Measuring the Value of a Partner; Leveraging Disruptive Thinking to Enhance Your Results

I maintain a rather crazy schedule. For years I logged up to 400,000 miles as I flew across the globe as a management consultant. Today, as Chief Revenue Officer of SAFEbuilt, my business is contained to the United States, yet I find myself equally as busy, logging 150,000 miles a year even during the pandemic, as we provide essential building and professional services to local and state governments. Between meeting clients and prospects, and leading a national team that sells and manages these services across more than 1,200 client communities, life can get a bit hectic.

Leaders must understand their business at a granular level, primarily because it enables them to increase their situational awareness while gaining much-needed empathy to lead a team down smooth or bumpy roads.

To gain this deep understanding, I work to identify the business’ core competencies. Simultaneously, I am conducting a skills inventory of myself, as well as my team. The result of that assessment leads to the development of my strategic imperatives, or focus areas, as well as identifying what or where to outsource to gain speed, efficiencies, and effectiveness. My days at Paychex and Intuit, while nearly 20 years ago, still serve as a gut check when I think about how to best accelerate revenue growth.

Every business outsources some parts, or pieces, of its operation. Whether it’s payroll, office cleaning, accounting, or back-office processing, the concept of outsourcing has been around, well, forever. Highly effective leaders recognize that if they focus on their core competencies, they can accelerate revenue growth faster than if they get bogged down with having to manage all the minute details. Further, once you have an accurate assessment of your skills, and those of your team’s, you’ll be able to more quickly make determinations as to where NOT to spend your time and attention and find an outsourced solution.

The past decade has ushered in the concept of partnership versus outsourcing. It’s no longer in fashion to simply be a vendor of services…an outsourcer. Today, we must all be partners, or at least that’s what all the rage is about. Of course, you get so much more value when working with a partner. Don’t you? Hmmm.

How do you distinguish between a vendor and a partner? How can you tell exactly what you have? Is your office cleaner a partner? How about your accountant? When you have your payroll processed, is the payroll specialist providing partner services? When you buy a new sofa, is that salesperson a partner?

Chances are that many, if not most, of your business dealings are actually nothing more than vendor-based relationships. And guess what? That’s okay. Every function and every vendor doesn’t need partner status. Sometimes a simple transaction is all that’s required for efficiency. 

Avoid wasted calories by trying to make more of something than what it is. The key is to know which functions within your business would benefit if you had a real partner working with you.

My measure of a partner goes well beyond the work delivered for the dollars I’ve paid. If I get what I’ve paid for, it’s likely a vendor relationship. If I get more than what I’ve paid for, you just might be teetering on partner status. Further, if the vendor I’ve hired pushes my thinking and helps me to innovate, they achieve the coveted status of partner.

An example of a great partner relationship is with our digital marketing agency – Square2. I began my journey with Square 2 back in 2012 and have worked on and off with them across different companies and industries. The co-founders of Square 2, Mike Lieberman and Eric Keiles, are masters of innovative thinking. Sure, I hired Square 2 to outsource my digital marketing needs, but the value we’ve received from working together goes beyond the increase in MQL activity and SQL conversion.

With my crazy coast-to-coast travel schedule, I was struggling to find the time to add yet another meeting to my calendar for progress updates. Many times just minutes before meetings I end up having to reschedule due to a client or associate need, and here is where the partner status comes in.

Rather than trying to stick to a traditional meeting cadence for progress updates, Mike Lieberman, taking into consideration his buyer’s needs (mine), suggested that the Square 2 team provide me with progress updates via a short video that I could watch during flights or Uber rides to absorb and contemplate questions or reactions. This slight adjustment in working together has made a big difference, as it has improved my ability to keep informed while being able to make changes or provide input in near-real time. 

This is a perfect example of meeting your buyer where and how they want to be met, rather than continuing with a “this is how we do things” approach. 

Here’s where the value of a true partnership really begins to accelerate results.

