Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Change A Life and You May End Up Changing Yours

Here is a link for the better book club, it is free for small companies and insanely affordable for other organizations. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go take a look at their website, look at all the things it can do for your business, and I hope you join, as I said above it will make a dramatic positive impact on the success of your organization.

Click HERE to learn more about the Better Book Club


And now, a fantastic guest blog from Frank Sonnenberg…

 Think about a person who’s had a tremendous impact on your life. It may be your Mom or Dad who believed in you, the coach who inspired you, the teacher who guided you in the right direction, the boss who gave you your first big opportunity, or the friend who’s always been by your side. I’m sure when you think of that person, it brings a huge smile to your face — as it should.

You may say that some of these folks were just doing their job. True. But even though you’ve had several good teachers, coaches, and bosses over the years, I’m sure a few of them really stand out from the crowd. You remember their passion, dedication, kindness, and, of course, their generosity. After all, they changed your life!

That obviously begs the question…are you leaving a lasting impact on others? It only takes one person to change a life — and that one person may as well be you.

Make a Difference

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re touching the lives of people every day. What can you do to step up your game?

Be an exemplary role model. Lead by example. Demonstrate that character is the DNA of success and happiness.

Be an awesome parent. Having kids is not the same as being a parent. Raise your kids to be kind, productive, and self-reliant; to make good choices and to be personally responsible for their actions; to pursue their purpose with gusto; and to live their life with honor and dignity.

Be a humble leader. Share your success. As you climb the ladder of success, reach down and pull others up with you.

Be a dedicated mentor. Take someone under your wing and show them the ropes. Give the kind of advice that they won’t hear anywhere else.

Be a compassionate boss. Show your employees that work isn’t all business. Build trusting relationships. Make yourself available and supportive in times of need.

Be a shrewd businessperson. Develop win-win rather than winner-take-all relationships. Prove that there’s more to go around when you grow a large pie, together, than when you squabble to divide a smaller one.

Be a real friend. Demonstrate loyalty when someone’s chips are down and no one else has their back.

Be an inspiration. Set high expectations and push people beyond their capabilities. Show confidence in them when they’re having a weak moment.

Be perceptive. Give someone the big break they need in life. See someone’s potential even when others are blind to their promise.

Be tough, but fair. Make people accountable for their actions. They’ll thank you one day.

Be available. Give the gift of time. Lend a shoulder to cry on when someone needs a friendly ear or support during tough times.

Be the better person. Be the first to give, the first to forgive, the first to compromise, and the first to say “I’m sorry.”

Be even-handed. Stand up for injustice, speak up for the less fortunate, and don’t give up on fairness and tolerance.

Be a loving spouse. Put your heart into your marriage. Share your hopes and your fears, your laughter and your tears, your joy and your sorrow.

Change a Life Forever

Think of your greatest accomplishments. Where would changing someone’s life rank on your list? Consider: If they hadn’t crossed paths with you, they wouldn’t be the person they are, they wouldn’t have the opportunities they have, and they wouldn’t be positioned to achieve their hopes and dreams. Bravo! You made a difference! As an added bonus, change someone’s life and you may end up changing yours.

Why complain about the ills of the world when you could be a world of difference to someone you know? You may not be able to change the world, but you can change the world around you. Change a life and create a ripple that cascades forever.


This post is an excerpt from Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life by Frank Sonnenberg

Frank Sonnenberg is an award-winning author. He has written seven books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of “America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders” and one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world.

Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs”; among the “Top 100 Socially-Shared Leadership Blogs”; and one of the “Best Inspirational Blogs On the Planet.”

Frank’s newest book, Soul Food: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, was released inNovember 2018 (© 2018 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.)






Four Amazing Business Books That I Highly Recommend

I have been reading a lot of business books lately, about a dozen a month, and wanted to take a minute to share with you four that I found very helpful. I am honored to call three of the authors, Tim Ressmeyer, Frank Sonnenberg, and Marty Neumeier friends. I’ve read every single book these authors have written, they’re all extremely talented and knowledgeable business people and have a lot of wisdom to share. These are all excellent books that will give you valuable ideas for personal, career and business success.

To find out more about these books just click on the cover and it will take you to a detailed description on Amazon. All of them are listed, so scroll down to find the ones you are looking for.

Here are some other great books by Frank Sonnenberg.


Here are Marty Neumeier’s books

This is one of my all-time favorite books…

Here is the book I told you about on hospitality by Danny Meyer.

I hope you find these books of great value, I know that I sure did!

What Are Your Leadership Values?

This past week I was asked to give a talk at my alma mater, Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida.  I was speaking with a select group of their senior management team from across the entire organization and they sent me a list of questions they wanted me to answer and discuss.  One of the questions was, “What are the three values you rely on that underpin your leadership?”  I’ve never been asked a question quite like that and was pleasantly surprised after I gave it some thought.  Here are my top three…


To me this is the absolute foundation of leadership, if you don’t tell the truth you can’t build trust and without trust, there is no loyalty, commitment or belief in the “leader.”  The rule here is simple, tell the truth all the time, period.


I believe if you treat your team, your customers, even your competitors with love and respect you are following the path of a servant leader who understands that their job is to help and support others to be successful leaders.


As one of my personal leadership values, I see the pursuit of excellence as the driver to creating an exceptional organization that has a positive impact on the lives of its employees, customers, community and the world.  Using “excellence” as a benchmark pushes each individual to be uncompromising in the quality of their work and always striving to deliver their very best.

Those are my top three, what are yours?

I Have Changed My Mind About Strategy

I have been studying and teaching strategy for nearly 20 years and I thought I had a pretty good handle on it, but in the last year, I have changed my thinking around one of my most important ideas on strategy.

