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Everyone fails at some point. Success requires perseverance. Join Colin Nanka, Senior Director of Enablement at Salesforce, as he shares the secrets to rebounding from a bad selling day, month, or year. Having the right mindset, investing in yourself, finding a mentor, and just having grit will all position you perfectly to win the long game.

A quarter or a year is just a blip in a career. Those down years build your character and your constitution to be successful long term.”

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

Kevin Micalizzi: Today, we'll be discussing how to rebound from a bad selling day, week, month, year with Colin Nanka, Senior Director of Enablement at Salesforce. Welcome, Colin.

Colin Nanka: Good morning, Kevin. Thanks for having me.

Micalizzi: So, Colin, I'm psyched. You've been a great host for the Quotable podcast. I'm excited to turn the microphone on you. Would you share a little bit about yourself for our listeners?

Nanka: Yeah, absolutely. Today, we're recording in New York City — that's where I live — and we're in the beautiful Salesforce Tower. I've been in this office and worked for Salesforce here for 4 years, but prior to that, I started in our Toronto office 12 years. When we started at that time, there were only 10 people in the office. We had just this small room on 1 Yonge Street— this main, long road in Toronto. That's how I got brought into the business.

At the time, I didn't know how successful Salesforce had the potential to be. I knew about their cloud product. It seemed very interesting. I thought it was a good place to go. And that was after being at Xerox for 10 years. But I joined this kind of small band of brothers and sisters, and within a year, we had grown to a hundred people in Toronto. Now, over a decade later, we're over a thousand people in Canada. And so, it's just been incredible growth, and it's been just an awesome experience to be part of Salesforce.

Micalizzi: Fantastic. I'm Kevin Micalizzi, Senior Product Marketing Manager here at Salesforce and the Executive Producer of the Quotable podcast. Colin, let's dive right into it. A lot of people don't like talking about failure, acknowledging failure, admitting that it even happens, but it obviously happens. No one closes 100% of the deals they go after. Why don't you give us some context here? How do you look at it? How do you think about it?

Nanka: Sure. I can say honestly today I love failure. If I take myself back in my earlier career, I could not stand failure. I've really come to a place myself of normalizing failure. I think I've learned it through a lot of the people that I've worked with, and I've worked with some incredibly talented salespeople and sales leaders over the years. But I've also learned it outside of Salesforce in competitive sports and just where you're not always going to win.

I heard a great quote recently from Jeff Bezos that said, "Failure is the tuition to success," which I wholehearted believe in. I think earlier in my career I didn't identify with that. But as I'm older in my career— I've been selling for 20 years— I do really embrace that. I think you can have many failures on a daily, on a weekly, and on a monthly basis that really help you grow immensely.

If you're not having some sort of failures throughout the year, I don't think you're pushing yourself hard enough. You need to find the boundaries within yourself in order to find those endpoints.

Micalizzi: Definitely. I know in a Quotable article you've written, you talk about the mindsets, and you've kind of alluded to it there. Would you share a little bit more about your mindset, especially toward how folks should rebound from a bad selling time?

Nanka: Sure. I think a prime example for me was back in 2007 to 2009. I had recently joined Salesforce after coming out of a pretty successful career at Xerox selling boxes. That's where I cut a lot of my teeth in that environment.

I had two outstanding years at Salesforce. I was awarded Chairman's Club, which was the top 1% of selling in the company. I just felt so fortunate that I had found myself in that position. But I also got invited to Marc Benioff's house, our CEO, for dinner back in 2007, and that was just one of the most amazing experiences that I'll never forget.

I knew at that point that I would be telling my friends or family or maybe my kids one day, "I had dinner at Marc Benioff's house," because I knew how big he was going to be and how big the company was going to be. That was just an incredible experience. That happened two years in a row. We didn't get to go to Marc's house the second year. They had a private dinner for us, which was just as fun. But the following year was when the market crashed.

Our president at the time foreshadowed, because they had been through some of those situations before, said, "If you didn't work twice as hard, have twice as much input or activity than you did in the previous year, you just will not be successful." If you only sell one product line and not two— and for us, the new one was Service— you will not be successful. I kind of looked at it and said, "I was very successful the last couple years, so I don't know. Maybe that's not for me. Maybe that's for some people, but not for me."

So, of course, that's exactly what happened. That next year, I had one of the worst years that I've had in selling, and it was really hard to take. There were high expectations. I had high expectations for myself. When you fall off the mountaintop, you're really humbled. I really had to look at myself inwards and decide how I was going to take this failure and turn it around.

