Colin Nanka is the Senior Director of Enablement for commercial sales at Salesforce and one of the many Trailblazers that work at our company. His story about how he learned to persevere through a challenging sales cycle embodies everything it means to be a Trailblazer. He had to dig deep, reframe his approach, and learn in order to succeed. Read on to find out how he turned a bad selling year into his most profound career transformation.

I’ve been in a selling or leadership role for 20 years. In 2007, I had one of the best years of my sales career. I was invited to Salesforce CEO and Chairman Marc Benioff’s house in Hawaii to celebrate our President’s Club and Chairman's Club awards with 20 other sales professionals. It was incredible and one of the highlights of my career.

In 2008 and 2009, with the market downturn, everyone’s sales job became exponentially tougher. Our president at the time warned us we would need to work twice as hard just to make our quota. I didn’t listen, and I wasn’t ready for the mental challenge it would take. Oddly enough to me at the time, many of my peers who joined me at the dinner in Hawaii would continue to persevere and achieve solid-to-remarkable years. What was I missing?

I decided to look elsewhere. I took a three-week vacation to Africa to clear my head and gain perspective. I raised money to help rebuild a local school in Tanzania and did some soul searching along the way. When I returned to work, I decided I needed to further invest in myself. I tapped into mentors and other Trailblazers inside and outside the company and got curious. How did they perform at the highest levels and recover from failure?

Here is what I learned: 


Be okay with failing.

Own your failure and learn from it. Just because you fail, that doesn't make you a failure. As one of my mentors stressed with me, learning to recover is crucial. I needed to fail to understand both my strengths and gaps and to up my resiliency and grit. Resiliency to me is how you get more comfortable being uncomfortable in high-pressure settings. I’ve found that a great resource on failure and reinventing yourself is Adam Grant’s book The Originals.


Have grit.

Grit is going the extra mile when you feel you have nothing left in the tank. I can tell you from some of the adventure races I have participated in over the years, that when you think you have nothing left in the tank, there is quite a large reserve you can tap into. If you are willing to flip the filter on the way you look at the world from negative chatter to a growth mindset and refocus on a powerful question, this gets you moving toward the answer. For me, the question always is “what is the learning opportunity here?” True Trailblazers have the grit to embrace learning experiences like this and let them push you to the next level.


Accept difficulty.

I let obstacles get the best of me. Once I understood visualizing my way through my goals and accepting any difficulties I would encounter, then I was better prepared to handle difficulties when they actually presented themselves. Marc Benioff’s V2MOM approach helped ground me in the concept, as well as my running mentor, Ray Zahab, who has run across the entire Sahara and Gobi Deserts (2,000 miles). Two thoughts here: First, think about how Olympic athletes approach their sport. They're laser focused on the fundamentals and see themselves on the podium well before they get there. Two, think through what was once difficult for you — a big account, a tough customer. What did you overcome to work through that challenge?


Seek accountability.

Any goal worth achieving takes a village to accomplish. I looked to other Trailblazers across my company who were disciplined, accountable, and consistent and created a mastermind group. We shared our best ideas and held each other accountable. We met every Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. in the office for two years. It was an absolute game changer. We held ourselves to a very high standard for sharing our best ideas, having courage, and realizing the potential in each of our lives. These colleagues have turned into life-long friends and have since gone on to lead hundreds of people at Salesforce and beyond.


Invest in yourself.

I took the StrengthsFinder course and test to identify what I was truly good at. I worked with an executive coach (who I have had for eight years) to build on my strengths and shore up my weaknesses by partnering with other people. This was an additional layer of accountability and wisdom I can never replace.


Be patient.

Going through difficult moments is not fun. Your natural inclination is going to be "get me out of here … and fast." But more often than not, challenging parts are where the most learning comes from. Having the patience to slow down and evaluate what you're doing right or wrong not only helps you get through the crappy moments, but more importantly, helps you master your craft and avoid such moments in the future. I can point to specific instances where patience and running toward a difficult role instead of running away from it have accelerated my career. Talking things through with a mentor can keep you grounded.


Get a mentor.

Mentoring starts with modeling the way, and courage starts by taking the first step. What I learned from those who have shown me the way, I have paid forward in supporting others and mastering my own craft. If you set out to be a "Trailblazer," you also need to help others down the path. I also firmly believe in lifelong learning, and as much as I have to share, I have to learn. Knowing you never know enough leaves you always open to advancing your craft or career. You will be surprised how often people are willing to mentor you (or have suggestions on who would be a fit) if you ask. I currently mentor five to 10 people on a regular basis, and what I get in return is equally of value to me.


“I can point to specific instances where patience and running toward a difficult role instead of running away from it has accelerated my career.”

- Colin Nanka, Senior Director, Enablement for Commercial Sales, Salesforce


Colin knew what it took to be a Trailblazer in his field, and fought hard to get there. Do you know what being a Trailblazer means for you? We'd love to hear it! Tweet us using the hashtag #BlazingTrails.

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