Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Stop Selling & Start Leading

In this video, I will tell you about a great new sales book that I found very helpful, and I am going to ask you for some feedback and advice.

I hope you take a moment to share your ideas with me…

Who is Your Competition?

Last year I did a speaking tour of Australia and one of my session was a business excellence program for an organization called The Growth Faculty. A young lady named Kasey Patterson attend that workshop and recently sent me this question. I thought you might find a few ideas for your business in my response.

Hi John & Sheila

I attended the growth summit last year and saw John present. What an informative session. Thank you.

The reason for my email is that I have just watched your keys to success for 2018 video and have a questions in regards to competition and thinking outside your industry. We are a Financial Planning business and I have been thinking hard about competition outside our industry – ie banks, accountants, but that is where my mind stops. Who else would you consider our competition?

Kind Regards



Kasey, it’s funny, I was just watching that video myself because someone else asked me a question about it. So as a financial planner/advisor you likely get paid a percentage of the amount of money you manage for someone, or at least that’s how it works here in the United States. But no matter what, here are a few things I might consider competition/replacements if I were a financial planner.

Anything expensive that someone buys would compete for them saving for their retirement. So vacation homes, private airplanes, boats, motorcycles, around the world vacations, buying a new home, sending their kids to an expensive school/university – at some level, all of these could be considered replacements for saving my money and allowing you as my financial planner to manage it.

Another competitor would be startup companies that are seeking angel funds. Instead of giving money to my financial planner, I invest it in a company in hopes that I will have a much larger return.

Here’s a big one, bitcoin!!!

You could probably throw gold in on that list too, as another type of currency.

You compete against collectibles: artwork, cars, rare coins, antiques, and other such items.

You compete against people who decide to do it for themselves and think they don’t need a financial planner. Or, they use someone in their family to help them invest.

You compete against ignorance and apathy; people who don’t know that they need a financial planner or who don’t care.

You compete against nonprofits and other charities that will seek major donations from your potential customers, again, reducing the amount of money they have to invest with you.

You compete with ill health. If someone gets sick and has to spend a lot of money on care.

You compete with death. If someone in their family dies and does not have adequate life insurance then your potential customer might spend a large chunk of their money taking care of the funeral costs and other financial obligations of the deceased person.

You compete with disasters. If there is a major fire/flood/earthquake that wipes out one of your customer’s businesses or homes and they do not have adequate insurance they will not have enough money to invest with you.

Okay, I’m starting to run out of ideas here, but those are a few off the top of my head. Give this some more thought and let me know if you come up with any more.

I hope you found this helpful – John

I followed up with this last idea…

Kasey, I forgot the most important competitor of all… You. You are constantly competing against other financial planners, but the number one financial planner that can do the most harm to you is you. If you lack discipline, if you are not working incredibly hard every day to keep your current clients exceedingly happy, if you’re not constantly studying and trying to get better, if you are not out networking and asking for referrals, if you are not trying to be among the best in your industry… you are your own worst competition.

So, who do you compete against in your business?

Here is a link to the video Kasey mentioned if you’d like to watch it: Click Here


If you want to make more money: ASK

Several years ago, one of my clients asked me to put together a special workshop to help their employees increase the quality of their customer service. I told them that the single best way to figure out what it would take to deliver consistently superior customer service was… to ask their customers!

We, of course, pursued the standard route of sending out a general customer satisfaction survey and I also interviewed a handful of their customers to get some confidential feedback, but what really helped them achieve an entire new level of customer service excellence was inviting a panel of their top customers for an open and frank discussion about how they currently viewed the service they were getting and exactly what sort of improvements they would like to see.

On the day of the event we gathered every employee in the company (60+) to listen to what the customer panel had to say. The results were amazing! As the employees sat on the edge of their seats, key decision-makers from their seven biggest customers (representing nearly 70% of their annual revenues) spent more than two hours talking about what they loved about the customer service they were receiving; what they hated about the customer service they were receiving; and precisely what they wanted changed, fixed or improved.

Imagine having your very best customers tell you exactly what you would have to do for them to give you a larger share of their business and eagerly refer you to their friends and colleagues. In nearly 25 years of running training workshops this was one of the most powerful and motivating sessions I have ever had the pleasure of leading. By the end of the day every employee that attended felt like they understood what they personally needed to do to deliver outstanding customer service Interestingly, it was just as rewarding for the customers who said it was the very first time that one of their vendors had invited them in to share these sorts of issues in open forum. A true win/win for all involved.

