Courage? Sticktoitiveness? Testicularity? Tenacity? Empathy? Resiliency? Amiability? Challengery? Strategery? Positivity? Attitudidinality? And the winner is...
D. None of the above.
Now before I answer this 64 million dollar question, I will quote Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt:
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
It is not the critic who counts; not the [hu]man who points out how the strong [hu]man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [hu]man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if (s)he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his/her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
My answer in 2015 with the axis of evil being commoditization, complexity and infinite cloud-based competition is... Survey says!:
The ability to develop sound business acumen in order to analyze businesses effectively and generate profound new insights that help customers reframe and visualize critical aspects of their business in novel, new and disruptive ways.
In a word: Insightfulness
Let's unpack this bold statement. No matter how much of a winning personality, positive attitude, team player and willingness to work hard would traditionally give a field salesperson an edge prior to 2010, it's unlikely to even land a meeting circa 2020. Why? Without a provocative insight to crowbar open the door against 300 extremely similar messages in a CXOs inbox, you're toast! The days of Dale Carnegie are a given. This is like touch-typing skills, it's no longer a profession unto itself, a certain level of computer literacy is simply expected as table stakes. Placing Microsoft Excel or Word on your CV is expected and frankly, not even necessary.
If you master insightfulness, which is defined as the ability to analyze business models from an analytical financial level, to a strategic level and even a technology cusp level and synthesize these crystalline insights into tangible actions in a plan that a client can take to improve even incrementally, you will have a Herculean edge.
Even if you've ever been a victim of agism, or patently you are competing in this still discriminatory world of gender and cultural bias, even if you are a self-described Luddite, or introvert: this quality of insightfulness alone will ensure that you not only land opportunities, but that you rapidly transition to meeting with clients and riding the light beam of trusted advisor status.
You don't need an MBA to accomplish this level of insight. Remarkably, books on insight selling and challenger methods can often simply reaffirm the importance of this skill-set over and over again without necessarily giving you a concrete set of steps to actually do it. You need a treasure map to the fishing rod which is the insight generator and creativity within your own head. Don't discount a mastermind group that meets weekly just to brainstorm unique insights in an industry grown stale with cacophonous white papers declaring the winners and losers in quadrants.
To develop this acumen I would recommend books like Blue Ocean Strategy and Bottom-Line Selling by Jack Malcolm where Jack stresses reading the balance sheet, gleaning insight from an annual report and ways to understand the true business situations customer's are facing from the corner office vantage point. Blue Ocean is a great way to leverage a strategic process called a strategy canvas to start thinking differently about unique and compelling value that is completely differentiated from the competition.
From a military strategy perspective, this is called outflanking. From a branding or Al Ries perspective, it's declaring a new market and being the self-proclaimed leader.
Other methods include First Principles thinking which Elon Musk is famous for and Design Centred Thinking. One great way to get here is to ask yourself consistently, "If placed in my customers shoes, how would I revolutionize their business model knowing what I know and extrapolating around the bend based on my unique experience in the channel?"
Studying disruptive innovation from Harvard Business Review, Geoffrey Moore of Crossing the Chasm, Steve Blank and Clayton Christensen essays may seem like the fodder of pedantic entrepreneurs but they're very much applicable to tuning your ability to see the world differently.
Building your insight acumen is not something that is typically trained on in a sales workshop where processes, scripts and question sets are drilled and rehearsed. How you sell, how you look at the world, how you approach business is your unique footprint on the ecosystem. This is the snowflake or prism of your mind that truly becomes your calling card over a long career inside an industry or even if you're brand new to a market or the market is white hot, it's the genesis of your personal brand.
The generally held idea is to assess your marketplace, become a subject matter expert (again, no advice as to how) and bring back insights to your prospects and clients in this way to in effect, chum the waters so the sharks bite. This is a traditional view but risks commoditization of even these insights. The top salespeople, the Falcons that are soaring past quota year after year, are actually advising clients at a high level on positive risks worth taking: hardware to the cloud, opex from costly capex, open source from closed, manual to automated, mobile computing paradigms, Internet of Things. Tectonic shifts. These technology megatrends that are rendering B2B environments a great deal more like B2C cannot be neglected.
I may be debated on this point. I think persistence is the old world standard. It's a given. Dale Carnegie to a tee is a must. It's the essence of beguiling, as Guy Kawasaki encourages.
But what's going to get you into the meeting? What's going to preference you in the RFI? As Ago Cluytens state: "Lead with value." I would say a heat-seeking key insight will stop them in their tracks.
If you can generate one unique insight, you can become a font of insights and become a resource for not just sound great ideas to satisfy the conservative spectrum of the audience, but big bold hairy moonshot ideas for those mobilizers and disruptors in the accounts.
Everyone is looking to be inspired and many are looking for a magic bullet. Strategic sales has become a collaborative process where those that lead with insight, help their prospects and clients unlock insight and build synergistic masterminds that spawn new realms of knowledge and innovation will rule the new world.
The modern sales falcon is indeed an anomaly. A merchant of insight, she alights on the air currents of fractal levels of technology singularity driven by insights only she can create and share.
If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.
Main image photo by Flickr: Stefan Groen