It wasn’t too long ago when everyone was at the same starting line. I don’t care what company you are at or how big your quota is. We all started from the big “goose-egg”. Sales, unlike many other careers, has very specific metrics to it. Generally, called a Quota, it’s a number the company gives you that in their estimation is how much revenue you should bring in for the given year. This number can be calculated a variety of ways and it depends on the company and their specific goals and projections for the year as a whole.
Bottom-line, You either hit it or you don’t. And all Sales reps know that going into each year.
If you’re not in Sales, that’s okay as some of the ideas I want to share can still help you think differently as you navigate a long year of work and goals that you want to accomplish.
For sales reps though, it’s pretty simple.
On the one hand, many are way behind there annual quota halfway through the year. We can come up with a number of reasons why but excuses don’t matter. Facts are facts. The numbers speak for themselves.
On the other hand, several are out ahead of the pack and well on their way to achieving and potentially overachieving on their goals.
And if you are wondering, there are a good chunk in the middle of the pack (like me!). On par and in a good position heading into the second half but still work to be done to keep pace.
So, 6 months in, which bucket are you in?
Here is the secret: it actually doesn’t matter which one it is. Because if life and sports has taught us anything it’s that there is still time on the clock. The game isn’t over yet.
Think back to the Super Bowl a few years ago when the Falcons were all but engraved the Lombardi Trophy heading into halftime. The scoreboard read 21-3 and Twitter was ablaze with reactions. That’s a stout lead especially when you are playing that well and the odds of relinquishing it are very small. Ironically, it’s a great metaphor for where we are at in the year and something all of us can learn from. Let’s observe some things that happened in that second half in hopes that it’ll help you attain your goals by years end.
Mindset is everything
Bill Belichick might be the best 2nd half coach we’ve seen in history. He is great at assessing the game and understanding where to make adjustments, if needed. However, the best thing he does (and he does this all season long) is to get his team to buy into the fact that the game isn’t over until it’s over. You must stay positive and level-headed through the good and the bad times. That consistency in mindset and focus on the steps needed to get back into the game is most likely the “X-Factor” that led to them making that historic comeback.
If you’re behind, remember what has gotten you there before. We all get into slumps but it’s the positive attitude and confidence that we can do it again that ultimately pulls us out of it. Stay focused and keep a level head and the good times will just be around the corner. If you panic and get frustrated, it will be hard to overcome future obstacles and maybe make you lose that partnership you had in your grasp because you got desperate or impatient.
Do Your Job
This is Bill Belichick’s classic mantra. Know your role and get your job done. Don’t let the noise and celebrations around you knock you off your perch. Think back to the Falcons and some of their biggest mistakes. They went away from what was working. They were running so well but yet late in the game they decided to call a pass play and had Matt Ryan drop back to throw which lead to a sack. That play-call kept them out of field goal position. However, The Patriots stuck to their game plan and never wavered. They knew there was time on the clock and they knew what made them successful all season long. It was only a matter of time before it clicked and they continued to chop away at the lead (which by the way ballooned to 28-3 late into the 3rd Quarter, if you remember.)
You know what needs to be accomplished to continue building value and guiding your future clients down the right path for them. Additionally, you can’t forget about the early part of the funnel and your prospecting efforts. You’ll win some and lose some but having a healthy and flowing pipeline will ensure that you have opportunities to finish strong. Now, if you’ve started out of the gate strong and are in a rock solid position, you can’t get complacent. You can’t think that you can take your foot off the pedal just because you’ve had a few good months. Things can change quickly if you don’t watch it. Don’t all of a sudden switch things up just because you’ve had certain results up to this point. Yes, some things may have to be adjusted but most of the time it’s small tweaks and not the grandiose ideas we like to think are going to be the difference.
Make Your Own Luck
Hey, we all need a “Julian Edelman type of catch” every now and then. I’ve noticed in my sales career we all get at least one of these a year, maybe more if we are opportunistic.
However, you have to be in the right position to get those breaks. Are you creating enough pipeline? Are you building great rapport? Are you progressing partnerships forward? Are you bringing in the right people that are making the decisions? All of these questions help you get to a position where you can succeed and sometimes the timing just happens to be right.
That’s life, it happens, and you want to be on the right side of it but the only way you get there is to put yourself in those positions. Take a good hard look at your performance and where there might be one or two small tweaks you can make. If you were being honest with yourself, where have you fallen short? Where have you whiffed on some opportunities? Start there and make some subtle movements in the right direction. Maybe you have done zero call review or role play and need to get back to the fundamentals. It could be the “X’s and O’s” on your sales process need a retooling or slight shift. It could be something else. Like I said above, you don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Have some self-awareness and make some great halftime adjustments to put you back in the game.
Just like with Football, in the end there are two things that generally win out. Talent and Work Ethic. Some only have one, few have both. But either way you need to recognize where you fall short and what you personally need to do to crush your second half, whether you are way ahead or dragging near the bottom of the pack. As cliche as it sounds, the first half of the year “is what it is” and you have to remain hyper-focused on the path ahead and do what you need to do to get to that mountain top. It’ll be different than others around you. Don’t get sidetracked. Focus on yourself and your abilities and have the mindset that when you are ringing in the New Year, you know you’ve given it everything to make this past year the best one yet.
As a 1st time “Gen-er” (Is that a word? We’ll make it a word!) to the 5th Annual NextGen Summit I wanted to share a few key thoughts from the observation deck that might prove useful as you go about your day.
