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Can Innovation and a Pandemic Coexist?

November 11, 2020

Can innovation and a pandemic coexist?

Change is the obvious hallmark of the current pandemic. And, as most of us know, change rewards innovation and punishes those who stand pat on tradition. This is especially true in the winner-takes-all world of sales. Most people believe that true innovation springs from the use of technology. But is innovation mostly about taking a technological product or service and then marketing and promoting it to the stage called “user adoption” — or even to the more desirable stage that we’ll call “user embrace”? Or should innovation be more cultural than technical?

Join Chris as he makes the case for pursuing innovation during the pandemic and talks about the difference between strategy and tactics during this pursuit. Chris is joined by his friend, Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder and CEO of Selling Power, Inc., as they discuss the role of empathy in sales and its importance as a leadership tool.

About Our Guest
Gerhard Gschwandtner is founder and CEO of Selling Power, Inc., a multi-channel media company that produces Selling Power magazine, the leading periodical for sales managers and sales VPs since 1981, and conducts Sales 3.0 conferences, which provide sales leaders with strategic insight and best practices for improving sales performance and revenue growth.

 

The complete transcript of this episode is below:

https://marketdominanceguys.com/e/can-innovation-and-a-pandemic-coexist/

Announcer (00:32):

Change is the obvious hallmark of the current pandemic. And as most of us know, change rewards innovation and punishes those who stand Pat on tradition. This is especially true in the winner takes all world of sales. Most people believe that true innovation Springs from the use of technology, but is innovation, mostly about taking a technological product or service and then marketing and promoting it to the stage called User Adoption? Or even to the more desirable stage that we'll call User Embrace. Or, should innovation be more culture than technical. Join Chris, as he makes the case for pursuing innovation during the pandemic and talks about the difference between strategy and tactics during this pursuit. Chris is joined by his friend, Garhard Gschwandtner founder and CEO of Selling Power Inc. As they discuss the role of empathy in sales and its importance as a leadership tool. Join us for this episode of the market dominance guys. Can innovation and a pandemic co-exist?

Chris Beall (01:43):

I'd like to talk about something that frankly I stole from my fiance, Helen Vannucci, she had spent a lot of time researching what turns out, I think to be the big question in the world of sales, which is sales culture. And she was looking at it from a digital transformation kind of viewpoint and discovered that culture was really the issue that needed to be addressed around digital transformation, much more than technology. I wanted to know is it possible for innovation, doing new things and valuable things in a pandemic to coexist? Just to remind us all, sales is a winner take all business. That's kind of all there is to it. Sales is peculiar in that regard. So marketing's not like that for instance, it's not winner take all. In fact, it's really hard to tell in marketing who the winner is.

Every once in a while, something happens that's so spectacular in terms of an advertising campaign, as Gerhard referred to the 66 million ads that... Facebook ads that the Trump campaign used in 2016. I'd say that was a winner take all situation, but it didn't show purely in the marketing. You have to go tear it apart there. Certainly in research and development, product development, it's not winner take all at all. Products come and products go, there were a brilliant products that hit product market fit at least for a while and in a marvelous way. But in sales deal by deal by deal, there's only one winner.

And I think that puts a huge amount of pressure on innovation because there's only two situations you're in. You're in a situation where you just won the last deal, in which case your inclination will be to continue to do whatever you did before. Whatever you think got you there, might not be what got you there, but it's what you think got you there. And that works against innovation. How can you innovate against success? And yet in the case of failure, we tend to either cast about, try one thing, try another thing, another thing, another thing which also gets in the way of innovation or we kind of hunker down.

And I think in the pandemic, there was a lot of hunkering down. There was a lot of Fox holing. Let's go and get in the foxhole, we seem not to be winning. So let's just kind of banker fires and do nothing. And the problem is that change when it happens, demands innovation. That is, if you don't innovate, you're actually going backwards in a changing world. And here's what the pandemic looks like in a changing world. This is a 20 cows that didn't get out of the way of a high-speed train. A high speed train is a pretty good metaphor for what just hit us all in March and April of this year. And I think people are finding out that the high speed train is continuing to be a high speed train. It hasn't really slowed down. And being a cow who didn't get out of the way of that train for any of you who know the weird Al Yankovic song Albuquerque, he refers to us.

