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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.

Popular Excuses Made by Entrepreneurs for Crappy Sales (And What You Can do About it!)

October 31st, 2016

Many private business owners tell me they struggle with sales.  Most report little, if any, predictability, visibility, or scalability in their sales effort.  A large percentage of seemingly successful entrepreneurs even have a tough time maintaining any level of consistency in growing sales revenues and profit.


When I ask owners for their reasons their sales are lacking, I often hear the same things over and over.  This destructive self-talk hurts much more than it helps.  Following is a list of popular excuses I hear many times each month.   If you find yourself saying any of these things (to others or to yourself), I’ve offered some actions you take today to make things much better.


“When we get in front of prospects, we almost always win.” 


While this may be true, it is not necessarily good.  If your company is closing 100% of your sales, you (or your salespeople) are probably only meeting with SUPER-qualified prospects.  While it is always a good idea to continually strive to improve your closing percentages, understand that the vast majority of private companies (and salespeople) behave opportunistically, versus proactively when it comes to selling.  In other words, they are not selling, they are taking orders.  Opportunistic (reactive)  selling places a company’s destiny into the hands of external forces (like the economy, competition, new features, etc.).  Very dangerous to say the least.



“We don’t have the time to improve sales” (aka: “We’re too busy”)


Fact#1:  You have the same amount of time as everyone else (24 hours per day).


Fact#2:  You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.


Fact#3:  The more your focus on a problem, the more likely you are to improve it.


So we’re really not talking about time here, were talking about priorities.  So ask yourself:  “Are the issues we’re focusing on today really more important than Sales?”   If so, continue as you are.  If not, what will you stop doing today so you can focus on growing revenues and profits?



I don’t have enough money”


Same goes here.  Of course you don’t have unlimited funds.  No one does.  However, every owner is spending money on something.  The real question to ask is “am I investing money and resources in accordance with my goals and priorities?”   If your sales are consistently falling short, the answer is NO.



“If my salespeople (or sales manager) would only…”


Here comes the big pill.   All of your salespeople are currently behaving the way they are behaving because that is the way they CHOOSE to behave. You are also behaving the way you are behaving because that is how you are choosing to behave.  So if you want something to change (improve) in your sales effort, the change starts with you.  If your sales aren’t cutting it, YOU are the problem, but you are also the (potential) solution.


The success (or lack of success) of any private business is a 100% function of the decisions made by its owner (CEO).  The wisdom of how a CEO chooses to invest his/her limited time, money, and resources determines everything.  So choose wisely.


Running a great business is not magic.  Creating a great sales organization is not magic. Both are formulaic, time-tested pursuits.   If you’d like to share methods or processes that you currently use to make wiser choices, or would like to discuss practices that I have seen work many times, I’d love to hear from you.


Many private business owners tell me they struggle with sales.  Most report little, if any, predictability, visibility, or scalability in their sales effort.  A large percentage of seemingly successful entrepreneurs even have a tough time maintaining any level of consistency in growing sales revenues and profit.


When I ask owners for their reasons their sales are lacking, I often hear the same things over and over.  This destructive self-talk hurts much more than it helps.  Following is a list of popular excuses I hear many times each month.   If you find yourself saying any of these things (to others or to yourself), I’ve offered some actions you take today to make things much better.


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2016.   All Rights Reserved. 

Choose or Perish: 10 Steps to Creating an Over-Achieving Sales Culture

August 12th, 2016

If you are like many CEOs, your company may be experiencing the perfect storm of increased competition and price pressure, combined with a limited supply of great sales talent and financial resources.   Many business owners are frustrated with the lack of new business generation and the fact that few, if any, of their people relish the role of hunting for it.   Some owners even feel they being are held hostage by mediocre performers who possess valuable information or customer relationships. 

The answer to this seemingly perplexing situation is YOU.  By virtue of a simple choice, you possess more power than you could possibly imagine to dramatically upgrade your Sales Team and to grow now.  Creating an Overachieving Sales Culture will not only fuel top line revenue growth, but can also improve your net profit.  If you decide to go for it, here are some simple steps that will be required:


1.     Face the Brutal Facts:  Please realize that the very people you would like to change have chosen to behave the way are currently behaving.  They act the way they act for only one reason–because they want to.  So despite your strongest desires, they probably will not choose to do what you would like them to do – Hunt and Close.   Most people, including salespeople, do not like change and will resist leaving their Comfort Zone.

2.     Needle in a Haystack:  Hunters & Closers represent a microscopic portion of the “salesperson population”.  In fact, only a very small percentage of people are really suitable for taking on any part of a sales or business development role.  

3.     Use Effective Tools and Processes:  You must be able to identify that small percentage of productive salespeople.  This takes discipline, but isn’t hard to do if you use the right types of assessment tools and processes.

