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Transcript: Developing a High Performance Sales Culture (EP22)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.


Hello, everybody. I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. And this is Episode 22.

Today, I'm talking with Alex Dawson. Alex is a Senior Consultant for the Asia-Pacific region with RAIN Group, which is a global sales training and performance improvement company. His primary focus is working with companies to deliver profitable growth through impactful sales transformation programs.

Alex also founded Positive Scenario in 2016, driven by his belief, “Happiness is the key to personal and organisational success”. Prior to founding Positive Scenario, Alex held many positions with Gartner, the world's leading research and advisory firm. Over 15 years, he held national and regional roles in Brisbane, Hong Kong, and Sydney.

In his facilitation and consulting, Alex leverages his extensive international experience and many years of leading teams to world class performance.

The focus of our conversation today is developing a high performance sales culture.

Alex, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast, mate.

Alex Dawson: Thanks very much, Brendan. Great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Brendan Rogers: Absolute pleasure, mate. And you’re coming to us from beautiful Byron Bay. What's it like up there today?

Alex Dawson: I am indeed and I'm very fortunate to say that I feel very blessed to be looking out upon a blue sky with lots of sunshine. So it's very pleasant up here today, Brendan.

Brendan Rogers: I’ve given a bit of a, I guess the formal introduction and just to paint a picture of your extensive experiences, both in Australia and overseas, how about you give a little bit of  flavour about your own sort of career journey and maybe one or two highlights and where that's brought you to today?

Alex Dawson: I'd say my career journey is one that started really in earnest here in Australia when I moved here over 20 years ago. And I was a lowly IT recruiter who was yearning to get into something other than recruitment. I was fortunate to land in Gartner in a sales role. And I say ‘fortunate’ because they went on a journey in the time I was there from not being a particularly sales-led organisation to what I would consider being a ‘world class’ sales organisation. So, I was really, really fortunate to have learned a whole heap of stuff around sales and leadership and personal as well as professional development.

I jumped ship from Gartner to start my own business, Positive Scenario. Focused on how can you use the science of happiness, namely positive psychology to drive better personal and business performance. In doing that, I went back to selling from sales leadership, which was probably one of the milestones in more recent time that I spent about nine months just prospecting.

And interestingly, selling happiness was a lot harder than I thought it might be. And I certainly learned a lot on that journey, which brings me to where I am today. I still deliver Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage content and other related positive psychology content to clients. But I also spend a large amount of my time working for RAIN Group as a Senior Consultant. And I think, if I look at the summit of where my career has gotten to so far and hopefully, it's not reached the absolute top, what I get great pleasure out of now is the combination of what I learned in my sales and sales leadership career at Gartner as they went through their growing pains and developed and matured, as well as what I learned through my personal passion around positive psychology and the science of happiness, all coming together in this one role that I do now with RAIN in that I spend my time helping Sales Leaders and their Senior Executive Leaders build high performance sales organisations, helping them build positive cultures that allow their sales people to thrive and perform, which obviously makes everyone happy. So I consider myself very fortunate that through a meandering path over the last three to five years, I've been able to find a role that brings my passion for people and growth together with my experience and skills in sales and sales leadership.

Brendan Rogers: You've really taken that nicely into our topic today, which is around the high performance sales culture. What does a high performance sales culture look like?

Alex Dawson: I think there are some key characteristics for me in the way that the leaders show up. I firmly have the belief that culture is the result of the behaviours and attitudes you observe in all employees in the business. I believe you can't move that unless you start with the leaders and cascade them down. So, the types of things I look forward to as characteristics of a high performance sales culture are the leaders themselves are approaching their leadership role from a perspective of servant leadership as opposed to self-serving leadership. So, it's about them recognising that their salespeople don't work for them. They work for their salespeople. And this is perhaps something that turns the usual paradigm on its head and something I was fortunate enough to learn from a mentor 15 years ago, who, when I took my first sales leadership role, I was only a few weeks in, I was feeling very proud of myself for having gotten the promotion and move from selling to leading, sat me down in a room full of other new leaders and said to all of us, “Your salespeople don't work for you. You work for them.” I sort of responded by saying, “What? Are you kidding me? I’ve just worked this hard to get into a leadership role. And now, you're telling me that they don't work for me? I work for them?”

