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The Unexpected Challenges In Sales

As the acting Sales Director for EMEA during a period of transition, I was fortunate to break some new ground, both personally and professionally. This was not my first experience running a sales team; I took over responsibility for sales in a previous company. That episode was successful and the company realised and sustained a 46% increase in revenue in a highly competitive market, a small but notable win.

I have been a tech consultant in various guises for more than a decade. Given this, I had the sales gig in the bag, surely. Due to my previous success, I felt confident in my abilities to ‘caretake’ whilst we went through the appointment of a new Sales Director for the EMEA region. That is precisely when the fun really started. Pride before a fall! I realised very quickly how ill-equipped I really was for a Sales Leadership role; the following represent my key challenges:

Target OCD

Target OCDOne of my earliest challenges orientated around learning to become comfortable with a target. In nearly all areas of work we have targets, KPIs, and metrics by which we measure and assess. However, a sales target, for those that have never had one, is an altogether different beast! Every month the meter is reset back to zero, or quarterly relative to seniority. I found this extremely difficult; I entered sleep thinking of that number and it was my first thought on waking.

My realisation: Think bigger. The job at hand was bigger than a monthly or quarterly number. Those numbers are crucially important, but I needed to focus energy in other areas to achieve the desired target. I chose to focus on the future, on process refinement, training, and to fully understand sales reporting—I needed to build something systematic, something I could control and which in turn provided insight and perspective—those things helped me overcome target OCD.

Inspiration Exhaustion

Sales teams seem to need inspiration, to believe, and in my experience, they need to dream. Some individuals are self-sustaining in this regard, they look within for what they need; however, many do not. This presents a very interesting challenge, how do I facilitate this dreaming and in so doing achieve commitment to the vision?

My realisation: My job is to translate the vision provided, not create one anew. To make the vision relatable to people, to share my enthusiasm and commitment to that vision but also to share my challenges and concerns—I needed to be natural, that’s it. Inspiration and indeed dreaming is spontaneous, in this context you don’t choose to inspire people, you can’t facilitate the dream. For me it became about sharing my commitment and a hope people would believe me!

Steering A Rhinoceros With A Tissue With One Arm Behind My Back

Success (in sales terms) was not going to happen by application of my will alone, I wanted to see success but this alone would never be enough. My will was akin to a tissue and the sales team the rhinoceros, I couldn’t move that beast but an inch with that tissue of will. I needed to get smarter, much smarter.

My Realisation: To steer the rhinoceros, I needed to understand the rhinoceros. The same applies in all areas of management, of course. I needed to understand the motivations of our sales team; what their values and aspirations were and what their triggers to movement were, both individually and as a team.

Enduring The Certainty Of Repetition

RepetitionThe perpetual “reset:proceed” was really challenging for me. You have a number at the start of the month, you chase it with all your heart, you make target then bang, it all starts again. I work best with projects that require complex and disciplined long-term commitment. The speed at which the sales team moves was a shock to me but the repetition was the real challenge. Sales work in absolutes—no gray areas, no middle ground. I am naturally a builder, a refiner—I don’t work well with win/lose absolutes, I occupy the middle ground of increment and optimisation.

My realisation: The sales process is no different to my typical long-term projects, it’s just shorter which makes the experience more pronounced. The process is just as much about refinement and incremental improvement. I needed to learn to work faster with more frequent iterations and assessment. In this sense, I released myself from the repetitious quality and adopted the opportunity of improvement and possibility. Every single month I got a new chance to influence change, make refinements and measure success, I started to enjoy the absolutes.


Was I successful? In terms of targets and sales numbers, no. In terms of understanding the process and increasing my respect for sales professionals, yes!

I have always had marked respect for sales people, they do an emotionally exhausting job, they walk round with a number on their back and a smile on their face. Even after a massive win, soon after they start anew with nothing except a pile of expectation ahead of them—they absolutely have to love it (my job in Client Services relies on them loving it!).

The fact that I stayed afloat at all during this period is credit to the tremendous sales leadership we already have here at Dyn and for the processes and reporting we have in place; to people like Josh Delise and Tim Lyons who committed an inordinate amount of time to supporting and guiding me through that process, I owe them a great debt.

Thankfully for me, we appointed Paul Heywood as Sales Director for EMEA, allowing me to return my rightful home in Client Services. It was a wild and exhausting ride.

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