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Book Club: Anita Nielsen on Building Resilience in Times of Uncertainty

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Olivia Fuller: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.

As many organizations start to plan for another year with uncertainty, mindset is particularly important to overcome the innate challenges that can arise from a lot of ambiguity. Anita Nielsen, the author of Beat the Bots, is one of the leading sales enablement consultants and sales performance coaches who’s coming to us with more than 20 years of experience and B2B sales. Anita has worked with sales leaders around the globe to develop high performing sales teams. Today, Anita is going to talk to us about the tools and strategies that sales enablement can adopt for the upcoming year and beyond to plan effectively and continue to drive business impact and resiliency. Anita, could you please introduce yourself to our audience?

Anita Nielsen: Hello everybody. It’s wonderful to be able to speak with you today. I’ve got a lot of information to share with you specifically to help you do a great job at being a sales enablement practitioner and really relating to your salespeople.

OF: So, your book “Beat the Bots” focuses on how people can adapt to the evolving market, especially digital transformation. Over the past several months, we’ve seen a lot of rapid change in these areas. How can sales enablement help the organization respond to this rapid transformation?

AN: So, we’re going to start with change is hard. Now, before you write me off as captain obvious, stick with me, the reason I wanted to call this out is because change is hard not just right now, but it’s hard all the time and what we have right now, it’s like a perfect storm. You’ve got this change that has to do with this pandemic. And this is the kind of change that’s actually potentially hurting people’s livelihood. And it’s not just one person, everybody’s going through this change and they’re going through it in some different way. It’s bringing a lot of like a maelstrom of emotions up for everybody. And as we all know, some people are better at handling their emotions than others. And sometimes our friends in sales can get a little bit emotional when things are not going their way. And this goes back to the idea that it’s an opportunity, right?

So, how you help them manage this change is going to make a big difference. I’ve always felt that sales enablement practitioners, and later as our change agents, and I think at your core, that’s what you do. That’s what you’re set up to do. And that change is involved, the change is about helping that salesperson do the best that they can in their sales conversations and beyond. Ultimately, we’re devoted to growing revenue, but the process of getting that salesperson to that point, that’s where the differentiation for sales enablement lives. It’s very difficult to find people that can be that devoted to helping salespeople move forward.

OF: Absolutely. So, building on that, what does it mean for sales enablement to help build resilience?

AN: Right now, psychology. If you look at psychology and how that defines resilience, I want you to be able to build resilience. That’s going to be a huge component of how you get this additional trust and show your leadership. Well, resilience is one of these words that it means different things. So, typically when someone says resilience, you get this image in your head of like bouncing back. And the thing is that’s just not what it is because as we know right now, resilience, we’re never going to bounce back. I don’t care how good we are at being resilient. That’s just not going to happen. We will be changed by whatever change we’re going through when it’s at this scale, and so psychologists and psychology, it’s defined as the ability to face adversity and to navigate your way through it.

And sometimes even be able to end up better or having grown or evolved because of it. That’s the difference between people that are resilient, and that aren’t. And I think that if you keep that in mind as you’re working with your sales professionals, you’ll find that they are starving for people to help them be more resilient, especially right now. So, the idea of resilience, I want you to think of it as this there’s people that face change and adversity, and it can break them. It changes them in a way that takes something out of them, but what we have to do it, and what our opportunity for leadership is to show the salespeople that they can be resilient in a way that they can bend with the change. It doesn’t have to break them. It doesn’t have to diminish whatever their value was and whatever it was that they were doing in their day-to-day business, it changes it, but it doesn’t break it and it doesn’t end it.

It’s more a matter of navigating around it and figuring out how to take this moment in time and make it something that they can grow through. Ultimately, I think that’s the idea that when you go through something like this, you want to walk away with not just what you had before, but maybe a little bit of a different insight, maybe a better insight on how you can face change going forward.

OF: To get really tactical here, you put together a framework with four steps to put resilience into action. Can you share that framework with us?

AN: So, as I was trying to think of what I wanted to share with this audience, which as you know, sales enablement people, I’m a sales consultant, you are my people. And so, I wanted to make sure that I put something together that would be easy for you to go back and just implement and just do things around these four areas that’ll help you see a change and also help you to cement your relationship with the sales professionals and the organization and their leader, going forward. So, we’ll start with engaged right now. I think a lot of times, one of the challenges that we have as sales enablement professionals is sometimes there are too many salespeople and it’s really hard to get out and reach out to all of them.

