Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Four Most Important Things I Have Ever Learned

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


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

Sales Professionalism: Now More than Ever

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

 

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

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

What Do Sales Professionals Care About?

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

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

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

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

What Do Sales Professionals Know?

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

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

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

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

What Sales Professionals Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does It Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We create our own stories; and they’re often not true.

Over the next few months, I am going to feature guest blogs from some of my favorite authors and business thinkers. This one is from my friend Tim Ressmeyer, it is from his new book The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership and focuses on a negative habit that many of us suffer from.  I hope you find this of value.

 

We are all the creation of everything that has happened to us up until this point in time. Every relationship, hardship, joy, loss, gain, job, heartache has created us and we can’t change any of it. Regret doesn’t serve you. We can learn from it. We can’t change it. And we have control to decide how we want to show up for what’s next.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to expect what happened in the past has to happen again. Whether we expect this outcome from our self or others, we “write a story” in our own head. A script if you will of how things will turn out. It’s not always true! Too often these stories limit what we really can be. The past does not have to repeat itself. You don’t have perfect information of what might happen. You can’t control everything; you can control how you show up.

Learning to not make up stories frees us to experience what is in front of us, confidently make decisions, and take control of what’s next.

These stories we write in our own minds tend to lean more towards the things that have gone wrong rather than reinforcing what has worked. Focusing on the problems creates a downward spiral of negativity that prevents us from finding solutions and outcomes.

We will look at things that have happened in the past, and assume that because they happened before, they will occur again. I frequently encounter people looking for a new job who have written off an entire company or industry because of one job interview that didn’t go well. There might be a variety of reasons it didn’t come through at that time, and it doesn’t mean you cannot try again. Evaluate why it happened and ask the simple question, why does it have to happen that way again?

Other times we leap to conclusions we make without any real evidence. Imagine walking into a client meeting, and one of their team members looks at you and glances away without greeting you. Immediately you come to the conclusion that she doesn’t like me and the meeting will therefore go poorly. How do you know that? Maybe she’s thinking about something problematic that happened at home this morning. Maybe her phone buzzed and she was distracted. Be careful not to go down the path of negativity and making it all about you.

A good check on a tendency to leap to conclusions, is to run it through the “what’s another way to look at it” or “what would my best friend say” test. Your boss challenged you on a decision and you can’t believe what an idiot he is! Ask yourself; is there another way to look at what he said? How can I reframe his response to me so I have a more productive reaction? How would my best friend look at this?

We also carry with us beliefs about ourselves or the world that we have never experienced, but still believe to be true. “You can’t successfully have a career and a family.” “Unless you have an MBA from a top tier school you’ll never be able to be successful.” “You can never rise to the top with a Liberal Arts degree.” Believing these viewpoints without questioning them can lead to decisions that don’t play to your strengths, or allow you to control your own life.

A way to negate the impact of such unproven beliefs is to look for one instance when the belief is proven to be wrong. If others have proven it wrong, what would it take to follow that path, rather than give up without trying?

Our stories also come from our inner critic, or more popularly known as a Gremlin. It’s that voice that tells you that you can’t do something so why try. It can also stop you from taking risks so that you don’t embarrass yourself. Most potently, your Gremlin brings up the thoughts of the imposter syndrome and suggests one day they will find out you really don’t know what you’re doing!

Getting rid of your Gremlin is impossible; it’s been with you forever, and it will stay with you forever. What you can do is lessen the power of your Gremlin by naming it, reminding yourself of all the proof points you have that you are successful, and continually telling the inner critic to, “shut up!” and train yourself to not listen to that voice.

Unfortunately, there are chemical factors in place that exacerbate negative situations and help create this dark cloud of fear and frustration. When we encounter a situation – real or perceived – as being a threat, the cortisol that’s released not only activates your amygdala to protect yourself from danger, but also triggers your limbic brain where all old experiences are stored. The result is a flood of memories of how you were hurt, embarrassed, or experienced failure. It’s hard to counteract this if you’re not intentionally training yourself to not focus, or take too seriously, the negative things that pop up. So many of these situations are not as problematic as we make them out to be, and we can train ourselves to be less pessimistic.

