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Ask a Better Question

November 17th, 2017



All business owners would like their salespeople to close more sales, consistently blow away quota, and create more predictable, profitable growth.  Most would also like to interject scale into their business.


Every week business owners and sales leaders ask me questions like “can you train our salespeople to sell more?” and “how can we find sales candidates that can actually sell?”


While we are always more than happy to provide the training and coaching required to address these questions in order to improve selling and sales recruiting effectiveness, there are at least 2 questions that could likely unleash an even better return and value.


Before I share these golden questions, let me share some facts…


1.     Sales training IS important and you certainly cannot win a race with a team slow horses, so choose wisely.  


2.     Study after study reveals that approximately 75% of all salespeople fail consistently.  I’ve written extensively on the reasons and solutions to these problems, so won’t go into them here.


3.     The vast majority of salespeople have never had an ounce of effective, formal sales training.   Pilots, accountants, engineers, cops, and fireman all train.  Most salespeople just wing it… 


4.      Most sales managers are former salespeople.


5.     Most sales managers don’t have a clue about what effective sales management entails.


6.     Effective sales management and leadership is a major force multiplier.


7.     Although most organizations invest little in sales training, sales management training is the area that is addressed with the least frequency. 



In light of these facts, you may have already concluded that Sales Management and Leadership lie at the core of building a consistent, predictable, scalable sales effort.

In the absence of competent sales management, your strategy is simply one of hope.


Your best salespeople require effective management and coaching in order to optimize results and ensure growth.   Weaker salespeople are guaranteed to fail without it.


A proficient sales manager will coach, hold salespeople accountable, reinforce training, and improve the results of all your salespeople.  They will swiftly release non-performers and will motivate and develop your A-players, creating a dramatic improvement in your company’s revenue, profit performance, and scalability, leading to a much stronger company.


An effective sales manager will also direct a productive sales-recruiting process and continuous improvement of the team.


Effective sales management changes everything.


Sales training is an essential part of any sales improvement initiative, but you will likely find the investment in developing sales managers to carry a much greater ROI.


So the next time you look to upgrade your sales organization, you might start by asking…:


“How can we develop our sales management and leadership?”




“What steps can we take to build a world-class sales organization?”




Continued Success!!!




Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.

20 Years of Sales Lessons

October 10th, 2017

It’s hard to believe, but this month marks the 20th anniversary of Z3 Performance Development, Inc. I founded ZThree in 1997 with a simple vision of “Freedom Through Results, Results Through Responsibility”. I did so to help responsible owners and leaders free themselves from their perceived shackles and obstacles—the challenges they had the most difficulty overcoming. For many owners, there was no greater obstacle in business than creating a consistent, predictable, scalable sales organization.


Much has changed since then, in selling, and in our culture. Back in 1997, Titanic and Men in Black were dominating at the box office and viewers were tuning into Seinfeld on TV.  South Park premiered. Tiger Woods was 21 and earned the #1 ranking on the PGA Tour in his first season. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 7000 for the first time. The Harry Potter phenomenon was in its infancy, and so was the dot-com era.


Steve Jobs returned to run Apple Computers and the iPhone did not exist. Neither did Google. Or Facebook. Home video games gained popularity with the Nintendo 64, but kids still spent more time playing outside than being glued to their devices. Amazon went public at $18 per share (Damn, I wish I got in on that one…)


Less than 100,000 websites existed at the time. No one had heard of a “blog” yet. “High-speed internet” using cable modems would soon be replacing dial-ups, and DVDs would soon replace VCRs. The term “Social Media” would not become universally accepted for many years.


The internet and knowledge transfer changed the world of sales. Forever.


At ZThree, we’ve worked with hundreds of business owners and many thousands of sales professionals and have witnessed a long-overdue transformation in selling.  In 1997, most people did not trust salespeople (and with good reason). Over time, cultural changes have forced a good portion of the rest of the profession to (reluctantly) migrate away from many of the old-school, manipulative sales tactics that have existed since the Model T. These techniques didn’t work well 20 years ago. Today, they are laughable.


Rapid knowledge transfer has allowed buyers to gain leverage over pushy, talkative salespeople, forcing them to change their ways. Rehearsed scripts, leading questions, boring demos, and trial closes have gone the way of the Telex Machine.


