Are You as Great as You Think You Are or Blinded by Bravado?

Squirrels search for the nuts they planted in the fall, and eventually stumble upon the ones they buried. For salespeople, when the leads are pouring in, they may stumble upon a sale but it doesn’t mean the salesperson or their manager are as good as they think they are.

It was about 6am on a beautiful, sunny morning when I was sitting outside on my deck, enjoying a cup of coffee. I noticed a squirrel quickly scamper onto my deck, two feet away from where I was sitting. It didn’t see me. Without anything else to distract me, I watched this squirrel engage in what was probably his morning ritual. It seemed to be in search of something. Suddenly, it turned and saw me sitting there. We looked at each other for a moment. Then in an instant, it anxiously climbed off my deck, onto my lawn, and restlessly started digging several holes in the grass, looking for something.  After several attempts to find what it was looking for, it disappeared into the trees.

“What was that squirrel looking for?” I wondered. But we all know, don’t we? It’s the one thing squirrels are always in search of. Their next meal; that gratifying, delicious nut. Because that’s what squirrels do. They find nuts, and then bury them. The irony is, they bury their meal to save for winter, only to return and forget the exact location where they buried them! And if the squirrel is lucky, if they use all of their heightened senses, they will find that nut, or stumble upon a few of the thousands they buried, even if that squirrel is blind. That’s right; with sheer luck, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in a while.

This reminded me of the squirrel in the Move Ice Age, where the squirrel is always at arm’s reach of that desperately desired, gratifying nut. But even after each catastrophe that followed its unproductive efforts to get their nut, it continually eluded him. There was always an obstacle that prevented this squirrel from victory. I wonder if the outcome would be different if this squirrel had a better plan, strategy and skill-set to retrieve their nut?

Are You a Blind Squirrel Stumbling Into Success?

Human beings don’t behave much differently than a squirrel, especially managers and salespeople.

I remember several years ago, delivering one of my leadership transformation programs for Microsoft. The evening after delivering the first day of my program, I was sitting at a local restaurant and began chatting with Julian, another lone traveler. He was a salesperson, on his way to visit a prospective client who he was working diligently with to earn their business.

It seems there was another competitor in the picture that was getting in his way of this particular sale. To protect the innocent, and without naming any names, just think of any hot, new, innovative company that everyone wants to be a part of, work for, or buy from.

Let’s call this company, Wogal. As Julian and I talked further, he shared with me that the odds were in his favor, not necessarily because he had the better product or service but because of the salesperson from the other company. You see, unlike this other salesperson, Julian knew the importance of initially providing a prospect with a compelling reason to speak with him, building a relationship of trust, taking the time to uncover their needs and objectives and only then, if there’s a fit, can you provide a customized solution that would achieve the results the prospect wants and needs.

Julian knew that it would be considered sales malpractice to offer a solution before understanding the prospect’s problems, goals or pains they were experiencing.

“I should thank the salesperson at Wogal,” he shared. When I asked why, he said, “Well, after I developed a solid rapport with Chris, the decision maker I was working with, he shared with me why, during his last meeting with this other salesperson, he would never buy from Wogal. He told me that the salesperson walked into his office (a fairly conservative company), in jeans and a T-Shirt, sat down in front of him and the first thing he said to Chris was, “So, what do you want to buy from me today?” Chis told me that even if he was to buy from me, one of the reasons would be because he would never buy from Wogal due to this salesperson’s attitude and approach.

The Resurgence of Mediocrity

Given the amount of sales training that companies deliver internally, I was under the impression that this type of salesperson was on their way to extinction. While there are still many highly talented salespeople and managers, it seems this transactional salesperson has also been resurrected, believing that all other companies can’t compete with them. This creates a sense of entitlement, even arrogance, because they feel that everyone wants to buy from them. And if they don’t buy, there’s no ownership of the outcome. Conversely, salespeople may think their product is a commodity (which it’s not) and consequently, sell on price alone. This type of thinking stagnates growth and can put companies out of business.

