2020 is the year that shook the world and disrupted businesses across the globe. Some businesses have weathered the storm through and most are understanding how to better be ready for unpredictable change.
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We talk with our star sales manager, AJ Underwood, how to really be ready for unpredictable change. He’s managed to take an in-house inside sales team remote in mere hours and his team has continuously pushed the boundary of what they can accomplish each month without missing a step!
AJ has a long background in sales and managing a team. He worked originally in the airline industry by contracting out the ground crew and now he’s aligning businesses with software that will take them to the next level.
AJ’s Contact Information
Double A Solutions Information
Halie Morris 0:31
My name is Halie Morris. I am the podcast coordinator and host here at Everyday Business Solutions and with me today I have AJ Underwood, who is the Sales Manager at Double A Solutions, our parent company.
AJ Underwood 0:42
Yes. Hello. Thank you for having me. This is exciting.
Tell us a bit more about yourself though because obviously sales manager is a bit of a broad term. So what do you do?
Well, I think I do a bit of the definition of that broad term. So kind of a little bit of everything. I manage a team of sales individuals, a very motivated and passionate team, something I’m very excited about. I oversee daily sales, shoot for projections, all those exciting things. I try to forecast, try to stay ahead of the curve, which I know we’ll probably get into here shortly, but a little bit of everything. I get people coffee and I do it all.
Yeah, that’s great. So our Sales Manager does get people coffee and start the pot in the morning. You know, sales managers slash what? Office boy?
Yeah, no, that’s good.
Yeah. Everything. All the above. D, all the above.
All right. Obviously, with being a sales manager, you have to have a team. So tell us a little bit about how many people you manage, what kind of team you’re managing.
Yeah, I think I currently have nine sales folks with me. It’s been exciting to see the growth of our company. When I started, I think we were at five or six. So we’ve been able to add to the team because as time has evolved, we’ve entered a serious phase of growth. We’ve been able to bring folks aboard.
It’s really exciting for us because our model has always been, we could go out and find the experienced salesperson, but we really like appealing to a younger crowd, snagging- that might not be the right word. Yes, snagging somebody in their sophomore or junior year in college and providing them an internship opportunity that that we hope, ultimately can segway into a longer term career. A number of the individuals on my sales team have done that very thing, where they have, you know the earlier college years, they’ve been able to balance having that part time job, that internship and so getting that important office experience. Then after college ends up you hope you’ve done a good enough job to convince them to stay.
Even though oftentimes, especially as humans, we like, “oh, the grass is greener on the other side” Us and cows, we just think the grass is greener on the other side. But we hope that when they reach the end of their college days, and now the kind that the world is their oyster type of thing, they go, “I’m really happy with where I’m at and the things that I’ve learned.”
So I’m the elder statesman here and so my team is very young. But it’s exciting because with the youth comes, the energy and the excitement and the drive. It’s not that you don’t have that with a different group of individuals, but with this particular group, we certainly have that.
No, it’s great. I’m excited that we’ve got a couple people who have trickled in safely to the office and that the atmosphere is slowly returning to that culture that we know and love. So I’m excited to see everybody back here and I love our sales team. I just wanted to kind of give everybody a good background on who you are and what you do every day between sales and coffee.
Sure, yep. and everything in between. That’s the spectrum coffee, sales, and then everything that would fit in between those two things. That’s what I do.
Everything. So, leading off from that. You’ve got your team and you also have 2020, which has been like, the year on fire.
Yeah, I know. It’s just something that’s happened this year? Yeah, certainly, it’s been an interesting year. I constantly tell my sales team that we are living in a history textbook chapter.
I would say the whole book actually, if we keep going.
You know, years from now, you know, our children, our children’s children, will look back at the year 2020 and go, “Oh, whoa, look at that year!” and they’ll be able to certainly analyze things that were done right, things that were done wrong. By the time the listeners hear this, the aliens may have already touched down.
Right? I’m waiting for War of the Worlds to happen. I’m not emotionally prepared for it.
I’m ready. Given 2020 and what we’ve experienced, I think I’ve mentally prepared myself for when the mothership returns.
