Working in Sales, Skills for Life

For the past five months, I’ve had the privilege of working as a business development representative (BDR) at Vidyard. Funnily enough, privilege is likely the last word any BDR would use to describe their role because it’s an arduous position to be in. Despite our best efforts at masterfully crafting emails, confidently cold calling prospects, and recording personalized videos (at least for those using Vidyard GoVideo) most prospects don’t seem to want anything to do with us. However, I still stand by the word privilege because being a BDR has been an incredibly humbling opportunity, jam packed with learning that has benefited my personal life as much as it has my professional one.

Probabilistic Thinking

A hallmark characteristics of series winning poker players is their ability to think probabilistically. When betting on a hand, they don’t wager on one hopeful outcome, but rather, envision several future hands, assigning relative odds to each scenario based off the information presented. This activity forces them to critically entertain even the most unlikely of situations so they can take appropriate countermeasures to be successful.

In June, I hit a new personal record for the amount of meetings I had booked and was certain I would not only hit my quota, but exceed it. Shrouded by optimism, I gingerly became complacent as the month wained, having confidence that my previously sourced meetings would carry me over the finish line. Unfortunately, one by one, prospects canceled at the last minute, didn’t show up to appointments, or simply weren’t in need of our product, only to leave me in a frantic state of panic at month end.

By it’s nature, probabilistic thinking elicits a sense of skepticism that would have countered my lackadaisical drive. Somewhat akin to the exercise of combating confirmation bias of actively seeking out disconfirming facts, the mindset of probabilistic thinking is meant to prepare you for a plethora of situations. The beauty of the framework is that it can be applied to practically every decision in life. Asking for a raise, starting a new business, or even taking the plunge and proposing to your significant other—yes Noureen, I’ve been using this to think about our future together—can all fall within the realm of probabilistic thinking.

Key Takeaway: Running an algorithmic simulation that assigns probabilities to future outcomes based off current data can help not only make appropriate decisions, but, prepare you for worst case scenarios.

Resist the Urge to Pitch

One of the greatest challenges I’m faced with when I engage with prospects is resisting my urge to pitch them on Vidyard. While this is partially because our company has such a compelling product offering, it’s mainly because the rate at which we can listen (125 – 250 wpm) pales in comparison to the rate at which we can think (1000 – 3000 wpm). As a result of this cognitive limitation, conversation distributions tend to be uneven, with people on average, spending 60% of the time talking about themselves.

That statistic is precisely why asking questions and listening are an ironclad pairing in sales lore. By withstanding the pressure to talk, you can capitalize on someones innate tendencies and enable them to provide information that can later be used to develop a more compelling value pitch. Albeit, actualizing this understanding still poses a challenge, which is why tools Marty Nemko’s traffic light model can be put to good use to tame one’s chatter.

In the model, Nemko suggests there are three stages to conversation: a green, yellow and red light phase. For the first 20 seconds, you have the green light to talk as your listener is likely to be highly perceptive and in tune with the information they’re receiving. Transitioning past 20 seconds into the yellow phase, it’s time to tread lightly as you’re likely losing your listeners attention and should flip the discussion to them. Past 40 seconds, you’re in the danger zone, have been rambling on for too long, and need to re-engage your listener.

Key Takeaway: Our physiology is pushing us to talk even though there’s more power in listening to others. The traffic light model is a good mental cue to keep in mind when engaging in discussion to promote listening.

Eat the Frog

In his book, Eat That Frog! author Brain Tracy refers to the hardest, most important task of the day as “the frog”. Due to its unappealing nature, the task is often pushed aside in favour of smaller, more remedial duties that don’t significantly contribute to overall productivity.

In the world of sales, the biggest, most grotesque frog of them all is cold calling. It’s an uncomfortable process that subjugates you to the mercy of another individual, usually ending in rejection—assuming you correctly navigate the phone tree, convince the gatekeeper to patch you through, and the prospect happens to be at their desk. The painstaking nature of telephone prospecting makes it an easy victim of procrastination even though it’s one of the quickest ways to get an answer out of a prospect.

After reading Jeb Blount’s Fanatical Prospecting, I’ve made it a priority to “eat the frog” and make my cold calls first thing in the morning. By doing so, I not only take care of my most daunting task, but, set myself up for a great day moving forward because the reality is, things can only get better from there. It’s a mantra that permeates all aspects of my life now. Waking up early in the morning, learning to code, and even working on this post have all been sparked by the thought of an unappetizing amphibian.

Key Takeaway: Frogs are important tasks that get pushed aside due to their grande nature. Commit time to actioning them everyday to promote productivity.

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