Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Big Trends From 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaders Are Readers

AWESOME Sales Book

IMG_4929During a cross-country flight today I read a REALLY good book. I got an advance copy of Anthony Iannarino’s “The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need” and I loved it. If you want to be a good salesperson, no need to read this book… however, if you want to be an awesome salesperson this should be your new sales Bible.

It doesn’t focus on a bunch of tricks or techniques, instead what Anthony does is lay out very specifically exactly what it takes to be a high-level consultative salesperson who is seen as a trusted adviser and has the ability to generate lots of prospects and close big deals. Anthony is one of the top sales trainers in the world and I would consider this among the best sales books I’ve ever read, and I have read hundreds.

Here are a few chapter titles to give you a flavor for what he covers in the book:

  • Mindset: the beliefs and behaviors of sales success
  • Self-discipline: the art of “me management”
  • Persistence: breaking through resistance
  • Communication: listening and connecting
  • Accountability: owning the outcomes you sell
  • Closing: asking for and obtaining commitments
  • Business acumen: understanding business and creating value

These are only a few of the many key sales topics that Anthony explains in a simple, straightforward and brutally honest way. Believe me, he does not pull any punches. If you really want to be the very best you can be as a salesperson, I highly recommend this book.

The book does not come out until October, but if you pre-order it Anthony is offering several deals.

*** By the way, I do NOT get any money for promoting the book or if you buy a copy – I am simply writing this review because I think it is a super valuable book.

Click HERE to learn more

 

 

To Win in Sales: Be Greedy

032415_SalesBlog-300x300This is an excerpt from a new book I am working on about how to generate more high quality referrals.

Several years ago I was brought in to help a computer training company increase their sales. The sales team were missing their numbers badly and the business was in serious trouble. When I got there I found out that many of the salespeople were uncomfortable because the price for their training program was nearly $40,000, which was a very high price point for the potential customers they were talking to. Each of the salespeople had a quota and there was a large white board in the sales office tracking exactly how much money each person had brought in. The sales were basically being managed as a numbers game.

To understand the situation better I asked a few questions.

What was the graduation rate for people who entered the course? Which I found out was above 90%. What was the placement rate for students who had graduated from their computer training? I found out was above 90%. What was the average salary of someone who graduated and got one of these jobs? About $80,000 a year. For the people they were talking to, what was their current average salary? Which I found out was about $30-$40,000, hence the reason a $40,000 training program was extremely expensive for them.

I brought the sales team together to talk with them. I explained to them that when someone bought one of these programs and invested $40,000, there was a 90% chance they would graduate and be a certified computer technician and a 90% chance that they would get an awesome job at a very high salary that would completely change their lives and the lives of their families. They would finally have a good paying job in a growing industry where they could build a solid career and continue to improve their income. I told the sales team to stop worrying about the quota and start worrying about how many people they could help, how many lives they could change. I told them not to be greedy about money, but to be incredibly greedy about how many people they could help. Once they were able to make the mental shift from making sales – to changing people’s lives – the sales numbers went through the roof.

It is the exact same thing for asking for referrals. It is not about new clients, new revenue, more profits for you and your business – it’s about how many more people can you help. There’s an old saying from Zig Ziglar that I love: “If you just help enough other people get what they need you’ll get everything you need.” This is the heart of generating lots and lots of quality referrals – be fanatic about getting as many referrals as you possibly can, so that you can help as many people as you possibly can. Look at it that way and you will do very well.

 

How do you make the most of a conference?

IMG_4562

 

I was just asked by the folks at the Eventbrite, a tool for events I use often, if I would offer some suggestions for how to be more successful when networking at a conference. You’ll see the great infographic they created below, but I’d like to emphasize a few of my main ideas on this topic.

  1. It is NOT about what the people at the conference can do for you, it’s about what you can do for them in order to earn the right to have a real business relationship.
  2. Be a connector, imagine the conference as a giant party where you are the host and it is your job to make sure that all of the guests have a great time and meet lots of interesting people. So focus being a superb connector of cool people, they will appreciate your efforts a great deal and in turn will introduce you to their cool colleagues.
  3. When you meet someone, ask about their business, then ask them what are two or three of the big challenges they are facing that they would love to have help with, then do everything you can to connect them with someone that can assist them. There might be a chance that they will mention something that you can help them with, but the goal here is just offer assistance, not try to get a new client right away.
  4. Follow up soon after the conference, not to ask for business, but to say how wonderful it was to meet them and then try to offer more value. Connect with them on social media, connect them with someone you know that you think they’d like to meet, recommend a great book on a topic they are interested in, send them a fantastic article or a link to a great blog – and then send them something else of value every month or so. And then, every now and then, send them something about your company, products or services – not something super  salesy — it has to be something interesting and of real value to them. If they are a great potential customer they will eventually reach back out to you and ask more about your business and how you can help them.

