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The ONE THING: A Science-based Missing-Link to Closing More Sales

June 26th, 2021

Every week, business owners and sales managers ask me how they can improve the effectiveness of their sales organizations.   One of their most popular questions is “why can’t our people close more sales?”   Many have also asked “if we could just change ONE THING, what would it be?”

Many of these executives have invested heavily trying to improve sales performance and have tried (and mostly failed) using a variety of approaches.

These business leaders experience results that consistently fall far short of sales projections.  They are trying to find out why so many new forecasted sales postpone or cancel.  They want to know why such a large percentage of “high probability” sales in their CRM are dying on the vine, and what they can do differently to improve the results.  Many of them believe the problem is a lack of closing skills.   Others think it is more about prospecting.

While most would agree that prospecting and closing effectiveness are important qualities in a salesperson, science has recently produced some extremely revealing data that identifies what may be the single largest cause of unclosed sales.   The Missing Link and supporting data are outlined below, along with a brief summary of how you can fix the problem.

The data set is large.   Objective Management Group is a company that has evaluated over 2 million salespeople.  The graph below represents a Sales Team with regard to their skills, potential, processes, and mindset regarding Reaching Decision-Makers.

Graph for blog 

You may notice that the graph includes data from both sales force evaluations and individual salesperson pipelines.  Pipeline information was derived by asking each salesperson to identify 4 late-stage, proposal-ready or closable opportunities, with 19 questions asked about each opportunity.    The data was integrated and analyzed to produce some important findings.

This team’s results closely mirror overall averages of salespeople evaluated in the study.   Like most, the vast majority of the group believes in the importance of reaching decision makers and in using their skills to reach them.  More importantly, the team averages 54% of the attributes for Reaching Decision-makers, but only 13% (green pie slice) are strong at reaching them.

For the most part, these salespeople believe it’s important to reach the DM and have a milestone in their sales process to reach them.  And despite the fact that they possess some of the selling skills to do so, they still fail to reach the decision makers.

If we focus upon the first two attributes in the chart, both concerned with Calling on Actual Decision Makers, we notice contradicting data.   The pipeline data shows that nearly 90% of the salespeople met with the actual DMs on these late-stage opportunities.  Not too bad.

Unfortunately, the evaluation data shows that only 10% of salespeople are reaching actual decision makers overall.  Yikes.

In other words, when salespeople reach true decision makers, opportunities typically cruise through the pipeline resulting in a win.  However, most salespeople do not reach actual DMs.  Consequently, most opportunities (the vast majority) remain unqualified.  The salesperson never even has a change to differentiate, so the sale ultimately peters out resulting in a loss.

Further inspection of the data reveals that half of salespeople are calling on purchasing people, instead of DMs at the start of the sales process.  Why?  Because nearly half aren’t comfortable talking with the true decision maker, and a third need to be liked and resist pushing back on buyers who won’t introduce them to or “give them permission” to meet with DMs.

I don’t mean to assert that this is the only problem that sales organizations are facing.  It certainly is not.  However, the data clearly shows that if most salespeople could fix only one thing today, the consistent ability to reach decision makers would make an enormous difference.

If you’re still reading, you’ve discovered the Missing Link to a gigantic, untapped castle of riches.  It is unlikely, but I hope your sales team is one of a very small group of outliers who are successfully and consistently reaching decision-makers early in the sales process.  If not, and if you’d like your team to begin, here are just a few pointers…:

1. The simplest thing you can do is to make your salespeople AWARE of the enormous impact of visiting with true decision makers.  Ask them to read this article and encourage them to focus upon reaching DMs.  Even if you do nothing else, simple awareness should have some positive effect.

2. If you want to know where you team stands with regard to the skills, strengths, and potential to reach DMs, you can always assess them using the tools described above.

3. If you’re ready to get serious and blow your sales through the roof, the world is your (potential) oyster.  Before you start, just know this…:

a. Most people, including your salespeople, will resist change.   They are currently behaving the way they are behaving because that is how they CHOOSE to behave.

b. Because of this resistance, an Unconditional Commitment of leadership is required to make it happen.

c. An effective consultative sales process, including advanced listening and questioning skills, an ability to differentiate, and knowing how to be perceived as a trusted advisor is required.

d. Timing and emotional intelligence are critical.   An effective salesperson must understand how to earn the right to make certain requests.

Just think….  If your salespeople could only reach only 20% more decision makers, consider the huge impact doing so would have on revenues, profit, and the strength of your business.

Now that science has provided you with the keys to the castle, what are you going to do?

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.


May 18th, 2021

Have you ever wondered why the “busiest” people are often the least successful? 