From the onset, our UnCommon Sense© methodology has encouraged people to behave like “anti-salespeople” and “facilitators”.  ZThree’s processes and philosophy were never based upon traditional sales manipulation, but instead upon buyer psychology, principles of effective communication, and mutual understanding.  We always believed convince-aholic™ manipulation would ultimately perish.  It has taken a while, but better late than never!


Attention spans have contracted dramatically, shortening more than 5-fold during the last twenty years (Twitter built a business on 140 characters). Instant gratification has also become a staple of modern society.  In order to remain competitive, these factors cannot be under-estimated.


If a salesperson fails to earn a trust connection with a prospect and open up a buyer’s listening within a couple of minutes, they are essentially finished before the game begins.


Before the Internet and reputation management changed the world forever, product knowledge was perceived to be paramount among sellers. Today, product knowledge falls near the bottom of the list with regard to importance in generating sales. Great salespeople will know about their product or service, but they also understand that product knowledge pales in comparison to understanding belief systems, communication dynamics, trust development, listening skills, and buyer psychology. Interestingly, these issues have always been paramount in the minds of the buyers. Unfortunately, it has taken most sellers many decades to learn and adapt (and many still haven’t).


I can go on for days about requirements for success in today’s selling environments, but since your attention span is also shorter than in 1997, here is a quick list of things you can implement immediately:


1.   Stop talking and start listening: Reduce your talking by 75% and watch what happens. I promise you will not be disappointed.


2.   Don’t offer demos or proposals until you understand your prospect’s buying motives.   Before you launch into telling, get crystal clear about the decision process, the decision maker, their needs and pains, and how much they are committed to invest.  This is easier than you might think.  Since you’ll be talking less, you’ll be learning much more!


3.   Do not try to convince. Instead, spend your time understanding the real picture.


4.   Make the conversation about them, not you. Always.


5.   Change your goal. Don’t focus on getting the order. Focus on investing your time (and their time) wisely in pursuit of adult conversations and learning the truth.


6.   Use LinkedIn and other social media to learn about interests and preferences (especially personal interests), but do not assume anything you read online is true without verifying. Assumptions are killers.


7.   Learn about your prospect’s communication preferences.  Do they prefer to be contacted via phone, text, email, other?  But beware, never hide behind technology.  You cannot listen effectively to the written word, and it is much easier for a buyer to leave out important details if you are not there to probe deeper.


A hell of a lot has changed since 1997, but it is also surprising how much has not changed. People are still people. They still value trusted relationships and still have feelings. Recent buying surveys show that the majority of executive buyers still make purchase decisions based upon their interaction with the company salesperson. Buyers can certainly conduct more research than ever before speaking with you, but people still buy for emotional reasons (and always will).


Selling today not only requires a different approach and tactics, it requires an entirely new mindset and way of thinking. If you have the correct belief system, your words and actions will follow naturally.


Before I sign off, I want to offer a gigantic thank you to all of you for helping ZThree’s vision become a reality and for helping me (and us) learn and grow. You have enriched my life more than you know.


Our team remains committed to making an impact in your work and life, and to helping you achieve the freedom you deserve.


With gratitude,





Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.

Stand Out From Your Competition

September 18th, 2017

The world of selling has changed. Forever.

 25 years ago, it is very unlikely that a consumer knew much about your product or service before they spoke to you. They may have thought you were the only game in town, and may have had no idea that you even had competitors.

Today things are much different. Independent of the type of product or service you are selling, it is highly likely that your sales prospect knows a lot about you, your company, and your competition before your initial conversation. Thanks to the Internet, they may even know things about your competitors that you do not.

If your company is the undisputed leader in your market, or if you have a gigantic price advantage over your competition, this may not be a huge problem for you. If not, you better have salespeople that can stand apart from the crowded field.

There are dozens of ways for a salesperson to stand out, but none better than the manner in which they LISTEN. In general, most salespeople are horrible listeners. In fact, many do not listen at all. Instead, they simply wait to talk. I characterize listening into five distinct categories. 

The two lowest levels of listening are Pretending or Ignoring. Just above Pretending is Selective listeningUnfortunately, most salespeople communicate using a combination of these three lowest levels. Salespeople that listen in this manner are perceived as untrustworthy, incompetent, and non-differentiated. They learn little and they give the sales profession a well-deserved bad name.

