months”:
This type of conversation happens all the time and is very understandable if you are in the shoes of the potential client. This particular problem you solve is not a top priority at this time and they tell you to contact them back in 6 months or so. Happens a lot, right? Partly, this comes down to good documentation and organization of your accounts but it also mixes nice with a little persistence. Sure, you can wait 6 months and nobody would fault you for it. In fact, you’d be doing better than most sales reps who never call them back at all. However, if you know this should be a higher priority for them based on knowing their business then make a point to reach out 2-3 times over the next 6 months. Not to “check-in” but add them tremendous value. This could be an invite to a webinar that’d fit well for their business case, asking if they are attending a conference in their area, or anything similar to this. It shouldn’t resemble anything other than purely caring for them to improve and trying to help how you can. The reason this approach is helpful is most likely even though the problem you solve is not a high priority it still may be talked about internally and you should be seen as an advisor in their eyes, which makes it fitting on why you would be sending over additional information.
The Potential Client “Ghosts” You:
This should never happen if you have built a trusting relationship early on centered around respect and candor. However, in the case this does happen, use patience to first assess the situation and come up with the various scenarios as to why you haven’t heard from them. After that, persistence tempered by patience will be the winning formula.
You don’t need to “check-in” regularly
You don’t need to say “Hope you’re okay, haven’t heard from you”
You don’t need to tell them you’ve left several emails/voicemails and are following up.
They received them. They aren’t returning them for several reasons:
There is no new news
The timeline has been pushed back
They are swamped with other pressing matters at the moment
They are having some personal life challenges
And so on…
I tend to lean toward the side of logic in most cases and it’s probably that they are really busy with their actual day job that they get paid to perform at or they have had some challenging personal life things come up. Either way, if you come off as a pest from too many follow-ups you will seem desperate and that will lower your stock value. Continue to provide value in the ways we mentioned above but instead of every other month maybe it’s every couple of weeks especially given the timeline you might be aware of from past discussions. Keep them conversational and continue to back up the points you’ve agreed upon are important for them. Remember, if someone wants to buy something they will. If they don’t, they won’t. The need to remind them you’re there doesn’t help your case at all and can only put you in a worse position once you do get back in touch with them.
There are so many facets to persistence in personal and professional life and I firmly believe that continuing to push through when the times feel tough because you believe in what you are doing will end up paying huge dividends in the future by strengthening your relationships and adding new partners to the mix that didn’t seem possible before.
humility: a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.
There is no question that humility has to be one of the characteristics of the best sales professionals. Additionally, one of the sub-categories that are almost certainly in line with people who are humble is confidence. There are certain people that may not be confident in themselves and still be humble, but in sales I’ve found that the ones who are successful in their role often times have a nice balance of humility and confidence.
Confidence is such a big key to being successful and setting your mindset on a positive track helps you get there much quicker. When you are confident in your ability and realize that you will continue to exceed expectations then it is much easier to be humble. The reason I say this is that if you look at someone who exudes confidence then most of the time (not always) they don’t need to be told “great job” or “you’re the best” or anything like that. They act like they’ve been there before. They generally are the ones who are consistent and expect those results.
Similar to this situation, look at how the top sales professionals act when they bring in new partners. I am not saying they don’t get excited or accept the praise, I am saying that they are much more humble because they realize the hard work it took to get there and they don’t take it for granted. They don’t get a big head about it and gloat because it’s not about an “I’m better than you” mentality. It’s that they are continuing to compete against themselves and try to get better at their craft. They are confident in their abilities but humble in their approach and that balance continues to be a winning formula.
On that note, let’s make sure we don’t forget the humility needed when working with potential clients. I’ve really been speaking about internal-facing interactions but I think that being humble during client interactions might be more important, actually, they have to be.
The potential clients you are working with are fairly savvy these days. They’ve used a lot of products and services and have a good tell that almost none of them are perfect. Neither is your product. We need to look at ways of communicating with the client that exude our humbleness while articulating what we can help them with and what we can’t. If we are saying we can do everything then that’s not only dishonest but also comes off as arrogant.
We’re the #1 ____ , We’re the Top ____, We are the industry leader in ____
All of this type of fluff and the stories around it don’t make us sound like we are trying to help the client. They are self-serving and arrogant and if you’ve ever tried to buy something and heard this touted you’d know what I mean.
