EPISODE 394: Amy Su Says These 5 Essential Principles Will Make You a Better Sales Leader

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Optimal Sales Mindset Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on July 22, 2021. It featured Amy Jen Su, author of “The Leader You Want to Be: Five Essential Principles for Bringing Out Your Best Self – Every Day.”]

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AMY’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “The book is called The Leader You Want to Be so I hope everyone takes a moment to pause and think about who is that leader and person you want to be. It’s really powerful to take stock and remember who’s the authentic leader that you are, what are the values that drive you, what are the principles that guide your interactions with yourself, your teams your customers? Then what are the experiences and skills that you bring to bear and that you’ve really cultivated and could continue forward?”


Fred Diamond: Today’s a really interesting show, I’m very excited to bring on Amy Jen Su. She’s the author of The Leader You Want to Be. I read it twice, it’s fantastic and it’s also an interesting book for right now. Amy, we have a lot of sales leaders who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast, they also have people who work for them who listen to the show as well. It’s exciting to have you on the show today. You talk about the five essential principles for bringing out your best self every day and you call them the five P’s which we’ll get to. I also want to get to the sixth P at the end which really hit me hard, which is why we asked you to be on the show, which is Pay it forward.

It’s such an interesting time. We’re interviewing you today in July of 2021, we’re coming hopefully toward the end of the pandemic but then there’s this Delta variant that is sneaking around. Some places are shutting down and some companies are telling people, “Stay home, we’re going to delay coming back to the office.” Your book, what I liked about it was it’s not just, boom, general patent type of leadership, we’re going to take the hill. It was – of course, there was a holistic approach to it – almost spiritual in a way. As I was reading the book, I felt very touched and emotional as I was going through it.

First off, it’s great to have you here. The book came out in 2019, congratulations, published by Harvard Business Press, so good for you. Welcome to the show. We’re going to be talking about the five P’s, the five essential principles for bringing out your best self every day. I hate to ask this question because it’s such an unimportant question, but why’d you write the book and why did you publish it in 2019?

Amy Su: Fred, first of all, thanks for having me on the show. It’s great to be here and great to be with all your members who are listening in or viewing in. The book really came at a time where the previous five years from 2013 to 2019, I felt like all the clients, leaders and professionals I was working with out in the trenches were asking not just about their performance and how to increase the effectiveness of their performance, which of course is important. But people were starting to ask questions about sustainability and engagement, their own energy, their own sense of purpose.

It just felt like the time was right to step back and say, from the 15, 20 years I’ve been coaching and working with leaders and professionals, what are the big themes and what are the big areas that seem to affect everybody across multiple industries? As you said, who knew the pandemic would then hit and how timely some of those same messages and themes are today?

Fred Diamond: Most of our audience are sales leaders and people who work for sales leaders. The hardest job in sales is typically the first-time sales leader, because in a lot of cases they go from being a high performer, a very successful individual contributor to now being thrust into leadership, so it’s hard as it is.

A lot of people that are members of the Institute for Excellence in Sales were thrust into this role when the pandemic, right before it started. You couldn’t be with your team, you had to be home. You’re still probably at home although some have begun to bring people together in a socially distant type of environment. But for a good year, they had to lead through the screen and it was very, very difficult. Have you observed that as well? A lot of new leaders struggling? We’re going to be talking about some ways that they can take their careers to the next level.

Amy Su: Absolutely, Fred. I think many folks found themselves either in new leadership roles or perhaps onboarding into new organizations during the pandemic. As you mentioned, things that we are so used to, being able to go into an office and meet people and bring a team together and be together to do team building, all of those things weren’t available. Suddenly, we had to figure out, who are we through a screen? What’s our presence? How do we show up and what does it mean to be my best self through a computer? How do I not only drive my own engagement, but drive the engagement of my team, my customers or the business at large?

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about the five P’s, let’s get started. The first one is Purpose, talk a little bit about the context of purpose and why you called this out as the first essential principle in your book.

Amy Su: Purpose definitely sits at the top of everything. It’s our guiding compass. The action or the principle embedded in that first chapter is how do we reset the compass? It’s defined by two criteria. One is, how do we prioritize and reset the compass for two things? Number one, our own passion and inspiration. Fred, if you think about what motivated and excited you 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 5 years ago, may be different than today or a different flavor or manifestation of that. We have to stay close to what inspires us when we think about purpose.