Now, when the penny dropped, it was definitely a pivotal moment in my career to realise the benefits and rewards from enabling others to succeed. So, I'd say that's one of the central tenets for me of what a high performance sales culture has. It's leaders who are there to serve their salespeople as opposed to serve themselves.

The other things I see in our performance sales culture is obviously, performance. People are striving to be the very best version of themselves and deliver their very best outcomes they can for not only themselves personally, but their organisation and their customers. But I think the foundational tenet for me is this idea of servant leadership by the sales leaders.

Brendan Rogers: I will get you to explain a little bit more around your definition of servant leadership versus you termed it ‘self-serving leadership’. And the reason why I want you to explain that is because you're working predominantly in sales environments. And to me, sales environments probably have more of a history around, maybe self-serving type people and self-serving type approaches. So, can you unpack that a little bit more in your own experiences working within those sales environments?

Alex Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. I think I'll share one of the biggest challenges I see within organisations and what I feel is often one of the biggest mistakes they make in developing people into leadership. A common approach, historically, to finding future leaders in a sales organisation has been to focus on those who are driving the highest sales results. Now, there is credence to that in that any leader ought to be consciously competent in doing the job that their people do so that they can coach and guide them. However, the skills and knowledge are not all you need to look at. You also need to look at the attributes or character traits of the individual and whether their attributes and traits are those of someone who make a great leader.

I often have leading salespeople in organisations come to me and, historically, in Gartner, but also subsequently saying, “I want to get into leadership. What's your guidance? How do I do it? What are your insights?” And the first thing I do is ask them, “Why? Why do you want to step up from being an individual contributor to a sales leader?” And I'm really looking for one theme in their answer to see whether they've really given it any thought and the theme I'm looking for needs to revolve around developing and enabling the success of other people. Because as an individual contributor, it can pay to be quite selfish. You're given a target and told to go and sell and deliver on that outcome. And so you can have a singular focus, which is your own personal success against that target. Once you make the transition into leadership, you now have a duty of care to those you have the honour to lead, to enable them to be the best version of themselves and help them be more successful. And that's a very different set of attributes for someone who does that to someone who drives their own personal success.

So, I think the way I describe the servant leadership versus the self-serving leadership is that servant leaders come with a set of attributes that enable them to invest in and help others thrive. And those sorts of attributes, I think about empathy and compassion, which you don't necessarily need if you're driving your own personal boat. There are things like building communities, healing and supporting others in times of challenge, being able to understand the broader conceptual context of what's going on and help others understand it, being able to coach, which is an overused phrase these days, but fundamentally being able to help others identify opportunities to improve and guide them either through your own experience and skills or through other resources and other people's experience and skills to further develop.

And I think self-serving leaders are not good at those things. Self-serving leaders who are just in it to get the outcomes they want and don't recognise that their outcomes come as an indirect outcome of enabling their people have a very different approach that old, traditional, militaristic autocratic sales leadership, you know, “Get out there. Get it sold. Why didn't you sell it? Close it today.” And I certainly worked with several sales leaders of that elk in my time and kind of see it as a fairly short-termist approach versus the one that's all about investing in your people.

Brendan Rogers: What would you say to those leaders that they've operated very, very successfully as that term that you use self-serving leaders for a long time? They've made good money, they’ve maybe achieved really great results and stuff. What would you say to these people around, how do you change their mindset when they've been doing something that would have a perception that they've been quite successful with?

Alex Dawson: That's a fantastic question. And it happens at different times in different ways and sometimes, it doesn't happen at all. Changing that mindset, Brendan. For some, there's a quick realisation that they're missing out on some of the rewards of leadership. And I would argue, some of the biggest rewards of leadership, because my own personal experience has been that I recognised very quickly when I was fortunate enough to be given the role of leading a team that I got far more satisfaction and reward from coaching and supporting others and seeing them exceed their own personal expectations for themselves, seeing them exceed those goals and aspirations they had, do things they never thought they could do or achieve. I found that far more rewarding than I ever found selling for myself.