Serving more than 1,200 communities nationwide, with each community having between two and seven personas we interact with on a regular basis, I have adopted and implemented this tactic within my own team. While it certainly isn’t a silver bullet, it does offer clients another avenue for updates. No different than payroll providers offering businesses the ability to phone in, fax in, email, and now launch an app on a smart device to produce payroll, video updates are just another option on the menu to allow clients to choose how they interact with their provider, or better yet, partner.

What’s the last thing you learned from a vendor that went beyond the scope of work you hired them to perform? How often are your vendors collaborating with you to find new or different approaches that help you personally save time, increase your personal efficiency, or resolve a pain point?

Partners go beyond the scope. They focus on the individual they are providing the services to on behalf of the company they are contracted with. Think about that. How concerned is your vendor about your time, your effectiveness, and your ability to improve the running of the business, versus just providing the service they said they would?

Vendors have the ability to improve your business. Great partners don’t just have the ability – they act and add value beyond the four corners of your contract by going deep into your business, making you and your business better.

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Leaders are not born, they’re developed

I recently had dinner with one of my top sales people in San Diego this week and the conversation got around to whether people are born as natural sales people, or leaders.

I’ve never been a believer that people are born into a specific life path. What I believe is that each of us is born with a set of talents, capabilities, and competencies. We are all born with a specific attitude as well. A mindset, a glass half full, versus half empty thinking. A skeptic, an optimist, or pragmatist.

Here’s where the conversation gets fun. Believe it or not there was an interesting life lesson that has stuck with me for years from a rather unexpected movie – RAMBO III. In the movie the character of Colonel Troutman gives a pep talk to John Rambo. He tells the story of a sculpture who finds a perfect stone. He drags it back to his workshop and creates an incredible statue. When his friends compliment him on his creation, he says, he didn’t create anything. The statue was always there…he just chipped away the small pieces.

We are all born with natural talents. Some are blessed with athletic abilities, others with analytical strengths, others with caregiver strengths. The difference between those that achieve their full potential versus those who don’t, is finding a mentor(s) who helps validate and provide direction for your unique set of skills.

What if there was no Earl to Tiger Woods? What if no Joe to Michael Jackson? What if no Kurt to Michael Douglas? There are thousands more of these examples of folks who are not in the limelight but succeeded because they benefited from someone who recognized their talents and provided direction and encouragement. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have had a number of bosses throughout my career who have guided, counseled, and encouraged me to embrace my skills, take chances, and stretch. Without them, I am certain I would not have accomplished what I have thus far. And while I’m now considered “middle age”, my need for their input, guidance, and counsel still remains strong. Being a continuous learner never stops…until the heart does.

So what if you don’t feel like you have a person like this in your life? What do you do to find someone to fill this gap? The answer is easy. Look around. That person is probably closer to you than you think. It could be a spouse, partner, boss, friend, someone at the gym, someone sitting next to you on a plane. In fact, my love for American history was born on a flight I was on in 2004 when I met a gentlemen who asked me what types of books were my favorite to read. Foolishly I said none. He said, how can you spend so much time on a plane and not read. He told me I was missing all kinds of opportunities to expand my thinking. When we landed he gave me a book that became the catalyst for creating my voracious appetite for reading. That book was called His Excellency on George Washington. I can’t count the number of books I’ve given away over the years to people who I just met in similar situations. You never know who, or how you can impact the life of a stranger for the better. It’s incredibly heartwarming and fulfilling.

Life lessons are everywhere. Sometimes you just need to put down your phone, take out your ear buds, and just be…be present. Take an inventory of all the things you’re good at. Jot down what you like to do. Assess the crowd you hang with and identify a few people to approach to help you clear away those stones. Remember, the statue is always there…it’s just how badly you want to chip away at the stones to show your uniqueness and value to the world.

The Leaders List of Critical Books to Read

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Curiosity is a key competency for those looking to grow and lead. Curiosity about a business, its industry, people, customers, competitors, investors, are all necessary to excel in today’s high speed world of hyper-competition. There are many ways to satisfy your curiosity including doing, reading, researching, and interviewing.

