The myth of the Lone Wolf salesperson

by | Sep 17, 2018 | Business Ideas, Managing Teams, Professional Development, Selling Tips

Wolf at dusk

Throughout history, the mythological “lone wolf” has captured imaginations as the solitary, resourceful, self-sufficient hero who stands tall against daunting odds to win the day.

The “lone wolf” figure has been especially prevalent in the world of sales: the “ace player” who prowls on his or her own and can always be counted on to bring home the big game.

But are they? Do they?

In fact, the lone wolf sales person is a dangerous myth, especially these days.

In the animal world, no wolf can survive for long in the wild, separated from its pack. And neither can the human lone wolf: the salesperson, sales leader or business owner who attempts to operate without help or backup. You’ve met them (or maybe, sigh, you are one). They’re the ones who hoard information, exclude others from conversations, don’t ask for or offer advice and don’t even try to work collaboratively.

Remember this: If you operate as a Lone Wolf, you are vulnerable.

And more often than not, you will only achieve mediocre results.

Occasionally, with inordinate effort and great luck, you may achieve a spike of success. However, these victories are usually illusory and short-lived. Being a Lone Wolf can keep you from being part of a robust, collaborative network that can help you in the down times. You can’t benefit from the influence of others’ energy and creativity. And you certainly can’t form strategic partnerships.

What does it take to succeed in sales today?

In order to achieve any goal of enduring value — growing a business, building a structure, raising a child or being a great sales person — you need to enlist the cooperation of others.

You need to belong to a tribe.

It’s a fact of life: birds flock, fish school, people “tribe”.

These tribes take a number of forms, such as family, religious groups, business organizations, or any group that shares your core values. You may belong to several tribes. If you don’t belong to any tribes that fall into the “business” category, you simply can’t achieve your business goals.

My journey towards ‘Tribing’

I’ve always belonged to personal tribes but when I worked for others as a sales rep, I used to think it was my job to work on my own. Wasn’t I hired because I was self-motivated and capable?

The business I worked for at the time encouraged that mindset. There was no “tribal” interaction. As a result, there was a feeling of isolation within our team, and I felt alone, confused, and insecure.

Whenever I asked for help (which wasn’t often because I interpreted this as a sign of weakness), things went amazingly well. But because I thought of myself as a lone wolf, I didn’t learn the obvious lesson: “Intentionally Collaborate.”

Fast forward to my life as a small business owner. Once again, I continued to operate as a lone wolf. Sure, I had staff, but it wasn’t a “tribe” and I felt on my own. My business was struggling, which was really a metaphor for me struggling.

The Epiphany

One day in the shower, it dawned on me: I can work differently. When I do everything myself, my business life is hard and unrewarding. In other parts of my life, belonging to tribes makes my daily interactions interesting, easier and fun. Those tribes range from my family, book club, synagogue and neighbourhood to my volunteer work and summer cottage community.

How to unstick yourself from Lone Wolfishness

After my epiphany, it felt like my transformation from business Lone Wolf to Tribe Member took a long time. It doesn’t need to take YOU a long time.

I now have a partner and other colleagues for all the team coaching work we do, and these partners bring their tribes and connections to the party. I have great support staff and two coaches. (Two coaches might seem excessive, but hey, what the heck, it works!) I belong to Business Networking International (BNI), am connected to a large tribe of sales coaches and trainers, and my mastermind group is invaluable. The other important tribes I collaborate with are my alliance partners and clients.

I have stopped measuring success on an “I” basis, gradually shifting my perspective to “we”. I continue to apply one question to each challenge or new situation: “Who else would be cool to include in the conversation and how can we all benefit from our association?”

Get started by working in Triads

Involve at least three people when you try to generate ideas, sort out problems or make a decision. Either bring someone else (like your manager) on a sales call, or make sure there are at least two people at the customer site in the call.

You will notice that ideas come faster and your tribe expands more quickly as each person thinks of others to include. And you will feel less pressure because you don’t have to carry the entire responsibility for the conversation.

Recognize your ideal Tribe Mates

Outside of work, you are already part of naturally occurring tribes. They’re the people with whom you share values and interests. At work, intentionally build your tribes, one person at a time, using the same criteria: your shared values and interests.

Step One of course is being clear on your own values so you can decide who you want to include in your tribe, and who you want to avoid. For example, Joanne (my partner in team-coaching work) and I identified our core values as Collaboration, Energy, Persistence, Irreverence, Ease and Synchronicity.

Then we looked at who we consider our ideal customers. Guess what, the customers we enjoy have very similar values! We also looked at the customers who we find difficult and, no surprise, they don’t share our core values.

State your intention to stop working like a Lone Wolf

If you are a solo-preneur, tell people you want to start collaborating more. Tell them that you’re building your tribe, and ask if they know like-minded people you could meet.

If you are part of a sales team comprised of Lone Wolves, start talking about what would be possible if you started working more like a tribe and built on each others’ strengths. Let your customers know that you want to start collaborating with them more. For instance, if you do proposals, you can write the first draft and then work with your customer to improve it.

If you are part of a team that has each others’ backs, that spends time together developing strategy and building skills, that understands and lives your core values, and that promotes tribal behaviour, you’re on the right track.