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Another New Normal?

March 24th, 2020

Z3 and TAB Austin welcomes guest contributor, our own TAB Certified Facilitator/Coach Jim Gerberman.

I have the privilege of being part of a group of TAB business owners and leaders who meet routinely to help each other with issues and challenges related to pursuing their business and personal purpose. At a recent monthly meeting, one of our team presented each of our members with shirts that he had discovered during a trip to Hawaii. He shared the “Red Dirt Shirt” story as an example of a resilient business owner that had found success from a catastrophic event.

On September 11, 1992, the Hawaiian island of Kauai was devastated by Hurricane Iniki.  According to their company website: “Among the businesses affected was our small screen print shop. All of our white shirts waiting to be printed were drenched with water and stained with Red Dirt blown in from the storm. Instead of throwing out the shirts, we decided to dry them as they were. The T shirts, stained with the ultra iron rich Red Dirt soil and printed with Hawaiian based themes became a hit with locals and visitors alike.” Today, the Red Dirt Shirts company has seven locations in Hawaii, Arizona and Utah and produces and sells more than 100,000 shirts per month.

Rather ironically, on the same day that our team received these shirts, an article in The New York Times reported that “China Identifies New Virus Causing Pneumonia like Illness”. Three days later, on 11 January, Chinese state media reported the first known death from an illness caused by the coronavirus.

A relevant question for each of us: “Is there a Red Dirt Shirt story for you and your business in this time of unprecedented uncertainty?” And: “How might one identify and pursue such opportunities?”

I really like the suggestions recently shared by Mark Cuban:

  • Experiment with new ideas. Since you have holes in your schedule, it’s a great time to experiment with new lines of business and see what sticks. He also recommended brainstorming not only with your peers, but also with your competitors. They are all in the same boat. Try to figure out the best way to reignite the industry.
  • Really get to know your employees. Take the time to understand the individual circumstances of your employees and their families.
  • Clean up parts of the business you’ve been neglecting or haven’t had time for. Control what you can control. Rather than focusing on how bad it is, focus on how you can use this time to connect with your future customers.

A final thought from an article shared by a friend: “Crises teach us that CEOs aren’t expected to be as right as they are expected to be engaged”.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay engaged.

 

Copyright © Jim Gerberman 2020.  All Rights Reserved. 

 

Selling Effectively During Uncertain Times

March 14th, 2020

Successful business leaders know that fortunes are often made during times of crisis and uncertainty.

The Coronavirus, plummeting oil prices, political & foreign policy jockeying, media hype, and a growing sense of global chaos have created an interesting, but not entirely uncommon, business environment. How can we behave in a calm, focused, and skillful manner when so many are beginning to panic? How can we keep growing sales during unpredictable times that delay or paralyze decision-making?

We have been here before. During my life, I’ve experienced six or seven recessions and perhaps three times as many major public health scares.  These kinds of crises cause widespread pain that should be addressed with seriousness.  With that said, the way the most effective business and sales leaders have historically dealt with these events was often diametrically opposed to the majority. Unlike so many who became consumed with fear and paralysis, superior leaders evaluated markets, their people, their plans, true risks, and emerging upside potential.  They looked closely at how their offerings might fit into the New Normal (aka: perceived reality), refocusing efforts to attack the changed marketplace in a proactive, positive manner.

Most people suspect that 2020 will long be remembered as a period of significant change. The best leaders view significant change as an opportunity to become stronger. These types of environments represent a major Sales opportunity to strengthen relationships with new and existing clients. As a salesperson, the most difficult times are the most ideal to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Selling in prosperous times is simple.  It’s during the toughest times that premier salespeople really shine.

For many, uncertain times create all sorts of speculation, assumptions, prognostication, drama, stress, and sometimes panic (all things you should avoid).  However, if we are to prepare ourselves for success, we do need to face the brutal facts. During the next few quarters, and until the feverish levels of confusion and volatility begin to wane, most salespeople can expect major changes in Buyer Behavior. Many buyers will behave differently with regard to decision speed.  For most, the decision process will slow down, but for some, urgency will actually speed up to unprecedented levels. We can also expect changes in what people need and how much they need.  Finally, expect a slew of changes in decision criteria.