Unfortunately for many, reading takes the very last seat in the back, with the most common excuse I hear for not reading – “who has the time?” To which my response is, “Apparently only the highest of high performers.”  What exactly are you willing to invest in improving yourself and your skills?  How much time?  How much money?  How much of your freedom?  Why freedom?  Because, when others are using their freedom to golf, ski, hit the bar, head to the gym, or sleep on that cross-country flight, you’re using your freedom to expand your knowledge base and perspective.

Whether you’ve been a leader for a year, or twenty, we all experience ups, downs, wins, losses, triumphs, and failures.  One thing I’d say is that your top reads will almost always be driven by your immediate, or anticipated circumstances. My suggestion is to have a stable of those books identified and ready to go.  In addition, practicing the habit of self-reflection will also super-charge your results when combined with building your arsenal of perspectives through reading.

If you’re wondering how much to read, I simply say, get started.  Everyone’s pace is different.  Some like turning pages, others like reading on a tablet, and still others prefer listening via audiobooks.  No matter your preference, just start.  Set a goal.  Pick a book and set a goal to complete it within 2 weeks.  Two weeks is a good timeframe to get through a book that’s between 250 – 300 pages once placed into your routine.  Make no mistake, a routine it must be.

A few thoughts before revealing the list of critical reads for all leaders…first, all leaders need financial acumen. However, most of us, unless you were classically trained, have learned while doing.  This doesn’t make for a very strong financial foundation. Public companies view the world quite differently from privately held companies, or even more specifically those owned by private equity.

Second, to be a great leader you must learn and understand what it means to follow. This means that all great leaders take the time to learn as much as they can. If you don’t have a very healthy dose of curiosity, then find one quickly.  Your leadership life span will be limited by the depth of knowledge you acquire and accumulate as it relates to your business and the industry.

Lastly, conduct regular assessments on your personal performance. Find a number of folks who will be brutally honest with you about your style, your results, your core competencies. Play to your strengths and stop dwelling on your weaknesses.

Here is a list of the top reads for all leaders:

 

8 Best Practices for Working Remote During the Pandemic Crisis

The world has sure changed in the last several days.  Things are developing by the minute and the fog of war element continues to creep into every discussion in our homes and workplaces.  As we move into a time of remote work, many find themselves operating, or trying to operate, in an unfamiliar environment.  For many, their homes have been their personal space, their sanctuary, away from the hustle and bustle of their professional life.  Now the two have come crashing together.

Here are 8 steps to take to improve your results for working from home:

  1. Start your day with your same routine.  If before your remote work began you woke, ran, ate breakfast, and caught up on your social feeds, then continue to do those same things in the same order.  Don’t allow yourself to put off your run until later in the day because you’ll be home.  Discipline is key.  You must maintain your routine first and foremost.
  2. If you live with friends or family, be sure they know exactly what’s required of you working from home.  While it may be impractical to ask multiple people for absolute silence while you work, you can at a minimum communicate the need for reduced noise.  Impress upon the members of the household the significance of being allowed to work from home and remain employed.  This is a good thing!
  3. Care for your pets…if you have them.  Ask for help from others in the house if you have a dog.  Remember, your animals will probably be wondering what’s going.  This will be a break from their norm.  Dogs may bark more often than usual until they adjust to your constant presence.
  4. Establish a formal work space.  If you have an office, you’re golden.  However, many do not have a formal office to work in.  Find a specific spot that you designate as your work area.  If you don’t have a desk you may find yourself using the kitchen table, or an old fashioned TV tray table to set up.  No matter how you set things up, make sure you focus on the “where” you set up.  Try to find a location that is as separate from your typical living area as possible.
  5. Make sure your electronic devices remained charged.  Set up charging stations.  If you have portable hotspots, tablets, multiple phones, or mobile power devices, remember to keep them charged.
  6. Pay attention to giving yourself time to get up and leave your remote work space.  If you were in an office, you’d likely get up occasionally to use the restroom, get water, coffee, or walk outside to get some air.  Be diligent in doing these things working from home.
  7. Communicate with your co-workers.  Many companies have implemented standard operating procedures for working remote.  Follow them.  If your company has not done this, be sure to remain in contact with your co-workers, even if it’s a quick simple email, chat, Skype, or Teams talk.
  8. Leverage video conferencing if available.  Seeing those you work with will help you stay connected and maintain the need for human connection.  Don’t underestimate the power of video chats.

