Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

A Midyear Checkup: 2019 Trends

Neon sign with an arrow upward saying "go up and never stop."At the beginning of the year, a client asked me to put together this video on the main things I learned in 2018.  I had worked on a myriad of projects from delivering dozens of keynotes and workshops to several strategic planning retreats and a lot of executive coaching. As I looked back on all of these, I saw five major trends that I challenged all of you to focus on for 2019.

While hard to believe, here we are halfway through 2019. I thought now would be a great time to check in to see how everyone is tackling my challenges and share some of the things I am seeing right now in the marketplace. I encourage you to take eight minutes and 26 seconds to watch the video, then below it, I have posted some ideas and anecdotes that I believe will help you for the rest of this year.

Five Key Ideas for 2019

CULTURE

The first idea I talk about in the video is that “Culture = Cash,” and that has really come into sharp focus in the last six months. I am coaching two executives, one in the financial industry and the other in the medical industry, and we’ve been working on improving the culture in their organizations. Both of them have identified their organizational culture as one of their only sustainable competitive advantages (along with top talent, customer relationships, strong brand, and proprietary data) and are now focusing on culture as a major strategy for the long-term success of their organizations.

LEADERSHIP

Number two on my list is the idea of servant leadership, which is becoming more and more important as the year progresses. I just did a TEDx talk on The Leader of the Future where I talked about this concept and underscored the importance of having a high emotional quotient (EQ) and creating a genuine connection with the people in your organization. Unfortunately, I don’t see enough leaders who are deeply dedicated to truly serving their employees.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Wow, it’s amazing how much people talk about the importance of great customer service and how few businesses actually deliver it consistently (number three). I see this as a massive opportunity to stand out in a crowded marketplace. In the video, I mentioned the Ritz Carlton as a great example of superior customer service and one of the founders of the company, Horst Schulze, recently wrote a book called Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise that is absolutely fantastic. So many great stories, ideas, and tools for taking customer service to a completely new level, I highly recommend you read the book.

ACCOUNTABILITY

The fourth thing I mention is accountability. This is one of the biggest issues I’ve seen at companies across my entire career (the other big ones are poor communication and dysfunctional senior leadership teams). The only thing I will reiterate here is that it is essential you establish very clear expectations of what you are going to hold someone accountable to, without doing that you have set the person up for failure.

STRATEGY EXECUTION

Finally, I touched on disciplined execution, which I view as a subset of accountability – if people are not held accountable, there is no way to execute effectively on your strategy. The point I’d like to make on this one is to make sure you remain focused, you should only have 3 to 5 major strategic objectives and only a handful of leading indicator KPIs that you use to manage your business. Remember, just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should and just because something is hard to measure doesn’t mean you get to skip it. Pick the major numbers that drive the success of your organization and focus on them intently.

Two Bonus Ideas

In the video, I outlined the five above areas for you to focus on in 2019, and at the halfway mark they are still 100% on point. However, I wanted to add two more that I have seen emerge as areas for the remainder of the year.

STRATEGIC THINKING

Three of the executives I am coaching have asked me to help them become better strategic thinkers and it has been an absolute blast to work with them on this topic. I believe there are two reasons they are struggling.

  1. They do not truly understand what strategy is and how to apply high-level strategic thinking to their businesses.
  2. They are not looking closely enough at the major trends that would impact their industries over the next few years.

Strategic planning and thinking have different approaches, something that not many executives understand. By having these executives make their own “philosophy of strategy,” they create a philosophy that they can see strategy in a completely new light and gives them the unique perspective they needed.

ADAPTABILITY QUOTIENT (AQ)

In the TEDx talk I reference above, I talk about how important it is to have a high AQ, which is your adaptability quotient, your ability to be agile and move quickly in a fast-changing business environment. Last week, I delivered a workshop for a large pharmaceutical company when one of the attendees asked me, ” How do you develop your AQ?” Rather than just explaining it, I decided to give her an example and asked everyone in the room to write down the major trends they thought would be impacting their industry over the next five years.