Before jumping into some specific actions to grow sales during tough times, it is important to note here that the MOST important thing to address is not words, scripts, messaging, or activities.  The single most important component that will separate top performers from the pack in Sales is MINDSET. While a salesperson’s mindset is always critical to selling success, their beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and self-talk are especially crucial when uncertainty abounds.

So let’s get going. You can start here…:

Sales Leaders & Managers:

  • Where are you?: Audit your current sales strategy.  Beware of sacred cows, and be willing to crack some eggs.  Does your current strategy really address the new marketplace effectively?  What needs to be changed? 
  • Segment Markets:  Has the New Normal created any major areas of concern for your prospects and customers? Now is the best time to contact all of your existing customers to show them how much you care, to learn what THEY are doing to weather the storm, and to evaluate whether or not there is anything you might do to help.
  • Consistency:  If there is anything at all that is changing about your messaging or value proposition, make sure that everyone on your sales (and marketing) teams are speaking the same language.  This is no time to add any additional confusion to an already uncertain marketplace. During turbulent times, most people openly welcome messages of confidence and stability. Be their ROCK.
  • Sales Process & Plan:  Great salespeople are always in demand, but are in even greater demand when times become uncertain. Today, your salespeople will likely be getting more “NOs”, more delays, and more rejection.  To keep them persistent and motivated, show them your appreciation, and provide them with the tools they need to be confident, resilient, and productive.  Those who power through will emerge stronger than ever. Ensure your Sales Team has an effective, consistent, consultative sales process that works.
  • Sales Training & Coaching: Support your salespeople with the training they need to stay focused, recognize opportunities, and grow sales.

Salespeople:

  • Your Plan:  Review your current sales plan.  Make sure it aligns with the updated company sales strategy. Adjust where required, then get after it.  And remember, spend most of your time LEARNING. The market has likely changed (on both a collective and individual client basis), so your consultative sales interviews should include a massive component of market research.
  • Client account review:  Start with your existing customers. Seek to understand. Learn about each of their concerns. Is there anything you might do to help? Many will openly embrace support in deciding how to navigate in these uncertain times.  Be their go-to trusted advisor.
  • Don’t wait for the phone to ring: Many people will become paralyzed during these times. Personally contact as many prospects and clients as possible. Call them, get in front of them.  Try not to hide behind email (you’ll lose the opportunity to LEARN). Don’t feel like you need to solve anything or propose solutions.  It is OK to not have all the answers, but if you can help your clients develop better questions or make better decisions, you will add a lot of value.  They will remember you for it (and you will learn a lot about the market and see new potential opportunities).
  • Care, Listen, Understand: What concerns your clients and prospects?  Don’t listen with an intent to sell.  Listen with an intent to Learn.  Keep your filters off.  This is no time to don’t be pushy or convincing.  Be patient.  If you are, I promise your consultations and empathy will produce plenty of new opportunities.
  • Get in the Right Room: Fear is contagious.  So is drama, doom, and gloom.  The sky is not falling. Surround yourself with other positive, realistic professionals. Separate facts from fiction and don’t be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.  Innovation and productivity are also contagious. Choose your party carefully.
  • Persistence:  Never give up.  Understand that opportunities always abound during uncertain times, but that most people simply do not recognize them.

Never forget, the psychology of buyers, and principles of effective selling and communication apply during good times and bad. But during very uncertain times, superior salespeople and teams understand how to be even more valuable to their clients and their companies by unearthing new opportunities and by helping their prospects see new ways to approach an otherwise scary environment.  By being persistent, talking less, and learning more, they completely separate themselves from the pack.

Helping a client protect and improve their own business is always a much greater differentiator than offering a product or service itself. Salespeople that approach conversations in this manner will always get preferential treatment when the time comes for a purchase decision.

 

Continued success,

Joe

 

 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Stop Emailing to Grow Your Sales

February 6th, 2020

Email is a wonderful tool.   Most of us couldn’t survive without it.

Unfortunately, many (and perhaps most) people who sell use email (and other forms of digital messaging) incorrectly when pursuing sales.  I’m not talking about Marketing here; I’m talking about Growing Sales.

