My father was unemployed. Mostly, this was unremarkable. That is to say, he didn’t seem to be too upset about it. He would wake up at about the same time as he did when he was going to work. But, instead of going to work he would head down to the marina with his fishing gear and head out on the boat.
With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that these fishing expeditions were not just about fishing for dinner but also about getting away to think. Luckily, while my father was thinking he was also catching fish – which he thoughtfully kept fresh in a bucket of bay water until my brother, Peter, and I got home from school. My Dad was not one to keep the joys of cleaning and filleting fish all to himself.
Although my brother and I didn’t get to clean fish every day during my father’s unemployment we did get to weed the garden. My Dad had cleared a 20′ x 60′ patch of yard, ordered two giant truck loads of duck manure and dreamed of fresh vegetables as Peter and I bravely spread the manure over the “garden”.
My Dad rotor tilled the manure into the ground and then worked up a planting schematic on a piece of graph paper. He bought books on gardening. He bought chicken wire and tomato stakes. He gathered his workers and distributed the schematic and seeds.
Our hands and knees became very familiar with the ground. To the surprise of everyone, except my father, the garden grew magnificently and we began harvesting lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes for our dinner salads. While our corn wasn’t as successful, it was edible. We grew giant pumpkins just to see if we could and made pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookies and had the coolest jack-o-lanterns in the neighborhood.
We lived on eastern Long Island – an area known for duck farms (thus, the manure) and potatoes. We lived about a mile from a small potato farm. One day my Dad arrived home with several burlap sacks and commanded his workers to the car. This time it wasn’t just Peter and me but the rest of the gang, as well. I couldn’t imagine what he had in mind that would require the help of my younger brothers and sister but it wasn’t long before we were parked on the road next to the potato farm. We were not alone. Dozens of people were in the field filling their own burlap sacks with red potatoes.
“The farmer has harvested the potatoes using his tractor. Those that remain are too small for him to take to market and before he turns over the dirt for the next planting we have been given permission to take as many potatoes as we can carry away. So, go out there and fill up these sacks with potatoes.”
And, so we did. My Mom served those potatoes mashed, boiled and oven-browned all winter long. One of the chores that came along with dinner was going out to the garage to choose the potatoes for the evening meal. Our circumstances had changed and we made adjustments accordingly.
One day after expressing disgust with my sister’s weeding, my Dad got on his knees next to me and we weeded adjoining rows of green peppers. Both of us were sweating and working hard and as we neared the end I casually said to my Dad,
“I sure will be glad when things get back to normal.”
He pulled the last weed, tossed it into a bucket and stood up. While wiping his hands on his jeans he said,
“This is normal. The new normal.”
With that he went to the garage and reappeared with fishing gear. He stood in front of me and said,
The change requires extraordinary courage, focus and determination. These are the traits that are going to get you from zero to hero in the toughest of selling environments.
What about charisma or empathy or other “people-relating” skills? Important, for sure, but not as much as the three I’ve identified as the most important characteristics of successful sellers in the New Normal.
The New Normal is tough. The New Normal challenges your tenacity. The New Normal seeks to shake out the pretenders.
I’m reminded of a quote from Sandy Tatum, a USGA official, when he was asked if the purpose of the set-up of the 1974 U.S. Open course at Winged Foot was “to embarrass the best golfers in the world.”
He answered, “No, we are trying to identify them.”
The best sellers in the world will be identified by the New Normal as the ones with extraordinary courage, focus and determination. In what way will these talents be used?
The New Normal will demand that sellers call on and meet with key decision makers at a level that is uncomfortable to most. Mid-level management has been displaced and higher-level executives are now forced to be engaged throughout the entire process. These key executives will be more pressed for time than ever before and will perform a brutal form of sales triage that will decimate the unprepared seller.
The best sellers will welcome the opportunity to call on the ultimate decision makers because the process will speed up. Instead of three to five sales calls followed by a presentation and two follow-ups, there might be one call before the presentation and a single opportunity to follow up after the only meeting. Sellers who are more comfortable spending time getting to know all the players involved in a decision and then having the mid-level executive steer them through and be their advocate will have a tough time. Clients may be buying less in the New Normal but when they choose fewer suppliers the accounts will become that much more important to the sellers who survive the cut. Count on the ones that win to be among the most courageous.
When I first started selling radio advertising, part of my prospecting strategy was to get in the car and drive around the city looking for new retail establishments. This process resulted in lots of stops at the convenience store to get a Diet Coke. Despite this relatively haphazard approach, believe it or not, I was one of the most prolific new business developers in my company. Haphazard and random are just not going to get it done in the New Normal. Today’s environment rewards only those sellers with extraordinary focus. These sellers take meetings with their customers for the purpose of supporting that which has already been sold or to sell them more. They don’t “visit” or “drop by” or “pop in”. The sellers with focus aren’t normal. They tune out the idle chit chat that is taking place three feet from their cubicle in favor of making lists of that which is working best right now.
Focus means what it sounds like: setting goals, determining the path and then getting on with it at the expense of everything not associated with the goals.
Courage and Focus get you to the plate but Determination makes you a batting champion. Determination means you never give up but not only that you never give up, you never even consider giving-up an option.
Successful sellers already possess these three talents and many more. Now is the time to bring them to the fore and succeed in the very challenging New Normal.
About the author
After a 20-year career in broadcast sales, Tim J.M. Rohrer wrote a book, Sales Lessons…