Adversity Creates Opportunity

The coronavirus outbreak has reminded us all that with adversity comes the challenge to find new ways of approaching our day-to-day lives. This is especially true in our jobs, which often require personal interaction. I am a sales consultant to a machine tool distributorship that has seven salespeople who are now unable to make face-to-face contact with their customers and prospects. The company asked me to help find effective ways for its sales reps to utilize their time in this shelter-in-place world.


Malcom Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point, describes times of change, like the one we are in, as having a “stickiness factor.” In the context of education, he even refers to that factor as a “virus.” He discusses how Joan Gantz Cooney set out to start an epidemic. Her target was three-, four-, and five-year-old children. Her agent of infection was television, and the virus she wanted to spread was literacy. What Gantz wanted to do was create a learning epidemic to counter the prevailing epidemics of poverty and illiteracy. She called her idea Sesame Street.

Gladwell says, “The messenger matters; messengers are what make something spread. But the content of the message matters too. And the specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of ‘stickiness.’ Is the message – or the food, or the movie, or the product – memorable? Is it so memorable, in fact, that it can create change, that it can spur someone to action?”

Teaching the young to read via television was a radical new idea at the time, something created to deal with a new technology. Our current business dilemma is not dissimilar. We are faced with creating whole new channels for sales. We are at a tipping point and we need a “stickiness factor.”

Here are some of my thoughts on “stickiness factors” that could produce opportunities for messenger salespeople.

  1. The Social Distancing Factor – Almost overnight, remote work has become mainstream. Companies around the world are encouraging their employees to work from home to prioritize the health and safety of their workforce and communities.Messenger, Salesperson Opportunity – Spend this valuable time wisely by focusing on a daily schedule and doing some deep thinking about strategic planning. Many forms of new technology are available for deployment. Are you and your company using them? Remember, there are recent examples of many companies who lost their competitive edge to other businesses when tipping points occurred: Blockbuster to Netflix, Eastman Kodak to the many digital camera devices including smart phones, Motorola to LG, Samsung, Sony, VIZIO, etc.
  2. The Immunity Factor – We are staying at home to protect ourselves from an outside virus that can attack our immune system and cause serious illness. This has created a situation in which we can no longer participate in the traditional face-to-face way of doing business. We need to look for new and more efficient ways of selling products.
    Messenger, Salesperson Opportunity
    – Over a cup of coffee, one at his home and one at mine, I demonstrated how to use ZOOM to the owner of the tool company. We spoke via audio and video for over an hour on various business issues. As a result, I will be teaching his reps how to use ZOOM for appointments with their top clients. Virtual sales calls actually save time and expense. The average person-to-person sales call can be from 2-4 hours when you include transportation, waiting in the lobby, etc. From a home office, via online technology, a salesperson is able to make at least one call per hour without leaving his desk. By using new types of video communication, it is possible to build a level of trust and rapport with a client in thirty minutes, whereas using more traditional sales call techniques may require weeks or months of your time.
  3. The Distance Learning Factor – We have seen the maturation of institutional online education in the last decade but few of us have had the time to build them into our work schedules. Unless mandated or out of necessity, most of us have not prioritized the time needed to incorporate these valuable learning tools into our sales process.
    Messenger, Salesperson Opportunity – Now is the time to embrace distance learning. I just finished a ZOOM webinar, in which the instructor taught more than 1,000 people next steps in conducting virtual meetings. This week, I will be participating in three virtual, interactive meetings with content on consulting, leadership, and basic sales training. I will also be attending three webinars covering educational course work, leading virtual meetings, and product training. I am taking advantage of obtaining the latest information on the best platforms to help me continue to do my job effectively. I am also using online audio books that enable me to review and analyze many educational publications before buying a hardcopy.
  4. The Rapid Response Factor – We have already experienced the impact of the internet and wireless communications on customer expectations. In the last ten years we have seen delivery times move from weeks to within a few days.
    Messenger, Salesperson Opportunity
    – From my home office, I have witnessed at least two dozen vans making deliveries around the neighborhood in a given day. A large portion of these are next-day drop offs, the new norm. Out of concern for contracting the virus, our expectations for delivery of all kinds of items, like drugs, groceries, hardware, etc., have skyrocketed. Is your company ready to implement the delivery of its products, faster and more efficiently to meet customer expectations?
  5. The Surreal Factor – We are all experiencing a strange, unreal dissociation from our normal lives. Our schedules have been disrupted as never before. We have been moved from having to juggle agendas to fit more and more into our day, to a surreal sense of time when the ability to simply leave the house is uncertain.
    Messenger, Salesperson Opportunity – Several people have mentioned to me that this freakish distortion of normal has given them a sense that they need to have better control of their lives. This is a time to get organized and create goals that suit the circumstances. This new reality will create innovative opportunities as never before. Use this valuable time to fine tune your organizational and goal setting skills?

The Messenger and the Message

My daughter is a psychologist in Pasadena, California. When the pandemic forced her to stay at home, she had to change her counseling process and began online face-to-face meetings with her clients. This was a radical transformation for both parties, but my daughter finds that from the comfort of her home she has actually been able to improve therapeutic results. Both psychologist and patient are more relaxed, and this has resulted in a faster, deeper, and longer engagement. As Gladwell describes in his book, both the messenger and the message have changed.

In this crisis, we are all experiencing rapid change. We need to pay attention and find ways to adapt. The consequences of not taking advantage of these changes will leave you in the world left behind when the crisis is over. We all need to work toward being part of a future that is better than the past. Be innovative, get sticky, and stay well.   



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