Micalizzi: In that scenario, obviously you missed an opportunity. But I'm not sure, for me, if it clarifies enough why mindset is so important. I think it goes even beyond just missing an opportunity to sell a second product line. It's how you view the world, how you view all the opportunities that you're tackling. I know you talk about it a little bit in your article. Would you give a little bit more in terms of why finding the right mindset is so important?

Nanka: Yeah, I think it's how you show up every day. If I think about it now and I try and put myself in the position at those times, there was just something, just an internal fire brewing in me in those early years. I had something to prove. I was new in the company. I wanted to see what my potential was.

Maybe if the market hadn't been that catastrophic, maybe I would've continued to have some success, but that's not what happens. Things aren't constant. You're going to have big peaks and big valleys.

And so, for me, I really had to look inwards. I had to do an evaluation of the way I showed up at work every day. What time did I show up? What time did I leave? What was I putting into every day? How hard was I trying to get in touch with new customers? How hard was I trying to build relationships and expand the footprints inside of our existing customers?

I got input from my managers, from my peers who I had a great comradery with. Some were doing well, some were struggling, but we kind of banded together to really figure out what was the problem that we needed to solve, and then how we could tackle it.

A lot of it had to do about shifting the mindset from a negative to a positive, not being the victim, but more turning around is what's the potential. How could I become a hero in this opportunity and climb that mountain back in order to get back on top?

One of the things I tell people often as I talk to new sales reps in our company, "Your career is very long, and I really had the blinders on in those early years. Now I've been here 12 years, I can be much more objective and less emotional about it. But a quarter or a year is really just a blip in a career, and those down years just really build your character and the constitution in order to be successful long term."

Micalizzi: Yeah, and I love how you called it the growth mindset. Yeah, you're really taking it from that negative "Oh my gosh, I failed something" to "How do I use this? How do I keep moving?"

I loved one of the other things you talked about in that article, which is investing in yourself. Like you were just saying, your career progression and your career track is pretty long. What kind of advice do you give to folks, especially in your enablement role? What advice do you give for how AEs, reps, managers, everyone, should be developing themselves continually?

Nanka: Yeah, a couple things come up for me. One of the analogies I like to share is the iceberg theory. Especially when you're sitting in a row with a teammate, or maybe you're on a different team, you're kind of aware of what they do during the day, but you're not really aware of what extra work they put into the job in the evenings or on the weekends.

So, I know when I think back, when I was just a 150% engaged, I was doing 4 to 6 hours of work on the weekend, scouring my accounts, looking for new contacts, finding any ways that I could into those accounts. Prepare every Sunday night for 2 hours.

So, I hit the office in the morning, and I'm making calls at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning. Or back in the older days when we didn't have emails automatically going out, I would prep them the night before, and then I'd flood out 25 prospecting emails at 6:00 in the morning, because decision makers wake up early.

Micalizzi: Right.

Nanka: I've got feedback over the years that it impresses leaders when they see emails coming in early. Or alternatively, I've sent emails out at 10:00 at night when a lot of executives are doing work, and they're more apt to respond. And so, just going those extra miles and to do those types of things, it's really a mindset.

With the iceberg theorem, someone wouldn't know that's the work that I'm putting in on the weekend or in the evenings. But if they just showed up on a Monday morning and decided at 8:30 they're going to start planning their week, while I would have my week already planned out completely, maybe that first week and maybe the two weeks coming up, and really have an action plan and really being effective. And so, I think that's what I talk about when I think about tactics or mindset and some of the approaches that I take.

Micalizzi: Yeah. No, I love that. The tip of the iceberg is what you actually see in the office. The rest of that iceberg is far below the surface and typically happening out of the line of sight.

I'm curious from an enablement perspective. Obviously, you've got structured programs that reps and AEs go through, but that's usually more of a beginning of your career kind of thing. What advice do you have for listeners who are either still at the beginning of their career but aren't getting the support they need, or even further on, for continually improving themselves and really stepping up their game?

Nanka: There's two things I think we could talk about there. One is mentorship, and let's talk about that second. But the one that really comes to mind, and we do this a lot at Salesforce, is we do stand and deliver certifications.

We have account executives go up to the whiteboard and they really walk us through a customer conversation and storytelling, and it's what are the trends or the thought leadership that is going on in that marketplace? What are the challenges that the customer is trying to solve for? When they do solve those challenges, what is the impact on the business? What are the customer stories that would want a senior executive to align and be open to talking to Salesforce?

