by Maria Serra, Onclaude Founder
Jill Konrath, author of Agile Selling and of many other bestselling books on sales innovation, highlights the importance of being a constant learner in today's crazy-busy business world and explains how to use agility as a competitive advantage in sales as well as in any other field, including creativity.
1 From Agile Software Development to Agile Innovation to Agile Selling, “agile” is the new “mantra”. Why is agility so important in today’s business world?
I think agility is crucial most of all because everything is changing and the rapid speed of change makes everything that you were doing not necessarily the best way of doing it anymore. I believe that it has become essential in every aspect of business to be consciously thinking about where we are today, how the market is shifting and what we need to do differently to be more successful. What can we experiment with and try? It is totally unrealistic to keep putting together that "five year plan that rolls everything out" because of the constant shifts in technology, in the global economic situation and in consumer trends. Unless you are constantly taking a look where you are going and its effectiveness, you are not getting where you would like to go!
It is not just organizations that need to be "agile" but all human beings, actually. I have been in sale for many years and in my profession I still see people doing things exactly in the same way they did them when they first came on board in selling in the eighties or in the nineties. This is because our brain is a pattern-making machine, which keeps us going in the pathway we already know. It systematizes our learnings and encourage us to operate on "cruise control" mode. It protects us by saying all the time things like "It is dangerous over there, don't go!". This is why teaching sales people or people of any sort to be in a constant experimental mode is challenging and difficult and selling "change" is a real challenge.
One of the things I talk about in my book Agile Selling is how to develop the ability to step into the unknown and constantly experiment and assess how well you did go. You can actually measure the effectiveness of every single conversation that you have with a client. Did I talk about what is really important? Did they agree or disagree? Was I unprepared to answer to any question? How can I do it better next time? what did I say that created the obstacle? What did I not empathize? You need to constantly distant yourself from your behavior, looking down at yourself and at what you did you. You are experimenting with yourself and nobody feels comfortable with it but you need to realize that it is a function of learning and if anything did not work, it is not failure, it is learning. It is crucial to teach people early on about this so that they can experiment in their whole career and be fully aware of what their brain patterns are.
2 You are encouraging sales people to transform problems into challenges and this is actually a key concept in Design Thinking too. How has this helped you to design your professional career along the way?
Reframing problems as opportunities to learn is what I have actually done in my entire life, sometimes without even knowing it was a good strategy or even a "strategy". It just made me feel better, basically. I remember that when I was in my twenties and I encountered problems I used to feel I had two choices: one was seeing myself as a loser and a failure, and whenever I did that I felt depressed and the energy just flew out of my body, and the other one was switching to a challenge mode. Later I have learnt that this happens because when we see things as a problem our brain puts out stress hormones, which just shut down your creativity and make us come up with few and poor options. On the contrary, when we change something to a challenge mode and say to ourselves "ok, I do not know how to do this yet but I will figure it out" we always come up with more interesting options.
When my business collapsed and I lost my two biggest clients due to the financial crisis back in 2000, I got so embarrassed that I stopped talking to people about my job. You know, when you are a sales consultant and your job is to help companies to land new clients and you are having troubles with that, that is actually not very good! When I started talking to people again, and I said that I was having real troubles in having conversations with prospects because nobody literally answered the phone or replied to my email and I admitted that I didn't know what to do, everybody unexpectedly said: “me too”. What a relief! It was not me, I thought. Nothing personal, I am not a loser. It is actually a challenge, a problem that nobody has solved yet, which I could try to give an answer.
Thereafter, I actually spent an entire year studying how to solve it. How can we reach companies and create a system to do that which could be really effective? I ended up writing a book called Selling to Big Companies on this. Then I found out we were facing another problem, that of selling to today's crazy-busy prospects, and I wrote Snap Selling. After that, another challenge came up: how I could I help salespeople who are new to selling or are selling something new to new buyers? They just have so much to learn and easily become overwhelmed. Being a constant learner, I know how to condense learning so I decided to write Agile Selling. At the moment I am focusing on another challenge, how to deal with personal overwhelming, and I have just started a new book.
3 Time management is something you often suggest in your books to avoid being overwhelmed. It sounds like a good strategy but what about the creativity flow? Can we control creativity and incorporate it in a routine without limiting its potential?
Balancing creative needs with the rest has been a challenge to me too because, even if my expertise is in sales, I am a creative too. I just happen to be creative in a field where people are not considered to be that creative. I create all the time and I do a lot a research so often I get trapped into that. I find myself going online and read an article and then that article leads to another article and hours later I have accomplished nothing. Creative research actually needs to be built within your schedule, you need to box it and allow yourself to do it during the day, because otherwise you will do it when you get stuck on other tasks and that is not productive. On those moments, you would better go for a walk. When you do not know what to do, you need some inspiration and walking is one of the best things that you can do. When you walk you become less linear in your thinking, your brain starts works in the background. I often go out for a walk and I do not see it neither as a treat nor as a way to escape but as proper work. I take a notepad with me and I record my thoughts. When I come back I usually feel better, I have more oxygen in my brain and I come up with better ideas. I always get value out of walking.
Jill Konrath, author of three bestselling award-winning books, is a business-to-business sales strategist and keynote speaker on sales innovation. Her latest book Agile Selling shows salespeople how to succeed in a constantly changing sales world. In her philosophy, salespeople need to become agile learners and business improvement specialists. In addition to her print publications, Jill has written a series of eBooks, sales kits, study kits and webinars related to sales and has also been consulted in publications including Forbes and the New York Times. In 2014, Jill was honored to be selected as a Sales in Residence at HubSpot Sidekick, providing insights, guidance and direction to the new Sidekick offering. She will also be the 1st Sales Executive in Residence at the Center for Sale Innovation at St. Catherine University (St. Kates) in Minnesota,a leader in education, research, professional development and training for women sales professionals.
We recommend you to visit Jill's website, where you will find many free resources on fresh sales strategies. Check out these videos, if you would like to know more about her approach to sales innovation: