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Five Popular Ways People Set Themselves up to Fail

June 18th, 2019

Have you ever considered the real COST to falling short of your goals?


The many studies that have been conducted on goal setting have varied considerably in scope, timeframes, data, and conclusions.  However, independent of whether the studied goals were small, big, short-term, long-term or BHAGs, all of the studies agree that only a very small percentage of those who set goals actually achieve them.


All the studies also agree that people who set goals achieve far greater levels of success than those that don’t.   Despite this finding, a recent study by Statistic Brain revealed that 17% of Americans infrequently set goals and 38% never do.    Hard to believe…


To top things off, even when including those people that set goals frequently, only 8% of the combined group follows through to achieve them.   In other words, 92% of people who set goals fail short, with most simply bailing out and abandoning the pursuit.


So what can be the cause of all of this failure?

Interestingly, the majority of people lose the game before it starts.  Most people that fail to achieve their goals do so before they even leave the gate.   They actually set themselves up for failure.


Here’s how they do it….: 


1.  They set ambiguous goals:  You’ve probably heard about SMART goals.  Although different people assign different meanings to the letters S, M, A, R, and T, the main point in the goal setting process is to be crystal clear about what you intend to achieve.   This means taking all of the subjectivity out of your goal by making it quantifiable within a specific timeframe.   Nothing should be left to interpretation.   If “Success” cannot be objectively defined and measured, it is time to re-do your goal.   Include key benchmarks so you can effectively assess progress and make appropriate adjustments.


2.  They set too many goals:  The more goals you set, the less likely you are to achieve the ones that are most important.  This is simple math.  You only have 24 hours in a day, so in order to do something, you likely need to stop doing something else.   If you are the kind of person that sets too many goals, list them all and prioritize, then consider removing the least impactful half of them (or at least the lower third).  And if you have a chronic problem of setting too many goals, find someone that can help.  After all, the alternative is to continue to spin your wheels and miss out on achieving the goals that are most important to you.


3.  They make conditional commitments (or don’t commit at all):  If a goal is important to you, you must go ALL-IN.    If you will not, don’t even bother.   “I’m going to try” is simply a way to avoid responsibility, and anything less than a total commitment will almost guarantee failure.   How often have you heard “I’m going to try to cut down on drinking..” or I’m gonna try to exercise more…”.   How does that typically work?   There are two types of people — those that try, and those that commit and succeed.   If you really want something, go for it.  If not, stop BS-ing yourself.


4.   They attempt to go it alone:  All great performers have an accountability partner.   A trained coach can be of great service here, but if you don’t have or want a trained, skilled coach, simply find a friend or colleague that will agree to check in with you on a consistent basis.   A check-in is NOT a long meeting.  Your partner’s main job here is to help keep your focus where it belongs - on the rails and away from distractions and chasing shiny objects.  Focused energy is one of the powerful forces in the world, so you want to make sure to focus your limited time, energy and actions toward achieving the vital goals that YOU have defined.  There is no magic here.  The more frequent you check-in, the better.  Daily is great, weekly is fine.


5.   They keep their goals and commitments private:  If you really want to achieve a goal you’ve set, tell everyone you know about your intentions.   A trusted peer group is spectacular here, because you certainly wouldn’t want to make commitments to valued associates that you will break.   And because they trust and care about you, they can provide you with the support, encouragement, insight, tough love, and perhaps some additional resources and short-cuts to help you exceed your goals.

But don’t stop there.  Tell everyone.   The more, the better.   Make your goals public!  After all, you’ve invested time and energy to determine the goals that are most important to you.   So it makes sense to do everything possible to ensure you achieve them.   Announce your new goals on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more.   Social Contracts are a HUGE motivator.   Doing so will help you focus, which will dramatically increase your chance of success.   Use your peers to your advantage, and encourage them to use you as well.



