“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange. Ch-ch-changes, just gonna have to be a different man.”
I saw a tweet over the holidays suggesting that all sales trainers / coaches / consultants need to get real sales jobs. The subtext is that the entire sales education industry is full of frauds teaching people skills that they themselves do not possess.
I can relate to the sentiment as it reflected my own thinking. I had the misfortune of having rather poor sales training experiences in the past. The way I learned enterprise sales was by watching those more experienced than me and adapting their tactics to what worked for me.
In fact, one of the underlying reasons for launching the Enterprise Sales Forum was to fill a gaping hole in the market. In many conversations with founders and salespeople, it was apparent that a lot of bad and dated advice was being passed around. The Enterprise Sales Forum was therefore a place to share genuinely helpful, accurate, and relevant sales know-how by proven practitioners.
Over the years, my thinking has shifted on the sales training industry. Through our community, I met many thoughtful, intellectually curious, and passionate individuals that love sales, excelled in sales, and were inspired to help others be more successful in their sales careers. Folks like Trish Bertuzzi, Richard Harris, Lori Richardson, John Barrows, Scott Leese, Keenan, and many others have done an enormous service to the sales profession through their work, books, content, and speaking.
What I learned over the six years since founding the Enterprise Sales Forum is that it is not the sales training industry that is flawed. Though I may not agree with some of the tactics and strategies being taught, all the content is out there and easily available to anyone that wants to elevate their skills. And much of this content is truly amazing and high quality. The real problem is not the trainers or the material as much as it is with ourselves and our desire to change.
There is a reason that 80% of New Year’s Resolutions are an abysmal failure. The struggle we have with resolutions is that we often resist the will to change even if we say we want change. Unconsciously, our minds put up mental barriers that cause our resolve to crumble. These are self-preservation mechanisms meant to limit our shame, embarrassment, and risk.
We only change when we consciously commit to changing our mindset and building accountability to ensure we stay committed. I saw this quote by Steve Maraboli that goes, “Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.” If we are stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, it is hard to see any benefits of change. We need to visualize a better outcome in our efforts to change.
Once you see the benefits of change, you need to make sure you build consistency. This is why most exercise and health related resolutions fail. It is too easy to cheat, make excuses, and cast blame. This is one aspect of the importance of coaching that often gets overlooked. Even if we may take ownership for change, accountability through the support, coaxing, and berating by people we know creates external social pressure that force us to maintain our commitment.
Over the past year, I have been reading about the concept called “building in public”. The idea is that creators and founders build their ideas as they progress, lifting the proverbial cover on how they are “making the sausage”. This is nothing new given that many bloggers going back twenty years ago were doing this like Joel Spolsky for developers and Fred Wilson in the VC world.
What is new is that the ways and channels through which you can share your story to the world. Now we can do this on Twitter or LinkedIn or Tik Tok. There are sites like Indiehacker and Reddit. For the world of builders, there are infinite ways to build in public, not only creating accountability, but also creating fast feedback mechanisms that drive faster iterations on the idea.
Learning is also happening in public. Over the past few years, I am been much more immersed in the developer world and following a movement called 100 Days of Code. There are only two rules. First is that you code for one hour per day on your own projects (work projects do not count). Second is that you publicly share your progress every day. You can follow the hashtag #100daysofcode on any major social network to see tons of activity and followers.
If you really want to improve your sales results in 2021, it starts with you. It is not up to sales trainers, a new methodology, more streamlined processes and tools, better sales data, or more experienced sales leadership. The change you need is your mindset and your willingness to learn, improve, iterate, and adapt.
The start of the new year is a perfect opportunity for learning skills and forming better habits. What can help you get started on this journey is accountability. It can be with your team, a colleague, a mentor, anyone that you can trust to give you transparent feedback and an honest kick in the pants when you falter. Another method to hold yourself accountable is to learn in public and share your experiences.
What things might you want to learn that can help you elevate your sales results? This takes some introspection and research on your part. Ask yourself questions like:
Where did you struggle the most during the year?
Were there major drop-offs in your pipeline at certain stages?
What seems like a relatively easy thing to do that you completely dread?
Did you get any useful feedback or constructive criticism during the year from colleagues or management?
Do your customers have anything they might want to share about their experience working with you?
Once you have a list of areas for improvement, then think of ways that you can practice and build up skills or mechanisms that can iteratively improve your results. For example, if your response rates on email prospecting are low, test creating more personalized messaging or incorporating video. If cold calling does not net many meetings, get a colleagues to role play call scenarios. Maybe you feel lost during pricing discussions or legal negotiations, so take an online class on negotiating skills. Work backwards from the problem you are experiencing to find the right corrective actions.
The last part of your mission to elevate your sales results is to share your progress. This is the most uncomfortable part of the change process, but being transparent and doing so publicly does two things. The first is that it provides an additional layer of accountability. We rarely backtrack when we have made a public statement of a belief because of the pressure to maintain consistency. The second is that our small wins and victories along the way provide encouragement and boost our self-esteem.
Begin your process of personal sales change this week. Go to #100DaysOfSales, register your intention to change your sales results, and share your progress on LinkedIn (or wherever you prefer). We can all help and encourage each other on this journey. And even more importantly, it is a good way to challenge yourself early in the year that can easily bear fruit by end of year.
Need advice or help on ways you can iteratively improve your sales skills so you can participate in the #100DaysOfSales challenge? Feel free to ping me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you want 1:1 coaching, sign up for a paid subscription to the Enterprise Sales Forum newsletter and I would happy to schedule a session with you.
I wish you well on a great sales year ahead and much learning along the way!
Mark Birch, Founder of the Enterprise Sales Forum
If you found this essay personally helpful, I encourage you to sign up for the weekly Enterprise Sales Forum Newsletter where I share my thoughts on the state of B2B sales, practical tips for improving your sales acumen, and upcoming sales talks across the global Enterprise Sales Forum community.