I think his mother is looking at him like a cow looks at an oncoming train for a certain part of the song. Well, you don't want to be the cow looking at the oncoming train. You've got to innovate, but in which direction to get off the tracks, to the left? To the right? Go into the bushes? Do you jump up in the air? What do you actually do? One thing, you know, you cannot do and you must not do is stand Pat. But what do you do? I mean, what's a positive way of looking at innovation. There's a tough picture to look up by the way I was a vegan for quite a while. And I used to raise cows too. So what can I say? This didn't work out well for these cows. You don't want to be one of these cows.

You want to move in some direction that makes sense. And you certainly don't want to stand pat. If you stand Pat, and you just kind of stare out there into the world and kind of are just made of whatever it is that you get from yourself, so to speak, but you don't want to stand Pat. You want to move. And the question is, how can you move in a direction that makes sense? Or that might make sense? I mean here's one of the other problems with innovation. You can only move in the direction of your hypothesis. You can't know what's going to work in advance. That's simply impossible. If somebody comes and says, I know this is going to work, they're either diluted or lying in our business, actually Connect And Sell, we've enshrined this principle into a thing we call the Intensive Test Drive, which is, "Hey, we don't know what's going to happen.

We know you're going to talk to a lot of people. We have no idea if that's good, bad, or indifferent, for all we know you're going to go fast and wrap our Ferrari around a tree and it's not going to be wonderful. Why don't we actually safely do the experiment, production for a full day?" So that's an idea that we had around innovation, but I think every innovation has to think what's a step I can take in the direction of learning more, a step of action not of contemplation, in the direction of learning more safely in the environment in which I find myself. When folks talk about innovation and sales, they generally talk tech stack. As an old software developer, you know, the idea of a stack actually is sort of a real idea. It's... The fact is there's stuff down in the stack, closer to the operating system or in the operating system.

There's apps up at the top, and... By the way, human beings kind of live way at the top of the stack as users. And there's, all sorts of real ideas of stack. We kind of use the term a little bit more, I would say, loosely, not in the world of sales. Could you pick the one that's going to make the difference. That's safe to go down the road with, and learn more. How would you do that? So you've attempted to do that. You attempted to say, we don't want to be hit by the train. Let's go and talk to the folks at Bigtincan about sales enablement and get our content managed in a way that makes sense for our sellers. Or let's go talk to people at Vidyard or BombBomb and start to use video in our outbound selling or let's go to see if we can get some automated lead engagement, have conversations because a bot actually write our emails for us and do the engagement or whatever it happens to be right?

We could look at all of this, but it's a little hard to know two things. One is, is it the right thing to do? And the question is, will you quote unquote "adopt the technology?" I think adoption is actually kind of a silly metric. The real question is, do you embrace the technology, whatever it happens to be or the innovation? And do you feel like it changes your life? Like it changes how you feel when you're doing your job? And does it change it in a way that you see this being sustainable, working for you over time? I think people have really embraced zoom here. We are on zoom video. So people have embraced it and that's really what made it work. And even though we complain about zoom fatigue, it's only because we use too much, but then I'm sure they're busy doing something about zoom fatigue.

So there was a case where the embrace was easy and it was also however forced. It was forced by that high-speed train. If you didn't come up with or use a way to talk to people that's more intimate and exchanges more information than email. And even a phone call. Well, you were going to get hit by the train. So the real question here is, is innovation mostly about taking a technology and getting it beyond adoption, getting it to embrace? I'll tell you, I don't think it is. And this is what my fiance Helen taught me. And I've been paying a lot of attention to it. I think here is the real issue. Peter Drucker said it this way, a long time ago, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Well strategy eats technology as a snack. I mean, if, without strategy we're simply doomed, there's just no hope. Strategy is basically a list of steps that are positions that we could get to new places to go on a journey that is to where we really want to go.

So a strategy is not how we take the steps, that's tactics. It's not the shoes that we wear so to speak or the hiking poles that we have, or our backpack. Strategy is more like the rocks in a river that we've chosen, I'm going to step on this one and this one, then this one, and then I have to step on this one, even though it appears to come back toward the bank that I'm already on, because I want to get to this one. And from there, I think I can jump over to the other side.

