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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.

Are You Stifling Innovation?

July 21st, 2017

If you own or direct a small or medium sized business, you likely know that one of your greatest assets is your ability to act and react much quicker than your larger, bureaucratic competitors.    You drive a speedboat, while they attempt to navigate ocean liners.   You can turn on a dime, they have significant embedded inertia that prevents any type of rapid change.


As a consequence, your potential to innovate can be a tremendous advantage.   In fact, innovation may actually be the most powerful weapon in your entire arsenal.  Whether you choose to access this potential or not is entirely up to you - a very simple decision.   Unfortunately, a majority of private business owners do not inspire, but actively stifle innovation, squelching huge opportunity and prosperity in the process.   Some simply don’t understand the unbridled power their companies possess, others are limited by their egos.


I’ve constructed a list of some of the most popular innovation-stiflers.   These stiflers are described in the first person in an effort to make it easier for those who would like to honestly assess themselves to determine if they inspire or stifle…:


1.      I demand trust from others before I trust them FIRST.  If you do this, you are guaranteed to create a culture of Blame, Silos, and We versus They.

2.      I Champion the Status Quo.   I surround myself with a group of “yes-men” and “yes-women” to make myself feel better and validated.  I emphasize continuous compliance in lieu of diverse views.  People who challenge my views don’t last long around here.  I don’t like when people disagree with me.  They frustrate me.

3.      I blame problems, especially chronic problems, on my staff and stakeholders.  If things aren’t working swimmingly, it must be due to their incompetence, their poor work ethic, their weak skills, and their lack of accountability.   It is much easier for me to point the finger at others than at myself.

4.      I spend more time managing than leading, and I encourage my executive team to do the same.   I stress compliance and intense micro-management.   (Hint:  This pervasive behavior diminishes creativity and critical thinking and makes people feel stupid.   A real killer…)

5.      I confine discussion of strategies and plans to my small, inner circle of trusted, time-tested advisors.    After decisions are made, I typically announce them in a grandiose fashion.   (This ensures that no one will start anything new because they never know what new directives might soon come down from the top.)

6.      Instead of truly listening, I wait to speak.   After all, who knows more about this company than I do?

7.      We embrace sacred cows and remain committed to the problem-solving methodologies we’ve used for years.

8.      I’m not a big fan of delegation, especially when it comes to major decisions.   I’ll sometimes delegate menial tasks and grunt-work, but I must be personally involved in the formulation, discussion, and final decision of anything that is important.   After all, I usually have a very good idea of the best solution to a problem before it is ever presented to others for discussion.   In fact, I almost always know the best answer before we even present the question.  I am also very reluctant to delegate authority.

9.      We count, measure and monitor everything that can be counted, and do it as often as possible.  

10.  I promote, admire, and provide accolades to those that closely conform to our rules and regulations.   People need not think, they simply need to do as they are told.

11.  I tend to emphasize historical information more than future trends and opportunities.  Things like last year’s data, trends, and conversion factors are primary determinants of all future decisions and company presentations.   This fact is crystal clear to our employees.

12.  We keep people really busy.  If they have free time, we load them up with more “real work”, the stuff that I think is important.   I know better than they do how they should spend their time.

Private company leaders that inspire innovation consistently beat the pants off their competitors.   Effective owners of these firms make their employees feel smarter.  Their actions motivate an entrepreneurial mindset among employees, leading to much higher levels of productivity, growth, and profit.


Creating a culture of innovation is not difficult to do.   But as with any type of significant organizational transformation, it requires the leader’s choice to change, so the decision requires personal courage.


For most owners, the transformation begins with a commitment to change one’s mindset and to take an honest look in the mirror.  In severe cases, it may also require the courage to face some ego issues.


Innovative leaders look ahead, not behind.  They encourage new ideas from all levels of their organization.  They understand the importance of systems, processes, measurement, and management, but they use these as a basis for continuous improvement, informed risk-taking, trusting communication, personal development, mutual respect, inspiration and learning instead of using them for compliance, CYA, and “I told you so…”.


Finally, don’t be afraid to THINK BIG.    You can do it and innovation can get you there.


Enjoy the journey….


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.