Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the dangers of playing it safe. The format changes but the essence stays the same: fortune favours the brave, impossible is just a word, bigger risks yield greater rewards.
And it’s all true. The most successful sales people I’ve ever known have been the ones grabbing prospects by the horns, turning them into customers through sheer force of will. They’re the ones who win big, climb the ranks quickly, and retire from the floor early to become consultants with houses in the shires, a flat or two in the city, and holiday homes half the world away.
And what’s at the root of their boldness? Character, and a rejection of everything that is bland, beige and accepted in the industry. The great salespeople tear up the rulebook, change the game, slip a few aces out from their sleeve when life deals them a bad hand. Character is what makes the great.
Mobile connectivity and social media have given us unprecedented access to these people, and to each other. People we read about as young, wide-eyed sales people are now a private message away. We can connect with the good, the bad and the ugly, wade into the data-swamp that is social selling, and share insight and experience in ways that we couldn’t even imagine a few years ago.
… And we blow it.
LinkedIn is the prime example. The world’s professionals on one platform… and we fill it with the most boring articles imaginable. People share invaluable insight from their hard-won decades in the industry, like “sales enablement done right could be helpful“, and “salespeople who work harder may see better results“. And people applaud, they fawn, they write “I completely agree, great article!” under every steaming pile of nonsense.
I see it every day on LinkedIn—people who have spent their lives in some of the best sales organisations on the planet and single-handedly secured impossible deals. People who lived through the hedonistic boom years (wolves of Wall Street, the lot of them—not that they’d admit it now) and then hardened and adapted through the busts. People who watched the world change and made it bend to suit them. People who are sitting on deep wells of knowledge and insight… all publishing mind-numbing rubbish.
I’ve met a few of these guys and they are oozing character in person… So what has happened?
Firstly, the internet developed an insatiable hunger for content. Like a pig overdue the abattoir, it’s gotten fat and lazy, consuming anything anyone throws at it. Forget quality, just keep up the quantity. Secondly, LinkedIn being an exclusively ‘professional’ network put everyone on their best behaviour. How hard LinkedIn and others pushed social selling made everyone strip any interesting, personal content off their profiles, “just in case“. Lastly, the limits of what constitutes ‘professional’ behaviour got tightened beyond recognition by that vocal minority, the office bores, always ready to complain to line managers, HR, the internet, or anyone else who would listen.
LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman himself said that “in a changing world, playing it safe is one of the riskiest things you can do“. He’s spot on when it comes to content. The bland, self-congratulatory circle jerk that is LinkedIn publishing is slowly driving me mad. Let’s have some character back, some individuality, some genuine insight and knowledge exchange. I’d even settle for some out-and-out offence at this point. If we’re all just writing what we know people want to read, if we’re all just replying “Great piece, 100% agree”… well, what’s the point? Teach me things I don’t know. Tell me I’m wrong. Explain why. Please.
Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe I’ll scrap this piece and write one on how salespeople who work a bit harder probably see slightly better results than those who don’t. Let me know what you think on LinkedIn, Twitter or in the comments below, I’d love to actually talk.