I hope you find this video helpful, I look forward to your comments and please share this with your network if you think they would find it valuable.

Thank you very much – John

14 Ideas For Leading In Difficult Times

In the video below I share a list of 14 key ideas for successfully leading an organization through difficult times. These ideas apply to companies in a high-growth mode, or in a market that is being disrupted by technology, new competitors, changing consumer preferences, financial challenges, and other major events. The runtime on the video is a little over 14 minutes, but it has some great ideas that I know you will find valuable.


Strong Culture through Vision, Value, and Voice

strong culture vision value voice

When working to make positive changes or keep the “right” kind of people within your organization, it’s important that you have a strong set of company values and direction.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this concept lately and took a few minutes to talk about it in my latest video. Check it out or read through the written format below.



I think most business leaders understand that culture is a critical element in the success of their organization.

A culture of engagement with employees who have an ownership mentality, who are satisfied, loyal, proactive – those are the sort of cultures we try to build because, as I like to say, culture equals cash. It’s one of the biggest areas in most businesses that you can improve the bottom line.

And as I look at culture, there’s a ton of stuff around: There’s the Gallup poll, the Great Places to Work Study, the Firms of Endearment Study – all of which show, unfortunately, a very high level of disengagement and even actively disengaged employees who are basically trying to sabotage their company.

But, to me, there are a few fundamental things you have to have in place before making positive changes or putting “icing on the cake.”

3 Things Every Relationship Needs

Several years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine that’s a psychologist and he said, “John, there are 3 things that everybody looks for in all the most important relationships in their lives: Safety, belongingness, and appreciation.”


Folks need to know they’re physically safe.

People need to know things like they’re not going to get their arm caught in a machine and that it’s safe to walk in the parking lot at the end of the evening.

They also need to feel psychologically safe. They need to know people aren’t going to yell at them, scream at them, intimidate them, and, at some level, that their job is safe and that the company’s not going to go under tomorrow. They’re not going to go out of business. They’re not having a massive layoff.

So, they need to have an underlining idea of safety.


People want to feel like they’re wanted on the team, that they belong as part of the tribe, and that they’re an integral part of the company.


People need and want appreciation for the work they do. They want appreciation for bringing a positive attitude to work every day and appreciation for their ideas and the things and diverse ideas they bring to the table.


So, safety, belongingness, appreciation: These are the elements that must be present in any given relationship.

Vision, Value, and Voice

I was listening to a podcast this week, and they were interviewing a gentleman named Mike Stallard. He had 3 other things that he focused on.

I think these match up very, very, well, and I liked what he said.

His 3 elements were vision, value, and voice.


People think, “If I’m going to be engaged in the company, I need to know what the vision is. What’s the direction?”

The way I always phrase this is that people need a vivid, compelling and well-communicated vision and strategy for growth.

If you’re not doing those things, if you can’t communicate where your company and your team are going, why certain things are, what and what you plan to achieve, you’re missing something.

You must have a clear, vivid, well-communicated vision and strategy for growth.


I’m taking my friend’s model and changing it slightly, by splitting it into 2 things, value and values.

The first one, value, means that people need to know that the company values them, that they’re important, that their work is valued and they’re respected, that they’re treated with dignity and that they play an important role within the company. Their work is valued.

Values, also align with the values of the company. These folks believe in the things the company says are important, and when they go to work every day, they’re proud of where they work, and what the company stands for, and hold their team members and other colleagues accountable for living the values of the organization.

This is one of the big things we talk about in hiring now: You really have to hire for a values fit as well as some skills, experience, aptitude, and a positive attitude.


The last one is voice. People need to know they will have a voice within the company. If there’s an issue, or problem, or a challenge, they have faith that people will listen to them,

But equally as important or more important is, they have a voice and a stake in the outcome. They know their voice will be heard about the vision, the mission, the value of their work, projects, teamwork, customer focus, and that they can speak up and say what’s on their mind.

Bringing It Together

So, I believe, if you want to build a really strong culture at the foundation, you have to have safety, belongingness, appreciation, vision, value, and voice.

My question to you is, How well does your organization do those 6 things?


What Is Visioning?

visioning vision board action planWhen I work with large corporations and CEOs, I often challenge them to think about the trajectory of their company. Where do they want their organization to be in the future? Based on how things are going, where is it headed now? These are vital questions.

Here is an overview of a powerful business idea I use to help organizations create a detailed and compelling vision of the future they want to achieve for their company.

Check out the video or read through the content below.


What Is Visioning?

I want to share a tool with you that I sometimes use when I’m working with CEOs and helping them create a foundation for their strategic plan, and it’s called “Visioning.”

I will challenge leaders to create what I would call a “painted picture” – a vivid, compelling, highly detailed picture of where the company will be in the coming years. Let’s just use 2025 for this one.

And there are two ways I ask them to approach it:

Approach #1

One way could be to write a story as if you’re a reporter from Inc., Fortune, Forbes, something like that, and you were there to write a story about your company in 2025, about all the things that it accomplished. Maybe you just made the Inc. 500, or Inc. 100, or Fortune 400, or whatever it might be, but they’re really impressed with your company and they want to come and write an article about all the cool things your company is doing.

And I want it in detail, just like it would be in the magazine.

And I challenge them: Read a couple of business magazines with overviews of companies, and that’s what I want you to write.

Approach #2

The other way, which happens to be my favorite way, is I ask them to write a story about what it would be like to be an employee in this company in 2025:

  • What would it be like?
  • What would the culture be like?
  • Who would I be working with?
  • Would it be a casual atmosphere where people brought their dog to work?
  • Would it be a more formal culture?
  • What kind of locations would we have?
  • How much total revenue?
  • Would there be an employee profit-sharing plan?

