At the recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, I had the pleasure of appearing on a panel, "Competitive Edge in Today's Sales World," led by sales guru Jill Konrath who is known for her innovative strategies and thinking.
Jill's latest book, Agile Selling, is a must-read for sales people looking to succeed in today's competitive landscape. She talks about how it took more than basic sales skills to be successful, and tells how she dealt with fear, mastered a "never-fail mind-set" and learned to see things from her customers' perspectives. She realized how important these traits were to her "agility" -- her ability to rapidly acquire knowledge and develop new strategies.
The panel discussion was lively and informative, and it struck a chord with me because I've long adhered to many of Jill's beliefs. We were each asked four questions on the panel, and I'll share my answers in the hope they'll help people understand how crucial agility is in today's market.
Question #1: How are you staying agile? What are you focused on learning right now?
My husband likes to joke that I can't keep a job. I have had a number of roles in my career and I like to think it's because I have demonstrated the ability to be an agile learner. Whenever a new task or project is at hand, I work to come up to speed quickly and swiftly execute a plan.
As Chief Content Officer at Thomson Reuters, I seek to learn everything I can about our vast content operation, which is at the core of what we do as a business. It sometimes feel like I'm drinking from a fire hose when it comes to understanding important trends such as big data.
Whenever I take on a new role I immerse myself in a 30-day deep dive of interviews with key stakeholders, including employees across the business, customers, partners, and thought leaders. I ask lots of questions: What are our strengths? Our biggest challenges? What are the key factors affecting our customers? And perhaps the most important question (because the answer can be so informative): What would someone else focus on if they were in my role? All of this helps me learn--and respond with agility to any challenge.
Question #2: What do you view as the number one competitive edge?
We live and work in a data economy where the key to success is information and knowledge. Competitive advantage rests with companies that know how to unlock data to drive their businesses.
But taking the idea of data down to an individual level, the most important skill--one that truly unlocks the power of knowledge -- is curiosity. Curiosity about your own company's products and businesses motivates you to see resources, product briefings, information days, etc. not as a task but as a tool.
Curiosity about your customers can transform a meeting with them from a pitch session to a listening session. I believe 80 percent of the first meeting with any customer should consist of the customer talking about their business -- and what they need. I prefer to leave our product pitches for later meetings, where they are more likely to be successful because we're more prepared to respond to what the customer wants. Curiosity is at the heart of this process.
Question #3: What would you recommend individual companies do to help their learning agility?
In the world of information overload, the key to learning agility is determining how to increase the signal-to-noise ratio and focus on data that counts. That's what we do at Thomson Reuters, but it's really what all successful sales people do.
I meet with customers all the time, and our sales teams expect me to be helpful in opening doors to senior client executives. The challenge arises from the fact our clients are all over the world, and in a diverse range of businesses. Remaining credible as one tries to meet the needs of an Australian bank, the Chief Risk Officer of a London investment firm, and the Head of Oil Trading at an Asian commodities house can be a challenge.
I use what I call a 3x3 planning tool for my meetings. I provide the client with three pieces of insight about what we see across the industry and at their peers; I ask three questions about their business and their industry; and I create three opportunities for follow-up engagements. I prep for each meeting this way, then treat it like a conversation. It rarely fails to be worthwhile for everybody involved.
Question #4: What piece of advice would you give women to help them in their careers?
As I've said before, the key is to conquer the "imposter syndrome." This is the insecure feeling that you are out of your depth, too "far over your skis," that you will be seen as a fraud. I've felt this at times throughout my career, and most other women have as well. The surprising thing is that many men also experience it. The difference is that women seem to have less risk tolerance than men. We let imposter syndrome overpower us and stop us from taking on the kind of challenging assignments and roles that might advance our career. Here again agility comes into play, since the key to not being overwhelmed by fear is to embrace the learning and curiosity skills that are the hallmark of agile sales people.
I want every woman and man to embrace the feeling of "Can I really do this?" and know that it is normal -- and a sign you are stretching your potential, taking it to new heights. Keep at it.