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Mobilise your ‘secret army’

by Isobel Rimmer
Indian Management November 2020

If leaders mobilise the full potential of every member of the organisation’s ‘secret army’—people who resolve demos, chase payments, carry out checks, deliver goods, supporting sellers, handle logistics and deliveries, address queries, and resolve technical glitches—then they can come out stronger post COVID-19.

COVID-19 has changed everything. We are living, working, and connecting differently, but one thing remains constant: the need to serve customers the best we can.
Servicing existing customers, identifying new ones, and retaining contracts and revenue streams are the lifeblood of every business. Whether you are a garage startup, going through an acquisition or merger, or an established global provider, sales and selling are essential to success. Henry Ford was known to say, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”

“But I don’t do sales!” is a cry we hear from engineers, lawyers, technicians, consultants, architects, designers—the world over. And yet, these are precisely the SMEs—subject matter experts—that customers want to connect with. They want their knowledge, their insights, their technical knowledge, and ability. As we emerge from COVID-19 with potentially leaner, more agile structures, business leaders need to ensure that everyone with customer contact—whatever their job title—understands the pivotal role they play in serving customers and building those vital business relationships.

It starts with being curious and an open, enquiring mindset
In a fascinating article (www.thebeautifultruth. org.uk ) published as the world went into lockdown, Elizabeth Smith makes the point that curiosity is both a behaviour and an emotion. And that when we are curious, we have a strong and genuine intention in our endeavours or cause.

Our challenge today is to enable everyone in our organisation to be even more curious about customers and prospects–curious about why they do things, do not do things, ask for things, buy from us, work with us, or do not work with us. It is not just the job of our ‘sellers’—it is everyone’s responsibility.

Curiosity is the happy virus that can help us come out stronger post COVID-19.

Because in every organisation, there is a ‘secret army’ of people who do not have the word ‘sales’ in their job title but are in daily, direct, and indirect contact with customers and clients. They are responding to queries, resolving technical issues, organising proof of concept or technical demos, chasing payments, carrying out checks, delivering goods, supporting your sellers, handling logistics and deliveries.

What they share—whatever their title, competencies or behaviours, whatever their job description—is that they are connected with your customers.

Some organisations have taken the step to try and teach these people how to sell. But that is often counter-productive—most of them would rather have their fingernails surgically removed than be seen as ‘sellers’. And, too often, traditional sales training can be seen as perhaps manipulative, pushy, or aggressive—the opposite of how the secret army wants to be seen. They did not spend their time in universities studying or learning their technical skills to become ‘sellers’.

Reframe selling for what it really is—helping someone solve a problem
Selling, in its simplest form, is about helping a prospect or customer solve a problem. If we can help them solve a problem, then they will choose to work with us, buy from us and, even better, recommend us, and refer us to others.

In a post-COVID world, recommendations and referrals are more important than ever. It was hard winning customers before, it is even tougher now. And it is more expensive too, five to eight times more, (depending on which research you read) to win a new customer than generate additional business from an existing one.

If we are to come out stronger in the context of COVID-19, then we have to ensure our people have the competence and skills as well as the motivation and desire. They need the right ‘mindset’, a practical ‘toolset’, and practices that create a standout ‘skillset’.

To unleash the potential and mobilise every member of your ‘secret army’, we have to first help them to be more curious about their customers—to open their minds to want to discover more about them. Elizabeth Smith believes that curiosity is the superpower we have overlooked for too long. With an open and curious mindset, we can develop deeper, more personal relationships. Post COVID-19, customers and prospects are more anxious and distracted.

Like us, they worry about what the future brings. We may refer to our business strategy as B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer) but customers want more, they want H2H (human to human) and this is where your secret army comes in. They can provide that human connection.

A toolset for success
Our secret armies need techniques and a toolset they can dip into. Not tricks or underhand methods. Think of it as recipe book. Can’t cook, won’t cook? Give them a recipe book that shows them how easy it is, step by step, to cook well and with confidence. Provide simple recipes that people can use, practise and make their own.

Giving your secret army tools and techniques that help them to be curious about customers in a more structured way, makes it easier to connect with people, to open up conversations and discussions and to share, naturally, our products and services in ways that will lead to stronger relationships and opportunities for growth.

By training our secret army, we unleash them to connect with our customers and grow revenue. And we can do that virtually too using webinars, online communities, via Zoom calls, or using Teams, Webex, or other platforms. Not only are we working differently post COVID, our secret army is learning differently too.

The tools we share, although simple in concept, are very powerful in application. Show people how to use them in the context of their role and watch them grow in both skill and in confidence, wanting to help their prospects and clients solve problems. And solving problems is one of the most motivating things we do—essential at a time when we need to feel positive and be resilient.

Connecting is human
There are four ‘natural’ stages that we go through as humans to humans: First we connect, then we discover things about one another, from there we share experiences, knowledge and ideas, and finally we collaborate on joint activities.

With a more curious mindset and a practical toolset for each of these four stages, business leaders can mobilise their people through practice, feedback, and encouragement allowing our secret armies to grow in confidence. Think of it this way: a skill is a technique you can use under pressure. If you try a new recipe, then it may take a few attempts to get good at it. But if I want to be able to do it really well and impress someone or create an amazing showstopper, it will take even more attempts.

The members in your secret army need support, encouragement, and feedback to use these tools and techniques every day. Managers and team leaders must model the way and lead by example showing their people that we are all responsible for customers and ultimately for revenue, whatever our role.

If we mobilise the full potential of every member of the ‘secret army’, then we can come out stronger post COVID-19. Encourage a curious mindset, provide tools and techniques and support them in how they apply them, and it can be done.

Isobel Rimmer is founder, Masterclass Training and author of the new book, Natural Business Development: Unleash your people’s potential to spot opportunities, develop new business and grow revenue.

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