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.

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:

 

Is different enough?

Without a doubt there is a conversation happening with marketing teams around the globe as I write this post trying to nail down differentiators. The more aggressive marketers might even be searching for “core differentiators” as if being different isn’t enough. Now we have to be different right down to our core.

Different is not good or bad. It’s not valuable or invaluable. Different is just, well, different. Who places a value on whether different is worth something extra, or worth something less?

Identifying your differences – or core differentiators – is a complete waste of time, money, and effort without first truly understanding your potential buyer. After all, who are you trying to appeal to with your differences?

Instead companies tend to begin on the inside rather than outside. Meaning, we tend to take the path of least resistance. Sitting in a conference room pontificating on why we’re different, and how much better we are than others does not get the job done. No. In fact, putting yourself in the market to truly listen to your buyers, and becoming vulnerable is what leads to innovation and disruption. Companies that do this well have no interest in being right….just in getting it right.

Does your buyer want different? What if all they want is better? Perhaps no one wants to relearn something entirely new. Perhaps all the buyer wants is for the “thing” they are currently using, to work better, or perform better. How do you know? Have you asked them? Have you asked enough of them to have a dependable sample size? Have you truly listened or did you embark on that research with a predisposition or set of biases? Were you tempted to skew the results to fit what you have in place?

In my book The Customer Mindset; Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results, I share an easy to implement process to map your buyers journey, starting with engaging your buyers and ultimately solving for the “so what?”. Yes, different can be better. The question is how much better, and does your prospective buyer care enough to pay for it?

When you look at your core differentiators, don’t forget to ask yourself (and your team), “so what?”

12 Things Great Leaders Do Daily

McChrystal

By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group – at least that’s what Professor Google says.  My definition is a bit different.  Who wants to be commanded?  Sure there are times, situations, and circumstances when being in command is required.  Directing, ordering, and controlling are verbs that often come to mind when we think of leaders.

Just about anyone can be taught to do these things.  Just about anyone can dish orders, direct others, and attempt to control.  Many “leaders” regardless of training can do this for some period of time before being discovered as ineffective.  Great leaders however, take a different approach.  These leaders must do all the directing, ordering, and controlling as previously mentioned but it’s how they accomplish these things that set them apart.

Great leaders are great because they:

  1. Understand how to empathize
  2. Effectively communicate their vision
  3. Ask great questions, deep questions that provide insight
  4. Act in their own authentic way, not trying to be someone else
  5. Adopt a beginners attitude
  6. Surround themselves with people smarter than they are
  7. Spend time on self-reflection, how they operate and the result produced
  8. Network and connect with others to learn
  9. Ask for, and accept help when needed
  10. Lean on mentor(s) for coaching and perspective
  11. Roll up their sleeves, never asking others to do something they haven’t or wouldn’t do themselves
  12. Inspire others through their words, actions, and behaviors

So start today with some self-reflection.  What are you doing?  What do you spend most of your time on?  How do you interact with those around you?  What’s the reaction of others when you walk in a room, speak during a meeting, engage with others in a break-room?  Consider this list and strive to embrace each one in a genuine way and you’ll find your results improve in a timely manner.

The Customer Mindset

MyBook

Developing strategies to grow revenues really excites me.  It’s what gets me jazzed.  Ideating, innovating, and brainstorming, mixed with good old fashion common sense usually always provides the best path forward.  The key is listening.  Listening to the business, the market, the employees, and most importantly listening to your buyer.

I’ve spent the last decade studying, observing, learning, testing, and monitoring results that are achieved with various go-to-market strategies.  Many companies spend too little time developing the strategy and plan to take their product or service to market.  They make or produce something, price it, and give it to Sales to sell.  Make it, and they will come.  Not really.

The Age of the Customer has arrived.  No longer does the sales person control the sale.  If you believe your sales team is in control think again.  The buyer has all the control.  Many well-respected sources indicate up to 70% of the buying process being complete before a buyer meets with a sales person.  Your buyers have looked you up, researched you, watched you, and asked about you before you even knew they existed.  Do you know where they found you?  Do you know who they talked to along the way to ask for advice or opinions?  Do you know what they read to educate themselves on this purchase?  This is all very important work.

I am proud to announce my new book The Customer Mindset: Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results.  I wrote this book to provide an actionable roadmap for those charged with growing revenues. The book is filled with real-life stories, frameworks, and methods for mapping your buyer’s journey.  By creating a visual map of the journey your buyer takes on their way to the cash register, you will be better able to create a sales and marketing process that assists in this journey.  Remember, the buyer is in control.  Once you recognize and accept that, then you can get started focusing on how to help them through their journey versus spending your time trying to figure out how to sell them.

I want to thank the more than 5,000 readers of my blog who inspired me to go deeper.  To provide more detail.  To be more prescriptive.  Thank you so much.  I also want to thank David Moncur who has been a great friend and inspiration, not to mention the best creative mind I’ve ever worked with.  It is his firm, Moncur, that designed the awesome cover – front and back – of my book.  Thanks David.

