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The Sport of Business, Volume Two (PRACTICE)

August 25th, 2022

Last month, I initiated a blog series designed to help entrepreneurs by drawing the many similarities between success in business and success in sports.  This first article described the most foundational attributes possessed by virtually every elite athlete and entrepreneur—desire, commitment, proactivity, humility, practice, and discipline. 

In today’s article, I’d like to elaborate upon critical components of the Practice Routines that separate virtually every superior athletic and business performer from the mediocre masses.  Not only do the best of the best participate in practice, they unconditionally commit to practicing, correctly.  They make their practice a habit, a habit that they love.  Superior Performers (SPs) understand that their level of success is directly proportional to active participation in correct practice, so they indelibly embed every session into their calendars.  Practice sessions are non-movable and non-negotiable, and consume their full attention and focus.  SPs do not allow distractions or excuses to prevent them from faithfully executing their practice routines.  They are more likely to miss brushing their teeth, than to miss practice. 

SPs place an enormous value on practice and rarely feel like they can get enough of it.  Stories of superior athletes who were always the first to show up for practice, and the last to leave are legion.  SPs are always seeking ways to practice more and to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of each one of their sessions.   Conversely, mediocre performers are often satisfied to simply show up (or not), check the box, and “get it over with…”.   Rather than focusing, learning, committing to new behaviors, and executing, weaker performers will often arrive late, leave early, allow interruptions such as phone calls or texts, and insert other distractions.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of their sessions, Winners (and those committed to becoming Winners) will always insist upon a core set essential ingredients to ensure that the time they invest in practice will yield maximum return, results, and rewards.  These include…: 

Excellent Trainers who will share the best-of-the-best processes, techniques, methodologies and mindsets.

Superior Coaches will help the SP assess their performance, identify strengths & weaknesses, develop new insights, and make necessary adjustments.  A great coach will also help the SP continually set new, loftier goals, push to stretch higher and higher, and hold the SP accountable for reaching these new stretch goals. 

A Powerful Community of Peers who understand that we are all better, stronger, and smarter together, than any single one of us.

A Small Elite Group of Practice Partners – Every great performer will seek out and surround themself with a carefully selected, highly committed group of like-minded peers.  These select group consists of individuals who all live in a similar movie and are willing to share their knowledge, wisdom, best practices, and more.   Each member of this group are willing to invest the time and energy to understand each other’s stories, context, vision, and goals.  SPs understand that they don’t know what they don’t know, and that an elite group of committed SP peers can not only serve to help each other develop new insights and inject accountability, but will also call BS or dispense tough love when necessary if they notice that one of the group members is “dogging it” or “just going through the motions”.    

For all Superior Performers, this group may well be the single most important ingredient to insuring continuous growth and improved performance.  

The good news about all of this is that ANYONE can do it.  You may not have the physical attributes necessary to dunk a basketball or hit a 600-foot home run, but everyone can dramatically improve their (business or athletic) results and blow away their competition by modelling the behaviors of superior athletes and entrepreneurs.

Self-discipline is simply doing the easy things that most are not willing to do.

If you don’t follow a similar practice routine, I’d encourage you to start today.  You will be glad you did. 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2022. All Rights Reserved. 

Effective Sales Management–Your Secret PROFIT Weapon

June 23rd, 2022

Is your sales manager (or sales management function) effectively growing, leading, and directing a consistent, productive, high-performance sales team?  If so, congratulations!  You are part of a VERY small minority. 

If not, I have good news, and bad news. 

The bad news is that you are recurrently missing out on tens (or hundreds) of thousands of profit every quarter on a recurrent basis, and things will likely worsen if you have moved to more of a remote selling model. 

The good news is that most of your competitors also lack effective sales management.   In other words, you are competing with pervasive mediocrity.   Studies confirm that the vast majority of private companies conduct “sales management” reactively (versus proactively).   For most, sales management is perceived as a necessary evil, or even worse, as an unnecessary hassle.   Consequently, management of sales is often conducted more as an afterthought than as a vital embedded organizational habit.   Group and individual sales meetings take place inconsistently, if at all.  Sales Management activities are conducted a fly-by, only occurring “when we have the time…”. 

