3 Lessons I Learned About Sales from My Trip to South Africa
My Uncle Jerry used to say, “Everything you need to know about life can be learned from watching baseball.” I’m not a sports nut, so I don’t know if this is true, but I do believe in a similar philosophy: everything you need to know in life can be learned from immersing yourself in nature. At least, that’s the case for me.
Our trip to the South African Bush was a bucket list trip that had been postponed for three years due to COVID, but it was well worth the wait. South Africa is known for its variety: Three capitals, eleven official languages, 20 national parks and a diversity of animals seen nowhere else on the planet.
We can learn a lot from animals in the savannah. They demonstrate strategies to adapt to the surroundings and develop the characteristics needed to survive and thrive in the most competitive environment on earth. Here are some of my takeaways from the trip!
When a baby elephant dies, its mother has been known to lift it with her trunk and cover the body with ground debris like twigs, sticks, and dirt. Upon completion, the rest of the herd will join the mother to pay homage. Empathy in elephants, the idea that “emotions are contagious,” is backed by science.
Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking alongside researcher and author Sean Achor. He revealed that while one anxious passenger at an airport gate can cause the entire lineup of travelers to exhibit stress, the opposite is also true. When just one or two employees engage in positive daily rituals such as gratitude exercises, and small acts of kindness, the entire culture is affected. Yes, one person’s actions can create a boomerang effect of happiness and productivity throughout the whole company.
Often sellers confide in me, “I don’t have that much empathy; I’m not wired that way.” To develop elephant-like empathy, act out that empathy. And here comes the part that’s so simple that it’s easy to miss: how you act shapes how you feel. You act with empathy, and immediately you build empathy. Ask more questions, listen, and look interested. Slow down. You’ll start to feel differently. If you want to feel differently, act differently. If you want to sell more, lead with empathy.
We were fortunate to get close enough to see the rosettes on this female, the spots that uniquely define her. We couldn’t help noticing her burgeoning belly. One of the most solitary animals in the bush, the leopard, typically hunts every 13 to 18 days. They stash their meat in trees to safeguard it from predators.
The guide told us that she had likely just eaten and was enjoying time in the sun to digest. I asked, “If she spots other prey before her food runs out, will she go after it? The guide replied, “Absolutely; after all, she’s a hunter.”
How disciplined are we when it comes to hunting for new prospects? It’s easy to put off sending emails, cold calling and stalking new territories, but like the leopard, this is the lifeblood of your business.
Set Aside Time to Prospect
Prospecting is easy to neglect; like doing the laundry, it piles up. Prospect first thing in the morning before checking your email. Set aside time on your calendar and turn off all notifications.
- Identify Your Target Market. Leopards don’t eat insects and birds. Savvy sellers know their target markets: the size, persona and type of accounts that will feed them for days and often years.
- Do Your Homework: Balance quantity with quality. It’s better to personalize your outreach and call fewer clients than to dial for dollars and spray and pray.
- Use a Pattern Interrupt: “Got a minute? Quick question?” These spammy email openers will likely cause you to hit the delete button faster than a hungry Cheetah. Scrutinize the emails you delete. You don’t have to be better, but you do have to be different. Try a pattern interrupt.
3. A Pride of Lions
It turns out that Lions, unlike their Leopards cousins, prefer socializing to a life of solitary confinement. African lions have been admired throughout history as symbols of courage and strength. At its core, selling requires a mix of both empathy and courage. Yes, you need to build empathy, but you need to ask difficult questions too. Uncovering obstacles in your discovery requires courage. Here’s a crazy idea: what if you bring up an objection first?
Where does courage live?
Getting through the “no’s” in your life takes courage. But remember that the word “courage” originates from the root “cor”—the Latin word for heart. Your heart will outweigh your fear when you care enough about your product, your customers, and yourself.
A seller’s life requires courage, patience, persistence, empathy, openness, and the ability to deal with rejection. It requires the ability to be alone in thought and the necessity of going out and conquering wild new territories. To be disciplined and, at the same time, take risks.
It’s not necessarily the sellers who are most gifted or focused on the next deal (I think of these as short sprinters) who survive and thrive. Sellers who are consistent, endure and do many little things right are reaping the rewards.