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Are You Stifling Innovation?

July 21st, 2017

If you own or direct a small or medium sized business, you likely know that one of your greatest assets is your ability to act and react much quicker than your larger, bureaucratic competitors.    You drive a speedboat, while they attempt to navigate ocean liners.   You can turn on a dime, they have significant embedded inertia that prevents any type of rapid change.


As a consequence, your potential to innovate can be a tremendous advantage.   In fact, innovation may actually be the most powerful weapon in your entire arsenal.  Whether you choose to access this potential or not is entirely up to you - a very simple decision.   Unfortunately, a majority of private business owners do not inspire, but actively stifle innovation, squelching huge opportunity and prosperity in the process.   Some simply don’t understand the unbridled power their companies possess, others are limited by their egos.


I’ve constructed a list of some of the most popular innovation-stiflers.   These stiflers are described in the first person in an effort to make it easier for those who would like to honestly assess themselves to determine if they inspire or stifle…:


1.      I demand trust from others before I trust them FIRST.  If you do this, you are guaranteed to create a culture of Blame, Silos, and We versus They.

2.      I Champion the Status Quo.   I surround myself with a group of “yes-men” and “yes-women” to make myself feel better and validated.  I emphasize continuous compliance in lieu of diverse views.  People who challenge my views don’t last long around here.  I don’t like when people disagree with me.  They frustrate me.

3.      I blame problems, especially chronic problems, on my staff and stakeholders.  If things aren’t working swimmingly, it must be due to their incompetence, their poor work ethic, their weak skills, and their lack of accountability.   It is much easier for me to point the finger at others than at myself.

4.      I spend more time managing than leading, and I encourage my executive team to do the same.   I stress compliance and intense micro-management.   (Hint:  This pervasive behavior diminishes creativity and critical thinking and makes people feel stupid.   A real killer…)

5.      I confine discussion of strategies and plans to my small, inner circle of trusted, time-tested advisors.    After decisions are made, I typically announce them in a grandiose fashion.   (This ensures that no one will start anything new because they never know what new directives might soon come down from the top.)

6.      Instead of truly listening, I wait to speak.   After all, who knows more about this company than I do?

7.      We embrace sacred cows and remain committed to the problem-solving methodologies we’ve used for years.

8.      I’m not a big fan of delegation, especially when it comes to major decisions.   I’ll sometimes delegate menial tasks and grunt-work, but I must be personally involved in the formulation, discussion, and final decision of anything that is important.   After all, I usually have a very good idea of the best solution to a problem before it is ever presented to others for discussion.   In fact, I almost always know the best answer before we even present the question.  I am also very reluctant to delegate authority.

9.      We count, measure and monitor everything that can be counted, and do it as often as possible.  

10.  I promote, admire, and provide accolades to those that closely conform to our rules and regulations.   People need not think, they simply need to do as they are told.

11.  I tend to emphasize historical information more than future trends and opportunities.  Things like last year’s data, trends, and conversion factors are primary determinants of all future decisions and company presentations.   This fact is crystal clear to our employees.

12.  We keep people really busy.  If they have free time, we load them up with more “real work”, the stuff that I think is important.   I know better than they do how they should spend their time.

Private company leaders that inspire innovation consistently beat the pants off their competitors.   Effective owners of these firms make their employees feel smarter.  Their actions motivate an entrepreneurial mindset among employees, leading to much higher levels of productivity, growth, and profit.


Creating a culture of innovation is not difficult to do.   But as with any type of significant organizational transformation, it requires the leader’s choice to change, so the decision requires personal courage.


For most owners, the transformation begins with a commitment to change one’s mindset and to take an honest look in the mirror.  In severe cases, it may also require the courage to face some ego issues.


Innovative leaders look ahead, not behind.  They encourage new ideas from all levels of their organization.  They understand the importance of systems, processes, measurement, and management, but they use these as a basis for continuous improvement, informed risk-taking, trusting communication, personal development, mutual respect, inspiration and learning instead of using them for compliance, CYA, and “I told you so…”.


Finally, don’t be afraid to THINK BIG.    You can do it and innovation can get you there.


Enjoy the journey….


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.

