Sales Enablement Soirée: Leading In Times of Uncertainty, Fall 2020

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Welcome to the Sales Enablements Soirée. This is a session on Leading In Times of Uncertainty. This past year has forced many sales enablement practitioners and sales leaders to rapidly and radically change the way that they work. It can be hard to approach another year that may yet be filled with uncertainty as well. And so it’s essential that we adopt the next normal to help sales teams grow. Cindy Novotny is recognized as the radical mentor by executives around the world. She specializes in behavior change that impacts sales, productivity, and growth, and she’s committed to unprecedented success in sales, service, and leadership. She’s here today to discuss the essential steps that sales leaders need from their sales enablement teams to both survive and thrive in the coming year. With that, Cindy, I’d love to hand it over to you. 

Cindy Novotny: All right. Well, welcome. Hello again, I’m Cindy Novotny with Master Connection Associates. I’m thrilled to be able to speak with you today. When I think about the word sales and I think about your role and as a practitioner and what you have to do to be able to lead a sales team during this time period, a few things come into mind. One is I have been a sales person and a sales leader my entire career. I firmly believe that if you can sell and you can coach and develop salespeople, you will always be employed regardless of a global pandemic or not. Because everything that goes on in this world, it has to be sold to. And it has to be really all about the ability to connect with a potential client and do something to create revenue for whatever organization, whether you’re in professional service firms or technology you have to in consulting and finance, you have to be able to move a product or service along.

So when I look at what has happened to us over the last seven, almost eight months, everybody was put back to zero. I’ve been a firm believer that your past success guarantees you nothing when the rules change and the rules changed, like you can’t even believe. I mean, think about it, the entire globe, the entire world shut down. And now we are all kind of resetting, rebounding, refocusing, and there’s never been a better time to be a sales practitioner in helping change some of the behaviors in sales professionals, looking at what does it take to motivate a sales professional? And, what does it take to actually look at new markets and how you continue to grow?

So, one of the things I think I always start with when I’ve been talking over the last several months about the situation that we’ve been in is that it’s really not the first time. Now, it is unprecedented that this is a global pandemic, but it’s not the first time in many of our lives. If you’re very young joining this industry as a sales practitioner, it may be the first time you’ve had such a stumbling block, right. But it does go back to things that happen before, not even thinking about 9/11, but the financial crisis in 2008. But if you even go back farther than that to Silicon Valley and the huge .com boom, and then the bust where everything was over the top and then overnight, everything went away. So, this is a wake-up call and it’s a wake-up call to really say not how am I going to get through this, but what am I going to do differently when we are through this, how you act today as a sales practitioner and how you coach and motivate and lead your team will determine how you actually come out of this.

So, there’s going to be some ideas that I’m going to share with you. There’s going to be tips that you need to do as a leader of salespeople, and you have to have the very first one, and that is that you have to love selling, you have to love sales, you have to love being a practitioner in this world. You have to look at the fact that this is a skill. It is a career. It’s not something you just fall into, but many people over the years did just fall into it. So, one is that you have to be very curious. You have to be curious that there is no right answer all the time. You have to look for the different alternatives. You have to be curious about the team that you are supporting. What do you need to be able to do with that team so that you can actually help them get a little better? When you think about it, all of the differences that we make on a daily basis come down to behaviors and behaviors are outward changes. 

Personality is who I am, who I am inside, how I’m going to make this happen. Behavior is my ability to adapt. You have people that are on your team that are very focused, very analytical, not easy to think. I don’t know what we’re going to do. You may be the opposite of that, night and day. You have to be able to be curious enough to ask them questions, to be able to understand where they’re coming from and always listening. Now, it could be vice versa. You could be extremely analytical in your own lane saying, this is how we’ve always done it. This is what I’m going to keep doing. And you might think that that’s the way to do it now. You know, the best sales practitioners are the ones that asked a lot of questions. Whether it’s of a client or of the people on their team, the traditional way of working is over. There are so many new ways, just like you’re listening to this right now at a virtual conference. 

