By GrowthX Academy mentor, Saket Kumar

When I was in High School, I bumped into my guidance counselor in the hallway while I was late for class after gym. He asked me if I’d be interested in joining the Chess Club on Wednesday after school. They needed at least 5 people to join the club to keep it funded. In my head, I was thinking “I don’t even stay after for Stock Market Club, and I like that club – why would I stay after for this?” I’m sure he saw my hesitation and subtle eye roll – so he blurted out “There’s gonna be pizza from Pizza Palace!” – I shrugged, and said “fine, *sigh* I’ll be there….(for the pizza)”

I came in to the room where the chess club was being held after school, signed up on the sheet and paid the $5 dues to join the club. After introductions, the first thing the advisor of the club wanted to do was to play everyone in a game of chess to assess our skill-level to see if could cut it. This was funny to me, because I knew he’d let any and every one join, regardless of skill if he wanted to keep the club open. Oh, did I mention only 5 or 6 of us showed up? As you could imagine, the coolest of the cool kids from school were there! So, we all started playing against the advisor. Everyone started their games almost exactly the same way: moving some pawn either one or two squares forward in an attempt to gain control of the center, and every game ended the same way – with the advisor winning.

Eventually, it became my turn to play this guy. I’ve played chess before, but I never got too into chess because I never had anyone to play against other than Chess Master 4000 on my desktop computer at home – and after a while, I figured out how to beat the computer pretty easily and consistently (A.I. wasn’t very good back then). Back to the game: I was the white pieces. For my first move, I moved my Knight instead of a Pawn – the 4-5 other guys all let out an audible “ooohhhhh snap! (it was really the other “S” word)” – My second move was to move the other Knight on the field. The crowd was going wild….well, as wild as you’d think chess viewers could get. Hopefully, you can see where I’m going here: Needless to say, the advisor was thrown off his game, and I won. I was pretty bummed because there was no more pizza left for me. The victory, like my stomach, was empty. :-/

The advisor came up to me after the game and asked why I chose that move to start. I told him something along the lines of: “why would I do the same thing that I just saw 2-3 people do, and they lost it with? – that’s dumb, there’s no point!” I look back it now, and I wish I would have said something more eloquent such as “It’s hard to beat the odds by doing what was expected or by being predictable” or something more edgy like “If you want to change the game you need be a game changer.”

If you want to change the game you need be a game changer. @_SaketKumar Click to Tweet

You’ll often hear me advocating that the foundation of sales strategy and sales processes are extremely similar, regardless of what you’re selling, however the meat of the strategy needs be unique depending on the situation, and the situation is fluid and ever changing. In chess, there are only 20 (16 Pawn moves and 4 Knight moves) first moves that white pieces can make. “There are 400 different positions after each player makes one move apiece. There are 72,084 positions after two moves apiece. There are 9+ million positions after three moves apiece. There are 288+ billion different possible positions after four moves apiece. There are more 40-move games on Level-1 than the number of electrons in our universe. There are more game-trees of Chess than the number of galaxies (100+ billion), and more openings, defenses, gambits, etc. than the number of quarks in our universe!”

There’s a significant portion of people that are suffering from what I’ll playfully call “Me Too Syndrome.” You’re doing the ABM strategy from that company? Me too. You’re pushing “Social Selling” on your team? Me too. You read Aaron Ross’s new book? Me too. You hired so-and-so to do your sales training? Me too. Did you implement those new email templates from that blog post? OMG Meee toooo! Are you following {{Insert Industry-specific Thought-Leader here}} online? Me… freaking … too!! Me Too Syndrome is HIGHLY contagious! Another possible symptom of Me Too Syndrome is living in a bubble. You could be infected and not even know it! In my last post, Fifty Shades of Sales, I listed a few problems that most sales leaders are dealing with – they’re eerily similar. Why is that? It could be because they’re following other people’s strategies and not making their own. They follow those strategies because they believe they are winning strategies – but if you’re not “winning” like those strategies implied you would be, are you really winning?

They follow those strategies because they believe they are winning strategies – but if you’re not “winning” like those strategies implied you would be, are you really winning?

Pause here. Digest that last sentence. Reread it again. Think about it. Ok continue:

What I like most about chess is that it teaches you to be as objective as possible. Objectivity is (one of) your best bets when it comes to curing the Me Too Syndrome. It is what it is, and not what you want it be (unless you’re really special – but that’s a topic for another day), there are no emotions clouding your judgement.

