Be Like Mike!

(This is my first installment in a series on sales, sales management, and sales operations.)

Sales can be a tough gig.

I’m talking about the new-business, “hunter” type of sales. The type portrayed in the renowned 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross. Sales requires a thick skin, confidence, hustle, and the willingness to grind away, prospecting, doing outreach, cold-calling. And, once you’ve identified, connected with, and qualified a prospect, there are the follow-ups, the countless phone calls, e-mails, meetings, and more needed to engage, influence and persuade. Along the way there is a lot of disappointment, false starts, rejection or, even worse, contacts that just go silent and ignore your attempts.

The world has changed since 1992, of course. A lot. The Internet has fundamentally transformed the business world and left its mark on sales as well. But, at the most basic level, the steps in the sales process – identifying, targeting, reaching, connecting with, persuading, and closing new business – are still the same. Sure, we may not cold call as much – thankfully – and marketing plays a much bigger role now (more on this in a later piece) but in the end, it still comes down to the same basic steps. And grit.

This is all the more true when selling for a startup, a weak brand, or disruptive, transformative technology, where you have to educate the prospect, create awareness, reframe the challenge, and nurture the opportunity to close. In these cases one might face a hundred rejections until you finally succeed. As I said at the onset, it’s a tough gig.

So let me tell you about Mike. Mike’s a dog. My dog. He’s average in size, about 45 lbs. He’s cute, in kind of an odd way, but he’s not winning Westminster any time soon. For one, he’s a mutt that was rescued from a pen where he was chained up with a half dozen others, several of which had died. But Mike – though under a year old, scrawny, weighing just 15 pounds, scruffy and mangy – made it. Mike’s a fighter. He’s got grit. Resilience.

Mike’s doing well now, he’s been with my family for over two years and he’s a wonderful companion to my kids and me. I walk him every evening, something we both cherish. I enjoy the quiet time to think and Mike? Well, Mike’s a dog, so who knows. Maybe he really hates walking and just does it for me. Either way, when I come home in the evening and he sees me get the leash, Mike’s ready to go, happy as can be.

During our walk when we turn a bend in the road and come up on a neighboring home, Mike always tenses up. There’s this stump from a dead tree, all rotted out and hollow, where just about every day there is this chipmunk. The stump is about 30 feet from the sidewalk; half the distance is a driveway so once we pass the hedge it’s a clear line of sight. Whenever we get to the hedge Mike slows down and he carefully peers around the shrubs, looking for the chipmunk. When he spots it, I usually let him off the leash and he begins to approach the stump. We have done this dozens of times and at first Mike used to just storm at the chipmunk, causing it to quickly tuck into a nearby hole in the ground and disappear. After a while Mike learned this wasn’t working and he now approaches ever so slowly, creeping while crouched low. Inevitably, the chipmunk senses Mike’s approach and he sprints in a desperate attempt to catch it before the wily rodent can slip into the safety of his hole.

Mike has done this hundreds of times and has never once caught the chipmunk. Not even close, really. He has varied his approach, taken different paths, and tried various angles of approach, all for nigh. But, each time he approaches the challenge anew, undeterred by his previous failures, and ever hopeful that today will be the day. And, eventually, he will succeed.

So what’s my point here? As salespeople – and we’re all salespeople to some degree in life – we can all learn from Mike. Every day is a new start and we should all begin each with the happy eagerness that Mike brings to each and every walk. Show your colleagues, your prospects, – hell, the tollbooth lady, the barista at Starbucks, or the fellow riders on your train – the same enthusiasm as Mike does when he sees that leash in my hand! (Note: sometimes Mike gets so excited he pees a little bit; do not take things to this level!)

And, most importantly, don’t ever give up. Show what you’re made up, try, try again. And then yet again. And, if that that still doesn’t work, then examine your failures, make adjustments, and try anew!

Be like Mike!

About Daniel Backhaus

Dan has close to 15 years of experience in the field of information technology, brand development, and interactive marketing, working with brands that include Bayer AG, BMW, Daimler-Benz, Deutsche Bank, H&R Block and Wachovia. His diverse background includes service in our nation’s military, and stints at Xerox, TSYS, several technology start-ups and leading interactive agencies in Europe and the United States. Originally from Germany, he has lived and worked in Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece and England before settling in Atlanta in 2005. A PMI-certified Project Management Professional and a Six Sigma greenbelt, his experience includes digital strategy, solution sales, new business development, enterprise systems implementation, project and program management, SEO/SEM and Web Analytics. Dan holds a BS in Business Management from Arizona State University and an MBA with concentration in international business from the European University in Montreux, Switzerland. The parent of three young children, Dan’s interest in environmental sustainability issues stems from concerns over their future well-being and his international background have given him an enlightened perspective on the challenges we face and the approaches other countries and societies have taken in addressing them. Dan blogs about technology, his love of writing, interactive marketing, brand development and strategy and whatever or whoever might have pissed him off the week before.
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