You are not at a conference where we’re face to face. Is this the new normal? No, it’s the next normal, it’s not the new normal. We’re not going to be doing this forever, but now you can actually connect with your clients and your sales team via Zoom and Microsoft teams and go to meetings and WebEx things that prior to COVI,D just eight months ago, when you were having a call with a client and you weren’t face-to-face, it was probably on a conference call. The poly-com that sat in the conference room of an office it’s like yesterday, because now many people are going to work from home. Some are going to come in. We know there’s some companies that are bringing people back in, others that are not. We know that in order to seriously not just survive in sales but thrive, you have to have an optimistic mindset.

This is our biggest issue right now in sales. As a sales practitioner, you have to know that you must have a positive vision of the future. You must guide your team. You must coach your team to be able to get through all the chatter, all the negativity. So one of the things that you want to do with your team is to make sure you have a value proposition for every single customer that they are working with. So, if I’m a salesperson, regardless of the industry, whether again, it is a consulting company, a financial company, a technology company, as a sales practitioner, my job is to know what issues my clients have. My job as a sales leader with the sales practitioners is to know what their clients have issues with. Then we brainstorm what solutions or creative ideas do we have that would help our client solve that problem. You can’t sell anybody anything if you don’t know what they really need, if you don’t know what their problem really is. 

The way in which you build credibility today is not just being a sales person. There’s a lot that’s gone on in all of our client’s lives. We need to be authentic. We need to ask good questions. We need to be able to say, “How are you doing, what’s going on in your organization? How can we really be of the best help for you?” The way you engage has to be very deliberate. If you have a group of people that report to you, you should be doing it daily, not weekly, daily meetings. That means 15 minutes every single morning. And my team based in Southern California, I’m in Pennsylvania working right now with a company every single day at  8:15 Pacific standard time. We all get on a Zoom and there’s about 30 of us. We take a quick 15 minutes, check in what’s going on, what’s happening? What can I do for you? What do you need from me on and on? And in 15 minutes, we’re done. We’re out of there. 

And everybody goes to work at the end of the day because of what’s going on with COVID. We do a touch base. So at 4:45 Pacific standard time, we jump on the phone. It doesn’t matter that that’s three hours later for me. I’m the sales leader, and as the sales practitioners, we jump on and we talk, what is happening? What can we do? How can we help one another, anything anybody needs ASAP to get to a client right away. We are working on proposals. We are doing all kinds of things and helping one another out at the same time. In order to change behavior, and if you’re newer in this role you have to recognize that some people look at sales just as reactive. And many of you may be in a reactive type of sales position because I’m talking to all of you without meeting you at the coffee break prior to the meeting and shaking your hand and getting to know you. So you might be newer at this, but I’m here to tell you whether you’ve been in the business a long time or a very short time, during this time period, we have actually seen an increase in customers and salespeople getting closer together because of this technique on Zoom. 

Now, I don’t want this to be forever by the way, but we did a survey. There were 1500 end user clients, and we had all the sales practitioners on as well. And we did a poll during this meeting and we said to the actual clients, right? Prior to COVID. What was the percentage of time that you would call back a salesperson? 10%, 20%, 30% 40. It was less than 10% during COVID. What is the percentage of time you will call back a sales professional over 80%. See, right now we know that customers are doing business. We are all in the same storm, different boats. Technology’s doing well. Our law firms are doing well. Construction is doing well. There’s certain consulting companies and financial companies that are doing phenomenal. There’s other industries such as hospitality is not doing that great. So we are in the same storm, different boat. So as things continue to go, we can’t go dark. We can’t go dark with our team. 

We have to give them the motivation, the inspiration to make those calls, to make sure that in your own organization, you are putting for some guidelines saying, I don’t want you to have calls with clients if you’re not going to be on a face-to-face Zoom, try as much as you can to get on face-to-face. Now it’s the client’s choice, if the client says no, I’d rather just do a conference call then of course we will. But if you put it out there and you ask them, chances are, you will actually get them to get on the phone with you. You have to do what I say is about a hundred touch points a  week. Now a touchpoint can be a LinkedIn article that you are sharing with them, it can be something you read in the newspaper that you know in their industry, that would be good for them to know. So you’re sending clients information. Those are all touch points. You’re doing focus groups. You’re engaging with them.