From there, we worked together as a group to agree on the top three. After we had reached consensus, I then turned the audience and said, “Who in here can come to the front of the room and give us at least 15 minutes of data and ideas about specifically what’s going to happen in these three areas and how your company and each of you should be prepared to meet those challenges successfully?” Not a single person could do it. I then told them that someone with a high AQ would be able to get up and speak for an hour.

So my question to you, what are the top three trends that have will impact your business and your career over the next five years and could you easily talk for 30 minutes or more explaining exactly what your plan is to take on those challenges? If not, you have some work to do.

Make 2019 Your Best Year Yet

Here we are heading into the second half of 2019 and again I challenge you to focus on the things I mentioned in the video and these additional ideas to help you make 2019 one of the best years ever for you and your business.

I hope you found this helpful and will share it with your network. Thanks so much – John

How To Turn Ideas Into Action

Photo of man reading book and learningWhen I was named CEO of a Rockefeller foundation at the age of 26, Mr. Rockefeller knew that I needed a lot of help and assigned his right-hand man, Charlie Owen, to be my mentor.

Every Monday, Charlie would walk in my office and put a business book on my desk and say, “I’ll see you on Friday for lunch.”At the end of each week, we would go to Em’s Home Cooking for chili, cornbread, and iced tea, where he would grill me on everything I had learned in the book.

  • What were the major themes? 
  • Why do you think the author said this? 
  • Do you agree with the author’s ideas on…? 
  • How do you think this applies to the company you are running?

He would ask me dozens of these types of questions but in the end, he always asked the most important one:

“What are three specific action steps you are going to take in the business as a result of reading this book?” 

I would tell him what I planned to do, then he would write it down and say, “You will now be held accountable for doing those.”  Every Monday I got a book, every Friday I made a book report, and Charlie held me strictly accountable for implementing the ideas I was learning.

Ideas Into Action

Several years ago, I was doing a strategic planning retreat for a large company in Texas and was describing the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept from the famous book Good To Great by Jim Collins.  Just as I was beginning to explain the concept the CEO interrupted me and said, “John, you don’t need to cover that, we all read the book and went through a training course on it and I even hired Jim Collins to come in and teach it to us.”  I thought for a moment and then asked the CEO, “Then could you or anyone one else on your team explain the Hedgehog Concept to me, or the Stockdale Paradox, or the key characteristics of a Level 5 Leader?”  There was total silence.

It is one thing to read a book, attend a training session, watch a YouTube video or listen to a podcast… and a completely different thing to understand the ideas well enough to implement them.  To me, study without application is useless because it does not improve performance or results.

The Key Questions

Because of Charlie, now when I study anything I constantly ask myself three questions:

  1. What does this mean to me?
  2. How can I apply this idea?
  3. What can I do right away?

By asking myself these questions, I have gained the invaluable ability to convert what I have learned into action. These questions have changed my life and career, I hope they do for you as well.

The Three Keys to Building a Great Company Culture

I’ve said it 10,000 times, but let me say it again: Culture = Cash.  I’ve learned from working with hundreds of companies around the world that the biggest area for dramatic improvement, or failure, is most often a company’s culture.  The number one factor in highly engaged, satisfied and loyal customers… is engaged, satisfied and loyal employees.

“The customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience”

Recently, I read an article that outlined the three main things that millennials, the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, look for in the culture of an organization.  Those things are safety, dignity, and purpose.

Safety

What we are focused on here is psychological safety, which refers to an employee’s belief that it is safe to speak their mind without fear of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a culture with high psychological safety, employees feel confident that no one will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new iCuldea.

A study by Google identified psychological safety as the most important aspect of highly effective teams. The Google researchers found that individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.

To measure a team’s level of psychological safety, the researchers asked team members how strongly they agreed or disagreed with these statements:

  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  • Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  • People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  • It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  • It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  • No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  • Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

It has been my experience that it is impossible for people to do great work in an company culture where they do not feel safe.

Dignity

Dignity is derived from showing trust, granting autonomy, and recognizing the value of individual contributions. In a culture that exhibits these three key traits, employees develop more self-worth and self-respect, and feel they are respected by others. Trust, autonomy, and recognition build a sense of ownership of their work and pride in performing it well.  I believe that the path to helping people feel dignity is to treat them with genuine respect.

