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!
In my last blog, The Big Trends From 2016, I got lots of great comments and questions. I especially liked this question and wanted to share my answer with all of you.
Q: How often do you find executives who expect their salespeople to sell value that does not exist? In my last two sales jobs, the real value of the product or service was not a differentiator in the marketplace. Even for the most incredible sales person, companies are not naive and they can quickly assess whether there is value in an offering or just double talk. What are the executives’ responsibilities in this situation? How often are you seeing this situation at companies?
A: Good question, tough answer. You have to find some way to add value above the product or service even if it is truly a commodity. I have worked with a lot of companies that had very little differentiation, and the executives wanted their folks to sell on value, but few people understood how to create real value beyond what they were selling. If you cannot figure this out, then the only thing you have left to sell on is price.
In my strategic thinking workshops, I tell the attendees that all effective strategy boils down to: Valued Differentiation X Disciplined Execution. In other words, you have to bring something to the marketplace that is unique, exciting and compelling – that your customers VERY highly value – that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy – and that you can deliver on flawlessly. Until you can discover how you, your products and/or services can meet these criteria – the only thing you have to sell is lower price, which is the fast lane to bankruptcy.
You ask above, “What are the executives’ responsibilities in this situation?” It is my feeling that they must understand their product and market well enough to clearly show their salespeople where the real value exists. If they cannot clearly differentiate their own product from the competition’s product, then a salesperson needs to ask how they can sell on value if the executive can’t even describe it. One of the big issues I see are companies that demand that their salespeople sell on value and capture a premium price in a market that truly will not support it. This is a recipe for failure and is exceedingly frustrating to the sales force. As the old saying goes, “You can’t get blood from a stone,” and you can’t sell value where none exists.
However, it has been my experience that where there is little product differentiation the only way to command a premium price is for the salesperson to add massive additional value. What unique expertise can you bring to the situation? How can you give your customer insights and ideas they could not have developed without you? What recommendations can you make to improve the customer’s business? What additional services can your company deliver that significantly increases the value of your total solution?
In other words, if the product is not a differentiator, the salesperson must be. This is easy to say, but extremely hard to do. It takes a lot of work, time, effort and energy to educate yourself at a level where you can be positioned as a trusted advisor – not a salesperson. Luckily, very few salespeople are willing to make the personal investment necessary to become a high level consultative salesperson, so if you can achieve this you will have created a good deal of job security because every company wants a salesperson who can create unique value for the customer that drives high margins.
I hope you found this of value.
I have just returned from three weeks on the road, including 10 days on a speaking tour across Poland as a guest of the United States Consulate General in Krakow. I had a lot of time on airplanes and read several books but there are two that I would especially like to recommend.
The first is called “BOOKSMART – hundreds of real-world lessons for success and happiness,” by my friend Frank Sonnenberg. This is an absolutely fantastic book of wisdom and sage advice that is presented in a very user-friendly way, with lots of lists of things to think about and apply. The book covers numerous topics around business, family, success, financial health, marriage and other critical issues. The chapters are short but powerful. I have already reread this book twice and have applied several of the ideas to my business and life. This is one of those books I plan to come back to often as a reminder of what I should be focusing on and how to build a happy, joyful and highly successful life. This book would be a wonderful Christmas present for anyone you know that enjoy books on self-improvement or business improvement.
The other book I’d like to recommend to you is called, “The Leaders Mindset – how to win in the age of disruption,” by Terence Mauri. In this book Terence describes three major leadership mindsets:
- Think Big Mindset (Future Shaper)
- Act Bold Mindset (Risk Taker)
- Learn Fast Mindset (Knowledge Seeker)
He then goes on to describe how to integrate all three of these mindsets in order to be an effective and successful leader. I underlined a lot of this book, and I’ve recommended it to several of my clients. It’s a good, solid book that will help you take a new look at how you lead in your organization. One of the reasons I love this book so much, is that it aligned very strongly with what I have been studying for years about great leaders and great organizations. It was reassuring to read such focused and detailed ideas and descriptions that match so closely with my strongly held beliefs about what makes a real leader. If you are interested in a book that will help you examine the way you think about leadership and the actions you take as a leader, you will definitely enjoy this book.
