Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Six Fundamentals of Business Success

blog-money-1This 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.

First Class Customer Service???

kelly-server-thousand-oaks-restaurantI 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.

Loose-Tight Controls for Business Success

37827-watches_teaserI recently presented several workshops for client company with an absolutely brilliant CEO, among the best I’ve ever met. He was a new to the organization and had been brought in to turn around the company, which was facing very severe financial troubles. This was very bureaucratic organization whose main customer was the government. They were slow to make decisions, reluctant to take any risks, complacent in their attempt to grow their business and keep margins strong, which landed them to more than billion dollars in debt. The CEO gave an impassioned speech about the need to be more entrepreneurial, while still having a culture of disciplined execution around the core strategies. He described it, much like Tom Peters did in his wonderful book In Search of Excellence, saying that the company needed to have “loose-tight controls.” They need to have elements of loose  control around entrepreneurship, innovation and prudent risk-taking, while maintaining areas tight of control around their values, strategy, alignment and accountability for positive business results. He told them that in order to be successful they would have to balance a strong entrepreneurial ethic while still embracing a focused culture of discipline – and summarized his idea in the graph below.

So, where does your company sit in this matrix?

Best Managed Companies graphic

How do you make the most of a conference?

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I was just asked by the folks at the Eventbrite, a tool for events I use often, if I would offer some suggestions for how to be more successful when networking at a conference. You’ll see the great infographic they created below, but I’d like to emphasize a few of my main ideas on this topic.

  1. It is NOT about what the people at the conference can do for you, it’s about what you can do for them in order to earn the right to have a real business relationship.
  2. Be a connector, imagine the conference as a giant party where you are the host and it is your job to make sure that all of the guests have a great time and meet lots of interesting people. So focus being a superb connector of cool people, they will appreciate your efforts a great deal and in turn will introduce you to their cool colleagues.
  3. When you meet someone, ask about their business, then ask them what are two or three of the big challenges they are facing that they would love to have help with, then do everything you can to connect them with someone that can assist them. There might be a chance that they will mention something that you can help them with, but the goal here is just offer assistance, not try to get a new client right away.
  4. Follow up soon after the conference, not to ask for business, but to say how wonderful it was to meet them and then try to offer more value. Connect with them on social media, connect them with someone you know that you think they’d like to meet, recommend a great book on a topic they are interested in, send them a fantastic article or a link to a great blog – and then send them something else of value every month or so. And then, every now and then, send them something about your company, products or services – not something super  salesy — it has to be something interesting and of real value to them. If they are a great potential customer they will eventually reach back out to you and ask more about your business and how you can help them.

Here are a few more suggestions from the folks at Eventbrite and me…

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25 Skills Needed To Be A Consultant Of The Future

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A very good friend of mine, Kendall Langston, is teaching an MBA class next week at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand on the topic of, “Consultant of the Future” and asked me what I thought were the necessary elements to be a successful business consultant. Here is the quick list I came up with off the top of my head…

  1. Global mindset
  2. Insanely competent
  3. Absolutely superb communicator
  4. Extremely curious
  5. Understands their customer’s business and their customer’s customers
  6. Strong business acumen
  7. Voracious reader
  8. Understands their customer’s industry
  9. Understands the consulting industry
  10. Has a strategic mindset
  11. Studies the impact of technology
  12. Well-networked with other thought leaders
  13. Has proprietary research/processes
  14. Focused – works in a narrow niche area
  15. Has strong sales skills – to sell their consulting services
  16. Has a broad toolkit of best practices and methodologies
  17. Has superb follow-up and customer service
  18. Very, very strong work ethic
  19. Passionate about being a consultant
  20. Can deliver the required results / ROI
  21. Has long-term relationships with their clients
  22. Is respected and has a strong reputation in the consulting industry
  23. Innovative/creative thinker – critical thinker
  24. Nice person – 100% ethical, enjoyable to be around, humble
  25. Works well with others – good team player

Did I miss anything?

 

 

I Hate Motivational Bullshit

Rich-man-1102x620I 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.

Love, John

 

You Ask – I Answer!

 

subpageIcon4 copyI recently did a podcast interview with John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur On Fire (listen to the interview here). It was extremely well received and I got a lot of people that sent me great questions. Here are a few of those questions with my answers, I hope you find this of value…

Q. I currently do a lot of different things. I have a full-time job and run a small business with my spouse, I hold several board volunteer positions, recently directed a non-profit, and am working on other charity projects in my community. These all make sense for me in terms of my “why”, but I worry about being sub-par at a lot of things, versus being excellent in one. Is it possible to be great in a lot of areas, or do you suggest someone narrow their scope? If someone’s attentions are split in a lot of ways, how can they be most successful?

A. To become truly world-class at anything – you must have a great deal of focus. It is an old cliché, because it is true: If you try to be all things to all people you will end up be nothing to anyone. It is possible to do a handful of things well, but if you are too scattered there is no way to do any one thing exceedingly well. The hard part is figuring out what to say “NO” to. To me, the best way to do this is to be very clear about your core values, exactly what you hope your life will look like five years from today, and what you want to accomplish with your life – and then have the courage to remove anything that does not directly add to that goal. You can stay involved in everything you’re doing, but it’s my opinion that you will likely not achieve a high level of success in any one of them.

Q. What do you with your time? With all of the books, presentations, mentees, traveling, etc. you do, it seems like you have more hours in the day than most people. How do you maximize your free time? How do you create balance? How do you work smarter versus harder?