Now as the sales practitioner, as the leader, you have to be helping and showing and guiding your team on how to do this. Not everybody knows which direction to go, but we do know that 84% of business decisions are based on referrals and because of social media, it’s more than ever. You can’t let the competition be more present than you are. And as a sales leader, you have to help them with that. The reason I suggest the morning touch and the app, the end of the day touch is to keep the inspiration and motivation going with your team. You have to remember, it takes six to seven times as a sales practitioner to touch a prospect before they ever become a customer in any type of business. That means you have to stand out, you have to do things that are different than everyone else. 

I look at it this way. I don’t like COVID at all, just to be clear. Who does? But what it did was it gave us a moment to get a new perspective. See, I didn’t hit the pause button. I’m a consummate sales professional. I’m selling all the time. What it did was it gave me the ability to reposition, to refocus, to repurpose, to get my team together, to say, let’s look at our clients, what issues are they having? What can we help them with? How can our solutions be better for them than our competition? 

You also have to remember that there are systemic problems in every single business, and I’m sure in your own business, you have systemic problems.Now, what is a systemic problem? It’s getting down to the roots, right? So if you have a tree in your backyard and the leaves are all turning brown, not colors changing for the beautiful fall weather, but the leaves are turning brown because the tree is dying. When you call to have someone come out and help you spray that tree, they don’t spray the top of the tree. They get down into the roots. 

Well, you have to look at your organization. Now you have to look at the behaviors that have been in place. What is working, what is not, when you look at your whole sales organization, you have to say, what are some things that we know are clunky right now, from how we find new business, who calls on the business, how we finalize a contract or whatever you do to make sure we are going forward. How do we link? What we sell to what our service or our organization then provides. You have to get a little bit scrappy today, and that means I’m a fighter. That is a behavior of a true sales practitioner. Somebody who knows that it takes solid persistence to win in sales solid, not luck, not hope. That’s not a strategy. You have to be able to press on. Because for every single, no. There’s a yes waiting to come. 

One of the things that as a sales leader, you have to make sure you give your team the confidence to deal with the no’s. I always say, “Look, I know it’s not a no, I just have to get him to a maybe. I have to get him to a maybe, that’s it.” I got to get them to a point where they’re going to feel a little bit better about doing business with me. I may not be selling them anything today, but if I get a maybe I got a glimmer of hope. What happens many times in sales organizations is that we don’t consider ourselves a practitioner. We really don’t. We get put into the position because we’re outgoing or we have a nice smile or we’ve worked in the company for a while and they say, “Oh, you’d be good in sales, you could handle a lot of our existing customers. You can help with building relationships with some of those.” And over time things that don’t really work well, get ignored and they become normal. And that is a dysfunctional norm. Those are behaviors we must avoid. 

Even if I am what some sales practitioners might call an inside sales person, I’m handling all of our calls from existing customers, or I’m working with one of our sales practitioners. That’s out building a new territory or new business, the ability to work together and really make a difference for the client allows the entire organization to get better. You have to adjust your sales strategies right now. You’ve got to also alleviate anxiety depending on which industry you’re in from both the sales practitioner side, as well as the client side. 

What if this happens, what if this, we can’t do this? What’s the contract? What are we going to do? How are we going to be able to get out of this? We also have to be able to provide solidarity with our team. The biggest problem in most sales organizations is that sales practitioners are very competitive. That’s okay because we fight for business, but you have to create some solidarity so that we can have a mentorship problem prop program going. That means that salespeople sometimes have egos that’s all right. A lot of people have egos, but you want some of your most seasoned, successful professional sales practitioners to be some of the best mentors for some of your team.

So you might be the leader and they look to you because you should have all the answers, but in reality, you might not be as well equipped as John over here, who’s one of your star sales practitioners. You have to set up an organization that creates that sort of foundation that creates that sort of camaraderie among the team for that solidarity to work together. You also have to be in the moment. So depending on what industry you’re in, social media is really important. And I would be remissed if I didn’t talk about it. 

