Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How To “Win” In Sales

shutterstock_727943

 

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.

Your thoughts?

“Must Read” Business Books from 2016

shutterstock_397576393A 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…

Sales

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

Marketing: A Love Story – how to matter to your customers” by Bernadette Jiwa

Leadership

Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver – delivering a culture of we, not me” by Ron Wallace

Extreme Ownership – how US Navy SEALs lead and win” by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin

Culture

It’s My Pleasure – the impact of extraordinary talent and compelling culture” by Dee Ann Turner

Business Excellence

Simply Brilliant – how great organizations do ordinary things in extraordinary ways” by William Taylor

Personal Development

The Daily Stoic – 366 meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living” by Ryan Holiday

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

Two Superb Books I Highly Recommend

Leaders Are Readers

Awesome Sales Book

What Is Your Legacy

Three Great Books

How To Become The Best in the World

How Do You Want To Feel?

 

 

 

6 Key Business Ideas to Help You Succeed in 2017

Mercedes, John, Sheila, Esther

Mercedes, John, Sheila, Esther

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

 

Selling Value Where None Exists

John Spence on Selling Value

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.

The Big Trends From 2016

shutterstock_150443150I am sitting in my hotel room in San Diego taking in the view from the 16th floor. I’ve just delivered my last speech of the year, it was on advanced sales, teamwork and the future of work. This year I had the opportunity to work with clients in six countries, dozens of different industries, from small startups to the Fortune 10. Here are a few big trends that stuck out to me as I look back over 2016.

Communications: I have not worked for a company in my entire career that did not have some sort of communication challenges, but this year they seem to be even more prevalent. In business after business I encountered organizations which had trouble clearly communicating their vision and strategy for growth, their purpose and core values, and the critical information needed to keep their employees engaged and aligned.

The key to successfully overcoming this ever challenging issue is simply to over communicate using every channel available; one-on-one meetings, town halls, weekly meetings, email, social media, video… any way you can think of to share important information with your employees, vendors and customers. When you think you will get sick if you talk about the vision and strategy one more time, the lowest person in your organization just heard it for the very first time.

Execution: The lack of disciplined execution is the single biggest problem I see in companies around the world. I meet a lot of very smart people who develop unique and compelling strategic plans that would surely give them a strong competitive advantage, only to see them struggle mightily in taking their plans and turning them into results in the marketplace.

The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to make sure you spend as much time building your execution plan as you do on creating the strategic plan. Your plan must have clear, specific, measurable and binary goals. As I often say: Ambiguity Breeds Mediocrity. For a strategic plan to be successful it MUST have extremely clear expectations of what is required, who is responsible, how the work is to be done and when it is due. Then, you have to have the discipline to consistently work the plan and make sure it stays at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I promise you this, if you could increase the effective execution of your strategy by just 10%, it would have a massive positive impact on the success of your organization. This was a major focus of my work for clients this year and I anticipate it will be again next year because even the best strategy in the world is useless without superb execution.

Technology: For the last several years people have been talking about the, “hyper-speed of technological change,” but I don’t think they really understood just how fast technology is actually changing and the mind-boggling impact is going to have on every business in just the next few years. A number of my clients have asked me to deliver speeches on the future of leadership and business, which has forced me to invest a large amount of my time into studying the various trends in emerging technologies. To name just a few; robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things, genetic decoding and recoding, synthetic medicine, virtual reality and augmented reality are all accelerating at a pace that will leave many, many companies and people completely unable to keep up. Even though I have devoured all of the information I can get my hands on, it is still exceedingly difficult for me to comprehend just how monumental the changes to our lives, businesses, communities, and the world will be in just the next decade.

The key to successfully dealing with this change is to dedicate a minimum of 10% of your time to studying all of the technologies that will potentially impact your business. I currently work with several clients who are directly connected to the auto industry and have challenged them that unless they become “experts” on autonomous cars and other forms of transportation technologies their business might not exist in 5 years. Let me make this Awesomely Simple: Learn or Die.

Talent: For many, (if not most) businesses, two of the only sustainable competitive advantages left are the quality of the people they can get, grow and keep on their team – and the relationships they create with their customers. This means that talent acquisition, talent development and talent retention should be a major strategic objective. However, I still see many companies tolerate mediocrity, do not invest sufficiently in training and development and have difficulty retaining their very best employees (the bad employees don’t want to leave because they know they can’t get a job anyplace else). The success of your business is directly determined by the talent on your team and creating a culture of engagement, customer focus, collaboration, accountability and disciplined execution.

The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to make getting and keeping wildly talented people as a major focus of your business. Build a talent pipeline to ensure a steady stream of quality recruits, implement a focused and consistent interviewing process, create a robust onboarding system, develop a focused and intensive training program to take great people and make them even better, and have a career pathing program with mentoring, assessment, feedback and coaching to keep your top performers engaged and thinking long-term about their role in the company.

Sales Effectiveness: Nothing happens until somebody sells something. Let’s face it, all of the other stuff I’ve mentioned is useless if at the end of the day nobody buys anything from your company. Sales are the lifeblood of every business, or as Peter Drucker famously said, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of salespeople that I meet are NOT prepared for success. They have not had enough good quality training, they don’t have the right attitude, they don’t spend enough time investing in their own development, they don’t do their homework on their products and services and they don’t spend enough time asking superb questions and being an intense listener when they are in front of their customer. In other words, they waste their customers time, which is the single biggest complaint that executives have about dealing with salespeople.

The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to be highly selective and targeted in who you hire as a salesperson and then ensure they get all of the training, support and resources they need to be successful in the field. Set clear and specific sales targets, coach and mentor for them for success, over-train them on both sales skills and product knowledge, and align their compensation plan to strongly encourage their full engagement and a strong desire to be successful in their sales efforts.

Leadership Development: I have been teaching leadership skills for nearly 25 years and I can say with great confidence that in the last few years the requirements for being an effective leader have actually changed quite a bit. Theory X, command-and-control and “do as I say not as I do” has not worked in a long time, yet I still see people trying to “lead” this way. Currently just over 50% of the workforce is made up of millennials with this number growing every day, and millennials definitely have a different way they want to be led. If you agree with me that talent is a critical element in building a successful company, then it is important to remember the single biggest reason millennials leave a company is poor leadership. Several research studies also show up to 50% of lost revenues are a direct result of ineffective leadership. Those numbers should be eye-opening to you.

The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is to understand everyone in your organization needs to be a leader. That begins with treating them like a leader, training them, supporting them and rewarding them for superior leadership skills. It also means having the courage to remove people from the team who are ineffective in leading in your organization. I’ve also stumbled across a new idea this year that I think is an important complement to creating great leaders: helping people to learn how to be great followers. Although everyone in your organization needs to be a great leader, they won’t be leading all the time, actually they are typically “following” a good amount of the time as well. So it is also essential to help people understand the importance of being a supportive, encouraging and productive follower.

There are other issues I came across during the last 12 months, but these are the major ones my clients specifically hired me to help them with. I hope my recommendations above will help you if any of these sound familiar.

I look forward to your feedback and comments, what have you been seeing?

Two Superb Books I Highly Recommend

John SpenceI 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:

  1. Think Big Mindset (Future Shaper)
  2. Act Bold Mindset (Risk Taker)
  3. 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

 

For Your Convenience

Screaming into telephone.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.

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.

6 Keys to Effective Strategic Planning

mini-peepsI 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Alignment is critical. If the senior team is not 100% committed to strategic direction of the organization, the plan will fail.
  6. 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?