Paul shares three ideas to help you find new opportunities during tough times.
What can Corn Flakes, French Dips, and Caesar Salads teach us about selling? Accidental innovation happens all the time. However, success only happens if you view that innovation through an opportunistic eye.
When we’re stuck in our old ways, we are blind to new opportunities. Where some see problems, others see promise. New opportunities present themselves if you are looking.
“Train your brain to view things opportunistically. Get curious. Ask questions. Curiosity leads to opportunities.”
“If no one in your organization is willing to act on your ideas to improve, then you should act on it. Start your own company.”
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How do I find opportunities in tough times?
(Transcribed from podcast)
On today’s show, we’re going to answer a question that came from a recent virtual webinar. I was working with the sales team, and one particular salesperson said, “You know, Paul, I’m frustrated right now because I can’t find new opportunities out there. I feel like I’ve shaken the tree. I’ve called on all these prospects. It seems like there are no opportunities. How do I find opportunities during these tough times?” That’s what we’re going to answer on today’s show.
Before we get started, make sure you pick up the latest copy of Value-Added Selling. We’ve got it available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, wherever you get books. In fact, there’s one section of the book (it’s one of my personal favorite sections), it’s called Tinkering. Tinkering is all about ways you can create new opportunities, find new opportunities, and enhance your overall solution for the customer. It’s all about innovation and improvement. I highly recommend picking up your copy and reading that section of the book.
Also, thank you to our other sponsor, Andrea, over at The Creative Impostor Studios. If you need someone to help you launch, edit, get started with podcasting, she is the go-to resource. Reach out to her. There are going to be links to both on the webpage.
So, let’s talk about how we find opportunity during tough times. One thing to think about… during tough times, do you really find opportunities or do opportunities to find us?
Let me share a few examples with you. In 1898, there was a baker. He was working with various doughs trying to create breakfast cereal, which really wasn’t used back then. He was creating something new. Someone left out a bowl full of wheat-based dough overnight. Now, typically that would spoil it, ruin it, and they would throw it out. But instead he started to experiment with it. He rolled out the fermented dough and realized that it created a thin flake, a larger flake than they had created before. They baked it and it tasted delicious. That eventually led to Kellogg’s Cornflakes. William Kellogg was that individual who didn’t just throw out that bowl. They saw an opportunity; they experimented with it.
Twenty years later, in 1918, there was a sandwich shop owner out in California. There was a customer who showed up. He was in a hurry. He said, “I need a roast beef sandwich. Make one for me.” So he made a roast beef sandwich and as he was handing over the sandwich to the customer and the roll accidentally dropped into the meat drippings. The customer said, “Just hand me the dipped sandwich and I’ll eat it.” The French Dip sandwich was born. The customer raved about it. And that sandwich shop is credited for building the French Dip. That owner continued to sell those sandwiches.
In 1924, there was a restaurant owner who was having a crazy busy weekend. It was a holiday weekend, the 4th of July, and they were packed. They started to run out of food. But towards the end of the evening, several of his regular customers showed up. He didn’t want to turn them away, but he said, “We just don’t have much food left.” And they said, “We don’t care. Just go back in the kitchen and make us something.” Well, he did. He ended up mixing together a bunch of different ingredients to create a dressing. He had some lettuce left over in the fridge. He put all that together and the Caesar Salad was born.
So when you think about all these things, innovation happens. Opportunities, oftentimes, will find us if we choose to act on them. And the one thing I absolutely love about all of these examples, other than the fact that they’re all food related, there is one common theme. Each one of these accidental innovations happened during either a recession or a depression. In 1898, when Kellogg Cereal was born, that was on the tail end of a great depression that was since 1893. In 1918, that’s when we had the post-WWI recession right in the middle of that. And in 1924, although it is known as the roaring twenties, there was still a mild recession. In 1923 as well.
Think about that. And as we face these tough times (that’s what we’re in right now), sure we’re going to face some adversity, but we’re also going to face some opportunity. Our goal is to take advantage of that. So if you’re a salesperson out there right now, we have to look for these opportunities. And that’s what we’re going to talk about on today’s show is how we can view the world in a more opportunistic way.
Let’s think about this. The challenge we face right now as salespeople… we get stuck in our old ways of thinking. When we’re facing tough times and uncertain times, we sometimes like to tighten our grip on the status quo just hoping that things will pass. When we do that, sometimes it can blind us to opportunities that exist. Or we’re resistant to change because we’re facing some level of success so we feel no need to change. Either way, we end up blinding ourselves to opportunities that exist.
