Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Signed With a Handshake: How Trust Builds Good Companies

Recently I rehandshakecommend a great book from Bernie Swain called “What Made Me Who I Am.” I was very impressed with Bernie and his approach to business so I asked him if he would share a guest blog for my readers (that’s you). I really love what he sent, and I think you will too, it is a great testament to how important it is to build honest and real trust with your customers. Here is his article…

When you start your first business, it is hard work. The odds are against you. When you start your first business in an industry you know nothing about (other than what you read in a magazine), it is virtually impossible to succeed. And yet, that is exactly what my wife, my business partner and I did more than 35 years ago, when we hung out our shingle as the Washington Speakers Bureau.

No matter how you start, you will quickly learn some important lessons about finances, products, customer service, marketing, and, if you are like us, the need for a business plan. These are the fundamentals of any business. You also learn about the intangibles necessary to succeed, such as leadership, passion, focus, integrity and trust. You often learn these through trial and error. But I learned one of them, trust, by mistake and it became a defining moment in our company.

In our first year, we represented no one. We made no money. Then after 14 months, we signed our first speaker, Steve Bell, the news anchor for ABC’s Good Morning America. Actually, all we did was shake hands. While the practice in our industry was to sign speakers to one- or two-year written contracts, we were too excited to do any paperwork.

This meant that Steve could walk away from us at any time. Loving that idea, he told some of his friends, a group of Washington journalists, that we didn’t require signed contracts and if they went with us, they, too, could walk away.

This mistake attracted our first stable of speakers, all on a handshake. It did one other thing, totally unanticipated. It established an atmosphere of trust. We knew that we had to work hard to keep our new speakers happy or they would walk. But in turn, our hard work showed our clients how much we cared. Instead of being a mistake, our handshake agreements built a deep intimacy and a bond on which we began to rely on each other. That is the basis of trust, and it was a critical turning point for our company, where we continue to “sign” every speaker with a handshake.

We went on to become the biggest speaking bureau in the business, representing many of the world’s leading figures in government, business, sports and the arts, in addition to the media. In talking to many of our clients about the challenges they faced in their careers, I realized that we were in good company. They, too, had benefited from turning points—some intentional and some by way of happenstance—that made the difference at crucial junctures in their lives.

To be sure, not every business agreement can depend on a handshake—employee contracts and vendor agreements, for example, almost always have to be far more formal.

But every company can find ways to foster trust—by delegating responsibility, say, or establishing a compensation system that gives each employee a stake in the organization’s future. The company benefits, the employees benefit and, most important, the customers benefit.

For us, the trust we have with our speakers has spread to all personal and professional relationships in our company. “Can I trust you?” is not a question we ask, but rather, “Is this the right thing to do?”

Trust builds good organizations, just like it builds good families. By contrast, “distrust is very expensive,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it. It tears everything apart.

Whether you discover this truth by mistake or by design, you’ll find that trust is fundamental to the success of any group of people you bring together or lead.

Let’s shake on that.

** By the way, I also do this with many of my clients. No contract, just show up, try to help them as much as I humanly can, and they send me a check. I really like doing business that way.

A Lesson About Team Culture

636103432294773262-0925-kcsp-utfl-068-asbThis is not a sports story, but it does revolve around a story about sports. I live in Gainesville, Florida which means it is mandatory for me to be a Florida Gators football fan. Last weekend we played the Tennessee Volunteers, they have not beat us in 11 years, the smartphone did not exist the last time Tennessee actually beat the Gators! However, this weekend they beat us… no, they crushed us. The final score of Tennessee 38 – Florida 28 does not come close to representing the thrashing our team took. The funny thing is, we were winning 28-3 at halftime, then Tennessee scored 35 unanswered points. By the middle of the third quarter the Gators had completely given up, they were walking with their heads down or sitting on the bench. There was an opportunity for us to come back and win in the fourth quarter, but the Gators had already decided they were going to lose. On the other side of the field, the Volunteers, even though they came into the second half needing at least five touchdowns to win, were motivated, focused and playing like a real team.