Companies that do employ effective sales management consistently outperform their competitors, but during times of rapid change and economic turmoil, a solid sales management process will have an expanded effect.  A good SM process can help you quickly capture market share, grow your bottom line, and strengthen your company — a unique and tremendous opportunity.

Here are a few facts…: 

*Many private businesses do not have a dedicated manager of sales (or anyone who owns the sales management responsibility).

*A huge percentage of private businesses do not manage sales at all.

*In many instances the “sales management function” is conducted part-time (and quite poorly) by one of the company principals, who has little or no idea what they are doing.

*The most Effective Sales Managers spend at least 75% of their time coaching, developing, motivating, recruiting, and holding reps accountable.  These are the Critical Activities.    

*Most “sales managers” perform none of the Critical Activities.  Instead, they spend time reviewing accounts, generating reports, going on ride-alongs, and rescuing.

*Less than 10% of salespeople have the skills and strengths to perform effectively working from home, including basic consultative-selling proficiencies.

*Remote sales teams require a much greater level of sales management engagement and direction in order to succeed.  They also require an increased level of proper coaching.

If any of these facts hit close to home, you may feel like getting a handle on things appear daunting or overwhelming, but there is a massive silver lining and more good news.

1.      There are simple, time-tested processes available to quickly upgrade your sales management effectiveness and team performance. 

2.      Upgrading does not require a lot of time or money.  It simply requires using time differently (and more productively), making a few different commitments, and adopting some new processes and habits. 

3.      Today’s volatile economic and business environment has created a unique opportunity to capture massive market share and unrealized profit, for both the near and long term. 

4.      Embedding an Effective Sales Management Process into the fabric of your organization is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Few, if any, companies will maintain status quo over the next 18 months.  There will only be winners and losers.   Effective Sales Management will be a major differentiator and vital component of companies that end up in the Winner’s Circle. 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2022. All Rights Reserved. 

And the Survey Says….

May 26th, 2022

A recent LinkedIn State of Sales survey revealed some ominous (but potentially valuable) trends for small business owners seeking to improve their sales growth and profitability.  Among other findings, the survey of more than 7,500 buyers and sellers in 11 countries determined that…:

  • 75% of sales managers say the ability to cope with change is more important now than it was five years ago.
  • 80% of sellers say they lost or delayed a deal because a key stakeholder changed roles.

And…

·         60% of sellers say they always put the buyers first, but only 24% of buyers agree.

These post-pandemic findings represent an outstanding opportunity for any savvy business owner seeking to increase market share and maintain margins during these rapidly changing and very uncertain financial times. 

I’m actually surprised that 24% of buyers believe that sellers put them first.  I would’ve guessed that the percentage would be far less.  While most salespeople SAY that they sell consultatively, buyer’s perception IS reality, and the proof is in the pudding.   For years now, I’ve been trumpeting the importance of TRUE consultative selling, the microscopic percentage of the profession that can effectively executes consultative selling, and the fact that those who do not are losing a greater and greater percentage of sales each and every year.  

 In other words, having the consultative selling competency in your organization used to be a nice-to-have, and it has now become a MUST-have.   If your salespeople do not possess these selling skills, they WILL lose massive market share, will not be able to maintain margins, and will ultimately die on the vine.   Choose or perish.

 There is a very good reason that more than three-quarters of buyers don’t believe that sellers put them first.  It is because most sellers don’t.  

This is the ultimate sales paradox.  Selfishly, most salespeople (and owners) believe that their sellers SHOULD put themselves first.  However, the most successful salespeople in the world know that doing so will quickly lead buyers to dismiss them from consideration and purchase from their competition.

 As with every other sales attribute, success begins with a salesperson’s mindset.  Here are a just few more critical behaviors required from any truly consultative salesperson:

 Questioning:  A Consultative Salesperson will ask good, tough, timely questions, and when appropriate, will respectfully challenge certain info they unearth.  Most salespeople simply cannot do this, not because deep questioning is difficult, but also because the questions cannot be scripted in advance and because they do not possess the correct mindset.  Follow up questions should never be the result of a script.  They should almost always result directly from the buyer’s responses. 