Salespeople who communicate at these lowest levels will quickly fail if they are not representing a highly-differentiated, absolutely incredible company or product.

A small percentage of salespeople attempt to listen Attentively. Salespeople who listen attentively work hard to see the picture that the Buyer is painting. They may ask some questions to gain clarity. They spend much less time talking during a sales conversation than the prospective buyer they are interviewing.  As a consequence, they learn more and are perceived to be more trustworthy than their mouth-flapping, selective-listening counterparts.  Attentive Listeners tend to gain clarity on a Buyer’s Picture, but typically see that picture through their own lenses. They see the picture from their own filtered perspective.

The best salespeople in the world listen empathetically. Empathetic Listeners do not only pay attention and ask tons of questions in order to gain clarity, but they are constantly striving to truly understand and to see the picture through the Buyer’slenses — from the other person’s perspective. Independent of their product advantages or quality, salespeople who listen empathetically totally differentiate themselves from their competitors. They learn more, understand more, and care more than their competitors. Because they are more trusted,the buyer will divulge more about their real situation, needs, pains, budgets, investment criteria, motives, decision process and more. Because they’ve struggled to see things from the buyer’s perspective, an empathetic salesperson then can offer much more effective and targeted solutions to buyer challenges. They stand out and are granted enormous advantages over their competitors. And they succeed consistently.

Consider for a moment the last time someone tried to listen empathetically to you.  How did you feel about that person?

There is no better differentiator for your company than to have a sales staff of empathetic listeners.

Whether you are communicating with a buyer, a spouse, a co-worker, or your kids, you will find tremendous power in empathetic listening. It is a learned skill, but one that can be developed into a prosperous habit with just a bit of practice. The good news is that you can practice everywhere.

Start today with buyers, and watch your sales soar.



Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.


August 14th, 2017



Wise business owners consistently evaluate key metrics affecting their bottom line.   In an effort to increase profit, owners and their CFOs and controllers review factors ranging from the cost of goods, salaries, pricing, inventory turns, receivables, and more. 


Few companies, however, evaluate ways to improve the area that holds the largest potential influence on profitability — their sales department.   Since time = money, salespeople must use their time (and your company’s support resources) effectively.   Unfortunately, most do not.   Here are just a few of the most popular ways that many salespeople burn up profit….:    


1.     Spending significant time with unqualified prospects.

2.     Talking when they should be listening and understanding.

3.     Not establishing Ground Rules.

4.     Giving presentations to unqualified prospects.

5.     Offering pricing before understanding the whole picture.

6.     Creating and sending proposals before understanding the whole picture.

7.     Listening with Happy Ears, instead of learning the truth.

8.     Sending multiple proposals to address the same opportunity (because they didn’t learn what was really required in the first place).

9.     Emailing or texting when they should be visiting/in dialogue.

10. Offering unnecessary discounts.

11. Understanding true buying motives.

12. Poor territory management.

13. Poor time management.


Most of these issues can be addressed through the implementation of an effective sales plan, success recipe, and sales process.      


Ineffective sales management is also a huge profit-killer.   Sales management is either pathetic or woefully non-existent in the vast majority of private companies.   You may be thinking “my sales staff is too small”, or “I can’t afford a sales manager.”   In fact, you cannot afford to ignore the sales management function.   It is absolutely essential if you are serious about growing and scaling your revenue and profit.    If your sales staff is small, make it happen.    The function does not need to be full-time.   Sales management can be one of the many hats you (or one of your execs) wear.   It can also be outsourced.   Effective sales management is not time-consuming, but it is vital.


A significant percentage of sales managers spend their time rescuing, brow-beating, record-keeping, micro-managing, and covering their butts, rather than focusing on the critical areas of consistently coaching, motivating, developing, recruiting and holding salespeople accountable.   


Poor sales management is actually counter-productive and is the area where many private companies burn up the most profit.   Consequently, the sales management role is also the function where the greatest potential opportunity resides.


A massive volume of profit lies in using an effective sales management process. 


It is the gift that keeps on giving.


Once you implement one, you will never look back.




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.