I hope my blog, my book, and my stories continue to help you grow your business by providing strong leadership, innovative thinking, and a discipline to focus on doing the right things that maximize your results.

A word or two on sales coverage models

 

 

Isolated Earth -  Elements of this Image Furnished by NASA

In a recent conversation with a CEO of a large service organization I was asked which sales model I believed was most effective in generating improved sales results.  A popular question these days.  Everyone who is responsible for generating revenue has asked this question at least once.  The answer however, lies with your buyer.

In a vacuum there is no one single, silver bullet to drive sales results.  The most popular sales coverage models include:

  1. Generalists – sell everything
  2. Specialists – sell usually one, perhaps two products
  3. Verticals – sell to specific industries; professional services, restaurants, manufacturing, etc
  4. Revenue – sell by revenue size of client; SMB, mid-market, enterprise
  5. Employee size – sell by number of employees; payroll companies often use this coverage model
  6. Account-based – assigned specific accounts/companies to sell or cross-sell

In addition to this mix of options, a head of sales must consider whether a field sales organization or inside sales team is most effective.  Again, the decision here should be informed by the company’s buyer’s journey.  Many products and services once believed could only be sold via an in-person interaction are now sold over the phone.  Taking this a step further, we also know – thanks to Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Intuit, and others – that self-fulfillment is not just possible, but preferred by many consumers.  The ability to do-it-yourself is highly appealing.

Gaining an understanding of how your buyer makes decisions is the first step to determining which model is best for your business.  Listen to your buyers and then align a sales process that helps lead the buyer through his or her journey.  That’s the answer to which model works best.

Reverse Prospecting: Your Buyer’s Looking For You

 

Reverse

Understanding your buyer’s journey is the first step to delivering explosive growth results.  The age of the buyer has arrived and the seller no longer is in control.  Buyers today are prospecting more than sales people.  How?  By scouring the internet and leveraging social channels to learn and make decisions.  In fact, if you’re the seller, you’ve become the passenger on this purchasing trip.  So make yourself comfortable, stay observant, and most of all have fun on the trip.

Your buyers know more about what they need than ever before.  There was a time (and it goes further and further back each day) when the buyer had to rely on a sales person to identify his problem and present a solution…the seller’s solution.  Not any more.  Have a runny nose and sore lower back?  A quick trip to the website WebMD can provide you with information on what may be going on with you.  You need to put in a new garbage disposal?  There are hundreds of how-to videos on YouTube that provide step-by-step instructions that take a job that previously required a plumber and turned it into a DIY project.

We have all become addicted to information.  In fact, more than 80% of 18 – 44 year olds say the first thing they do in the morning, immediately after opening their eyes, is to check their phones.  Information.  We want lots of it, all the time.

Buyers have this access to information and are using it more and more.  They Google, Facebook, YouTube, Tweet, and ask their LinkedIn groups for information, recommendations, and ideas.  If you’re a seller without a social selling strategy you’re already trailing the pack.  And if you think your product or service is too complex to promote via social channels think again.  General Electric has hundreds of videos on YouTube on MRI equipment, jet turbines, and lighting.  Toll Brothers, a national builder of custom homes, provides a website that allows someone to design and build their dream home and see it!  Buyers are not just using the internet to shop for shoes, sweaters, or books.

Having a social presence isn’t enough. You can’t set up a Facebook or LinkedIn page and check off the box and say its done.  You have to be active…engaged.  You have to create content, share content, weigh in on content others have shared.  This is where your buyers are looking for you.  Your paradigm must shift.  Buyers are now conducting a form of reverse prospecting.  They’re looking for you…you just don’t know it.  So if you’re a seller, and you’re not visible in the areas your buyers are looking for you, you simply won’t be found.

So get started.  Take it slow.  Don’t try to boil the ocean in a day.  A retweet here, a LinkedIn post there, a blog here, are all activities to get you on the road to being found by your buyer.

Be a Tour Guide Instead of a Sales Person

 

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In 2015 I took my first trip to Yellowstone National Park.  To be honest it wasn’t my first choice, but it was solidly in my dad’s bucket list and so we made it a “guys” trip.  Three generations of DeRosa’s (father, son, grandson) traveling to where the buffalo roam, to see exploding geysers, breath-taking views, and to take in the simple beauty of the land.

Of course, the sales and marketing geek inside of me looks for every opportunity to observe, study, and ponder how each experience plays into how people make buying decisions.  Yes, even at Yellowstone I was on the prowl for insights into how sales people can better connect with the buyers journey.  Our Yellowstone tour guide unknowingly provided a powerful example in navigating the changing scenery of the buyers journey.  But first a little context…

If you’re in Sales, or any position charged with hitting a revenue number, you’ve got to sell.  You need to find buyers, and you need to sell them.  Sell them as much as you can, as quickly as you can, to reach your number, celebrate briefly and move on to the next.  Right?

WRONG!