That's strategy. Strategy is as a bunch of wares put together in a list, and tactics are the how's, and then technology is the what's that we're going to use either like shoes to defend our feet against the ground. So if culture eats strategy for breakfast, it certainly eats tech. And so the thing that we've got to pay attention to is how do we get a culture of... [inaudible 00:11:20] have a culture of innovation or use culture to innovate in a world where our sellers have gone home, so our sales teams, our home, our customers have gone home, where businesses have been wildly disrupted, but some of them have been wildly improved. What do we do with all this change? And the answer turns out to be empathy.

Chris Beall (12:25):

And I think we all get empathy. We tend to get it wrong. We think that empathy has something to do with how we feel and with caring. So I want to make a sharp distinction, how we feel about somebody else, whether we feel their pains, whether we feel bad for them or bad about them, that's sympathy. Our feelings are sympathy. And they could be very powerful sympathetic feelings, or they could be weak, or they could be non-existent, but it's not empathy. So, let's put that aside. Empathy is also not caring. That is I could fail utterly to see the world through your eyes and still care for you. In fact, I had something, a little medical procedure done and just had some stitches taken out of my face yesterday. You know, I didn't really concern myself with whether the nurse who was doing that work, whether she had empathy for me, that is whether she saw the world through my eyes.

My concern actually was, are we going to get this over quickly enough that I can make my four o'clock call? That was my concern. I didn't care if she had that concern, knew about that concern or whatever. What I cared about was that she did a great job professionally, that the stitches came out, that whatever amount of damage that might've been done was going to be minimized. And then we'd get it over with, I mean, let's get this over with and get me out the door. So I cared about her caring for me, caring is something that you do for somebody. You actually take care of them. You do something for them. Empathy is another thing entirely. Empathy is actually going through the effort, trying to understand what somebody else is thinking, how they're seeing the world. And Christopher Voss talks about it really well.

And we use it extensively at Connect and Sell when it comes to thinking about cold calling. So I'll just use cold calling as an example. I want to point out that the big issue here is not seeing your customer's world through their eyes. That is huge, by the way, you've got, you've got to be able to do that all the time in sales, but that's not new. That's not the bullet train. The bullet train is you actually have to do this. If you're a sales leader, you have to do it with your sales reps. And the old world of saying, here's your number, make your number and we're going to maybe provide you with some quote unquote "coaching" most of which is relatively, I think, disjointed to put it politely.

The thing that's required now, if you're going to work with sales teams that are remote, and if you want to have a cultural foundation for innovation, is to actually see your sellers, your sales people's world, through their eyes, as they're working from home, as they're adapting to the different ways that their prospective customers and customers are responding to them, how are they seeing that?

So if you want to do that, you kind of have to do something similar to what you do in a cold call. That is you have to go from a state where the other person is afraid. That is the general state of other people. Is that in a cold call, the other party is afraid. They're afraid of you the caller, because you're an invisible stranger. In the world of have I been left at home to sell, fear tends to predominate. And if it doesn't at one point in the day, it likely will at another point in the day, that is fear tends to show up on bitten and it really hampers performance. And so, getting the understanding that your reps may be starting from a place of fear and taking them on a journey where they actually trust you, where they think you're on their side, one of the things you have to learn to do or do organizationally, which is how we do it, is coach without any intention of evaluating.

And this is incredibly important. If you're evaluating while you're coaching, you're in big trouble because you're creating fear. Deming told us way back when W.Edwards Deming said, first drive out fear. If we want the truth, we need to drive out fear. So how do we actually do that? So the idea here though, is to show empathy. You can teach empathy. That is if you're not being empathetic, acting empathetically with empathetic intention, to understand your sales reps, I'm talking to sales leaders here. And understand what it is they're experiencing and see the world through their eyes, they're going to have a hard time doing it with their prospects. And given that tactical empathy in action with prospects is the key to being the winner rather than one of the very many losers in sales, this is super important. So I believe this should be your primary focus of innovation.