Before I jump it, let me take a quick step back. NextGen is a group of thousands of entrepreneurs that are looking to develop the next wave of innovative products and services to shape our future. It was started by Justin Lafazan and Dylan Gambardella five years ago and has had a “rocket-ship like” trajectory in years since.
Enter NextGen Summit.
This is their premiere annual conference to get all of these people together and connect them with great speakers and mentors to help shape their businesses. My journey to the conference was a unique one. See, I’ve gone through a Renaissance period, if you will, over the 5 years to rediscover who I really am and what I want out of life. With curiosity as my catalyst, I decided to start a Podcast called Just Get Started 18-months ago to talk with entrepreneurs and others trying to be fulfilled in life. If it wasn’t for that initiative and subsequently being introduced and then interviewing the Co-Founder of NextGen, Justin Lafazan, I wouldn’t have had this incredible opportunity to even share.
If you were so inclined, here is the first episode I did of the Podcast back in November of 2017 that explains my journey a bit more and how I finally got the Podcast going – Just Get Started Podcast: Episode 1
If you didn’t attend NextGen Summit that’s fine. Keep reading. There may be a few gemstones I gathered from the conference that might alter your thinking a bit and help you on your way to become the superstar version of yourself. Maybe not, but at least you can get the pleasure of my “almost failed English class” writing style.
Find Your Tribe
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
A tribe is only as strong as its people and to make those people be harmonious you have to have great Chiefs. It’s hard to find better Chiefs than Justin Lafazan and Dylan Gambardella. There is no shock that this NextGen community has grown so strong. The passion and drive behind Justin & Dylan’s vision is what makes this event special. That resonates with people and it makes people want to fight to hold onto that feeling they get from attending this event. The energy, the kindness, the curiosity, the sharing. It’s so organic and authentic it almost sounds made-up. So that’s my first takeaway. Who do you associate with that makes you feel that you can accomplish anything? That makes you believe you can change the world? I’ll tell you what. I found that here at NextGen. I’ve never been so motivated and hyper-focused in my life and I know, unlike other times in my life, this feeling won’t burn out as the days pass by but smolder and stay hot as I go forward. That’s what having a great tribe will do for you. They’ll support you. They’ll believe in you. They’ll high five you when you win and hug you when you fail. As the famous quote goes, “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts”. I’ve never believed that more firmly than after leaving this event and excited for the opportunity to keep in touch with my new Tribe!
How is Your Brownie Different
“If you don’t have a seat at the table you create one.” – Jesse Itzler
Jesse Itzler (@jesseitzler on Instagram) was a keynote speaker at the event and this guy literally brought the fire the entire session. I won’t give his bio here but go research him. Fascinating guy. I probably could write the whole article on him but one massive takeaway I gleaned was this, “How is your brownie different” (this is in reference to a story he told about pitching a business idea in school).
The punchline is that you can speak about features and you can speak about service and all that bullshit but when you get down to the brass tax of it all you have to go above and beyond the noise and truly create something that is world-class and doesn’t just limp over the finish line but annihilates the world record. He wasn’t just speaking about business. Personally, what are you doing to create a different experience that is impacting you, your friends/family, and the world. Are you “cashing it in” most days or are you truly trying to be different?
This reminded me of the time I had the Founder of ActiveLifeRX, Dr. Sean Pastruch, on my Podcast and he gave a great quote. He says, “In order to be World-Class, you have to prepare to be un-relatable”. Jesse has done that. He’s thought differently about the world he wants to live in and has set his sights and goals about making an impact in a positive way. He said, “If you don’t have a seat at the table you create one.” Don’t settle for what everyone else around you is doing. If you want to be different, you need to act, think, and perform different. Set the bar high and make your brownie different!
Serendipity Is Real and It’s Spectacular!
“To be called on, you must raise your hand” – Kim Kaupe
(Okay, who got the Seinfeld reference?) I preach Serendipity. The reason I believe in it so strongly is that we have no control over it and yet we have all the control over it. How I got to the conference started long before I got on the plane to NYC. We don’t know what the next step will bring (I could die on this plane flight as I am writing this). Don’t worry, I didn’t. But you get the point.
It’s an opportunity to get outside the dreaded comfort zone and let the universe steer the ship a bit. As Brene Brown once said, “I don’t leap for the perfect landing, I leap for the feeling in the air”.
As an introvert in sheep’s clothing going up and talking to people is tough for me at times. But I met some incredible people. People that I never would’ve crossed paths with if I didn’t accept the invite from NextGen. Full Disclosure: I declined for scheduling reasons initially and glad I made it work out. Who knows what some of those relationships will transform into but it doesn’t matter. My life and hopefully the people that I met will be impacted in a positive way forever. Kim Kaupe (@KimKaupe on Instagram), Founder of the SuperFan Company, spoke about this in her keynote in relation to growing your brand and business. She said,“To be called on, you must raise your hand”.
Sitting on the sidelines and telling a story to yourself of why something isn’t going to work out might seem cozy and nice but it’s not the way you make a splash and it is certainly not the way your create your own luck. If we live in a bubble then truly serendipitous moments are very few and far between. It might be a safe life but what’s the fun in that? Here’s a secret: The “comfort zone” is a made up place. Have the courage to challenge that mindset and look at creating life-changing moments for yourself and your business and not only will you be more fulfilled but serendipity might just connect you with something or someone in a magical way you never could’ve dreamed of.