A. First, I don’t have kids. That was a specific career choice because I thought it was unfair to have children and travel as much as I do. Luckily, my wife did not want to have kids either, so it wasn’t a big sacrifice for us. Also, I do not watch TV, movies, go to the mall, cut my lawn, do my own laundry, wash my own car or any other activities that do not directly align with what I’m trying to achieve – or – where I can hire someone else to do them for a few dollars an hour while I either enjoy myself, spend time with my wife, or work on projects that will make me a significant amount of money – which allows me to invest a small amount of it back into getting other people to do my chores. It’s all about the time/value of money. Figure out what an hour of your time is actually worth and then pay other people to do the things that are dramatically below that level. It is hard to do this in the early stages of being an entrepreneur, but once you start reaching a level of financial success this practice allows you to focus only in the areas where you can generate the most value and revenue.

Q3. In some of my ventures, I work a lot with professionals who are in a different generation than me, the “baby boomers”. In your opinion, what actions and attitudes most impress you when working with a “millennial”?

The thing that works the best with all generations is to ask great questions and and be an intense listener – AND – be so incredibly competent at what you do that people can’t ignore you. I took over as CEO of a multinational company when I was 26 years old and most of the people on my board were billionaires and in their late 50s or 60s. I simply worked extra hard to listen to them and be so exceedingly well prepared and well-studied that they had no choice but to trust that I would get my job done superbly. There are definitely generational differences, but being open, flexible and curious will allow you to understand those differences and determine how to work best with people older or younger than you.

Q. Like many entrepreneurs I have tons of ideas about different products and services I’d like to bring to the market. How do you choose which ones to actually pursue?

A. The answer to this is really quite simple, but difficult for some people to implement because they get so attached to their idea and the vision of selling their company for $10 billion to Google next week. For any business to be highly successful it must meet these three criteria:
A. It has to be something you are extremely passionate about and have fun working on, because you will never become truly great at something you don’t enjoy.
B. It has to be in an area where you have an exceedingly high level of competence, or you have surrounded yourself with insanely competent people and you have Uber-strong leadership skills and solid business experience.
C. This is the one that most entrepreneurs miss…

The product or service you want to bring to the market must be unique and compelling – differentiated from your competition in a way that is extremely valuable to your target customer – is difficult if not impossible for your competition to copy – and that you can actually deliver to the market at a reasonable profit.

If it does not meet all of these criteria you might be able to build a good business, but you will never build a sustainably successful enterprise that generates significant revenues and profit.

Those are just a few of the questions I’ve gotten this week, if you have a question you’d like me to answer please send it along and I will give you my very best advice.
I wish you every happiness and success – John

**** By the way, I just developed a Consultative Sales training program to help sales people be much more successful. If you are interested click on the link below and there is a short video that will explain to you exactly what I cover in the series. If it turns out that you want to go through the course, here is a special promotional code that will give you a 45% discount. The code is: 45OFF

I hope you’ll take a minute to watch the video and see if this program might be right for you or some of the people on your sales team. Thanks so much – John

Click HERE to learn more

Consultative Sales Excellence 45

What Is Your Legacy?

 

Click HERE to listen to the interview
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Effective Followership

42BAF516-2E42-4C1D-B901-4F0B46E6DA09_t_4101-e1352134353644Earlier this year I was sitting in a restaurant in St. Louis reading an article in the Wall Street Journal and I had an epiphany. This is my 22nd year of traveling around the globe teaching a number of different business workshops including Advanced Leadership and in all that time I have never heard of a single company, nor met a single instructor, that taught a class on followership. How can this be? In order to have effective leaders you need effective followers. And everyone in the company has someone they have to follow, even the CEO has to report to the board of directors. I know that most people love to go to a leadership class because they want to think of themselves as leaders and aspire to be better leaders, but few people would get very excited about going to a followership class, even though being a good follower is a critical steppingstone to becoming a great leader. True to form, I immediately went to Amazon.com and bought every single book I could find on followership and have begun a quest to study this topic deeply so that I can create a program on how to be a superb follower. However, I decided yesterday when working with a fantastic client in Las Vegas, to test my idea. I explained to the audience of about 300 people what I have just explained above to you and heard a giant sigh from the crowd as they too realized they had never been taught how to be highly effective followers. To learn more, I broke the audience up into groups of 5 to 7 people and asked each group to develop a short list of what they felt were the most important things needed to be a great follower. I then asked several of the groups to share their list and here are some of the things they came up with:

  • Want to be there – be engaged
  • Be highly capable and competent
  • Support the vision
  • Know the vision, mission and goals of the company
  • Hold yourself highly accountable
  • Ask for help when needed
  • Work to support the leader and the team
  • Give loyalty – but not blind loyalty
  • Challenge the leader’s ideas when appropriate, but with respect
  • Be proactive, don’t wait to be told what to do
  • Have an ownership mentality

This is just a partial list of the feedback I got but it is extremely telling. Although a number of these correspond with the sort of answers I get when I ask about what it takes to be a leader that people would willingly follow, there is a portion of this list that is unique to being an excellent follower. Based on this feedback I am extremely excited to be building a new class on the elements of effective followership, and I would highly value any feedback or ideas you want to share with me as I research this topic and begin to build the new program.

What do you think it takes to be a great follower? I very much look forward to your ideas.

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