But I want them to sit down and really give some serious thought to where do you see your company 5 to 10 years from today, and I want it to be as if I was there.

What’s the Point?

Now, what does this do?

This creates a really broad story about what the owner, the CEO, the president, whoever it might be running the company, of what they really see the future look like for their organization.

Step 2, then, is to give that out to your senior management team and get some feedback. And oftentimes, there will be some difficult conversations.

And then once you get alignment on the senior management team that, yes, this is where we want the business to go, this is what we see in the future, then you can back up and do your vision statement.

But What Is a Vision Statement?

A vision statement should be short, concise, to the point, focused, typically with some numbers in it, total revenues, position in the market, locations, number of employees, whatever numbers are important to you.

From that vision statement comes your strategy, because your strategy is built to get you to the vision you have of the future of the company.

You start it out with where we want to be in 2025, and you back up, year by year, all that way down to the current year, and say, ”All right, if this is where we want to be in seven years, where do we have to be next year, and the year after that, and the year after that?”

Then it’s pretty simple to create some major strategic objectives, 3 or 4, but no more than 5, for where we want to be this year, and then break that down into organizational action steps – tactics that go all the way down to the front line, and then it cascades all the way back up to the vision.

But for me, creating a Visioning exercise is a really good way to get people dedicated to where they want to take the company in the future.

Apply “Visioning” in Other Places

And by the way, this works exactly the same for your life.

Sit down, and some people actually create a picture. They cut stuff out from magazines or take photos and say, ”This is what I want my life to look like in 2025. Here are some images that motivate me and get me excited.”

And then back up to today and say, ”What would I have to do today – what decisions would I have to make in my life today so that 7 years from now, I’m actually living that vivid vision of the future I want to create?”


I hope you found this helpful.


The Courage to Speak Up

happy employees happy customersRecently, I took a few moments to talk about something I see far too often in the companies and groups I work with all over the world. It’s something that exists in every organization to some degree – in every industry – and it’s something I’m passionate about helping leaders identify and work on with their teams.

Check out the text below or, if you prefer, watch the video on my YouTube channel.


This is one of those videos you’re gonna wanna gather everyone around the computer or send it out to everyone in your organization, because I’m gonna discuss an issue that drives me crazy that I see over and over again in organizations when I’m coaching people or working with different groups or teams. It’s the unhappy employee who doesn’t bother to tell management they’re upset.

They sit at their desk, they brood, they build up more and more anger and frustration and resentment. Oh, and they’ll go tell other people in the organization, or they’ll go home and tell their family, but they won’t go to their manager, leader, boss, whatever it might be and say, “Hey, I’m not happy about this,” or “I think this isn’t going well.” Many of you that are watching this now that you think yourself, “Well I got some things I really don’t like about how they do things around here, but I’m not gonna go tell my boss, because I’ll get” – and I love this term one person told me – “I’ll get vaporized.” And you’re gone.

If you live in an environment where bringing criticism, let’s say negative feedback, pointing out something that doesn’t seem to be going right to you, if you work in an environment where doing that would cost you your job, you probably need to work someplace else because you work for a poor leader and things will likely not ever get better.

State or Trait?

There’s another thing to check: Maybe it’s your attitude. What I always say when I teach this sort of stuff in companies is, is it a state or trait?

A state, “I’m just having a bad day, I’m just upset about this one project, I’m just … Things aren’t going well in other parts of my life and I feel like taking it out on the company.” It’s just a temporary state of being dissatisfied, frustrated, whatever it might be… stress.

If it’s a trait – that you see this happening over and over again in your life and you’re constantly frustrated and upset, then you might wanna look at the mirror and say, “Maybe it isn’t the people around me, maybe it’s me.”

This is also, – now I’m gonna shift to the leader – this is also something to look at when someone brings you a critical feedback or they’re frustrated or upset or angry or stressed. Is it a state or a trait? Are they just having a bad day or is this an employee who just has a bad attitude?

Leaders: Listen Up

Let me now speak to the leaders. The only people that can tell you how to improve your company are your customers and your employees. I am flabbergasted at how often leaders and companies don’t wanna hear from either group. “Let’s send out a customer survey? Oh no, they’d tell us all the things they want us to change and expect us to change them.” or “I don’t wanna get the negative feedback.”

I see this a ton internally, where I’ll go to a leader, a CEO and say, “When did they do an audit of your internal organization?” They’ll say, “No, no way, I don’t wanna hear what they’re complaining about, I’d have to do something.”

Now the reverse is I work with a lot of organizations and great leaders who want to get that feedback. Often times it frustrates them that they don’t get enough of that feedback, because they know everything’s not perfect. They think to themselves, “Wow, if people would just bring the information, I could fix it.”

It’s kind of like if you’re really sick but you don’t wanna tell the doctor about it, I’m not thinking you’re gonna feel a lot better soon. But this is the really important point for leaders, managers, leaders, bosses, CEOs, and presidents: You have to make it safe for people to bring you bad news. You can’t kill the messenger.

If someone goes way out on a limb to share some not-so-great information with you, don’t saw the limb off, run out there and give them a hug. Say, “Thank you. I didn’t like hearing this, I’m upset to hear this is going on in the company,” or “I’m distraught to know that you feel this way.” But you can’t have retribution, finger pointing, getting back at them, telling them they’re wrong. You’ve gotta make it safe – you’ve got to make it really safe for people to bring you even bad news because you can’t fix it unless you know about it.