Come Out of Hibernation
“You have two lives. The second begins when we realize we only have one” – Confucius
Just like a bear hibernating from a long winters nap (literally some hibernate for 7 ½ months), we all have pounds of weight we need to shed. But in my weird animal metaphor I’m not talking about physical weight. A lot of time it’s the mental burden of negativity and the mind warp we’ve all been through for most of our lives that needs to be erased. We’ve all heard it. You can’t be that. You’re not good enough. You’re too young. You’re too old. Whatever. It’s a bunch of Malarkey. Once you accept who you are and what you’re about and why that is absolutely good enough you can start to finally move forward. Maryellis Bunn (@maryellis.bunn on Instagram), Founder of the Museum of Ice Cream, gave a passionate talk about the journey of learning and asking questions that shouldn’t stop when you reach adolescence but should continue on for your entire life. I was amazed when she explained that children ask around 125 questions a day compared to adults who ask only about 6. What happens to that wonder and amazement and imagination we all had? Society happens. That’s what. We become this comatose society of zombies that are following old rituals and habits that haven’t made people any more happy or more successful. So why do it? As Maryellis says, “We have become a society that accepts what is instead of questioning what it should be”.
How many questions are you going to ask about the world today? Shed your mental weight, start believing in yourself and start living a life filled with passion and purpose that is on your own terms.
There Is No Spoon
“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” – Morpheus, The Matrix
Let’s be honest here. What I just wrote about won’t resonate with most. People will cast it aside with excuses of why they can’t do things and chalk it up to “that’s life”. They’ll go on with their day acting like each day before it. And that’s where this Tribe of NextGen-ers and others reading this are different.
You’ve had a choice. You’ve taken the red pill. You’ve become Neo…or Morpheus or Trinity or whoever you want to play in this adventure. Hell, you can be Agent Smith if you like to get down like that. But I digress. You’re already ahead because you’ve realized what most people never will. As the great Steve Jobs said, “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again”.
The spoon only exists if you accept the world as it is and fit in that box. But that’s not you. There is something inherently different about you. You can’t explain it, I know. But don’t ever let that fire go. Remember what Rich Keller’s passionate talk was about. Just S.C.O.R.E.
Stand-out, Conquer Obstacles, and Reach Excellence.
Whatever you do, always keep that kid inside with wonder and imagination and curiosity to question the outermost realms of the universe and why this all matters.
Until next year.
So…what was your biggest takeaway from the conference? Leave a comment below and would love to hear what everyone enjoyed the most!
You know what’s funny? The same excuses prospects give to sales reps on why they can’t buy towards the end of the year…
- Too busy
- Head down focused
- We’ll start fresh next year
…are the exact same excuses I’m hearing from sales teams when asked if they are continuing to learn and sharpen their skills.
Status Quo can be an ugly thing sometimes. Maybe the exact things that got you where you are (potentially behind your goal) are not going to magically help you when the pressure is on.
Enter the New England Patriots.
I wasn’t in the locker room at halftime of the Super Bowl or eavesdropping on sideline huddles but I can assure you the same things the Patriots did in the first 3 quarters to be down by an avalanche of points to the Falcons are not the same things that propelled them to victory. They game planned on the fly. They learned quickly from their mistakes. They took what the other team was giving them and strategized a winning outcome. They didn’t let their egos of “thinking they knew it all” come into play. They stayed focused on the end goal and pulled out all the stops to achieve it.
Why is this so relevant? Learning and adapting are hard for most folks. We are creatures of habit. But pushing something important off until “next year” or “until we close out the quarter” is a BS excuse. You must always be “sharpening the saw”. You must always be trying to improve.
Here are a couple easy things you can do by yourself or with your team right away…Make these MUSTS weekly. You can carve out 30-minutes somewhere on your schedule. I know it.
Action: Team up with another Rep. Record one voicemail and / or client call and listen back to it with them. Then switch. You can easily do this with the microphone on your phone.
Result: Having another Rep provide constructive feedback can help identify bad patterns, poor tonality, or even unprofessional slang you didn’t realize was happening. Building your self-awareness is extremely vital to improving your sales skills.
Action: Role play with another Rep on things you might be uncomfortable with. Prospecting a client, budget discussions, a top objection. Anything. You each play the role of the client and play an Easy, Medium, Hard scenario to get a feel for different scenarios.
Result: By practicing these beforehand it allows you to be more prepared and stay calm when these come up at game speed. That confidence shows in your voice and could help you articulate a better response.
Listen, I just rattled a few ideas off that have worked for myself and you may come up with your own that you find fun and valuable. The point is simple. Never stop practicing. Never think you know it all. Be vulnerable to feedback. All of this will reflect in your confidence and delivery on calls. More importantly, it’ll reflect more positively in your bank account.
What’s the best game or practice you’ve done with your team?
Companies always talk about their “value prop” as why they are different in the marketplace. Literally, the definition is “an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers”. Sometimes they’ll tell you even when you don’t ask. It’s usually how they perceive their product or service and not necessarily the reason they are, in fact, different. A lot of the times their “value prop” is similar to their competitors. What I’m getting at is typical companies always think about their product or features first instead of the thing that usually is the determining factor of winning or losing…The People.
Think about it, if you’re in a very transactional business then we can assume customers are buying for price and then secondly for a small feature here or there. People are still very important even if a lot of the sales take place on a website and with little sales interaction. However, I’m speaking for larger more complex sales as it is the people you have interacting with the client that continually put you ahead of the game…not your product.
Think of the most dominate team in the NFL this century. (Full disclosure: I’m a 49ers fan). It’s not the 49ers, unfortunately. Of course, we all know it’s The New England Patriots. If we asked them what their “value prop” or “differentiator” was what do you think their answer would be? I’m betting it wouldn’t be “our defensive strategy”, “our play calling”, “our game video prep”. All, by the way, relevant and probably could be argued as ways they are better than the competition. But we all know the answer to this silly question. It’s Tom Brady. It’s Bill Belichick. It’s Bob Kraft. It’s the people that are running their business that make all the difference. Think of your own business. Products probably have some similarities with competitors but if you have people that are energized and passionate about your clients…Boy, what a game-changer.
