My longtime affinity for James Bond, coupled with the slogan written of him – “the man every woman wants and every man wants to be” – also presents two immediate stark contrasts: I’m not that guy and salespeople aren’t spies. That said, the way this character has been presented to us in book and film the past nearly seven decades certainly proffers a character we can relate to: someone with a job to do who’s got to do it well, and sometimes give the other fella hell.
We have seen a variety of forms of this character, but there is a common theme: a field agent paid to do a job where only he can go – often autonomously, entrusted to make decisions, with briefings from leadership and infrequent communications back to base – because the job that needs to be done requires someone in the field to meet the connection, to make the decision and to execute what needs to be done.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work in sales and leadership across inside sales, field sales, leading remote teams and even leading door-to-door efforts B2C and B2B, in consulting from sales rep to senior management and this much is certainly true: you can achieve a whole heck of a lot (especially in today’s day and age) digitally and virtually, but some deals just don’t get done unless you sit across the table, shake hands, and partner in person.
The whole first meeting between Bond and Q (in, of course, the Daniel Craig iteration of the character) is rife with references to what I mean, and it sums it up quite nicely:
The whole mood of Skyfall is that Bond is a dinosaur; past his prime. The need for the field operative is null and void because of everything that can be done with data and drones.
Q: “I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey, than you can do in a year in the field.”
007: “Oh, so why do you need me?”
Q: “Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.”
007: “Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pajamas.”
In person, you can gauge the room, get a feel for body language and the true nature of the relationship, there is no mute button where the audience can proverbially mutter under their breaths – it’s all in the open.
Bond describes card-playing to Vesper in Casino Royale as playing the person across from you; it’s not about the cards (as we all have to determine when we show ours during course of deal-making and negotiation) but about the play between the players. You can read the players when you sit across a table from them; far less is lost in translation of the phone call or virtual discussion. Looking someone in the eyes can gain a trust like nothing else can.
Be present. Just like top sellers don’t need to constantly be critiqued (their love language may just be words of affirmation), customers just want to be able to see you from time to time and not only when you’re trying to sell them something. Being there, knowing the gatekeepers by name and being friendly and conversational with them, being able to comment on your past visits to their office, and being there consistently so you are top of mind is an incredibly important investment of your time.
The field seller requires all (DOUBLE-O) SEVEN of these critical attributes James Bond possesses:
(1) Charm/ Personality/ Charisma. The greatest Bond, Sir Sean Connery, embodied cool. He would rarely sweat (only when a deadly tarantula inched closer to poisoning him), certainly remained poised in the face of very hostile adversity and always had a quip to subside the danger in the air. Sellers endure a mound of work, setbacks and disappointments but have to continue projecting the air of success and positivity no matter what dilemma befalls them. Sir Roger Moore, definitely the jokiest Bond, was always good at the light-hearted one-liners in tense moments, too. While charm and charisma can be conveyed through the phone, the energy it injects into the physical atmosphere is contagious.
(2) Performance under pressure: James Bond always faces the most dire of consequences, with his critical actions needed with just seconds left before nuclear weapons explode, world powers are crippled, or his martini contains the wrong balance of vodka and vermouth or is stirred instead of shaken. Sellers face deadlines, emergent situations (constantly), micromanagement, pressure over pipeline (moving deals and lack thereof) – you name it. The field seller also has to have that perfect mix of in-person meetings, drive time, and an optimal calendar to manage through scale. An ability to take it all in stride, focus on maximizing the moment and the meeting and perform well even when you’re working on the final stages of your make-or-break deal is paramount.
(3) Perseverance – the ability to rise from each fall and bring the best version of yourself to each day, despite the many ups and downs. Our selling game has changed dramatically over the last few decades (just as the Bond franchise has) and what was valued in the age of Mad Men and Wall Street looks very different. “Never let them see you bleed,” Q tells Bond (in Desmond Llewelyn’s final appearance in The World is Not Enough) – and this means don’t react negatively when the interaction with customer or manager or colleague doesn’t go your way, don’t fret openly when the deal goes awry (sometimes over and over again), hang in there when unfair circumstances shake your world, and be consistent in the face of ebbs and flows in your business.
(4) Patience – Bond has an ability to wait out a bad guy or situation so the villain makes a mistake. Sales cycles can be anywhere from same day to multi-year, and much of the life of a seller is hitting milestones and moving deals through pipeline. Things will rarely go as you foresee or desire, and it demands a steady hand on the wheel on an often long and winding road. Bond stakes out the villain’s hideout as long as it takes, makes calculated moves as he advances on henchmen and yet seizes the opportunity when it’s in front of him. We must be the same way.
(5) Thrill of the chase & competitive nature. Bond seems most alive when he’s chasing the bad guy, pushing his incredible vehicle to the limit or competing with Goldfinger on the golf course, Graves in fencing or even an arcade game in a ridiculous scene in Never Say Never Again. He is also a notorious card player – the best in the service. He also typically wins. Either way, he never backs down from a challenge and certainly gives every opponent a run for their literal money. Sellers have to have a love of the game, lest there is no reason left to play. The adrenaline rush of the close, the excitement of creating and chasing a deal, the climbing of the stack ranking – these are all things top of mind for the seller.
(6) Intuition. It’s important to be one step ahead; 007 is chartered with anticipating what a villain will do, what diabolical plot is afoot and how he can intercept and foil effectively – all while saving the world. We have to anticipate our customers’ needs and objections in all shapes and sizes; this often comes through experience(s). Keeping at the pulse of what’s going on in the industry, in your territory and at your customer’s organization helps you respond quickly, predict problems, gain trust and respect and figure out how to chart out the partnership into the future.
(7) Always bring the right weaponry! As sellers, we have so many tools and resources in our arsenal, from collateral and stories to incredible people and connections who can make relationships and partnerships better. Bond brings his Walther PPK (or Beretta or ASP, depending on what you’re reading or watching) and his souped up Bentley or Aston Martin to every arena he enters. He’s also got his gifts from Q-Branch. We have devices, apps, team members, experts, and demos – use them wisely! These are often expertly executed in the field – the ability to showcase your solution to a live audience, interact with them and surmise their interest and actively engage through gestures, eye contact, body language and handshakes afterward.
The literary and cinematic James Bond has countless similarities to today’s seller, and the focus spent on his changing role in the digital age has been quite fascinating. Reinventing a franchise over 60+ years certainly has its challenges as this character has to transform for a new age. The obvious questions of obsolescence and effectiveness have to be tackled, especially when data and remote surveillance and digital approaches can achieve so much.
I’ve been very fortunate to spend lots of time training others on social selling and cannot undermine the value of digital sales and its importance. Social selling is crucial today, but it is best used as a way to create face to face relationships that do not already exist, getting intel you would not have otherwise, staying top of mind with your growing network of customers and partners, and building your brand.
Inside sales and field sales go hand in hand; the very reason an effective SDR can be so valuable to a seller. But it’s also so critically important that both realize the true value of the other – leveraging each others’ relationships and strengths.
No matter what happens with automation and AI, it only strengthens the arsenal of the field seller. Time invested in face to face relationships is a down payment on a true partnership.
James Bond, Agent 007 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service is loyal, resilient, dedicated, and he gets the job done every single time by going into the field and building relationships and finding the problems. Timothy Dalton’s Bond proclaimed, “I’m a problem eliminator.”
Sellers exist to solve and eliminate problems, deliver solutions and better partnerships. And no matter what changes in sales the field seller is an indespensable agent.