Ignoring the Problem Solves Nothing

If it’s down there festering and people are afraid to talk to you about it, it will likely hurt or kill your organization. We’ve got two things here: If you’re an employee, you have to have enough courage to go and talk to the people above you about issues or problems or concerns or criticisms you have if they’re bad enough to really impact your productivity. If you’re a little upset, a little frustrated, let it go, this too shall pass. But if it’s really something that’s got you worked up, you owe it to yourself and to the company to let people know. Now the other side of that, I‘m saying again, Leaders, is you have to make it safe. You have to thank them, thank them, thank them for bringing you the bad news, the criticism, the negative feedback and encourage other people to do it, too. Hold them up as someone that brought you information you didn’t want to hear, but information that, now you know it, you can work on it, improve it, fix it and make the company better for everybody.

Here’s a big, big idea: Happy employees lead to happy customers, which leads to more profit. Unhappy employees lead to unhappy customers, a bad workforce, and talent leaving, which isn’t typically the way you run a successful business.

I really hope you take this to heart, pass it around your organization, send it to other folks because this is an issue I see over and over again. I see how bad it hurts the individual and the company not to be able to discuss things that aren’t easily discussed, that might be a little bit uncomfortable, but if fixed or attended to, it could have a huge positive impact on everyone involved.

I hope you found this helpful.


Customers Want You to Lead and Care

customer service lead careRecently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kevin Micalizzi, the host of Salesforce’s Quotable podcast. We talked at length about leadership and how honesty plays an important role in how leaders and business managers connect with their employees.

Check out our conversation below or listen to the podcast on the Quotable website.




John Spence: … Your customer’s looking to you to help lead their decision, lead their company. Oftentimes, they’re buying something that is business critical, essential to their company, and I don’t want to turn over something that’s extremely important to my business to someone who isn’t highly competent, doesn’t care about me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Welcome to the Quotable Podcast. I’m Kevin Micalizzi. Today, we’re speaking with John Spence. John’s a business expert, speaker, and bestselling author, and today, we’re going to dig into some of the most important issues that businesses are facing right now, whether that’s trust, issues with culture, or the fact that you not only need to manage change, but you need to drive it. Let’s jump into it. John, thank you so much for joining us in the studio.

John Spence: My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Kevin Micalizzi: So, John, it’s been, I think, a year since we first talked about having you on the show. I’m very excited that we were able to catch you. You’re constantly traveling. Would you share a little bit about what you do?

John Spence: For the last 25 years, I’ve been, sort of, an executive trainer, professional speaker, author, written a couple books. Very eclectic, the way I help companies, and I travel about 220 days a year worldwide.

Kevin Micalizzi: That’s fantastic.

John Spence: It’s fun.

Kevin Micalizzi: That’s good. Must get a little tiring.

John Spence: Well, I don’t have kids, and my wife travels with me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Oh, okay.

John Spence: So it’s a tremendous lifestyle business.


“The #1 characteristic of a leader that people willingly follow is honesty.”


Kevin Micalizzi: Oh, that’s phenomenal. So, John, when you were talking about things to watch out for in 2018, you talked about trust being at the top of that list. I think, politically, from a business perspective, trust is, it’s a conversation that … People are talking about trust, pretty frequently right now, and usually not in a very positive sense. What are you finding, and what are you recommending?

John Spence: Well, it’s been fascinating, because I teach a lot of leadership, and the number one characteristic of a leader that people willingly follow is honesty.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: We’re not seeing a whole bunch of that in many, many areas.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When I look at trust, there’s sort of a five-thing framework, a five-level framework, and I’ve got a nice phrase that goes with it. To build trust, the first thing is honest connection.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Getting to know the other person, hang out, talk like we are now.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Number two is to show that you genuinely care. That you’ve got compassion. We would call that EQ, now. The next one is competence, to prove that you’re really good at what you do.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Unfortunately, a lot of people lead with number three.

Kevin Micalizzi: Yup.

John Spence: If you lead with number three, you’re not really going to create that connection. The next one’s character, in other words, there would be integrity. Do what you say what you do. The last one is consistency, which, I’ve just seen some research lately that shows, and I know it from my own experience, that an inconsistent leader is one that’s hard to trust.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I have a phrase that sort of put around this. I wrote a book on leadership, here’s the entire book in one sentence: “I’m good at what I do, and I do it because I care about you.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. I like that. I like that.

John Spence: Yeah. High competence, high concern. And, as from a salesperson leader, a team leader, you want to consistently communicate that you’re competent. You care. I’m good at what I do, I’m working hard, I take this as a craft. I want to be great at it, and I do it all in service to you, to help you to serve the customer, to do what’s in your best interest.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right, and I think, to your point about the competency, I think a lot of people target individual items on that list, but they don’t look at it holistically and make sure that they are in service.

John Spence: Yeah. If you got something, the way I look at it, we use, sort of a quadrant. But if you’re really, really good at what you do, and not very nice, people would call that arrogance. I respect your skill and your talent, but I don’t trust you, because I know you don’t care about me. If you’re incompetent and you don’t care, this usually doesn’t work very good.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: If you’re really, really nice, but not competent, I like you. I’d like to hang out with you, but I don’t want you to work with my company, or be my leader, or be on my team. So it’s where that intersection of high competence, high concern, comes.

Kevin Micalizzi: Now, do you find that these leadership traits apply to salespeople, as well as the actual managers, and leaders?

John Spence: Oh, absolutely, yeah, because your customer is looking to you to help lead their decision, lead their company. Often times, they’re buying something that is business critical, essential to their company, and I don’t want to turn over something that’s extremely important to my business, to someone who isn’t highly competent, doesn’t care about me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right, and I’m finding in a lot of podcast conversations, we’re talking about keeping the sales process human, not just from a technology/AI perspective, but really, the fact that I think a lot of people miss the boat on needing that EQ, and really approaching it as being in service. But I think that the other side of it for me is, we just too often … Sales reps are not, they’re really not positioning themselves as leaders, and they don’t think of themselves that way.