Number one, just like in a discovery call, ask the damn question. And don't just ask it once. And don't just ask it one way. Ask your reps, how are they actually dealing with all this change in a practical sense? That is what are they doing in terms of a place to work? What are they doing with interruptions? Do they have kids at home? Do they have a dog that needs taken care of every once in a while so that they can't run back to back? Do they feel like they're being run harder than they used to be or harder than as right before them, do they feel breathless? How are they dealing with this change? What are they doing practically? And how are they feeling about it? Two is, don't take all those answers for an answer. I actually go do their job. And I know this is something people are advised not to do is like, "Oh no, you're a sales manager now, you're a leader, don't sell".

I actually think no matter who you are in the organization, the most important thing to know is, how does the world look through your seller's eyes. Go do their job, a week is enough, but take a little mini quota. It could be meetings that you set might be hard to close deals, do some cold calling. I mean, if you're not doing cold calling, you're not getting to the source of a lot of their fear. And go do the job. And then be curious, not that judgemental with regard to the data. Look into data and ask yourself, what is it telling me before the pandemic, after the pandemic, for instance, what is it telling me, about how my reps are seeing the world what's going on? And then go with your reps on calls that is get joined them on a zoom.

You don't have to say anything. You can just be the intro and see what their buyer's world is like. And then discuss it with the rep. Don't discuss the deal. Ask what did we learn about what our buyers are seeing, how they're seeing the world. And then fifth slowdown. Everyone is running really hard right now with all this stuff that's going on, slow down. This stuff takes time. Your reps are alone. They're alone with a bunch of people, could be their kids, it could be their dog, it could be their mother-in-law, whatever they're alone in the sense that they're working without physical human contact with their own tribe. And it is the loneliest way to make your number. So when you're alone, the mindset that tends to predominate has a lot to do with fear. I think we all have to figure out what to do with fear.

And the main thing we want to do fear is first, just admit it, admit that it's there. Reps are often encouraged to be brave, rough, tough, hard to bluff. But when you're talking to your team, start with, what is it you're afraid of? This is what I'm afraid of, be transparent about it. This is where my fear is. Explore their fear and let it be okay. And then figure out how to drive out fear. Because once you drive out fear, you can actually set up a cultural situation where you can innovate around culture. And if you innovate sufficiently around culture, you already have gotten off the track. You're not going to be hit by the bullet train, but now you're free to actually look at technology and think, is there something here that would be helpful that we could embrace and that we can embrace it in a way that really makes sense and is on a solid cultural foundation. So that's kind of it.

Gerhard (20:48):

Chris, are you still there?

Chris Beall (20:50):

I'm here. It's 9:08, am I done?

Gerhard (20:54):

No, you're not. I think we have a few minutes, like two minutes, but I want to make a couple of comments. One is I love that you highlighting the fact that sales... In sales you're measured by your wins, and winning in sales is so important, and it's so challenging right now. Secondly, I love that strategy eats technology as a snack. Never heard that before, but I totally agree, strategy is so important. And I like that you talk about empathy and it reminded me of a saying that I heard a long time ago. If you want to know what John Doe buys, see the world through John Doe's eyes, empathy is a leadership tool. It is a product innovation tool. It is really a tool that makes our society, our world a little bit better. And I thank you for that.

Chris Beall (21:53):

Well, I thank you, Gerhard. You are my empathy hero. Every conversation I've ever had with you, you have made a point of trying to understand further what I'm thinking, how I'm feeling, where I'm going. And I think that when we do that with the people who work with us on our team, we help them to do it with our customers. And I think that's where the winds come from.

Gerhard (22:20):

This is exactly what is so hard to teach salespeople, which is taking a half a step back in a conversation with a client and see what is really happening emotionally with that person in the present moment, and really tuning into that mental state of the customer and sensing the emotions. And before you interpret, the more you are able to suspend the pre-occupation with the sales, the more you can tune in to the state of mind of the customer and open the conversation to a deeper level or to a higher level, or to explore a new perspective. And that's what I think co-creation is all about, that as kids, we all want to play, and as adults, we want to transform that drive to play to co-create and explore possibilities.

Chris Beall (23:24):

If you could change one thing about yourself to be successful, to be really, really successful, here's what I suggest it would be, totally lose interest in closing deals, totally lose interest because your interest, your desire, the deal is getting in the way of your ability to pursue the truth with somebody else. And when you pursue the with somebody else, you have a chance of co-creating. Otherwise, you have no chance. It's so delicate that, one little finger on the scale saying, I want the deal, that's the thing that kills the deal.