Selling You: The ‘Gray Gap’ between Leadership & Sales ROI

“At the heart of someone’s success in unlocking referrals from their network is mastering the art of developing and cultivating meaningful — even magical — relationships with other professionals.” From The Natural Progression That Leads to Referrals by ‘Social Capital Coach’ Cynthia Greenawalt.

It was Tuesday afternoon and our team had finished our usual weekly huddle. We followed that with a marketing meeting where we were sharing feedback on a video I’d posted this past weekend — a draft video pitch on the question of, “What does SUM Innovation do?”

I had created this short, quick clip after an awkward networking interaction a few days earlier. It was in a casual conversation with two people during a walking tour of the Lower East Side. They were discussing their BNI-like group and I was making my effort to connect with them. When the moment arrived where one woman asked, “what do you do,” my response was “I run an accounting practice.”

Now as it turned out, I wasn’t listening and answered that question incorrectly. Sort of… Or at least, the impact was less than desirable from an ROI perspective.

Why? Well, first off, I didn’t actually say what I could have said. Though it is in fact the truth (I am the CEO of a firm providing accounting consulting services), I did not actually respond to the real question: “what do YOU do?” And as such, I did not share my bigger purpose. Or, as another employee noted, I did not ‘start with my why!’

In short, my answer lacked the passion of an answer that I could have given — an answer that would have inspired further conversation, or at least offered me the chance to express my best self. Instead, as another colleague pointed out, I could have responded by sharing what drives me the most: “I create jobs.”

Wow! Now, that’s a completely different response! And it’s a strange answer for those of you that don’t know my work in the world (the topic of another post entirely). But, this is important feedback: had I responded as my colleague suggested, the outcome of this otherwise ineffective networking connection could have been far more powerful.

And instead of taking the opportunity to share my passion for job creation, by empowering entrepreneurs and helping growing businesses, I inadvertently put myself into a tiny, little box known to most people as “the accountant.”

What I had said to this new connection instead resulted in this response, “Oh, we already have an accountant in our group.” And with that statement, I was more or less uninteresting to them.

So here I was, boxed in to the limited perception of what most people define as either their bookkeeper or CPA. It’s a very black & white understanding, boiled down for the purposes of simplicity, or worse, laziness. And, I lost the opportunity to WOW someone with our awesome team at SUM Innovation. As I look back, I must admit that my response was not okay!

Why? Because I need sales. We all need sales if we work in business. For the CEO to not have that answer down flat means lost opportunities abound. So, I had to get to the bottom of this! And as a wise fortune cookie once told me, “writing is thinking on paper.” So part of understanding this situation as an entrepreneur is taking a step back and saying, ‘what’s to learn from this situation?’ That was my prompt for this article.

So, half the moral for this story: know what you’re going to say when someone asks you, “what do you do?” It’s that simple. And answer the question with your why, because this is the real answer to that question anyway! It’s such an important moment, because what you say at the forefront of a networking interaction can make or break the outcomes for you and your business.

The good news, by the way, I managed some sort of a recovered response later in the conversation about ‘not being your typical numbers people’ and now have this incredible learning opportunity to refine my company’s messaging.

Which brings me to the second half of the moral of this story: know yourself, believe in your words, and say them boldly!

This has not only made for an important conversation with my team on our messaging, this also highlights the reason why we have not hit our sales goals for the year. And, it all comes down to a gap between leadership and sales.

As it turned out, this interaction served as the basis for a very powerful conversation with my coach, Michael Patrick Miller. Earlier Tuesday morning, just before our weekly call and my subsequent team huddle, he shared this article: “Why creativity is the secret to sales success.” We were continuing our conversation on last week’s goal, which was for me to ‘get curious about sales.’

Based on our chat about his article and the short obsession with an audio book about ‘fanatical prospecting’, I realized that I was stuck in my own mind. I was stuck between two points (Steps 3 & 4, if you do read his article), the space between my own limiting beliefs and the ability to actually take meaningful action on my path as a fully inspired, expressive and effective sales artist.

I shared with my coach my reflections on the interaction at the networking event, and a conversation I had with another colleague where we discussed the differences between where my company is today — and where it will be tomorrow — and I even fumbled through a pitch practice with him during our call. The result was this:

As it turned out, the underlying issue preventing me from taking serious action is my constant patterning of boiling things down to an either/or situation. It’s commonly seeing things as two-sided, which can be good when weighing your options. But, it can be very limiting when seeking opportunities — like your next big sale or an ideal referral partner.

The truth is, I put MYSELF into that box. Whether it was a lack of confidence in my word choice, my poor practice on answering that question, or simply laziness in the moment, I failed to authentically engage in a topic that really inspires me: job creation!

Yes, I would have opened up a whole can of worms in that very moment. Yes, I would have had to explain what I really meant. Yes, I may have had a chance to actually define what it is that SUM Innovation does on a day-to-day basis, and bridge that to the idea of creating jobs. Yes, I would have had to explore an uncharted territory with this stranger and it would have been a completely different conversation.

And that’s the point! I missed the opportunity to move into a space that was unknown. To ‘go into the gray’ for just a moment, where I was unwilling to compromise my passion but remain completely open with a zero-mindset to where this conversation could go. And, that I would not take the easy way out by short-changing the conversation (and myself) with the ‘easy’ answer to, “what do you do?”

Because I also missed the opportunity to take them to my gray space: as “the dancing CEO” referred to by several as “this Renaissance guy;” where everything is uniquely me and I exist as a “magical unicorn” in a world of business; as someone that practices Conscious Capitalism, supports the arts, helps global entrepreneurs, and creates opportunities for people, because it IS my job. And where there’s no way in you-know-where that I could exist in anybody’s tiny little box a.k.a, “the accountant.”

The conclusion of my coaching session was this: that my power as a creative sales person is the chance to actually live in that gray space. To not live a life of either/or, but instead to truly embrace the diversity of experiences, to chart the unknown, and to do so in support of our clients’ growth, because of our “uniqueness, nerve & talent,” as RuPaul would say. In short, to live authentically.

This is what’s available when you’re willing to take risks, to be an entrepreneur, and to thrive in the gray space. And as the sales person of your own company, you can take a step back and recognize that every interaction you have with a person is an opportunity to create something amazing. Every moment is worth exploring as an opportunity to enroll another person into your vision, mission and values.

Take the stage, fearlessly. And, if you open yourself up and listen to the people around you, at least you get to learn something new. Yes, you might find your next client opportunity. But more importantly, you gain the experience of knowing yourself as a leader. This is the ‘gray gap’ and it’s all about loving what you do and sharing it with the world — the sales will follow.

NEXT STEP: Experiment with a draft video in your email signature.

One awesome experience as a result of these events, aside from the opportunity to learn and improve my ability as a salesperson, is the feedback I’m getting on my video. As an experiment, I added this to my email signature, “P.S. I’m working on my video pitch (draft one) & would love your feedback!”

I linked “my video pitch” directly to the YouTube channel and people are watching! I’m getting some amazing feedback and it’s a scalable chance to share with my contacts a bit more about SUM Innovation. So give it a try yourself and see who responds. You just may get a client out of this experiment too.

Mathew HeggemComment