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Why Post COVID teams Need More ‘Doers’ than ‘Schmoozers’

These articles have been written by the first cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices. 

By Jemima Villanueva, Executive Director, EMEA, The Atlantic.

As commercial teams settle into a new kind of virtual normality it’s that time of year when our attention turns to strategies and targets for 2021. So, I have spent some time thinking about what we need from colleagues and employees that feels so strikingly different from before.

Mid-strategising, I found myself wondering what became of that guy I worked with at a previous company, who spent his entire time reading the trade press and walking the office floor ‘being senior’… By ‘being senior’ I mean confidently sharing his opinion on things (but not actually doing anything) and every meeting, there’d be a wide open leg cross, he’d lean back, take his glasses off and begin: “you see, the thing is Jemima…”

Another type of salesperson I remembered was ‘Disappearing Maverick Man’. I wonder where he is, now? That guy who was a great laugh, phenomenal sales person, always smelled faintly like he was sweating out last night’s booze and conducted his meetings with agency buddies at the pub from 4pm onwards (from 12pm on a Friday).

I can’t see a role for these types of operators in our current, virtual world.

What we need from colleagues and employees feels so different now from what seemed to work back then. With the removal of the ability to network, socialise and establish new relationships (or disguise your lack of meaningful activity with empty posturing) we are looking for other things from the people we employ and work with.

The emphasis has shifted from being able to sell as much stuff to as many people as possible, to being able to provide higher levels of service and value to the fewer partners in it for the long-term. This means commercial teams need excellent relationships with senior level clients (this has always been important but now feels indispensable) and an ability to focus on matching core business solutions to the needs of your clients. We’ve moved from sell, to service.

We need employees who are self motivated, accountable and who have a real sense of the bigger picture in which their clients operate. Where does ‘Disappearing Maverick Man’ disappear to, in his own home? Who does ‘Senior Man’ wander around impressing in his own flat… the cat? As Julie McKeen, Head of the Media Practice at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, said: “leaders must look to their team members to have a level of calm, affable confidence and an ability to build connections quickly. This requires agility, humility and a level of preparedness which they may not have had to do in group situations”.

Sadly this also means that it’s tough for newer or less experienced sales people to begin building their essential network of relationships. It is only by getting close to your clients (and their agencies) that you will really understand how you can be of most value to them and that they, in turn, learn to trust you. And without a foundational base of contacts or the opportunity to make new ones, it is harder than ever to get this off the ground right now.

We have to believe that some of this is temporary. Having new, often younger people join your team injects a wonderful enthusiasm and fresh perspective that is infectious. The mutual sharing of skills from working with so many young people at an ad tech company (they helped me become fully digitalised – I taught them how to talk to senior marketing clients) was without doubt one of the highlights of working there.

‘Disappearing Maverick Man’ can be good for the morale of a team; he’s been known to generate decent revenues and has a big heart, when pushed. But I don’t miss the days of ‘senior man’. And I don’t miss having to look away from the ‘wide open leg spreads’ in every meeting.

Right now our industry needs sales people who understand the difference between ‘servicing’ and selling. And we need an urgent transition from just having the right opinions to pulling your weight on the team.


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