Your ONLY Sustainable Advantage

June 9th, 2017

Your company is awesome.  You provide a superb product or service.  You and your team believe it is second to none.  Your employees have worked hard to create the best solution in your market. You’ve created outstanding service, responsiveness, customer relationships, and more. These are all great qualities that have bolstered your company reputation.


Furthermore, you do your best to control spending but invest heavily into your systems, processes and people, the pillars of scale. You often celebrate your accomplishments with your team. There are plenty of internal conversations among your employees discussing how great you really are.


You would think that after all of this, your company would be the absolute market leader and that customers, incredible employees, and investors would be beating a path to your door.  Well, are they?


If your answer is “yes”, congratulations! Keep up the great work.


If your answer is “not really”, “not so much”, or “hell no”, welcome to the majority.


In reality, most CEOs and their employees believe that their companies are unique. Conversely, the marketplace views most companies as commodities. In other words, you think you have something really special, the market thinks you are one of many.  A complete disconnect.


Don’t get me wrong. It is important to offer outstanding quality, service, and support. It is also critical to have solid internal processes and great people. These features are EXPECTED and will win you some business, but will usually not make you stand apart from your competition over the long haul. So what will?


If you (and your company) could become dominant in just ONE THING, month after month, year after year, that would guarantee success over the long haul, what would that one thing be?


After working personally with hundreds of CEOs and studying thousands of companies over the last several decades, my belief is that the answer lies in LEARNING. I’m not talking about education.  I’m talking about learning.   Swift, efficient learning.  An organization with a strong learning culture will rapidly capture information and experience, convert it into new knowledge, skills, attitudes and actionable behaviors, systems and habits. I have observed that the companies (and their learning leaders) that do this well consistently outperform their competitors. They dominate their competitors.


Unfortunately, the majority of companies do not have a process to learn. Leaders of most firms continuously struggle with uncertainty, inconsistency, a lack of control, and frustration. These well-intentioned (but ineffective) company leaders find themselves seeking success via the idea of the week, shiny objects, and quick fixes. Even when they do develop an advantage, it often vaporizes as quickly as information travels. The marketplace rapidly re-commoditizes them.


The only sustainable advantage that any of us have is to learn faster than our competitors.


Developing a speed-learning culture does not occur overnight, but the rewards can be astronomical.   Like so many business and personal development practices, creating this kind of advantage is simple, but not necessarily easy. Here are a few steps to get started…:


1.     COMMIT to developing the fastest learning culture in your market.

2.     YOU go first. Lead by Example.

3.     If you need help either getting started or maintaining the required discipline, find it or email me.

4.     Quantify your speed learning goals and measure the results.

5.     Enjoy the rewards!


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.

Interested People Are Expensive

May 3rd, 2017

“Interested” people can be expensive.  Really expensive.

Think about a time when you decided to pursue a goal that seemed to be challenging or out of reach.   A time where you worked hard, focused, persevered, powered through, and achieved something great.

Next, think about a time you wanted something badly, but failed to take the appropriate action(s) to make it happen.  What was different?

In the second scenario, did you have a strong desire to obtain it?

You were certainly interested in having it, weren’t you?

You may have even felt like you really needed to have it, but you still didn’t act.

Why not?  What (or who) was standing in your way?

Every week, salespeople tell sales managers and owners about potential buyers in their pipeline.  Many explain that these “hot” prospects are “really interested”.

Interestingly, most managers would tell you that only a fraction of these “hot prospects” ever convert into actual sales.  In fact, studies show that nearly two-thirds of these forecasted sales are lost to status quo or “no decision”.

How can it be that all these “interested” potential buyers, with such strong needs and desires, never make a purchase?  The reason is fundamental and simple.

Most salespeople consistently miss out on discovering the truth about two vital attributes that must be present in order for a transaction to occur.  They are…:

COMMITMENT:  Nothing will happen without the commitment of the Decision Maker to invest the necessary money, time, courage, personnel, political capital, etc required to solve their problem. Nothing. In the absence of this commitment, all that is left is wheel spinning.

