2011 – The Year of Higher Expectations and Increased Complexity?

11 minute read


For many, 2010 is a year to forget. If you spent the year in Europe, you had to deal with the (first) big freeze in January, then the volcano eruption in the spring, the bank meltdown in the summer and the second big freeze in December. Horror stories abound. In the US things were not much better. Unemployment hovered around 10% for the year while Foxconn (the Chinese manufacturer of Apple’s iPad/iPhone) added 300,000 jobs. BP’s oil spill resulted in a $40Bn clean-up job. Foreclosures hit unprecedented levels and …, well I won’t depress you too much by listing all of the low points.

Many individuals and companies struggled with these difficulties, considering each an apocalyptic disaster (who said hyperbole was a bad thing?) seemingly layered one on top of each other to create a grotesque mille feuille of economy and weather. But yet, others bloomed and flourished.

Apple, Netflix, Facebook all exited 2010 much stronger than they entered it. In March Facebook surpassed Google in Internet traffic, while Google tried to stop its employees defecting to Facebook. Apple overtook Microsoft (in market value) on May 26 to become the second most valuable company in the world after Exxon. In the category of “Where on earth did they come from?” Zynga and Fourquare became darlings of the Internet crowd, only to be dramatically overshadowed by Groupon – reportedly the fastest growing company of all time, achieving $500m revenue in 17 months, turning down a $6Bn takeover offer from Google and just recently closing a financing round of $500m – just part of a purported $1Bn funding exercise!

In the sales effectiveness market in which we operate, for many 2010 was an unfortunate extension of their 2009 decline, but other more innovative players have entered the market, and in small pockets, the standards are being raised. Customers too are raising their game and refusing to accept the ‘same ole, same ole’ from their sales effectiveness vendors. This can only be a good thing for an industry that in many quarters is tarnished with a (sometimes justly deserved) reputation for poor value delivery.

2011 will be a year of higher expectations, inherent urgency, and increased complexity. Waiting for the crisis to pass to get back to normal is a fool’s pastime. Normal isn’t returning any time soon. Companies have realized that doing more with less is not just possible, but necessary. We’re entering a time of unsurpassed uncertainty, but with the attendant opportunity that always accompanies change. Unlimited social and technical interconnections, global conglomeration and an increasing torrent of information feeds, all combine to paint a new landscape that demands a rethinking of all customer interactions. This will only increase as the growing band of digital natives ages and assume positions of increased influence in business, education and social contexts.

Here, at The TAS Group, we’ve been fortunate. 2010 will be about 50% up on the previous year. We just completed our acquisition of InfoMentis – a great company, and we are really excited about that. Our continued commitment to, and investment in the Dealmaker Sales Performance Automation platform, as a vehicle for sustained value delivery, was rewarded with our receiving the best possible accolade we could possibly hope for. Aberdeen Research conducted an independent study and reported that our customers achieve 20% greater revenue than customers of our competitors.

But I think we’re also learned a lot and we’ve many things yet to improve.

For a long time, when faced with a difficult strategic business decision, I’ve looked to companies or leaders I’ve admired and considered how they might approach that challenge. There’s much to be gleaned from their experience and endeavor. Delighting your customer is not optional, and any tension between short-term gain and long-term value should be resolved with that basic tenet in mind. ‘Good enough’ is not good enough any more. ‘Excellence’ has become the byword for survival, and ‘Integrity’ the fulcrum on which long-term customer relationships are balanced. Long held beliefs of ‘how things should be’ are anchors to the past that must be cast aside and replaced with creativity, measured by a constant re-conceiving of your strategic imperatives, continuous innovation and reinvention, and carefully considered disruption. The fear of change or of questioning usual practices will stifle growth if not overcome. Creativity is not just a leader’s responsibility, but a personal leadership style that we must all embrace.

As I look to 2011, and consider the world of the sales professional – who after all is the constituency that we serve – it’s clear to me that anyone who wants to mimic the achievements of those remarkable performers who thrived in 2010, needs to elevate their personal ambition and the value that they deliver to their customers while at all times recognizing the increasing complexity in which they and their customers operate.

In late 2008 I wrote a post entitled “It’s not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Mirror”, and I borrow from that here. The post was not some misogynist, racist, or other prejudiced rant against women, minority groups, or any other classification of workers, but was about overcoming the limits we sometimes place on ourselves as we compromise our ambition or self-belief. For 2011, setting your personal expectations higher that you have done in the past is a requirement to succeed.

What you see when you look in the mirror every day, as an individual or as a company, is often a more powerful determinant of aspiration and potential attainment than any other factor. For the upcoming year, calibrating that reflection against a lofty goal that is fueled by passion, guided by a laser like focus on customer benefit, and enabled by an approach that appropriately contemplates the complexity in which that customer operates, is a measure worth taking.

As we head into 2011, you can choose to succeed. Perhaps instead of wondering when things will return to normal, you might choose that lofty goal, and set higher expectations of yourself than you have before. Then do the creative thinking and plain hard work to figure out how you might meet your customers’ higher expectations along the way. Consult with your colleagues, your customers, your friends, or any other source or resource you can leverage for guidance or inspiration.