The second criteria is thinking about our contribution. What are we contributing in our world, to the organization or to the world at large? What I always find is for the sales professionals especially, we often too narrowly define our contribution. We might think of it as the sale or the metric or the quota, all of which are important. But if we brought in that frame and said, what am I actually contributing to my customers? What’s the value add? How do I be consultative? How do I add value to their business or help them solve their problems? Then we’re really expanding our sense of purpose even more.

Fred Diamond: One of our favorite guests is a woman named Lisa Earle McLeod and I don’t know if you know Lisa or not, but she wrote a book called Selling with Noble Purpose. She also published a book called Leading with Noble Purpose as well. Her whole point was a lot of what you just talked about, you can be distinctly more successful in sales if you have some of the things you just talked about.

I want to talk about one thing that you mentioned, which is adding value to the customer. Since we’re doing webinars and we’ve been doing webinars every day, Amy, there’ve been a lot of words that have appeared. Obviously, empathy, preparation, but the #1 word that continues to appear every single day is value. We’ve even used the term extreme value. Can you talk a little bit about that? What are some of your thoughts on today? And in sales, it’s always been about value.

The great Neil Rackham said in SPIN Selling, sales is about value creation. It’s not a new topic, but it’s something that we have to constantly remind ourselves about, especially right now as our customers have been dealing with so many challenges that they didn’t expect 17 months ago.

Amy Su: I think the word value is so important here. If you think about, given any industry or business, where is that value created? Sales really sits at the nexus of that or can sit at the nexus of that. Are you walking into that meeting with your customer thinking, hey, I’m your supplier or your vendor, let me make sure you get that product? Or are you thinking, how can you and I together really value-create in this industry or for your business? With that kind of mindset, if you think about an optimal mindset, I’m thinking about the pie that we’re both a part of across an entire value chain and how we help each other really grow that pie. That’s pretty exciting stuff when you’re sitting with somebody else working through that problem-solving together.

Fred Diamond: I agree. One other thing that we’ve learned over the last year is that sales is really about service. We haven’t changed the name of our organization to The Institute for Excellence in Service because we are about sales. But for sales professionals to be truly successful, they need to be thinking about not just how can I help my customer achieve their goals, but how can I help my customer’s customer? And even in some cases, how can I help my customer’s customer’s customer achieve their goal?

That’s something that we never really thought about a whole lot prior to the pandemic, but then because some industries completely went away and some industries had a flip, the more successful salespeople had to be thinking customer’s customer’s customer.

Amy Su: 100% that ripple effect. I mentioned in then book, as you said, the pay it forward. If you’re thinking about ripple effect and how every stone and ripple then cascades, to your point, the customer’s customer. I think we did learn in the pandemic with so many supply chain disruptions and industry disruptions just how interconnected everything is. The more you can zoom out and imagine the full web of where your customer and their product or your product sits, then I think more creativity and innovative thinking can come in.

Fred Diamond: The second P is Process. Let’s talk about how sales leaders need to be applying some of the things that you spoke about to be more successful.

Amy Su: Fred, the first P was purpose. Even if we’re clear on purpose and where we want to be prioritized, that’s a totally different game in terms of how we operationalize that. For a sales professional or sales leader, the number of things on your plate when it comes to, do I focus on prospects today? Do I focus on my existing customers? Do I work on inputting something into the CRM? There’s a million things that you could work on, so process really becomes the nuts and bolts. How are you managing your calendar? What are those rituals and practices? What really feeds you and your time and energy so that it’s protected for the most important things and your highest and best use?

Fred Diamond: I’m curious. We talk a lot about being successful in sales and when people ask me, how can I be really successful in sales, I always say there’s three things you could possibly do. One is you could become just an expert on an industry. You and I are both in the Washington DC area, so government or hospitality or associations, not for profit. You just become so immersed and so understanding of that.

The second thing is that you become so expert in your offering. The technology or the solution or the service, so that people need to employ you as the sales professional to help them achieve their goals. The third is the sales process. You need to be exceptional at selling and you need to be exceptional at leading sales professionals. Talk a little bit about what some of those sales leaders should be thinking about from that perspective, about excellence in the physical sales process.