Let me give you a personal example.  I travel a lot, 200+ days a year, so that means I eat about  600 meals a year in restaurants.  Most people basically ignore their server, often times not even making eye contact with them.  In contrast, I realize that these people are literally “serving” me, since they are carrying food to me when I am hungry.  I genuinely respect them for that and show it by calling them by name, complementing their professionalism, commenting on the quality of the food, and thanking them often for their assistance.  I don’t do this to get a free dessert, I do it because I am truly appreciative of their efforts to make me feel well cared for.  Do I get better service?  Absolutely.  But I also have a more enjoyable meal because I get to make a genuine human connection and I let someone know that I believe that they are important.  A culture where people treat each other with great respect will encourage people to do great work.

Purpose

When I started my career in 1989, the sole “purpose” of nearly every company was to make money.  Putting money to the bottom line is of course still critical, but today many companies are embracing the idea of the Triple Bottom Line (TLB). The TBL is an accounting framework that incorporates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental and financial. The TBL dimensions are also commonly called the three Ps: people, planet and profits, but now there is a 4th P, Purpose.

The consulting firm Ernst and Young define purpose as “an aspirational reason for being that is grounded in humanity and inspires a call to action.”

Does purpose really matter?  A global study found that 89% of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that support solutions to a particular social issue.  For more than half of consumers, purpose is the most important factor in their choice to do business with one company over another when the products are similar.  So the numbers show that not only having a strong purpose is important to your customers, but it is also an essential element in attracting top talent. For 77% of millennial employees, an organizational culture based on purpose and strong core values are just as important as base salary and benefits.

If building a great culture in your organization is important to you, keep in mind that psychological safety, dignity through respect, and an inspiring purpose is the foundation for creating a culture that motivates your people to deliver excellence.


 

Do you want to take your expertise and experience to the next level and grow your business? Join my webinar to learn the performance essentials organizations and individuals need today.

They are 30 minutes long and I will be covering these items.

IQ, EQ, AQ: What is the difference, why is it important?
Purpose: It is not just a paycheck for the talented
Five Generations: There is a lot to be learned here
Culture: The Great Differentiator

 

 


What Is Your Definition Of Leadership?

a graphic displaying the word leadershipFor nearly 30 years I’ve had the honor of delivering leadership training and executive coaching to companies around the world. One of the things I get asked a lot is, “What is your definition of leadership?” I think I have a pretty good one, but first, let’s take a little detour.

I also do a lot of training in the area of high-performance teams, and one of the workshops I typically make the group go through is to create a list of the characteristics of an Ideal Team Member. I ask them, “If you were able to bring somebody fantastic onto your team, someone that you would love to work with, what would that person be like? What are the skills, abilities, attitude, and personality of an ideal team member for your company?” Here are the responses I hear the most:

  • Honest
  • Has 100% integrity
  • Positive attitude/fun to work with
  • Proactive/self-starter
  • Competent
  • Innovative/creative
  • Excellent communicator
  • Great listener
  • Highly collaborative/a strong team player
  • Lifelong Learner
  • Loyal
  • Respectful

Wow, what a great list, and after I read the list back to the group, I ask how many of them would love to have someone who has all these characteristics on their team? Every hand in the room shoots up, and then I say to them, “To get someone like this to join your team, you have to be like this first. Because anyone who has all the characteristics on that list will only work for someone else that also exhibits those characteristics.”

So, back to my definition of leadership. In my leadership classes, I run a very similar workshop where I ask small groups of attendees to develop a list of what they would look for in an Ideal Leader. I get all of the same things I listed above, plus a few more…

  • Visionary
  • Courageous
  • Inspiring/motivating
  • Fair
  • Compassionate
  • A great coach
  • Leads by example

It’s that last characteristic that shapes my definition of leadership.

To be an effective leader, you must be a living example of what you hope your followers will one day become.