Bob Kraft may be the best CEO in the country. He knows when to get involved and knows when to stay out of things. He puts the right people in place and he trusts his team to make the right decisions and gets involved only when his expertise can be utilized. He doesn’t appear to micromanage or talk down to his team and think that he is “all-knowing”. As Steve Jobs famously said “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Mr. Kraft embodies a true leader.
If Mr. Kraft is the CEO, then Bill Belichick is the ultimate VP of Sales. He is full business when it’s time for business. Yes, He comes off short and cold to the media and even in-game when he looks the Emperor from Star Wars but have you ever seen a person more focused on the most important items all the while “clearing the clutter” on shit that doesn’t matter. He’s the ultimate master of prioritizing things that will help his team win and eliminating wasted motion from the day. And, if you talk to any of his players over the years there is an incredible amount of trust in him to make critical business decisions. Hell, he pulls out things from players few would be able to. They seem like they would jump in front of a bus for him, as well. There is no better in-game manager when the pressure is at an all-time high.
Bill Belichick is a magnificent coach and mentor.
Now, There is no better “Top Performing Sales Professional” than Tom Brady. The parallels are uncanny. First, let’s not forgot that Tom was a 6th round pick. Your top sales reps don’t always come in with a great resume or with a ton of experience. It’s great leadership that recognizes the intangibles and gets out of the way to let that person grow. They sprinkle in coaching when necessary. Tom is focused, driven, patient, and competitive. All traits necessary to succeed long-term and not be a “one-hit” wonder. In his profession, his health and fitness are extremely important and nobody could argue the preparation he puts into each game and each offseason. Now, I personally think health and fitness is very important to sales but I’ll save that for another article. However, Sales professionals must continue to “sharpen the saw” both in-game with clients and through role play or practice at other times. You have to be willing to listen and be vulnerable to feedback in order to keep improving and sparring with your colleagues is a good way to do that. Tom Brady isn’t the same player he was when he came out of Michigan. It took years of building a trusting team around him and being able to have self-awareness of his strengths and weaknesses. Tom is the best QB in football not just because he has incredible traits that help him perform physically but he embodies leadership traits in all phases of the game; the huddle, on the sideline, at practice; etc.
Tom Brady is the ultimate “Sales Pro”.
There are certainly companies that embody these same attributes but it’s always interesting to look at an obscure use case as it confirms the fact that successful people and businesses thrive in environments that allow trust and communication to be at the top of their core values and let the abilities of their team be exposed and broadened. I’ve spoken about leadership a ton and it has many sides to it. It shouldn’t just be used as an identifier for people running the organization. Truly successful businesses do a great job of identifying leaders throughout the company and putting them in situations they can succeed and where they can help other “role players” be the best they can be.
Start valuing your assets.
…The wins will start piling up.
In my sales career, I have read many of the “top” sales books out there. Most, in my opinion, start getting boring and repetitive once you hit like chapter 3. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good ones that have helped me improve or provided some tactics, but most have been lackluster at best. With no disrespect, I think this is because I feel a lot of sales skills are learned over a lifetime from real world engagement and partially just pure DNA. Plus, long books bore the hell out of me so that could be a reason too.
Well, that got me to thinking…if I could only give one book to someone starting out in sales, what would it be?
I was having a hard time deciding the best answer to this question. Do I go with something like “The Challenger Sale” or maybe more old school like “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” But, people transitioning into sales need a book that gets them motivated and ready for the ups and downs that sales presents every day. And, as so often times it happens, I came across that book in such an unexpected place. Like we do almost every night before bed, my son and I read a book. My son picked out a book from his (ridiculously) large stack beside his bed and handed it to me. I took a glance and quickly glazed over the title and it read “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” By Dr. Seuss.
Who has read this book? You may have read it when you were a kid (I may have) but didn’t realize its true existence until just a few short months ago. As I read over the words and curiously turned each page it became very clear that this book had to be written for sales.
If you wanted to read it, I am providing a link to a short youtube video of the book (I am a more visual person and personally the voice over by Jon Lithgow is solid) as well as a link to the text version. I’d certainly suggest to grab it from Amazon for your own collection.
I think this book does the trick for a few simple reasons:
1. It’s simple. It’s how Sales should be. Filled with stories and Human to Human conversations. Organizations continually over complicate the shit out of sales these days with their data and metrics and constant change if “something” isn’t working after like 5 minutes. Go look at the top performers in most organizations and you will find people cut from so many different cloths. It’s because the innate ability is in the DNA of that person and not some tactic in some sales book. It’s why there are only a small percentage of sales reps that are top performers. They hang their hat on human characteristics to forge them ahead and not on tactics like “make X calls a day and you’ll hit your numbers” or say “THIS” when someone objects to something, etc.
2. It’s direct and honest. You go through a lot of emotions while reading this book. You go through highs and lows, just like in sales. You also realize that a lot of the core skills you need to win at life help you win at sales; Persistence, Patience, Competitiveness, Empathy, and Going with your intuition. These, among some others, are what folks new to sales need to realize are the key to being a top performer. It’s like the old adage, “Fall down seven times and get up eight.” You just got to keep chopping through the forest and put in the hard work through the good and bad times.