Amy Su: When you think about the sales process, you’re thinking about how am I driving the funnel. What’s that part of the work need to be? Then helping your team really exercise, even if the funnel’s wide, how do we begin to triage and know where to spend our time? Again, only 24 hours in a day so the risk for any sales professional is feeling like you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off instead of being very disciplined and methodical as you think about those processes.

I think as the sales leader who is leading the overall team, to the extent that you could help offer those frameworks and guidance around triage or around the governance of how somebody moves their way through the pipeline for you, all the better.

Fred Diamond: Again, our organization is called the Institute for Excellence in Sales and people ask us, why did you create the IES? What’s your purpose? And we believe that sales truly is a scientific-based profession. Sometimes there’s some art that comes in, but because of some of the shifts that have happened where the customer now being in control, and the fact that you need to continually figure out ways to bring value, you really need to be a professional.

One of the other main things that we discovered during the pandemic was if you’re a sales professional, what should you be doing to be a professional? When you couldn’t play baseball, you’re still out there exercising, running, lifting weights, going to the batting cage or whatever it might be. As a sales professional, if the transactions have slowed down for reasons out of your control, are you working on your presentation skills? Are you working on how to be empathetic? Are you learning more about your industry? The word professional has come up so much. Understanding how to optimize the sales process is so critical to that.

Amy Su: I couldn’t agree more and I think it’s this balance, I think part of the art of being a great salesperson and leader is the informality and being able to build rapport and build relationship with your customer. At the same time, we have to also make sure we’re appropriately structured, as you said, to get through the sheer amounts of work and priorities on our plates each day.

Fred Diamond: We’re talking about interesting things here, we talked prior to the show about meaningful conversations. You still need to generate revenue. You still have to reach a quota. There’s been a lot of flexibility over the last year that we’ve had with a lot of our companies for obvious reasons because your industry went away or people weren’t focusing on things at a certain level. But sales is the organization that is going to lead most companies through the pandemic into the next phase of success.

All right, number three. We talked about purpose, we talked about process. People of course is so critical, being good at leading people and understanding them. Obviously, over the last year there’ve been so many challenges on various people based on where they are in life. We have a very robust Women in Sales program at the Institute for Excellence in Sales. Women have gotten hurt over the last year because they’ve had to be the homeschool teacher and they’ve had to be the camp counsellor. If you’re a Director of Sales for a company which is a hard enough job as it is, and also you now need to manage the three, five and seven-year-old, it’s really difficult. Talk about people. What is the essence of that principle in your book?

Amy Su: People are so critical. The essence of that particular principle is in raising your own game, let’s raise the game of others. When you think about being a sales professional or leader, if you’re the leader of a sales team, how are you raising everyone else’s game? You mentioned for many folks, they were once the star sales individual contributor. Now you’re moving from being player to coach, are you taking the time to share all the things you’ve learned and all the pattern recognition and all the tools you’ve gained over time and now disseminating that across your sales team? So that not only are you a rock star, you have a whole team of rock stars as well.

I think even then as a team, if you’re a team member, how are you supporting each other? How are you building comradery? There’s both as an individual, I want to generate revenue, and there’s a little bit of competition embedded in that. How do I both keep driving my own numbers but making sure that I’m also being collaborative across the whole?

Fred Diamond: You’ve worked with hundreds if not thousands of leaders, not just in sales but of course business and service and operations. You’ve seen some who’ve been great and you’ve seen some that have struggled. Where do you think most sales leaders go wrong on the people side?

Amy Su: I think it’s this piece that you were addressing that oftentimes you’re thrust suddenly into the role of leader. So much of everything up to that point has been about you being the star quarterback. There’s no one like you that can drive the ball into the end zone in that kind of way, and it’s really different to now say, hey, you know what? We’re going to give you 10 other people and you’re going to help teach and make sure they each grab the ball, know when to grab the ball and how they’re going to get the yardage and drive into the end zone. How do you make each of them successful? I do think that’s a tricky pivot to make when you’re used to being the all-star on the field.