Buyers have become increasingly sophisticated whether buying a pair of shoes, or selecting a payroll provider, or choosing Tom Ford over Hugo Boss.  If you think selling hard, and selling fast is your best chance of success you may want to consider a different career.  Today’s buyer wants to be courted.  They want to feel special. They want to feel important.  They want to believe the option they have chosen is the best option for their need.  Notice I didn’t say the buyer wants to have confidence in the solution you sold them.  No.  They are not to be sold.  They are doing the buyer.  They want you to be their tour guide.

I watched as Kylie, our tour guide welcomed us to a small group tour setting out to see Yellowstone in all its majesty.  Her welcome was warm and genuine.  She was quick to point out the creature comforts we probably would need for this journey.  Blankets, water, soft drinks, snacks, distance between rest stops.  She had anticipated our questions and addressed them before they were asked.

As we started our journey from the Grand Teton’s into Yellowstone, Kylie provided a history of both parks in a way that only a master-storyteller could do.  Her story was highly engaging, edge of your seat, filled with suspense.  She educated us on the wildlife ecosystem and how everything was interconnected.  I’m embarrassed to say I probably learned everything I know about biology and the circle of life from this tour.  Up to this point in my life I hadn’t taken time to think about how life and nature were interconnected. She led us on this journey of enlightenment through her personal passion for the landscape and wildlife within these two parks. It was amazing. In fact, so much so, that we embarked on a second tour a couple of days later with a different focus, in a different part of the park.

I’ve often thought about my experience on this Yellowstone tour.  I’ve thought about how I was educated in a way that allowed me to fully grasp the concept of a wildlife ecosystem.  I think about how my interests in conservation have since grown as a direct result of this new knowledge.  I ponder the impact personal passion has on the transfer of knowledge.  I do believe that if Kylie simply read a script, or ran through the motions, I would have left Yellowstone feeling quite different…less connected.  Her passion created questions of my own.  Her stories have become remarkable memories for me, my father, and my son.

As a revenue leader it is important to have a true passion for what you do.  It’s not enough to be a VP of Sales.  Kylie could have been a tour operator for a double-decker bus in Manhattan, but it wouldn’t have served her passion.  You’ve got to have passion for what it is you’re selling.  What is the ultimate purpose for what you do, what your product does, what improvement it makes in the buyers life.  Too many people are occupying positions for a paycheck, not really believing in what it is they are selling.  We’ve all done it.  The problem is, your buyers can spot a scripted seller miles away and today they vote with their shoes by either walking toward you or walking away.

View yourself as your buyer’s tour guide.  Anticipate their questions and provide answers before they ask.  Make the journey as comfortable as possible.  Be warm, be kind, be generous with your time.  Study and learn…I mean really learn about what it is you’re selling.  If you can’t get excited or enthused about it find a new product to sell.  Your goal is to help your buyer through this journey at their pace, not yours. Be the best sales tour guide you can be.

3 Quick Ways to Know if Your Team is Sales Enabled

Detective

You’ve got a great product, competitive pricing, and best-in-class service. Your revenue numbers should be exploding and new recruits should be beating your door down for the chance to work with you. But none of that is happening. Revenue is flat, turnover is higher than average, and your sales team can’t seem to provide accurate forecasting that you can depend on. So what’s wrong?

For the moment we’re going to focus on your sales efforts and put Marketing to the side. You seem to have many positives in your direction but progress is alluding you and your team. Start by probing into these 3 areas of your Sales team:

  1. Education. Knowledge is only powerful if the owner knows how to apply it. What’s your philosophy on learning? Do you run your team through sales training and consider it a box checked off? How much self-educating and self-development is taking place? Are you encouraging your team to expand their horizons beyond what you’re providing them? What actions are you taking to facilitate or develop a learning culture? Without continuous education and learning your team is at a disadvantage.
  2. Resources. How well equipped are your sales people? The best warriors need weapons. A sharpshooter can’t perform without bullets, nor can a drummer play without sticks. Your sales people need tools. They need resources. Resources could include a killer website, an eBook, a webinar, or podcast. No matter what the product or service is that you’re providing, your team needs tools. It’s been reported that the average B2B buyer consumes 6 pieces of content before making their purchase. The days of a handshake and charismatic smile winning the deal are over. In the “age of the buyer” the demands are much greater for tangible value.
  3. Application. Simply having the knowledge along with great tools still isn’t enough. Direction on how to apply that knowledge and those tools is critical. This is where the true “enablement” piece of Sales Enablement happens. Navy Seals aren’t great just because they are educated on warfare tactics and have great weapons. Seals are awesome warriors because they are taught how to use their knowledge and resources available to win the fight. The same is true in Sales. Great content and an impressive presentation are meaningless if the sales person doesn’t know how to present them. Are you providing application training?

To create a winning Sales team requires great talent, an executable strategy, clear tactics, knowledge, tools, and application training. Pulling all these pieces together is called Sales Enablement. If you’re struggling to hit your number step back and ask yourself, “What am I doing to enable my team to win?” If you don’t have a clear answer to all 3 areas above start there and begin developing them.