4.     Raise Your Expectations, Change Your Focus, Trumpet Your Intentions:  This is no time to be wimpy or ambiguous.  You must loudly and clearly broadcast your unconditional commitment to create a new, effective Sales Culture.   For example, let’s say you want the regional managers at your professional services company to go out and find local business clients, your customer service group to become proactive by making outgoing calls, or your service providers to bring new clients into the firm.  In each of these cases, a common management mistake is to neglect the clear communication of expectations to those very people they would like to change.   Be Clear.

5.     Appoint a Competent Culture Transformation Director:  Again, this is going to take steady commitment on your part.  But it will pay off.  Appoint someone who understands what needs to be accomplished as well as how to accomplish it.   If your company is very small, you may need to wear the CTD hat yourself.

6.     Train and Coach:  Make sure that your team members are equipped with the training they’ll need to succeed in this strange new world of big selling and new business development.  The assessment tools can provide you with a development roadmap.

7.     Demonstrate a Path to Success:  Don’t throw them out to sink or swim.  Even with the most talented of salespeople, it is up to you to clearly define what it is they should do and how often they should do it.

8.     Swim in the same direction:  You must get complete buy-in from the people that will participate in your culture transformation.  They must be All-In.  Remember, your forecast and plan must be derived from your goals (not the other way around).

9.     Transparency–No Surprises:  Everyone must be clear as to how success will be measured, the rewards of success and the consequences of shortfalls.   No Gray Areas…

10.  Accountability:  You and the Culture Transformation Director must create an organizational mindset where everyone is open, honest, and personally accountable.  Any member of the team that doesn’t fit, doesn’t belong.  

This transformation doesn’t happen overnight, if you follow these steps, it will happen.  But again, it all starts with YOU.


 An uncertain economy is the absolute best time to upgrade your Sales Culture and create predictable, profitable growth.   With a simple choice and the right tools and processes, you’ll be well on your way to higher revenues, consistent performance, and a stronger company.



Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2016.   All Rights Reserved. 

Would You Please Like Me?

July 7th, 2016

 Most people like to be liked, and many salespeople love to be liked.  The weakest salespeople need to be liked.

While the end result of being liked certainly provides an advantage over being disliked, a salesperson’s desire to feel good and their need for approval can have huge consequences in their overall effectiveness and ultimate success.


Let’s take John for example;


John works really hard to get people to like him. 


John is very nice to everyone.


He almost always agrees with people, especially with sales prospects.


If John disagrees or if he hears contradictions in a buyer’s conversation, he won’t say a word for fear someone might not like him.


If a prospect wants John to do just about anything, he’ll do it.  


If a buyer wants a proposal, he’ll send one right away.


If a buyer wants John to go back and redo the proposal, he’ll happily oblige.


If the buyer wants John to sharpen his pencil to offer a better deal, John will take care of it.


If the buyer wants John to put on his tap shoes and dance on the table, John will do so with a smile.


In his zeal to be liked, John will rarely ask questions, especially the “difficult” or challenging variety.  


John is an expert on small talk, but avoids big talk.


John will never push for a ‘yes” or “no”.  He will accept “maybes” all day long.


If a prospect decides to take a phone call during John’s visit, John will sit by smiling as the minutes tick away.


If a buyer wants to spend a few hours talking with John about something that has nothing to do with business, John will cheerfully invest (aka: waste) the time.  (Note:  This type of wheel-spinning behavior is most prevalent among the most unqualified buyers—the ones with the least decision-making power or influence.)


Since John always defers to the buyer’s schedule, he frequently loses track of time and is often late for his next appointment.   


John happily accepts stalls, put-offs, and misdirections.


John rarely qualifies a prospect.   He’ll invest time, energy and money with anyone who asks for it.


John is more than happy to give as many unqualified demos and presentations as are requested.


John will never push to understand true buying motives or the decision process.


If the prospect doesn’t graciously offer to tell him directly, John will never learn anything about budgets or how much the buyer is willing to invest.


John takes objections personally and emotionally.


John is highly vulnerable to win/lose arrangements.


John will sacrifice his commissions (and company margins) in order to maintain his likability.


John will provide free consulting as long as a buyer requests it.


John IS a really nice guy and most buyers actually do like him.  Unfortunately, they don’t respect him or his time.   Consequently, John squanders massive amounts of time, company resources, sales volume and profit.  I’m not suggesting here that a salesperson shouldn’t be likable.   Of course you want your salespeople to be liked.  However, it is much more important that they are trusted and respected.  When the desire or need to be liked transcends effective sales behavior, it could cost you very dearly.   So be on the lookout for John.  Eliminating a salesperson’s need for approval can have a tremendous effect on your bottom line.


Do you know any Johns?

Do you have any on your sales team?

Do you ever find yourself behaving like John?

If so, what do you intend to do about it?

I’d love to hear from you.


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2016.   All Rights Reserved.