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.

Business – it’s all personal

Business exists to serve peoples needs. It doesn’t matter if you work for a B2B, or B2C company. Somewhere downstream in the process, is a consumer who is making a decision to buy a product or service you make, or contribute to making.

Business is very personal. Only people can care, a business cannot. A business may be a culmination of caring people but by itself, a business is nothing more than an idea. People bring ideas to life. People bring passion to their work and workplace. People bring thoughtfulness and caring for one another and a community. That all happens with people. A business can only serve as a conduit to deliver what the collection of these people express.

When I hear “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, I would say, it’s all personal. People give their most valuable asset they have to a business…their time. With that time they could invest it elsewhere to generate different returns. With their families, with other businesses, other ideas, other objectives. It is a trade-off. Yet once that trade-off is made, an individual is committing themselves – their person – to the business. This is how business gets done, and it becomes very personal.

Empathy is a key emotion to bridge the gap between business and personal. Why? Because time is the only thing that binds us all together. We all have a set amount of sand in our hourglass. When it’s gone it’s gone. Take some of your sand, and use it with others at work to demonstrate that you hear them, you understand their challenges, and you have ideas to share that can help them. By doing this you add value. And while no one can put more sand into anyone’s hourglass, we can all put a little value into each other’s lives…in, and outside, of business.

Selling with Silence

I enjoy a good conversation as much as the next guy or gal.  A highly engaging and thoughtful conversation where both sides are equally sharing their ideas, and feelings is something to value.  Likewise, I also enjoy the comfort of being with people I care about and not feeling like I have to say a word.  I’m comfortable with silence.

Being comfortable with silence is a skill.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, like any skill, silence needs to be practiced in order to be effective.  It requires trust, honesty, and perhaps most importantly confidence.

Sales people by nature are talkers.  In fact, sales people often have a reputation of being slick talkers.  Talk fast enough that you over-power, or blow past the buyer’s objections, tough questions, or key concerns.  However, a fast talking sales person is actually communicating the wrong message.  Buyers get turned off by fast talkers.  They become suspicious.  They become guarded in their responses, and many times they tune out, and walk away.

Great sales professionals understand the power of silence.  The power that comes with feeling confident in your message, your answers, your position, your knowledge.  Knowing when to be silent, versus when to speak, is a critical skill all sales people should develop, assuming they want to improve their win rates.

The buyer asks a question, the sales person responds, and then silence.  You’re almost begging the buyer to challenge you.  Your silence is a display of your confidence and conviction.  It also shows the buyer a level of patience and empathy by giving them time to absorb your response and determine their next step.  You’re putting the control in the buyer’s hands.  And while some may argue that the sales person should maintain control, I’d argue that by granting the buyer some control, the sales person is actually increasing his/her control of the sales and buying process.

Silence can be the ultimate neutralizer.  High stakes negotiators recognize the strategic benefit of using silence.  Yet keep in mind, that using silence as a tactic requires a great deal of preparation.  You need to understand your company, your product, your position, and your buyer.  Drop the ball on any one of those and the value of silence is diminished.

Next time you engage in a sales conversation, force yourself to be silent.  Can you do it?  Can you sell with silence?

 

Type A Personalities – 3 ways to confront anxiety

Worker thinks solution of his problems

Hard charging, Type A personalities, often struggle with taming their fear of failure.  Most would agree that fear, when kept in check and under control, is an emotion that can both protect and propel us.  Understanding the cause of the fear you’re experiencing is the first step to developing a plan to calm it, contain it, control it.

Anxiety is the result, or symptom, of fear. If I fear I won’t be able to hit the ball, anxiety causes me to dread my up-at-bat.  If I fear I will fail my statistics class, then anxiety will kick in and cause me to block any learning that will ultimately help me pass the class. If I fear I will miss my monthly sales number, my anxiety will cause me to go into rapid-fire mode doing as many things as I can simply to create the appearance that I’m working hard.

Anxiety perpetuates fear, creates the stress, and force, strong enough to shut you down.  Dealing with anxiety is critical to successfully navigating change, taking risk, and managing failure.  Here are 3 ways to keep your anxiety in check:

  1. Ask the question “why not me?” When we think we will fail it is because we don’t feel competent, smart enough, savvy enough, or insightful enough to win.  Why not? Rather than thinking about the failure, replace that thought with the question why not me.  I’m smart, why not me?  I’m intelligent, why not me?  I’ve accomplished a number of great things, why not me?
  2. Turn anxiety into excitement. Replace, what if I fail, with what will I learn? Replace what if this doesn’t last, with how much better will I be no matter how long this lasts?  What will I have experienced that will make me more valuable, more fulfilled?
  3. Breath. The power of 10 minutes of just breathing is quite powerful.  Call it meditation, self-reflection, self-empowerment, or self-love, whatever you call it the purpose of this 10 minutes is to rebalance your inner self.  To bring calm to any internal bubbling that’s taking place.  There are thousands of books on this subject, apps for your smartphone, and calming music for your ears.  Get one, or some, but act now to calm the storm from building.

Why Your Role as Sales Leader Isn’t to Motivate

MOTIVATION word cloud, business concept

Many people think “cheerleader” when they envision an effective sales leader.  Someone who gets the team fired up, screams and shouts, and sets everyone on a rah-rah march into the field to meet prospects.