Fred Diamond: I love the next P, presence. Our Women in Sales Leadership Forum is a six-session program over two months where we have Women in Sales leaders and it’s a leadership development program. One of the most popular sessions that we do is on presence, particularly executive presence. I’m curious as we talk about this, I’m also interested in how people need to think about themselves because a lot of this stuff is in your head. Talk about presence, but then also talk about your ideas, your thoughts, your advice on how you need to start thinking about yourself as you move from the IC up to leader or to the next level of leadership.

Amy Su: It’s so interesting when you said how you think about yourself. I think, Fred, you’ve nailed it. Our mindset, the assumptions we care about ourselves, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves then telegraphs into how we choose to show up to the world. We have to understand that relationship. If you’ve been thrust into the role of sales leader but you’re still thinking of yourself as individual contributor or again, just this player and not a coach, you are not going to show up as the leader that you need to be.

To your point around women in sales, if you are hanging on to impostor syndrome, the fear or self-doubt that holds you back, those things can really get in the way of you showing up top-to-top to a customer or even internal to your executive team of your company where you are reading out on what’s going on in sales. Presence and your influence and your gravitas all become really critical.

Fred Diamond: Besides reading your book, what would be some of your general advice to leaders who are thrust into this role? Like we mentioned, usually they’re successful, now they’re thrust into this, they have to shift their mindset in many ways. You talked about impostor syndrome, we talked about one of the major shifts when you shift away from being a very successful individual contributor is now your job is to make those 10 people on your team successful. Or maybe the top three super successful, the middle five successful and maybe you flush out the next two. What do you generally recommend to leaders who are now thrust into this role to ensure that they have the proper mindset? Of course, number one is read your book.

Amy Su: Yeah [laughs]. I think number one, I always ask folks, as homework I want you to take your old job description with your new job description and I want you to put them right next to each other. Then walk me through what was the mandate of the role before and what’d the mandate of the role now? Because when it’s in black and white and in your face, you realize, I’m in a new and different role. Let me own that and see that.

Then underneath that, therefore, what is the mindset or set of habits I need to change? Another big one is how do the metrics change? When I’m in role A, a certain metric base becomes important. If I’m now in role B, a new expanded role, the metrics and key performance indicators likely have shifted with you. Let’s make sure we’re really clear on that.

From a leadership perspective it’s how do we take all of your wonderful strengths? Let’s take stock of who you are and the depths of your roots and all the experiences that got you there. Part of the impostor syndrome is not believing the clock’s at zero. You got promoted, you got the opportunity for a good reason so let’s lay that out and then let’s also lay out in the new role, what are all the new things you need to learn and come up to speed on?

Fred Diamond: Before we talk about peace which is your fifth P, what is your recommendation for leaders to ask for help? Yesterday’s webcast that we did was with a sales leader from a new soccer team in Saint Louis. We talked about the whole notion of sales professionals asking for help. Hey, boss, I’m struggling on getting this account or whatever it might be. What is your recommendation, Amy, for vulnerability? There’s so much meaning that you put into the book, it’s not general patent, it’s not take the hill, it’s really a holistic almost humanistic approach to bringing out your best self every day. Talk about that before we move onto peace, talk about the notion of asking for help and what’s some of your advice on that.

Amy Su: Asking for help is so important as you think about asking others for support and being one who offers others support. Number one, as you said, Fred, not seeing asking for help as a sign of weakness or vulnerability which often holds us back. I know other sales professionals who often don’t ask help because they don’t want to burden their colleagues, they recognize others are going through a lot.

There are a lot of things that might hold us back so really thinking who’s my network of support? Who during this time is the cheerleader in my life who’s going to help me get over that hump? Who’s the safe harbor I can speak to? Who’s the helicopter that helps me lift up and out and look at the industry more broadly? One of my favorites is who’s my accountability buddy during this time? Because I’ve got some numbers to hit at the end of the quarter. Who’s going to help ride alongside and cheer each other on? I think all those things are really important.

Fred Diamond: I love the notion of the network of support. A lot of the great sales leaders that we interview on our Wednesday Sales Game Changers Live show, they all talk about that they have their own little informal support group of peers that they might have started out their career with who now work at other companies.

The fifth P is peace, that’s an interesting word to put in a book about leadership. Talk about piece and why’d you put that in there? Why’d you focus on that? How can that be an important principle for us bringing out our best self every day?