And so, what I try to position with people who've had success is for them to think about what type of success that is. And is it the type of success that's making them happy? Because fundamentally, if we switch lenses here to positive psychology and what helps human beings thrive, it's not the money and the usual rewards that successful sales leaders get. The things and the material aspects that you're rewarded with as a sales leader have been proven to only have transient benefits to your wellbeing. However, making meaningful connections with your sales team, having deep trusting relationships with mutual concern for each other's success, well, that plays right into the sweet spot of happiness, which is deep social connection. So, I would kind of, in many different ways, and not as directly as this, position with them, that there's more than the success they've been achieving. And there's a deeper level of success and reward that they're missing out on, that they could easily capitalise on by just changing that lens to having them work for their people, rather than the other way around.

Brendan Rogers: I want to just go back a little bit to, probably, two words that stuck out to me when you talked about attributes and traits of a sales leader, that has that servant-type leadership, motive and mindset, and they were empathy and compassion. Probably, the reason they stick out for me is because they're probably two words and two attributes and traits that aren't always aligned when people think about salespeople. What does empathy and compassion look like in a sales environment and in a sales leader?

Alex Dawson: Oh, wow. So, let's start with empathy. My definition of empathy is a very simplistic one, which is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person and understand why or how they might be feeling the way they're feeling. And if you do sort of pick that apart a bit, that's actually the core of great sales. There's a heap of research and RAIN has done some on this, around the increased success of sales organisations that are value-driving. Now, my translation of that in the context of empathy is you can't drive value for a customer as a salesperson, whether that's a business development person or an existing Customer Account Manager unless you're able to put yourself in their shoes and understand their situation. What are their needs? What are both their business and emotional needs? Like, there's the ROI, but actually, what's this going to do for the individual who's making the purchase? How's it going to improve their life, resolve a problem for them or help them achieve a goal?

And if you're unable to empathise with the people in front of you, namely the customers as a salesperson, then it's extremely challenging to take your relationship to that next level, which is based on trust and value rather than based on dollars and transactions. So, for me, in a sales environment, empathy starts right at the front line with, “Can you empathise with your customer in order to contextualise solutions that will bring the value they need?"

In leadership, that combination of empathy and compassion is critical and comes out as leaders who genuinely have their seller's best interests at heart and are willing to recognise that it's not just about the deal and that there's scenarios and situations and perspectives that mean the deal might get compromised. But they're all valid and if you can see the world through the lens of your salesperson, then you can really be in a position to help them shift or reframe that or progress the deal despite the challenges they face in front of them. That's the two lenses I see empathy through. If you're a salesperson, you've got to be able to empathise with your customer to help them. And if you're a sales leader, well, your customers, your salesperson, and you've got to be able to empathise with them if you're gonna add any value to their personal outcomes.

Brendan Rogers: When you start working with organisations that want to get on this journey of high performance sales culture, how do you help them to start? Like, what is the, maybe the first three months look like when you go into an organisation and really help support them on this journey?

Alex Dawson: Yeah, I think the first few weeks certainly looked like me observing and participating in the approach that they currently have to running their sales organisation. And that would cover a gamut of things, you know. Do they have clear goals and communication of those goals? Do they have clear plans and strategies and clear communication of those plans and strategies to achieve those goals? What types of leaders have they got and how are they showing up? What does the conversation revolve around between the leaders and their salespeople? And do they recognise already any of the principles of high performance sales cultures? Are they already very people-centric and understand that their work needs to revolve around the personal goals and aspirations of their salespeople or not?

So, the first few weeks is really getting a lay of the land. I also look often at things like commission plans and the way that they reward their sales people. I look at their communication channels and the regular rhythm of communications between leaders and salespeople. So, it's pretty holistic. And then, it usually comes down to having the conversation with them around the five key components that are in the framework I developed and use to work with them on a high performance sales culture. So I'm looking to see, do they set high performance expectations? Because the starting point of high performance is to expect it. If you don't expect it, it's not going to arrive. The next component is, do they celebrate wins? Are they showing everyone consistently that they can win and they can perform and generating an optimistic outlook within the culture? Do they reward success? Have they identified the behaviours, activities, and outcomes that they want to encourage and therefore have incentives around? Do they have transparent performance? Can everyone see how everyone is tracking against their goals and outcomes that they're expected to achieve? And then, the fifth one, we've already talked about to some extent, are they embracing a servant leadership approach or a self-serving leadership approach? So that's where I start. I observe, and then I share those five components with them. And then, we start to break down how we could develop or strengthen each of those components within their organisation.