Remember, if you hold a leadership position at any level in an organization, you live under a microscope. People watch everything you do; they listen to everything you say. Whatever you focus on becomes what they focus on and whatever you ignore they will ignore. Your behavior drives their behavior.

So, in my mind, to have great people in your organization, you must first become the kind of person that they want to work with. By the way, this is really hard. It takes a lot of discipline. This means you can’t just do what you feel like doing, or what you can get away with, or mistreat people because you’re in a foul mood, you must keep asking yourself, “What would an ideal leader do?” and follow that as your guide.

What is your definition of leadership?

 

 

5 Marketing Strategies that Still Work in Modern Times

I am happy to share this guest post from my friend Susan Ranford, I hope you find it of value.

 

Marketing is essential for the growth of any business, but it’s also important for yourself as well. Utilizing effective marketing strategies in your career endeavors is an important aspect of growing professionally. With modern times evolving at almost the speed of light, sometimes the classic ways are just as good.

The following four strategies have been proven to work overtime and are just as reliable today as they always have been. Though there may be a few new, modern ways to make the most of these strategies they will still work just fine the way they always have well into 2019 and beyond.

Personal Responses and One-to-One Interaction

More than anything else, personalization is something people always have and always will continue to seek out. This is especially for managers or those of you in sales. People want to feel special and like they matter to you.

Interacting with customers one-to-one is a great way to make new and potential customers feel that they are valuable. It also gives you the chance to learn their real questions and concerns so they can learn to trust you. There are also many ways to create these situations:

  • Phone Calls – Calling a prospect directly can leave a strong impression and let them know that you’re there to answer any questions they might have.
  • Business Cards – You can always hand out some business cards directly during a conversation or as an introduction. You can also leave them around places where your target customers would be. Community billboards, libraries, and other public spaces can also be great advertising, especially for seasonal and local services type businesses.
  • Social Media – Posting to social media is vital for anyone looking to find success, but the interactions you have after you post something, or the responses you give to anyone that has contacted you through social media, are the most valuable.  You have to respond to comments so people learn to trust that they can rely on you. You paint yourself as an expert by doing this.

Memorable and Evergreen Content

Content is both a way to provide value to customers and a way to get your name out there–if it’s done right. Two types of content are always going to be great for managers and sales professionals as marketing tools, and they can overlap.

The best content is memorable. That means it has to have an active emotional component of some sort to be incredibly useful and comprehensive. If it’s in this latter category, that also makes it “evergreen.” These types of pieces are most likely to be shared on social media or bookmarked for future reference, leading people to regard you as an authority on the subject.

Direct Mail

Direct mail is far from dead, though mass mailings to everyone and anyone may be (or should be) a thing of the past. The way to use direct mail effectively is to make it personal and use it to leave an impression on someone you have decided would be your perfect customer.

Direct mail, on its own, is also beginning to stand out more. Though the overall volume has been decreasing, spending on direct mail has increased over the last 10 years. More importantly, 42% of consumers ages 25 to 34 open and read direct mail immediately after receiving it. Email only has an average open rate of 25%, across all industries.

Partnerships

Another way to generate new, targeted leads is to team up with another professional similar to you and begin promoting each other.  If a customer likes you they will trust your recommendations. Find someone to refer you and reciprocate by referring them.

Just make sure to choose your partners wisely.

Another way to generate buzz is to team up with an important cause or charity that resonates with your values. Make sure that there is a strong emotional and logical connection between you and the cause you choose. The stronger the relationship, the more memorable your role will be.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that technology has made it easier for managers and sales professionals to reach their target clients.  But, if you do what everyone else is doing, your potential customers might choose your competition. Instead, take some time to look back at the basics.  It might mean the difference between closing the sale and leaving another prospect in the pipe.

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?

The Four Most Important Things I Have Ever Learned

I am currently going through all my blogs and looking for the ones to keep, update or remove. I ran across this one and was especially touched by all of the comments – there’s even one there from a very close friend who has since passed away. I hope you find value in these ideas, and add your own comments to the already impressive list.