Each month, I meet with dozens of business owners.  Some consistently set and achieve their goals.  Others seem to be in a constant state of struggle.  Interestingly, the owners that struggle the most also consistently seem to be mired in self-talk about how “busy” they are.  When I ask what they are busy doing, their reply usually relates to some type of urgency or a need to react to situations “outside their control”.  If questioned further, they offer up reasons (aka: excuses) as to why they are unable to “make time”.  They’ll discuss the things they “have” to do, and they sincerely believe that they “just can’t find the time” to work on the things they should do or would like to do.

These individuals are slaves to external circumstances.  

 Do you know anyone like that?

Conversely, successful owners seem to always have plenty of time to plan, to act strategically, to keep their commitments, and to work ON (versus IN) their businesses.  Almost magically, they are able to find time to calmly handle all of their business (and personal) interests, desires, and obligations.  These CEOs prioritize effectively and to manage their calendars proactively.  

Superior CEOs refuse to work below their pay-grade.   Unfortunately, most owners do not.  They waste many hours on activities that produce little return.

So how do these successful owners do it?  After all, there ARE only 24 hours in a day…  Here are some facts (and some patterns I’ve noticed) that can help you become less busy and more productive.  A simple to-do list — your pathway to Freedom…:

1.  It is rare to meet an owner (successful or not) that does not have a full plate.  I can’t remember the last time I met a CEO who wasn’t juggling multiple priorities that required some attention.  For most entrepreneurs, a plate that is not full can be a sign that resources are being under-utilized, and that something probably needs to change.

2.  We all have “stuff we gotta do”.   However, we should never confuse things we must do or should do, with things we want to do, could do, or have to do. 

3. “Busy” is a state of mind.  Great entrepreneurs accomplish much more than weak ones, but rarely tell you that they are “really busy” when you ask how they are doing.  Conversely, unsuccessful owners are addicted to busy-ness.  They almost always feel busy and reactive, versus feeling focused and proactive.  Even though their “busy-ness” is destructive and isn’t getting them where they want to go, they still feel some kind of adrenaline rush or feeling of importance from having “too much to do”.  They have no problem finding things to do, but have no process or structure to determine whether they are working on the right things or the wrong things. The Owner-Slave Mindset really has nothing at all to do with the number of hours in a day.  Most would feel addicted and over-whelmed whether a day included 24, 48, or 2400 hours. 

4.  The problem of effectiveness and productivity is never due to the number of hours in a day or the fact that we “do not have the time”.  

5.  We all have only 24 hours in a day. That is the one single thing that none of us can control.   

6.  We CAN all control how we CHOOSE to invest our time. 

7.  There is only one significant difference between a super-successful owner and a mediocre owner that wallows in crisis mode. The difference is how they CHOOSE to invest their precious time (and resources).  Productive owners choose wisely and skillfully and focus on the IMPORTANT, while struggling owners choose unskillfully and focus upon the URGENT.   The best CEOs refuse to work below their pay-grade, and their employees follow suit.   In other words, Busy Owners breed Busy Employees, and Productive Owners breed Productive Employees.  

8. The most successful owners understand they are personally the single biggest contributor to (or detractor from) exceeding their goals and the ultimate achievement of their company and personal vision.  In other words, they are personally the biggest problem.  They are also POTENTIALLY the biggest solution (IF they make wise, skillful choices).  

9.  Owners that understand this simple success formula also know that it would be absolutely foolish to attempt to make these choices in a vacuum.  

And they know that they don’t know what they don’t know.  

They, therefore, choose to invest their time in a time-saving, decision-making process, and surround themselves with other successful owners who are committed to help, such as the peer advisory board structure of The Alternative Board (TAB).  A structured peer process helps owners make better decisions and skillful choices.   The process directs them to invest their incredibly valuable time wisely. Wise, skillful choices have a huge positive impact on the bottom line.

10.  The best entrepreneurs choose to spend one-third or more of their time working on, versus in, their business. Wow. This may seem impossible, especially if you are young, new, or small business owner, but if you don’t set a goal, you will certainly never achieve it.  In this context, I recommend to all of my clients to COMMIT to themselves to spend 33% percent of their precious time working ON the business within 3 years.  If you commit to this goal to get yourself out of the weeds and make it the most important one in your portfolio, you’ll notice that the rest of your business goals will tend to take care of themselves.

This singular choice provides an owner with FREEDOM. It allows him/her to abandon the addictive habits of busy-ness, urgency, and fire-fighting and to adopt the effective habits required to build a consistent, effective, growing, scalable profit-generation machine.

So if you feel like you are “really busy” or “overwhelmed”, if you “never have enough hours in the day”, or if you often say “yes” to the urgent to the exclusion of the important, please know that you are not alone.  Freedom and productivity are just a few simple steps away.

There is no better time to commit to your personal freedom than today.  

If you have any questions about how to begin, or simply feel like you are too stuck to get started, I’d love to hear from you.