3. It’s not about tactics, it’s about process. Top performing sales reps rely on processes day in and day out and then focus on using their instincts when working with different partners in different situations. There are no tactics that consistently win partnerships over a given time but understanding a process that works for you and sticking with it. Self-awareness can be a powerful thing both in understanding who you are and what makes you work to the best of your ability. One example in this book of the “waiting place” reminds me of those times when clients go dark for a while. Some folks push and become pests while others understand patience is key and that the relationship built will keep this potential client moving forward when the time is right. The reason this book is so relate-able is that it can be viewed from so many different perspectives and also allows you to read it at different points in your career and garner different meanings.
You may think I’m crazy saying that a children’s book is one of the best books to prescribe to a new sales rep and that’s fine as you are entitled to your opinion. However, if you’ve never read it or it’s been a long time then I encourage you to give it another shot. Who knows, you may just pick up something useful. What do you have to lose? At worst, if you do have kids, it should be something you read to them and explain the deeper meaning behind it.
Remember, sales is mostly about staying motivated and positive. We all know that. The motivation this book provides in its simple verbiage is all people new to sales really need to get going in the right direction. Then, like I said before, innate ability takes over. It’s sales, not rocket science. The minute we start to realize this, the minute we can get back to helping our clients succeed. That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it?
Appreciate hearing any feedback. If this wasn’t on your list to give to a new sales rep, what is? What’s your favorite book to pass along?
In today’s fast-paced world, disruptions happen often, drastically changing the course of people and events. The same happens in the creative world: New leadership comes in, positively or negatively effecting the status quo based on personality, vision, or otherwise.
So, why is this important?
I attended an awesome creative conference in Austin recently and one of the questions posed to the group was this: How can your creative team weather new leadership and come out stronger on the other side?
Often when a new leader, say a VP of Marketing or CMO, enters an organization, it is in their nature to want to change things. From talking with many creative leaders, most of the challenges arise over miscommunication. It’s important for Marketing leaders to fully understand how your creative group is structured and the value you bring to your organization. But for many creative leaders, proving their team’s worth is challenging. See, marketing has analytics (“look how many clicks we got to our website”) and sales can undoubtedly show their performance numbers and contributions to the bottom line. But what about Creative?
Based on conversations with some great creative leaders, I’ve earmarked three important things you must do to turn this disruption into a success.
First, start documenting. Start tracking projects. Start tracking length of time projects take and even how much time specific tasks take in those projects. Additionally, start tracking marketing performance and how that engagement leads back to your team. If an email campaign you helped create generates “X” amount of dollars in sales, then document that. Not just showing what you did but how it performed can be the first big “ah ha” moment for a new leader, allowing them to see creative’s performance and value.
Second, communicate. Be proactive and set up a meeting or multiple meetings with the new leader to showcase what your team has been doing and goals for the future. Establishing trust and value early on is important to establishing your creative team as long-term strategic partners to marketing and the rest of the organization instead of simply order-takers.
Remember this: In any strong relationship, both at home or at work, you must have communication and trust—and without communication there can’t be trust.
Third, and certainly not least, you must be a creative LEADER. Sometimes that responsibility means you must stand your ground and fight for your team in the midst of decision- making you don’t necessarily agree with by new leadership. You need to steer the ship and be the compass for your team. If not, you’re like a boat with no direction. You’ll move where the tide takes you. Leaders have a great way of inspiring others to be great and sometimes a disrupter provides that perfect storm that allows creative leaders to be a voice in the darkness when others might be silent.
I hear from creative leaders all the time that proving their value and taking their rightfully-earned seat at the strategic table can be challenging, but with proper communication and data to back it up, you can win the day and become a voice in your organization that is looked upon and respected for many years to come.
For the past several years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to help hundreds of creative groups throughout the U.S. and abroad think more clearly about their creative process, collaborate better with their internal and external partners and clients, and improve the quality and speed to market of their creative output.
After collaborating with so many teams, I’ve begun to take stock of the common challenges creative groups face. For me, among the most significant is the reactive approach many creative teams (even those at the most prominent companies!) are still taking to their role in their broader organizations. What I mean by this is that many creative teams still view themselves in the “service business,” whether that’s serving external clients, a larger marketing team, or their larger organization.
This idea of how creatives view themselves was definitely echoed during a panel discussion I was lucky enough to participate in at a recent conference for creatives in the sports world. There seems to be a strong consensus that creative teams are still not getting the “street cred” they deserve when it comes to their role in their organization—despite the fact that the work they do directly (and measurably) contributes to growth and revenue.
One problem of how creative teams are conceptualized is often deeply engrained in the fabric of their organizations. So, as a creative, how do you change it?
The key word in that question is YOU!
Don’t be a team that simply sits back and grinds the work out. I’m calling on you, Creative Team! Who is going to step up and build relationships with other departments, clients, and stakeholders? Who is going to change the tone of the conversation about creative teams? Who is going to cross the line?
I read a great quote from Simon Sinek the other day:
(If you don’t know who Simon is, you should watch his TED Talk on “start with the why.” Brilliant and inspiring).
“Strong relationships, at home or work, are based on trust and communication. But if there is no communication there will be no trust.”
Start by reaching across the aisle and form stronger bonds with the key stakeholders that you deal with every day—whether they’re heavy requesters or approvers of work, or just have high clout in the organization. Then, take it one step further and talk to your peers who are collaborating successfully at other organizations.
Making a concentrated effort to “cross the line” will provide more transparency and accountability, foster better working relationships, and alter the way your creative team is viewed. Take it from someone who knows: Teams that do this are happier in their positions, less stressed at work, and not seen as “servants” but as what they truly are: skilled artisans and Creative Professionals!
