This past week, I got to attend SxSW. Even at a reduced size, the value of being at the event in person cannot be underestimated. While the talks themselves were interesting, of more interest were the interactions I had and the random collisions of people I met. Even if just a tiny fraction of the follow-ups from this week amount to anything, it would have been worth the trip.
That is the power of serendipity that I shared about last week. While I certainly had plans, I did not overplan or overthink. I let the flow of the week dictate where I spent my time. I was open to suggestions from others, and more often than not, my instincts to follow were well rewarded.
That was what made the Enterprise Sales Forum events that we hosted before COVID so special. I loved the content. We had consistently great speakers. We hosted meetups in some impressive spots. The most important ingredient though was the random connections I would make from those attending.
One of those random connections from early in the days of the NYC chapter became a lifelong friend. I couldn’t quite remember when we met, but Tom reminded me over lunch yesterday. Tom had been a guest of one of my speakers, so Tom made the trek down from Westchester to join his colleague and show some moral support.
From that day, Tom was a regular fixture of the Enterprise Sales Forum. Over time, he came to help out with the NYC events pitching in when we needed an extra pair of hands. Seeing how often he was attending, I asked him what made him do the trek into NYC to attend the ESF events even if it meant getting back past 10 pm at night.
Tom shared this, “There were times I didn’t want to go actually as I was too tired. But my wife would kick me out of the house because she knew that every time I did attend, I came back completely energized and inspired!”
Despite our hectic schedules, we try to carve out time to catch up every few months. There is no agenda to these meetings, it is just an opportunity to listen, bond, and help each other. During our lunch, the topic came back to the Enterprise Sales Forum and if it would come back again in the same form as before the pandemic.
I made the decision midway through 2020 to not move forward with virtual events. The energy and enthusiasm was not there in the same way that one would experience with in-person gatherings. I could already sense that people were exhausted and zoned out from all the video calls and virtual meetings.
The other thing I shared with Tom was the challenge of running a volunteer organization. As we would take on new volunteers for the Enterprise Sales Forum, I found people would fall into three general camps. In the first camp are the doers that did a lot of the heavy lifting and often took the initiative. In the second camp are the talkers that seemed interested, but usually faded away after a few weeks. Then in the third camp are the order takers that would do work, but usually needed everything spelled out for them.
I am forever grateful for everyone that contributed to the organization. Each person did so with the heart to help others and gave their time to our community selflessly. I also realized though that as much as I appreciated the help, I was exhausted, not only with my own efforts leading the organization, but in actively managing and directing the order takers.
Tom listened and as we reached a pause in the conversation, he shared his experience leading a Boy Scouts troop. During camping trips with the troop, the grown-ups would take turns cooking the meals. Cooking out in the woods is not the easiest thing to do, but you learn to make do with the supplies and resources you have available.
On one of these trips, one of the adults and a good friend of Tom was given breakfast duty. That morning, he was scrambling to pull the meal together, and stopping every few minutes to ask Tom what to do. What type of eggs should I make? How big of a fire do I need? How do I toast the bread? There was more time spent asking questions than getting anything accomplished, and people were starting to get hungry.
Finally after getting a barrage of questions, Tom stopped his friend, looked him in the eye, and said, “Who's making the breakfast? Are you making breakfast or am I?”
The doers versus order takers contrast extends into all things in life. There are people that look at the instructions, toss it aside, and just plow ahead. There are others that religiously follow the manual, step by step. Some jump in the lake head first, others dip their toe in first. Everyone has a different level of risk taking and approach to making decisions.
I do not think you can be successful in sales as an order taker. There may be periods in one’s career where you are on autopilot and the revenue just rolls in. Sales is not getting any easier though, and as the pandemic fades into memory, the onslaught of digital marketing and selling is going to make it even harder to get attention and connect with prospects.
The other thing about sales is that it is a natural environment for risk taking and quick decision making. While the degree of risk taking needed will vary by the stage of company, industry, and market maturity, selling requires the willingness to take chances, to shoot your shot, to serve gatekeepers, and to overcome roadblocks.
At Amazon, we have a framework called “one-way and two-way doors”. One-way doors are the decisions of significant consequence, that once you choose, you cannot go back. Two-way doors are decisions that you can roll back without a lot of negative consequences. When you think about it, most decisions in life are two-way doors.
Not every two-way door you open is going to lead to a successful outcome. Your outreach to an executive falls flat, a deal you forecasted goes cold, the pitch you gave missed the mark. Those mistakes sting, but we can also learn from them so we can be prepared next time.
This is where the order takers struggle the most, Because they avoid the risks, they miss out on learning opportunities. Because they are following the script, they never adapt to change. Because they wait for others to tell them what to do, they waste time sitting on their hands.
Sales is an execution game. If you are not by nature a doer, you are going to struggle in finding success in the field. This is what I enjoy most about B2B sales, because you absolutely need to push yourself to experiment, to fail, to learn, and to dust yourself off to try again. It is the doers that succeed in sales.
Happy selling, many two-way doors await!
Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum
The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.