By taking these simple steps, you will increase your chances of success by orders of magnitude.   By avoiding these five pervasive mistakes, you will remove more than 95% of the issues that contribute to missing a goal.   If you’ve been missing your goals by making any of these popular mistakes, I hope you will now enjoy setting yourself up for big wins and hope you will share your success stories.



Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2019.   All Rights Reserved.

My Sales Rep Isn’t Performing – What should I do???

April 18th, 2019

Whenever a sales rep isn’t performing, it is time for swift and decisive action.  Let’s say our rep (we’ll call him John) is falling short of his goals. Depending upon the extent to which John’s performance is lacking, our actions may include a review and evaluation of your organization’s overall on-boarding, sales and sales management processes, additional coaching, and possibly a Focused Success Plan.  How John responds will determine his future success with your company, or a decision to terminate employment.

Since no employee (or company) is perfect, this entire review and upgrade process offers your company a great opportunity to learn, grow, and improve its team sales team effectiveness while simultaneously providing John with the opportunity to step up or move on.


Everyone has slumps, but even if there’s a good reason for John’s struggles, the fact remains that sales is a performance business.  If any one of your reps is not consistently meeting expectations and posting sufficient numbers, you’re not doing your job.   So it’s on you, the sales manager, to help John to rapidly improve, while supporting the rest of your team and holding them accountable to their commitments and results.


Sales is a Performance Game

A World Class Sales Team consists of superior players, coaches, and leadership.  Additionally, every individual on the Team must be committed to Continuous Improvement.


Because Selling Effectiveness is truly a numbers game, an effective sales manager should never need to fire a sales rep.   This does NOT mean that every sales candidate you hire will succeed, it simply means that their individual PERFORMANCE will determine if they continue being part of your team. From the onset, every player on your team should clearly understand exactly what is expected from them in terms of results, activity, process, reporting, personal development, and team contribution. They should also clearly understand the rewards of their success, or the consequences of missing their expectations.


If your company has a long history, with lots of supporting data, the expectation-setting process can be quite simple. If you are leading a younger company with less history, you may need to make some educated guesses about numbers, metrics, activity, and more, and perhaps pay close attention until you can get dialed into a sales rep’s ideal Recipe for Sales Success.  But no matter how early-stage your company may be, do NOT let your lack of history prevent you from establishing clear expectations.


Setting expectations need not be complex. When all is said and done, sales success boils down to a very few components.  At a minimum, these include ACTIVITY VOLUME and EFFECTIVENESS. In baseball terms, sales success equals total hits (or total bases).  The more times John gets up to bat (Activity Volume) to swing (aka: pick up the phone and connect with a qualified prospect), the more hits he will get and the more times he will score.  This is the case even if John is swinging with his eyes closed.  It’s just math–a batter that swings 1000 times WILL get more hits than one that swings 25 times.


The second component of sales success is having EFFECTIVE CONVERSATIONS.  If John is getting plenty of swings, but his batting average (conversion percentage) is low, he’ll need to change something (perhaps multiple things) about how he manages his sales interactions.  As part of John’s on-boarding and expectation-setting, it should have been made clear to him the HE is 100% responsible for the following:

1.           His Sales Goal: annual, quarterly, and perhaps monthly expectations and commitments.


2.           Effective Deployment of his Success Recipe: the total volume of activities, calls, conversations, meetings, etc., that if executed faithfully, will exceed his Sales Goal.


3.           Asking for help:  John should never wait for you to ask him if he needs help. He should know this.  If John is not generating his committed sales results, and if he cannot figure out why, it is HIS responsibility to ask you (and perhaps other teammates) for help BEFORE he digs himself deeply into a hole.


4.           As a matter of process, John (and all members of your team) should know they are expected to meet weekly for a short, but highly structured meeting with you as their sales manager. The purpose of this meeting is to report to you (and to themselves) if they are effectively executing their Success Recipe and to tell you their specific plans for next week, what they are doing to improve their effectiveness, and where they may need help.  This meeting offers is a huge opportunity for them to grow and prosper, and an opportunity for you to provide coaching, guidance, and motivation.