You may not be in charge of marketing strategies for the organization, that’s fine. Let whoever does that, the social media, maybe you’re in an organization or a type of company that doesn’t even use any social media. That’s fine as well. But as a sales practitioner, You never know who’s watching and you never know who’s looking. So, as I say to every one of the teams that I work with when we are working on solutions and training and developing them as sales practitioners. Your personal social media must always be professional, must always represent the brand and the company that you’re working for. My rule with our company is there’s no politics. There’s no making fun jokes about COVID. We don’t talk about religion. We don’t talk about any of this stuff. We stay focused, positive one foot in front of the other.

One of the things that sales leaders try to do is motivate a team. It’s very hard to motivate anybody, but you can inspire and inspiration comes from you, allowing people to feel comfortable asking for help. So the reason we do the morning lineup, we call a lineup 15 minutes and touch base at the end of the day, is that we’re not all working in an office like we used to work together. So we have four people in our corporate office in Southern California, where we used to have 10. They’re all working, but they’re all working from home. Then there’s about 20 of us out in the field, like I am right now, and we are all traveling and we’re working with our clients that are out there. You have to, as a leader, keep these people connected. This cannot be once a week we’ll have a meeting and then all the leader does is talk, talk, talk. That does not inspire. 

You want to create an inspirational environment that will change the behavior of your team based on their personal motivation. I say as a leader, this is crisis leadership on steroids. We’re playing the biggest championship game of our life right now, and it defines us as a sales professional. It truly defines how we act, how we rise to the occasion. You have to look at your business mix, your clients, your new customers. And again, because I’m talking to many of you from many different disciplines, you all have a different type of sales process. You have a different cycle of closing business, but I will give you four very important things that I have talked with throughout this entire eight months, the four C’s, as I call it as a sales practitioner, and as a sales leader, you have to have compassion. 

You have to know that you have no idea what’s going on with some of your sales people. You have to have compassion. You have to help them. You have younger, newer people that might be trying to build a market or build their territory, or go out and make sales calls in an industry or environment where you’re doing it on a zoom call. And how do I do that? And how do I connect? The second is clarity. You have to be more clear than you’ve ever been as a leader so that everybody knows what to do. So, as I mentioned, a hundred touch points a week. Those hundred touch points look different for every one of you listening to me right now, they look different because in some industries it’s going to be actual calls and meetings, and you might have 10 clients on one, and there’s 10 touch points right there on others.

You’re going to actually be going in and have coffee with them. You’re going to their office and meeting with them. You’re going to have some of their customers on with you because of whatever solution you are providing for them clarity as a leader for your sales practitioners, make it very clear. What is expected? Not just, I need you to send in this report every single Friday. What is the why behind that report? What is the why behind the territory I have? What is the why behind how I’m selling, then you have to communicate, hence the morning touch base and the end of the day touch base, the younger your team, the more important, the more seasoned your team. Even more important. See the real seasons. People can fly so low, they think, well, guess what? There’s no rule book on COVID they never had this. So I don’t care if they’re the top producer, the best of the best have been doing what they do.

And then the last C is certainty as a sales leader. You have to have a positive vision of the future, not just hot air, not just all fluff and unicorns. Reality, but positive. See, as I tell my team, we will come out of this and I can assure you we will, we’ve come out of other things. We will come out of this. But in the meantime, I am certain that if we do A, B and C, we will be able to move you from here to there. Your team depends on this. Your team depends on you. I look at it this way. I said, I’m a consummate sales person, a sales practitioner. I believe that those of us that succeed in selling know exactly how to do it because of the skill. We have certain attitudes, we have knowledge that was taught over the years.

And I relate this to a story that I heard in Venice, Italy a year ago when I was there working. I worked with one of the most famous glass blowers in Italy, in Venice. And he said to me, “Here’s the thing. People have lost their way about being a practitioner in any type of position.” He said, “Here, when you start working with glass and making the most magnificent chandeliers and beautiful things like a pool table made out of blown glass. You work with your hands and you’re a labor. When you decide you love it, you put your heart into it and you become a craftsmen. But it’s only when you really, really get your head, your heart and your hands together do you become an artist.” See as a sales practitioner, I’m a firm believer we got to work with our hands. We got to make the tough calls. We got to overcome the objections. We have to ask the right questions. We have to go out and make sure we know how to present our service or product or whatever we’re selling better than our competition. That is a skill. We have to have the knowledge that is our hands. That is the labor of selling. 