I mean, customers obviously have pretty complicated buying processes, especially in our world, which is business to business. I don’t know, they’re just not embracing it as a leadership role.

John Spence: When I started my career, about 25 years ago, I worked for a large sales training firm, a global sales training firm, and the words we always used was, “trusted adviser.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And you’ve got to position yourself as a partner or peer, and to do that, I have to know as much about your company as I know about mine. I’ve got to understand who your customers are, how you make money, what’s going to give you differentiation advantage in the marketplace. A lot of people say, “I’ve got to be able to see around the corner for you as my customer, so I can bring in ideas and solutions for problems you didn’t even know you had.”

You don’t do that unless you’re really, really, really good at what you do, getting better every day. You lay awake at night, worried about your customer, worried about their business, trying to solve the problems that keep them up at night.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When you can present yourself like that of, “Hey, I’ve been studying, I’ve been working, I’m really, really trying to get better. I’m doing it all, because I wanna help you be more successful,” I think price goes out of the equation pretty fast. Or at least, it drops way down, and you become the person that they’re excited to see. “Oh, I’m getting to meet Kevin today. It’s fantastic. He always has great ideas.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Rather than, “Oh, great, here we go again.” Version 3.7.

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah. I mean, the product and price have to be dramatically different, for liking you and trusting you not being a stronger factor than price and product features.

John Spence: It’s got to be a balance. I have to like you enough, but I’m not going to spend a couple million dollars on you, just because we enjoy playing golf together.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: That’s a part of it, because I get to know you, get to know your family, I get to know your values, what you stand for. But that is not going to drive a solution that I’m willing to spend six, seven, eight figures on.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. Now, have you found, in the years you’ve been doing this, have you found … It seems like we talk a lot more about mindset nowadays, than I used to hear. Is it a more cerebral game now, than it used to be? Like, you’ve really get into, you’re in service to the customer. You have to have the right frame of mind. You have to be engaged, you have to be listening, really bring those EQ skills, to where … But you also have to have, I don’t want to say, just a positive attitude, but there’s a certain amount of compassion, and … I don’t know.

John Spence: Well, yeah, well …

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah. I’m not sure how to explain.

John Spence: Well, you look at most customers today, they do … I don’t know all the research. You guys know it better than I do, but I think it’s, 78% of purchasing decisions are made before they ever talk to the salesperson. Some number like that.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: So, to me, when I look at a really great salesperson, and I deal with folks all over the world, selling things up into the billions, and they’re curious. They really want to understand. I mean, they want to dig in deep. They’re like, they’re not salespeople, they’re consultants.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And I don’t bring up, I bring a consultant in, to help me build my business, and grow my business. When I think of a salesperson, that’s somebody I have to spend money on. So I think there’s a mindset now of connection, camaraderie, care. I really want to get in there and be very, very, very skilled, but do it all to help my customer be more successful, and this sounds … People talk about it all this time.

It’s very, unfortunately, very rare that I meet a really high-level salesperson who has positioned themselves as a true consultant, someone that the entire industry looks to, and I don’t like the word thought leader. But somebody who’s recognized as among the best at what they do in the world.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right, so, really driving that value. Not just relating to the product, but in helping the customer to be better.

John Spence: Oh, business. Oh, yeah. Strategy ideas. Leadership ideas.

Kevin Micalizzi: Yup.

John Spence: People they can partner with. Things they should read, bringing them ideas, information. No, I don’t … I think the product’s almost tertiary. It’s the relationship in, “How can I add as value, and introduce you to people on my network, and help you get better at things?”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I can’t solve all your problems, but there’s … What I always say to my clients is, “If I don’t have the answer, I can find somebody who does.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And I don’t make any money off that, but I’m there to say, “I solved this problem, this problem, this problem for you,” that had nothing to do with what I sell? Now I’m going to be way up on your list of people you want to talk to when you want to purchase something that I sell.


“Most companies’ competitive differentiator is the quality of the people they can get, grow, and keep on their team, and their relationships with their customers.”


Kevin Micalizzi: Right. So when we’re talking about trust, we can talk about the individuals, and obviously, you need to be consistent. You need to be trustworthy. When it comes to organizations, I mean, I think a lot of organizations have cultural challenges, and maybe aren’t as deliberate in what kind of a culture they want to portray. I mean, I happen to be lucky, in that I work here at Salesforce, and we are very clear and very strong about what our culture is. And that just permeates everything we do.

You talk about having a culture of purpose. What do you mean by that?

John Spence: Well, having looked at many, many companies, I understand this pretty clearly, that culture equals cash. That a lot of the organizations that I work in, their product is very similar to other people in the marketplace. The pricing’s pretty much the same. I could throw more money at marketing. There’s always somebody who will under drop their pricing, and go out of business faster than you.

When you really get down to it, I think most companies, their competitive differentiator is the quality of the people they can get, grow and keep on their team, and their relationships with their customers.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When you want to attract top talent, one of those things is, we need a winning culture, where people are excited and engaged, and having fun, and want to deliver business results. Now we look at it where, you can see that line of businesses, but the thing that really drives younger folks … I’m 53, so the Millennials, and folks like them, is not just, “Do I wanna make money?”, but, “I wanna make a difference.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: If you can find that noble compelling purpose, that somebody can get up in the morning, and they’re excited about doing that, it’s not just the job or the money or the paycheck, but I make a difference. Even if my job is not that exciting, maybe my company does really cool stuff in my community.