Read more about the things that prevent us from controlling our own destiny in The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon

To find out more about Tim and his work go to:  https://ressmeyerpartners.com/

 

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…

Honesty

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.

Love

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.

Excellence

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?

Practice This Skill and Become a Much Better Leader

In this video, I’m going to challenge you to practice an extremely important leadership characteristic that many people struggle with. If you can master this skill it will create more trust, risk-taking, candor, and innovation within your organization.

I hope you follow through on my challenge, and as always, if you find this video helpful please pass it along to your network.

Thanks so much – John

How To Create A Mastermind Group

My wife, Sheila, speaking at a Mastermind meeting at our home.

Recently I’ve had several people ask me about how to set up a mastermind group. I wrote a blog about this back in 2011, but I have updated it and added some new information. I hope you find this helpful.

 

 

“You become what you focus on… and like the people you surround yourself with.”

This is the single most important lesson I’ve learned in my life so far. How did I learn it? By understanding the power of Mastermind Groups.

Thirty-nine years ago I failed out of college. After my first year at the University of Miami (Florida) I had a stellar 1.6 GPA!! Unfortunately, all the people I was hanging out with had lower GPA’s than I did so it did not seem like that big of a deal… until I was expelled. I moved to Gainesville, Florida to restart my college career and met an incredibly wise professor (Roger Strickland) who strongly recommended that I start a “study group” – a.k.a. — a mastermind group. At the beginning of each semester, I would stand up on the first day of class and invite anyone who wanted to do well in the course to join my study group… as long as they had a 3.6 GPA or higher! Forming that study group changed EVERYTHING. In the span of six years, I went from failing out of the University of Miami to graduating in the top three in the United States in my major from the University of Florida and then becoming the CEO of a Rockefeller foundation just three years after graduation.

I have continued to create mastermind groups throughout my life. In my early 30’s I created a group of young CEOs that met once a month at a local restaurant to share ideas and support each other as we tried to grow our businesses. For the last few years I’ve run a mastermind group of senior leaders, people who have been in business for 20 or 30 years, that gets together to talk about cutting edge business ideas, economics, politics, whatever important topic we all want to explore. This group has all become very close friends and I know that whenever I need help they are on my team. I’m also in a mastermind group with other people in my industry; professional speakers, consultants, and authors. We share our best ideas, contacts, client referrals and do everything we can to help each other improve our craft.

The reason I share my experiences with these two groups with you is to show you how incredibly powerful they can be in helping to guide, support, motivate and direct your life. I cannot possibly express how valuable it is to be an active member of a high-quality mastermind group. But here’s the catch; for most people, if you want to be in a mastermind group, you’re going to have to create it yourself!

Here are my recommendations on how to start and sustain a mastermind group.

Although there are many successful mastermind groups that meet via phone or online, I believe the most powerful ones meet in person, once a month or every 45 days, so I will address that sort of group in this article.

The first step is to look around your local community for one or two people who you respect and would enjoy learning from. Approach these folks with an invitation to create a mastermind group with you, let them know that it will be highly focused and a valuable use of their time.

When someone accepts your invitation, ask them to choose one or two people that they respect and would like to learn from and invite those folks to join the mastermind group too.

The goal is to have your initial meeting with six or eight members in attendance. At the first meeting is a good idea to take some time to set the framework for how the meetings will run and discuss the expectations that the members have about what they want to achieve in the mastermind group and what things would be of significant value to them. Structure is important to running an efficient mastermind group so you should set some rules around how often you will meet, where you will meet, attendance requirements, topics to be covered, length of meetings, confidentiality, and other issues you deem important. There should also be some discussion around how to invite new people to join the group what the process will be for deciding that someone should leave the group.

