AGILE: Responds at the speed of change to work towards win-win outcomes

The Sales Coach came into our stories to share with you insights on what helped him make an outstanding career in sales. Lately, he loves to talk to his group of Sales Enthusiasts about higher order behaviours that go into creating sales resilience. These are edifices built on everyday positive behaviours that are practised repeatedly. The Sales Coach breaks down the higher order behaviors to make it easy for the Sales Enthusiasts to acquire and practise them

So, what’s the talk in today’s conversation? Let’s listen in:

The Sales Coach (SC) said to the Sales Enthusiasts (SE): "We are getting closer to wrapping up our conversations. So let’s reflect on some larger questions on sales as a career. What’s your biggest fear?"

A Sales Enthusiast said: "That we might stagnate. We know dozens of people who started out as sales reps and never got beyond that. So our today’s question for you Sir, is this - Why do we stagnate?"

SC: "You stagnate when you have stopped flowing. Consider one of nature's priceless gifts to man - The rivers. A river never stagnates, because it never stops flowing. When it does, it isn’t a river anymore. A river always finds its way to its destination, the ocean. Just observe the river. It flows over rocks, flows under gorges, flows across plains and flows around islands, always agile in finding its way. Rivers flow. Do you?"

SE: "How can we ‘flow’ to become agile as salespeople?"

SC: "Flowing isn’t taught. You find your flow. And from flow comes agility"

SE: "That’s confusing Sir. Can you please decode?"

SC "You find your flow by working towards it. You make flow happen for you"

SE: "How? Please tell us two ways of making flow happen"

SC: "Here you go. Ask yourself 2 questions. Question 1: Are you constantly seeking new challenges that push your limits? Or, are you secure and content in your comfort zone? Comfort is stagnation. Comfort cannot make you agile"

SE: "But isn’t going out to seek challenges, dangerous?"

SC: "I'll answer that with Question 2: Are you constantly upskilling yourself? Are you learning new positive behaviors, tools, frameworks and models and practising them till they feel almost effortless?

Remember this. Agility is within your grasp only when you expand your range of skills and behaviours in response to change. So, the real danger is not flowing or growing. Stay where you are and change will run over you"

SE: "How do we know how much we can upskill ourselves? How wide should that range be?"

SC: "The limit is the sky or what you set for yourself. Each one of us is limitless in our potential. What we know about ourselves is just a small fraction of who we actually are, and what we can actually do.

Have you ever heard your toddler ask you how much she should learn? Never. It is fear, often of trying and failing, that limits you this way. Isn’t that so unfortunate?"

SE: "So, we seek new challenges and we upskill to stretch our limits. Those are the 2 ways, Is that all that’s needed to create flow and agility?"

SC: "Hmm. But that’s a life time’s work! Don’t underestimate the effort involved in building the capability to respond to change at the speed it happens. To be able to be on top of change as it hits you, is the testimony to years of disciplined practice. Like the river that has been flowing unimpeded from the time we knew it. Can you behave like that river?"

SE: "Any real life examples you can share Sir? That will help us understand better"

SC: "Of course. I will share the story of my first sales manager. He was an avid reader. He gifted me a book that introduced me to the concept of flow. It was called 'The Flow' by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. An interesting name pronounced something like “Me high, Cheeks send me high” My first boss modelled himself on what the book was about.

We were a team of five, reporting to him. Two hunters. Three farmers. The hunters and farmers didn't think greatly of each other. We always these were distinct mindsets. We couldn’t even imagine wearing the other hat. So we thought.

In our induction meeting, our manager sensed this view we had of each other. He made us an open offer. We were to block his calendar for joint customer calls. First come, first served he said. Fastest fingers went first. By the end of that day, his calendar was full for the next 5 days. It looked daunting. Impossible we said. Let me give you a flavor of a day’s schedule as I saw it there.

0900AM: Call with a Key Account, for a repeat purchase. | 1100AM: Call with a Key Customer of the Competition. | 0100PM: Negotiate closure of a large deal with an irritated Customer. | 0300PM: Meet his boss and the board on a strategic review for the next year. | 0500PM: Review with the CFO on poor bottom-line performance that had to be shored up. | 0700PM: e-bidding decision for a million dollar deal. | 0900PM: Virtual meet with the commencement batch at his alumn

Those were punishing schedules yes. But not for our boss. he was always as fresh as a morning flower and cucumber-cool.

The outcomes of one meeting never impacted his involvement in the next one. And within the same meeting, when Customers chose to corner him with conflicting expectations, as in lowest price and highest benefits at one moment, and lowest turnaround time with most complex specifications in another, or very high credit periods with stringent penalty clauses for service and delivery, he took them all in his stride.

It was as if the meeting room was a tennis court. His returns and rallies were perfect.

It took us a while to understand where all this agility came from. Every month, we saw him up for a new course, a new concept, skill, that he felt he still had to master.

And in every meeting with the Chairman, he asked for assignments that were not a part of his job role. Something new, something challenging, something exciting, his hands were full. But his plate seemed to expand to accommodate more. And the flexibility born of such stretching showed up in his demeanour"

SE: "Sounds so superhuman!"

SC: "Wait. Many things look impossible until you try them and get your arms around them. He had an unusual approach to get us to learn. He never discussed deals that we lost. He always picked the deals we won. In those reviews here are three things he wanted us to do. Here is his unique

3 Point Deal Debrief Formula – The Secret of Intelligent Upskilling

1. Tell me what could have happened, that could have led to your losing this deal. Think out of the box. Think of the competition, of the environment, of the customers challenges, of your adversaries in the Customer camp, our own internal constraints bottlenecks outside of this team. Think.

2. How capable are you of working through and working around such challenges?

3. How can you become more capable of handling such adversity? What new skills & tools should you learn, so you are ready?

And for those of us who aced our challenges, he always raised the bar. He said, give yourself

A 5 Question Checklist of Stiffer Challenges to Match Your Improved Skills:

1. Which of your newly arrived team mates do you want to work with for a day in a fortnight? Can you do for them what I did for you. Pick who?

2. Which of the three Customers that switched to your competition can you win back next quarter?

3. Take any two strong farming accounts. How will you grow margins by 50% in next 4 quarters?

4. A farmer and a hunter to switch roles next two quarters… will you volunteer?

5. Can you handle training sessions on sales for students and sales aspirants? Can you evangelize sales profession to them?

Taken together, the upskilling, and seeking stiffer challenges, led us to experience Flow almost all the time.

With such agile approach to work, you think you will ever stagnate?"

SE: "We can only flow that way Sir, thank you so much!"

Pause to reflect:  Agility is within your grasp only when you expand your range of skills and behaviours in response to change. So, the real danger is not flowing or growing. Stay where you are and change will run over you

Action Question: What are 3 higher skills and 3 stiffer challenges you can give yourself to experience flow and become agile?

Related Readings:  Mercuri Mail Dec 2017 Must Read feature on Scaling Up Excellence a book offering 7 Mantras that could be the secrets drivers – The How to do’s - of agility and nimble footedness

Takeaway Quote: “Agility is the ability to adapt and respond to change … agile organizations view change as an opportunity, not a threat” - Jim Highsmith

About the series:   This is the 97th in a series of 100 Posts that seek to build your Sales Resilience ... as an individual salesperson, as a sales team, and as a sales organization. Because a Resilient India needs Resilient Sales.


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