I appreciate the feedback and thoughts on how your group might be doing this well or trying to improve in this area.
Do you know the definition of “Nirvana”? (No, not the “Smells like Teen Spirit” kind.) Nirvana means a state of perfect happiness; an ideal or idyllic state. For creatives, that state of perfect happiness comes when their team is running in perfect unison: Stress is low, inspiration is high, and deadlines aren’t only getting hit—they’re getting beat. If I mentioned that description to your creative team, wouldn’t they consider it the “holy grail”? If a Creative Nirvana could be reality, would you take it?
In today’s world, for that to even get close to possible, two major things have to happen:
- Human Behavior needs to be adjusted
- Technology must be embraced
To truly experience Creative Nirvana, you must take a deeper look at the overall process flow and uncover where valuable time and energy can be saved. While virtually all creative teams have embraced software like Photoshop and InDesign, and some have even adopted MarTech, many have still not fully utilized a major time and resource-saver: workflow automation. Now, unlike the chicken or the egg argument, human behavior must change first before any technology to improve workflow can even be considered. But let’s face it: Humans have a very difficult time changing. We are comfortable. We like familiar. That’s why in the general bell curve of adapting anything you have early adopters, mainstream adopters, and laggards. (You know laggards, the folks still using flip phones.) We are still on the early adopters phase when it comes to workflow automation.
So how do we encourage change? How do we make it happen? For starters, create a coalition or “strike team” of folks with similar interest in improving the status quo! You can certainly go rogue, like Jack Bauer, but remember the old adage, “there is safety in numbers.” Generally speaking, if the more vocal or respected team members announce there is an opportunity to change, then others will follow suit and want to join in.
Next, I’d encourage everyone reading this to audit their current processes.
Three questions to ask yourself:
- Is our current process truly efficient?
- How can our team work better together with what we have now?
- Is there a need for change and do we have time to invest?
If you can’t honestly and accurately answer these questions, then it’s probably too early to invest in technology. Without commitment from the entire time, you won’t be able to fully adopt a new solution. That can spell disaster to your group and ultimately slow you down.
Once those boxes are checked, though, it’s time to blaze the trail of change.
Of course, selecting software for your creative group can be an uphill battle. While most creatives are familiar with programs used to create assets, many lack a solution that supports their process for getting work assigned, completed, and approved. This hasn’t been as big of area to invest in because it is hard to quantify with the current manual processes. Many organizations think their creative team is doing great, when those in the trenches are staying late most nights, running around the office trying to get a final approval, or wasting hours on creating a month end report for executive meetings. It is exhausting and has to stop.
After you’ve decided your team is ready to bring in technology, ask yourself some key questions to determine which direction to go in.
What are the 3 most significant challenges your team faces? (ie Is client communication at key project milestones lacking? Do you fall behind on work because of a disorganized process? Are you constantly chasing “x” department for updates or approvals?) This will help when narrowing down the solutions that fit best for your challenges
What volume of work is your team responsible for? Break it out in to levels, like low, medium, or high? Identifying the volume of work is crucial to understanding what kind of bandwidth your team has to learn and ultimately fully adopt a new solution.
Do you have leadership buy-in? Obtaining buy-in from the decision-makers in your organization will save you time later in the process and keep momentum high. If leadership understands that a solution will have important implications for the team, then you will be able to justify dedicating time to searching and making a recommendation. Additionally, you save yourself time doing a ton of research then presenting the idea and it gets shut down. Technology is vital in today’s industry, but it’s important to be diligent about your process to ensure you can go full throttle (Charlie’s Angels 2) when it comes time to explore solutions.
Human behavior and technology can mesh extremely well when properly thought through and executed. It is important to embrace change and the opportunity to grow in any way possible. Always audit your processes and never be satisfied with how things are going. Strive to be that group that other organizations look at and say “Boy, how do we hum like them”.
The Creative Nirvana exists, gang. I’ve seen it first hand and it is glorious!
Are you ready for it?
This was my first time at the Henry Stewart DAM Conference, located at the Hilton Midtown in NYC, and I came away with a few key learnings that were shared during the speaking sessions and panel discussions. First off, I applaud the conference for adding the Creative Operations Track, which offered specific topics geared toward creative professionals and the struggles that they go through on a daily basis. I think it was a huge win. Any good conference leaves its attendees amped to implement some changes or foster new approaches to current problems when they return to the office. I think DAM NY accomplished that.
Leading the session was Kevin Brucato, Vice President of Creative Operations at Prudential. To open the day, he posed this question: What role does Creative Operations play in the rapidly-evolving world of creative?
To answer that question, Kevin asked the group to focus on three simple words:Agility, Collaboration, and Visibility. I don’t know if Kevin has a crystal ball, but those three words continuously resonated throughout the day—in Panel discussions, audience questions, and breakout sessions.
- Agility: I heard a lot of chatter about teams needing to embrace flexibility in how they work. As creative teams become tasked with a higher volume of work, moving freely without barriers becomes more important than ever. One way to do this is by incorporating new technology into the ecosystem—leveraging solutions to bridge the gap where manual processes or inefficient legacy systems might be slowing teams down.
- Collaboration: Two types of collaboration were discussed repeatedly. First, collaboration with your team. Tons of attendees made comments and asked questions about how to get different disciplines on their teams working together—like print and digital, or marketing and creative. When teams operated in silos, it often leads to friction, extra work, and mismanaged assets. Secondly, collaboration with various business units and executives was brought up from more of a process standpoint. Getting buy-in for different technologies, and then getting stakeholders to adopt them unanimously can be difficult. Working closely with those stakeholders during the requirement gathering phases and even during implementation can be tremendous for added buy-in. Another solution could be to compile a “strike team” of individuals who have been a part of the process from the beginning. It will be easier for them to “infiltrate” their specific departments and quickly foster organizational-wide adoption.