5.           If all this is happening (or even if it isn’t), but John is STILL falling behind his sales targets, it is likely time to consider placing him on a Focused Success Plan (FSP).


6.           Before proceeding with an FSP, you should make an honest assessment of whether John’s performance issues are related to Aptitude (including Habits and Behavior) or Attitude (Outlook, Responsibility, Coachability, Motivation).  In many cases, a rep that is performing weakly due to Aptitude can often be dramatically improved, while one with an Attitude problem is much more difficult and can often poison your troops during the process.  If you feel your rep may have Attitude issues, I would recommend having a very direct conversation before proceeding to determine if it even make sense to start with an FSP.


The Focused Success Plan (FSP)

As mentioned above, a sales rep should never be surprised that they’re not doing well or that they may be on the verge of losing their job. Transparency is a cornerstone of all World Class Sales Organizations.


Transparency allows everyone on a team to measure themselves against their goals and commitments at any time, in real time, without having to wait until the final week of the quarter or year.  In other words, it should never come as a surprise to John that he has been falling short.  In fact, John should be the FIRST to know that he is falling short of his commitments.   He should know exactly what the score is and exactly how much time is left on the clock.


Furthermore, members of a world-class team should carry very high expectations, so your players should be given lots of support and every chance to improve.   A lot of time, energy, and effort go into the recruiting and on-boarding processes, so when a rep is struggling, barring unusual circumstances, it typically makes sense to dig deep one final time before removing him from the team.  It’s possible (although unlikely) that John has simply been unlucky, or that part of the reason for his weak performance lies within the training, management, or on-boarding process.  To account for any of these possibilities, it is prudent to give John a second chance, the FSP.


During the FSP, the responsibility and pressure for John to hit his number is ratcheted up considerably.  You will be personally be investing more effort in training and coaching, so in the spirit of transparency and fairness, John should know that he will undergo more intense scrutiny.  The FSP should never be considered a last-ditch effort, like a time bomb counting down to John’s ultimate demise. It should be considered a focused opportunity to make a concerted effort to improve and re-establish his prestigious position on your world-class team.


The FSP Structure

Over the next week, schedule a meeting with John to inform him that due to his lackluster sales performance, he is being placed on a Focused Success Plan, effective (insert date).  This will be a 90-day plan, by the end of which John will be expected to be hitting at least X% of his monthly quota (90% is a good benchmark).   It’s important to explain that you do not expect him to make up for lost time or previously missed quotas, but rather to get on a path where he is operating at or near full-productivity for the next quarter.  Help John to break down the 90-day plan into smaller, more manageable milestones (help him to generate a very granular Success Recipe that outlines his daily and weekly activity commitments):

·         After Month 1, John should be improving and hitting between 10 to 25% of his monthly goal-to-date.  Be careful not to make John feel that missing his first month Sales Goal is catastrophic – it’s not – but it is critical that he at least shows signs of improvement (in both activity and effectiveness).  However, you should also let him know that at this point he must start ramping up to full productivity.

·         After Month 2, the gap should be closed even further.  By this point, John should have hit at least 50% of his monthly target.  Perhaps more importantly, his dedication to improve should be readily apparent – he should be performing a much higher volume of activities much more effectively, and gaining more commitments in his conversations with sales prospects. He should be much more proactive in seeking help and all aspects of his behavior.  He should also be much more dedicated to sales coaching and training.

·         After Month 3, John should effectively resemble a new Marine recently emerging from Boot Camp, a new more confident player, a lean, mean fighting machine ready to take on the world. He should be performing very close to a fully-ramped rep, hitting his monthly number and tracking near or according to plan (~ 90%). If his Sales Goal result ends up a just a stitch short of his number at 90 days, you can cut him a little slack.  A FSP does feel like Boot Camp to a sales rep.  If John has worked his butt off to develop new habits that produce consistent, effective behavior and continuous improvement, these are leading indicators of good things to come.