URGENCY:  If the Decision Maker perceives a problem and is committed to fix it, action will only take place if and when the issue becomes a priority. Commitment without urgency translates into “I’ll get to it some day.”  Some day maybe next month, or maybe next decade…   Urgency is borne out of emotion (aka: pain).  Some examples of pain include (but are not limited to) fear, frustration, anger, and anxiety.  In the absence of urgency, time will slip away and other priorities will ultimately replace the issue in question.   Commitment to solving the original problem will diminish, along with a diminished chance of any sale.  Sound familiar?

Think about your current warm prospects.  Are your “hot prospects” committed, or just interested?   Is solving their problem a priority, or simply a need, wish, or desire?

If a decision maker perceives a problem, is committed to fixing it and has the urgency to act, he/she WILL make a purchase.  The only question is from whom.  If any one of these pieces is missing, a transaction will not occur.

Buyer’s interest is a drug. It can make us temporarily feel good. But the after-effects often feel bad.  Most salespeople perceive prospect interest as a ‘buying signal’.  However, it should be perceived as a ‘learning signal’, an opportunity to discover the truth about commitment, urgency, and more.

Interested prospects can cost a fortune if we aren’t disciplined and careful.  Salespeople burn up millions of dollars wasting time with prospects that are interested, but not committed.  Consequently, sales managers and owners frustrated by overly-optimistic forecasts are legion.  Activity for the sake of activity is very expensive.  Only results matter.

There are many things that sales professionals can do today to learn the truth, to stop wasting time, to improve the reliability of sales forecasts, and to dramatically improve revenue growth and profit. For starters, they can commit to obtaining this vital information and to mastering a process of understanding the truth.  Again, commitment generates results.

Remember, these principles do not apply only to your sales prospects.  They also apply to your personal performance.

So if you want to achieve something, or if you have a need or problem you’d really like to solve, start by asking yourself the following questions:

How much do I really want to fix (or obtain) it?

Am I committed to fixing it, or am I only interested?

Is this a priority for me, or are my other activities really more important?   (you can do anything, but you can’t do everything)

Whether applied to yourself or your sales prospects, learning the answers to these fundamental questions will save you a ton.

Become a truth detector.  I hope you’ll enjoy your improved efficiency and effectiveness and take an extended vacation (or two or three) with all the time and money you’ll save.

Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.

The Universe of Cluelessness

March 8th, 2017

You’ve probably heard the statement “You don’t know what you don’t know!”   When I first heard it decades ago, I thought it was profound.  The statement hit me like a stack of bricks.   Today, the phrase is used so often that it is practically cliché.

 However, I’ve found that many leaders don’t know how to harness its power.

What does DKDK really mean and how can we use it to become more productive, effective, and happy?


Let’s break it down…:


Firstly, Knowledge is stuff we know.


Wikipedia defines KNOWLEDGE as “a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of facts, information, descriptions, or skills, acquired through experience or education, by perceiving, discovering or learning.


In the business world, we don’t really know anything until we apply accumulated knowledge into productive behavior, skillful actions, or wiser decisions.


If we look at the sum of knowledge (everything we know), logic dictates that our total universe of knowledge is comprised of only 3 parts:


1.     What we know we know–KK.  (I know how to ride a bicycle)


2.     What we know we don’t know–KDK.  (I know I don’t know how to perform brain surgery)


3.     What we don’t know that we don’t know—DKDK.  (Am I asking the right question or even starting from the correct frame of reference?  Am I even in the right ball park?)


In recent years, I’ve had the privilege of attending hundreds of CEO advisory board meetings and have witnessed many of the best and brightest business owners helping each other to succeed.    In these meetings, owners support each other, share best practices, validate thinking, and hold each other accountable.   And they (and I) learn a ton.   However, perhaps the greatest learning occurs when a member’s board challenges their thinking, their perspectives, and their questions.   These challenges often result in dramatically different, more effective, and BETTER questions.   Owners often realize that they may be working hard to chop down trees, but that they may be chopping in the wrong forest.   Consequently, the owners are able to use DKDK to make much wiser decisions about how to invest their precious time, money and resources.


I used to believe that DKDK comprised at least half of the total sum of knowledge.  I was wrong.    What I’ve come to learn is that DKDK comprises far more than 99% of the sum of knowledge.   Many of the board members comment that the more they learn, the more they understand that the best solutions lie in DKDK.  In other words, we are ALL clueless.