The sales leader is expected to be a high-powered extrovert, charismatic, outspoken, aggressive, and perhaps even a bit shocking.  We have all worked for sales leaders that possess these characteristics and shall I dare say, some other, more wild ones to say the least.

Early in my career I worked for such a sales leader.  He’d stand on a chair or a table during sales meetings screaming at the top of his lungs, face beet red.  The hair on the back of your neck would stand on end.  You were pumped.  There was nothing you couldn’t do.  But when he finished his super-charged motivational speech, the result felt more like a tirade than an inspiration.  There’s an enormous distance between rallying a group with fear versus inspiration.

So what is the sales leaders responsibility as it relates to motivating a sales team?

Are you ready for the answer?  None.  You have no responsibility to motivate your team.  Each sales person on your team is responsible for motivating him, or herself.  So what is your job as the sales leader?  Provide vision and inspiration.

People want to follow a leader who demonstrates the confidence that he knows where he’s going, how he’s going to get there, and why getting there is so important and beneficial.  I’ve built a number of sales teams over the years.  I have worked hard to be an inspiration – doing this provides your team members with the “why” should they do what you’re asking them to do.  Inspiration transcends motivation.  You can motivate for an hour or a day but motivation is time constrained.  It lasts only as long as the instigator – you – are on duty.  But to inspire, creates a fire, that burns deep into desire.  The greater the fire you build the more insatiable the desire is to achieve the goals you’ve set – whether you’re around or not.

Your job is to find out what drives your team.  Is it money?  Is it recognition?  Is it invention or innovation?  Is it client engagement scores?  Once you know what drives each person on the team you will be able to create your inspiration roadmap.  That roadmap will provide a clear picture to:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Why are we going there?
  3. What’s in it for us?
  4. What will we feel once we’ve arrived there?

Most organizations fail due to a lack of clarity around the vision. You’ve got to assemble a team that WANTS to a be a part of your vision.  Trying to convince someone they will be happy going to Buffalo in the winter probably won’t sell.  You can expend all your energy convincing or you can set out to find those who are interested or intrigued with going to Buffalo.  It’s the Good to Great philosophy of getting the right people on the bus and the right butts in the right seat.

Lead by example.  Walk the talk.  Model the behaviors.  Do these things and you’ll increase your ability to inspire your followers to achieve remarkable results.

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.

Get Specific -4 Ways to Make Your Business Conversations More Effective

Business People Meeting Growth Success Target Economic Concept

 

Your eyes are glazed over.  You’re trying to be discreet but you can’t help looking at your watch.  Is it over yet?  As meeting standards go this one is pretty brutal. It’s dull, boring, lacking insights, not informative, it’s basically a disastrous waste of your time.  Have you ever encountered one of these meetings?  Here’s a daring question – have you ever been the one driving one of these meetings?  If your answer is “no way, I’d never run such a terrible meeting”, I’d say you should probably spend a bit of time on self-reflection.  We all have coordinated and run meetings like this.  We’ve all wasted someones time at one point or another.

Here are 4 Ways to Make Your Business Conversations More Effective:

  1. Prepare – Do some homework on the individual you’re meeting with and the company.  It’s not enough to just throw out facts about the company or industry.  With the advent of social selling you’ve got to know your buyer – the human behind the decision.
  2. Ask good questions – Dump the “what keeps you up at night” question. So boring.  So predictable.  Kind of shallow.  A rookie question.  Have a hypothesis of what you believe keeps them up and night and throw it on the table.  Of course that requires having completed Step 1 above.
  3. Know what’s going on in the world – Don’t take a political stance, but know what’s happening in the world, the markets, etc.  Election year impacts, the Brexit issue, the Middle East conflicts, the Puerto Rican debt default. People enjoy spending time with people who have a bit of depth.  You don’t need to be Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffet, or Seth Godin, but you do need to have ideas and opinions beyond your company’s.
  4. Manage your time – Arrive early.  If you’re on time you’re late.  I get tired of hearing how bad traffic was.  Sales people today, especially in bigger cities think they can use traffic in Seattle, LA, NY, Boston, Atlanta, etc., as an excuse and people will just understand.  If you want to be like every other sales person walking in the office than great.  You will be – just like every other.  You want to be different?  Give yourself extra time.

One final extra tip.  Please show up with some energy.  No, you don’t have to drink 17 Red Bulls before you walk in the door.  Likewise you don’t want to be Eeyore either. Find the balance between excitement and control.  Do all of these together and you’ll run an awesome meeting.

 

 

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.

To Sell or Not to Sell?

USP concept
Hand with marker is drawing USP concept on the transparent white board.

Selling isn’t about winning or losing.  It’s not about money, trips, plaques, or prizes.  Selling is not an easy job, nor should it be a job to kill time until the “real thing” appears.   It’s not a set of activities, calls, presentations, or ratios.

Selling is about helping others.  Helping others solve problems and improving lives in the process.  Simply put, to sell is to make something, or someone better.  If what you’re offering for sale doesn’t provide some improvement over the status quo you have no sale.  The key is to understand your buyer well enough to know exactly how your product or service will improve their life or business.

People know when they’re being sold.  They also know when they feel they’ve been helped.  Seek first to understand before being understood is a good way to approach helping others.  Set out to help others and the sales will follow.