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

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

Patience:  Most sales reps just cannot wait to tell people about what they sell, how amazing their company is, and all the ways they can help.  The (disempowering) tapes playing in their heads 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 Facilitationä.  Because their facilitation is unearthing new insights and adding value, they subsequently learn that buyers will 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 buyers to create a new, better buying vision.

More Questions, Better Questions:   As the survey results revealed, most salespeople who have asked a few (often scripted) questions truly believe they are selling consultatively.  The reality is, until several dozen questions have been asked, a salesperson isn’t even close.  Again, I’m not talking here about rehearsed, blah, blah, blah questions.  Consultative selling demands unique, thoughtful, spontaneous follow-ups to perhaps a couple opening questions asked during the first few minutes.

An extremely small percentage of salespeople possess consultative selling skills.  Those who adopt, develop, and master them have always captured the lion’s share of available business, but now stand to completely dominate in 2022 and beyond.

One final thought…:  Effective Sales Management can have an enormous effect on the mindset, methodology, culture, improvement, and performance of your team.  Team success in today’s (primarily) remote selling environment demands the development of a high-touch coaching and learning sales culture that will pay huge dividends.

Please don’t wait.  The tsunami is already gaining steam, and developing these skills takes time.  Consultative sellers have always captured the majority of sales.  They will soon capture just about all of it.  Whether you are looking to develop your existing sales team, are recruiting new reps, or are seeking to improve your own personal selling effectiveness, I hope you’ll find this information to be valuable.

Copyright © Joe Zente 2022. All Rights Reserved. 

Inflation Busters: 15 PAINLESS ways to Reduce Your Business Expenses

April 20th, 2022

“Frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints.  One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”  Jeff Bezos

The facts are in–inflation is growing much faster than wages.  Simply, it costs more to do business, and most analysts agree there is no quick fix.

What is an owner to do?

Many small businesses leaders are reluctant to raise prices or are fearful of increasing them enough to maintain profit margins.  While it is prudent to always be seeking ways to increase revenues, and whether you decide to raise prices or not, cost reductions can have an equal, and perhaps larger effect on your bottom line. 

Unfortunately, some cost cutting measures can actually harm your business, so here are 15 ways you can reduce expenses without causing collateral damage.  Some methods might seem more draconian than others, so evaluate each according to your specific situation and goals. They are listed in no particular order of cost savings or importance.

1.    Review your insurance policies. You want to maintain good coverage, but policies differ greatly.  Shop around, consider increasing deductibles, and eliminate unneeded coverage.

2.    Independent contractors. While employees are critical for certain responsibilities, the cost burden associated with recruiting, hiring, on-boarding, training, and letting full time employees go can be staggering.  For many projects and short-term responsibilities, the use of interim freelancers can represent significant savings.  Most estimates indicate that the use of an independent contractor in place of an employee can represent savings of 30%.  If you do decide to pursue this route, make sure you classify employees and contractors correctly to ensure you comply with labor laws.  

3.    Meet customers, prospects, and vendors virtually.  While in-person meetings surely have benefits, most business professionals now expect their associates to use platforms like Zoom for interactions.  In addition to reducing travel and meal expenses, this method offers the additional advantage of consuming much less time, providing bonus hours you can use to remotely visit with even more stakeholders and to devote to other aspects of growing your business.

4.    Automate.  Consider ways to use AI, robotics, and other technologies in place of human beings to perform redundant or programmable activities. This approach may carry some near-term expense but can often provide returns quickly and pay off big over the long haul.

5.    Eliminate paperwork and paper:   
a.    Invoicing electronically eliminates the need for printing, stamping, and snail mail costs.   Invoices are also received quicker, which could lead to receiving quicker payments.
b.    Save documents and files to the cloud, reducing paper, copying, and printing costs.