I hope you enjoy the fruits of making wiser choices.

To Your Freedom,


Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.

You won’t hear a Consistently Successful CEO say this

March 31st, 2021

Over the last 25 years, I’ve had the honor and privilege of helping over 1000 entrepreneurs become better CEOs.  Many of these business owners are among the most successful in their respective industries. 

Entrepreneurs often ask me “What is the biggest difference between successful owners and those who constantly struggle?” 

While I don’t think the answer to this question is an easy one, many patterns become obvious.  Simply, CEOs who consistently succeed behave differently than most.   

Many studies tell us that our beliefs drive our actions and that our actions drive results.  We also know that the language we use has a huge effect our beliefs.  In other words, if we wish to transform our results, we must transform our language.   This is relatively simple to do. 

Interestingly, there is one comment that I rarely, if ever, hear emerge from the mouths of super-successful CEOs.   The best entrepreneurs understand that success is derived from using their precious time, money and resources effectively and efficiently.   They know it is crucial to prioritize, so do not allow the tyranny of the urgent prevent them from executing their most important activities.  Consequently, you will not hear a consistently successful CEO say… 

  “I don’t have time”     

Great leaders understand that this type of victim-speak can torpedo a CEO’s performance before they leave the gate.  Unfortunately, I hear the phrase frequently from owners who are constantly struggling to keep their head above water. 

Instead of using self-destructive phrases like “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have time”, top performing CEOs use different language.  They say things like…: 

·         We ALL have 24 hours in a day, so I DO have time. 

·         I can do anything, but I can’t do everything (and that’s OK!) 

·         I choose to invest my time in the most impactful way possible, aligned with my vision and goals. 

·         In order to “get” more time to do the things that are most important, I must Delegate, Automate, or Eliminate. 

·         I will re-prioritize to make time for any endeavor that will support my growth and goals. 

·         I refuse to work on activities that are below my pay-grade! 

·         I am in complete control of my choices and of how I choose to invest my time. 

How does your language stack up? 

Are you allowing events and activities to control you, or are you flying this plane? 

Do you have a tough time delegating or eliminating, and if so, what are you doing about it today?

Changing your language is one of the simplest ways to improve your performance. 

If you are struggling to do so, there is plenty of help is available.   Get some now, and please don’t say “I don’t have time”

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.

REAL Consultative Selling: Don’t be fooled by what they say

February 11th, 2021

I meet with salespeople and sales candidates practically every week. 

During sales interviews, I always ask new candidates in the first few minutes of our conversation to describe their selling approach.  Interestingly, 80% of them reply with some form of “I’m a CONSULTATIVE Salesperson.” 

Good answer!   Consultative Selling has become the superior method for selling in the digital, information-rich age.  In fact, consultative individuals are the ONLY salespeople that have ANY chance of differentiating themselves and selling effectively in today’s virtual environment. 

Much has been written about this subject, so most salespeople, especially “seasoned, experienced salespeople” know that they are supposed to sell consultatively. 

Unfortunately, as my sales interviews proceed, 9 out of 10 of the candidates who enthusiastically tell me they are consultative, PROVE to me they are actually the exact opposite.  And I’m not just talking about rookies here.   Many of the sales candidates I interview have been selling for decades. 

The vast majority of candidates spend the remainder of our conversation talking, presenting, and gushing—trying to convince me why they are the best.  Each one sounds just like the last one, trying to convey how great they are, telling me about their previous accomplishments, and citing the awards they have won in their illustrious careers. 

Interestingly, very few seek to learn what I am looking for, what criteria I will use to decide, what our decision process might be, what success would look like, what motivates me, and why I would possibly select them over the other candidates. 

In a sales interview, I couldn’t care less what a candidate (or their resume) says.  Their actions will always speak much louder than their words and documents.  You can be sure that they will ultimately sell your product or service using the exact same approach that they did when they tried to sell themself.    So if they don’t interview consultatively, run away FAST. 

If a sales candidate was truly consultative, here are just a few of the attributes he/she would clearly exhibit..: 

Questioning:  A Consultative Salesperson will ask good, tough, and timely questions, and when appropriate, will respectfully challenge certain things they unearth.   Most salespeople simply cannot do this, not because deep questioning is difficult, but because the questions cannot be scripted in advance.   Follow up questions should almost always result from the prospect’s responses. 

Listening (actively and deeply):   Most salespeople spend way too much time talking versus listening and understanding.  And when their lips are flapping, they are often spouting either statements or rehearsed, non-differentiated questions.   They rarely ask the question behind the question.  Rather than actually listening to a prospect, they are preparing a reply. 

Outward-focus:   Most sales reps (and human beings) are self-centered.  They have a difficult time removing themselves from their own desired outcomes.   Until a rep can train him/herself to set their own egos, objectives, desires to be liked or validated, and other needs, they will hear very little of what their prospects are actually trying to tell convey.   They will miss out on all of the really good stuff.

