Old men aren’t the first to die in shipwrecks.

You would think they would be since they do not have the strength or endurance of young men, but in maritime records, young men die first. Why?  Because they flail about and waste precious energy while old men grab onto drifting debris, conserve their energy and wait for daylight to determine what to do.

Right now, one of my client’s business unit leaders is acting just like a young sailor during his first shipwreck.  His biggest deals are finishing up with little backlog to absorb the headcount and he’s flailing, yelling into the darkness and panicking.  He’s frightened and he has the right to be.

So what can he do?

1)    Shut up. Quit talking to everyone about how frightened you are, how quickly the sky is falling and how new and different strategies need to be implemented.  For the most part, this is not new news and does not serve a proactive purpose. Start talking when you have a consistent strategy and when you can articulate it clearly, often and with conviction.

2)    Grab onto some driftwood. Just because you are frightened, it doesn’t mean that everything is not working. You have to define the core pieces that are working and start building a boat (your strategy) based on them.  At the very least, you need to cling to what is working until daylight comes.

3)    Quit kicking until you spot land. There are no silver bullet solutions. Changing the offering to the market on a 72-hour cycle confuses your people and your prospects. Follow a strategy with 10 prospects and determine the outcomes.  Don’t just take a sample size of one conversation with one prospect and decide that you “have the answer.”  Calm down. Follow the plan through 10 conversations with 10 prospects and then decide if a complete change in strategy is necessary.

4)    Conserve energy. Make choices. More of more is not necessarily going to yield more.  Focus on the opportunities that you are hunting one at a time and with rigor.  It is the opposite of the shotgun approach—a flurry of activity in many directions—but it is more effective in the long run.  It’s better to pick out strategic targets and drive hard at those opportunities.
5)    Give encouragement. Chances are that other people on the team are frightened.  Use your experience and judgment to show them that your team will get through this tough time.

As in life, the people who need the most help are usually the least likely to take it.  If you are the drowning man, follow this list. If you know a drowning man, give him this list. If you are doing just fine, keep this list.  You may need it the next time there is a sales shipwreck.

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