- Visibility: This term can mean a few different things, but at HS DAM, a lot of the discussions were around technology and metrics. Many teams struggle with accurate visibility of their teams, i.e. where are the roadblocks, and are they meeting in the right spot. Getting insight quickly goes a long way to ensuring deliverables are met and on time. (Slightly tangential, but worth noting: Teams must understand their internal processes and how they run before choosing a solution to help workflow or digital assets, etc. Technology cannot solve human behavior, so understanding where your team is headed and what’s essential to get there goes a long way to ensuring you make the right technology selection.) Okay, getting back on track…Metrics and showing ROI for creative came up a lot. Teams want to know how to show what they do, and how well they do it. Metrics can help show accountability and where bottlenecks tend to happen, as well as provide KPIs and real-time insights into how the team is performing and where shifts should happen. As one panelists put it, nobody ever cares about metrics when business is running well. It’s important to have the data and analytics behind what you are doing to showcase your wins and call out where improvement needs to happen to foster continual growth and development within the team.
Now back to Kevin’s opening question. Whether you attended the conference or are reading up on it afterwards, you’ve probably surmised that Creative Operations does, in fact, play an integral role in today’s creative industry by fostering agility, collaboration, and visibility. With the volume and velocity at which teams are running and the massive amounts of moving parts, Creative Operations is essential to maintaining order, encouraging innovation, but most of all, keeping it simple.
I appreciate any insight and comments on the topic or ways you’ve found that have made your team successful.
If you wan’t to engage more, you can follow me on Twitter at @ondrakogolf.
As a Sales Professional, I love to cheer wins. I love to cheer new partnerships. I love when you can feel accomplishment for finding alignment and helping businesses or people out. However, I personally look at every new client I help bring on board very differently than others in the organization.
See, I’m in the trenches everyday. If you’re in Sales then you know what I am speaking of. Executives often look at numbers and metrics and the “wins” are short-lived in the “what have you done for me lately” world of sales. That’s fine. I get it. No issues whatsoever about it. But for my fellow Sales folks, it’s extremely important to analyze and digest the accomplishment. Understanding what happened in that entire sales cycle will help accelerate other deals and set you apart from the rest.
Many of you may have heard this statistic…80% of Sales are made on the 5th-12th contact with a prospect. That’s all well and good but I don’t focus on the number of contacts but the meaning behind each of those interactions. Have you put thought into that when looking back at your wins (and losses)?
Let me explain. Think of the last client you helped bring on board to your company. Now, unless you totally backed into that deal (which happens), there were probably a series of phone calls, emails, web meetings, etc. from the 1st time you ever spoke to that person until the deal was signed. (Heck, there may be even touches prior to you talking to them that got them engaged in the first place). What were those small things that happened to keep the client engaged, or let them know you were listening to their needs, or that you could help them? If you were just lobbing over useless crap then you probably wouldn’t have won that partnership now would you?
There is no “playbook” of the exact things to say or do at certain times. I don’t like books that tell you to say this exact line or that exact phrase or do this particular action and BOOM..a sale. Nope, that’s complete BS. It’s BS because every opportunity and every sale is totally different. We are dealing with human beings not robots. Different people, company size, urgency, everything!!! The way I write a follow-up creative email or call at the right time comes down to that specific client and comes down to who I am as a person. The phrasing/wording/delivery is my own. It can’t be replicated nor should it. So, if there isn’t an exact playbook for when to do things then what is there? Well, I think I’ve identified four key characteristics or mindsets, if you will, that can be very helpful when speaking or responding to a client. These are so simple you are going to fall out of your chair. If you’re conscience of these at all times then you are always laying everything on the line and being the best form of yourself for the client.
People like people who don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself and let that be the standard you sell by. If you’re corny, be corny. If you’re direct, be direct. If you’re brutally honest, be brutally honest. I’ve found that by being yourself it allows you to never have to “fake it” or remember who you were for that client. I’ve never understood why some people try to be something their not. It comes off fake and can be read very easily by a client. You are not interviewing the client to be your best friend. You are helping them out by understanding their problems and needs and finding a suitable solution. It’s business.
Awareness can be very powerful. Recognizing where you are at with a client can help you ask the proper questions at the proper time and not miss your window for that information that may be vital in helping you earn that partnership down the road or knowing it is time to cut the cord. Don’t be too assumptive and make sure you hear it from the clients mouth before marking it down in ink. Awareness in sales can help you identify if/when you should follow-up with helpful collateral, call or email, be persistent or lay-off, or know when to stop overselling and ask for the sale.
It’s okay to ask questions and peel the onion back. If you feel you are not getting a direct answer or simply wanted more depth to understand a certain pain point then ASK! Having a general curiosity around someones business needs, timeline, budget challenges, etc. can go a long way to understand where you are at with a certain client or how you might be able to help them in a different way than you once thought. Plus,(if you’re genuine) most people like that you are taking an interest in what they need and it helps identify if there is deeper alignment between your business and theirs. It’s the little information you pull out by having curiosity that can ultimately lead to a tighter bond and solidifying a partnership.
The more you truly understand your prospects pains and can “walk in their shoes” then you have a wonderful opportunity to bond together and figure out the right solution. It seems that average sales people often try to solve the symptoms while top performers try to solve the root problem. The reason top performers can solve the problem is that they are looking at the solution from a different lens, normally a microscope instead of a mirror.
