The Alphabet Article Series – The ABCs of Solving Sales Problems – The 3 “N’s”

John McEnroe, arguably one of tennis’ most animated and talented players of all time is quoted as saying, “Sometimes my negativity worked to my advantage, and early in my career it got me going. But you need to understand that you’re not just fighting opponents, you’re also fighting yourself.” I would argue that there is simply no advantage to the negativity, because not only are you fighting yourself, McEnroe was spot on about that, but that negative thinking is the foundation for poor decision making, erratic behavior and a host of other things that causes poor outcomes. Yes, it may have “gotten him started” but ultimately to what end? And at what cost?

Enter our 3 N’s – Negativity                        Niches                  News 

Negativity. As far as I am concerned, this word can be the equivalent of cancer in the human body. So my advice to you as a sales leader, treat this with the same kind of ruthless compassion you would stage 4 – cut it out, radiate it, do whatever you have to rid your team of any form of it. As obvious as it might seem, I have seen tendencies over the years to “look the other way” because the negativity is small, or ad hoc, or overshadowed by the performance of a particular salesperson.

Here’s the real problem. Like cancer, it spreads. Negativity can be infectious and color the very culture you are trying to build. It will penetrate the smallest of places and begin to grow. It will manifest itself in subtle ways at first – a quick comment, an eye-roll, a joke to which only a few people are privvy. And, at first, it will seem harmless. But if it gets a foot-hold and festers for too long, it can ruin a whole sales team. It may take some difficult choices on your behalf, and it may mean confrontations, private and public, if you’ve already let it grow internally. It is a strong adversary once fully grown, so the path I am suggesting may very well be difficult depending on where you are today.

Be sure not to miss the “compassion” I mentioned previously. These are acts of caring, or at least they should be. Your motive should be firmly planted in the environment being created for the team, the impact it has on them as people and professionals, and ultimately for the life you are working to sustain in your company. And don’t miss the “ruthless” either, this has to be direct, targeted, purpose-driven. You owe it to your team, your clients and your company.

Niches. As a sales team you may find yourself discovering certain niches in the marketplace that suit you well. Especially in terms of the value you can bring to the clientele in that particular space. It could be be a certain vertical, a certain geographic region, or a certain company size that your solutions seem to fit like a glove. Of course, it could be a combination of factors too, but the point is that sometimes the best gems are found in the smallest of places. I mention it because it is about you considering shifting your point of view. Inherently, niches imply “small” or hidden, or more importantly, overlooked. And so it requires a certain attention to detail and the encouragement by you as a business owner or sales leader to encourage and celebrate your team for being mindful enough to consider and suggest certain niches.

Here’s the key to this, however. As time is our most precious commodity, and you have established goals and metrics for your team (you do have metrics established for your team, right?), I wouldn’t suggest you encourage your team to go off looking for the next yet-to-be-discovered “unicorn”. They may never find it and may lose valuable time searching for something that isn’t there. But, if you take the mindset of searching for folks who you can legitimately help, and you pay attention to what you hear and see as their pain points, you can narrow the search. More importantly, if you are already helping someone in a particular way and you know others in their industry suffer from the same pain points, look for patterns. It’s my experience that it’s those patterns that start to tell a story about an industry and sometimes the “overlooked” is just a ripe field waiting for the right team to come in and harvest. Especially in places that are under-served because they are misunderstood.

News. This is obviously 2 kinds of news, good and bad. Whether you are delivering it to your clients or to your team, both need to be done directly, and personally. Let’s separate them, though. Let’s start with bad news. As in life, business sometimes comes with bad news. You fell short for a client, you need to finally let a team member go, you have to tighten the proverbial business belt because of a poor quarters performance back to back. Whatever it is, it is inevitably going to be a part of the life span of your business. So with that in mind, I would tell you that being mentally prepared to deliver the bad news is your first, best step. As with business transactions, I have reminded people to always remember there is a person on the other side of the deal. The same is true here. So the best thing you can do is to mentally prepare for the fact that someone else is going to be negatively impacted.

The other thing about bad news – it’s always best if you deliver it with compassion and in person. As a leader, you can say a lot to your team or to your clients if you have a certain amount of diplomacy in how you go about delivering the news. And lastly, I would tell you to OWN it. Whatever it is, take ownership of the fact and let the consequences be final. Your team and your clients will respect you for it.

Let’s end on a high note. The good news. Just like with the bad, you need to be invested personally. If it is good for your client, or good for your team, it should also be good for you. And it should SHOW. In your delivery, in your personal excitement, in the celebratory way you praise others. And it should be shared, with anyone who will listen. Life and business are tough, we all get that. So if you have a chance to celebrate a client victory, a new relationship, a goal met, a new talent added to your team, or a company breakthrough that came as the result of team effort, go to the nearest mountaintop (or your favorite digital delivery system) and tell the world.

I can say with certainty that if your clients and your team feel the recognition and sincere celebration in their efforts or commitment to you, it will go a long way when you have to cross the chasm of delivering bad news to them.

Put people first, use the 3 “O’s” as they can benefit you best, and know that I am here to help or just chat, should you ever want to discuss what’s best for your team

To raising all ships!

P.S. Be sure to join us next week when we talk about the 3 O’s – Opener, Optimize, Originality