One of the things that has always attracted me to selling is it forces you to dream big!
I started my selling career as a very introverted theoretical physicist. But I encountered some executives who helped me understand selling and got me dreaming big about what I could achieve.
At first, my dreams were about getting a customer to pay attention to me, then to win a deal, make quota, make money. Quickly my dreams moved to winning the biggest deals, chasing very tough opportunities figuring out how to win them. As I moved into management, I had dreams with my people and what they could achieve. I had a personal dream about developing and coaching the highest performing team in the region? In the country?
At more senior levels of management, I led a new business unit that had virtually no presence in a certain market. Our competitors were well established each producing revenues minimally 10 times what we produced. The team dreamed big, we set a goal to be the biggest player in the market, with revenues twice as big as the largest competitor, and to do that within 3 years. We blew that away and became the dominant vendor in that market.
Then we went after the largest potential customers. We wanted to help them transform their businesses, to help them reduce their development cycles by 70%, enabling them to bring new products to the market much faster than they ever dreamed. And then we set a goal to reduce their time to profitability with those new products by over 50%. We were so successful that a win with one customer ultimately drove over $20B in revenues (from them and their suppliers) in the following 7 years.
And there have been more dreams–dreams of my own, dreams of the teams I led. We dreamed big, sometimes we failed, often we succeeded, and sometimes, we hit grand slam home runs! We learned idle dreaming or wishful thinking were pure wastes of time and opportunity. Our dreaming had to be purposeful and focused. We could dream big, but then we had the responsibility to execute a disciplined plan to achieve these BHAGs! And for those times we failed, we spent time diagnosing what we needed to do differently in the future.
My experience in selling and leading customer focused sales organizations is that we always had the opportunity—and the challenge to dream big! That’s what makes selling so fun. We can be unconstrained in our dreams—not blindly, but pragmatically and purposefully.
And, as I look at the state of selling today, I sometimes despair that “we” have lost that dream.
We are content with missing our goals. While no one would admit it, why would we accept YoY declines in quota performance, win rates, lengthening sales cycles, lower customer satisfaction and so on?
We are content with losing people we have invested in–after only 11 months–who are driven to what they perceive as better opportunities. Or as leaders, ourselves, moving on every 11-15 months. We don’t dream about how we can retain and develop those people to achieve higher levels of performance.
Why are we content in letting 60% of our qualified customers give up on their dreams? And in the process fail to achieve ours?
Why are we content with ever declining response and engagement rates, just thinking we have to do more of the same, faster instead of dreaming, “How can we profoundly change this?”
Why are we, ourselves, engaging in discussions about the death of selling? Why aren’t we taking the opportunity to reinvent what we do and how we do it—particularly when we know our customers need our help?
One of the things that drew me to selling and continues to excite me about the possibilities we create with our customers and our organizations is that we are challenged constantly to innovate, to think differently, to change, and to dream! At our best, we help our customer innovate in their businesses, as we innovate how we engage them.
We seem to have lost that. We put in inordinate hours, more often failing, but excusing that by saying, “We’re no worse than anyone else, look at the data….”
Perhaps, too often, I express my deep frustration with the state of selling.
But selling is one of the few areas where we can dream big, where we can innovate, where we can create great value in helping our customers achieve dreams of their own. It’s such a huge opportunity to make a difference and have an impact.
As sellers, we have the opportunity and responsibility to innovate and help our customers innovate.
And, personally, it is so much fun and so rewarding.
And it’s disheartening to see how few purposeful dreamers we have in selling!
What are your dreams? What are you going to do about achieving them?
Afterword: I was inspired to write this in listening to a discussion led by John Chambers, retired Chairman and CEO of Cisco. Much of what he discussed was about innovation. In the final question, he was asked for a final recommendation. It was “We need to dream big!”
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