Now, going up to a whiteboard and doing that takes a lot of practice. We're actually doing it this month with one of our segments. And one of our vice presidents will show what good looks like. I know they prepare for four to six hours in order to do a really good whiteboard. So, our account executives, they need to prepare for a good three, four, five hours in order to do that. Some of them are doing it in the evenings, some of them are doing it on the weekends, and some of them will only spend an hour, and that will show in their performance.

That is a brand-building opportunity in front of all your peers because all those get bubbled up to our top executives, and so they see the best of. If you're new, that's a great opportunity to build brand. But also, just that anxiety that you feel when you're going through the dry runs and then the day before or the morning of, because I've done tons of these over the years, before you actually go and do it, that you're growing in that moment right there.

If you really embrace it and take it on and just do your best, you will grow coming out of that experience. Then you'll be able to take that either into a conversation with a customer, or as you're referred in maybe from one customer to another, when you walk into an office and you're able to draw that out on a whiteboard or you can take a book and you can draw it out, "Let me tell you why you should spend more time with Salesforce." If you're able to take that on as a salesperson, that will grow your career immensely. Micalizzi: Yeah, I absolutely love that. No props. You've got no crutch in this process. You're really having to step up and know your material, know your market, know your audience intimately to be able to do that. That's awesome. Even if there isn't a structured program, I think putting yourself in that type of situation where you can give the entire picture, the whole package, is such a great way to make sure you're ready.

Nanka: Some people have asked me — I go and speak to other companies in the local market, which I really love to do — and some of them ask me if we we don’t have a structured program, to your point, Kevin, "What can I do?"

Everyone has the ability to take their product, their service, the challenges that their company solves for, and they can take that on and come up with their own story, their whiteboard explanation. They can do that on their own time. What you do on your own time when people aren't watching, that's what makes the difference between a good sales rep and a great sales rep.

Micalizzi: I'd love to jump back to the mentorship side of it, because I think it's tough to always go it alone. There are so many things you should be doing to self-develop as you go. That's what Quotable is all about is really helping reps to self-develop and learn the best research, the latest advice, and how to be better at what they do. But it's good to have a champion. It's good to have someone who has been through it and knows it, understands it, and can help guide you. I'd love to dig into that one and hear your advice.

Nanka: Sure. Do you want me to tell you where my first mentor started and how I developed my thoughts on mentorship?

Micalizzi: Absolutely.

Nanka: Okay, great. My first job at Xerox was going door-to-door selling copiers. It was in Edmonton, Alberta, Western Canada, where I grew up. It regularly got -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and we would go door-to-door. I would make 25 to 30 door calls a day. I wasn't as outgoing as I've grown to be now. And so, that really brought me out of my shell.

But the reason I mention that was in our first few weeks, we had contests of who could go make the most calls and bring back the most business cards. We had little spiffs around that. At the end of that contest period, I had finished in the top two, and it gave me an opportunity to get noticed by some senior people in the office.

What my viewpoint has come to be on mentorship over time is that mentors find mentees. They look for people around the office that are similar to them or work as hard as them doing what they had to do in order to get to where they got to now and they will reach out, or they'll be open to a reach out.

And so, that happened with my first mentor, Rick Jones. He saw that I was working hard. He asked if he could join me on a call. And so, I took him on a customer meeting. That was the first time I really had a mentor on a call. He said at the end of that call, "One of the things I really noticed was you're incredibly focused in front of the customer." I didn't really realize that. But he said, "When we were negotiating, you were incredibly focused." That gave me a good boost of confidence, and it was something I could grab onto or start to develop.

I asked him if he'd join me in a conversation, a coffee, or a customer meeting on a monthly basis, and he absolutely said that he would. That was where my first mentorship started. Lo and behold, 10 years later, I would take a strengths test from the Gallup organization StrengthsFinder, which I recommend to everyone, and focus was one of my top five strengths. And so, that was early on.

Micalizzi: He called it that early.

Nanka: He called it right there.

Micalizzi: Wow.

Nanka: That's where I started to develop. And so, I started to see the value of mentorship. And so, I would work extremely hard and I would tap into different people through my early years at Xerox and just ask them for guidance and different pieces of advice, and that's how it started for me.

Micalizzi: Yeah, I love that. A lot of the advice I've seen around asking someone to mentor you is focused on setting expectations of what you're looking for, and it sounds like you did exactly that that many years ago, before all this research came out, and it was so easy to find advice and establish, "Okay, we'll do coffee once a month," that kind of thing, so that there's a known cadence. He knows what you're asking from him.