Email makes salespeople vulnerable to all sorts of ambiguity and assumptions, two of the biggest killers of sales growth.  Used improperly, email will cut immensely into your profit.

Most salespeople…:

  • Tend to be optimists.

  • Do not like to ask challenging or difficult questions.

  • Are not skilled listeners.

  • Make way too many assumptions.

  • Live in hope.

  • Spend much more time talking than learning.

  • Fear any form of rejection

  • Would prefer to present, demonstrate, and propose instead of listening, probing, learning, and understanding.  In other words, most salespeople do not like to sell.

Consequently, many salespeople choose to communicate via computer or digital device versus speaking with a prospect.   Many sellers actually tell themselves that an email is a substitute for a conversation.  It absolutely isn’t.  

When hearing a buyer’s response that is not crystal clear, many sellers prefer NOT to challenge or gain clarity.   Email provides a buffer layer, forming a safety barrier to prevent us from hearing something we may not wish to hear, protect our egos from damage.  But effective salespeople understand that courage is a core competency, so they power through their fears. 

Some salespeople believe that sending emails saves time.   Maybe so, but it will also cost you sales.  Tons of them.  Here’s why…

If you don’t happen to be in the 0.5% of companies that either have an incredible price advantage, or a product or service that is spectacularly unique, you have serious competition.  We also know that most buyers do not trust salespeople, and that very few buyers are completely open and honest in sharing their needs, thoughts, fears, issues, preferences, budgets, and more.  Getting to the truth requires breaking down barriers, and rigorous discovery.

When operating in this type of competitive, ambiguous environment, your salespeople must be able to differentiate themselves.  The less they learn and the more assumptions they make, the quicker they will eliminate themselves from consideration.  A Most Valuable Salesperson needs to bond better and stand out with prospects, and they need to listen, probe, and understand more than their competitors.   Superior salespeople connect at a much deeper level and develop more trust with prospects, and they make the process of buying feel more enjoyable than the others.  This can never be accomplished via email or text.  It all requires live conversations, active listening and consultative interactions.  Using email in place of conversations actually prevents differentiation, tending to commoditize any salesperson who relies heavily upon it.

Written communication does not allow for listening, empathy, follow up questions, nuance, reading of body language/tonality, deep personal connection, bonding, rapport, or pain discovery.

Email can be an essential part of communication for selling, but only when used correctly.   Effective uses of email include confirming previous conversations to ensure clarity, confirming appointments, and sending essential documents.   All other sales activities should involve conversations.  

Most salespeople use email as a crutch.  Instead of using it effectively, weak salespeople use email as a replacement.   They email so they can avoid directly hearing “bad news” or rejection.  They use it so they can avoid difficult conversations, so they can hear selectively and believe the best, instead of learning the truth.  They use it to avoid having to ask tough or challenging questions.  They use it so they can make happy assumptions and live in hope.  They use it so they may interpret ambiguity in a way that it becomes “good news”.  They use it so they may remain optimistic.  They use email to feel less vulnerable.

In other words, they use it in place of growing sales.

If you or your salespeople have fallen victim to destructive email behavior, and you’re ready to break out and grow your sales, you can begin by setting a goal this month to send half as many emails and replace each with an effective, consultative conversation of trust and discovery. 

Hope this helps…

Joe 

 

 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Stunning Sales Statistics (and actions you can take today to address them)

January 16th, 2020

Most business owners fall into two primary categories; those that enjoy selling and those that wished they would never need to think about selling.  After working with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I’ve discovered that both types of leaders possess somewhat different, but equally destructive, profit-killing blind spots when it comes to building consistent, visible, predictable, scalable sales organizations. 

Owners that “know how to sell” generally enjoy buyer interaction.  They feel fairly comfortable in sales scenarios, and often expect their reps to “just do what I do…”. Unfortunately, this approach lacks process, so is much easier said than done. Frustration follows when results fall short.