The most significant discovery and learning resides in DKDK.    So the most successful leaders are the ones that understand this concept.  The strongest board members learn how to use this understanding to make wiser, more effective, skillful decisions.   As a consequence, they thrive.


The only sustainable advantage that any of our companies (or ourselves) have is the ability to learn better and faster than our competitors.  Those who understand and execute this principle consistently succeed.


If you haven’t created a PROACTIVE structure and process that provides you and your employees more opportunities for greater DKDK discovery and faster learning, I’d encourage you to begin today.


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.

Why do People REALLY Buy?

February 4th, 2017


At this moment, millions of salespeople are out promoting their products or services.   They are shaking hands, pitching, demonstrating, and presenting.  They are also (hopefully) spending time asking questions, listening, learning, and facilitating mutual discovery.


Interestingly, the majority of these salespeople (and the leadership of the companies they represent) are operating under popular misconceptions about the TRUE reasons people buy.    They are consequently wasting tons of time and losing out on reams of sales, opportunities, and profit.   If a salesperson doesn’t understand why or how a person buys, and what motivates someone to buy from them instead of someone else, that salesperson’s chance of actually making a sale fall astronomically.    Here are just a few of the most popular misconceptions…: 



“If a Company needs what I sell, they will buy from me.”


Companies do not make purchases.  People do.  Decision Maker People.  Committees never make decisions.  In fact, ‘Committee Decision’ is an oxymoron.   If you are being told that a committee will decide, you can be sure that ONE PERSON on that committee (the one will the most influence, power, and commitment) will get their way.




“If a buyer needs what I offer, they will buy from me.”


The vast majority of salespeople believe this myth.  As a consequence, there are loads of ‘hot projected sales’ sitting on company forecasts right now that do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of closing.  It is highly likely that you need something today that you have not yet bought, and may not buy for months, years, or perhaps ever.  Need is just one component that leads to a potential purchase, but only emotional pain will actually trigger a purchase and make it happen.  Do your salespeople know how to uncover pain, and if so, are they doing it?   




“People buy from people they like”  


Can you think of a salesperson you like that you have not (or would not) buy from?  I certainly can.  Research shows that people do not buy from people they like.  They buy from people they TRUST.  They buy from people that help them create a new buying vision.  They buy from people when they enjoy and respect the process of their interaction.  It is great to be liked by your prospect and I would always encourage you to strive to be liked.  But many salespeople avoid asking vital questions for fear they may not be liked.  Bad idea.  Game over.  It is great to be liked, but it is much more important to respected, competent, and trusted.  



“If I demonstrate ROI, we’ll win!”


There is nothing at all wrong with outlining that a financial return on investment would result from a purchase.  In fact, there are many cases where it absolutely makes sense to do so.  However, don’t think for a second that because you showed someone you were going a save them a million dollars that they will buy from you.  The dominating presumption among ROI sellers is that people buy mostly for financial or rational reasons.  Again, statistical, psychological, and brain science research have all blown this misconception to smithereens.  While there are selected situations where demonstrating ROI is important, it has been proven that in ALL cases that buying decisions are made much more for emotional reasons and feelings that for rational reasons and spreadsheets.




“If my product (or service) is the best, they will buy from me”


A recent survey of 5000 C-level buyers has revealed that 19% of purchase due to “quality or service”, 19% buy due to “reputation”, 9% due to “price”, and 53% due to the quality of their “interaction with the salesperson or company representative”.  FIFTY-THREE PERCENT.  In other words, the process of buying is more important than everything else put together, far out-distancing the product or service.  So if you are currently focusing your sales interactions on either trumpeting or teeing up opportunities to demonstrate the wonderfulness of your product or company, you may wish to reconsider.  Once again, I am not suggesting at all that you should not have a great product, service, reputation, or a great offer at a fair price.  Nor am I suggesting that your marketing should not highlight your unique advantages.  However, managing the sales interaction will take you to the bank much more often with Decision Makers.    


These are just a few of the most popular incorrect beliefs that create ineffective selling behavior (and many lost sales).  There are more.


Do these myths and beliefs exist within your company and salespeople?


If so, I’d encourage you to take a close look at changing them (and the selling mistakes they create) soon.   The rewards will be great.


Continued Success,



Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.