Sales leader and history buff, Scott Tricker, shares his insights on learning, teaching, and how the lessons of history drive selling excellence.
I didn’t start out to be in sales; I wanted to be a teacher. I earned my degree in history, which has always been my passion. But after graduation, other opportunities presented themselves. I became a seller, and then a sales manager and, eventually, a sales leader. I’ve been fortunate to work for several great companies and learn from some outstanding leaders.
For the past eight years, I’ve been directing sales at Olsson, a national engineering and consulting firm. Olsson sets an outstanding example of how to focus and grow an organization around a consistent set of values. In my time here, we’ve doubled the size of the company in both revenue and team members. Today, I’m proud to lead a national team of 18 high-performing professionals.
So, was it a waste of time to spend four years studying history? Not on your life.
My liberal arts background gives me an added perspective on business. U.S. and military history are still my favorite hobbies, but continued learning has been just as critical to my professional success. When you’re intellectually curious, when you’re always driven to know more, you keep growing. I’ve also been a teacher every step of the way – developing sellers on my team, educating clients, and even presenting new information to CEOs. And selling, like military operations, is very much a tactical business.
Generals and CEOs
Remember what you learned in school about the D-Day Invasion of Normandy? As the Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower was like the CEO of the operation. General Omar Bradley was Ike’s ground force leader. The way I see it, that’s my job as a sales leader. And like General Bradley, there are three things that I, as Director of Business Development, must always oversee for my CEO:
- Information and Intelligence
- Mission and Values
- Discipline and Accountability
Information and Intelligence
Think of how much accurate information it took to land 160,000 troops on D-Day. It was Bradley’s job to gather and communicate everything Eisenhower needed to know to make the right decisions at the right time. OK, I admit, my job may not determine the future of the free world – but it determines whether our operations succeed or fail. That includes information about the pipeline, sales forecasting, market trends, threats, disruptions, and even competitive intel.
It’s also being able to accurately share what are our customers feeling. Why did they say yes? Why did they say no? To make the right decisions, a CEO should expect that kind of intelligence from their sales organization.
Mission and Values
Napoleon said, “the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” That’s a fancy way of saying that all the talent, tools, and time in the world won’t get the job done without a shared vision of not just what we’re trying to achieve, but why. As a sales leader, I don’t provide that vision – the CEO does. But I’m in charge of building, leading, and developing a team that aligns with the company’s mission and values.
Growth is essential, but growing into what? If your only objective is getting bigger, that’s pretty meaningless. If we have a team that lacks character and trust, that doesn’t represent our values and help our brand, then we’re sunk.
At Normandy, the Allied Command provided the single, overriding “why” that brought the fighting forces of eight nations together. At Olsson, I give our senior leadership a lot of kudos for providing a similar kind of “why.” When they created a growth plan years ago, they didn’t just pick a goal; they asked, “Why are we doing this? Why do we exist?”
The answer was and is twofold: We exist for our employees, and we exist to serve our clients. Specifically, our 1,700+ scientists and engineers want to take on more challenging projects and do work that will leave our client communities better than we found them. When you’re growing for a purpose and for each other, you’re able to make some pretty tactical decisions when large opportunities are at stake. It empowers you to run a business as much more than a number and to confidently walk away from projects that don’t align with what you set out to do.
To me, that is the most gratifying part of the growth we’ve achieved at Olsson.
Discipline and Accountability
The third thing you find in successful military operations, and in strong selling organizations, is a culture of discipline and accountability. To me, selling is a process-based science. When we’re winning at a high level, it’s because we’re executing the process with more precision and discipline than the competition.
Discipline means documenting, owning, and relaying accurate information to the CEO to make timely decisions on which projects we’re going to pursue and which projects we’re going to leave. And beyond information, do you have the discipline to say, these are the deals we have a chance at winning, and these are the ones we don’t? It takes guts to say this is a big number, it looks enticing, but these are the reasons we’re going to walk away.
Finally, it takes both discipline and accountability to learn not just from success, but from failure. You need to put forth the effort, but you also need the courage to analyze and admit what went wrong. The key takeaway is always, what did you learn from that?
Esprit de Corps
One final thing: One of the major changes in selling in the past 15 years is the shift to a team approach. Individual sellers don’t carry the whole load. They work as a team. This just makes the intel, mission, and discipline that much more essential. Learn these lessons of history. Use them to serve your CEO and lead your team. Together, you’ll be ready when it’s time to take the beach.
Want to hear Scott talk more about company culture and orchestrating a team to drive incredible success? Listen to our corresponding podcast episode here.
For over 25 years, Scott Tricker has benefited companies with the talent of a seasoned corporate development professional who delivers strong results in the areas of business development, strategy, corporate partnerships, client management, and positioning. In addition to his core strengths as a sales professional, he has worked extensively with operation leaders within the corporate arena, providing him with a strong acumen for business operations, financial statement review, budgeting, and high-level corporate strategy. His blend of proven sales pursuit, relationship management, business operations, and the ability to close complex opportunities have allowed him to significantly impact a business.