Brendan Rogers: Probably something that links back particularly to sales and performance and I know that we've had conversations before, and we've talked about managing performance versus performance management. Tell us a bit about your view on managing performance versus performance management in sales.

Alex Dawson: Sure thing. One of my favourite topics actually, Brendan. Performance management gets a really bad brand, right? People hear performance management and immediately they think, “I'm in trouble”. But in fact, for me, the difference between performance management and managing performance is really in the common accepted definition of performance management. If we paint that picture, when you hear performance management, I think it conjures up and you can validate or confirm or challenge this. For me, in sales organisations, if they hear the words performance management, it conjures up a picture of a process that is designed to manage someone out of the business because they're not hitting the goals and targets that are expected of them. And that process is set up specifically with the intent of removing that person from the business. That's performance management, I think. I don't know whether you've observed this in your work as well, but when you say performance management, I think that's the image that people conjure up, would you agree?

Brendan Rogers: I agree 100%.

Alex Dawson: Great. Okay. So if we take that as the baseline, which is not very high baseline by the way, then, managing performance on the other hand is a combination of two things. The first thing is that you are approaching the performance of the individuals from that servant leadership lens, and you're doing it with a regular rhythm of interactions with each of the salespeople and the sales team or teams that's focused on playing a coaching role. Every single interaction you have with your salespeople, whether in groups or individually, needs to add value to their world. If you're not adding value in every single interaction, then you're actually taking money out of their pocket because if they could be just as successful with or without your involvement in those interactions, then you're taking their time away from the field in doing their sales things. But on top of that, they could just get rid of your role, and your salary could be paid to them in additional commissions. So, for me, the first point is, in managing performance is that's the core of your role as a sales leader.

The regular rhythm of communications and conversations and interactions with your team should be of a high quality and should be as a coach to add value and elevate success. That's the first component of managing performance for me. The second component outside of that business as usual approach is when someone is struggling and is underperforming and all too often, companies resort to the blunt tool that is, “Here's a performance improvement plan. Do these things, or you'll start down a path that involves first warning, second warning and loss of your job.” And that's such a blunt and ineffective instrument.

The alternative that I would put forward is instead, there's an ongoing effort to identify consistently those people who are finding performance challenging so that you can intervene early and often to provide them the support that might enable them not to fall into the hole that they can't climb out of. And giving them that support through that regular rhythm of conversations and interactions.

Once you've got someone though, who is really struggling, the next component for me is you've got to diagnose the root cause of the challenge. That means they're not being successful. And you do it with empathy and compassion. You seek first to understand as Steven Covey would say, and what you want to understand is, “Who's this person in front of me? What are their drivers, motivations, values? What's their sense of purpose? What's meaningful for them in life? What goals have they set? Have they set goals? Do they even think there are goals for them to achieve? And what's the best of their skills and abilities and attributes as an individual that they can bring to the table?” So, what are their strengths? And also what are their barriers to success? Now, I think of this in terms of three buckets: knowledge, skills, and attributes or character traits.

And because knowledge and skills can be taught, the key thing to uncover here is their attributes. Who are they as a person? So, for me, managing performance doesn't start with a conversation that says, “Here's a plan. Meet it or leave.” But managing performance starts with a series of conversations that I was taught to call the mission of discovery. And find out who is this person in front of you. And did they have the core attributes to be successful in this role? Do they have a strong sense of purpose and urgency? Do they have confidence? Do they have conviction in your product and your brand as a business. Are they curious? Do they have a willingness to learn? Can they be coached? Did they have great clock speed? Can they link concepts together and respond and act on them appropriately? Are they competitive? Because we want salespeople who are out to win and achieve. So, there are a whole host of these attributes and you don't see them on the surface.

You've got to go and get to know the person. Once you've done that, you can decide for yourself what type of coaching you're gonna give. Because there are two types of coaching in managing performance for me. One is, does this person have the attributes? If the answer's yes, they have the core attributes to be successful, but the gap that's leaving them challenged is a knowledge or skills gap, then you can coach them up. You can teach them the knowledge and the skills they need in order to elevate their performance to be one of the very best on your team. If they don't have those core attributes, those fundamentals of who they are don't align with the fundamentals needed to be a successful salesperson, then there's no point trying to coach them up. It will just be painful and drudgerous for both of you, because at the core of who they are, that's not suited to the role you have for them. So, your role in managing performance then is coaching them out. What I mean by that is coaching them to recognise what are the other opportunities in life, either within your organisation or in other organisations where they can use the best of their skills and abilities. But in either way, it's a positive outcome.