If John misses any of his Success Recipe metrics or milestones at any point early in the plan (or if you observe any type of excuse-making or behavior that indicates he simply isn’t going to get there), have a serious conversation with him about whether or not this is the right job for him.   It may be better for everyone that John uses the last month or two to get a head start on his next job search, rather than expending extensive effort on his improvement if he’s clearly not a great long-term fit.


But again, that’s not the goal. This is a SUCCESS Plan.  Your desire is to help save John!  And it can happen, within this three-month time period, with a highly structured, focused, and personalized coaching effort.


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2019.   All Rights Reserved.


Stop Kidding Yourself

March 8th, 2019


Over the last year, I have interviewed over 100 salespeople on behalf of our clients.   I asked every one of them at the onset to describe their sales approach or methodology.   In over 85% of cases, the candidate replied with some form of “I am a consultative salesperson!”


In light of the 93,000 articles that have recently been written about the importance of consultative selling and the enormous impact it has in today’s selling environment, I would fully expect any sales candidate that hasn’t been living in isolation to say they sell consultatively.  Step One—Correct Answer!


Unfortunately, after 15 minutes of dialogue with each of these “consultative” salespeople, less than 15% of all candidates asked 3 or more questions!!!  In fact, the vast majority hung up the phone without learning a thing about what I was looking for, why I was talking with them, what success looked like, my role in the hiring decision, or any other vital information.   So much for being consultative…


A few quick facts…:


1.       Talking about consultative selling and actually selling consultatively are two completely different things.  It doesn’t matter if you can say it.   It only matters if you can do it.


2.       Consultative selling mandates that a salesperson ask critical, timely, tough questions.


3.       It also requires pushing back and challenging when 1+1 does not equal 2, in an assertive, yet respectful, manner. 


4.       The VAST majority of salespeople fail here, not because the questions are difficult, but because the questions cannot be scripted in advance.


A salesperson’s questions should almost always result directly from the prospect’s most recent response.  This is where the problem usually begins.   If you are one of those individuals who resembles my remarks and wishes to stop fooling yourself into believing you are selling consultatively, here are several critical personal attributes necessary to begin walking your talk and selling much more effectively.


Child-like Curiosity:  Consultative salespeople behave much more like children than like experts, continually challenging their own assumptions and asking their prospects to tell them more about what they are hearing.  Weak salespeople rarely ask prospects to explain anything.


Sincere Interest:   Don’t act sincerely interested, BE sincerely interested.


Listening:  Many salespeople lack even the most primary listening skills.  Listening skills can be developed, but the journey must begin by being honest with oneself.   Start by asking:  “Am I really listening, or simply waiting to talk?”


Unselfishness:    Many people, and most salespeople, find it very difficult to focus entirely on what someone else is saying without reacting emotionally about how the words affect themselves.  A ME-centered salesperson will never hear everything their prospects are really telling them.


Patience:  Salespeople cannot wait to talk about what they sell and how it helps.  Consequently, they avoid asking more questions for fear that doing so may delay their presentation, demo, or proposal.   These weak salespeople feel better talking about how great they are because they are more confident in their ability to talk, present, and pitch than in their ability to ask, listen, and learn.  This dysfunctional cycle actually moves them backwards instead of forward.  Effective salespeople slow down and go much deeper and wider with their discovery and investigations.   Believe it or not, this actually saves them time.


MORE Patience: - Part of the reason that most of the candidates told me they are selling consultatively is that they actually believe it!   They believe they are selling consultatively when they have asked a few questions.  Unfortunately for them, they aren’t even scratching the surface until they’ve asked 3 to 4 dozen of them.  And these are NOT scripted questions, rehearsed or recited from a list.  We are talking here about 40 or 50 spontaneous, inquisitive, thought-provoking follow-up questions to one, or perhaps two opening questions the salesperson asked during the first few minutes.


