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.

Corona Virus Log. I miss meetings.

Running a team in this climate is very hard right? I am navigating my way through these weeks, one day at a time, and i know that most of you out there feel the same. Since starting at Spotify my focus has been on trying to make sure I have been visible across the region, visiting markets, keeping regular management meetings going, and being out with clients wherever I have visited. I cant do any of that right now.  I have never seen the value more of face to face. I would defend an offsite all day long now.

I have always observed that sales is a business that over indexes on momentum, energy, determination and a strong dose of inter-personal skills. My view has been that one person can change everything in a sales team as a leader, much more so than in an agency, just a different dynamic, a different mentality. So what happens when you take that away. Well for me, I feel like it is really hard to understand and get your arms around whats happening. You cant judge the mood, you don’t read between the lines, the Hangouts with multiple people, stuttering, difficult calls where it is hard to reveal the true emotions of people, I feel like I cant connect. I hope they are coping, I hope we are saying and doing the right things, but it is hard to know.

Ignore the fucking Work from home articles: I have studiously ignored the articles on how to work at home, not because there are not some smart tips, but because every person is living their own challenge. So often in businesses we are forced to come up with guide lines, guard rails, suggestions and or rules, but I feel that right now they are all useless. We all want different things, we are all living a very private life. If we do an all hands, there are people in big houses, with big gardens and country side, through to people sharing a small flat with 4+ others, we are at various stages of lock down and length of shut downs, the rules don’t work. The only rule is let people work it out, let them adjust.

In defence of meetings: I know things will change, we will challenge a lot of what we have done before, the obese list of trade magazine events that we have all inflated will have to decline as we realise that we have lived happily without them as an example. That said I don’t agree with a lot of other stuff. There are some very vociferous attackers of meetings, I have come to miss meetings, I now wish I could sit in a room and discuss a plan with someone without the video glitching or wifi issues – it is SD vs HD. Its like emails, when people say that after they have done their emails, they can get on with their work..I am sorry but many of my emails are work, and many meetings help me achieve a lot and by god I miss them now.

Pros and cons of Lock down: I read a fascinating letter from someone in Italy who was predicting our future and the one thing that really struck me was the apathy, the lethargy, this view that we can do so much with our time, but in reality, life is being sucked out of us, one day at a time. It is being replaced on the positive side by some small wins, personally for me, that is spending more time with my family, as someone who travels relentlessly this is a bonus. I have never been at home with my son, outside of holidays ever, this bit is special. As I said above, we all have to do our own thing, I feel better doing constructive things either work related or home that have a clear start and finish, something I can tick off to drive progress.

In support of hearing from others: In the last few days I have reached out to clients from across the spectrum, I did not have anything to sell, I just wanted to hear from someone else, I wanted to learn what was happening in other industries, learn from others. I am so glad I did, it has been a good day today – thanks to those who spoke with me, I learned stuff and felt like I had moved on. It will be something I continue to do, I hope there are many more people I talk to over coming months – your shit is very interesting to me.

We are busier than ever: I have saved a commute of about an hour each way, thats two hours plus a day saved, and yet..I feel like I am constantly checking my watch, every day we attempt to do so much. Well being, work, home schooling, walking kid/dog, play with kid, work more, be mindful. Its a tread mill, I am now grappling with my agenda to get back on top of meetings and calls, I think we have to shift our days, we have to find a new way – I feel like we are trying to do everything, everyday?

What do I miss?

  • A relaxed chat with someone without straining for sound or vision
  • Being able to draw on a wall and brainstorm
  • Walk into a bar or restaurant and hug some friends
  • Some friendly laughing and joking at work
  • Getting on a flight to anywhere in the world and seeing people you know
  • Varied menus!
  • Seeing my son play with all his mates at football or just messing around
  • Seeing all the kids pour into school, all chattering away

I did not write this for any end goal, more a stream of consciousness. This blog has been going for 10+ years, it is a diary of my last decade plus and somehow it felt right to log a journal of this crazy time we are all living through. A friend of mine once said as we hit a tough part of a long run, ‘just put one foot in front of the other’ that seemed sensible at the time and right now, that is the best we can all do. Big hugs to everyone out there and best of luck with whatever way you choose to put one foot in front of the other.

 

Diversity is more than just Gender.

How can we adjust how we think about diversity? Diversity is currently dominated by gender, and there is so much going on in that space, which is fantastic, long may it continue, but there is a much wider issue we have to face together.  It has been some time that I have been going into schools and talking to students and seeing just how different our working environments are from all of these back grounds.

It is an area that for me is important we begin to focus on more, we pay lip service to it right now, so here are some thoughts about where we can all start to adjust and plan for the future. We should ask ourselves the difficult questions about what we all stand for and whether we really want to drive change.