Brendan Rogers: Coaching is a real challenging area for leaders today. And I think, actually, in my experience has been highlighted a lot during this last few months in COVID. If you've got somebody with the right mindset in the sales environment you're talking about in coaching, how do you help them and provide action or work with them to get to that level where they can actually put some quality time into these fantastic areas around coaching? Because it does take time, but it's so easy for leaders to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle. And just smashing things out, I guess, is a term that you often hear. How do you guide, how do you help them make that transition into more of a coaching mindset?

Alex Dawson: Yes. So, at RAIN, they have a sales coaching model that's called the Rhythms, Roles and Conversations. So, a standard rhythm of coaching interactions where you play one of five coaching roles as required at any point in time, and you do all of that with high quality conversations. In order to execute on that framework, the starting point goes full circle. To the start off our conversation, you need the mindset of a coach. And the mindset of a coach is the mindset of a servant leader. “I'm here to serve.” I’m here to add value. I’m here to help you be more successful.” So, the starting point for me is a conversation about, do they get that their role actually places a duty of care on them that they have to their people? And that it's an honour to be leading these people. And as such, their sole purpose in life is to enable your salespeople's success.

If they don't get that, then they're gonna get caught up in the whole day-to-day discussion around numbers and meeting after meeting and Zoom call after Zoom call in the current environment where they're just talking about the business, but they're not actually working with the people. So, that's the starting point perspective. If they've got the perspective and the common response is, “How do I make the time to your point?” Then, if you recognise this is the single most important thing you do as a sales leader, ie., coach your people to success. Then, you can start to apply standard time management principles to it. One of which is that if something's in your calendar, it has somewhere around a 95% chance that you'll actually do it versus, “I know I need to do one-on-ones, but I don't have them in my calendar as a standard recurring appointment, that I will not move”.

Then, we start talking about those principles of being more productive around, “Okay. Well, let's get your weekly one-on-ones in the calendar. Let's have a clear agenda. Let's use standard templates and tools to ensure that the important aspects of the conversation are covered. Let's get a weekly team meeting in the calendar. Let's make sure that that's sacred and doesn't get moved and you prioritise it.” ‘Cause it's your biggest investment activity. “Let's put a monthly one-on-one in that’s 90-minutes long, not half an hour, which I see so often. And 90 minutes, because that should be the single most valuable interaction that your salesperson has with anyone every month. ‘Cause that's where you invest an hour and a half of your time, experience, knowledge and wisdom in helping them be more successful. And you deep dive into their personal goals and how well they're tracking with those goals and how they align to their business goals of their role and how are they tracking with those and what was their plan last month? And what results did that drive? What's their plan this month and how could we improve that plan to drive better results?

And so, for me, it comes down to those three things of having a clear rhythm with your team that prioritises coaching of the individuals; having clear roles that you know you need to play to elevate their success, embedding those in the agendas for those meetings; and using consistent tools, templates, metrics, dashboards, all of the tools that you need to coach your salesperson embedded into that rhythm so that you have regular high quality conversations with your team as a hygiene factor. That's the minimum everyone gets regardless of their level of performance at any point in time.

Brendan Rogers: What I'm taking from you is that if the leader has the right motive and we determine the right motive, be that servant leadership type approach and not self-serving, then they will prioritise the time for the people and they will have the right conversations with the people and everything else you've just spoken about will flow from that. Is that a fair assessment?

Alex Dawson: Absolutely. It takes someone with absolute commitment to their team to say to their boss or their boss's boss, “I'm sorry, I can't do that meeting at that time. ‘Cause that's my weekly one-on-one with a member of my team. And I don't move that for anything.” If you don't have that servant-leadership mindset, you're not willing to de-prioritise other things like that meeting with your boss that your boss just dropped in at the last minute. So, we end up being reactive coaches rather than proactive coaches.

Brendan Rogers: The other passion area of yours, which you linked very, very tightly into the sales leadership approach that you have is this psychology around sales and this positive mindset. Tell us a bit more about that and how that links so integrally to the work that you're doing with salespeople.