So we we’ve had the pandemic, we have a huge social rights movement that’s still occurring right now, we’ve had murder Hornets, we’ve had people are now cake- I think that’s, that’s still ongoing- and then the latest is the explosion that just happened yesterday in Lebanon. It seems like it can’t keep going but people are extremely resilient, so, of course, this year is still going.
But with that being said, it’s been the year of change. There’s been no year like this, at least in recent history, and it’s quite frankly knocked the whole world right off its axis. So how’s your team set up to handle this and how is the work situation looking right now?
Yeah, great question. And I’m fairly confident that I’ve stolen this from a movie. But I constantly remind the sales team that without change, we wouldn’t have butterflies. Right.
And so, as cheesy and corny as that may sound, you know, you look throughout the course of history, and whether it’s business or you know, where we find ourselves today, a lot of those things have happened at the doorstep of change and whether it’s a global pandemic or a social movement or some of these bigger picture things that are occurring, or it’s the smaller window things, like how does a company during all of these things continue to pivot and continue to change and adapt and evolve.
That really has been our secret. A lot of things have come to a screeching halt for us in terms of trade show opportunities, or the ability to have these opportunities basically generated for us and I think if you become reliant on those things you can fall behind, or you can get left behind.
So when all of this started happening, the leadership team here, we kind of put our heads together and we decided, we’re not going to be a victim here, we’re not going to succumb to these things. We’re going to try to adapt and pivot and stay ahead of these things.
What we’ve done specifically is we’ve tried to determine, in the midst of a global pandemic, or in the midst of some of these crazy things that have happened, who could most benefit from the products that we offer, and instead of waiting for those opportunities to come to us, we’ve tried to pursue them and I think that’s really the secret, go get the business. That’s the only way to stay up to the curve because it most likely won’t come to you.
Nobody’s, aside from retail therapy, is going out and saying “I want to spend my money.” People aren’t ready to make changes inside their business on top of the change that’s already happening to them. But obviously, with experiences like this, you’re taking a team through the craziest period of unpredictable change that we’re ever going to hopefully go through, and you’re doing it successfully.
So you can’t have-at least I don’t think you can have- got to this point without previous experience dealing withunpredictable change. So what other times have you seen and managed change?
Sure. So I worked a decade and a half in the airline industry prior to coming aboard with Double A Solutions and stepping into the role that I love now. If there was one thing that was consistent about the airline industry, it was change. By the time you grew accustomed to doing something a certain way.
Everything was, as you had mentioned earlier, everything was flipped on its axis. You were doing something completely different and if you didn’t, you didn’t survive. It wasn’t a matter of like, “Oh, we had a bad year.” It was, “oh, we’re not in business anymore.” So I think, a decade and a half of that experience, and seeing all the airlines that have come and gone and have disappeared, and that haven’t been successful, because they didn’t adapt, didn’t try to stay ahead of the curve, and then vice versa, seeing those that have been able to flourish and have been able to be profitable.
They did it by trying to be one step ahead. They did it by pivoting before anybody else did. The thought process here was much of the same. It’s that we’re not going to allow any events, whether you’re in the midst of an once-every-hundred-years-global-pandemic or not, your mindset should always be “we’re not happy with status quo.” If you get comfortable in status quo, oftentimes you disappear, you fade away.
Some things that we’ve done specifically, again, is we’ve gone out and found individuals whom we believe could benefit from our software. You said it best, everybody’s kind of keeping their funds close to the vest. Budgets have never been more important. But with that being said, other businesses are looking for opportunities to be more efficient and to pivot during these times. I mean, you think of the countless businesses right now who have learned they can be successful working remotely. Right. Even though that was a foreign concept just six months ago, or eight months ago, now it’s like, oh, wow, we can be successful.
Twitter has decided to let their employees work indefinitely from home, to never come back if they don’t want to because of the success that they’ve seen amidst the chaos. Double A Solutions has followed a similar vein. There’s only a handful of us right now that are working in the office and the rest of us are working apart from each other. But with our software, we’ve learned that even though we’re miles apart, we can still be very much connected with the cutting edge technology that we have.
