As I look back across two decades of working with companies around the world, there are a few key ideas that I think are fundamental to business success, here is one of them:
The success of your business is directly tied to the quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team – and the relationships they create with your customers.
I have yet to meet a single business leader that does not strongly agree with this idea, however I see a lot of businesses where they do not actually live this idea. Today I want to talk about the growth and development of top talent.
Once you get somebody on your team, there is absolutely no excuse for not investing time, energy and money in helping that person continuously improve.
Frankly, I believe this is the single most important investment you can make in your company, because without highly talented people who are steadily getting better and better, you have no chance of making your company better and better. I also write above that there is, “no excuse” because never in the history of humankind has there been more information available, much of it for free, to assist you in delivering world-class training to your people.
Here are just a few of the things that you should be doing:
- Formal mentoring program
- Creating a formal development plan for each employee
- Creating an internal training department
- Training classes taught by qualified outside instructors
- Cross training
- Benchmarking your training efforts against leading companies
- Buying a copy of a book for each of your employees
- Creating a lending library of top business books
- Creating a lending library of training CDs
- Getting your employees a membership to an audiobook service
- Getting your employees a membership to a book summary service
- Bringing in outside experts for a “lunch and learn”
- Taking your employees to visit other companies
- Sending out a newsletter with good information for your employees
- Sending out a list of top podcasts they should be listening to
- Sending out a list of YouTube videos they should watch
- Investing in online/virtual training for your employees
- Taking your employees to a major training seminar by an expert
- Taking your employees to an industry event
- Annual or semiannual company training conferences
These are just a few things that I came up with off the top of my head, I’m sure there are several more you could add to this list. But here is my point: if you are not doing all or most of this then you’re not truly serious about helping your people (and your company) to be as successful as possible. A good deal of what I have listed is absolutely free, much of it is very inexpensive, and only a few things require significant financial investment. But I can tell you this, not doing the things on this list is very, very expensive.
If you found value in this blog, I hope you will share it with your network.
*** I wanted to let you know about a very special event I will be participating in on March 12-14 at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the incredibly beautiful town of Banff, Canada. It will be an exclusive retreat for leaders of fast growth businesses who are looking to engage with other leaders in pursuit of higher levels of performance. We have done this event twice in the past and it has been a resounding success. If you’re interested, here is a link to learn more about the program, we would love to have you join us!
This is one of the biggest “aha moments” I ever had when learning to be salesperson, which I got from a fantastic book called: Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa.
“In sales, you and the customer want the very same thing: the Exact Right Solution.”
Let me unpack this for you…
If you are talking to a potential customer, than they have already given you a buying signal; they are giving you some of their time, which means there is at least some level of interest in your product or service. So you both know what you are there for, a potential sale. The goal then is to make sure that you both get what you want out of the transaction, they get a reasonable price on a product or service that they need and you make a reasonable profit. This is the only possible outcome for successful transaction, the Exact Right Solution.
- Sell them something too expensive and they find out that your price was high, you lose the customer.
- Sell them something too cheap and you lose money on the deal, your company goes out of business.
- Sell them the wrong product that will not actually meet their needs, but makes you a nice commission, you lose the customer.
- Sell them the right product and deliver it late, you lose the customer.
- Sell them the right product and it does not work, and you fail to follow-up and get it fixed quickly, you lose the customer.
- Sell them the right product but promise them too many additional services, you lose money on the deal, your company goes out of business.
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea, unless both you and the customer get exactly what is right for both of you, you have not made a successful sale.
That means that it is not you against the customer, it is the two of you working together as a team to develop the Exact Right Solution. To me, this takes away the sometimes adversarial relationship between buyer and seller. I remember early in my career that every time I went on a sales call I felt like I was trying to “win the sale.” The truth of the matter is I should have been trying to win the trust of my customer by giving them exactly what they wanted, that also aligned perfectly with what I wanted, so that we could build a strong positive relationship and I could be seen as a partner and trusted advisor who would always do what was in their best interest, as long as it was also in my best interest. The classic Win-Win agreement.
Now that I understand this, sales is so much more fun. I’m not there to “win” anything, I’m there to help us much as I can and work jointly with my customer to develop solutions that makes everybody happy so that we look forward to doing more business together in the future.
