"The Navigator" News Blog

What Can You Really Control?

I had a little lesson in “Control” recently.  I was on a flight that left Kansas City at Noon on a Thursday, bound for Chicago.  I was speaking at 9:30 the following morning in Chicago, so this wasn’t an optional schedule.  Suddenly, things went sideways, and I was no longer in control. Right after boarding, the captain came on the microphone and told us that, due to weather conditions, the FAA had shut down Midway Airport.  Our flight was canceled, as were the two after.  A plane emptied of upset passengers.  I only had one question:  What was the status of the remaining flights?  The gate attendant said, “They are all oversold.”  In two minutes, I’d made a car reservation on Dollar.com and was on the bus to the rental cars.  The story gets better – but I’ll finish it at the end of this article.

I’ve always found it amusing that salespeople spend their careers trying to control the one thing in sales that it is impossible to control – their customers – while neglecting the aspects of their careers that truly are within their control.  Me, I never liked to leave my destiny to the mercies of fate, which is why I chose a car over the hundreds of other people trying to find some sort of a flight.  But, what can we control?  Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Salespeople can in fact control most elements of selling.  For instance:

Prospecting.  One of the most important elements of selling that is within our control is Prospecting.  Successful salespeople have a full and active sales funnel.  Period.  You might think that salespeople with the largest territories, the ones who are the most successful, would be short on Prospecting.  You wouldn’t be farther from the truth.  Those salespeople are especially likely to maintain a full funnel – because they know that accounts can leave without warning, and often through no fault of our own.  Businesses change, companies change – and those salespeople with the large territories know that to keep that territory large, they must continue to prospect and bring on new business.

Attitude.  I know, I know, I know.  “Attitude” is difficult to control – but difficult does not mean impossible.  When I’m talking about “Attitude,” I’m specifically referring to your ability to stay positive, to be open to customer feedback and requests, and to center your activities on your customers while “between the lines” – on sales calls or during work hours.  We all have had things happen to us in our lives that can be detrimental to our personal attitude.  That’s normal.  The key is to be able to push past those moments – or even to use our work as a respite from personal issues.  One thing I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned in this space is that my first marriage ended, and my mother passed away, within four weeks of each other.  During that time, my only real safe harbor was my work and my customers – so I used that for all it was worth.  Sometimes just taking a minute or two to “get in character” was all that was needed before a sales call.

Your own skill level.  This might be the easiest aspect of a sales career to control – and yet, the vast majority of salespeople (80% or more) spend little to no time developing their own skill level.  Look carefully in the mirror and be honest.  How much time in the last month have you spent on skills development?  It doesn’t have to be as extreme as purchasing a product, buying a book, or anything like that (although if you’re not doing those things to develop yourself, you should be).  Sometimes it’s as simple as coming up with a new question, a new way to present, gathering testimonials, looking for case studies, etc.  Dedicate yourself to becoming a better salesperson in at least one meaningful way each month, and your customers and your wallet will thank you.

Control those elements, and you’ll be able to influence the one thing you can’t truly control – your customers.  Because there’s nothing worse than feeling completely out of control.

Which brings us back to the Kansas City International Airport last Thursday.  I had a speaking engagement at 9:30 the next morning (roughly 20 and one-half hours away), and there were 530 miles between me and my hotel, with no chance of a flight on Thursday to get me there.  There was a chance that, assuming weather returned to normal, that a Friday morning flight – early – could have me there.  However, if I banked on that and failed, I would miss the engagement.  That’s not acceptable.

So, since my road trip car was at home (I don’t like to leave it in airport parking), I quickly got on Dollar.com, reserved a car, and started out to catch the rental car bus.  As I did, I passed a man who was about my age, explaining to the gate agent that he HAD to be in Chicago at 10 the following morning for a ‘potentially life altering’ job interview (his words).  So, I stopped, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Hey, I’m about to start driving to Chicago.  If you like, we can share the car and expenses, and I’ll drop you off where you need to be.  You’ll still get there this evening.”

And – I’m not kidding about this – the guy looked me up and down and then said, “No, thank you, I’m going to keep trying to find a flight.”

I’m still not trying to take that one personally.

Well, the story has a happy ending.  When I got on the bus, I noticed a fellow refugee from my flight, a woman in her 30s.  I made the same offer to her, she accepted immediately (apparently I looked safer to her than I did to the guy with the interview), and we actually had quite a nice drive.  I had company, I got there when I needed to be, and by the time I dropped her off in downtown Chicago, we’d each made a new friend.

And I still got to the hotel in time to order the Chicago pizza I’d been craving for days.

The point is this – given the opportunity to take control, I took it, and the result was good. That doesn’t make me some kind of hero – it just works. If you do the same, it usually will be a good result.  I wonder if the guy ever got there for his “life altering” interview.