6.    Make sure your house is in order.  Understand your federal, state, and local rules and regulations.  Stay compliant.  Also, keep your vital documents and contracts updated and in order.  If necessary, invest in a good labor attorney and/or HR professional.  The fees will likely save you serious money in long run versus the potential fines, penalties, and lawsuits resulting from noncompliance or similar violations.

7.    Consider no cost / low-cost employee benefits. The labor market is brutally tight, so you must have a compelling strategy, value proposition, and culture to attract and retain great talent.  Benefits can be important here, but many do not need to cost big bucks.  Bennies like flexible work (remote; flex time), creative, low-cost HSA and/or health re-imbursement plans, and payroll deduction programs so employees can buy their own savings bonds and/or other qualified, self-directed purchases, and more can all be considered. 

8.    Implement low-cost marketing strategies. You do not have Apple’s marketing budget, so improve your strategies and execution effectiveness in areas such as referrals, networking, an effective social media program, and more. Think outside the box. Get creative!  After all, this IS marketing.

9.    Save energy!    

a.    Change your lighting:  You can save up to 40% on energy costs by selecting the appropriate lighting.  Use LEDs, timers, dimmers, etc…

b.    Shut down unused equipment.  Many electronic items include automatic shutoffs and other energy-saving features, but you can save more by asking employees to turn equipment off when it is not in use—especially holidays, weekends, and overnight.

c.    Re-program your Thermostat:  You can also access significant savings by simply reducing the temperature a few degrees during selected times. 

10.     Consider a better banking solution.  While just about every bank claims to be committed to helping small businesses, only a small percentage will back those claims.  So choose carefully.  Make sure you have a relationship with an individual at the bank that will take the time to understand your needs, and your situation.  One who will communicate with you, understand the big picture, shoot you straight, and support you.  In turbulent times like these, you may need personal support and will want a good banker in your corner. 

11.    Evaluate your phone system.  Does your business still really need a landline, especially if many of your employees are working remotely?  Several companies now offer smartphone business plans.  Check them out.

12.    Negotiate prices for goods and services you buy.  If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.  Consider prices, rates, discounts, terms, and more.  

13.    Invest in employee efficiency and effectiveness.  The more efficient your employees become, the more work gets done.  Productivity = Profit.  Your people are your best asset.  Invest in them and the returns can mount up.  This translates into serious cost savings.  Offer training and incentives—these are small investments compared with the potential returns you could reap.

14.    Do you really need an office?  If your employees are working primarily from home, your need for office space may be reduced or eliminated.  If you can’t negotiate your way out of your lease, you may be able to sub-lease your vacant space.

15.    Consider capital equipment options:  If you need a new machine or vehicle, a lease will likely cost less each month than a comparable payment on a purchase loan.  Also, it may make sense to purchase used versus new. If you need equipment, re-furbished may meet your requirements. Pre-owned equipment can often be a good option, but if you decide to go this route, make sure to carefully check warranties.

Runaway inflation, high energy costs, supply chain issues, the tight labor market and more will cause many businesses to fold over the next year or two.  However, this turbulent economic environment will also represent some huge opportunities for those savvy CEOs who stay informed, make prudent decisions, and invest wisely.  

These tips are just a small sampling of the most popular techniques forward-thinking CEOs are using to weather our inflationary environment and position their companies for stability and continued success.

There are many more, which bring us to one final point.  DON’T GO ALONE!!!   Collaborate with other successful business owner peers in a group like The Alternative Board.  Doing so will keep you on the tip of the spear, help you make much more informed decisions with regard to how to invest your precious, limited time, money, and resources, and ultimately save you a fortune. 

To your continued success…

Joe

Copyright ©   Joe Zente 2022.   All Rights Reserved. 

Winning the Brain Battle

January 7th, 2022

Happy New Year!  For many, January is a time of resolutions, goal setting, and promises of what the year will (can) bring.  It is estimated that more than two-thirds of us make New Year’s resolutionsUnfortunately, about half of resolutions are abandoned within 2 months and only about 1 in 15 people who make resolution make any progress at all.   Why?  The problem lies in your brain.