In fact, the more I work with companies in every industry, the more I find that shockingly, many of these companies are lacking a foundation that they can build upon to accelerate growth and scale success. Especially these young, and emerging companies. They’re trying to move so fast that they are missing out on developing the critical, foundational systems and processes that can scale and create massively successful companies.

They often have no sales process, no hiring or onboarding process, poorly defined job roles and are devoid of a coaching culture to ensure they’re providing the support and development people need in order to develop into champions. There’s no training and development road-map, nor any training and coaching for managers on how to actually lead, coach and develop a team. Instead, their sales strategy is, “Speak to the prospect and, because of who we are, sales will be made. So, just get out there and bring in some business.”

The Lies We Live By

The real irony and costly byproduct of this behavior and line of thinking is, this salesperson may actually be fairly successful at his job. He may be hitting his sales goals, even surpassing them. And in the eyes of his manager, he may even be considered a, “great salesperson.” While a blind squirrel can often stumble over a nut; salespeople can blindly and inadvertently run into a sale. And if you’re selling in a team environment, I’ve seen many salespeople hide behind the acumen, skill, competencies and hard work of their teammates, just to reap the rewards; getting all the credit, compensation and accolades their peers received.

How misleading! It seems that, in a competitive world where companies have to work harder to earn a prospect’s business, if you’re an attractive company with a sexy, new product or sell a “need to have” service in a lighter competitive market, selling is often like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel. People are calling you. People want to buy from you. New selling opportunities are simply falling into your lap. Leads are flowing in by the day. Consequently, this type of salesperson perceives themselves as a talented salesperson, rather than the transactional order taker they really are.

If the company is currently on track to hit their monthly or quarterly goals, it’s easy to slide the development of these essential processes and strategies down to the bottom of your priority list. After all, practically anyone can produce in a robust and thriving economy, making it easier to hide their shortcomings and true potential. And if you’re people are producing, then why pull them away from selling and the activities that drive sales and put them into a time-consuming training program?

However, the shock back to reality, the real test of every company and each individual’s true strengths and abilities is given during the challenging times. This is when the alignment between you and reality is challenged and you become fully exposed for who you really are. There are no more places to hide. The veil is lifted and your skills, commitment, essence, and character can now be honestly assessed as either fact or fiction.

A Great Team Doesn’t Always Make you a Great Leader

And don’t think for a second that this line of thinking doesn’t permeate into the hearts and minds of many managers. After all, if your salespeople are hitting their goals, some managers actually look in the mirror and believe they’re a strong and mighty leader. They are actually impressed with their own awesomeness and their ability to manage a team that consistently achieves their business objectives, quarter after quarter. Consequently, a toxic belief is then reinforced. “So, why do I need to spend the time coaching and developing my team or invest in outside coaches or trainers when they’re hitting their goals?”

Until of course, something changes. Another competitor surfaces in the marketplace and comes in to play. A hotter, sexier, new company with an even more compelling story and product to offer suddenly appears. And then our poor manager and their salespeople; these blind squirrels can’t understand why their revenue is slipping, growth is stagnating and the leads, as well as the sales, are coming in less frequently.

Rather than look inward, they look outward. “It must be the economy, the change in the marketplace, a transformation around how companies make purchasing decisions which results in a longer sales cycle, or a new competitor who’s purposely cutting their pricing structure and badmouthing us, just to attract new business.”

Blindsided by Bravado

“What happened? What’s going on?” are the questions that start to plague these managers and their salespeople. Subsequently, managers start blaming their salespeople and their company for this costly anomaly.

“The reason why we’re in this mess is because of marketing (or procurement, engineering, customer service, operations, logistics, and so on),” or “My salespeople are lazy,” or “It’s the sales engineers, and the cross functional teams who need to communicate and collaborate more effectively with us. They’re just not doing their job and are difficult to work with.”