As a group of companies we need to set some new rules of engagement for the industry if we are going to initiate change. Some of the scenarios that would be fantastic to see change are the following:

  1. Hiring has to come from outside of Grads, every business should be creating plans to hire a number of school leavers every year and from non white middle class backgrounds, and definitely not related to the boss.
  2. Every organisation should think about the make up of what they are doing, my latest observation of MediaWeek judges all being white middle class people is an example, I am certain that someone ticked the gender diversity box but nothing else.
  3. Think about the sub sets of organisations – if you are promoting female diversity and there is a room full of 500 white middle class people, we should not be content with that, we should be supporting diversity within gender.
  4. If you are creating a List of important people then it should not be the same old, same old, there are talented people out there, we have to find them and create inspiration.
  5. If we look at panels, events etc all you see is the gender discussion – we need to think outside of that, we need to think about how the panels are made up to represent the world outside.
  6. Kill two birds with one stone – if you focus on helping under privileged schools rather than the usual grad schemes, you will naturally drive diversity of thinking and people.

It is at the grass roots we are failing – we are not bringing in enough talent early on, when we do it is really fulfilling. Our work placement programme is in its infancy but it only pulls from state schools to make sure we are creating opportunities. It is something I am hopeful we can continue to grow, I would encourage everyone to start these opportunities if you have not already.

Whether it is mentoring, helping organisations that are trying to do this, the industry press, the Twitter commentators, can we all start asking our self the question of whether what we are doing is either bringing in diverse talent, or inspiring it through highlighting the talent we already have in the business. This is not a rant, it is not a preach, it is a gentle call to arms. After my last blog and twitter engagements on mentoring, I know there is so much appetite to do better on this, but it feels on the fringe, so hoping mainstream industry can lead the charge. I am excited to try and do more after engaging with some of the organisations that contacted me earlier in the month, hopefully we all can do our bit.

Mentoring: How can I help?

One really important factor that I have discovered since moving from agency to sales is the ability to do more, more easily at my level. The array of things that get categorised under ‘more’ is significant, but on the whole they all have one thing in common, a request for money. I am not exactly sure why, but generally speaking, sales companies find budget to support a whole range of causes. We are asked by charities, by clients, by industry bodies, by trade titles and so on. It is brilliant to be able to do so much to help out and at Spotify we really support a range of different organisations. I have enjoyed that so much for the last two years, it has been very fulfilling.

Thing is, I also feel like we jump around and try to do too much / everything and although that is admirable, it is also perhaps skin deep at times. As a company we can do this to a point, but as an individual it becomes even harder. One person, especially someone who is travelling a lot and has all the usual time pressures cant do everything so more recently I have been considering what is most important to me, and what have I really enjoyed.

A number of years ago I started Speakers4schools presentations, and I have consistently been doing them ever since. I am pleased to say that we then moved from just presenting to working with an extension of Speakers4schools, NextGen who encourage their speakers to create work placements in their businesses. I am hugely grateful to my HR team who have allowed me to do this, and all the band members across the business that supported with their time and expertise. More recently I have been thinking about how to focus my energies and try to do more with less time and what is it that I really enjoy and adds value. Mentoring has always been fun, not the deep, lets meet every two weeks for years type mentoring, but the shorter, more specifics advice that when given could make a difference to someone, and even get them a job, they would otherwise of not had the chance to get.

As I reflect on our industry with a real focus now on gender diversity and indeed wider diversity, I still feel as if we are talking to the same types of groups, we still have not truly  moved the agenda. My personal goal and where I can, hopefully with support of Spotify, is to try and help under privileged young adults who are not getting access to the expertise that some schools or areas do. Speakers4schools has introduced that to me, and I feel it is great in its own right, but would also serve to bring more diversity into our industry and so I wanted to explore how I could help. I need opportunities that can mould around a busy schedule so advice, mentoring, speed mentoring etc is interesting. Today I was amazed at the response to a simple tweet I sent this morning.

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The response was fantastic not a ‘likes’ count, but people passionately responding and making suggestions, and it served to highlight how many amazing things are happening, and so I thought it would be great to list out all those responses so everyone has a chance to identify opportunities that they may like to get involved in.

Female mentoring with BloomUK http://www.bloom.org/the-exchange

Brixton Finishing School for underprivileged young adults http://www.hoxtonunited.com/

Media Trust http://www.mediatrust.org

IAA Speed Mentoring sessions http://www.iaauk.london/events/iaa-mentoring

DevelopHer – Elevating women through community based opps http://www.eepurl.com/bJAKKL

Creative Mentor Network http://www.creativementornetwork.org

Mediatel Speed mentoring http://www.mediatel.co.uk/newsline/2019/05/02/sign-up-for-free-speed-mentoring-2/

There are others no doubt, so add in the comments if you want to keep it all in this article. Bottom line, there is the chance to give your time, and there are different routes you can take, but for me it is time to focus and I am excited to explore how I can help!