Default Aggressive

May 19, 2020

I remember my first sales job. It was a high velocity inside sales job where we were given a few quick hours of product training and a pat on the head. An old-fashioned pressure cooker. Good luck, kids. I got off to a slow start. Day one was terrifying. By the end of week oneI hadn’t closed anything. I could barely close the door behind me.

I was faced with a decision. Do I quit or do I buckle up and make it happen? Despite my initial desires for waving the white flag, I kept going.

The turning point was a Friday night. I was the last one in the office, cold calling people in Hawaii as a last-ditch effort because of the time difference. And then…BAM! I did it. I made my first sale. My hands got clammy, it felt like there were fireworks going off in my stomach. I had a smile from ear to ear.

That was when the lightbulb went off and I truly launched my sales career. It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t stick with it. It wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t aggressively taking control of my destiny with each phone call.

I found a comparison to this story when listening to a leadership podcast with Jocko Willink last week. You may know Jocko from his bestselling book Extreme Ownership, his top-rated podcast aptly named “The Jocko Podcast” or maybe just as the guy that tweets a picture of his watch when he wakes up at 4 am every day.

Jocko was asked a question about being “default aggressive” as a leader. The asker was perplexed. Jocko has written about being an aggressive leader and this didn’t seem to resonate with him. “I’m not aggressive by nature. I’m softer spoken and tend to lead with empathy and by example”, he said.

Jocko’s clarification made a world of sense.

Being “default aggressive” doesn’t mean that you constantly walk around with your chest puffed out, ready to bang heads with your opponent like a ram. It doesn’t mean being an asshole or being obnoxiously loud. It doesn’t mean starting conflict without thought or reason.

“Default aggressive” means that you’re being proactive instead of reactive. It means that you’re ready to act. It means that you’re taking action in life, rather than being a passive bystander watching your life go by.

How does this relate to sales and leadership?

It doesn’t mean that you’re doing any of these things:

  • High-pressure sales
  • Berating prospects when they tell you “no”
  • Intimidating and yelling at your employees
  • Causing conflict and drama in the office
  • Looking down on your peers because they’re inferior salespeople

However, it does mean you should be doing this:

  • You’re asking the tough questions
  • You approach prospects with confidence
  • You beat your competitors to the punch
  • You have difficult conversations with your team
  • You control the quality and quantity of sales activities necessary to win
  • You’re proactive instead of reactive

I remember as a young leader, there was a situation where people were openly complaining about compensation in the office. There was one guy who was the ringleader of the group, spurring everyone else on. Morale was plummeting.

I had a few choices: I could fire him on the spot, I could sweep it under the rug and ignore it or I can proactively have a conversation with him. I chose to have a conversation with him behind closed doors. I was aggressive in that I didn’t let the bad morale linger and spread. I was tactful enough to not lose my cool.

It turns out that he had mismanaged some of his money, wasn’t making very much in commissions, and was short on a few bills. We were able to handle the situation. I explained the compensation model and why it was fair for him. He understood. We made a plan for him to ramp up his sales activities, which were going to earn him more money. We worked on a financial plan to keep track of his expenses so he could feel less stressed.

Now, imagine the scenario where I let that attitude simmer in the office. Similar to our health, ignoring warning signs of bad news with your team will only make things worse. His attitude would have spread to the rest of the team and there could have been a damn revolt on the sales floor.

Being “default aggressive” isn’t about being the hammer and trying to find nails everywhere you go. In fact, aggressive isn’t even an attitude, it’s a character trait. It’s your drive. It’s the courage it takes to proactively take control of your life. It’s the unwavering spirit of self-improvement.

Take a look in the mirror. If you’re short on your sales goals or if your team isn’t of the caliber that you had hoped, it could be your attitude. Be proactive to make those extra calls, have difficult conversations, and turn things around. I’ve done it and so can you.

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