You’ll notice that each of the items I’ve listed here are foundational qualities of mindset, choice and attitude, versus manipulative tactics or techniques.  Each item can be developed and dramatically improved via an honest self-assessment, a commitment, and some recurrent practice.  You can quickly accelerate your development by associating with a coach and peer group.


Enjoy the Journey…


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2019.   All Rights Reserved.

What Millennials Really Want

February 18th, 2019

Over 55% of Millennials in the workforce are not engaged at work, and more than half of them say they are currently looking for a job.


This information probably won’t surprise the many business leaders who have experienced the challenges in motivating employees from different generations.   This same group of leaders have probably also noticed that foosball tables and espresso machines have very little impact after the novelty wears off.


Gallup recently published a very comprehensive report on this group of 73 million individuals born in the U.S. from 1980-1996.  The report includes new information, many dramatic statistics, and some extremely valuable insights on how Millennials really want to work and live.


If you own a business and have employees born after 1980, it is probably no secret to you that the leadership style and strategies you’ve adopted to motivate, engage, retain, and maximize productivity from your more seasoned employees is far less effective when it comes to inspiring your under-40s.   


The reason for this dilemma is that Millennials are different—profoundly different.   Although these differences may present a leadership challenge, they present an even larger leadership opportunity.   While extensive research shows that the MOTIVATORS of Millennials differ greatly from the generations that preceded them, it also shows that their POTENTIAL to produce results is greater.


This fact should lead every business owner to the question:  “How can we motivate and engage this group of high-potential employees?”


The primary answer lies in changing your company culture, which obviously starts at the top.   If we are going to implement a change in culture and leadership, we must begin by understanding what motivates Millennials at work.    Gallup has identified many differences, but they refer to these as the Big Six:


1.     Millennials don’t just want a paycheck.   They want a purpose.


2.     Millennials are not seeking job satisfaction.   They are seeking development.


3.     Millennials do not want bosses.  They want coaches.


4.     Millennials aren’t interested in annual reviews.   They want ongoing conversations.


5.     Millennials don’t want to fix weaknesses.  They’d prefer to develop strengths.


6.     “It’s not just my job, it’s my life”

So if you’ve been frustrated because of your inability to effectively manage your young workforce, or if you have simply resisted a culture change in lieu of bantering “what is wrong with them, they just don’t get it!”, I would suggest you may be overdue for a major paradigm shift.   After all, if Millennials don’t currently comprise the majority of your workforce, they will very soon.    


While there are a variety of strategic and tactical approaches you can take to begin to transform and improve the productivity of your millennial-rich company, the simplest and most effective place to begin is by transforming your existing culture into a Coaching Culture.  This type of culture effectively addresses all six of the Motivators revealed in the Gallup study.


Like most super-high impact initiatives, transitioning to Coaching Culture is simple, but not easy.   It does not happen overnight, but can be initiated with a simple declaration, and implemented by adopting a proven set of leadership practices and habits, a basic coaching protocol, and some millennial-centric tracking and feedback systems.   These may all be considerably different from your current practices, but if you lead by example, you’ll be astonished how openly your youthful workforce will accept and adopt them.   And a happy, motivated workforce equals greater productivity and results.


Since statistics show that more than half of your millennial workforce is likely dis-engaged and seeking new job opportunities today, and since this workforce is going to be around for at least three more decades, this is probably not a good time to take a wait-and-see attitude toward adopting a Coaching Culture.  So I hope you’ll consider doing so and wish you all the best.


If you have other suggestions or any questions at all, I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2019.   All Rights Reserved.

Studies Predict You’ll Fail This Year

January 14th, 2019

In late 2018, Salesforce.com published its third annual State of Sales report.   Among other interesting facts, the research report concluded that 57% of salespeople expected to miss their annual quota.   Various other studies have reported success rates even worse.  In the past, Salesforce has reported that 77% expect to miss their goal.  Think about that—3 of every 4 reps will fail.   Independent of the data you choose to believe, the odds say that you are likely to fail as well.