Today is certainly crazy. I mean, because we’ve seen, not just the changes that this year seems to have brought, but there have been these technological-media type trends that have occurred. It’s not just the development, it’s a human shift towards them, and this urge to constantly be online. It’s changing the way people have to do business anyways. And then, I guess 2020 said, “You’re not doing it fast enough.”
Right? Could you imagine today asking somebody like, “Hey, do you know how to work Zoom?” Of course, we do. Right? We’ve had to. Same with us. Even though the ability to meet face to face has kind of diminished. One thing that we were passionate about, is having video calls still, still having some level or to the best of our abilities, some measure of human interaction.
It’s been tremendously beneficial for us and I think even moving forward when we can just pick up the phone and have a normal conversation with somebody or if we can have a face to face, you know, I think maximizing the amount of time that you can increase the human experience, the back and forth, being able to pick up on body language and social cues, etc, it will ultimately continue to find success for any company.
I definitely agree. So, obviously, we’re in this time of change. Quite frankly, it’s been sort of disheartening on some corners because some businesses have not made it through or we see some that are still struggling and they’re saying, “What do I do? What do I do?”. So why do we see companies fail when stuff like this comes along when others are doing so well?
I think it’s the difference between proactive and reactive. I think companies that are reactive, oftentimes, can suffer the consequences and it’s not lost on me, it’s not lost on us that there are companies that have not made it through this, and people have lost their jobs. That’s awful and terrible and you feel guilty sometimes kind of talking about how we’ve never had more successful months in the company’s history than right now.
But I think that’s a testament to the company that I work for, Double A Solutions, and their ability to pivot and be proactive in the midst of something like this. You know, you think of some companies throughout the sands of time that haven’t done a good job with this.
Blockbuster. When I was a kid, we didn’t have Netflix. I couldn’t go home and stream something. I went to the video store. I rented a movie and that was great … while it lasted, and then society changed, and then technology changed. Blockbuster had an opportunity to follow a similar path as Netflix did, but they didn’t. And of course, we know now there’s only one store left. It’s really more of a vanity thing. The reason why there’s even one store left.
Yahoo. Years ago, Yahoo almost got bought for billions of dollars and they turned it down, but then they failed to adapt. They failed to pivot. They failed to be proactive and the last offer they had to be bought was with an M, millions. Still a lot of money, but what a difference a few years can make when you’re not growing when you’re not adapting, evolving, and ultimately being proactive.
So I think that’s the difference. I mean, not to overcomplicate things, or not to super-simplified things, but there’s a difference between being proactive and reactive and in the midst of a chaotic year like 2020, companies that are proactive will continue to find success.
I’ve gone through five years of college and the one thing that they nailed down in the last couple years was trying to teach these younger business professionals, you have to respond and not react when you’re just in those basic interactions with people because it’s more authentic.
I think it’s similar to the idea of reacting versus being proactive. Proactive, allows you to respond when the time comes, allows you to sit back focus on the moment, and actually respond appropriately versus if you’re not doing anything, you only can react and you don’t want to be in a position where you’re just reacting, reacting, reacting because you’re going to react right into nothingness. But oh my gosh, you brought up Blockbuster. What do you think speaking of Blockbuster, you would have thought as a kid if you saw Netflix today?
Yeah, I mean, obviously there’s probably a handful of companies that looking back if only I would have made the appropriate investment opportunities when they were young. I think it’s just a testament to technology. There are things that are at its peak right now that five or 10 years from now will be a mere passing thought.
But I saw an article this morning about, given the fact that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and local governments have decided to shut down bars early, right, instill a curfew. Basically that curfew applies to the sale of alcohol. So this particular bar locally has decided after the 10 pm, from the 10 pm to the 2 am window which normally you’re the alcohol would have continued to flow, they’ve decided to start making breakfast and appeal to the third shifters and the people who are getting up and going to work. I thought it was brilliant.
That’s the thing about being proactive, Halie, is it may not even know to Be the right decision. You may be wrong. Maybe this breakfast idea for this bar won’t work. But it’s an idea. Regardless of whether it will or won’t work, they’ve decided we’re not going to be the victim here. Even though we’re being told after 10 pm we can’t sell alcohol. Well, then we’ll sell bacon eggs and see if there’s some measure of success to be found there. I think that is brilliant.