You’re not playing on Aaron Ross’s or {{Insert Industry-Leader here}}’s chessboard, so why are you using their strategy? If you got offended by the previous sentence – then good! It means I’m finally getting to you to think for yourself again! I know it can hurt in the beginning. It’s scary and difficult to think about and analyze things for yourself. It’s easier to listen to industry leaders on their process and attempt to emulate them for yourself, because what if you’re wrong and you fail? On the flip side, what if you’re right and you win? Corollary: It’s very possible to be so objective that you end up seeing all the possibilities and you fail to act in time or at all!

It’s very possible to be so objective that you end up seeing all the possibilities and you fail to act in time or at all!

When people post content like “7 email subject lines that average a 65% response rate” or “How I used this technique to get 462% increase in traffic” or “See how {{Insert Industry-Leader here}} uses our product to super charge and increase their close rates by 137%” – I always want to ask: “What was it before? Can you show me the numbers (raw data would be preferred) before and after, and not the percentages so I can put this claim into perspective?” Going from 1 sale a month to 2 sales a month is a 100% increase, while going from 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 sales a month is only a 50% increase. It’s relative, and statistics can be deceptive and still be technically true. You need to see the whole picture. The clever marketers and content creators will rarely make the raw, before and after, data available to support their claims, and that’s a shame that so many people fall for this. I hope that when people do post content like that, that they’re making it public after the strategy or tactic has served it’s purpose for them, and their team and has moved on to new strategy. Or maybe that is the strategy – get everyone to do something you know doesn’t work so the competition is predictable and you already have a counter to it when those people come into competition against you. I don’t know – but that would be a pretty incredible strategy! The point is: once you post something online and it get’s traction, or even goes “viral” – it starts to become commoditized at an accelerated rate.

The reason strategies and best practices get names and labels and become “famous” in the first place is because they were new and never done before and we’re extremely effective at one point in time. The chess strategy called the Queen’s Gambit, has it’s name because it was a game changer when that first person executed it. However, after some time, there was a counter to the Queens Gambit, and it too was highly effective – thus, it got the name the Albin’s Counter-Gambit. Breakthrough! Use the same email templates as everyone, get the same negative responses. Use the same call cadence get the same type rejection. Do something different and you’ll get intrigue or shock and hesitation, and that’s when you make your move and execute! This is probably why personalization is valued by both sides. There are only 20 different starting moves you can make in chess, and there a only 3 big-picture (Win, Lose, or Stalemate – if you didn’t know) ways a chess game can end. It’s in the middle where we separate the novices and copy-cats from the real Chess Masters.

Parroting what industry figureheads are saying or doing doesn’t really help anyone get better themselves or their sales strategy.

Parroting what industry figureheads are saying or doing doesn’t really help anyone get better themselves or their sales strategy. We need to learn more new things, take new risks and venture into the unknown, and share those stories so we can build newer, bigger and better sales strategies. We’re all going to die eventually, and there is a lot that I still have to accomplish while I’m still alive. I let out an audible *sigh* and shake my head in frustration every time my curiosity gets the better of me and I’m ‘tricked’ into viewing content that are the same thoughts and words recycled. I could of been doing something better with my time – and time is the most valuable thing we have. These people add little, to no, “net-new” value.

The Sales Leaders and the Mentors that I follow and talk to aren’t “parrots” – they’re Supreme Strategists, with some of the most foresight, awareness, and execution ability given their unique “chess boards.” Every time I talk to them, I realized that I gleaned something new that I wouldn’t of been able to learn online, in a book, or extrapolate from my own knowledge-base or thought process. That’s what makes them leaders to me, and that’s what makes me even more loyal to them. They provide REAL VALUE and not just repeating what’s already been said and done, and I can’t thank them enough for that. Part of me wants to share them with the world, so we can all be free-thinkers, learners, and doers. Another part of me wants the vocal-majority to continue the group-think mentality.

The best kept secrets are still secrets, but…

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it! The title of this post comes from The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis. I want to end on this post with this: Pawns don’t look like much on the surface, and most will fall in battle – but every once in a while a Pawn is capable of transforming into so much more. They can change the entire dynamics of the game!

Everyone is capable of doing amazing things on their unique “chessboard” – remember that!