These are extremely simple and realistic to put into practice tomorrow. Most of you are probably doing these already but being consistent with them can make a big difference. It’s important to ask yourself each day if you are fully investing in all of the above. If you are then you will notice immediate increases in your client relationships and will get to the finish line much quicker. Whether you win or not, well, sometimes that is not always up to you.
I appreciate any comments and hope this has helped some of you out there.
In sales, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to always be prompt and timely with your clients. If you are professional and transparent in your approach with each client then that helps maintain a strong relationship throughout the entire buying process.
One of the things that have always bugged me is Out of Office email auto-responders. You know the messages I’m speaking of that go something like “currently I’m out of the office on vacation and returning…if you need assistance…”
There may be some relevance to doing this with certain jobs, but in a sales role, I think it can hurt more than it can help. Let me explain.
In 2015, where most every working professional has their phone within arms reach 24/7, it is unrealistic to think that you are “off the grid”. Think about it, the nonstop workday exists. There is no longer the ol’ 9-5 “punch the clock and get out of here” business mindset. It is clearly becoming extinct because of the vast technology advances and access to employees whenever needed.
With that said, I’ve always learned from mentors that it is professional to get back to someone within 24 hours or less when they reach out. That’s something that has stuck with me to this day and it shows a respect and professionalism to the person that reached out, whether a new prospect or a client you have been working with for months.
It is imperative to respond to clients in a timely fashion even when you may be out of the office. If you have Internet access there is no reason you shouldn’t be responding with even a simple message just to acknowledge you received the email and you look forward to speaking upon you return. Not automated but an actual human message.
I’m sure I’ll hear the “I just like to unplug and put away technology” argument and that’s fine. I’m a big advocate of that but it doesn’t mean you can’t check emails right when you get up or before bed or while your catching some rays at the beach. The reality is that one lag in response or one missed step can be the difference between bringing on a great new client or not. It’s inches, not miles that make all the difference!
We can’t fight it. Technology is here for good. That brings the positives (like having this platform to express my thoughts) and the negatives. I’m not suggesting you need to sit on the phone for your entire vacation or neglect family or friends. It’s actually quite the opposite. Spending 5-10 minutes a day keeping in touch with your clients when they reach out will go a long way to continue to grow your relationships and help form new partnerships for your organization.
Next time you’re out of the office, which path will you choose?
As most Fantasy Football leagues are entering into their playoffs, I thought I’d share some thoughts around the interesting parallels I found between being a Fantasy Football Commissioner and skill sets needed at work. I definitely think Fantasy Football Commissioner needs to be added to your Linkedin Profile immediately! (mildly serious on this, of course)
As a Fantasy football veteran of over 10 years, I have witnessed the popularity of grow exponentially, especially in the last several years. I know there are some reading this that have been involved for way longer than I have and were “pre-internet” with their leagues. From office pools, to online fantasy gaming sites, to getting more people in the seats at sports bars, Fantasy Football has taken the NFL experience to another level.
Fantasy Football is the most played of all fantasy sports due to the popularity of the NFL, easy scoring set-ups, and a short season schedule. However, running any fantasy league can be challenging!
With the popularity, comes the challenge that someone has to take the lead and manage a diverse group of individuals during the season. Enter the role of the Commissioner. Having been a Commissioner for a few years now, I can tell you that some of the skills needed to do this are directly in line with what any organization would love to get with a future team member.
So…I thought I’d share my insights and I’d love any feedback if you agree or disagree.
You Are Well-Organized
There is no question that any fantasy league, especially Pre-Draft, requires you to be very organized and prepared. From the first time you see the “Sign your league up” email in June, it is “Go Time” with a lot of moving parts until the draft a couple months later. From getting everyone signed up, to collecting fees, and most importantly getting a draft date set. It is tall order for many and the ones that are well organized look like a champ to the other league members.
In an office setting I have learned that being organized is extremely important and ultimately helps stay ahead of the game and succeed time after time. I have rarely met a successful individual that is all over the place and not organized throughout the day. Have you?
You Work Well Under Pressure
During any draft there are going to be multiple curveballs thrown your way. I’ve had guys show up plenty late, internet connection issues, and the worst…the slow drafting team owner. It is imperative to keep calm in these situations when you are putting fires out all over the place.
In any career, you are going to be pushed to the limit and you have to keep a calm head about it. When pressured, it is the individual that can think clearly and quickly that will prevail more times than not. Especially in sales, if you cannot think on your feet and act fast you can completely lead your prospect down the wrong path and have the deal blow up right in your face.
You Handle Conflict Well
It goes without saying that trying to manage 11 grown adults is a challenge in itself. Now, managing 11 grown adults that often act like teenagers, that’s where it becomes a challenge. Anyone that is managing a fantasy football league knows exactly what I am speaking of. When poor trades get accepted or there is some “spicy” trash talk going back and forth it is the Commish that has to come in and lay down the hammer.
Being able to hear all points of view and come up with a sound judgment call that is fair goes a long way in both keeping talent in-house and ultimately landing better hires as you grow. Additionally, being able to be respectful to people that have opposing views and understand their positioning helps keep a happy workplace and grow your relationship with your team members going forward.
I could probably go on and on about other parallels between Fantasy Sports and Work, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Hopefully this lends some slight humor to your day but also gets you thinking about some creative things you could add to your resume or Linkedin Profile as a fun conversation starter!
I shared a few ideas of mine but what other ideas can you contribute to this topic?
Thanks for reading!