I think that is what truly separates individuals who know how to run businesses and those who don’t. Then I can confidently say at that Double A Solutions, I feel like the management team here knows how to run a business, because even though we’re not serving waffles-
I was just about to say, should keep an eye out?
It’s not a bad idea, you know.
Some chicken and waffles
Exactly. Even though we haven’t pivoted like that, we have pivoted and we have gone and tried to do things that we’ve never done before. And it’s been met with success. They don’t always meet success, but to do nothing, to wait for something to happen, to be reactive, therein lies the problem.
I think I think it was Archie, the CEO of Double A Solutions- I was talking to him once and he said, if you’re not growing and changing and staying ahead of the curve, you’re falling behind. So doing nothing is going to put you behind. I think what we saw this year is, it was an actionable year. It was not just these things that were happening to us.
All of the stuff that’s already been in place. It’s just sort of accelerated within a couple of months, which is very startling, very startling, but that if you look back, you can see in a bunch of these businesses’ roots that they were already stagnating and starting to slip.
So it’s definitely been interesting to see for sure, who succeeds and who doesn’t. I guess for you though, you mentioned that your team has had to make changes and that you’ve done very well. It’s a monumental time, right? What are some of those changes? Can you give us some examples?
Yeah, love to. So, especially with a younger group, there’s, on occasion, there can be some lack of coaching and motivation and guidance. One of the things that we switched to immediately was- you know, I don’t believe in quotas, but I do believe in goals. If you can make goals specific to each and every day, you can often keep a group of people motivated.
If you’re having a bad week or a bad month or a bad quarter- and I can tell you sales is a rollercoaster ride, right? There’s good and bad. There are peaks and valleys, there are highs and lows. But if you can stay somewhere in the middle, and while you’re there, still maintain a level of excitement, you can often accomplish really great things.
So the first thing that we’ve done is we’ve decided to change our mindset. It’s not about this week. It’s not about this month. It’s not about this quarter. It’s about today. What can we do today to bring ourselves personal successes, the business that we work for successes because those two are intertwined?
So that’s, that’s the first thing I think. It’s taking a different approach, a different mindset to how you can pivot how you can adapt and not think so big-picture. There’s nothing wrong with thinking big picture. You have to do that to be proactive, but I think you can also slow it down a little bit and think about what we need to accomplish today. The beauty is, if you have a bad day, that’s okay because tomorrow is a new day and we can hit the reset button, and tomorrow we can focus on today. Right?
So then the second thing and probably the biggest piece, again, is, as we saw the industries that we work in trending in specific directions, the decision was made to stay ahead of those directions. When we approach our potential prospects or customers, we approach them as industry experts, because we are. We see how it’s trending and instead of waiting for customers or prospects to tell us what they think they might need, we tell them what we believe they’ll need to be successful.
I think that’s reassuring for customers or prospects to hear. “Oh, it sounds like these people have their act together”. Right. It sounds like the kind of know what they’re talking about, which is a rarity right now. Because nobody knows what they’re talking about. So if you can approach things with, we’re confident that this will work this way and that our software will help you to be more efficient.
Our VoIP system, Aline, will help connect an office that can be miles apart. We’re a testament that we have into individuals that work all over this great country. But we’re all connected through the same technology. So I think those are the two things. Focus on being successful today. Then the other end of the spectrum, be proactive and be ahead of the curve within a specific industry that you’re doing business in.
Yeah. So, going off of staying ahead of the curve in the industry, it’s good to say, but what are ways that a business can actually look at those trends? Where should they be looking to find those trends? Or how can they then identify those avenues, I guess?
So, we live in a time where information is literally at our fingertips like we carry supercomputers in our pockets all day long. There’s probably some combination of internet research, speaking with local marketing agencies to get a vibe for how things are trending from a local or a regional aspect.
Then, of course, keeping your eye on the national landscape or the international landscape, depending on the extent and reach of your business. But I think also looking within. If you have a group of like-minded individuals, people who are motivated and passionate, then talk to them.