Finally, if you find yourself with any downtime, have a book, or other form of developmental content handy.  This may include a list of blogs that are pertinent to your industry, or a variety of websites.  Keep you brain engaged rather than turning on the TV.  Productive work from home begins and ends with discipline.

Do You Need Customer Success? 7 questions to help make your decision.

Knowing where not to spend your time is as important as knowing where you should spend it.  Today’s buyers are more savvy, and demanding than they were just yesterday.  They are also more comfortable doing business with multiple providers versus selecting one preferred provider.  Left unattended, or worse ignored, buyers will seek to fulfill their needs as quickly and easily as possible.  The question for your business is simple:  do my customers know everything I can offer them?  If you’re like most businesses, the answer is simply “no”, our customers don’t know the depth of our capabilities, and this gap creates a significant risk to future revenue.

Customer Success focuses on three primary areas:  increasing customer retention rates, capturing a deeper share of wallet via cross-sell initiatives, and improving Net Promoter Scores.  Happy, more satisfied customers, tend to feel better about committing more of their spendable dollars with a business.  This translates into buying more products, additional services, or extending current terms of their services.  Effective Customer Success models can be measured by evaluating CLTV, or Customer Lifetime Value.  An increase in CLTV may be attributable to the effectiveness of your Customer Success program.

So how do you determine whether or not create and launch a Customer Success program?  Answer these 7 questions:

  1. What is the current retention rate on your existing customers over the past 12 months, and further 3 years?  If retention rates are low, or declining over a period of time, this is an indicator – although lagging – that a focus on Customer Success may be needed.
  2. What is your current Net Promoter Score and how often are you measuring it?  Low NPS scores can be an indicator of your customers willingness to move, or leave your company.  Dissatisfaction, lack of trust, unrealized value, are just a few sentiments that can be traced to low NPS scores.  Bottom line, the lower the score the more at risk your revenue is.
  3. What is the ratio of products per customer?  The retail banking industry has long tracked this ratio yet it hasn’t moved much.  The average bank has 2.3 products per customer.  Wells Fargo for years has been the king of this ratio touting an impressive 3.2 products per customer.  Of course this ratio must be evaluated against the total number of products you can offer to your customers.  The more products, the higher you want your ratio to be.
  4. What is your current account management strategy for engagement and interaction?  How often are you engaging your current customers?  What methods are you using to touch your customers?  Email, phone calls, visits, quarterly business reviews?  Does your customer have an assigned account manager?  Is that account manager’s compensation dependent upon a rise in NPS scores, and/or increase in customer revenue?
  5. How many referenceable customers do you have?  How many customers have agreed to be a reference for your company?  How many are willing to provide a testimonial either video or written?  How many of your customers are willing to engage in issuing a press release publicly demonstrating their chosen alliance with your company?
  6. How much of your current revenue is generated from existing customers versus new logo sales?  The more reliant a business is on existing customer revenue to make its number, the more exposure that business has to any volatility in customer attrition.  Furthermore, if your existing revenue is overweighted with a handful of customers, your revenue risk exposure is even greater.  It’s likely time to look at a Customer Success model.
  7. What is your 3 year history of renewal rates?  Have they increased, decreased, or remained the same?  If renewal rates are flat, or decreasing you likely have a need for Customer Success.

If your company is experiences decreasing retention rates, low NPS scores, and fading revenue from its existing book of customers, it may be time to focus on developing and implementing a Customer Success model.  Remember, your cost of acquisition is already sunk, yet your customer lifetime value can still be influenced.  Focusing on building meaningful relationships with your customers translates into increased revenue, improved brand value, and drives new logo sales by providing a stable of referenceable customers who become brand ambassadors.

