Lead With Ideas (Issue 436)

In which we are encouraged to lead with ideas rather than wait for our clients to discover they need us. "So, as we went around the circle, sharing what was going on, I found out that the other guys in this ‘outplacement group' didn't have any meetings lined up. Nothing! I couldn't believe it. If I hadn't had an appointment set up for the Monday after I was fired, I would have been going crazy."

TreeStump Bank fired John in late June. He was a successful senior-level sales leader responsible for one of the bank’s core product sales forces. As we settled into our lunch, he shared the progression of events from March to June. The termination wasn’t as much of surprise to him as it had been to others let go that month and it was still a surprise.

Ten weeks and several job possibilities later, from a standing start, John started work in a comparable position at a larger company, 2,500 miles away. If we were talking car racing here, John would have run like a Top Fuel dragster, off the line in a blink, engine deafening, tires spinning, down the track in three something seconds, chute out, thanks very much. TEN WEEKS in the worst banking industry job market in recent history. At full speed, he was running more than 2 appointments a day. How did he do this while others didn’t?

Raw energy and drive. Sure, you’d expect that. Compared to the folks fired the same day, or in the months before or after, John is over the top. But that’s table stakes.

Great network? Yup. He’d built a good one and he called EVERYBODY he knew to ask for perspective, to test ideas, and to encourage introductions. OK, this is a little more advanced, but not surprising. You’d expect senior level guys to have good networks and to engage them.

The really boffo element to his strategy? Ideas.

While the “other guys” in his outplacement group played traditional check-the-job lists “demand fulfillment” sales games, John led with ideas. He created demand.

  • He looked at his strengths, all aspects, from professional degrees to experience to his networks.
  • He identified three types of companies in which he thought they would help: (1) Banks, (2) consulting firms, and (3) certain technology and industrial companies.
  • He developed specific ideas for all three – here’s a gap I see, here’s my idea to address the gap, here’s why you should hire me to do it.
  • He tested his ideas with people in his network – “here’s what I’m thinking, what are you seeing, how would you change this…?”
  • He launched himself at his market. For example, as he said over coffee, “I am networking like CRAZY to get in front of partners in all of the consulting firms on my list where ever they are – networking events, anywhere. I pitch the ideas and I’m getting invitations to come in for more discussion. Some of these were a bit of a stretch, but, hey, you never know until you try.”

A spectacular, text book “demand creation” sales campaign. Ten weeks.

Like prospective employers, clients and prospects value suppliers who bring them ideas, who show them new ways to do their businesses better. They are less inspired by sales people who show up asking questions to identify needs they already know they have. Build a good network. And lead with ideas.

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