In a few weeks, I will be facilitating a weekend retreat for an organization in my local community.  The theme of the retreat is “Self-leadership” and I will be delivering a very special class that I don’t often get to teach called “Strategies for Success.” It is basically an advanced life skills class, a superb opportunity to stop and take stock of your life and make sure that things are going in the right direction for what you hope to achieve in your life.  As part of the class, I have assigned some homework for each of the participants. I asked them to write down the four most important things they have ever learned in their lives.  I told them to imagine that if they knew they were going to die tomorrow, what four pieces of wisdom would they want to pass along to their family and friends. I thought that was a great question, so I wanted to share my answer with you. Continue reading “The Four Most Important Things I Have Ever Learned” »

A Fundamental Key To Business Success

Photo of a business team sittingAs I look back across two decades of working with companies around the world, from start-ups to the top of the Fortune 500, 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
  • 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
  • A formal recognition and rewards program
  • Team building events
  • Regular coaching meetings
  • One-on-one meetings with senior executives
  • Lunch with the CEO
  • Getting high potential employees a business coach

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 a 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.

Sales Professionalism: Now More than Ever

Sales ProfessionalismThis is a guest blog from my good friend Jack Malcolm who is one of the most talented sales and communication trainers in the world. In this article, he describes what it takes to be a professional salesperson. Although many people do not have a high opinion of salespeople, I happen to think that sales is a noble profession focused on truly helping your customer. Take a few minutes to read this article on sales professionalism, I know you will find it very helpful.

 

When you think of a professional, what is the first image that comes to mind? A doctor or lawyer or first responder, maybe, but certainly not a salesperson. Professionalism is unfortunately not a term that most people would associate with salespeople. Strictly speaking, of course, salespeople can’t be professionals because they are not accredited by a formal body, but I would argue that the ideal of professionalism is not only achievable, but essential to a profitable and personally fulfilling sales career.

Professionalism is not defined by what’s framed on your office wall—it’s a function of mindset, knowledge, and behavior. In other words, you become a professional by what you care about, what you know, and what you do.

What Do Sales Professionals Care About?

The first answer to this question is: more than themselves. The professionalism mindset above all includes dedication to more than simple self-interest. In other words, professionalism is not simply a means to have a lucrative career, or to charge more, or to take advantage of people’s trust.

Although sales professionals owe loyalty to their employer, they must put the needs and interests of their customers first. There are times when their duty to the customer will conflict in the short term with their obligations to their employer, such as when they may be under pressure to move product even though they know the customer would be better off using a competitive solution. They must be able to find an appropriate balance, although I firmly believe that doing the right—professional—thing will ultimately benefit the customer, himself, and his employer.

The sales professional also cares about excellence and professional standards, even though there is no accredited body which enforces them. Indeed, especially because there is no governing body, it is incumbent on those of us who care about the image of our profession that we act in such a way as to avoid giving cause for the continued complaints and jokes. Perhaps if enough salespeople act as if there is an agreed set of professional standards, their actions will become self-fulfilling. But this one also comes back to customers, who have the ultimate vote in whether our professional conduct meets their needs and standards.

Third, of course, a sales professional must care about his or her employer. Taking care of their customers and maintaining their integrity and professional excellence is not a recipe for ignoring the interests of those who are writing their checks. When you truly believe in the value you sell and the superiority of your solutions, there should not be any conflict. When you don’t, well… then remember your first two obligations and find another employer.

What Do Sales Professionals Know?

Success in selling, especially complex B2B sales, requires a surprisingly large body of knowledge; here are three tiers of knowledge that coincidentally all begin with the same first three letters: PRO. Think of them as what you offer, how it works, and why the customer needs it.

Product: You have to know what you sell and how it compares to alternatives, beyond what well-informed buyers can find out for themselves. The “product” includes everything that affects the delivery of value to the customer, and a professional has to know how to orchestrate every aspect of making their offering work within the customer’s system. But product knowledge is only table stakes. You begin to distinguish yourself as a professional when you learn to focus on the customer, which brings us to the next two levels, the how and why.