And I think what happens is we end up so busy doing the other work that we have to do that. It’s not that easy to go out and reach out and keep our thumb on the pulse of salespeople and what’s going on in their day and their plate. Now I’m making a blanket statement. I know that there are tons of amazing sales enablement professionals who are devoted to understand their salespeople. But unfortunately, my observation is that’s not the case all the time. And so, for that reason, I think I wanted to include engage as the first step in this framework. When I say engage, I don’t mean just do activities and things like that with them. I mean really engage, pick up the phone, call them, ask them questions that will make them really think about where they’re at and how they’re going to move forward.

So, for example, you just pick up the phone and call a salesperson and say, “Hey, how is this impacting you? What are you saying? What are your customers doing?” And, the one thing that I’ve learned about salespeople, and we’ll talk about this in the next one as well, is they love to talk. And they get kind of a bad rap for always being the ones that talk too much. Well, the truth is they like to talk, but they love to feel heard. And I think in this time, if you can be the people that are there to listen to them and kind of hear what they’re going through and then offer suggestions or provide different things that you can to help facilitate their change process, you’ll end up winning some trust and credibility with them that’ll serve you very well longer term.

The next item is empathy. So, when I say empathy, I mean really try to look from their perspective. Now, before you start throwing stones at me and tell me that you have, you obviously do that already, you think you do right. We all think we do. I think when we are in it, it’s a little bit harder to remember to be the person who’s really listening and trying to understand the other person’s perspective. And it’s natural. When you’re in a moment, you’re sometimes you’re listening and you’re trying to think of what your response is. Well, as, as much as salespeople do that all the time, they don’t love it when someone’s doing it to them, and they can tell.

So, it’s really important right now that you use empathy as a way to connect and to show them that they’re being heard, like I said before, but also that you’re trying to understand them. So, if you did pick up the phone and call that sales professional, and they started to talk about what this means to their plate, well, you can share a little bit about what it means to you and you can talk about how what they’ve said impacts you in one way, too. We’re all going through this. And in that, you can talk about how you see what they’re feeling, and you can understand and appreciate it. And I promise you this empathy and kind of a little bit validation. It goes a really long way to help salespeople with their confidence. And which all of us know that confidence is a key component to helping them be successful as a sales professional. So really important.

The reason I bring this hope situation in here is because the thing that is lacking right now is this idea that there’s something good on the other side of this, right? I think that’s not the mainstream view. Everyone is just looking at this as uncertainty. What’s going to happen next, it’s craziness. Is the economy coming, back, blah, blah, blah, all these things. Well, everyone could use a dose of help. And I think you’ll find when humanity at large is kind of being trampled, individuals will let their humanity shine through. And I think that’s what these sales professionals need. They need someone to help them find hope and just show them that there is something on the other side.

Now we may not know what that is, and I don’t think anyone expects us to, but we have to focus on the fact that we want them to know that they can get through this and we’re here to help them as sales enablement professionals. And what that’ll do is that’ll show them that, “Hey, this is somebody that I can talk to that’s actually got some things to say that are positive and that are going to inspire me or make me feel better instead of being down in the dumps and acting like negative Ned or negative Nancy all the time.” And it happens right when you’re in that mindset of am I going to make my number? Am I going to be able to pay my bills? It’s a really scary place to be. So, provide hope as much as you can. Ultimately that hope is going to be fuel. It’s going to help propel them through this whole change in this pandemic and the idea of helping them grow.

Next up we have educate. So, here education comes in tons of forms and what I want to hone in on here though, because I’m talking specifically about the pandemic. This pandemic has caused all sorts of questions for salespeople. So, they have uncertainty in general, but if I’m a sales professional and I’m sitting here thinking about how this pandemic is impacting me I need to figure out how it’s impacting my customer and as easy as somebody on the outside may think that is, it’s really not that easy, right? Because customers are holding a lot of things close to their best when people are in situations like we all are. Sometimes they get overwhelmed. Sometimes they have anxiety. Any of those things are going on and it’s difficult for salespeople to actually get in there and understand those.

One component of education could be maybe going out and doing some research around how customers in that industry are responding to this pandemic. What are they calling out as challenges? What are they calling out as opportunities? Put that together, give it to the salespeople. They’ll be so excited and surprised that is something that will linger in their mind and you will have built some additional trust and goodwill, which again, that’ll serve you in the long run, right? Because even when this pandemic is done, you’re still going to be helping support these people. It helps to establish that partnership. So that’s one idea. Talk about what their customers are, with their customers are going through in their plight. Bring that to them. Then what’s happening in the industry as a whole. What are the changes? How is this economic shift impacting the place where you sell, and how they sell? Really important.