Conversely, “non-selling owners” are sometimes acutely aware of their sales-related shortcomings and struggles. Most are clear that they neither understand how to sell themselves, nor how to build an effective sales organization.  Many believe that some individuals are just “natural born salespeople”, and that they didn’t inherit the right gene. A good percentage of the non-sellers hope that Sales will magically and organically occur by simply creating a better mousetrap. But hope is always a bad strategy and Sales is the life blood of any company.  When their hope fails to produce desired results, many non-selling owners choose to delegate new business development to any brave soul willing to step up and take the baton.  Consequently, these benevolent (but often unskilled) volunteers forge ahead in pursuit of fleeting success with little or no structure, accountability, management, or training. A recipe for disaster.  The odds are stacked against them. Again, poor results follow.

To complicate sales success a bit further, consider these interesting statistics…:

Only 17% of salespeople think they are pushy, but FIFTY percent of prospects think that people selling to them are pushy: Tell me, do you enjoy buying from pushy salespeople?

Convinc-aholicsä are among the least successful salespeople on the planet.  Imagine how many more sales your company can generate by eliminating pushiness.

Only 39% of people selling today ever intended to go into Sales:  Sales is a wacky profession.  You’d be hard pressed to find a student who majored in Selling in college, or even one who took a single selling class at any time before (or after) entering the workforce.  In fact, most people currently employed as sales representatives have never participated in any professional sales training program.  If you wanted to go scuba diving, would you ever jump into the water without knowing what to do or how to do it?

The sales “profession” is loaded with individuals with formal education in liberal arts, marketing, history, business, finance, biology, etc…  In other words, just about all “salespeople” chose to not pursue a sales career.  The vast majority entered the sales profession by DEFAULT. Consequently, the vast majority of people responsible for selling today lack the passion, commitment, skills, and training necessary to be successful.

Only 3% of surveyed buyers trust salespeople: Yikes.  The job of your salesperson is to learn where a buyer is, where they wish to be, what is missing, if they have enough pain, money, and decision power to make a purchase, and if/how your company might possibly help. In the absence of trust, do you think a salesperson will learn the truth about any of this?

Only 24.3% of salespeople exceeded their quota last year: Most salespeople fail, and fail big. 

We know that the majority of the “sales profession” is comprised of non-professionals.

So is it any surprise that more than three-quarters of sales reps fail?

5000 C-Level buyers were asked: “What is the single most important factor that causes you to select one vendor over another?”         

9% answered — “Price”

                                19% answered — “Company Reputation”

                                                19% answered — “Perception of Quality or Service”

and…

53% of C-Level buyers answered that their interaction with the company representative was the PRIMARY DECIDING FACTOR in their purchase decision. In other words, a buyer’s interaction with your salesperson likely has a greater influence on their purchase decision than Price, Reputation, Quality, and Service combined.

These facts and statistics may seem daunting, but they can all translate into massive profit growth for any owner wishing to take advantage of the huge opportunity they present.  The fact that the stats demonstrate tons of mediocrity can be great news for you. More precisely, the sales-proficiency bar is so low that just a small percentage of improvement can have a substantial impact on your company’s growth, value, and market share.  With this in mind, here are a few actions you can take to start the new decade off with a bang, and to begin to develop a world-class sales effort.

Adopt, develop, and nurture a true consultative sales process and philosophy. Pushy salespeople that are not trusted by prospects are donating tons of new business and profit growth to your competitors.  I’m not talking about lip-service here. Many owners and salespeople talk about the importance of consultative selling.  Few take the steps required to achieve it. Adoption requires a commitment, but the results are well worth the investment.

If you are seeking to grow and adopt an effective Locate, Land, & LaunchÒ process to ensure you are adding the right players on your sales team; hire slow and fire fast.  And get serious about your new-salesperson on-boarding program.  It is always much easier to win the game with superior athletes.

Adopt an effective, time-efficient Sales Management process.  Sales management can be extremely difficult in the absence of an effective sales process and recruitment process, but management becomes simple when these processes are in place.

The only difference between highly successful companies and those that continually struggle is how they decide to invest their very limited time, money and resources. Most companies invest tremendous volumes of time and money in pursuit of creating superior products, services, and company reputation.  But remember these statistics.  The creation of a consistent, scalable sales organization does require a commitment and some investment.  But an investment in sales effectiveness will far exceed just about any other you might choose for your company, in both the long and short term. An productive, consistent sales organization is the highly differentiated gift that keeps on giving, year after year.