If you would like to further explore whether a customer success model is right for your business contact me at josephgderosa@gmail.com.

Growing Through Adversity

Positive growth can happen even under the toughest of conditions. Perseverance, determination, and the ability to adapt are what’s needed to push through the challenges and capture the growth that’s yours. New skills, new perspectives, new ideas.

As I walked around our property today I saw this beautiful petunia growing in-between some pavers. Oddly this is not a flower we have planted anywhere on our property, yet here it is. With temperatures in the high 90’s this past week, and no rain or water, seeing this thing of beauty grow in the most difficult conditions made me realize how possible growth is in any environment.

It reminds me of the line in Jurassic Park – “Life will find a way.” You really can do anything you set your mind to.

How Sharing Can Accelerate Results

In today’s rapidly advancing digital age, information has never been easier to access. We shop for clothes, cars, computers, and countless other consumables and services through the internet. We research our customers, competitors, future employers and employees, and bosses. We share our experiences and opinions about banks, hairdressers, mechanics, and restaurants on sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google. In fact, by the time you finish reading this blog, more than 1 million posts will have been made on Facebook (assuming you can finish this in 2 minutes or less).

With so much information, so quickly accessible, why do businesses still operate in silos? Why do management teams, and executives, feel compelled to withhold information from their teams? Are there still people that believe in Jack Nicholson’s position in A Few Good Men? Perhaps some might not be able to handle the truth but most are far more capable than you may think. In fact, if you consider real-life General Stanley McChrystal, in his book Team of Teams, he talks about transforming the U.S. Military from a command-and-control operation to a “shared consciousness” where there is an organization-wide “understanding of the whole.”

So why do executives hold back? Why do they covet information at all? The answer is FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Fear of embarrassment, uncertainty of reaction, doubt in the character and tenacity of the people on their teams. Harold MacMillian said, “A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” This couldn’t be more true.

Sharing for the sake of sharing is a waste of time and effort, however, sharing for the sake of establishing trust is an accelerator of positive results. How do can you tell if sharing is real? If the information the leader is sharing is sensitive, in that it makes him vulnerable, he’s sharing. If the information is sensitive, in that it may make the company vulnerable, she’s sharing. If there is any level of personal, professional, or company risk, this qualifies for real sharing. When real sharing is being demonstrated, a culture of trust can begin to develop and teams begin to form. A leader who shares real stuff is confident, comfortable being vulnerable, and willing (and interested) in learning. Those are the leaders people seek to follow.

Still think sharing is a crock? If you need further evidence that sharing can accelerate growth, look no further than Berkshire Hathaway which currently holds the title as the highest priced stock on the NYSE at more than $320,000 for a BRK-A share as of this blog post. If you, like me, believe that sharing is a critical ingredient to building trust, consider the words of Berkshire’s Charlie Munger, “By the standards of the rest of the world, we over trust. So far it has worked very well for us.” It certainly has.

How much courage do you have to start sharing?

Thoughts on Leadership

“He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader” ~ Aristotle.

Great leaders possess empathy and emotional intelligence. Caring enough to ask, and then listening, is the beginning for all great leaders. Charting a course that depends upon the contributions of others requires courage, fortitude and judgement. Leaders understand they are nothing without followers. Great leaders know that their success depends on the relationships they have with those followers. Trust, respect, and caring are ingredients that strengthen the bond between a leader and his, or her followers.

People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know. Asking versus telling, guiding versus directing, teaching versus demanding, coaching versus demeaning…these are just some ways to demonstrate great leadership.

Leading others requires the leader to be vulnerable. It requires experience and judgement. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. There’s no shortcutting experience. You make the best decisions you can given the information at hand. Hindsight will always be 20/20, but we must live in the present which means the possibility of making a bad decision exists for each of us every day.