Amy Su: Peace was probably the most important chapter to me, Fred, to be honest. As you said, I think there’s a lot in the literature and in the research on our effectiveness, our performance, let’s take the hill. In private moments when I have sat with leaders and professionals and the door’s closed, everybody’s human. My own hope is how do we build a life and have a career where we are both effective and high performing but we are able to enjoy the journey, we’re able to taste satisfaction?

Why work this hard or be away from our families? I know pre-pandemic, all my sales colleagues, professionals and clients were on the road a lot. There’s a lot of sacrifice that this group of people make on behalf of their organizations so that revenue’s generated that supports a lot of other functional areas. My hope is in the peace chapter, how do we just enjoy the ride a little more?

Fred Diamond: That’s something that a lot of people learned over the last year. One of the questions we would typically ask on the Wednesday Sales Game Changers Live show is, how have you changed as a sales leader? Amy, the answer almost always was, “I’ve gotten to go to all of my son’s little league games” or, “I’ve really enjoyed having dinner every night with my three kids.” It’ll be interesting to see if that goes away, if a lot of these sales leaders that we have in our network, if they start doing the 200 days of travel, Monday through Friday travel.

I think it’s definitely not going to come back to that level because I think one thing that we’re seeing of course, is the people can work wherever they want now. That’s one thing we learned. You still need people to come in to the office and you need to go meet. As you know, I just did a road trip around the country and I met with 25 people in 15 different cities, just physically being in the space of them, not just looking at this box. You only have so much time because if you have a Zoom call, you know you have 50 minutes so you’ve got to squeeze as much in. But the ability to just be and let conversations go.

We talked about the five principles for bringing out your best self every day: purpose, process, people, presence and peace. Amy, you finished off the book with something that I thought was very powerful, pay it forward. One thing that we’ve noticed a lot over the last year is people have gotten a lot more sensitive to their role in the community. There’s been so much that’s been going on and most people who are successful in sales are conscious, they are givers. But talk about pay it forward, talk about what that means and talk about why you put it in the book.

Amy Su: Earlier I mentioned this concept of a ripple effect. I believe that every action and interaction we take somehow ends up, we don’t even know or fully understand, rippling out. Often times we think, “This one conversation I just had hit this one person.” Actually, that one person went home and that impacted their family, and that impacted somebody else. Or something that you did with your team actually then went on to impact a customer and a community.

If we think broadly, we have an opportunity every day to telegraph our positive energy, good will, service, to some of the words you mentioned, and we can really pay it forward. Especially for those of us who’ve been in fortunate positions or in industries that weren’t as devastated by the pandemic. What are we doing to really try to help make the situation better for everybody?

Fred Diamond: One observation I had when I did my trip across the country was main street was crushed. I went to the US highways onto state highways through small towns with two to three blocks, just destroyed. Restaurants closed down, for-sale signs, for-lease signs. There’s a lot of people out there that are struggling and there’s a lot of people that might be sitting next to you in your team that have lost a parent maybe or whose spouse lost their job and they’re challenged. It’s such a powerful book and I really love the way that you rolled out the book with purpose, process, people, presence and peace and then brought it all together with paying it forward.

First of all, congratulations to all your success. We’re talking about the book but you’re also a very, very successful management consultant who has a great resume. You’ve helped so many companies achieve their goals, grow, expand so I want to applaud you for all your success. Amy, as we always do, why don’t we wrap up with a final action step? You’ve given us a lot of great ideas. The book is replete with them, but give us one specific action step for people listening to today’s podcast.

Amy Su: I would just leave everyone with a final thought. The book is called The Leader You Want to Be so I hope everyone takes a moment to pause and think about who is that leader and person you want to be. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really powerful to take stock and remember who’s the authentic leader that you are, what are the values that drive you, what are the principles that guide your interactions with yourself, your teams your customers? Then what are the experiences and skills that you bring to bear and that you’ve really cultivated and could continue forward?

Fred Diamond: I want to thank Amy Jen Su, thank you so much for the great content today. To everybody watching us live, thank you all so much. Everybody listening as a Sales Game Changers podcast listener, thank you all so much as well. Thank you, Amy.

Amy Su: Thank you.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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