De-Ice Your Wings: 5 Sales Practices to Ensure You Don’t Crash & Burn

In this article I’m going to give you 5 practices that will absolutely make a big difference for you if you’re trying to get off the ground and stay in the air in regard to your professional sales and leadership career. Allow me to draw some analogies from a short commercial flight I took last week.

I sat on the tarmac at Burbank Airport, waiting. I’d booked my departure to allow enough time to grab a taxi and be at my Las Vegas speaking engagement on time. I’d taken the short flight a million times, never experiencing an “ice delay”. I was either going to have no time to spare, or I was going to be late.

I didn’t understand what the big deal was……it was just a little ice on the wings!

Ice on Wings

I slumped down in my window seat, looking out at the wing. An off-duty Southwest pilot sat in front of me. He may have been off-duty, but he had an important job, watching a small patch of ice on the wing. When it disappeared he could give the ‘thumbs up’ so we could leave the ground. The flight crew explained there was no de-icing equipment at Burbank. The chemical used to de-ice wings was dis-allowed as part of California’s Clean Water Act. Because of the undersized runway at Burbank, there was ZERO tolerance for ice on the wings. Hence, the only solution for us was to taxi out to a sunlit spot on the tarmac and wait.

Perplexed and frustrated, I tapped the off-duty pilot on the shoulder. “Hey, I’m curious, how could that small patch of ice on the wing ever make a difference in getting this plane off the ground?” He smiled, understanding that most passengers were probably thinking the same thing.

“I can’t give you all of the scientific stuff. I just know that ice is bad.”

He explained that Burbank’s short runway offered pilots no room for error. He said the ice caused a reshaping of the surface of the lift-producing parts of the airplane: the wings and the tail. That little bit of roughness, he said, was enough to change the aerodynamics…cause more drag and less lift. He also explained that ice could build up during a flight. And then he said:

“If you ignore the ice you can lose complete control of your aircraft. And, it’s not only the ice you CAN see, sometimes it’s the ice you CAN’T see that kills you.”

I nodded my head, but still skeptical (and able to use my iPhone) I Googled the subject and found an article from 2009.

The Continental Express flight 3407 was five miles short of the runway in Buffalo, N.Y., when it suddenly pitched, rolled, and plunged into a house outside of town. The accident killed all 48 passengers and crewmembers on board. It also killed one man inside the house. Reports suggested that the pilot violated guidelines by turning on his autopilot, a no-no during severe ice conditions. The article went on to quote the NTSB and the essence of what they said was…

…Ignoring severe ice conditions can create shifts in the handling of the airplane, and these changes can be precursors to
premature stalling or loss of control.

After reading this article I was a believer.

Ice IS bad!

Ding! The off-duty pilot had given the ‘thumbs up.” We were ready to take off. My mind was whirring with my newly acquired aeronautical knowledge and the lesson-seeker in me took over. As we lifted off I began to draw analogies of this new knowledge that tied back to sales. I jotted down these 5 observations.

1. We don’t know what we don’t know (Out of sight – out of mind)

I had no idea how a little ice could bring an airplane down. So why would I worry about it? Unless something creates a damaging consequence for us (like being late to your destination or worse, death) we don’t concern ourselves with it. The analogy to our sales or leadership careers may be clear.

If we don’t identify the hazards that can keep us down, or bring us down, we can’t prohibit those things from occurring.

2. We have a short runway (All of us)

Here’s the second analogy. We all have a short window of time to get off the ground in commission sales. Our ramp-up time usually correlates directly to the amount of cash reserves we have. But even if we have gobs of cash in the bank we can’t sit on the ground forever. Sooner or later we have to take flight. The commission sales game is very momentum driven. If you plan to have a successful career it’s much more conducive to take flight quickly.

3. A little roughness can alter your results greatly

The off-duty pilot explained that a little roughness on the wings changes the aerodynamics of the aircraft. Here’s the analogy: Think about times you’ve fine-tuned your skill sets. Maybe you made a small change in the way you managed your calendar. Perhaps you made a slight improvement of your appointment setting methods. Maybe you perfected your presentation. Do you recall how much difference those little tweaks made for you? Getting rid of rough edges, regardless of how minor they may seem, can be the difference between you barely surviving or becoming wealthy.