Let’s take the approach that “we may” be able to help the potential client as we continue to look behind the curtain and find out what they truly need. I think it’s wise to be confirming that “we can help you here” but “may not be able to exactly help there” and walk them through a potential future-state where they can envision what is the most important and what isn’t.
A piece of this is also the real possibility that you may not be a good fit and have to tell the potential client that. There is a mix of candor in that but I believe you have to truly be humble to get to this level of comfort passing up on what might be a great “logo” to work with and focus on the fact that the partnership may not be the best fit, for a number of reasons.
A lot of this continually comes back to one tried and true principle of sales.
Are you trying to help the potential client or are you trying to help yourself?
If it’s the former, you win every time, even if you don’t win the partnership.
If it’s the latter, you might win sometimes or maybe more than sometimes but in the long run, you will end up losing because your reputation will be stained and your network of people that you could have leveraged for referrals and otherwise will be shrinking.
Start with humility and try to go into each potential client call with that same air of humbleness while still maintaining your confidence and I’m sure that your calls will be much more pleasant, more trust will be formed, and you’ll have a better chance of holding your head high, win or lose.
If you seek out the opinions and perceptions of others about who you are you will generally find a lot of consistency in those responses. If you can look at that objectively and take it for face value then it can be a true eye-opener to confirm the things you already knew about yourself or things that weren’t so obvious and you might want to consider working on to improve.
To that end, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly how I changed over the past handful of years but I knew I changed a lot especially in how I was speaking to all various types of people. I had one friend recently say that I had a great balance of “compassion and confrontation” which came off as very genuine and honest and they knew that I was trying to help.
That’s where I fell on Candor as a trait I believe has made me successful in sales and have seen this in many of the folks I have been lucky enough to be around in sales roles and otherwise.
Candor – the quality of being open and honest in expression; frankness.
I think it’s a 2-part equation to get there, though.
Growing up I remember hearing something on a TV show, and can’t recall the name of the person now, but I remember them saying that they don’t tell any lies at all and are completely truthful in most situations. When pressed, they added “I never have to remember my lies” and that clicked for me. I was sold. I’ve been that way ever since.
Am I going to sit here and say I haven’t lied, of course not, I certainly have at times but I’m not speaking about a “white lie” that we all tell to save a friend from embarrassment or our kids from the joys of Santa Claus. I am speaking about your communication of facts and information to the other people you are around, both personally and professionally. What has always been interesting to me is that we get upset when others deceive us or lie to us but then we can turn around and do the same exact t thing on a call to a potential client.
Deceiving a potential client to “get the sale” always comes back to bite you in the end. That could be if you are setting up an early discovery call, product demo, or bringing in the business, deceiving at all levels is a bad practice. Listen, we all know there are a lot of bad actors out there and one of the reasons why sales get such a bad rap. Don’t let that be you.
Answer questions about what your product can do completely honestly and be proud that you were able to provide the client with the correct information to make the informed decision. More times than not, that questions about features they need may end up not even being that important and they’ll appreciate your honesty in sharing the correct information. But if they needed that feature and you blatantly lied then that will be found out during implementation or early use of the product.
Remember, whether you believe it or not, most people don’t think you have the perfect product because they’ve been scorned in the past so don’t front and act like its the greatest thing in the world. It’s good to have a few warts and it’s okay to share those.
And that is why this is a two-part equation. Honesty is great but when used with Directness, it becomes much better.
Being direct has always been a skill that I’ve struggled with until much recently. I grew up a shy, unconfident, and an out of place kid and always had a hard time expressing myself to others. Additionally, when having conversations that were highly important I tended to succumb to the pressure of it all and give in. I never pressed the situation, I never came back and asked the really tough question, I crumbled.
My confidence grew slightly as I got on my own as an adult but I really don’t think the directness piece became a strength until just the last few years. I had the great fortune of being around a couple of key people that would shape the way I looked at interactions with others and how to communicate much more effectively. One of the things I learned from them is how to take my honest approach to sales, coupled with the relationships I was building, and be confident that I could make the room awkward and be okay with it.
That’s at least how I framed it. Being okay with the awkward silence or look by asking a very direct but needed question. Boy was this a tough task. But it was so needed and it was refreshing the more times I’d do it. Not thinking this would be the case, but people appreciated that I was asking the difficult questions and wanted to uncover all the issues even if they were difficult to talk about. The by-product of it was that I was also more respected when I left the room versus when I came in. My stock would go up in their eyes and merely because I was intentional about solving a problem, doing it in an honorable way, and doing it together.