Problem/Process: You can’t sell “solutions” without knowing a about your customer’s problems, any more than a doctor can prescribe medication without diagnosing a patient. I’ve heard salespeople blather on about their solutions without ever once asking a question to confirm that the customer has a problem or to understand the nuances of their particular challenges. The best way to find and diagnose problems is to know intimately the processes that your customer uses to create value for their customers, and find ways to reduce inputs, take out steps, improve throughput, and improve outputs.

Profit: At the profit level, you become a trusted business advisor by connecting the thread from your product to process improvements to business impact. Armed with a deep understanding of your customer’s business goals and strategies, their business and industry environment, and general business acumen, you can collaborate to spot unseen opportunities to improve their business and quantify your value.

What Sales Professionals Do

Ultimately, caring and knowing won’t mean a hill of beans unless they are translated into action. What sets true sales professionals apart from their less accomplished peers is what they do differently, and what that means to their customers.

Take long-term responsibility for customer results. Professionals take personal responsibility for client results. A couple of years ago, I had a tooth removed. Although the dentist sent me home with explicit instructions, to him, the job was not done. He called me at home that evening to see how I was doing, and then again over the weekend. That’s what I mean by taking responsibility.

The best sales professionals think beyond the immediate transaction and consider every sale to be a link in a long and mutually profitable relationship chain. Another term for this professional spirit is ownership mentality, of having an attitude of co-ownership of the results to be produced.

Prepare and plan. The customer’s time is valuable, particularly at higher decision-making levels. Sales professionals respect the value of their customer’s time by taking time up front to prepare for sales calls and meetings. In surveys, one of the most common complaints executives have about salespeople is that they waste their time—and it almost always comes down to a lack of preparation.

There are so many factors to consider when pursuing a complex sale that anyone who does not write down and think about them is at an automatic disadvantage against a competitor who does. As the old saying goes, “you’re either working your own plan or someone else’s!”

Communicate. The reason salespeople exist is to help customers make effective buying decisions, and their sole vehicle to do that is their ability to communicate. This isn’t about being eloquent, which is surely valuable but not a prerequisite of professionalism. It’s about adding value in every communication, not wasting time in doing so, and clearly delivering the information and insight the customer needs. Do this and you will achieve the defining feature of a professional/client relationship: mutual trust and confidence. As an example a coaching client of mine has spent a year as a Global Account Manager for a European multinational. Recently they told his Managing Director that since he has been on board the once rocky relationship has been transformed because of his “straight talk” about what he can and can’t do for them, and his willingness to simply listen to their concerns.

Why Does It Matter?

As we’ve seen, it’s hard work to to be a sales professional so the obvious question is: why should anyone do it? Put another way, who benefits when salespeople act professionally?

The customer benefits because sales professionals increase their profits, lower their risks, and save them time.

The employer benefits because the sales professional puts a human face on their carefully nurtured brand image. Surveys across a wide variety of industries indicate that the number one reason that customers drop a supplier is the way they are treated by the salesperson.

The sales manager benefits because professionals can be a dream to manage. That’s because professionalism is self-policing and self-motivating—it’s stronger than rules, supervision, and even incentive plans.

Society benefits, because sales professionals are the catalysts of a healthy and productive economy. They spread innovation and improve business in countless ways. Innovations do not contribute to society until customers adopt them. Emerson was wrong: the world will not beat a path to your door because you invented a better mousetrap and it usually takes a salesperson to create the path and show the way.

Lastly (because true professionals put themselves last), true sales professionals quickly become known throughout the industry, precisely because they are so rare. Sales professionals enjoy more trusting relationships with their buyers, shorter sales cycles and higher closing rates, and more referral business. And those are just the measurable ways that professionalism pays off. What’s not tangible but infinitely

more important is the personal pride you get from pursuing excellence in a noble purpose, and I trust you would agree with me that improving the lives of others is the highest purpose of a true sales professional.

Honestly, none of these are a big secret—but neither are they common. The relentless push for quarterly earnings performance translates into tremendous pressure put on salespeople to produce results now, so it’s almost a given that the average salesperson will cut corners. The fact that so few salespeople actually take time to do these things.

To learn more about Jack Malcolm, his books and his area of expertise go to: JackMalcolm.com