The margin between you and greatness can be that small!

4. If you ignore deficiencies or challenges, you will lose control

My fourth analogy is about ignorance. The man said that if you “ignore the ice” you can “lose complete control of your aircraft.” How many times in our professional lives have we silently acknowledged our inadequacies and then proceeded to ignore them? We know they’re not going to magically vanish. So WHY do we ignore them? I believe that there are two primary reasons:

Arrogance – We know it all

We’re flying high, have some minor success, then begin believing there’s nothing else to learn. We switch on the autopilot and leave the cockpit. We stop seeking feedback. We take our hand off the rudder and also stop prospecting, which means our pipeline empties quickly.

Laziness – We choose not to do the work

We identify that we’re lacking in some area, but still ignore our challenges because we don’t want to do the work to fix them. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We choose the option of short term comfort over the temporary pain that we know we’ll experience if we endeavor to fix the problem.

The ice on our wings, however, doesn’t go away. It continues to build up until we lose control of our finances and then our career. Then our ignorance takes us down.

5. Sometimes it’s the things you CAN’T see that can kill your career

This last analogy ties the hidden ice that can bring down an airplane to your damaging practices or thoughts, the ones you can’t see, the ones that just may kill your career. The times we typically choose to put our plane on “autopilot” and waltz away from the cockpit are usually when we’re flying high.

You never learn any lessons when you’re winning!

I’ve always been open to mentors, but honestly…there were times in my career when I was far less open than others. It is much tougher to learn about yourself and grow when everything is going well. Conversely, I’ve learned my most treasured lessons when I was at the lowest points in my professional and personal life and turned to others for help. It’s funny how this works.

Good times or bad, winning streak or slump, we need to identify the shortcomings we can’t see, the ones that will hold us back from greatness. We need an off-duty pilot to watch our wings and fuselage and find the ice we can’t see.

I’m going to shift from analogies to takeaways now and ask you to take a look at the checklist at the end of this article.

If you are a FRONTLINE sales professional – Please take a moment to walk through this list as you begin your 2015 sales campaign.

If you are a sales LEADER – Please feel free to print out or copy this article and checklist and use it as a topic for your Monday morning meeting or weekly training session.

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De-Ice Your Wings: 5 Sales Practices To Ensure You Don’t Crash & Burn

Learn what you DON’T know (Landmines) – Go to your internal and/or external coaches and build a list, identifying all of the common landmines. (Write them down on a yellow pad or white board) These are the pitfalls that you need to be aware of and be on guard against. (The things that take down sales people or leaders)

Ramp-up quickly (Remove drag) – Acknowledge that your window to get your commission sales career off the ground is limited. Remove or reduce all drag that can hold you back. Drag elements are the BIG things that keep you from getting off the ground…the key Competencies you’ve not yet become adequate at, critical Attitudes you haven’t adopted, or Pipeline practices you’re not employing. (Choose the top 3 things that are causing DRAG. Write them down and develop a plan to eliminate them)

Get rid of your ROUGH spots (Fine-tune) – Know that small degrees in the improvement of your Competencies, Attitudes and Pipeline management practices can make a HUGE difference in your overall results. Look to find tweaks that will help you smooth out your performance. Ask your coaches to help you fine-tune. (Choose 3 tweaks that will make a big difference to your income over the next 30 days)

Continuously seek feedback (Keep your hand on the rudder) – Know that arrogance and laziness in your sales or leadership career can sink you. Be diligent, keep your eyes on your pipeline flow. Don’t become distracted by minor success. Know that there will be a little more work and pain to get to your NEXT level. Stay humble, open and committed to the work. (List the top 3 specific items you need help on and then ask your manager or coach for feedback)

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o Internal – Hierarchy
o Internal – Peer to Peer
o External – Sales Coach
o External – Life’s Board of Directors

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De-Ice Checklist

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