I think some of the best meetings that I’ve ever had in the history of meetings are the ones that I wasn’t talking… It was the ones where my team was telling me about things that they felt like, ‘hey, perhaps we could pursue this route.’ ‘Or maybe this would be an area that we could venture into.’
Oftentimes, looking within the company and finding the individuals within the company that are driven and motivated and passionate, you can find the answers you’re looking for by just listening. I think that’s another thing that Archie has done well here specifically. Archie’s our CEO here at Double A Solutions. He does that every day. He listens to the employees. I think that’s been really cool. That’s ultimately the answer.
It’s so right there nowadays. Alright, so that’s one way to look at, look at staying ahead of the trends, look at where things are moving. But what other ways do you feel like companies can be ready for the unpredictable change? What things can they do now, if they’re able to help themselves prepare should further shifts occur in the future or once we stabilize? There’s always the next change. There are always different things happening.
It’s gonna sound cliche, but the answer is never having too many eggs in one basket. Right? The answer is diversity. The answer is if you feel like you’ve extended your reach, reach a little farther. Because times are tough. Times are uncertain. And if you’ve got one particular product or one avenue or one measure of approach that is working really, really well, one day, it’s not going to anymore.
You have to learn to adapt and pivot and evolve the things that we’ve talked about. But while you’re doing that, if you have nothing else, if you don’t have a plan B or plan C, or a plan D, etc. If you don’t have this diverse portfolio, these diverse opportunities, you can find yourself being left behind.
So I think the secret is, once you feel like you’ve perfected something, one thing, start perfecting another thing because very soon, the bottom could drop out on that one thing and it’s nice to have that other thing to fall back on while you’re fixing that first thing.
Being in business, it’s being in constant competition, right? You can’t get complacent or you can’t get comfortable because you’ve stepped ahead for a moment. So I definitely agree. All right, I think we can start to wrap up. We’ve touched on a bunch of different things. We’ve touched on everything from who you are, what you do, and your coffee, all the way through the craziness of 2020 and shifts and changes that we’ve seen, why companies fail.
And now we’ve added a couple of tools to people’s arsenals as far as how to stay ahead of the game, how to be prepared when you can’t possibly predict it. Is there anything else that you would like to touch on or just add words of wisdom?
Yeah, I guess I’ll just end with saying, technology can be scary. Sometimes it can be concerning. It can be overwhelming. I think by embracing technology and something that our company does very well in terms of the software and the products that we offer.
By embracing those things, oftentimes that technology can keep you ahead of the curve, right? Whether it’s promises of automation or integrations, growth opportunities. As I said, we all walk around with supercomputers in our pockets, and most of us can’t live without them. I guess in summary, don’t fight our robot overlords. They’re coming for us, it’s going to happen. It’s 2020 it’s only a matter of time. So embrace technology because whether you like it or not, it’s happening.
Should we be worried about a robot overlords?
Cyberdyne. I’m not worried. It’s coming, but all joking aside, embrace the technology and try to stay ahead of those things. Because like I said, 10 years from now, the things that are in our pockets will be paperweights. So if you’re not able to kind of adapt and evolve and embrace that technology or you’re gonna fall flat on your face.
I’m just waiting until I can see through my phone.
It’s coming. It’s happening. We’re gonna be able to just project holograms everywhere. And it’s gonna be like-
the Marvel Universe.
Yeah, Star Trek. All of it. So it’s exciting. It’s really an exciting time to live in too. I mean, obviously there’s chaos and unrest, but to see some of the advances in technology and to try to convince my daughters that some of these things didn’t exist prior to their existence. It’s mind-boggling. Trying to explain to them what a VCR was or a cassette tape or a fax machine one day will be.
Would you believe me if I actually said I use everything about the fax machine- actually used a fax machine too!
Sure. some of that stuff has lingered. But, my daughter will never use a cassette player.
That’s what we started on. I grew up on the same things, the same toys, my great-grandma put my grandma on, and then we had only VCR and the antennas on your TV.
Yeah, embrace the technology, because it’ll help you keep ahead of things.
All right. Well, that’s all that we have for this episode. This is how to be ready for unpredictable change with AJ Underwood.