Tom Peters is fond of quoting retired Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, who once said: “If you don’t like change, your going to like irrelevance even less.” I like the opening line to one of Tom’s books, I think it was Liberation Management, just as well: “The crazy past is going to look like a mellow prelude.”
We live in a time of extraordinary, exponential, and disruptive change. Society as we know it is being disrupted by the force of new technologies, the forces of revolution, the undermining power of commoditization, and the displacing power of disintermediation. Economic upheavals are not only coming with greater regularity, they are deeper and they last longer.
All in all, it’s disruptive change of the first order with the promise of more to come. Don’t stand by and wait for the gold watch. It’s scary . . . and it’s also so empowering for those that would embrace the change. You are the sharp end of the spear, and that means you are on the front lines of change. Being anything less is the fast track to irrelevance.
Your Plan to Grow
To avoid being irrelevant, you have to grow. And fast! You have to try on new beliefs and replace your old limiting beliefs. Clinging to the past won’t help you; you have to let go. You have to unlearn your learned helplessness.
My favorite example of an unhealthy belief and the learned helplessness that accompanies it is the ancient sales guy in his mid-40’s (of which I am one), suggesting that he doesn’t need to adopt the technologies that exist now to succeed in sales. Suggesting that he can’t learn to use computers doesn’t hold much water when the even-more-ancient 60 year-olds make up the fastest growing demographic on Facebook.
The belief that what you did in the past will be enough to allow you to succeed now is the most dangerous belief you can hold on to. It isn’t going to be enough. It’s time to grow. Or else.
Avoiding irrelevance means that you are going to need a new set of beliefs for a new age. You are going to need the accompanying skills for a new age, too. You are going to have to learn how to operate in the new normal that is constant and never-ending disruptive change, and you are going to have to level up your sales skills.
You are going to have to learn new sales approaches that you can add to your existing skill sets. You are going to have to learn to use the new tools of business, like it or not. You didn’t get to vote on whether or not you were going to use the telephone, and you don’t get to vote on whether or not you communicate with your clients using the methods that they prefer. You are going to have to learn to be a subject matter expert in whatever it is you sell as well as a subject matter expert in that area of the businesses you serve.
You are going to have to develop greater leadership, management, and change management skill sets. You are also going to have to believe that your very depends on your adaptability, your resourcefulness, your resiliency, and your ability to adopt new beliefs and new skill sets.
Surviving and thriving means growth.
Your Plan to Contribute and Create Value
The way in which you created value in the past is no longer going to be enough, either. In sales, the idea that you create value simply by helping your prospective clients to understand your offering’s features and benefits hasn’t really been enough to allow you to win and create value for a long time, despite how easy it is to fall into this trap when you have a constant flow of new features and benefits to sell. It’s also no longer enough to deal with the tactical level challenges about how to benefit from whatever it is you sell.
You only avoid irrelevance by moving up the levels of value creation and moving towards strategic. The reason one of your plans for growth has to include business acumen is because that is where the real value creation for your client lies. You are valuable when you can help your clients further their businesses.
You are relevant when you are a strategic advantage by creating value for your clients in a way that helps them compete in their space, by helping them to create value for their clients and customers, by helping them to increase their revenue, by helping them to improve their profitability, and by helping them to control their costs.
You are relevant when you act as part of your client’s management team, helping to produce the outcomes that they need and helping them to create their future. You are relevant when you are a deep well of ideas that will help your client to further their business. You create value when you help your clients to see around corners.
If you would be relevant, you are going to be this new value creator.
Your Plan to Build Your Brand
You are your own brand. Your brand is made up of who you are, what you know, and how you create value for others.
Building your brand requires that you focus on growing your skills and abilities in a way that makes it easy for people to first buy you. You have to be relevant.
Building your brand also means improving your ability to create value for your clients and dream clients. You move away from pitching your product, service, or solution and towards creating a higher level of value creation, a strategic level of value creation.
Your brand must be relevant. You must grow, adopting new beliefs and new skills. You must create a different—and greater—level of value for your clients and dream clients. Anything less is irrelevant.
What are the changes that make this time so disruptive? What forces are at work?
What is your plan to grow and develop new beliefs and new skills to take advantage of these changes?
How are you going to create a higher level of value for your clients and dream clients in the future? How are their expectations changing?
What is your brand going to stand for? Is it going to be relevant?