To me, that is the way a professional salesperson approaches the sales process.
A friend of mine, Jake Kostan, sent me a question asking: What is your number 1 must read book of 2016 in each category for sales & marketing, business and culture?
That’s really tough question, I read more than 100 business books this year (not all of them were written this year), many of them very good, but if I had to list just one in each one of those categories, here they are…
“The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need” by Anthony Iannarino
**Also in sales, if you have not read these two books, go read them right away**
“SPIN selling” by Neil Rackham
“Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play – transforming the buyer/seller relationship” by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig
“Marketing: A Love Story – how to matter to your customers” by Bernadette Jiwa
“Extreme Ownership – how US Navy SEALs lead and win” by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin
“It’s My Pleasure – the impact of extraordinary talent and compelling culture” by Dee Ann Turner
I could easily list another two dozen, and this was especially hard because many of my friends wrote excellent books this year, so I put links below to all of my recommendations over 2016.
If you read something that you thought was extremely valuable, please add it to the comments for all the rest of us.
Thanks so much and I hope that 2017 is your best year ever!!! Love, John
My book recommendations from 2016
On behalf of myself, my wife and business partner, Sheila Spence, our Operations Manager, Mercedes Petrus and our Financial Manager, Esther Mallard – thank you VERY much to all of our clients from 2016 for trusting us to be involved in your businesses.
I hope you will share this video with your network, and if you have not already, please sign up for my blog – I only post good stuff! blog.johnspence.com
I am currently preparing to facilitate three strategic planning meetings, for an association, a technology company and a Fortune 100 client. Here are a few things that I see as foundational for creating an effective strategic plan.
- The key to a successful strategic plan is: FOCUS. Every company, regardless of size, has limited resources and strategy is all about effectively deploying an organization’s resources where they will have the most positive impact in the marketplace.
- To mirror my first point, one of the most important things a great strategic thinker does is figure out what to say “NO” to. What markets will we not compete in? What products or services should we not try to sell? What current projects should we abandon?
- If you have 10 strategic objectives, you do not have a strategy. All of the successful companies I’ve worked with were able to focus in on 3 to 5 major strategic initiatives. Anything more than that causes a lack of focus and ultimately a lack of success.
- When examining business issues, are you trying to solve a puzzle or a mystery? With enough data and information, you can find the right answer to a puzzle, but no matter how hard you try it is impossible to find the exact right solution for mystery. Because of this, as much as I hate to admit it, a large part of strategy is simply an educated guess about what might happen in the future.
- Alignment is critical. If the senior team is not 100% committed to strategic direction of the organization, the plan will fail.
- It’s an age-old business cliché, because it is correct: What gets measured gets done. A major reason that many strategies are not effectively executed is because there is no way to determine exactly what the expectations are. Ambiguity Breeds Mediocrity.
Those are just a few of the key ideas I try to help my clients keep in mind as we move through a strategic planning retreat. I will also add one more critical point; to make sure you follow through and implement your plan, you should spend just as much time on strategic execution planning as you do on planning the strategy. This is a very important idea that few companies truly embrace.
What are your thoughts?
This evening I’m giving a speech to 350 CEOs of small to medium-size businesses and I’ve been asked to talk about some of the fundamental elements necessary to build and sustain a highly successful organization. After running several companies and spending the last 22 years of my life helping businesses around the world be more successful, here are a few things I think every business owner needs to focus on:
1. Start with a clear vision and purpose for why you are building the company. By the way, if the only reason you’re starting the company is to make money, there’s a good chance it will fail. Success comes from a genuine passion to help your customers, if you are focused intently on that and charge a price that allows you solid profit margin, everything should work out fine in the end.
2. Solve a real problem. You also have to make sure that your vision and purpose are focused on delivering products and services that the market eagerly wants to buy. It does not matter if you think what you sell is really cool, the only critic whose opinion counts is the customer.
3. Build a world-class team. Competitors can copy your products, beat you on price, outspend you on marketing, but one thing they cannot do easily is beat a company that truly values top talent and gets them engaged and passionate about serving their customers.