Best wishes for 2020 and the decade to come…

 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2020.  All Rights Reserved.

Some Difficult, but Vital, Strategic Planning Questions Every Business Owner Should Ask Themselves Each Year

November 12th, 2019

During the last quarter each year, most business owners focus their attention on reeling in the year’s numbers, while also finalizing a plan to build a better, stronger company for the coming year and beyond.

It is no secret that failing to plan is planning to fail.  We also know that many private businesses that do construct a plan often fall short when it comes execution.  Despite these facts, and some relatively long odds against building a consistent, scalable, high-performance company, most private business owners plan poorly (or worse, not at all).  A large percentage of owners consistently choose to devote their attention to urgencies, busy-ness, and much less impactful activities, than to using a simple, time-tested formula for success.  They don’t fall short for lack of effort, they simply focus their attention upon low-value activities and projects, creating the need to work much harder than necessary.

Sometimes planning fails due to a lack of honesty and transparency, and/or a surplus of hope and optimism.  Optimism is great, but the planning process is a time to get very real. 

Finally, private companies tend to take on the behaviors, mindset, strengths, and weaknesses of their owner.  It is therefore not surprising at all to discover that most organizations will reproduce the same successes (and failures) year after year. In other words, change always starts at the top, and most people love to live inside their comfort zone. So, if you don’t choose to change and adopt new, more productive habits, please don’t hold your breath waiting for your employees to change. 

Planning and execution take work, focus, and a bit of time. If we’re going to invest all this energy in creating an effective, executable plan, it seems to make a hell of a lot of sense to do it right, doesn’t it?  There are a number of good planning process protocols available to help your organization develop clear goals, strategies, action plans, KPIs, and more.  Independent of which process you select, you could gain huge additional benefit by asking yourself just a few brutally honest, highly impactful questions.  These questions form the foundation of the difference between planning as an exercise and Planning for Success. Answer them before you begin the planning process, then again near the end of it (if you do, you’ll likely find that your answers will change).

Honestly completing these steps will double the effectiveness of your planning process, significantly increase your ability to execute your plans, and help turn your goals into reality…:  

  • What am I committed to do in 2020 to stop being busy and start being productive? 
  • What percentage of my time do I currently spend working below my pay scale (aka:  Which tasks and responsibilities will I personally commit to delegate, starting today?) 
  • What projects and activities will I stop doing in 2020 to make room for the new initiatives I intend to start doing? 
  • How is groupthink effecting our objectivity, judgment, and planning, and what proactive actions or processes will we implement to eliminate it?
  • What is the most difficult part of achieving our 2020 strategic plan?  Do we really have the people and processes in place to address it, or are we just living in hope? 
  • Should we focus upon becoming a bigger fish, or identifying a smaller pond? 
  • How effective is my Sales Manager at executing my strategies to build a world-class sales machine? 
  • Are we really different and better, or do we just keep telling ourselves that we are? 
  • Am I personally walking my talk? 
  • What processes and people are in place to inject accountability and alignment into my team?  Are they effective, or do they need to be improved? 
  • What commitments will I make to ensure that I remain personally accountable? 
  • Can I benefit from additional coaching? 
  • Can I benefit from more peer learning? 
  • What can make our beautiful plan blow up, and does it make sense to discuss contingencies for this possibility right now? 
  • What commitments will I make today to become a better leader? 
  • Are there any questions I’ve been avoiding asking myself, for fear that I don’t want to face the answer?
  • What is the one thing I can commit to completing this quarter, that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?

Note: After you complete this personal assessment, you may wish to get together with your team and substitute “we” for “I” in most of these questions, but please understand that all of the people in your company are currently behaving the way they do because that is how they choose to behave, and that they are paying close attention to the example you set. Remember, if you expect your employees to change and grow, the change must begin in your office.

The questions listed above have been extracted and compiled by observing the planning processes of hundreds of highly successful business owners.  If you have additional hard-hitting questions you’ve found to make traditional planning processes more effective, I would appreciate if you would share them. 

Thanks and Best Wishes for an Amazing 2020!


 

Copyright © Joe Zente 2019.  All Rights Reserved.

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