So now the question is: how can you apply this idea in your business? Maybe this sort of customer panel is a perfect way for you to open the lines of communication with your customers and make significant progress in deeply understanding what it will take to consistently meet and even exceed their specific customer service expectations. Maybe your company isn’t quite as big and instead you simply invite two or three of your top customers to lunch and discuss how well your company is meeting their expectations and what they feel you need to improve. It seems pretty straightforward to me, if you want to make more money, ask the people who are currently giving you money what it would take for them to give you more money. Because, as Mark Twain so beautifully put it, “The only critic whose opinion counts… is the customer.”

Leadership and Disruption

There are several authors who have had a huge impact on my thinking and my career, and at the top of that list is Joe Calloway. I have read every book he has written, and then reread them, and then read them again. The title of one of Joe’s books is “Be The Best At What Matters Most”” which exactly describes Joe. I asked him if he would send me something that I could share on my blog to introduce him to any of my followers who did not already know him. Folks, this guy is brilliant, he has amazing business ideas, he has ideas that can change your organization and take you to a completely new level of success. He put this video together especially for us, and it offers you some very valuable business advice. I urge you to go look at his other videos and buy his books. Not because I’m trying to help him make money, but because I’m trying to help YOU make money. Here is my good friend and someone I respect and admire a great deal, Joe Calloway…

Here is a link to Joe’s author page on Amazon — it lists all of his books there.

Click HERE



Irrationally Passionate

I was driving into the office this morning (Saturday – and you notice I didn’t call it work) listening to a podcast about how to increase sales. The person being interviewed said that the best way to grow your business was to focus on “irrationally passionate” customers. People, who are fanatical about the type of products or services you sell. Good examples would be Star Wars fans who will buy just about anything that has to do with Star Wars, or a sports fan who is crazy about their team, someone into golf, knitting, gardening, dogs, cats… a target customer who is so irrationally passionate that they become a raving fan for your business because you offer something that they “have to have.”

I love this idea. It makes perfect sense for how to identify your key target market. If you start your focus on this potential group of customers, you will also appeal greatly to the folks that are not quite as passionate but still very interested. It also makes it so much easier to sell when you are offering your products and services to people that are enthusiastic about buying them. I see a lot of businesses waste time and money trying to sell to people that either don’t want or can’t afford their product. Here is a quote I use a lot when I’m delivering sales training, “Don’t try to sell to broke people.”

However, I also saw another application for the idea of “irrationally passionate.” This is the exact same thing that YOU need to be about your business/career if you want to achieve a high level of success. It’s very hard to become superb at something you are not deeply excited about. If you want to be one of the best of the best you must be fully committed… irrationally passionate… and willingly do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do. So here are a few questions for you.

Are YOU irrationally passionate about…
  • Being better prepared than any of your competition?
  • Being insanely customer focused?
  • Delivering the highest quality products and services?
  • Delivering world-class customer service?
  • Operating with 100% honesty and integrity?
Is your company irrationally passionate about…
  • Hiring only top talent?
  • Building a winning culture of highly engaged employees?
  • Being fair and generous with your customers and employees?
  • Creating high levels of accountability across your entire organization?
  • Fostering lots of open, honest and transparent communication within your company?
  • Focusing intently on disciplined execution?
  • Demanding excellence and refusing to tolerate mediocrity?

These are just a few questions; I could easily add another twenty. The point is, you will never become truly great at something if you are not irrationally passionate about achieving greatness in that area. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is the truth. Unfortunately, I see a lot of people today that think that they can attain great success without great effort. That has never happened and it never will. All success comes from work, usually very hard work, and excellence comes from being irrationally passionate about the pursuit of excellence.

What are you irrationally passionate about?

Five “Easy” Steps to Dominate Your Market


Do these five things CONSISTENTLY and you will crush your competition.
I guarantee!!



How To “Win” In Sales



This is one of the biggest “aha moments” I ever had when learning to be salesperson, which I got from a fantastic book called: Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa.

“In sales, you and the customer want the very same thing: the Exact Right Solution.”


Let me unpack this for you…

If you are talking to a potential customer, than they have already given you a buying signal; they are giving you some of their time, which means there is at least some level of interest in your product or service. So you both know what you are there for, a potential sale. The goal then is to make sure that you both get what you want out of the transaction, they get a reasonable price on a product or service that they need and you make a reasonable profit. This is the only possible outcome for successful transaction, the Exact Right Solution.

  • Sell them something too expensive and they find out that your price was high, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them something too cheap and you lose money on the deal, your company goes out of business.
  • Sell them the wrong product that will not actually meet their needs, but makes you a nice commission, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product and deliver it late, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product and it does not work, and you fail to follow-up and get it fixed quickly, you lose the customer.
  • Sell them the right product but promise them too many additional services, you lose money on the deal, your company goes out of business.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea, unless both you and the customer get exactly what is right for both of you, you have not made a successful sale.

