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The Profit-Burning Dirty Dozen, Volume One: RFPs

May 16th, 2018

How often do you typically reply to Requests for Proposals?

How much does it cost you to create, package and create one of these proposals?

What percentage of RFP responses do you typically win?

Most companies feel compelled to obediently reply when they receive a proposal request.   When they respond, they often do so VERY prematurely.   They substitute promptness and volume for efficiency and effectiveness, losing sight of the correct goal of maximizing growth in revenues and profit.   Here are just a few of the costly beliefs that lead to this counter-productive behavior…:

·       “We really want the business!”

·       “All of our competitors will respond!”

·       “We need the business!”

·       “If we don’t respond, we might lose credibility.”

·       “We won’t get future requests and opportunities if we don’t respond.”

·       “We’ll never get this business if we don’t submit a proposal.”

·       “This is a good opportunity to WOW them with our incredible capabilities!!!”

·       “This might be a way to get our foot in the door.”

·       “We historically win 15% of bids. Since we don’t know which 15%, we better reply to every one.”

·       “We may not be their preferred vendor, but would like to be a backup option”

The majority of companies that receive RFPs do respond to them, quickly.  For many responders, the expense of preparing a proposal can be substantial (including time for design, engineering, estimating, opportunity costs, and more).  All of these costs cut dramatically into margins and the bottom line.

The majority of companies win only a very small percentage of the bids they submit.  So the cost of creating proposals for the few sales that are won must be distributed across the many submissions of those that are lost.

Many companies never give a second thought to replying to RFPs.  They behave reactively, versus proactively.   “Of course we need to be responsive, it’s the way we’ve always done it!”

I’m not suggesting here that you should ignore RFPs.   The question is not if you should respond, but HOW and WHEN.

Most salespeople (and the companies that employ them) have lost millions of dollars of revenue (and profit) because of a destructive behavior disorder known as Premature Satisfaction™.   Replying to a blind RPF is a glaring and extreme example of this disorder.

Premature Satisfaction™, and the resulting volume of lost profit it creates can be reduced and subsequently eliminated by implementing an effective sales process.   UnCommon Sense Buyer Facilitation© is one example of such a process.   If sending a proposal is a critical (or mandated) part of your buyer’s purchase protocol, the submission of the proposal should be one of the final steps in your process.

Premature Satisfaction™carries a consequence in 100% of cases.   In the BEST case, it will cost you time, expense, and profit.   In the worst case, it can destroy trust, lose business you should easily be winning, and remove your company from future consideration as a potential product or solution provider.


There are five (and only five) reasons that you will ever receive a Request for Proposal:

  1. The prospect wants to drive prices down by creating a bidding war.
  2. Their internal policy mandates a certain number of bidders, and you are a convenient filler.
  3. They want to buy from your competitor but don’t want to be taken to the cleaners on price.
  4. They want to buy from your competitor and need a high bid or two to justify their decision.
  5. They would prefer to do business with you but need you to submit via their formal process.

No other reasons exist.  If you aren’t in category #5, you should not be proposing.

Contrary to some conventional thinking, a proposal is not a selling or closing tool.    Companies will not buy from you because of your beautiful proposals, and proposals don’t differentiate you from your competition.  Your MVP Quality - specifically your trustworthiness, ability to connect, questioning, listening, discovery skills, and sales process are the things that will set you apart from your competitors.   Tons of research and buyer polls support these facts.

So next time someone requests a proposal from you, do NOT get busy creating and firing one off.   Instead, learn why they sent it to you, why they want you to propose on this particular solution or configuration, and why they are asking you to solve their problem in the specific way they have outlined.    If necessary, get the specs of the RFP changed before proposing.

The process I’m describing here applies whether you are addressing a highly formalized, bureaucratic, or institutionalized proposal request, or simply a “Hey, can you send me a quote?”   Remember, satisfying prematurely always carries a negative consequence.

So before investing your valuable time, money, and energy putting together a World Class Proposal, make sure that you know they want to buy from you and that the business belongs to you if you want it.   If there is any question at all or if you are not sure, you are simply not ready to propose.    End of story.

If you are sure, you can then put your proposal in any font, color, and package that excites you.  In other words, the buyer has effectively written the proposal for you.   You have simply documented it…

I know this all may be a tough pill to swallow if you work in a company that has developed a habit of rapid-response proposal generation.   Like all habits, this one might take a little time to break.  I can promise the reward will be well worth it.

To Your Freedom…



Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2018.   All Rights Reserved.

Change Your Mindset to Eliminate Buyer Objections (Forever)

February 28th, 2018

Salespeople who try to overcome objections always shoot themselves in the foot. 


They are actually adding insane, unnecessary complexity to an otherwise simple conversation, wasting tons of time, likely destroying trust, and moving further away from a successful transaction.


In fact, there is no such thing as an objection.  Like so many problems that detract from effectiveness in sales conversations, the “objection problem” lies squarely between the ears of the salesperson.   Sales effectiveness begins with a correct mindset and an understanding of buyer psychology (AND seller psychology).   Your personal sales success emerges primarily from the conversation you have with yourself.


Before getting too deeply into your head, let me share a few things you should know about objections…:


            Overcoming an objection will increase a buyer’s resistance.


Objections tend to increase as a salesperson gets closer to the end of a sale.


The objection is rarely the real problem.


If there are two people in the room, only one of them can be the expert.


Buyers want to be the expert.


You’ll never score points by correcting a buyer (aka:  overcoming their objections).


If you handle one objection, you’ll almost always get another.


A buyer can only object if you give them something they can object to.


If you believe my assertions, you may be wondering…  “So what the heck am I supposed to do now?”


First things first: If you never get an objection, you don’t need to worry about how to handle them.   


From a tactical standpoint, buyers will not object to your questions, curiosities, sincere interest, empathy, or understanding.    They only object to statements, presentations, proposals, pitches, closing techniques, manipulations, and other forms of Premature Satisfaction.   They object to being sold.  So if you’ll stop throwing up all over them and exercise just a bit of patience, you will quickly see buyer objections evaporate. 


There are many other ways to create an objection-free zone, but the best place to start is with your self-conversation.   When most salespeople “hear” an objection, common sense makes them hear “bad news”.  As their emotions and blood pressure begin to race, they typically try to overcome the objection so they can begin breathing again.   Conversely, superior UnCommon Sense salespeople never hear good news or bad news.  Great salespeople never hear objections.  They only hear information and opinions.   Consequently, they do not become emotionally involved or lose control.  They remain 100% present in the conversation and are viewed by buyers as differentiated value-adders instead of sales reps.


Rather than overcoming an “objection”, an effective salesperson will simply learn more about the buyer’s “opinion”.   In response to a buyer’s opinion, they can choose to listen, learn and create a new opportunity instead of a talking, telling, dancing and handling a problem.  They might learn things like…:


            Why does the buyer feel that way?


            What do they think should happen to resolve it?


            When did these feelings start?


            What have they tried so far?


            And much, much more.


By simply changing their self-talk to eliminate objections, an effective salesperson can help a qualified buyer transform their opinions into a new, better future and buying vision.


If you decide to try these simple solutions, I’d love to hear from you about your results…


Continued Success,





Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2018.   All Rights Reserved.

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.