For that to happen, you must inject honesty and directness into each and every one of your conversations or said more simply Candor.
The most important takeaway I want to share is that this might be the most difficult of all the attributes needed to be successful in working with potential clients. It generally is the most difficult because you may be good at one side of the equation versus the other. It doesn’t work so well that way.
As I shared above, honesty without candor is good in a way because you are giving truthful answers but if you can’t rephrase the question, pose additional prying questions, ask the importance of it all and do it in a way that comes of genuine, it can fall flat. If you take the opposite and just have directness without the honesty, then you may just come off like a complete a**hole. You haven’t shown that you are honest and trustworthy so therefore you don’t have the long leash to pry and prod deeper.
I’m not sure where I’d be without candor. It matches my personality so well but I didn’t realize I had it in me until surrounding myself with people who perfected it and helped me pull it out. That is why it is so important to listen to “top performers” on calls if you can. You are not so much trying to dissect what they say but how they say it and what the reaction is from the person on the other end. I can almost guarantee, if they are one of the top sales professionals, they have a tremendous amount of candor and you can too if you put in some time to focus on the simple equation.
When I think of sales and interacting with people, I can’t think of a word that describes having a “client-centric” mindset more than empathy. This word embodies a mix of both emotional intelligence, social awareness, and the care factor that are all necessary to work with potential clients.
To make sure we are set on the definitions
Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Sympathy – feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
Sometimes these get confused so I wanted to make it crystal clear. You certainly need to be sympathetic in certain situations that call for it but empathy is more of the “state of mind” that you can relate to what people are going through and put yourself in their shoes.
Here’s an example of a situation I found myself in:
I was speaking with a potential client and we were “late-stage” with the partnership discussions and we had a follow-up call scheduled to progress this to the final steps and get started. On that call, my “champion” shared that their boss’s spouse was gravely ill and this project was on hold for a little while longer until they could get back into the office and focus on this.
I could’ve asked questions like:
Do you have any expected timeline?
What else can I do to help move the project forward
Should I follow-up in a couple of weeks to continue discussions?
All of these would have been bad ideas because it doesn’t put the client first. Sometimes there is NO timeline. Sometimes the waters are muddy and hard to navigate through. That’s not just sales, it’s life.
The empathetic approach is to recognize that there are bigger things at play here, real humans are in pain, and this (insert whatever you are selling) is not the top of mind at the moment.
It doesn’t mean it isn’t an important project or they don’t want to proceed. It’s that the timing has been shifted due to this unforeseen circumstance.
Using this logic and stepping away from the situation and looking at it from a different perspective I did a few things:
I helped my “champion” know first and foremost that I fully understand the situation and this is definitely not a good time to discuss.
I offered up myself as a resource in the comings weeks/months if they personally wanted to have conversations around process improvements away from the software
I acknowledged that there are too many unknowns to set any next steps and that I am going to put it in their hands to reach out
This approach led me to continue our great relationship, solidify myself and my company as professional and “client-focused”, and earn the right to receive a follow-up when the times were right. I built that trust through empathy.
I’ve found that taking an empathetic approach into most of my conversations has provided me the mindset to help clients even more because I’ve already convinced myself they are likely underwater on projects, are stressed about their work, and their home life isn’t an A+. Part of this gets into Emotional Intelligence and social awareness but I still think it falls under the category of empathy. If we know our business better than anyone then we should know our potential clients and all that they are going through.
With that in mind, a couple of additional thoughts to consider in your client interactions.
Be human and express you are also going through challenges as well which helps them reciprocate the empathy in a way
Re-read your emails a second time and ask yourself “what is my tone and what am I trying to accomplish by sending the email this way?”
When you hit roadblocks, don’t take it personally and try to uncover the true reasons behind it. It might not relate to anything you all have been talking about.
Remember that you can’t fake empathy, your mindset and attitude help shape those CARE muscles and if you want to get better at this then you must change your focus and outlook on the process and your interactions with every potential client.
I feel that if I was stack ranking the eight attributes that I would put empathy as higher on my list of strengths because it’s just something I’ve always done and has been in my DNA since childhood. This comes a little easier to me but it’s also allowed me to recognize the importance of it has seen its impact over the years.
I highly recommend auditing your level of empathy, both personally and professionally, and seeing where you can turn the dial in a positive direction.
More to come on empathy as I’m sure we’ll weave it into the other core attributes because it is so important but hopefully this starts giving you some thoughts about the importance of it all.