Here are a few more suggestions from the folks at Eventbrite and me…

EB_WTC_JSpence_v03

Great Leadership Book + Two Business Ideas


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

Consultative Sales Excellence  45

 

How To Increase Your Sales Success

shutterstock_46908313I have been teaching consultative sales for the past 20 years and in my opinion three of the most critical skills necessary to be superb as a salesperson are: asking highly focused and thoughtful questions, being an intense listener and then taking excellent notes. Great questions allow you to gather the essential information needed to understand the customer’s problems, create the exact right solution and close the deal. However, if you ask great questions and don’t listen carefully and write superb notes, you might as well not ask any questions at all.

Let me help you understand how important listening is. Think about the average value of one of your larger sales, then determine how much time (in minutes) you actually spend in front of the key decision-maker during the sales process. Then divide the total value of the sale by the number of minutes and it will give you how much money is on the line for every 60 seconds you’re talking to the key decision-maker. For some of my clients that number has been in the thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute. The number might be much smaller for you, or it might be quite large, but either way it is essential that you be incredibly focused on your customer during the brief amount of time you get to spend with them. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you are paying attention and truly care about what they are saying is to be absolutely fantastic at taking notes. Again, if you ask a great question and they give you an in-depth and detailed answer – and you don’t write any notes – you are telling the customer not to answer any more of your questions because it will be a waste of their time. (**As someone who has owned several businesses I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve had a salesperson sit in front of me while I explained my problem or need in detail – and they didn’t write a single note – nothing. Which is exactly what they got from me, nothing. No sale, no deal, and no invitation for a follow-up appointment).

Here are some of the things I recommend to increase your listening and note-taking effectiveness and clearly demonstrate that you are focused solely on your customer.

  1. Turn off all electronic equipment that you do not plan to actually use in the meeting. No phone, no iPad, no computer – nothing that can distract you.
  2. Bring a professional notebook such as a Moleskine to write your notes in. Unless you are a phenomenal typist and can keep great eye contact while typing notes, it is better to use a pen and paper and transfer the notes over later.
  3. Bring an extra pen.
  4. As you are listening and taking notes use good body language and eye contact to show your customer you are fully engaged in the conversation. If you are selling over the phone use of verbal cues to let the customer know your listening and encourage them to continue talking.
  5. As the customer is talking repeat what they are saying over and over again in your head as you are taking notes. This will shut out any mind chatter you have and help you remember what your prospect is telling you because even though they have said it only once, you have heard it several times in your own mind which makes your memory and recall dramatically better.
  6. I have created a number of special icons that I use to help me focus in on the most important information in my notes. For example, I put a # next to where the customer gives me numbers, and a $ next to where those numbers represent money. I draw small set of clock hands next to anything that deals with time. When a client emphasizes a specific point I put a big star next to it, if they mention it again I put another star – and another if they talk about it even more. I write a ? when there is something I need to come back and ask for more detail on. Then, at the end of the meeting (or phone call) after the client has shared a significant amount of information with me, I can quickly go back over my notes and say something like:

“I’ve listened to you very carefully and from what you have shared with me it looks like you have three major concerns: 1, 2 and 3 (the three items that I put several big stars next to) that are costing you about XX dollars (based on everyplace I have written a $) and are causing you to waste about XX hours a week (based on where I drew little clocks) and you’d like to try to get this fixed by XX day (based on where I put the #’s). Does that sound about right to you?

Typically the client is overwhelmed by the quality of the notes I’ve taken and the information I can summarize and give back to them. I have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that I am listening, paying attention, interested in what they are telling me and because I’ve written it down in such great detail I will be able to remember it and develop the exact right solution based on my understanding and analysis.

  1. Then as soon as I get out of the meeting or end the phone call I immediately take out my notes and dictate (I use the voice recognition software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking) a clean and thoughtful summary of everything that was discussed and agreed to during the meeting.
  2. I then send a copy of that summary/call recap to my client to confirm that I’m on target, that I have not missed anything important and that we are in full agreement on next steps.
  3. Lastly, I post my call recap/summary into my client’s file so that I will have it to review days, weeks, months or years in the future. I still have notes from phone calls I had with clients more than 10 years ago and they are amazed that I can go back and share with them key things we discussed a decade ago.

I will tell you from experience that if you use the tools and recommendations I have listed above it will have a significant positive impact on your sales success. Everything I’ve mentioned is common knowledge, every salesperson knows that they should do this, but very, very few actually do. When you conduct a professional sales meeting, asking superb questions, being a highly focused listener and taking incredibly thorough and detailed notes – you clearly differentiate yourself from all of the other salespeople your customer is meeting and create a level of trust and professional respect that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy.

I hope you find these ideas of value and that they help you close more big deals!

 

Sales Advice in 60 Seconds

Special 20% discount promo code: JSPENCE

Cdm5X7WUkAA6XIR

 

 

 

 

Three Great Books and a Fantastic (Free) Sales Webinar

The Sales Webinar has already passed — it was earlier in the year.