The goal here is to become a little more opportunistic. And I know that sometimes that term, opportunistic, has a negative tone. People view opportunism as taking an advantage at the expense of someone else. That’s not the case at all. You’re just taking advantage of an opportunity that presents itself. You’re not taking advantage of a person, you’re taking advantage of the opportunity and you are acting on it. Because each one of those examples I mentioned in the opening, they would not have been an innovation. They would not have changed the food industry if they didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.
So let’s give you three ideas to think about. These ideas will help you become a little more opportunistic. First thing, train your brain to view things in an opportunistic way. When I think of someone who has trained their brain to view things in an opportunistic way, I think of my brother, Andrew. He has a knack for just finding the opportunity and the challenge, or finding opportunities in unique ways. He has a history of this. He’s been doing that at his company. They’ve been shifting things around to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. They’re filling a need or solving a problem that exists.
It’s critical. Now, granted, in our family, I do think it’s genetic that we naturally are a little opportunistic. It stems from my dad. We had a conversation over the weekend about taking advantage of opportunities and how to see opportunities as they present themselves. So we were trained to think like that since an early age.
In fact, I remember in college, I had a painting company that I had started. It didn’t make a lot of money. I worked hard all summer but just didn’t learn how to run a business profitably. My parents didn’t want me to go back to school empty handed, so they agreed to let me paint their wrought iron fence. And painting wrought iron fences is not the easiest thing to do. It’s kind of a pain in the neck, but I needed to make some money. So, I started painting, and I realized… I said, “You know what? What’s the best use of my time? Is it sitting here painting, or is it going out there and trying to find more painting jobs for my painters that they can do? I need to find a way to go out there and sell more.”
So, I saw an opportunity. My younger brother, who was just playing outside… I said, “Hey, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll pay you this amount to paint the fence.” And sure enough, he ended up taking that. I ended up paying him half of what my parents were going to pay me. I ended up profiting [pocketing] the rest of it. Although, I know when my dad did show up from work, and Andrew was painting the fence and not me, he did have something to say to me. But I said, “My time is better spent going out there and selling more painting jobs.” Although he was ticked off, I’m sure at some level he thought, “Okay. He knows what he’s doing.”
Opportunism. It runs in our family. It’s a gene. The key is, train your brain to view things in an opportunistic way. When you’re presented with a challenge, when you’re presented with, any sort of adversity, view it from an opportunistic prism.
The second thing we want to do, keep your eyes and your ears open. Customers are always going to salespeople asking them, “Do you have this product,” or, “Can this product do this? Here’s the problem we’re trying to solve. Can you help us out?” “Do you know how to fix this?” I always believe that salespeople are one of the greatest marketing research resources because they are always frontline with the customer, talking to them, understanding their needs. During these tough and uncertain times, new opportunities will present themselves if we listen.
Listen to what your customers are asking for. Dig a little deeper when they’re making a request. When they say, “Does your product do this?” and maybe your product or service does not, ask the question why. And just say, “Our product or service does not do that, but I’m curious. Why do you need it to do that? What are you trying to accomplish with that?” Get a little curious. Have a conversation. Figure out what’s going on. Who knows? That might create a new opportunity.
Once you identify a new opportunity—once you have these conversations—share that information with your management, with your product development, with your leadership, with the business owner. If there is an idea to add a feature, a product or service, or something to your product or your solution, share that information. Share it with the right people. During tough times, people get creative. During tough times, people are going to look for ways to improve and enhance their product or service. As a salesperson, you can provide valuable feedback. So make sure you’re sharing that information.
Now, this brings me to the third tip. The first one—train your brain to view things in a positive way. Number two—keep your eyes and your ears open. Listen to your customers when they’re sharing these ideas. The third thing—take a risk. Take a risk. Now, during these tough and uncertain times, new ideas come up, new ways of serving customers. You have to act on that.
So, for the business owners that are listening, for the sales managers, for product development people, if there are ideas to improve and enhance and augment your solution for the customer, take those chances. Take those risks. If you’re a salesperson and you’re hesitant to make those suggestions, take a risk. Take a chance. Now is the time to act bold.
And one final tip… If you come up with an idea and nobody else wants to act on it, you act on it. Start your own business! I was reading an article the other day in the Harvard Business Review, and they were talking about new business startups. They mentioned that during the deepest part of the great recession, and this was in 2009, more businesses were started at that point than the previous 14 years. That’s when people start businesses. When things are tough, it creates opportunities. Be open to that and look for those opportunities. Look for new ways to serve your customers during these tough times. Look for those new services, things that can help your customer, things that will help them achieve their goals. Find a way. And keep your eyes and your ears open, because remember, maybe those opportunities are going to find us instead of us finding them.
Well folks, that’s the show for today. Make it a big day.