Last weekend I sat down to do some reflection and start my yearly planning for 2021. I like to think about what did and didn’t get accomplished in the previous year; what worked and didn’t work.
Most people will look back on 2020 and be glad that the year is over. They will look at it as a year where nothing good happened. They will see only struggle and lack. Between COVID-19, social injustices, natural disasters, and so much anger in people’s hearts, there has certainly been no shortage of sadness, obstacles, and fear. But when you look back on history you will always see incredible strength and heart in human beings, even in the darkest times.
2018 and most of 2019 were difficult years for us at Coast. We signed a new energy client who had never outsourced sales before. For the very first time we built a program entirely from scratch without existing support from our client. It was incredibly complicated, stressful, and painstakingly slow. In the summer of 2019, we started to see progress. By the end of 2019 we were running at our full capacity, excited for 2020 and the growth and expansion it would bring.
Early in 2020, news of the coronavirus began to be concerning for us in America, but I never imagined how much it would affect us. On March 16, 2020 we had to stop all client visits. On March 18th we closed our office, uncertain of what the future held. I had no idea what to do. As a leader, with so many people’s jobs and lives depending on my company, there were many sleepless nights.
But we had a choice. We could have panicked. We could have blamed. We could have thrown our hands in the air, helpless and frustrated, and waited for things to get better. But we didn’t. We took action. We were aggressive. We were confident that we would find a way. And we did.
When you don’t know what to do, you just have to ask yourself, “what CAN I do?” Since we couldn’t do sales (not even over the phone, because all energy sales had been stopped by the Illinois Commerce Commission), we asked ourselves, what else can we do to keep our people growing and moving forward in their careers and their lives? We organized conference calls, leadership development seminars, a book club, anything that would continue development. Our idea was to train people into their next promotion so that mentally and skill-wise they would be ready when we were able to get back to work.
With our people busy learning, we started looking at options for clients. If the future of energy sales was uncertain, then we would look elsewhere. I believe that through the biggest challenges come the biggest opportunities, if you are looking for them. Through our work on energy, we were presented with an opportunity to pilot residential property sales for Amazon. It would only be temporary, but it would be a start. Within weeks of that, we signed AT&T to sell internet and tv residentially for them. We had traditionally just done small business sales for our clients, but I learned early in my career that “opportunity is usually missed because it is dressed up in overalls and it looks like work.” If most people wouldn’t want to do residential sales, then we were going to do them because that is what these clients wanted.
Because of our attitude, we jumped in with both feet and we built two amazing programs. Our Amazon program, which was supposed to be temporary, has now supported our growth into 2 new markets. Our AT&T program is set to expand in the first quarter of 2021 and has the stability and longevity to support the growth of every single person working on that campaign.
When I think about how our team reacted, I am overwhelmed with emotion. What could have been the end of our business (and it was for many other companies), was the catalyst for our biggest growth in years. Not only did it bring us new opportunities with the biggest companies in the world, but it brought us some of the best people I have ever worked with in my entire career. I am grateful for people who see opportunity in challenges. I am grateful for people who are not afraid of hard work. I am grateful for people who persevere in the face of adversity, and I am grateful for where we are and where we’ve come from.
I am still saddened by all of the loss, but I encourage those who have lost and are still in challenging and uncertain times, to remember that it is not what happens to us, but how we react to it, that shapes our future. That is the only way to make positive change.
Looking forward to and hoping everyone has a beautiful 2021.