The big lesson for me came at the end of the game when Tennessee broke their decade-long losing streak and won a huge game for their school. The players had every right to dance around the field and celebrate, pumping their fists and mugging for the cameras, but instead they ran over to jump in the stands and celebrate with the other students. The head coach ran over to the sideline, climbed up on a ladder next to the conductor of the school band, and led the musicians in playing the Tennessee fight song. The attitude and conduct of the two teams during the second half of the game, and after the game, highlighted a big lesson about organizational and team culture and how, in a very large way, the leader sets the tone. One team quits halfway through the game and mopes off the field humiliated, the other team stays optimistic, cohesive, determined and then celebrates the win for everyone in the school, not just themselves.

So the question I have for you: How does the team at your company play?

 

*** If you are interested in learning more about how to build and sustain a winning culture, I have written a short and very focused e-book that outlines my very best ideas and tools. Here is a link so you can take a look: Winning Culture eBook

 

Leaders Are Readers

How To Achieve Customer Service Success

shutterstock_2246461dqs72I 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

How to Become a Highly-Paid Professional Speaker

If you want to make a really great living as a professional speaker, I can absolutely help you!

I have been an extremely successful professional speaker for more than 20 years, doing upwards of 70 speeches a year at a rate of $20,000 or more per speech.

As I look back of the last two decades in this profession I cannot possibly count the number of times that people have told me, “I’d really love to do what you do for a living, I’ve always wanted to be a speaker.” Rather than try to explain it over and over again, I created a very brief, focused and honest e-book about exactly what it truly takes to build a six or seven-figure professional speaking or corporate training business. The e-book only costs $8.50 because I’m not trying to make a ton of money on it, I’m trying to help a bunch of people get on the right track to building a successful speaking business.

Take a quick look at the 45-second video below to see if this e-book might be of value to you in your effort to become a professional speaker.

 

Click HERE to order the book on Amazon

 

25 Skills Needed To Be A Consultant Of The Future

business person holding a briefcase

 

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?

 

 

Great Leadership Book + Two Business Ideas


Click HERE to learn more about my new Consultative Sales training course and use promo code 45OFF to get a 45% discount!!

Consultative Sales Excellence  45

 

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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Four Things That Kill Companies

business conceptI am doing a strategic planning retreat for a multi-billion dollar company tomorrow and another similar retreat next week. In 2015 I facilitated perhaps a dozen such meetings and here are four key things that I have seen companies struggle with time and time again as they looked at their current performance and began planning for their future success.

Lack of Focus: This has got to be one of the major issues that many businesses have a hard time with, trying to do too many projects, working in too many markets and trying to serve too many different types of customers with too many different types of products. Here is a phrase I just learned that sums up my thinking on this issue, “Simplicity Now – Fancy Later.” Heck, I wrote a book on this topic so it’s pretty clear I believe it is hugely important to keep the focus of your business Awesomely Simple. Another way to put this powerfully is:

Deciding what NOT to do is just as important in a strategy as figuring out what to do.

Lack of Execution: This is a problem I have been tracking for the last 15 years, and in the last five years it has become the leading issue in almost every company I work with. There is no shortage of cool, innovative, bold strategies, but there is a massive shortage of organizations that can take those strategies and execute them with discipline.

Lack of Agility: Let’s face it, the marketplace has never moved faster and it is not going to slow down anytime soon. When I began leading strategic planning retreats more than 20 years ago it was not uncommon for us to work on a 10 year planning horizon, today I rarely work with a business that looks out more than three years. Wildly volatile economics, changing customer expectations, nontraditional competitors, global competition and the incredible velocity of technological change are just a few of the factors that demand companies be agile, nimble and highly innovative – just to stay in business.

Another factor around agility is the failure to make decisions quickly. Too much hierarchy, aversion to risk, resistance to change and the need to get consensus on every major (and sometimes minor) decision is an all too common obstacle for many organizations.

Lack of Talent: It is one of the key themes in all my work, “The future success of your business is directly proportional to the quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team.” However, I run into far too few companies that take this idea seriously and actually look at talent acquisition, talent development and talent retention as a strategic objective. Although it is essential to have a deep bench of talent in order to run a sustainably successful business, I have had too many clients tell me something like, “We are being held hostage by our worst employees, they know that we don’t have anybody to replace them with, so they feel secure that no matter how poor their performances is they won’t get fired.” It almost makes me cry.

So in working with dozens of companies all over the world those are the four major issues I see companies grappling with when attempting to create a thoughtful strategy that has a high potential for success. My advice to you? Make sure that you have a strategic plan that addresses these issues and makes them a strength in your business that creates opportunities not a weakness that exposes you to competitive threats.