January 2nd

The calendar offers us an interesting opportunity in 2009. We revel on Wednesday night, December 31st and rest, recover and watch a couple of premier bowl games on Thursday January 1st. Now Friday the 2nd, that's an interesting bit of time to invest. How will you invest it? Some options:

1. Take down the tree and other holiday decorations and put the holiday behind you. 2. Watch the AT&T Cotton, AutoZone Liberty and Allstate Sugar Bowls in one long string (though none offer really great matchups). 3. Eat your first NutriSystem meals. 4. Do five things that will help you take control of your own business future in 2009.

If you chose number four, then carve out a few hours that day, get in a quiet place with your laptop and some coffee and dig in. Here are the five things I'm going to do.

Segregate the Issues. The very best people in business ('Doers') are those who build strategies around things that they control. Others tend to obsess about market conditions, the economy and a host of other uncontrollable phenomena. (Call these folks 'victims.') So make a list or an excel document with one column called 'controllable' and another called 'uncontrollable.' Economic conditions or the amount of money a given client choose to budget toward online are clearly uncontrollable. Managing your time, reading business and strategy books that will make you more valuable to customers, writing better action plans for your accounts...all highly controllable. Post the list you create in a visible spot and be accountable to it. The hours you spend thinking and talking about stuff you can't control are wasted. Maniacally focus on the other column.

Create a Learning Agenda for Yourself. What will make you smarter and more vital to your company and your customers if you learn it this year? What area of expertise or insight will you 'own' in 2009? Perhaps its vertical knowledge of an industry. Or maybe expertise in a process or technology. If you're just doing your job you're doing yourself a disservice. Growth doesn't just happen; you've got to have a plan... a plan with dates, deliverables and action verbs on it.

Start a Network. No, not that kind. Plan an event - a dinner, a breakfast, a meeting at a coffee bar - in which you'll bring together a disparate group of your customers and other smart, interesting people you know. The agenda? No agenda. Don't worry about selling anything in this environment or being heard. Instead you'll be raising your own personal credibility and creating value where it didn't exist before. That group of people will see you as a connector and your relationships with all of them will grow exponentially. It's the smart, confident and valuable seller who says "Hey, you know who you should meet...."

Take Inventory. Write these words at the top of a page: First. Best. Only. Under them are two columns. One says "Me." The other lists the name of your company. What are the things you can be first to offer your customers? What are you truly best at? And what can only you offer? Fill each list with appropriate actions, capabilities, insights, executional tactics and the like. The "Company" column will help you define the core product and audience strengths. (Things you do that are not on that list are probably a bunch of commodity "anywhere" junk that's distracting you and your customers from connecting with your core value.) And the "me" column? Your personal strengths - these are the actions and capabilities that you will go to again and again as you compete effectively this year. These are the "plays" that you'll run to perfection instead of just falling into the 'automatic sales stuff' that will make you seem like everyone else. Or worse, set you up to play the other guy's game.

Believe. What do you believe in? What do you know to be true? What scenarios would you bet your house on? Far too many people in sales don't believe much of anything. Or if they do, they don't let that belief structure influence their work and their relationships. Your belief structure will serve you well. It will be a compass as you make decisions and it will be a magnet for interest and value. Be that seller who brings a point-of-view and core beliefs to your associates and customers. And watch your stature and influence grow geometrically.

Happy holidays everyone. See you on the 2nd.

Read comments on "Contemplate the Bottom"

"Great post Doug - ballsy, accurate, highly entertaining, equally motivating. At age 50, with 28 straight years of selling media on my odometer, I've seen plenty of real, rough road. This is bumpy, but still entirely paved. At my company, we're all-wheel driving right over this stuff, both hands on the wheel, pedal pinned firmly to the floor. It is entirely time for enthusiastic leadership and unmitigated opportunism.

"Good one Doug. Someone gave me a bumper sticker 10 years ago that still sits on my desk and I love it. 'Tough times never last in sales, but tough people do'." Comments? Questions? We want to hear them. Contact Us