Nanka: Yeah.

Micalizzi: I think that's fantastic.

Nanka: I think another important point around that is once you find a mentor, you also want to keep a mentor. Why I say that, and I've had experience with this where people that I have mentored, is like Rick, who at the time he had two kids who he coached in soccer. He was giving extra time outside of the job that could've been family time. So, I learned to be very respectful of that time.

Micalizzi: Right.

Nanka: I was always on time, five minutes early. I was clear on what I was asking him to mentor me on or what we were going to talk about. I would set him up with that. He guided me on this. And then once we were done, he would always give me homework, and I would need to get that back to him. And so, I got that back to him in the time that he asked for, and I was really accountable. That just really emboldened that relationship.

I see sometimes mentees are a little bit too loose around the relationships with mentors. When you have that disposable time that's being used, you really need to honor it, you need to honor your mentor, and you need to honor yourself with your accountability.

Micalizzi: I'm assuming further on in your career you now mentor others.

Nanka: I do. I spend a percentage of my time on a monthly basis where I coach managers in our business. I also coach account executives, some that used to work on my team and have grown up in their career, or new people that reach out to me. Sometimes I'm full on a monthly basis and I'll try and do it a little bit down the road.

But something that came up in a conversation actually I was having with my business coach, which I've had for eight years, was when I'm coaching or I'm doing something, I'm a 100% all in. I'm very committed. For people that respect that and that are a 100% all in from the mentee side, they will get the most possible out of me. I will give them everything. But if they don't use their time wisely, I get frustrated. I've had to move on from mentees because they just weren't ready.

By the way, I got that feedback at one point at Xerox as well when I didn't respect someone's time as much as I could've, and that was a quick learning lesson that I nipped in the bud. So, find a mentor, make sure you keep a mentor as well.

Micalizzi: Yeah. Your time is valuable. Their time is valuable. You have to be respectful of the time. I'm curious. Now that you've been a mentee and a mentor, is there anything that you would've done differently if you could go back and change your mentoring relationships over the years?

Nanka: Yeah, that's a great question. An analogy that I've built, and it took me a while to figure this out probably until about 4 or 5 years in Salesforce. I've been selling 14 or 15 years, so if anyone is earlier in their career and they can take this on now.

I used to play squash, the batting the ball against the wall and tracking it down all over the place, in my earlier career. I took that game on later. I had some friends that were top ranked in Canada at the time, and they used to run me all around the court. They were way better than me. But what they did is they stretched my abilities considerably, and I got better.

But then I would also play with friends of mine that had just started and we were very competitive. We could run everyone down the court, but we would be scoring equally. Then people would come behind me and I would play with them, and I would be better than them, but I would be mastering my craft. I didn't know it then, but later on that would become my analogy or my focus on mentoring.

Play someone who's better than you that is going to stretch your capabilities, play people that are equal with you that are your peers, that are going to drive that competitiveness, and then mentor people behind you that allow you to master your craft. Especially in sales, you can really master your craft around selling motion and being a sales leader as well. It took me a little while to learn that.

When you asked what would I have done better, I held in what I thought was my secret sauce for my first few years at Salesforce and I didn't give it away freely. But I got to this point where I realized, if I give away my best, I'm likely to get people's best back in return. I could have these two or three great ideas, or I could get 20 coming back my way.

It was a really pay-it-forward mind shift for me, and that really allowed more abundance to come my way and more collaboration. There was a shift in the market at the time where all these companies were collaborating more closely together, and I started to see that and knew that I would win better as a team, if that makes sense.

Micalizzi: Yeah, you get back what you put into it. If you give, you're more apt to get back. That's phenomenal. I love the analogy, definitely. The other area I wanted to talk about though that you talked about in the article is grit.

Nanka: Yes.

Micalizzi: We've talked about mindset. We've talked about investing in yourself. We've talked about mentoring. What do you think of when you say grit, and why is that so important?

Nanka: Yeah. Recently, Angela Duckworth has a great TED Talk that she talks about grit. I think even a couple years before that — which, by the way, everyone should go check it out. It's a really awesome TED Talk.

But even before that, I got involved in some adventure sports. I was able from a competitive aspect in order to really understand what it meant to stretch your capabilities and really grind through moments, and then come out that other side a different person and have really grown as just muscle growth. The more you work that muscle, the more that you're going to grow. I was able to bring that back into the sales realm.