That means that it is not you against the customer, it is the two of you working together as a team to develop the Exact Right Solution. To me, this takes away the sometimes adversarial relationship between buyer and seller. I remember early in my career that every time I went on a sales call I felt like I was trying to “win the sale.” The truth of the matter is I should have been trying to win the trust of my customer by giving them exactly what they wanted, that also aligned perfectly with what I wanted, so that we could build a strong positive relationship and I could be seen as a partner and trusted advisor who would always do what was in their best interest, as long as it was also in my best interest. The classic Win-Win agreement.

Now that I understand this, sales is so much more fun. I’m not there to “win” anything, I’m there to help us much as I can and work jointly with my customer to develop solutions that makes everybody happy so that we look forward to doing more business together in the future.

To me, that is the way a professional salesperson approaches the sales process.

Your thoughts?

“Must Read” Business Books from 2016

shutterstock_397576393A friend of mine, Jake Kostan, sent me a question asking: What is your number 1 must read book of 2016 in each category for sales & marketing, business and culture?

That’s really tough question, I read more than 100 business books this year (not all of them were written this year), many of them very good, but if I had to list just one in each one of those categories, here they are…


The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need” by Anthony Iannarino

**Also in sales, if you have not read these two books, go read them right away**

SPIN selling” by Neil Rackham

Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play – transforming the buyer/seller relationship” by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig


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


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

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


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

Business Excellence

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

Personal Development

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

I could easily list another two dozen, and this was especially hard because many of my friends wrote excellent books this year, so I put links below to all of my recommendations over 2016.

If you read something that you thought was extremely valuable, please add it to the comments for all the rest of us.

Thanks so much and I hope that 2017 is your best year ever!!! Love, John


My book recommendations from 2016

Two Superb Books I Highly Recommend

Leaders Are Readers

Awesome Sales Book

What Is Your Legacy

Three Great Books

How To Become The Best in the World

How Do You Want To Feel?




Selling Value Where None Exists

John Spence on Selling Value

In my last blog, The Big Trends From 2016, I got lots of great comments and questions. I especially liked this question and wanted to share my answer with all of you.


Q: How often do you find executives who expect their salespeople to sell value that does not exist? In my last two sales jobs, the real value of the product or service was not a differentiator in the marketplace. Even for the most incredible sales person, companies are not naive and they can quickly assess whether there is value in an offering or just double talk. What are the executives’ responsibilities in this situation? How often are you seeing this situation at companies?


A: Good question, tough answer. You have to find some way to add value above the product or service even if it is truly a commodity. I have worked with a lot of companies that had very little differentiation, and the executives wanted their folks to sell on value, but few people understood how to create real value beyond what they were selling. If you cannot figure this out, then the only thing you have left to sell on is price.

In my strategic thinking workshops, I tell the attendees that all effective strategy boils down to: Valued Differentiation X Disciplined Execution. In other words, you have to bring something to the marketplace that is unique, exciting and compelling – that your customers VERY highly value – that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy – and that you can deliver on flawlessly. Until you can discover how you, your products and/or services can meet these criteria – the only thing you have to sell is lower price, which is the fast lane to bankruptcy.

You ask above, “What are the executives’ responsibilities in this situation?” It is my feeling that they must understand their product and market well enough to clearly show their salespeople where the real value exists. If they cannot clearly differentiate their own product from the competition’s product, then a salesperson needs to ask how they can sell on value if the executive can’t even describe it. One of the big issues I see are companies that demand that their salespeople sell on value and capture a premium price in a market that truly will not support it. This is a recipe for failure and is exceedingly frustrating to the sales force. As the old saying goes, “You can’t get blood from a stone,” and you can’t sell value where none exists.

However, it has been my experience that where there is little product differentiation the only way to command a premium price is for the salesperson to add massive additional value. What unique expertise can you bring to the situation? How can you give your customer insights and ideas they could not have developed without you? What recommendations can you make to improve the customer’s business? What additional services can your company deliver that significantly increases the value of your total solution?

In other words, if the product is not a differentiator, the salesperson must be. This is easy to say, but extremely hard to do. It takes a lot of work, time, effort and energy to educate yourself at a level where you can be positioned as a trusted advisor – not a salesperson. Luckily, very few salespeople are willing to make the personal investment necessary to become a high level consultative salesperson, so if you can achieve this you will have created a good deal of job security because every company wants a salesperson who can create unique value for the customer that drives high margins.

I hope you found this of value.