You Haven’t, “Tried Everything”

Then, the supposed self-accountability kicks in. But as we all know, it’s difficult to change the things you cannot see yourself. And so, like the blind squirrel, managers begin to re-actively scamper around in search of their elusive nut. The magical elixir that will turn everything around to the way it used to be.

Frustrated, the manager thinks, “I just don’t get it. I’ve tried everything to get my team back to the production level they were at before. I’ve looked at their activity, combed through their CRM, the information they are entering, along with identifying the prioritized selling opportunities, and everything seems to be where it needs to be. What am I missing? I’m having conversations with my sales team daily. They keep telling me they’ve “tried everything” to bring in new business. And I’m certainly doing everything I can to help them, even taking the lead on certain prospective deals and running the customer meetings for them. I guess we will work on closing the next deal.”

So then, why in their quest to find a solution, does it continue to evade these managers? As mentioned, managers are looking in all the wrong places. Companies are guilty of making the greatest assumption of all. That is, everyone is already trained, developed, a subject matter expert, the ideal employee who does their job, has great work ethic, and will become a high performer. Follow this line of thinking and it leads to, “Why should we bring in an outside company to coach and develop us? We’re already doing that internally and our people know their job, so what can they teach us that we don’t already know or can do on our own?” Really? How presumptuous; and dangerous to every organization.

Whether your managing the team or are part of the team, do you really know how is each person on your team is performing and engaging in each activity? Their skill level? How they organize their day? Are they taking the time to effectively plan before a customer call or meeting? What does each conversation sound like when speaking with a prospect or a customer? What questions are they asking when qualifying every new opportunity, and what are they doing with the information they collect?

This is where the magic happens. As mentioned earlier, if you don’t have the proven systems, strategies and best practices in place to address these things, then how do you know what to focus on that will help you and your people win? When companies start to look beyond the results, activity, reports and scorecards, and start to develop the core competencies and best practices needed to effectively coach, observe and develop the how, the who, the why, the process and the person, only then will you recognize the potholes that need repair.

That’s why you can never say you’ve actually tried “everything.” It’s not just about what you do but how you do it. Remember this. Winners don’t always do different things. They simply do things differently.

Fix Your Cataracts to Remove Myopia

So, what’s the lesson here in what may be considered more of a rant masquerading as an article? It doesn’t matter if you’re a 100-year-old legacy company or a shining, bright new star. Managers need to embrace their humanity, truth and self-awareness, remove their blinders and take full responsibility for their team as well as their own personal development, not only during challenging or more competitive times but each and every day.

Just think about those professional athletes and teams who win championships. They spend the majority of their time practicing, not playing in the game to ensure they maintain their position at the top. They practice to ensure they are prepared, have the skills, as well the united front needed in order for the team work towards a shared goal together. Now, when they are playing, they play with intention and focus, rather than in a reactionary, scrambled way which lacks the consistency needed to drive consistent results.

If you’re not proactively and continually developing yourself, if managers don’t shed their ego, become coachable, safely vulnerable, transparent and consistently refine their skills to effectively develop their team in a way that results in measurable behavioral changes, you will soon lose your dominance and competitive edge in the marketplace. And in many cases, the consequences are even more severe when the value of a public company diminishes and shareholder trust is compromised. Ultimately, you’ll find yourself playing catch-up with your competition.

So, the question you need to ask yourself every day is, “What am I doing today to continue to better my best, so that I can help others become more valuable in order for them to be the best they can be?” Remove the blinders you’ve been hiding behind and correct your myopic vision so that you can clearly see the truth and what’s really going on. Humble yourself so that you can embrace the concept of lifelong learning for yourself, for your team and for your company.

The top companies own the fact that your only real competition is you. That is, you’re always competing against what you did yesterday with what you need to start doing, learning or achieving today in order to create breakthrough results tomorrow and be the best you that you can be. Only then can you gain your throne and position in the marketplace as the powerhouse, innovative and desirable company you want to be so that you can start to win big.