It kind of goes back to the examples I was giving when I was a great sales AE, and then when I struggled. On average, we look to make, depending on your segment, 10, 15, 20 calls a day. What if you made, and prepared for on the weekend, to make a hundred calls, a hundred prospecting calls in one day? Can you do it? Absolutely, if you did it all day long. Once you do that, looking at making 10, 15, or 20 actually isn't that difficult.

Micalizzi: Right.

Nanka: The good and great sales reps here and at other companies, they just chunk out their prospecting calls on a daily basis. Maybe they do it every day, maybe they do it three times a week. But in order to be effective, you need to be in the office at 7:30. Your prime calling time is 7:30 to 8:30. That takes getting up early in the morning. That takes preparing the night before.

That's not necessarily easy or something that sales reps earlier in their career want to do, and it took me a while to wrap my head around that as well. But once you do, and once you figure out that I can be successful that way, you are willing to make that shift and do what it takes to become successful and what is necessary and you get the job done.

Micalizzi: Definitely. Yeah. No, it makes total sense. In your industry or your target market, maybe it's not 7:30 to 8:30, but it's doing what needs to be done. It's being willing to do whatever has to be done to be successful. It makes total sense to me.

Before I ask you a final question, are there any questions you were hoping I'd ask, that you'd love to be asked?

Nanka: There's a couple things. One that I was just thinking about at the end of that piece that we discussed was about how you build that grit and how you overcome obstacles.

One of the analogies that became paramount, and a turning point for me, is in one of the adventure races that I did. We ran over these stones, small stones, medium-sized stones, big stones, through these hundreds-of-years-old riverbeds in China.

My friend shared with me that he and a friend went to do this race. As they prepared for the race, he's very mentally strong, he's a CEO of a company, and his thought was, "I'm just going to make friends with those stones. Those stones are going to be the road to my success. They're going to be ankle breakers. They're going to hurt the body. But if I can embrace those stones and accept what I'm going to need to do, that will be my path to finishing this race."

It was a seven-day race, and his friend was doing the race at the same time. After the first day, his friend just had had it with the stones. "I can't believe they put these stones here. I'm going to break my ankle." He was just in a very negative mindset. My friend, one of my mentors, he knew that his friend would not finish the race, and that's what happened.

And so, that was an understanding of the distinction of acceptance. Acceptance, for me, is thinking about and visualizing your way through the obstacles, whether that's for a week, whether that's for a month, or whether that's for the year, which ties into our V2MOM process — vision, value, methods, obstacles, and metrics — that our CEO, Marc Benioff, taught us.

If you can visualize your way through the obstacles and the crappy set of circumstances that you're going to entail, that takes you halfway to your goal already, and the rest of it just becomes a lot easier. That distinction of acceptance and mindset, and it really helps you grind through the tough moments. If I can share, for anyone, that is a concept that has taken me a long way in my career.

Micalizzi: Excellent. I want to close by asking you for your specific thoughts on resources for listeners who want to continue that self-development. I know you've written for Quotable. I'll include a link to the article in the show notes. But what else would you recommend?

Nanka: Of course, I would mention the daily blog that I write at colinnanka.com. I would love people to check that out. The reason I started that blog was to provide a little bit of morning motivation and inspiration to my sales team 4 years ago, and then it's grown since then. I write about these micromoments or these micro-learning moments, and we've got a lot of people inside and outside of Salesforce on that, so love that.

But other stuff that really inspires me is I read a lot of books. I plan to read about 25 books a year. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink is a great book that I really recommend on accountability.

One of the turning-point books for me, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, really how to collaborate and build relationships. I really recommend that. Then if you're interested in sports or mindset, How Champions Think by Bob Rotella. That's a really profound book I read in the last year that really focuses and helps you grow your mindset.

And then, of course, podcasts. For me, I'm a big Tim Ferriss fan, who was recently a Quotable guest. He does amazing work: Harvard Business Review articles, TED Talks. I listen to TED Talks weekly. All of these really help you on the inputs and really give you just those micro-learning opportunities that give you that momentum and propel you forward on a weekly basis. That's been successful for me, and I'd love to hear from other people what has been successful for them.

Micalizzi: Excellent. Awesome. Colin, thank you so much for joining me.

Nanka: Thank you for having me today, Kevin.

Micalizzi: For those of you listening in, the best way to stay on top of all things Quotable is by subscribing at Quotable.com/subscribe.

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