Another thing you can do is do like webinars. One of the things that we all figured out very quickly with this pandemic is that Zoom is going to be our friend. Zoom or WebEx, and what I found, and I hate to say this because it’s not the nicest thing to say, but salespeople who are really good at meeting face-to-face with people struggle a little bit when it comes to moving to video. And it’s not their fault. They’ve never really had to practice that. They’ve never really had to learn how to be good on video because their bread and butter, their whole life is revolving around going out and meeting customers and seeing customers face-to-face and building that relationship. And this goes back to that empathy. Right? So, think through these things that I’m saying, because that is what they’re actually going through.

This idea of now I have to be on a video. It’s like mind-numbing. It’s totally taking away one of the things that they use to differentiate. So, what can you do? Can you educate them on how to be better? That’s definitely a skill that can be trained. How to carry yourself on video, what are the things that you can do from lighting? What can you do for, you know, where you speak your microphone? All those kinds of things. You can do some research around that, show them some quick tips and things that they can use. They’re going to use them because they’re right in the middle of this zoom revolution. And then they’re going to see they have the thought to realize that this is something that we’re going to need and brought it to us before we had to try to go figure it out. And before you actually were able to, well, you gave it to them and then they will understand that, “Hey, you know what, before I even had a chance to figure out that I wasn’t good at this, they already knew that I might struggle and they brought this to me.” So that’s another really important thing.

Last, but probably the most important, I look at communication as a form of education. And so, what do I mean by that? There is so many things that need to be said during times like this, whether that is information around how and when to go back to the office, maybe it’s information around what the messaging is that’s going out to the market. What are we doing as a company? To tell the market where we’re at all different kinds of information that not just for the sales organization, for the company as a whole, that type of communication needs to, it needs to get to the salespeople. They need to feel like they’re a part of something bigger and that they have their thumb on the pulse of kind of what’s going on around them and they understand it because that not knowing is really painful, that actually will cause more anxiety.

So, if you figure, if I’m living in this time and I’m a sales professional, I already have zero certainty on how my life is going to go after this pandemic is done. If my numbers are going to turn around. And then you add in this uncertainty of is this change going to change me? Is it not going to change me? These are all things that you can address through education and communication. And the key though is that communication. Salespeople have a BS meter unlike anybody else. And so, it has to be transparent. It has to be clear and it has to just be honest, because they will see through the spin and the BS faster than pretty much anybody. They understand what that looks like and they have to try to make sure that they don’t do that to their customers. So be honest. Sometimes the news isn’t good, sometimes what you have to share with them isn’t great but they need to know it. And they’ll respect you for having taken the time out to explain it to them and share it to them in a way that is honest and straightforward.

So next, we’re going to talk about empower and empower means so many different things to people. And it’s almost like one of those words that people say it all the time and what does it even mean anymore? I get that, but I want it to mean something really specific for you at this point, if you’ve done what we’ve talked about in this framework, you’ve already given them some information that they need. You’ve given them some validation. You’ve given them guidance, all those things that they do need to help pull through and to build their resilience. This is that final nudge. We all know that salespeople, even if they have all the knowledge and the information, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to adopt what we’re asking them to, or that they’re going to go do what we’re asking them to. We’ll talk a little bit more about this later, but that’s what you’re after here that whatever that thing is, that’s stopping them, figure out what that is and help push them past it. And then this could be, you could have a zoom happy hour. You could give them some special collaterals, some special content, whatever that looks like in your context, it’s pretty vast and varied.

The idea behind this, the intent is you want to help them take that last step between knowing all the things that they need to do to be resilient, to actually going out there and practice being resilient and getting better at it. And that’s what empower is. And anything I’ll tell you about being somebody who empowers others, not only is that great for the salespeople, but honestly, that’s something that’s going to feel really good to you, right? Because you will have helped these individuals go out there and do something that they maybe wouldn’t have been able to do without you. So that’s one of those bonus points for sales enablement practitioners when you do connect with salespeople at that level, and you’re able to have that influence on them. It’s a pretty powerful thing on both sides.

OF: As we often hear, as you’ve mentioned throughout this, change can be really hard. So how can practitioners help to ensure that change sticks? Not just in the short term, but long-term and actually becomes habit.

AN: So, this goes back to again, psychology and neuroscience. Those are kind of the things that I like to talk about. It starts with a very basic idea of the brain and how the brain has two systems, right. There’s system one, which is a very, it’s like a subconscious autopilot, intuition, instinct, emotion, all of those things live in this first system. Then there’s a second system. That’s a rational system and that’s the system that requires logic and data and information. And sometimes it gets so much information and looking for so much detail that it’s indecisive, right? Because it gets overwhelmed. And so, the idea is to look at the human brain as a sales enablement practitioner. I teach this as salespeople as well. You think about the human brain is two pieces. I’ve trained salespeople for a very long time, and I’ve tried in ways to say the new brain, the old brain, the neocortex, the amygdala, blah, blah. And they just look at me and they nod and then they leave, and they don’t ever remember what I taught them.