There’s a great book about the folks at Chick-fil-A, and they say, “How do you get somebody that makes minimum wage and cleans toilets, to be super excited and engaged every day?” The reason is each Chick-fil-A franchise saves a certain amount of their money, and gives it to the staff, to go help the community.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: So, the harder they work, the more money that their franchise makes, the more money they can contribute to the community, the more things they do. When I see companies like that, where, not only is the product … You’ve got GenTech in town. They’re a great company, that they save people’s lives.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When they get up in the morning, people go there, “I’m not going to work. I’m going to save people’s lives.” It’s hard sometimes. I’ll give you a very quick story about this. I worked with a CEO that owns a company that makes gearboxes.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Not very sexy.

Kevin Micalizzi: I was going to say, definitely not.

John Spence: No, and they make ball bearings, and things like that, and they’d just bought a company that made the gearboxes for Black Hawk Helicopters.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay?

John Spence: And they’d just bought the company. They called all the employees into a hangar, and they had their number one customer, which was the Department of Defense, come up to talk to them. They’re thinking, “Okay, here’s our biggest customer. If they spend millions and millions and millions of dollars… He walks up, stands at the podium, looks at everybody in the audience and says, “Both of my sons fly Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq. Don’t kill my boys.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow. Absolutely.

John Spence: So, now, it’s like, they don’t make gearboxes. They protect his sons’ lives, and the other people that are there.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: That’s a whole different purpose than building gearboxes.

Kevin Micalizzi: Definitely.

John Spence: Yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow. It’s hard not to get emotional when you reframe it like that.

John Spence: Yeah, and the challenge is, I was, boy I was trying … I can’t remember who the client was this week, but I challenged them, “What is the …” Oh. It was a software company. I said, “What do you do that changes the world? Why should people get up here?” “Well, we work on really hard problems.” “No, that’s …”

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah.

John Spence: “That’s really not an ennobling purpose: ‘I solve really tough problems, with mathematical problems.'” They do algorithms. Finally, I had to get to say, “What does it do?” And he said, “We make,” they do transportation stuff: “We make the world more efficient, so it’s greener, and people can feel good about traveling, and it’s more efficient. It saves money.”

So, when it got down to saving the Earth, saving money, making things easier for people?

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: That’s a lot more fun than just writing algorithms.

Kevin Micalizzi: Most definitely. That’s it.

John Spence: But they really had to stretch, to get to it.

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah. Well, you’re turning it entirely on its head, because, well, it shouldn’t necessarily be that you’re turning it on its head, but it’s really focused on the outcome and the impact that you’re having, versus what you’re physically creating, or physically working on.

John Spence: Exactly.


When we talk about driving change, part of building that framework is creating an irresistible case for change.


Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah, I like that. So we’ve talked about trust, and we’ve talked about culture. One of the things I do want to make sure we talk about is change, and not just, managing the change. Because, obviously, especially with technology, change is accelerating even more, but really driving change.

John Spence: This is a subject I spend a lot of time on because almost every industry’s going through massive change. You hear that all the time, but it’s really true.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I teach a class as a guest lecturer at Wharton every year on the future of business, and people walk out of there, where their head’s spinning, going, “I had no idea.” So when we talk about driving change, there’s a framework that we use, and I think the most important element, and this goes right to what salespeople do is, there has to be an irresistible case for change.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: That people are resistant, and you’ve got to overwhelm them, and make it so incredibly clear that you must change, that they have no choice. As long as they think there’s a door open, or an opportunity to get out, or they can resist, “This, too, shall pass”? You will not be able to drive the kind of change. That also comes from being able to expose them, not only to emotion, but data.

I want to get you emotionally agitated, scared or excited, and then, I’ve got to be able to back it up with hardcore data, and facts, and information, so you can’t really question me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. So it’s more than just, say, carrot or stick. It’s really trying to inspire them, and then, you’ve provided that supporting data for those more logical to …

John Spence: Well, what I want is proof, so you can’t just say, “Oh, it’s your opinion, John. Who are you to say the industry’s gonna change?”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Now, it’s going to change, and here’s all the stuff. So the first step is that irresistible case for change. Step two, then, is a compelling vision of the future. Again, this can be positive, negative or a combination of both that says, “Here’s something big coming. We’ve got to change. You have no choice. Here’s how great it’s gonna be in the future. This is how exciting, and it’s gonna be fun, and engaging. We’re gonna have a great time.”

I will give you a very quick story on this one. I was working with the CEO of a large hospital, and they had to tear down one of their big towers, and they were going to build a brand new one across the street. So, no one was going to lose their job. Get to work in a state of the art building.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: With the best equipment. They park in the same parking lot.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: They just walk one way. Nobody wanted to do it. Fight it.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I said, “If you give them a way out, you will lose them, and you’re standing up in front of them, going, ‘I don’t really wanna tear down the other tower. My kids were born there, and my mom passed away there, but the board says we have to, because we’re $62 million short,'” what did they do? They went out and started trying to raise $62 million.

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow.

John Spence: Bake sales, this, that. Everything they could, to resist the change?

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: But as soon as it was clear, they realized, “Hey, this a great opportunity, it’ll be fun, we can save more lives,” as soon as they put it into that, of, “This isn’t just about a building. It’s a state of the art equipment, children’s hospital, best of the best, we’re going to be able to save a lot More lives, and help a lot more people,” all of a sudden, they got excited about the new tower.

Kevin Micalizzi: And everybody got on board.

John Spence: Yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Are you finding, technology is helping with some of this, driving change, and really embracing how things are changing? Or do you think technology is a strong factor in the need to drive change?