I have just a little bit of downtime around the Christmas holidays, so I will have a few more books to recommend at the start of the new year. If you have recently read a great business or self-help book, please comment on it here so that my followers and I can pick it up and learn from your recommendations.
I hope you find these books of great value – take good care – John
Whenever you see the phrase, “For your convenience,” you know it’s going to be anything but convenient. I’ve been on the road for about two weeks and during my trip here are just a few of the things that people so kindly did for my convenience…
“For your convenience, rubber mats for the shower are available upon request, simply call the operator and we will have one brought your room.” Not very convenient when I’m standing in the slippery shower and realize I need a shower mat to keep from falling and killing myself.
“For your convenience, we have added a daily $10 charge to your room for cleaning services.” I guess if I refuse the charge they will leave my room dirty?
“For your convenience, the café opens at 7 AM.” Unfortunately, I have a 7:30 meeting on the other side of the hotel, not very convenient to have to skip breakfast.
And finally, my favorite one, yesterday morning I ordered a taxi cab at 8:30 AM so I could make the 6-mile drive to my client’s building and arrive on time for my 9:00 AM meeting. I called down to the desk at 7:00 AM to order the cab, and 30 minutes later they called and said the cab was out front waiting for me. I mentioned to the operator I was not expecting the cab for another hour, the reply was that the cab driver thought it would be more “convenient” because there’s often a lot of traffic at this time of the morning. “Really,” I inquired, “I need an hour and a half to go 6 miles?” She told me the cab driver said it would likely take that long. So I rushed like crazy to get dressed, packed and down to the cab as fast as possible.
While riding in the cab on the way to my appointment, the cab driver mentioned he just happened to be across the street when the call came in for an 8:30 ride and thought it would be much more “convenient” to pick me up at 7:30. Convenient for who? By the way, it took 11 minutes to get to the building where my meeting was and I had to sit in the lobby for an hour before going up to my client’s office.
My point in all this? What might your company be doing for your customer’s “convenience” that is not actually convenient for them at all? Where are you causing frustrations, disappointments and unhappy customers because it is more “convenient” for you and your staff? How can you remove or replace any procedure that is not truly convenient for the people you serve?
I wrote this article, “For your convenience,” I hope you found it helpful.
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?
I have made a commitment to never use my blog to just complain. So I’m going to outline a few service failures as a lesson to all of us who understand the importance of delivering superior customer service is essential to business success.
I recently had a trip to New Zealand on business, on the way there my wife and I flew First Class with Air New Zealand and had an absolutely spectacular experience. The staff was extremely friendly, the food was excellent, great wine, laydown bed, everything you could possibly ask for on a 14-hour flight to the other side of the world. On the way back, we flew First Class on American Airlines. Once on board we noticed they were serving champagne to other folks in First Class cabin and when we asked for some they apologized and said they had just run out, catering had not put enough on board for everyone in First Class. Several hours later, I was getting ready to go to sleep and needed to take some medication so I asked the flight attendant for a bottle of water, to which she replied, “No, only one bottle of water per person, 36 people in First Class, 36 bottles of water.” I spent well over $10,000 for the ticket and American Airlines was kind enough to let me know I only got one bottle of water for the entire flight across the Pacific Ocean. Not what I would call “First Class” customer service.
During a recent trip to Idaho, I went out each morning for breakfast and had an extremely hard time finding a restaurant with any waiters or waitresses. Place after place I walked into were beautiful, well-appointed, upscale locations with signs directing you where to order, then wait to pick up your food and carry it to your table on your own. There was also a sign on my table explaining I had to clean up after myself so I could leave the table clean for the next patron. Perhaps this is a backlash from trying to set higher minimum wages, or simply a way to increase the profit of the restaurant by not having any servers, however, I will tell you every time I walked in one of those restaurants, I walked right back out to look for someplace I could sit down, get an actual live server and enjoy a relaxing breakfast while I read the news. I didn’t want self-service, I wanted First Class service.