 Patience:  Most sales reps simply cannot wait to tell people about what they sell, how amazing their company is, and how they can help.   They have (detrimental) tapes playing in their heads that convince them that time is limited so that they “better hurry and tell them how great we are”.   They avoid asking questions because doing so might delay or replace their presentations, demos, and proposals, all things in which they have much more confidence in than selling consultatively.  Patient, consultative, differentiated salespeople add tremendous value with skilled Buyer Facilitation.  Because they are adding value, they subsequently learn that buyers will actually make additional time for them.   A sales representative should always strive to slow down, be 100% present, and go deeper and wider with their listening and questioning. 

Infinite Curiosity:   Children do this very well.  Adults, who become “selling experts”, often develop the “curse of knowledge”.  They consequently lose their ability to be curious and make far too many assumptions.  Infinitely curious salespeople facilitate mutual discovery, differentiate themselves, and help to buyers create a new, better buying vision.

More Questions, Better Questions:   Similar to the recruiting sales candidates I’ve described above, most employed salespeople actually believe they are selling consultatively when they have asked a few questions.  The reality is, until 4 or 5 dozen questions have been asked, a salesperson isn’t even close.  Again, I’m not talking here about rehearsed questions where a rep simply runs down a scripted list.   Consultative selling demands unique, thoughtful, spontaneous follow-ups to perhaps a couple opening questions which were asked during the first few minutes.

Z3 Performance Development has been helping companies to build world class sales organizations for 25 years.  During these years, we’ve interviewed many hundreds of “sales professionals” and helped thousands of salespeople improve their selling effectiveness.    Patterns become obvious, and quite simply, successful salespeople behave and THINK totally different from the masses.  

Whether you are recruiting new salespeople, working to help develop your existing people, or working to improve your own consultative skills, I hope these examples will provide some fuel for rapid and on-going improvement.  

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.

ONE THING That Will Dramatically Increase Your Odds of Winning in 2021

December 17th, 2020

2020 will go down in history as a whopper.

Many companies suffered. 

Some failed.

Other owners re-invented their businesses to capture new opportunities leading to record success.

One thing is certain–2021 will be another year filled with uncertainty.

For some, uncertainty creates paralysis.  Consequently, a large percentage of entrepreneurs will attempt to maintain status quo in the coming year.  They will change very little, cling to their antiquated thinking, rigid processes, and sacred cows, adopting a strategy of hope and allowing their default future to dictate their outcome. A very risky approach…

Successful CEOs understand that uncertainty and change can be their greatest asset.  These owners will restructure processes, systems, strategies, and mindset.  They understand that the ability to learn and execute quickly is their singular sustainable strategic advantage.  These leaders will commit to invent a much better future. And they will win.

Which approach will you choose?

Will you live into your default future, or will you invent a more prosperous, rewarding, future?

Do you and your company have a practice to learn and execute quicker?

We’ve all heard the popular adage (often attributed to Albert Einstein) – “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

Similarly, many people believe that doing the same thing will produce the same result.  In 2021, this statement could not be further from the truth. In fact, if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that doing the same thing will likely get us STOMPED.  The pandemic made this obvious, but the trend has been developing for decades.  Just one example of proof is that since 2000, fifty-two percent of companies in the Fortune 500 have either gone bankrupt, been acquired, or ceased to exist.  That’s 52% in just 20 years! But let’s cut these companies some slack.  After all, it is no small task to overcome the inertia and change the direction of a big, bureaucratic, multi-billion-dollar ocean liner.

Conversely, 2020 has also taught us that massive opportunities abound for nimble, innovative entrepreneurs who adopt a process of learning and acting faster than their competitors.  As a private business owner, you can easily adopt an agile rapid-learning practice in order to maneuver your speed-boat company to previously unimagined new heights.

If you lead a company that struggled in 2020 and find yourself thinking “I’m too busy and don’t have time to adopt a new practice”, your mindset may have already cost you the race.  Simply, owners who consistently succeed do things that weak owners do not. They make time for the important and delegate the urgent.  They do not live into default.  They invent their own future.

If you are committed to proactively creating a better future, but just don’t know how to start, no worries.  Your business and market may be unique, but the formula to optimize your odds of success is bullet-proof.  It has been used by tens of thousands of successful owners to inform their decision-making, and to learn faster, to rapidly convert that learning into executions, to strengthen their companies, and to win.

I’m so grateful to the thousands of owners, coaches and facilitators in the TAB Community who help me learn faster, keep me on track, and inspire me each and every day.  I’m committed to helping each and every one of you have a record year.


Best wishes for an amazing holiday season and to achieving incredible new heights in 2021 and beyond!


Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.