Our brains have a huge preference for The Comfort Zone, meaning that the human brain loves to do the same thing over and over again.    If we try to break a habit, our brains will resist.   We can make intense promises, declarative statements, and even begin to implement some near-term changes, but if we’re not careful and hyper-focused, our brain’s plasticity will quickly drive us right back to The Comfort Zone and our old habits.

Habits are not instincts.  They are acquired, conditioned reactions.  Returning to old habits creates relief from the discomfort of change, even if when doing so is unproductive or unhealthy.

So if you’re serious about exceeding your goals and/or sticking with your resolutions this year, here are a few time-tested, proven techniques that could help…:

1.  Make an HONEST assessment of your commitment.  Are you truly committed to this new goal, change, or habit?   On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to succeeding?   This is actually a bit of a trick question, because the scale isn’t necessary.   You are either unconditionally committed or not.   In or out.  Just about anything other than ALL-IN guarantees failure.  So if you are not all-in, don’t bother.   If you intend to proceed with a quasi-commitment, you are simply wasting your time and the likelihood you will fail is astronomical.

2.   Identify a Compelling “Why”.    Close your eyes, project yourself into the future, and visualize how success would feel and look?   Athletes use visualization because it has consistently been proven to work.  Next, try to experience the consequences.  How you will feel if you failed?   Do the rewards of success feel powerful and motivating enough to compel you to enthusiastically leap out of bed each morning and consistently leave your Comfort Zone and behave differently?   If so, great.  If not, I’d suggest you invest some more time with items 1 & 2 before setting yourself up for a very difficult Battle against your Brains.

3.  It’s totally OK to start small.  Many people wait far too long to set important goals, then try to eat the elephant all at once, setting themselves up for almost certain failure.   Small changes can have huge effects.  In sales, making just 2 more calls per week = 100 per year and can translate into millions of dollars of new business.  Replacing just one glass of beer (or wine or Coke) with water, tea, or coffee each day can save upwards of 50,000 calories per year.   Depending upon metabolism, this simple act can translate into 15, 20, even 30 pounds per year.

4.  Make a Plan devoid of Hockey Sticks or Sprints.   Your Success Plan should include consistent, daily behaviors.   Plans that rely upon a gigantic last month or sprint to the finish line are almost always destined to fail.   In the battle with your brain, slow and steady wins the race.

5.  Focus on replacement, not elimination.  Your habits are embedded, so don’t try to break them.  Trying to stop doing something actually makes you crave it more.   If we try to break, our brains will resist.   Instead, focus upon replacing your existing habits with more effective ones. 

6.  Be confident and tell everyone.   Now that you know you have an unconditional commitment to your new goal and a compelling why to maintain the motivation required to stay focused upon correct behaviors, proudly tell everyone about your goal and success plan, especially your best friends and supporters.  Most importantly, tell those individuals who care enough about you to share tough love and to call you out if you allow busy-ness, “life”, or any other excuse prevent you from executing your great new plan.  

7.  Seek a coach and/or accountability council.    Superior athletes and other superior performers understand how to win the Brain Battle.   They understand that achieving new heights and goals demands that they must stretch, so they consistently train themselves to become comfortable living outside of their Comfort Zone.  They do this by surrounding themselves with great coaches and peers who will help to hold them accountable to their commitments and keep them motivated.  This is not rocket science.  We are talking here about time-tested principles that simply work.   Model their behaviors and practices and you can model their performance.

8.  Take action.  The first step is the most important.   You will never accomplish your goals by talking about them, reading, studying, searching the internet, or dreaming about them.   Get into action today and pay attention to results.   If adjustments are required, make them, but stop talking and start doing.

9.  Don’t bail out.  If you make a mistake or fall off the horse, don’t beat yourself up.   Dry cement is yesterday’s news.  Forgive yourself, jump back on, and get back to creating a better future for yourself.

Here’s to your success in 2022!   Wishing you peace, freedom, prosperity, and abundant happiness.

Copyright © Joe Zente 2022. All Rights Reserved.

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