John Spence: It’s fundamental. Technology is both empowering and scary. We’ve got amazing things coming, the speed of computers, algorithms, artificial intelligence, all those things, are driving massive change in many industries. I’m here this week, to go up to Napa Valley, to talk to about 100 CEOs of credit unions. Their whole industry is changing. Consolidation. We just bought a car, not too long ago. We never stepped foot in a bank. Never talked to anybody.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Never saw the car, never went to the dealership, picked it out online, had our bank do an electronic signature, car got dropped off at our house, they took the old one away.

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow.

John Spence: That is a completely different model for buying cars and financing them, and the technology is driving that change dramatically. The key is, you got to get out in front of it. You got to realize, it’s not going to slow down. It’s going to get faster and faster. There will be some industries that are completely annihilated, complete new industries that are created, and it’s been my experience that about 80%, 85% of people I work with in business, do not understand how fast how things are going to change, how dramatic it’s going to be, and how it’s going to impact their business, maybe make it go away.

Kevin Micalizzi: So, to your example, that’s a business to consumer example, with a car purchase, and I think we have truly become spoiled, in many respects. Because, your consumer experience is phenomenal, in so many areas.

John Spence: Yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Are you finding, with the business clients that sell to other businesses, that they are really stepping up their game, in terms of the consumer experience?

John Spence: They have to because everybody measures you by their very best experience.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: So, if I can get stuff downloaded to me in milliseconds, I can get, do a huge deal, not have to talk to anybody, see anybody. It’s perfect. It shows up at my house. All this amazing user experience stuff they have, for business to consumer?

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When I go back to my business, I expect the same level of service from my business providers. You’re an even bigger company. Why cant’ you be even better at that? My credit union handles this better than you do!

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: So, everything’s measured in download speed now, and when I have a wonderful experience someplace, I expect every single person I deal with, from a business or consumer side, every one of my buys, to give me that good of a wow experience.


How can we take that service ethic and exceed the customer’s expectations consistently by delivering things above what they thought they wanted?


Kevin Micalizzi: Right, so you’re finding companies …

John Spence: Oh, yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Are actually stepping up.

John Spence: Oh, they have to, yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Oh, fantastic.

John Spence: What they’re doing is, they’re starting to look outside of their industries, and for years … While I’m here this week, I’ll be in a special program at the Ritz-Carlton, talking about white-gloved service.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: You look at it, people always compare themselves to big companies like that, where you say, “How can we take that service ethic, and we move into a business to business area, and exceed the customer’s expectations consistently, by delivering things above, even what they thought they wanted?” And that’s, A, that takes a lot of skill, and a lot of thought. B, it moves. It’s a really fast moving target, and as soon as you get there, it’s going to move again.

Hence, the reason driving change is so important. Not just embracing it, but driving it, creating those strong relationships, and having that strong purpose to drive, because it’s going to get harder and harder, and if you’re not running at full speed, you won’t be able to keep up.

Kevin Micalizzi: I love how you brought it back to the desire to serve, and when we’re talking about trust at the beginning, and really, how you approach that, a lot of it has to do with, you’re in service to the customer. I love the fact that it goes full circle. I mean, that customer is the center of everything that you’re doing as a salesperson.

John Spence: Yeah. I want to be the first person they call, when they have an issue or a problem, or they want to know, they want to understand something, whether it has to do with my product or not. I told them to look at me as someone who’s highly professional, very skilled, thoughtful, well read, well studied, so that if anything happens in their company, and they’re a little concerned, I’m one of the first people they pick up. When I’m saying “I,” I’m talking about any salesperson.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I want them to call me and say, “Hey, do you know anybody that could fix this for me?” Or, “Have you heard about this?” Or being the one that sends them information on technology that’s going to impact their business, that they never even knew to read or study. So that every time an e-mail comes from the salesperson, they go, “Oh, it’s not a sales thing? It’s a piece of information, a data, a connection, a link, something that’s gonna help me with my business. This is really valuable.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. So, John, we’ve talked about trust. We’ve talked about culture, and we’ve talked about driving change. For the folks listening, where’s the best place to start? I mean, obviously, you can’t tackle everything. How should somebody be prioritizing what they go after?

John Spence: That’s a great, great, great question, and I’m going to try to go about the answer the way it starts with you. It starts with you investing in yourself, invest in your time. One of the reasons that I’ve sort of gotten to where I am in my career is, I read 100 to 120 business books a year, and I have every year, since 1989.

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow. That’s an impressive number.

John Spence: Well, don’t forget, that’s what I do. But I did that when I was just a sales trainer.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And I’ve owned a couple of companies, but I always want to be ahead. So, the average college graduate reads a half a book a year.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: If you were to read one book, every other month, six books a year, you’d be in the top 1%, United States of America. You read one book a month, 12 books a year, and you’re in the top 1% in the world. It’s not just books, it’s YouTube videos, but if it were me, the first place to start is studying everything you can. Around trust, around change, around leadership, obviously, in your arena, in your industry. But I think, if you can create a habit of lifelong learning, what I like to call personal ties in, continuous incremental improvement, that you’re going to learn the stuff necessary to be the one that can drive change.

You’re going to understand human interaction, EQ, reading some of the stuff on that, to create better relationships. You’re going to understand your business well enough that you’ll start to see the purpose behind what you do, more than just, sell stuff. I think, if you improve yourself, you’re setting a living example, and that’s also what adds value to your customers, and value to your own life, and your family, and your community.

Kevin Micalizzi: I like that. John, are there any areas I haven’t asked you about, that are very much top of mind, or you’re getting asked about frequently?

John Spence: Yeah. One I’ll share with you is the single biggest problem I see at companies around the world.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Number one, lack of accountability, and disciplined execution.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: A lot of people are smart, right? I run into companies all the time, great product, fantastic strategy, new business model, and again, the classes I teach at different universities, I’ve got a senior executive class I teach at Wharton, for the securities industry.