When we actually get our head into it and we have the knowledge and I know how to sell against the competition, I know how to show the observable differences between what I’m selling and what my competition is selling, I’m a craftsmen. And when I can say out loud, I am a sales practitioner, I love what I do, and I would never do anything but this job I love selling. I’m an artist. That takes the guts to be able to be proud out loud of what we do for a living. Nothing in the world would ever happen if somebody didn’t sell something from the computer. We’re talking to the pharmaceutical medicine that is working on trying to come up with a vaccine for COVID. If you fear the pharmaceutical industry, you’ve heard AstraZeneca, who has said out loud to everyone in their organization we are all in research and development right now. That means every salesperson, anybody working in customer service, anybody working in R and D all of us are in research and development.

Well, that’s how I think every day. This time has given us time as a sales organization to refocus. Where are we going? What are our goals? What do you need to be successful? If you work for me as a sales practitioner, it’s given us time to retool. You know, some sales training is not good. It is so basic. You need training that pushes you. Role-playing when I have people say to me, “Well, I don’t like to role-play.” I said, “Well, you know what, I’m sorry, because I’d rather you practice on me than on the client.” A true sales practitioner is practicing. They are getting better and better. And a leader of these people is absolutely giving them the tools to be able to do that.

You also have to not sit back in the trenches and be dark. You gotta come out out of the trenches and rebound better than anybody else. As a leader of sales practitioners, there’s several different areas that you can focus on. But one is making sure your team is strong, communicating with them every day. The other is to make sure the customer is getting what they need from you. Every day that we are not just transactional, that we are building relationships for a long term. We have partners that we work with as you do that, you might call a vendor, but they’re actually a partner and you haven’t been investors. Whoever owns your business, whoever’s involved in your business, you have to be always thinking one step ahead. 

The one thing is that we measure this in productivity, but I look at it this way. I measure it sometimes completely different in sales. We have to meet the numbers, our KPIs. We have to be able to excel and sell, but we have to make sure we’re exceeding our customer’s expectations.Not just satisfying them. We have to have less mistakes. This is a systemic problem, less mistakes. We also have to have more accountability. If I get a pushback from a client and I’m not getting a yes, a true sales practitioner sits down with their leader and says, “Let’s role play. How do I get to the next maybe so I can finally get to the, yes,” we are going to have strong recovery when we come out of this. We are seeing it already, you know, March 16th was my last day. I was in Dubai. The world’s shut down. I had to bring trainers home from Rome, from Rwanda, at the gorillas working, we were in Dubai working with a huge real estate company. We all had to get home. We got home on March 16th.

I started my very first webinar of 185 webinars. And by May first we are back on the road traveling. We were some of the first people up in the air. We knew that we had to get out and show our customers that we ignite travel. And that’s what we do. And we ignite business because business ignites business. But how do you get that message across? How do you make sure that today, every single day you are practicing with intent, you are not running by the seat of your pants. 

Remember, I said, we’re playing the biggest championship game of our life right now. If you think of it as if you’re in sports at all, that really sharp, really good people in sports practice harder before the game than they actually work in the game because if you aren’t consciously competent as a sales practitioner, here is how I look for new business, new development, here’s how I ask those discovery questions. These are the best ones to use. Here’s how I pivot and take what they say to help my clients see exactly what they need. 

You see the stress that goes into sales is all about intent. It is all about making sure that we are going to be better tomorrow than we were today. And it takes a leader to be able to help, that is how you motivate people. They see you doing it way more than they see themselves doing. It. Never be that leader that says, “Oh, well, I did that. I used to do that five years ago, but I’m now I don’t do that anymore. So it’s what you just got to come up with the idea.” No. Now as a leader, my job is to show you how to do that as a leader, my job is to help you. 

I’m going to end with my favorite quote by Winston Churchill because again, I sell every day. That’s what I do. I wake up in the morning. I return all my emails right away. My response time is like crazy getting back to people, but Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, just keep going.” This has been a tough time for some, not as tough for others, but I can assure you if you are good as a sales practitioner, you will always have a job. And with that, I thank you for this time together and I look forward to answering any questions you might have.

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