What you achieve is up to you. It’s not predetermined. Yes, it’s impacted and influenced by external events, but it’s not your government, employer, customer, husband/wife/partner, bank manager or religious leader who ultimately determines your destiny. It’s you, and in difficult times, that’s the first principle that you have to accept. Then you can take control of your own journey. Otherwise, like some pliant sapling blowing in the wind, you will be buffeted from side to side, and your future outlook will just be a matter to be determined by that irascible compass – lady luck.

If this seems a little like an extract from a self-help book, then so be it; but there are few professions where the inner strength of the individual protagonist is as critical as that of the professional salesperson. During each sales call, he (or she) puts his own credibility – and that of his company – on the line; he is often the sole arbiter of success or failure, and he always faces the risk of rejection.

I’ve arranged these 7 principles in a mnemonic, so they are easy to remember.

  1. Ambition
  2. Commitment and Resilience
  3. Honesty and Integrity
  4. Inquisitiveness and Learning
  5. Empathy and Perspective
  6. Vision: Innovation and Leadership
  7. Enterprise: Hard Work, Strategy and Execution

Ambition: There’s that U2 song that goes “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” It’s implied that Bono at least has an idea where he’s headed, where the rainbow ends, and what’s in that pot of gold. To achieve your ambition, you first need to be very clear as to what it is. As a sales person you’re probably competitive. You have lofty goals.

I think there are two main questions you should ask yourself; “Do I know what I really want to achieve?” and “Is my goal ambitious enough?” A ‘shoot for the moon’ goal is a wonderful motivator. By figuring out your personal outrageous goal – conceived in a moment of suspended reality – guides you to realizing what just might be possible. Then you get to thinking about how to achieve that ambition by breaking it down into attainable and realistic steps. Winning sales professionals do this in a smaller way every day as they strategize how to maximize revenue from an account, or just win a single deal. It then becomes the art of the possible, as they visualize the realization of the ambition – in the form of a plan.

Commitment and Resilience: How badly do you want it? Will you stay the course? As you look around you will invariably see examples of seemingly ‘lucky’ people for whom everything just works out. Evidence of their hard work is sometimes hard to see. However, as the saying goes ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’, and occasionally when things seem just impossible, you’ve got to dust yourself off and and step up again. Enduring hardship is frequently the bedfellow of success, so you’ve got to be committed to your goal and both resilient and relentless in its pursuit. I’m not proposing continually chasing a lost cause – as you know in the context of selling, I’m a big proponent of qualifying out early – but when you continue to do the right thing, and stick with it, good things invariably happen.

Honesty and Integrity: For me, these are two of the least understood, and most undervalued, personal and business assets. A reputation for being honest or having high integrity is priceless. It brings trust and openness, deeper relationships and more productive engagement. I like defining trust as ‘truth over time’, and it’s hard to win but easy to lose. From a purely pragmatic perspective, always being honest means you never have to remember what you said or come up with different versions of the truth for different audiences. In business generally, and particularly in sales, these assets cannot be over-valued.

Inquisitiveness and Learning: As anyone of the opposite sex will tell you, when on a first date, it’s more important to be interested than interesting. As a business professional you need to be inquisitive about what matters to others. In sales that means you need to be inquisitive about what matters to your customer, and less focused on what ‘interesting’ stuff you have to tell him. However, if you’ve been honest, and have a relationship for having high integrity, you will be come to be treated as a ‘trusted advisor’ and then you need to be interesting as well interested, and that’s where the learning comes in. If you’re in the right job/company/industry, this should come easily for you. You will have a natural passion for what you do, and reading the trade press or industry journals will be something you choose to do, rather than feel you must. Without this passion, you will find it hard to be naturally inquisitive and driven to learn more, and then you’re possibly in the wrong job/company/industry – unless you’re happy to settle for mediocrity.

Empathy and Perspective: In a previous post I quoted Alan Kay who said that “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points”. Read that post for my thoughts on this matter.

Vision: Innovation and Leadership: Ambition without vision is dangerous and usually counter-productive. Vision elevates ambition to a higher place, one where your insight, founded on innovative thinking and thought leadership, propels you to the front. These twin tenets of vision are usually the issue of passion, but can only be fully informed based on Inquisitiveness and Learning, grounded in Empathy and Perspective.

And finally …

Enterprise: You’ve got to work hard, really hard, no really really hard, – no I mean harder than that even! You’ve got to come up with the right strategy to fulfill your ambition, and then through your own initiative and resourcefulness, determine how you best execute your plan. And then you must apply yourself. Unless you’ve got Commitment and Resilience you won’t reach the uncommon heights you’ve visualized in your ambition.

Did I mention you have to work hard?

At times like this, reflecting on 2010, you might be forgiven for wondering how you might meet those higher expectations that I suggest you will encounter. And what about this increased complexity? How is that going to manifest itself? Take a moment, look in the mirror, and honestly determine for yourself whether you want to be in control. Talk to your customers and learn from their perspective. Chat with your peers and see what they think. Then make the right decision. You get to choose. Only you can decide how high to set the bar. You get to decide if the economy, the market, your competitors or your company, or yourself is imposing a glass ceiling, or whether you can see a crack appearing through which you can determine your own future.

Carpe Diem and Happy New Year.



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