The Tao of Jobs in Sales

Tony Hughes

The Tao of Jobs in Sales

"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."

Is there still room to innovate in the world of sales? Emphatically, yes! Study the masters, the greats, study all styles and build your own. Realize buying habits have changed so study research from Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and make sure to factor in the real-time nature of the internet, as Andy Paul talks about in his books. The great salespeople I've managed and trained have had an inherent sense of curiosity, always questioning, always innovating, looking for new ways to blend the technology of sales: Old school meets new school. SPIN questioning is a technology, so is Challenging with new insight.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Intuition is key in navigating deals of all sizes but especially in reading big complex deals with ultra long sales cycles. Many of you reading this have put in your 10,000 hours. My advice to you is simply, "trust your gut." Sometimes you get split seconds to make a call, the Gladwellian thin-slice, nanoseconds to read people and pressure to react. Great managers empower their people, they train them through role play and ride alongs to hit their marks. There's a temptation to play a character, to 'fake it until you make it' but ultimately, being yourself which requires that you muster courage and confidence, is going to trump everything else. Even a seller leveraging weaker tactics who believes in herself will outsell any contrived facade masking insecurity. 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice and 7% is the actual words spoken so the nonverbal cues will be huge for you. Be comfortable in your own skin. Develop this. Seek to enjoy the selling process. To do this, simply move from interesting to interested, wholeheartedly hang on your customer's every word. It's about them!

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."

There's something to be said for customer experience design, the design of a CRM, your Salesforce Automation, your enablement programs, your pitch and the insights themselves. It's all a grand design, think hard on it. Measure twice, cut once. Coming from a design perspective is actually a unique way to look at it. "And one more thing..." Jobs was a master of suspense and showmanship in his legendary keynotes.

"Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?"

Salespeople will like this. It's definitely a field that requires pirates and ninjas level freedom of improvisation and creativity. Ultimately your gauge of success will be revenue and customer satisfaction/retention so it will be up to you to structure your day, week month and quarter to optimize the ultimate outcome. Perhaps the greatest form of rebellion is pushing yourself to total mastery of the art and science of sales which is a triumph over self. This requires extraordinary levels of patience. I'm not suggesting you fly the Jolly Roger from your computer but thinking differently is the Jobsian hallmark. There's no one right way to success! Approach the playing field with out-of-the-box ideas and a lion share of intensity coupled with fresh energy. Never to be discounted, there are many lessons to be learned from military strategy also.

".. almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Passion dictates performance. Find your niche, do what you love. If you figure that out, you'll never work another day of your life. Jobs figured this secret to life and business success out early on. Fall in love with helping customers solve problems. Fall in love with serving and helping others, the time will fly!

"Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected."

Setting expectations is key, always level set with customers. That being said, anytime you exceed expectations, you'll blow their minds. Do you know how rare it is to receive a handwritten note these days? How about the Dale Carnegie simple strategy of just remembering someone's birthday. Dale kept it on notecards, you get notifications every day from social networks directly to your inbox; there's simply no excuse. Customize, tailor and research for your presentations. Make agendas thoughtful. Be strategic. Take time to learn about clients before you meet with them. Winging it is the opposite of a quality experience. You are the face of your brand and the company. Going the extra mile is actually about little personal touches in this digital, always-on era. Excellence is in the execution.

"A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets."

There's an optimism conveyed in this quote. Know that you can sell, believing wholeheartedly in your product and the company you represent. Join a company that is growing where the energy you contribute can have a synergistic effect: 1 + 1 = 5. From acorns, oaks.

"To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of disciplines."

Discipline meets disciplines, we wear multiple hats as entrepreneurial sellers. We must stay laser focused on the daily activities that drive outcomes that we can influence. The therapist, the doctor, the technician, the customer service rep, the personal trainer. The analogies are endless. It's a long game and you will gain the greatest payout sticking it out more than 18 months in one role. Outlive the enterprise sales cycle and set your sights on a bright horizon, knowing you can get there with consistent inspired effort each and every day. A positive attitude is your edge. It's how Jobs continuously silenced critics and skeptics, creating something out of nothing, even releasing a phone when so many in the industry panned his breakthrough idea as "already done," predicting failure.

"In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service."

When you think about confusing sales processes or a hodgepodge of CRM data you get a sense for a need of design inspired thinking. With the customer defining the new funnel, designing a set of procedures to reflect this and allow reps to be nimble is critical. Customers being 57% through the decision making process, creates a bizarre asymmetry. Engaging upstream with critical insight requires designing a new sales process for your organization, getting closer to the buyer. "53 percent of B2B customer loyalty is a product of how you sell, not what you sell," according to CEB research.