The reason I tell you these stories is as a warning. Company after company will readily insist that delighting their customers is essential to growing and sustaining the success of their business, and yet I experience horrifically bad customer service all too often. So, before complaining about how bad the service is at other businesses, take a long hard look in the mirror and make sure you are NOT making some of the same mistakes with your customers.
Create a Customer Service Credo, develop a specific plan and set of processes for consistently exceeding your customer’s expectations, train your people like crazy to follow those processes and focus on the customer, reward employees who do a great job and remove employees that don’t. It’s just this simple, but apparently the businesses I mentioned above did not think it was important.
During my recent trip to New Zealand I gave a number of talks on how technology is going to dramatically disrupt every type of business. Part of my presentation focused on advanced robotics and how many jobs will be eliminated by robots and algorithms. Here is a question that I just received from one of the folks that attended a session I delivered to a group of New Zealand entrepreneurs.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to you after your presentation, but I was really curious about the balance between EQ and robotics. You mentioned a bar where the bartender was replaced by robots and how many other service jobs will be. How will this feed into our EQ? Many people go to bars etc. to talk to the bartender about how horrible their boss is. Do you think that as technology progresses more humans will turn to the virtual world for emotional conversations rather than the real world?
Take hotels for example, many can differentiate on price because of the quality of service they provide and the personalized touch they give. I think empathy is one of the key qualities needed to provide customer satisfaction. If a lot of these employees are replaced by robots for the sake of efficiency, how will user experience and emotions play into this?
I would really appreciate it if you could expand on this a bit.
Wow, really great questions, with complex answers.
It is my opinion that many jobs such as bartenders and hotel receptionists will be replaced by robots, it is already happening. However, I completely agree with you that these are positions that traditionally act as service providers that directly connect with customers. I do not believe that computers, even with highly advanced AI, will be able to make a true “human connection.” So perhaps there will be new jobs for people that do nothing but sit and talk with other people about how horrible their boss is, politics, religion and other topics that people like to discuss. They will be trained not to push their own opinion, but to simply be there to listen to the other person, connect with them and show empathy. Actually, I just thought of this idea while I was writing you this note and it is something I’m going to look into with a lot more focus, service jobs being replaced with “professional listener” as a new career. Interesting?
I get sick of all of this motivational bullshit… “Just meditate on it and the universe will bring it to you… You were born to be great and change the world … If you say enough positive affirmations, you will become a billionaire.” NO, NO, NO and NO.
You can achieve success, wealth, happiness, respect, notoriety, fame, power – whatever you desire – if you’re willing to pick a clear direction, create a solid plan and work your ass off. Nobody becomes a billionaire by just “believing” that it will happen. The universe does not align to create your perfect life – you create it. I love great motivational quotes, I read them all the time, but I know that at the end of the day it is up to me to make my life better. If I don’t put in the work – nothing will happen.
I guess I’m being a little harsh here, but I meet so many people that do almost no work but hope their life will be amazing. I mean, if the things they said in the book “The Secret,” actually worked, we would have world filled with skinny, good-looking billionaires. Let me make this Awesomely Simple: Hope is not a strategy. If you want to have a better life – you have to get better. If you want to achieve more success – you have to add more value. If you want to be wealthy – you have to do something that other people are willing to pay a lot of money for. There is no silver bullet, no secret to success, no easy way to become insanely wealthy. If you look at any person that is massively successful… they worked very, very, very hard to get there. I challenge you, I really challenge you, to study anyone that has become hugely successful and tell me that they did it without any effort or work. Every single person that has achieved at a very high level, has worked at a very high level to create insane amounts of value in the marketplace. The key though is to do something you’re passionate about, something that you truly love, so that all that effort never really feels like work, just a wonderful and challenging journey on the path to you creating an incredible life for yourself.