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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.

Your ONLY Sustainable Advantage

June 9th, 2017

Your company is awesome.  You provide a superb product or service.  You and your team believe it is second to none.  Your employees have worked hard to create the best solution in your market. You’ve created outstanding service, responsiveness, customer relationships, and more. These are all great qualities that have bolstered your company reputation.


Furthermore, you do your best to control spending but invest heavily into your systems, processes and people, the pillars of scale. You often celebrate your accomplishments with your team. There are plenty of internal conversations among your employees discussing how great you really are.


You would think that after all of this, your company would be the absolute market leader and that customers, incredible employees, and investors would be beating a path to your door.  Well, are they?


If your answer is “yes”, congratulations! Keep up the great work.


If your answer is “not really”, “not so much”, or “hell no”, welcome to the majority.


In reality, most CEOs and their employees believe that their companies are unique. Conversely, the marketplace views most companies as commodities. In other words, you think you have something really special, the market thinks you are one of many.  A complete disconnect.


Don’t get me wrong. It is important to offer outstanding quality, service, and support. It is also critical to have solid internal processes and great people. These features are EXPECTED and will win you some business, but will usually not make you stand apart from your competition over the long haul. So what will?


If you (and your company) could become dominant in just ONE THING, month after month, year after year, that would guarantee success over the long haul, what would that one thing be?


After working personally with hundreds of CEOs and studying thousands of companies over the last several decades, my belief is that the answer lies in LEARNING. I’m not talking about education.  I’m talking about learning.   Swift, efficient learning.  An organization with a strong learning culture will rapidly capture information and experience, convert it into new knowledge, skills, attitudes and actionable behaviors, systems and habits. I have observed that the companies (and their learning leaders) that do this well consistently outperform their competitors. They dominate their competitors.


Unfortunately, the majority of companies do not have a process to learn. Leaders of most firms continuously struggle with uncertainty, inconsistency, a lack of control, and frustration. These well-intentioned (but ineffective) company leaders find themselves seeking success via the idea of the week, shiny objects, and quick fixes. Even when they do develop an advantage, it often vaporizes as quickly as information travels. The marketplace rapidly re-commoditizes them.


The only sustainable advantage that any of us have is to learn faster than our competitors.


Developing a speed-learning culture does not occur overnight, but the rewards can be astronomical.   Like so many business and personal development practices, creating this kind of advantage is simple, but not necessarily easy. Here are a few steps to get started…:


1.     COMMIT to developing the fastest learning culture in your market.

2.     YOU go first. Lead by Example.

3.     If you need help either getting started or maintaining the required discipline, find it or email me.

4.     Quantify your speed learning goals and measure the results.

5.     Enjoy the rewards!


Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.

Interested People Are Expensive

May 3rd, 2017

“Interested” people can be expensive.  Really expensive.

Think about a time when you decided to pursue a goal that seemed to be challenging or out of reach.   A time where you worked hard, focused, persevered, powered through, and achieved something great.

Next, think about a time you wanted something badly, but failed to take the appropriate action(s) to make it happen.  What was different?

In the second scenario, did you have a strong desire to obtain it?

You were certainly interested in having it, weren’t you?

You may have even felt like you really needed to have it, but you still didn’t act.

Why not?  What (or who) was standing in your way?

Every week, salespeople tell sales managers and owners about potential buyers in their pipeline.  Many explain that these “hot” prospects are “really interested”.

Interestingly, most managers would tell you that only a fraction of these “hot prospects” ever convert into actual sales.  In fact, studies show that nearly two-thirds of these forecasted sales are lost to status quo or “no decision”.

How can it be that all these “interested” potential buyers, with such strong needs and desires, never make a purchase?  The reason is fundamental and simple.

Most salespeople consistently miss out on discovering the truth about two vital attributes that must be present in order for a transaction to occur.  They are…:

COMMITMENT:  Nothing will happen without the commitment of the Decision Maker to invest the necessary money, time, courage, personnel, political capital, etc required to solve their problem. Nothing. In the absence of this commitment, all that is left is wheel spinning.

URGENCY:  If the Decision Maker perceives a problem and is committed to fix it, action will only take place if and when the issue becomes a priority. Commitment without urgency translates into “I’ll get to it some day.”  Some day maybe next month, or maybe next decade…   Urgency is borne out of emotion (aka: pain).  Some examples of pain include (but are not limited to) fear, frustration, anger, and anxiety.  In the absence of urgency, time will slip away and other priorities will ultimately replace the issue in question.   Commitment to solving the original problem will diminish, along with a diminished chance of any sale.  Sound familiar?

Think about your current warm prospects.  Are your “hot prospects” committed, or just interested?   Is solving their problem a priority, or simply a need, wish, or desire?

If a decision maker perceives a problem, is committed to fixing it and has the urgency to act, he/she WILL make a purchase.  The only question is from whom.  If any one of these pieces is missing, a transaction will not occur.

Buyer’s interest is a drug. It can make us temporarily feel good. But the after-effects often feel bad.  Most salespeople perceive prospect interest as a ‘buying signal’.  However, it should be perceived as a ‘learning signal’, an opportunity to discover the truth about commitment, urgency, and more.

Interested prospects can cost a fortune if we aren’t disciplined and careful.  Salespeople burn up millions of dollars wasting time with prospects that are interested, but not committed.  Consequently, sales managers and owners frustrated by overly-optimistic forecasts are legion.  Activity for the sake of activity is very expensive.  Only results matter.

There are many things that sales professionals can do today to learn the truth, to stop wasting time, to improve the reliability of sales forecasts, and to dramatically improve revenue growth and profit. For starters, they can commit to obtaining this vital information and to mastering a process of understanding the truth.  Again, commitment generates results.

Remember, these principles do not apply only to your sales prospects.  They also apply to your personal performance.

So if you want to achieve something, or if you have a need or problem you’d really like to solve, start by asking yourself the following questions:

How much do I really want to fix (or obtain) it?

Am I committed to fixing it, or am I only interested?

Is this a priority for me, or are my other activities really more important?   (you can do anything, but you can’t do everything)

Whether applied to yourself or your sales prospects, learning the answers to these fundamental questions will save you a ton.

Become a truth detector.  I hope you’ll enjoy your improved efficiency and effectiveness and take an extended vacation (or two or three) with all the time and money you’ll save.

Copyright ©   Joe Zente  2017.   All Rights Reserved.