And so, I was reading a book, one by Daniel Kahneman and then about a gentleman called Jonathan Haidt, and basically what these individuals have done is they’ve thought through what that means to speak to somebody on the brain level. So, the system one and system two, so logical and rational, they realize that for an average human being to understand all this neuroscience is no small feat. And so, they came up and I believe it was, Jonathan Haidt, who actually came up with the analogy. It came up with this analogy to help you better understand what it means to try to get someone to change. You’ve got here this rider; he’s pointing in a direction. So, there’s clearly something that he wants to do in somewhere. He wants to go, and he wants this element to go with him.

Then you’ve got your big six-ton elephant, right. And that elephant is kind of hanging out and he’s not in any kind of rush, doesn’t seem to move. And they’re kind of sitting on this path and, ultimately this image, what you want to think about it is that this writer represents the rational brain. So, we just talked about right, that’s the part of the mind that is looking for data, wants to do analysis. Once facts, objective, this rider represents that brain, right? That system in the brain, the elephant then represents the other system, which is the emotional system in the brain. And so, when you think about change, you want to think about the ride on the elephant, emotional rational, and there’s one other aspect, which isn’t necessarily, it’s not a part of the brain, but it’s part of the equation for change. And that’s the path. The path represents the external environment. It represents the road, the path that they have to take, the steps that they have to take. And the trick with the steps is that you want to make that path as easy as possible because people don’t like to change when there’s 8,000 obstacles in their way. So that’s a path until you’ve got rider, rational, elephant, emotional, and path the way forward in this case.

So, I want you to think about this. If you are supposed to interact with both systems in the brain in order to get someone to move, if in order for the ride on the elephant to move, they have to move together, right? Like that rider’s not going anywhere unless the elephant moves. The elephant’s just going to go wherever if the rider doesn’t direct it. So, if you think of this that way, let’s think about people as individuals who you have to talk to their rational mind and their emotional mind. The beauty of this is if you think about it, if they both have to move together to move. If one of them doesn’t agree with the other, or if there’s any kind of contention between the two, what do you think is going to happen? No one’s going anywhere, right? If that rider thinks that they know something and they want to go, then if it doesn’t want to go, it’s not going to matter. So, when there’s a fight or when there’s a contention between these two, who is your money on, is your money on the six-ton elephant or on the little dudes sitting on top, trying to get the elephant to go.

Obviously, it’s going to be the elephant, right? That’s where it goes, because you can try to pull the elephant, you can try to push the elephant, but that thing is not going anywhere. It has six tons of emotion in this case. And so, the idea is you have to be able to get the elephant to move. You can spend all day talking to the rider. So, for example, in our situation, I’m a sales enablement practitioner. You can talk to a sales professional all day about the deal stage velocity about any other metrics that they have. And it may or may not go over their head, they may or may not care, but if you start talking to them about how their commission structure is going to change or how their livelihood is going to change, or any of those types of things that hit the emotion particularly powerful are like fear and those types of things, that’s what you have to do. You have to get to the elephant in order to get them to move forward.

OF: So, in your book, you also mentioned a way to remember this writer elephant analogy, and also what it means in the context of sales. Can you explain that a little bit more to our audience?

AN: Given your big explanation on the whole rational and emotional mind, but at the end of the day, I want you to remember this. ABC, the REP or ABC the REP always be considering the rider elephant path. Absolutely a hundred percent in your interactions with salespeople and sales leaders, but in your interactions with pretty much anybody in many, if you want people to work with you to collaborate, to be influenced by you, this is it. This is how you’re going to do it. You’re going to constantly remember that if I’m asking someone something, did I give them the right data? Did I give them the right information too? Did I figure out what their emotion is that could be holding them back? Did I create hope that made them kind of want to move forward faster? Those are the things you have to ask yourself. I love this because it’s not just ABC the rider elephant path. It’s ABC the REP. So, this is always be considering the rep the sales rep. And if I could give you one piece of advice about being a sales enablement practitioner, it’s always be considering the sales professional or whether it’s looking at their perspective, whether it’s understanding what is valuable to them, as long as you keep in tune with what they need. And don’t get too far off the beaten path on different processes and data sets, you’ll be fine. Ultimately, if you want them to move with you and do what you need them to, you have to make sure that you’re dealing with the emotion.

OF: Well, Anita thank you so much for taking the time to share these strategies with our audience and to everyone listening. We absolutely recommend picking up a copy of Anita’s book, “Beat the Bots”. And we’ll share a link to that book with this episode as well on our website.
Thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

Check out Anita Nielsen’s book, “Beat the Bots”, here.



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