4. Extreme Customer Focus. I have said this a million times and I am more than happy to say it a million more: whoever can attract, grow and retain the best talent, and also “owns the voice of the customer,” has a huge market advantage. Fantastic employees who build great customer relationships are a key to success in every business.
5. Quality and control. This one is very fundamental, but without it the other things above can’t work. You have to have very high quality products and services, deliver consistently superior customer service and manage the financials of your business with extreme discipline. There is a reason that one of the most often used clichés in business is: Cash is King.
6. Disciplined Execution. Once you’ve got all of the above factors in place, then you must be incredibly vigilant in always focusing on the most important things in your business and making sure they get done. If you do not take the time to make these things your top priorities, then you will likely have to make time for bankruptcy court.
I think pretty much every business understands that giving great customer service is important. However, it confuses me why so few businesses actually deliver consistently good (not even great – just good) customer service when they know it is critical to their success. In my opinion, I think it’s because they have skipped some of the fundamental elements of creating a culture of great service, they simply talk about how important service is, but do not do the things necessary to achieve a high level of superb customer service. Here are a few questions to get you thinking about how well you have prepared your employees to consistently deliver an absolutely delightful shopping, buying and owning experience for your customers.
- Does your company have a written Customer Service Credo that clearly explains exactly how your business and employees should be treating customers?
- Has everyone been thoroughly trained (with plenty of on-going training) on all of the things they need to do in order to meet or exceed your Customer Service Credo?
- Do they have all the resources they need to deliver the level of service you have promised your customers?
- Do you specifically hire people that enjoy giving great service?
- Do you assess your current workers by their ability to deliver superb customer service?
- Are people who do not deliver great service removed from your company?
- Do you do a minimum of two customer satisfaction surveys per year?
- Do you have an awards program for employees that deliver superior customer service?
- Do you benchmark against other companies that are recognized for customer service excellence?
- Has your company won any awards recognizing you for great customer service?
If you can say “yes” to all these questions, then you are likely one of the few companies that can actually claim outstanding customer service as one of your unique differentiators in the marketplace. If you answered “no” to several of these questions, you’ve got some work to do.
*** By the way, I recently wrote a short and focused e-book on how to build and sustain a winning culture. It sells for just $4.99 and is available on Amazon. Here is a link to learn more about the book: Winning Culture e-book
This is an excerpt from a new book I am working on about how to generate more high quality referrals.
Several years ago I was brought in to help a computer training company increase their sales. The sales team were missing their numbers badly and the business was in serious trouble. When I got there I found out that many of the salespeople were uncomfortable because the price for their training program was nearly $40,000, which was a very high price point for the potential customers they were talking to. Each of the salespeople had a quota and there was a large white board in the sales office tracking exactly how much money each person had brought in. The sales were basically being managed as a numbers game.
To understand the situation better I asked a few questions.
What was the graduation rate for people who entered the course? Which I found out was above 90%. What was the placement rate for students who had graduated from their computer training? I found out was above 90%. What was the average salary of someone who graduated and got one of these jobs? About $80,000 a year. For the people they were talking to, what was their current average salary? Which I found out was about $30-$40,000, hence the reason a $40,000 training program was extremely expensive for them.
I brought the sales team together to talk with them. I explained to them that when someone bought one of these programs and invested $40,000, there was a 90% chance they would graduate and be a certified computer technician and a 90% chance that they would get an awesome job at a very high salary that would completely change their lives and the lives of their families. They would finally have a good paying job in a growing industry where they could build a solid career and continue to improve their income. I told the sales team to stop worrying about the quota and start worrying about how many people they could help, how many lives they could change. I told them not to be greedy about money, but to be incredibly greedy about how many people they could help. Once they were able to make the mental shift from making sales – to changing people’s lives – the sales numbers went through the roof.
It is the exact same thing for asking for referrals. It is not about new clients, new revenue, more profits for you and your business – it’s about how many more people can you help. There’s an old saying from Zig Ziglar that I love: “If you just help enough other people get what they need you’ll get everything you need.” This is the heart of generating lots and lots of quality referrals – be fanatic about getting as many referrals as you possibly can, so that you can help as many people as you possibly can. Look at it that way and you will do very well.