Sales in a Pandemic. Did not see that coming!

Four years ago, I moved from agency to sales and at the time and since, a number of agency colleagues asked me about how the cross over was and asked what I had discovered. There is so much to learn in making the move and I have learned a lot along the way and more than just sales. I have solidified my leadership journey further and grown as a human. One thing four years ago I had not considered was how sales would be in a Pandemic where I have not visited the office in close to nine months and seen members of the team in person only once. That was not in the instruction manual.

By this time last year I would have visited every sales team in every country at least three times for varying lengths of time, I would have had client meetings in every country, presented at a number of conferences, attended CES, Cannes and Dmexco at a minimum. I would have eaten my body weight in pasta, Tapas and shit airport sandwiches. I would have taken at least 30 return flights. I would be exhausted but I would be full to the brim of people interaction. If you run a sales team from UK to Dubai, this is what you have to, this is sales.

Instead, I have been in my room, across the corridor staring at my screen, for nine months.

Sales leadership is something that Is heavily influenced by the human interaction. The people interactions are huge, people feed off each other in a very immediate way and momentum comes from those relationships. I have seen teams go up or down very rapidly based on those engagements. Morale is very fluid and so in the last nine months we have all had to adapt dramatically. I want to pause and give a huge shout out to all those sales leaders out there, a selection I have had a chance to talk with and know they are feeling it too!

The Pandemic has been like being in a car, seeing the corner coming but not having a steering wheel to turn, at least in a recession the steering wheel was turning to the team, brainstorming, taking refuge in humour and finding camaraderie of facing something together, maybe a drink, maybe a meal, a fitness class, a pool night, things to break up the relentlessness. This time it has been different and every single one of us in our industry has had to adapt and fast.

I can talk personally that going to countries and walking in the office gives you a chance to chat, speak to different people, learn about people on the fly. You can talk to them directly, you can get the feeedback, questions asked are important to me and in-person time tends to help draw that out. The Hangout/Zoom/Teams set up means that is very hard in a larger group and you get the sense you are broadcasting the whole time, thats my biggest sentiment, you are on broadcast, one way dialogue. It does get better in smaller groups of course but there is still an element of that, especially with people having to keep up with dialogues not in their first language. I think the biggest casualty of Zoomday is we tend to cut out the personal chat, or to a bare minimum and thats where we lose the connections, and spare a thought for all the new people who started in a lock down, we have had many and I have made a point of speaking to them all (ongoing!) and I am amazed at how positive they are and pleased our teams are rallying around them BUT excited for when they get back into the buzz!

So when I look back on this year, what have we changed, how did we do it and how in all this craziness did we win Sales Team of The Year?

  1. Agility: This comes top if the list for me. We all put so much store in strategy, we must have a plan and stick to it, this year was about how do we adapt that plan or indeed throw it out. Everything from how we interact, commission plans, market insights, obviously type of engagement, turn around times, business rules around bookings etc. The pace of adapting was amazing to see. My biggest goal was sharing of ideas/work/ideas across the region, the amount the teams have been inspiring each other has been incredible.
  2. Brand: In sales, what you sell is crucial of course and Spotify Advertising stepped up in the last nine months. A drum beat of insights, updates, analysis (not to mention some big acquisitions and announcements) allowed the team to be active in market, visible and relevant. Turning Pandemic insights into something marketable. Marketing that would have taken weeks was signed off and pushed out fast. Big shout out to our marketing teams.
  3. Offline to Online: Linked to above, the business had to get off its drug of live events, a focus in sales we take for granted, no Cannes, no Dmexco, no Festival of Media, and all the local events, our businesses are tuned to that. The transition to online was amazing to watch – LoveAudio events online were run across the region and drew huge crowds, it was a pleasure to see all those pulled together. A topic for another day, but a lot of pros to these online events.
  4. Team: Yes we would all agree that we are burned out with video calls. However, it was still important to bring people together and build team spirit. I literally cant think of a single thing we would do in person as a team that did not make it onto hangouts! Yoga, fitness, cooking, quizzes, training, drinking, eating, nail bars, hairdressing, concerts, interviews. You get the idea. All of these supplemented with chat groups that never stopped with humour and chat rolling every day – and of course Rak’s music playlists being pumped out every day.
  5. Empathy: Something that I know has been on all my leads minds, how to make sure they can look after their teams and how each member of the team has been looking out for each other. This has been huge and taken a big extra step in how we think about each other. When you are together every day those conversations happen more easily and frequently, so through these incredibly stressful times, taking extra time to think about your colleagues and reach out has been crucial. A big shout to the teams that lead amazing ERGs like Heart and Soul supporting everyone. Has this made us all more empathetic than before, thinking more laterally about the team, I hope so.
  6. Sales skills: I will say that as a sales team we have got better at sales. I am talking about Spotify but I am willing to bet it is beyond us. Sales changed this year. We had to listen to advertiser needs more than ever, we had to be agile in our solutions, we had to adapt what we had to support the brands looking to spend and indeed those who didnt. We had to dig deep into what sectors were benefitting and those that needed time. It has been so tough this year, but I genuinely think we grew as a team and we come out better than we went in as regards sales skills. I have learned a lot personally and when I moved to sales this was not one I had prepped for, but what a learning curve.
  7. Our clients: I think as an industry we came together like never before. The feeling of unity in such difficult times led to some meaningful questions, genuine conversations about life and business. We were all collectively grappling with what was in front of us and helping each other wherever possible. There was an openness to learn from each other, I felt as a sales person that clients wanted to hear what we had to say and apply it to their own challenges. Too often media brands are put in a box and only opened up when there is a very relevant connection. This last nine months has been more about learning collectively and thinking differently. Thank you to all those advertisers and agencies I have worked with this year!
  8. Onboarding: We have had to be really thorough around the process of onboarding and make sure people have a real chance to learn about the business. I think this is a good thing that will stand us in great stead for the future hiring, lock down or not.

There is so much more I could cover, to repeat something above in summary, I just feel like as a person, a team, a business and as an industry we have grown in the last nine months and perhaps some of the new behaviours started in lock down will carry on beyond, when things are more normal. A personal thanks to my whole EMEA sales team who have been amazing these last few months.

So finally, what would I like to see continue in a form of normality, lets call it PV (Post Vaccine)? So from PV1 here are some things I would love to see continue:

  1. Not all client meetings have to be in person – default is ‘does this meeting have to be in person?’
  2. An openness to listen and learn and not pre judge what Media Brands have to say
  3. Purposeful meetings, shorter and more full with challenges and ideas
  4. Events being professionally run to embrace on and offline elements so they are more inclusive
  5. A camaraderie at an Industry level – thinking collectively and in a way we solve things together.
  6. Flexible working, more trust, everyone has proved they can work from home, lets find that balance

So we are coming to the end of this 2020, all 67 months of it (quote from #wrapped2020) and it could not have been harder, but has allowed me to grow, I hope the team as a whole has grown and learned, but there is no substitute, as a human being, to be around other human beings. Noone will persuade me otherwise.

Well done you all. Here is to 2021.

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