"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new."

This quote has profound implications on sales. It may be the most relevant one when you talk about B2B complex selling in enterprise environments. Nine times out of ten, a customer will surface a symptom they believe is the problem. It's up to us as sellers to peel the onion and to do much of this in advance. We can collect enough data during due diligence to provide an informed diagnosis, refine that diagnosis and work collaboratively on a prescription. We can come to the table with a rock solid value hypothesis and work to prove this out together qualitatively and quantitatively (Jeff Thull). Clients don't always know what they want, what's wrong or what a solution could look like. They're often enamored with the status quo or a shiny object that they think will solve it. They've often been misdiagnosed and are drilling off into infinity compounding the problems. Executives do understand their core business drivers but sometimes they're so close to it, they're blinded by familiarity. Moving off the solutionto focus on their pain is a Mahan Khalsa principle that is an ingenious perspective on this. Fixing a set of symptoms is just a band-aid approach. Bring your subject matter expertise to the table to close this gap in understanding and help point customers in the right direction of incremental progress.

"Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations."

Iterate quickly, take 100% responsibility for your mistakes. Own them to your manager, to your customer and to the executive team. If you operate with good intentions and integrity as your compass, you'll inspire confidence and become a trusted advisor.

"The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay."

This is the Jobsian distillation of management science at its finest. Hire rockstars or train them to be so (take responsibility for grooming them) and then get out of their way, remove obstacles and push them out of the nest so they can fly. Watch the magic then unfold when you empower and enable gifted sellers. Drive comes from within in so unlocking this in people creates star performers who take pride in their work and self manage to an extent. I like this quote because it highlights the simplicity of the viewpoint of building a team of talented people and getting out of their way. Jobs lead by example and created a world class culture of innovation. He demanded this by the example he set. He brought in people he felt were even stronger and more talented than he was like Jony Ive, to expand his ability to put a "ding" in the universe. Despite foibles, he did not act alone even though catching heat as a misperceived solo flyer.

"I think we're having fun. I think our customers really like our products. And we're always trying to do better."

Spirit of play, élan vital, esprit de corps, there are so many ways to express this concept. Put into practice: have a blast, work hard and play hard. A sense of joy in what you're doing is contagious with customers. In fact, "fun" unto itself can create customers even entire markets.

"I want to put a ding in the universe."

I love this quote. You'd think setting huge goals would be demotivating. The old adage, "reach for the stars and you just might hit a mountain," is more realistic. I actually find I'm even more motivated when I think bigger. Set achievable goals but also put forward stretch goals to anchor your progress.

"So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet."

This quote is about handling rejection graciously and persistence. Jobs didn't take no for an answer. He was hell bent on selling his vision. The sales will come, you have a good product, just know that it takes consistency and persistence over time.

"Pretty much, Apple and Dell are the only ones in this industry making money. They make it by being Wal-Mart. We make it by innovation."

Brazen, yes I know but Jobs was always willing to stir the pot. I really just think it shows the faith, tenacity, and unerring vision in the company he's building. The takeaway here is to have an unwavering belief in what you're selling.

"It took us three years to build the NeXT computer. If we'd given customers what they said they wanted, we'd have built a computer they'd have been happy with a year after we spoke to them - not something they'd want now."

Challenger selling vs. relationship selling. You can give clients exactly the product they're looking for and risk being commoditized out. Or, you can diagnose the larger complex problem which is typically comprised of many facets and build out a suite of solutions that even see around corners. This will protect your margins and buffer you from competitors nipping at your heels.

"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."

Steve Jobs was a game changer and polarizing force but he changed the world as we know it, millions would agree. His technologies live in our homes and most of our pockets. Market share? He created and won by literally creating new markets. Sales and product teams can unite with those in marketing and design. Getting the silos out of the organization and making sure to have meetings of cross-functional teams is critical to stay ahead of the breakneck pace of technology acceleration. Product can inform Marketing, can inform selling. Front line sellers are closest to the customer after all and can bring incredible insight back to the product team from the field. Sellers run the gamut in unique ability and life experience. I've found many that are extremely talented in another area like music, swing dancing, language learning, philosophy, Sudoku or Jai alai. Through his "reality distortion" field and Jedi Mind Trick intent, Steve Jobs was able to push through the barrier of skepticism and actually change the world. There is a great amount of resistance to change. We need to puncture through this wall with our advocates in the buying organization to foster true disruptive innovation from within, especially when we vault like David vs. Goliath against megalithic incumbents.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at

Main image photo by Flickr: MIKI Yoshihito


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