Embrace the learning. Be curious. Engage others and listen…truly listen. Open your mind to new perspectives. Create a list of leaders you admire and the attributes they possess that you strive to emulate. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the path to growth. Try many things. Fail fast. Don’t worry about being wrong. Nothing of greatness has ever been created on the first attempt. Diamonds take billions of years to create. The first mobile phone was a brick. The first car came in only black and had no windshield wipers. Progress takes time. The key is to keep moving, observing, doing, learning, adjusting. Trying to live life without failure is a wasted life. Life without failure is a blank canvas.

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Kindness – The Greatest Difference Maker

What makes a friend, a friend? What makes a candidate worthy of extending an offer of employment? What makes a great boss? What makes a life-long partnership work – personally or professionally?

In pondering these questions they have led me to other questions such as who do I like spending my time with? If I was stranded on a desert island for a month, who would I want to be with? What type of person? Who do I turn to when I’m happiest? And who do I turn to when I need help?

There are many ingredients that go into making a great employee, boss, spouse, and friend. Yet when all those ingredients are boiled down, there is one that rises to the top…kindness.

Intellect without kindness is arrogance. Discipline without kindness is abrupt. Motivation without kindness is dominating. Persistence without kindness is simply annoying. Determination without kindness is Machiavellian.

Sure, we all need a level of intellect, discipline, motivation, persistence and determination to succeed. And yes, there are many who succeed with these attributes in the absence of being kind. Why is that? Kindness costs nothing. You don’t have to take a graduate course to learn kindness. Maybe that’s the problem? Have we lost the ability to see the simplicity of success when kindness is added as the final ingredient?

Kindness doesn’t mean losing. Being kind doesn’t mean taking the back seat. Kindness does not operate from a position of weakness, but rather a position of strength. Being kind is a conscious choice. Your buyers feel it, your employees feel it, your spouse feels it, and yes, strangers feel it. That random act of kindness from someone you don’t even know that puts a smile on your face and warms the heart. We can all learn from kindness, and kindness is ours free to give. It’s your choice.

To Merge, or Not to Merge

Recent mergers within the payments industry have many wondering what’s next. In reading several blog posts, news publications, and LinkedIn articles, I see industry professionals scratching their heads and asking “what’s to gain from these mergers?”

Companies acquire or merge for 3 primary reasons – to gain market share, acquire talent, or round out a product gap – this includes technology. I suspect that the recent mergers have been driven by pressure from within the industry to achieve size and greater scale – hence share. The market share play becomes the focus of mergers when the other two reasons are lacking from the equation.

Imagine if two Pharma companies that both produced ibuprofen merged, what would they gain other than greater share? However, if one of those companies produced a ground breaking Alzheimer’s medication you now have a new entity that is potentially more valuable given its broader reach and product offering. So the question to be answered is what specific gaps and gains will be addressed by these recent combinations. And here’s a hint….the answer can’t be “operational efficiencies” which is simply code for saying the plan is based upon squeezing cost out of the business to drive short-term financial results.

Let’s also not forget the #1 reason for combo failures – cultural misalignment. Synergies that look great on paper still must be executed by human beings…those same human beings that have been living with, and in, specific cultural norms for a period of time. People often underestimate what’s required to combine companies – to combine cultures. What if the U.S. and Mexico were suddenly merged together into one country?  Just because it works on paper doesn’t mean it will actually take hold…heck we struggled to figure out NAFTA let alone something grander. Cultural differences are too significant to underestimate.

This will not be the last combination. Corporate decisions tend to revert back to our childhood days of playing musical chairs…no one wants to be left standing without a seat. Unfortunately these mergers are not addressing the key problems the payments industry is facing – a dynamic buyer, global sellers, legacy technology, and infrastructure dilemmas. How these four things can be best brought together is the idea, or solution, the market requires. These transactions clear the path for smaller, more nimble players to answer this question and disrupt what has been an industry slow to change and innovate. In the end, the buyer holds the most powerful vote to determine what is most valued.  My belief is they will continue to vote for more choices for easier and secure ways to make their purchases.  This vote will be given to those agile enough to listen to the need and place the creation of a new customer experience as the #1 priority, versus clinging to the belief that bigger is better.