Ignorance: Sometimes It Really Is Bliss

Focusing on the client

One of my clients brought on an experienced sales manager to help them build up a new customer base from scratch. After a few weeks, however, they were starting to question their decision.

london-shopperThe challenge was no small task, and he was working tirelessly to analyze the market and evaluate potential targets, but that also meant his process had started to look something like this: do some preliminary research, make some notes, look up a few more details on the web, wait a few minutes, look back over the notes, think about calling, but then double-checking his notes again.

He had over 3,000 potential customers logged in the system. Now all he had to do was pick up the phone and make a call, but the immensity of the task was completely overwhelming him.

After four weeks, the sales manager had only managed to call 33 potential customers. This was a target he was supposed to have reached after two days. So what was the problem? In this case, the story had already been successfully tested and implemented, so it had to have been something else, right?

A breath of fresh air

Some weeks later, the company decided to try something new, hiring a 22-year-old woman with zero sales experience at all. She was soft spoken and a bit unassuming, but she had said she was up to the task, and the company was now willing to try anything.

Her first day in the office she came in and immediately started making calls. No hours of research. No overthinking. No double-checking for the right person. She just started calling. Four days in, she got her first signed contract. A few hours later, the next one came in.

So what was she doing that her sales manager colleague wasn’t? Upon comparing their two approaches, it seems it was the things she wasn’t doing that were making the difference.

She wasn’t thinking about the goals and the possibility of failure/rejection. Instead, she was focusing on the clients. She was excited about talking to the people, getting to know them, and then helping them solve their problems using her company’s innovative solution. Her colleague had all the experience and expertise, but that was only causing him to over-think, over-analyze, and under-act.

Solving the impossible

This story reminds me of a similar tale about the student who accidentally fell asleep in math class. When the final bell rang, he was shocked back to life only to realize that he had missed another lesson in what was quickly becoming his weakest subject. In a panic, he scrawled down the two problems written on the board for homework and made his way home where he sat down to solve them. He worked and worked and worked on the problems, but no matter how hard he tried, he could only solve one of them. Having missed the entire lesson he seemed to be missing some of the key information for problem two.

The next day he walked into class ready to once again be yelled at and humiliated by his teacher for being the class’s number one slacker. When the teacher came around to look at the homework, he told her he had only managed to solve half of it, attempting a half-hearted complaint about the second problem simply being too hard.

In response, the teacher grabbed his paper and began reading.

“Where did you get this?” She asked.

“I did it for homework.”

“That’s impossible. The two problems I put on the board were two famous unsolvable math problems.”

Now it was the student’s turn to sit in stunned shock. He had just solved an unsolvable problem. In his defense, though, he hadn’t known that they were unsolvable. Often, that is all we need to really truly achieve.

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