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Recently, I polled some top sales leaders whom I admire and who have made a meaningful impact on our company, their customers, and me. These men and women are the best of the best. I asked them to share some examples of the grit that has defined moments in their lives, and what recommendations they have for sales pros looking to develop their own high level of grit.

So, What’s Grit?

Grit is the figurative, emotional tough coating you build up after going through hardships in life. The great psychologist Angela Duckworth gave grit some shine during her now-famous TED talk where she defined it as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out — not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years — and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

For me, grit comes from accepting the challenging circumstances I’m about to endure, visualizing my way through them, and then committing 100% to overcoming them, no matter what.

Picasso put it more artfully: “Inspiration will come. But it has to find you working.”

Choosing Your Team

One of our VPs, Jeff Sinitean, Mid Market, Chicago, said, “I recently had a rep having one of the worst months of his career. This is a guy that is a future leader in this company and someone that always goes the extra mile for the team. He was nowhere near quota, but he sent me a text at 8:30 p.m. on a slow month and said he got the prospect to buy a single license so we had another transaction coming over the finish line. He knew the team was going to need every little bit [of help] to get to the number we called as a team — and he was going to make sure he contributed, no matter what.”

Chris Reichenbacher, Senior AE of Financial Services, a peer of mine who consistently finds his way into our top 1% of sellers, shared some success on a recent deal: “Our customer was testing one of our products, and we hit a snag in the setup. We all worked through the weekend to address the issues. Without the appreciation I show for them, I would not have [received] the support [needed to get] this win together. Creating your extended team at the beginning of the year is critical.

Riding the Highs and Lows

As I have learned in my 20-year sales career, progression is not always up and to the right. It can be messy — with downturns, lateral moves, new companies, and the eating of some humble pie. One piece of advice has always stuck with me: Think of your year like a rollercoaster. The stress on the ride comes when you take sharp turns, and surge upward and downward. Don’t overcelebrate the highs and don’t get too down on the lows. The less you travel on the emotional track, the more energy you will have to finish the ride.

Brandon Murray, Senior AE of Financial Services,  talked about how grit can help when you change companies. One minute you can be a top-performing sales rep, and the next you decide to take a gamble by moving to a new company. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. The growth from a new experience can never be taken away, even if that experience doesn’t work out in the long-term: “Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Don’t let them get you down. Work hard, and know the track of success is a winding road ... not a straight shot.”

“This can manifest itself on being willing to take on a new territory that has underperformed in the past —  one known as ‘too hard’ — and battling through the adversity to change the culture to one of success,” said Dave Borrelli, AVP Canada.

We often have the blinders on, so we see only the short-term view. If we can get help from peers, leaders, and mentors to raise our gaze for the long term, we can shift the expectations that are on us, and help ease our emotional burden.

Finding Your Way Out of the Anxiety

It took me a decade into my career to really understand the term “acceptance” — that is, being able to identify the obstacles ahead — knowing they’ll be there and they may not be fun — and then visualizing my way through and over them.

When you hit obstacles, it can be hard to see the bigger picture and muster the energy to keep going. As Josh Guttman, RVP Health Care, one of my long-time colleagues and a current sales leader,  said, “Know your own ‘why.’ What is your own motivation? For some it is about the pride of hard work. For some, it is to provide for their family. Whatever yours is, find it and think about it every minute of every day.”

Normalizing Failure

Jeff Bezos recently shared a favorite quote: “Failure is the tuition you pay for success.” What is common across all sales leaders I know or have interviewed is: They have normalized failure. It’s part of the learning process. If you haven’t failed, you are not trying hard enough.

One colleague, Fariba Babaeizadeh, SMB Manager, shared her grit-defining transformation: “I was transitioning into a more senior sales role — bigger accounts, and transition from transactional deals to chunkier, slower, and strategic [deals]. I was going on on-sites, having great conversations with clients, driving attendance to our events, making tons of calls a day, whiteboarding … but nothing was coming from it. When I think of grit, I think of attitude and positivity. I knew the moment I shifted to a negative mindset, my year would go down the drain. I stayed positive and kept doing what I do (with a smile on my face). The result: I ended up having some strategic wins that got recognition across the country, including my largest deal I have ever closed.”

Going Above and Beyond

One of our most senior leaders, Tony Rodoni, EVP of SMB, drilled into us the abbreviation DWYSYWD: “Do what you say you will do.” This is part of grit. It means holding to your commitments, no matter how difficult, and “acting with integrity. Do the right thing, all the time. There are no shortcuts.”

Grit is about looking after a customer from end to end, according to Brad Lawrence, Client Director of Financial Services. “I deal with really big customers. Their business is 24/7, and so I need to be on all the time. I expect one to two times per month I am going to need to do some hustling on the weekend in order to help them out. When I can get them out of a jam through some weekend grind, I know I have built credibility and a long-term friendship and relationship. The customer needs to come first.”

SVP of Small Business Dan Ross likes to reference a story from a few years ago in Atlanta at year-end. “One of my AE’s, Shannon Smoot, was working late while the team had left to celebrate. She was already way ahead of her quota. She had her jacket in hand, laptop shut down, walking out the office while calling the team from her cell to say she’s on the way, and then she sees a teammate’s phone ringing. She says, ‘Hold on, I need to call you back,’ so that she can take her teammate’s call — 7 p.m., last day of the year, last person in the office, and she answers someone else’s phone. Long story short, she took the call and closed a small deal that helped her teammate stay in the green for quota.”

Growing in Career and Life

One top sales rep said, “Life often doesn’t evolve as you have it in your head. Being able to roll with the punches and continue moving forward in your life and career is what defines you. It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.”

One of my alumni, Muz Jaffer, Senior AE of Health Care, said to me, “Today, you are healthy and happy. Tomorrow that can change. In life, we are going to go through many hardships either ourselves or with family and friends. We are going to get knocked down, but what defines [us] is if we get back up or not. All the good and the bad in life is what make us who we are, it defines our character.”

If you haven’t failed, you are not trying hard enough.”

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

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