Never Win Alone: 5 Pieces of Professional Advice for My Younger Self
I’ve spent my entire career servicing the staffing and recruiting industry, and it has been nothing short of incredible.
Throughout the course of my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the world’s largest staffing agencies and the individuals who lead them. The trajectory of the staffing industry and the year-over-year growth at Bullhorn, where I am a managing director, have presented me with amazing experiences that have allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. These last 12+ years have been exciting for me: I started as a business development representative in corporate headquarters in Boston before evolving into a managing director role on our enterprise team, where I now work remotely out of Austin, Texas.
I have been able to grow into the person I am today thanks to the mentors I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned through both good and bad experiences. Given the opportunity share some of the wisdom I gathered over the years with my younger self, here’s what I would say to him — and to anyone else just starting out on their professional path:
1. Bad Meetings, Misaligned Expectations, and Misunderstandings Are Inevitable
These things are going to happen. It’s all about how you respond to the adversity and learn from the experience.
With an analytical mind and an organized approach to task execution, you’d think that planning guarantees success in all of your conversations and meetings. You’re constantly chasing perfection and the satisfaction of meeting and exceeding expectations. However, the reality is that life throws curve balls. There are going to be times when everyone — colleagues, prospects, and even customers — isn’t on the same page. Not all meetings are going to follow an agenda or align with your presentation. Your first meeting with a client being transitioned to you will be a prime example.
You’ve done your homework; you’ve studied their business, read recent press releases and news stories, worked with the previous account manager, and spoken with platform owners. It’s not enough. The business owner has never spoken with you and isn’t excited about a transition. You’ll be frustrated that all of your efforts are going unnoticed, but it’s important you don’t mentally check out. This will be an eye-opening experience, an opportunity to see that sales doesn’t follow a checklist and that relationships across all levels of an organization are critically important. Embrace the experience and grow with it.
2. Stay Focused, and Be Flexible
Constantly set personal goals and lean on yourself for the motivation to reach them.
Sales professions are full of goals — monthly activity goals, quarterly booking goals, and annual growth goals — but you need to supplement them with personal goals so you don’t burn out and lose focus. Personal goals also allow you to hold yourself accountable, and never will this be more important than when you work remotely, like you will in Texas.
Transitioning from an office employee to a remote, home-based employee is challenging. A routine you’ve established over the years will be disrupted, and the face-to-face conversations you’ve come to love and rely on will be harder to have regularly.
Stay flexible and recognize the opportunity you have; use remote work as a catalyst to build a new and more efficient routine. Account for time zone differences and make sure you maintain (and build) relationships with your colleagues through any communication channel necessary. You’re going to miss the water cooler talk, but you’ll appreciate the new work/life balance and the flexibility a home office can grant you. Change is good, and if you embrace the short-term disruption, it’ll help you build some new skills.
3. Never Win Alone, and Never Lose Alone
This mantra comes from my colleague and friend Donny Payne, and it’s a very important one. Selling is a team sport. You’re going to collaborate with others to reach desired outcomes and land the win.
Early in your career, you’re going to be excited by the opportunity to win some deals and make a name for yourself. You’ll think you have what it takes to do it on your own and earn all the glory — and then you’ll lose, only to find out the lessons your colleagues have learned could have been applied to your campaign and changed the end result.
On the enterprise team at Bullhorn and in the sales organization overall, everyone is in it together. We’re a team first. That mentality has to extend beyond your peers on the team to include colleagues in all other functional groups, such as marketing, product, services, and support. Selling enterprise software and solving complex business issues require a collective group to work in unison, and it’s your job to identify the strategy and keep everyone organized. Delivering an incredible customer experience will follow when everyone is equally vested in the success of the client. Remember, you work with some of the most talented people in the industry, and they want to help you.
4. Sales Is a Short-Term Memory Game — Be Wary of High Highs and Low Lows
Sales is a results-driven career, and success is ultimately measured through production and quota achievement. However, it’s also important to remember that each year — and each quarter — the scoreboard resets. Sales is about what you have done lately; keep this in mind when measuring and responding to individual contributions, whether they’re wins or losses.
The work doesn’t stop when you win or lose. In fact, the stakes get higher. When a customer chooses your software or wants to add on to it, they’re entrusting you to help their business achieve key goals or outcomes. You can celebrate once you’ve guided them through a successful implementation and delivered on the sale.
You’ll also learn that your character is truly assessed in how you respond to the losses. People, both internally and externally, will take notice, and the relationships you establish will last beyond a transactional sale. Trust me when I tell you that not everything goes as planned; individuals who may have told you they were going in a different direction will call you months or years down the road looking to reopen a conversation.
5. Remember to Step Back and Appreciate the Journey
You’re the type of person who is constantly thinking about the next step and the next goal, measuring yourself against your colleagues and friends. But not all paths are the same. You need to appreciate what you’ve accomplished on your journey.
Once in a while, you should step away from the day-to-day to remind yourself how fortunate you are to have an opportunity to work for an amazing company that supports your growth professionally and personally. You’re surrounded by all-stars who want to coach, mentor, and provide feedback at any opportunity. Take it all in. If you do that, you’ll continue to grow, and your appetite for change, an agile work environment, and new responsibilities will be fulfilled. Hard work pays off, and you should celebrate your successes with family and friends, preferably on beaches in exotic locations (or wherever your favorite vacation destination may be).
As the saying commonly attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” While I have no idea what the next decade will bring, I can only hope for a bit more luck so I can continue to be proud of my accomplishments, the career path I’ve chosen, and the person I’ve become.
Greg LaGarde is a managing director for Bullhorn.