Alex Dawson: The key step that I would throw out here is how much more successful, optimistic salespeople have proven to be over neutral to negative salespeople. So, there's been a whole heap of research done on this in one particular study, which we use in the happiness advantage program. And also, is the outcome of some of the work delivered to some happiness advantage clients is that positive salespeople outperform their neutral to negative colleagues by 35% to 55%. They sell 35% to 55% more than their colleagues because they have an optimistic outlook. So, positivity has not only a role to play in feeling better about life, but it also drives better outcomes for salespeople. So, there's a big link there that developing a positive, optimistic culture that sees the challenges before it, but believes with time, effort and action, they can overcome them, has a clear, tangible benefit.

So, developing these positive cultures in sales, I would argue has one of the most direct benefits of any area of any business. One of the things I highlighted as one of the five components of developing a high performance sales culture is celebrating wins and rewarding success. The importance of celebrating wins is that all too often, sales organisations and the people within them have a brief blip of joy of having gotten the deal over the line. And then, all too quickly, the next conversation is where’s the next one. The old mantra of sales, “You're only good as your last month, your last quarter, your last deal,” or whatever it is. And there's an issue with that, psychologically speaking, which is multifold, but the part of it that I'd unpack here is that we have something called a negativity bias as human beings. Our brains are actually wired to more readily see, more readily respond to, and more greatly respond to negative things in our environment over positive things.

Now, if I've recorded it correctly, the ratio is that we are five times more likely to respond to a negative aspect of our environment to a positive aspect. And we will do so more aggressively, more violently, but our response will be much stronger. Well, if you think about that in terms of wanting to have salespeople who are optimistic and positive, because not only benefits them personally, which is obviously the primary reason, but also benefits as collectively sales results, then you've got to avoid the fact that people's negativity bias will draw them towards the things they want to complain and be concerned about. “This product's no good. It's not competitive in the market. We charge too much. I've not got the right territory. I don't have the right accounts. My industry's not going as well as other industries.” There's a million things that salespeople can find to explain a way why they can't be successful and all this tough stuff that's going on for them.

And one of the ways you can overcome that is by lingering in the celebration of the wins, by amplifying the positive messages in your organisation. So, every time there is a win, and a win isn't necessarily just a deal, it could just be a new way of doing something that was more successful. “We managed to get more meetings, we managed to reach someone we hadn't ever managed to reach before, we found out a faster way of doing an internal process that saved us a heap of time”. Wins are anything that elevates the individual or the organisation. They're not just the sales deals. So, that pillar of a high performance sales culture is all about the psychology of this, which says we want optimistic salespeople. We want people to feel positive about being here and their chances of success. In order to create a positive environment, we need to over-index on communicating the positive to them because otherwise, their brains will naturally over-index the negative. So, it's another way that the psychology of sales links with the psychology of human beings ‘cause ultimately, salespeople are all humans.

Brendan Rogers: Is there a certain type of person and personality type that may be more suited to that positive psychology and being in a sales environment?

Alex Dawson: I don't know whether there's a personality type that's more predisposed to the positive psychology components. The way I tend to think about it rightly or wrongly is that everyone has sort of an average level of positivity or general valence to their mood through their life. And that's a combination of genetics and personal choices and habits. Only 10% of it, believe it or not, is actually part of your external world. So, our external world dictates only 10% of our level of happiness or contentment with life. And the 40% is personal choice and habits and 50% is genetics. So, if we think about that for a moment and then move back to personality types for sales or personality types of positive psychology, everyone has a set point when they're born based on their life experiences and their genetics and so on. And we all have ups and downs, that sort of rise and fall around that average point that we operate at.

And my belief and what I think the research shows, if you deep dive into it is that no matter what your base level is that you're starting at, positive psychology interventions will elevate your base level. So, whether you start from a low base level and you're not particularly happy, or you're already a pretty happy individual, you're pretty content and satisfied with life, those interventions that you're not doing already can help elevate you so the positive psychology piece, I think there's not a personality type that they apply to more or less. It's just the impact or benefit you'll get based on your starting point. I think if you combine that with the sales personality piece of your comment, there are definitely psychological attributes that predispose someone to sales and also psychological attributes that do the opposite and make you less likely to succeed in sales.