With all of the books, articles, podcasts, videos, and training programs available to salespeople today, how can the success rates be so pathetic?  Can you think of any other profession (or other departments in your company) where performance is so weak?


Having run a Sales Development company for over two decades, these results do not surprise me.  What does continue to surprise me is the willingness among some salespeople (and business owners) to continue to tolerate this pathetic level of performance.  Most continue to try the same approach and expect a different result.   Good luck to that.


If you have already cracked the code to consistent selling effectiveness, congratulations!   If not, please understand that sales success is not complicated.   It is extremely formulaic and relatively simple, but it isn’t easy.   However, for many people (aka:  the two thirds that are consistently failing) it does require a commitment to change.


Change takes courage.   If you have the courage to commit to changing, here are just a few things to consider to tip the odds of sales success in your favor and begin your transformation.  There is nothing magic here and I’ve written about this before.   You may have heard similar recommendations for improving sales effectiveness elsewhere, but knowing and not doing is not really knowing, right?


1.   If you don’t have a Sales Process, adopt an effective one:  A process is not a strategy, a model, an approach, or a philosophy.  It is a specific series of steps that leads to a result. 


a.     Hint #1:  less than 5% of private companies have any sales process.


b.     Hint #2:  If you can’t describe your sales process in detail, and if all of your salespeople wouldn’t describe it exactly like you do, you don’t have one.


2.   Adopt an effective Sales Management Process:   If you are serious about maximizing sales success and ROI, effective management is vital.   Selling is a performance/production activity, and all effective result-producers need a coach.   Even if you have only one salesperson in your company, effective sales management will pay huge dividends.   This doesn’t mean that you need to hire a full-time sales manager, but it does mean that a portion of someone’s time must be dedicated to helping your salesperson/salespeople optimize.   Sales management is NOT about rescuing, closing the big-deals, or doing ride-alongs.   It is about coaching, motivating, developing, keeping salespeople on task, and holding them accountable to their weekly activity and pipeline commitments.   The lack of effective sales management in private companies is staggering.   In fact, many private companies don’t even attempt to manage their salespeople.  They just equip their sales reps with some product training, then send them out to sink or swim.  Again, good luck to that.   Talk about a strategy of hope…   


3.   Adopt an effective Locate, Land, and Launch™ Process:  Effective salespeople are scarce, and the cost of hiring weak salespeople is outrageous.   Despite this fact, many business owners, unfortunately, would rather pay taxes or get their teeth pulled than go through the “painful” process of hiring, on-boarding, and developing effective salespeople.   Consequently, most owners don’t do it well.  Most simply don’t know how to do recruit, hire, and launch salespeople, others don’t devote sufficient resources to making it happen because of “other really important projects”.    If you are an owner that has more important projects to focus upon than those that will grow your revenues, market share, profitability, and enterprise value, feel free to join this group of non-performing sales organizations.


4.    It OK to say “I don’t know how…”:   If you are like many business owners, you may feel that selling directly, or building a consistent, predictable, scalable sales organization simply isn’t your strongest suit.   You are in business today because you do some things well, but none of us does everything well.   So if selling effectively, or hiring, on-boarding, developing, and growing a great sales team is not your best talent, there is a ton of help out there, ranging from training and coaching to interim sales management & leadership.


5.   The choice is yours:   Again, there is no magic here and the odds say you’ll fail if you behave like the majority.  Any business owner (whether they are proficient in building sales teams or not) can dramatically upgrade their sales organizations by virtue of single decision to commit and change.


So the “secret” of successful sales organizations is really not a secret.   Sales success may be determined solely by virtue of a choice.   You can do anything, but you can’t do everything, so I hope you’ll choose wisely.


Best wishes for the most successful 2019!


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2019.   All Rights Reserved.