Every year, I get about 100 to 120 senior executives in my class, and I ask them, “What percentage of companies that have a good plan, have a good strategy, have a good product, know how to win in the marketplace, have good people, what percentage of them effectively executes their plan?” Want to take a guess?

Kevin Micalizzi: Oh, gosh, I hate to say it, but I would say, 10.

John Spence: I already think, the answer, yeah, I held up my fingers to help him out.

Kevin Micalizzi: All right.

John Spence: It used to be 10% to 15%, now it’s 5% to 10%. And I see that on an individual level, too, so being able to be the person that not just has great ideas, but can turn those ideas into action, is a game changer.


Celebrate success lavishly, and deal decisively with failure.


Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And in an organization, if you got to just 50% execution on your ideas, you’d crush the competition. So, time and time again, it’s not that they don’t have great products and plans, it’s that they don’t have the discipline to get in, to actually make that happen every day. I think, as an individual, that’s critical, and then, as a leader in your organization, being able to take that stuff, and as a salesperson, being able to take your solution, to make sure they’re implemented effectively.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: So the person gets the value they spent their money on. The people that can do that are very rare, and extremely valuable.

Kevin Micalizzi: What about the accountability? I mean that, to me, sounds like a cultural problem within an organization.

John Spence: Yeah, one of the things … It’s a great workshop I did, and this is something your listeners could do, some of the leaders, is … I do a workshop called, What Will You Tolerate? What Do You Refuse to Tolerate?

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: I say, “Look at your culture, look at your values. Now, I want you to write a list of all the stuff you currently tolerate in your company that you know you shouldn’t. People showing up late to meetings. People coming in late, leaving early, looking at their electronics all the way through meetings,” and they usually write a list that’s very painful.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Because they realize, “We have a lack of accountability.” Another word I use there is tolerating mediocrity.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Then you look over here, and this other list of stuff, where you refuse to tolerate lying, cheating, and stealing. Being rude to customers. Being rude to teammates. That stuff, I can be proud of, and celebrate in my organization, and the other list of stuff you don’t? That’s the list you got to fix, so accountability comes down to five key things.

Number one is 100% clarity, plus appropriate authority and resources. If I’m going to hold somebody accountable, I got to give them everything you need.

Number two is 100% agreement. If you try to assign something to me, I got to say, “I understand it, I got it, I’m going to go track and post,” which is interesting with your product, and everything, being able to make sure there’s dashboards. We know what’s going on.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Coaching, mentoring and training, so that when someone is slipping, you can run in and help them. If they’re not being as accountable as they should, you can support them and give them what they need. The last thing is celebrate success lavishly, and deal decisively with failure. When you look at creating a culture of accountability, those are the five things you have to have around it. When I talk to senior leaders at companies all over the globe, and when we talk about the kind of employee they want to hire? Same two words, ownership mentality.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Which is another word for high levels of both personal and mutual accountability.

Kevin Micalizzi: Definitely. So, John, I want to change gears, and ask you our Lighting Round question, and that is, if you could take all the knowledge and experience that you have now, go back to the beginning of your career, and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?

John Spence: Wow, that’s a tough question. It’s funny, I just had a friend talk to me about intuition, and I’m very, very data-driven. But I would have learned earlier to see the red flags with business partners or people that we’re dealing with, and realize that we don’t have a values match here.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And no matter how much I might try, if someone’s a liar, I’m not going to get them to tell the truth.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I had a guy that worked for me that believed that every customer’s out to get you. They’re going to take advantage of you, if they possibly could. They’re going to get the lowest price, and every vendor’s trying to steal money from you, and I should have known that, the minute I hired him. It took me about a year to figure out, and it was painful for the whole company, so …

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I would have trusted my intuition more, and it hurts me to say that!

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah, I know, but obviously, you’re still doing a lot of great work. So it’s great that you realized that, and you can actually apply it, moving forward.

John Spence: Now, after a quarter of a century doing this, when I get the red flags now, I just walk away.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Luckily, I’m at a place in my career that I don’t have to work for one person, and if somebody’s rude, obnoxious, it just doesn’t feel right, I go, “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, I don’t think we’re gonna fit, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to work together.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: It took a little courage to get there, but having been burned, by trusting people I shouldn’t have, now, the reverse is … I’ll tell you this story. So I’m a big believer, that you give people 100% trust, when you meet them, and if they violate, start to remove it. Most people are the other way that says, “You have to earn my trust,” and it might take six months, or a year, or two to three years.

The way to build trust quickly is to extend trust first, to say, “I’ve never met you before, but I believe you’re gonna tell me the truth. Then, then the minute you do something there, I can pull a little back, pull a little back.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I’m not naïve. I won’t be taken advantage of, but I’d rather go into every relationship saying, “I trust you fully,” instead of, “In three years, I might trust you.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Well, and especially in a sales context, because, you’re struggling to get that prospect’s attention. You’re really trying to build your image in their eyes, and if you’ve already got that wall up, and they have to somehow prove to you that they’re worthy of your trust, I don’t know, that seems like a … You’re making this entire process far more difficult than it needs to be.

John Spence: One of the things that drives trust in people is, if I feel like you trust me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right, yeah.

John Spence: I’m willing to reciprocate that, but if you’ve got a wall up, and you’re sort of standoffish, and you want to check every single thing, then already, I realize you don’t trust me. And if you don’t trust me, why should I trust you?

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Because I’m a trustworthy person, at least, as far as I’m concerned. You don’t trust me, then there’s something wrong with you.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. So, John, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me in the studio.

John Spence: My pleasure. My honor.

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