So, when I talk about attributes and character traits, that's really where I'm coming from in answering this question. And I mentioned some of them earlier. So, I have a list that was taught to me and it's developed over time and we're using some of the RAIN programs and certainly my own personal programs that I deliver that highlights the character traits of a good salesperson.

The first one is a sense of purpose. Are they an individual who has meaning and purpose in their life and something that they want to achieve? Are they striving to deliver an outcome? So that's what I mean by sense of purpose. Do they set meaningful, personal goals and then set out to achieve them? A sense of urgency because sales is based on business cycles and achieving your outcome just sometime whenever in the future is usually not appropriate in a sales environment because you're usually working to, sometimes a monthly, often a quarterly and definitely an annual target.

So, there's some level of urgency. So, not only do they want to achieve something, but they want to achieve it now. Then, there's the aspect of confidence and self-confidence. Sales is a change agent role. If you think about it at its most fundamental level, selling to someone is asking them to change something that they're currently doing or not doing because they're not currently buying from you. And if they're not currently buying from you, they need to make a change in order to become a customer or buy that next thing from you. So if you're going to be a change agent, you need a level of confidence to be able to challenge the status quo of your customer. You need to be able to push back on the current state of things and try to influence and be assertive with them to position different perspectives that might help them move towards that change.

That's confidence. Conviction. You've got to be convinced in the thing that you're selling. Again, a quote I steal from one of my mentors is that, “Buyers don't buy because they're convinced. They buy because you're convinced.” And if you’re convinced that the salesperson of the value you can deliver with the product services and company you represent, then again, that's gonna enable your success. Whereas if you're not, you can't sell something you don't believe in. Are they a curious person? Do they want to understand things? ‘Cause if you don't and you're not curious, then you're not going to do a good job understanding your customer and their needs and linked to this is do they have a willingness to learn? There's a funny quote, again, I take from another mentor of mine from several years ago who says, “When you're green, you're growing. If you're ripe, you’re rotting.” It's sort of a humorous way of saying, “Do you have a growth mindset? Do you have a growth mindset that sees setbacks as an opportunity to learn and embeds in you a sense of optimism for the future?” Because I'm really here to experience things and learn from them and develop and continue to grow.

So, that's critical for a sales person because they're living in a dynamic environment and what they always did before isn't always going to work. What else do we cover? We cover things like clock speed. Clock speed for me is you've got to be able to join the dots rapidly, understand what's going on and pivot your approach, or conversation according to the context of what's in front of you. Integrity and accountability are absolutely critical for a sales person because I'm sure we've all at some point felt we were talking to a salesperson who lacked integrity and it just feels like they would sell you anything for any reason just to get the deal and that's not appropriate. So, that touches on some of them. There are a couple of others, Brendan, but I hope that starts to build out a picture for, if you see those traits in yourself, then potentially, they are a great foundation for a sales career.

Brendan Rogers: There's something you said a fair bit earlier around the negativity bias and five times more likely that we took on a negativity bias. Does that explain social media and the fact that the negativity and the haters seem to get, I don't know. And sometimes it's a hundred times more exposure?

Alex Dawson: Yes is the simple answer. All PR is good PR, right? All PR is good PR even the bad stuff. And why is that? Because negative emotions focus our attention and they do it far more effectively than positive emotions. Positive emotions focus our attention as well. But that factor of five times more powerful is certainly, I believe part of the explanation for what we see on social media and mainstream media, not just digital media, because fundamentally, what marketers and people on those media platforms are trying to do is influence our behaviour. And in order to influence our behaviour, the quickest route from A to B are negative emotions, fear, anger, jealousy, et cetera, because it's emotions that drive activity and action, not thoughts. Thoughts don't drive action. Emotions fuel actions. And so, if people who are advertising on these platforms and participating on these platforms want to have an impact, the lowest common denominator for doing that is to drive negative emotions in their audience. Drive fear, drive anger, drive frustration, drive jealousy. And so, you see this play out unfortunately on these platforms which could be just as readily used for a much more positive outcome because they, you know, they're platforms for whatever we put on them, right?

