There’s no such thing as winning in business, startups, or sales. It’s time we kick that idea to the curb. Sales leaders need to stop seeing sales as a finite game of winners and losers. There’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for success my friends, it’s all about context.
Regardless of what you read online about all of the “unicorns” you aspire to be.
After all, how can you win a game that has no clear endpoint which would define you as a winner?
In my experience, sales leaders often latch onto this mindset when they don’t emphasize the importance of the WHY behind the sales teams they’re leading and what they’re actually selling.
Instead, sales teams try to sell by focusing on:
- Everything they think they’re doing right
- What they’re told to do that may not be right… insert poor leadership
- Getting caught up in advice they receive from their community that may not apply to their business
If you go into a sales meeting and approach your buyers with a laundry list of all your product features and accolades, you’re never going to convince a buyer to hop on board.
Simon Sinek is one of my heroes and sums up this flawed approach well:
As Simon says: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.”
One of the mantras I live by is: mindset = action = outcome
A subtle shift in mindset can have a massive impact on your long-term success in sales. It all starts with seeing sales for what it actually is: an infinite game.
The Finite vs. Infinite Game
The idea behind this comes from James Carse’s book ‘Finite and Infinite Games’. To sum it up: our world consists of finite and infinite games. A finite game is a game that’s played to win. Every finite game has clear boundaries, rules, winners, and losers. Things like sports, obtaining a degree, war, deciding to go on a diet to lose weight, etc.
In infinite games, the objective is simply to continue playing. There are no winners or losers. If the goal of the finite game is dieting to lose 10 pounds, the infinite game is to be healthy.
Doesn’t that sound more important in the long run?
Finite players make choices so that they can win and infinite players make choices so that they can keep playing.
I see this in sales all of the time. The short-sighted, ‘what’s in it for me only so I can grow or win at any cost’ mindset versus the long-game realization that if I consistently work hard to help my buyers succeed, I’ll succeed as well over the long haul.
Embracing the infinite mindset is to seek to understand versus respond, be open to what’s happening, learn to love the conversation, and realize that sales success for the long-haul isn’t a game that you win or lose.
An infinite minded leader is up for the challenge with a mind like water to welcome innovation, surprise, and a trusting team that leans into existential flexibility. This is what moving the needle looks like for sales in startups that defy the failure odds.
Applying the Infinite Mindset to Sales Leadership
Again, there’s no such thing as winning or losing in business, startups, or sales. It’s an ongoing, iterative journey of growth, learning, success, and failure. It’s good to have goals to know what you’re working towards. But, obsessing over a monthly sales quota when your buyers make purchasing decisions on an annual basis is a recipe for constantly chasing your own tail in the long run.
Simon captures the point well:
“The problem is too many business owners, too many leaders don’t know the game they’re playing. They talk about being number one, being the best, beating their competition. Based upon what agreed-upon metrics? Based upon what agreed upon timeframes? There’s no such thing.”
Chasing an arbitrary number is locking yourself into the finite game of sales. It won’t serve you or your company because you’re actually playing a game that has no end.
Infinite-minded organizations don’t limit the boundaries of what’s possible, nor do they put all their effort into hitting artificial sales targets with a growth at any cost mindset. Instead, they realize the success of their customers will lead to their success and create a bold framework to provide the best outcomes.
Coaching isn’t a fuzzy term when it comes to leading sales teams and leadership development isn’t a foreign concept. Great businesses have a thirst for continuous improvement, along with a trusted team backed by core values that resonate in actions versus words.
This is the infinite game theory of sales. And why it’s critical to focus on your WHY.
Back to Simon Sinek for a second… if you haven’t seen his Ted talk on this topic, I highly recommend you drop everything to check it out. It’s a must-watch for any VC, Founder, business leader, sales leader, sales team, or marketing team.
Putting the Infinite Mindset into Action
Talk is cheap. Putting this mindset into action will usher in a new era of sales leadership with a fresh vision to take your sales teams to the next level. Embracing the infinite mindset will start to open doors you never knew were there.
Focus on your WHY
When you’re clear on your why first versus your what or how, you’re clear on the motives and objectives of your business. This translates to the negotiation table as well. When you’re clear, you make it easy for your buyers to understand. Like attracts like. Focusing on the ‘why’ helps you be magnetic to your ideal customer and helps you get to ‘no’ faster to spend more time on ‘yes’ without the icky tactics while keeping doors open.
The why is much bigger than listing out features or highlighting success in metrics. Your why is the essence of your company vision and your reliable North Star. It’s a bold framework that influences every action and communication in your business and is reinforced by every decision you make as a leader.
This is the essence of embracing an infinite mindset.
Don’t get caught up in the metrics
It’s time to put your worthy rival or unrealistic sales target to the side. Great businesses have great sales leaders. Great sales leaders realize the customer holds the keys to the castle and create a bold framework to do the right work, with the right people consistently. When that happens, the numbers skyrocket.
Think of it as an endless horizon of opportunity where your potential is limitless. When you take care of your people (buyers included), they take care of you.
Encourage trust and open collaboration with your sales teams
When looking at your sales team from an infinite mindset, it’s easy to see why trust is so important for the long-term vision. Think about what happens if people on your team are afraid to admit they’ve made a mistake or share a new idea. It’s a vicious cycle because they’re incentivized to hide what’s going on or mute their voice. In the long run it’s your buyers who suffer the consequences that ultimately come back to bite your business.
Most importantly, it limits your coaching potential to understand the reality of the situation, right any wrongs, learn from them, and grow. Creating a company culture of accountability and transparency is the key to providing value to your buyers. When everyone on your team is synced to the truth of what you can offer and the underlying vision that fuels it, your buyers will take notice.
Set expectations early and often to create an open environment where your team knows exactly what’s going on, new ideas are shared, challenges are addressed, courage is celebrated, and creativity to charge ahead together to build a remarkable business isn’t just words you see written on your website. Do this and watch the infinite game magic happen.
Will you set hard boundaries and continue to look at sales as a finite game while turning your buyers off in the process?
Or will you remain loyal to your vision and courageously seek to provide your buyers with as much value as possible throughout the journey?
All limitations that we impose on ourselves are created by us alone. When you approach sales leadership from an infinite mindset, you create an endless horizon of limitless opportunity.