The environment's neutral, it just adopts whatever we put into it. And because historically, the people on those platforms, advertisers, marketers, and so on and not to tar everyone with the same brush, ‘cause there's some very positive organisations out there, that they know that if they want to influence behaviour of consumers and other individuals, the negative emotions are the route to doing that. And to your point, when you get Donald Trump, for example, tweeting something that's highly inflammatory, he's gonna get many more hits and views and responses than the competitive politician looking to become president of the United States, who's saying reasonable and positive things because the psychology of the human says, our focus will be drawn to the negative, be drawn to the threat. On an evolution basis, it makes sense, right? Because if a saber-toothed tiger’s walking down around the rock next to you, you want to be able to see that five times more readily than the butterfly flying past, right? ‘Cause that's life and death stuff. Unfortunately, those inbuilt instincts in us are still there, the saber-toothed tigers are not. So, people play on that. And that's to your point why all that negative stuff gets so much more attention.

Brendan Rogers: So, Alex, again, you shared so much advice through this podcast. On your reflections, if there was a bit of advice that you wanted to give, whether it be salespeople in an environment today, whether it be sales leaders, or whether it be people wanting to move into sales and have some success around sales and sales leadership, what would that advice be for you?

Alex Dawson: I think the common thread to much of what we've talked about today, Brendan, and what I've shared is a simple truth or value set that says, “Seek to be of service”. Whether you're a salesperson, you want to be a salesperson, you're a sales leader, you want to be a sales leader or any type of leader, I guess the common thread I would say to success is selfless service to others. If you're a salesperson, that means really, truly understanding your customer and how you can add value and not focusing on the sale and the seller, but focusing on the buyer and their needs and the value that you have to offer. If you're a sales leader, it comes back to where we started the conversation. So, perhaps a neat way to tie it up. And that is, are you a selfish leader or are you a servant leader? Do your actions all get driven by one motive? And that one motive is how can I add value? How can I serve those I have the honour of leading? And how can I help them elevate and have greater success and thrive in life? I think if you put that lens on sales or sales leadership, then you're starting from the right place and will have great success as a result.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, you've got so much knowledge and wisdom in this culture, leadership and teamwork space. How can we get hold of you?

Alex Dawson: Feel free to check me out on LinkedIn. Also, I can be contacted on either of two emails, so it's either alex@positivescenario.com.au or an easier one perhaps to remember is AD@raingroup.com. More than happy if people want to follow up on any of the themes that we've discussed today. I really am passionate about this stuff and just love helping people go on this journey of servant leadership in sales. So, yeah. Happy for people to reach out either on LinkedIn or through email. Thanks, Brendan.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, everything you've said today, I just sit here and reaffirm that so much. That's probably why you and I get on pretty well. ‘Cause similar mindsets around this space. Thank you for sharing it, mate. Really appreciate it. Thanks for being a guest on The Culture of Things podcast today.

Alex Dawson: Thanks very much, Brendan. It's been an absolute pleasure and an honour. I really appreciate the invitation. Thank you very much.

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Brendan Rogers: I first connected with Alex back in 2017. We've actually never met face-to-face. I know this is a bit cliche, but whenever I chat with him, I feel like he's been a mate of mine for many years. Our views on leadership are very much aligned, especially how we defined servant leadership versus self-serving leadership and the impact of each style. For me, there's no other leadership style than servant leadership. It's a real shame that we have to specifically define it due to the prevalence of self-serving leadership.

These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Alex.

My first key takeaway. Culture starts with the leader. This is a common theme that keeps appearing through various episodes. What behaviours and attitude is the leader displaying? Are they the behaviours and attitude that you want in your organisation? If not, and you are the leader, you need to look at yourself first and make the necessary changes.

My second key takeaway. Servant leadership is real leadership. Are you a leader who seeks to be of service to people? Do you prioritise developing and enabling the success of other people? Do you feel that you have a duty of care to your people and feel honoured to be leading them? Do you enjoy coaching and supporting people to exceed their own level of expectation? If you answered yes to these questions, you are living real leadership.

My third key takeaway. The best leaders are always managing performance. Managing performance requires a servant leadership approach focused on coaching people. This requires you to ensure your interactions are always focused on helping people improve. If you have regular conversations around current performance, future performance and the steps to achieve future performance, this will drive ongoing improvement and maintain a focus on managing performance. As Alex said, don't be a reactive coach. Be proactive and always manage performance.

So in summary, my three key takeaways were: culture starts with the leader, servant leadership is real leadership, the best leaders are always managing performance.

If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a message at brendan@thecultureofleadership.com.

Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time.


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit thecultureofleadership.com to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.