In our mastermind groups, we typically pose a single important question and ask everyone to come fully prepared to discuss it in the meeting. For example, in our last two meetings, the questions were: “What are the three most important lessons you have ever learned in your life?” And the next month we asked everyone, “If you were to turn your business over to your children (or someone else), what are the three most important pieces of business advice you would give to them?” Sometimes we all read a book and discuss what we felt was most important in the book and how we will apply those ideas in our lives and businesses. Other times we allow one of the members of the group to bring a specific challenge they are facing so that all of us can give them our best advice and connect them with anyone in our networks that we feel might be able to help them.

One of the biggest challenges of creating a mastermind group is keeping it to a manageable size once the word gets out that you have created something so powerful. I highly recommend that you have no more than a dozen members, which means you’ll likely have about 8 to 10 people in attendance at each meeting. If you get much larger than that, then you end up with cross conversations and a lack of focus.

Currently, my wife and I host the meetings at our home, we offer some light hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails and we all sit on the back deck for about two hours discussing the assigned topic, sharing stories, asking for help and getting advice. Not only is this incredibly beneficial session for learning new ideas and tools for improving your life and,  it is truly a blessing to be surrounded by such incredible people and to count them among your closest friends! We also invite spouses to attend which adds a lot of vibrancy and diversity to our meetings.

We do not charge any money to belong to the mastermind group, and we often rotate the meetings between different people’s houses to share costs. You could easily hold mastermind meetings at a local restaurant and let everyone handle their own bill, or gather at someone’s office and have food brought in.

Once you have a few meetings the group will begin to come together and start to open up. As trust builds, you will have some very meaningful conversations that will help the members of your group make major decisions in their business and life. Although mastermind groups will help you become more successful, the real wealth generated is from the friendships, learning, and access to each other’s networks…which is priceless.

If you are already involved in a mastermind group, please leave your comments and tell everybody what it has meant to you and how important it is in your life. I hope that we can start a small campaign here to get people around the world forming small mastermind groups to solve their personal problems, their business problems, their community’s problems and, yes, even the world’s problems.

Thanks, and take good care, John Spence

PS – Please take a moment to share this with anyone in your network that you feel would benefit from creating a mastermind group.

Two Powerful Interviewing Questions

Here is a link to the book I recommended in the video: Who – by Geoff Smart

Which Should Come First? The Employee or the Customer?

A few weeks ago I posted a guest video from my good friend Joe Calloway, so that I could introduce him to all of you that did not know about his fantastic work. He sent a great video on leadership and disruption. (Click here to watch that video). The video was so well received that I decided to reach out to several of my very favorite authors and ask them to contribute. Today I am extremely pleased to introduce you to Dr. Joseph Michelli, who I would consider the world’s leading expert on customer service/customer experience. Joseph has written several amazing books including “The Starbucks Experience” and “The New Gold Standard” (about the Ritz Carlton). His newest book is called “Driven to Delight” and it looks at how Mercedes Benz catapulted the company to first place rankings in national customer satisfaction studies while at the same time growing sales and profits. ALL of his book have valuable insights that can help any business improve their customer service, satisfaction and loyalty. In this blog Joseph answers a question I get a lot too; Is it customer first or employee first? I will give you my opinion at the end of the blog, but first, here is what Joseph has to say…

Which Should Come First? The Employee or the Customer?

from Joseph Michelli

Ok, I admit the issue of employee versus customer primacy falls into the category of   unanswerable debates such as which came first the chicken or the egg. That said, many leaders continue to articulate a mantra that either the customer or the employee “comes first.”

While I personally like to side-step this looping debate by suggesting that “all business is personal,” and that personal connections must be formed with the people we call employees in order for those people to profit and serve other people we call customers or shareholders, I am convinced greater leaders have a penchant for forming meaningful personal connections at all levels of an organization.

The experiences on which I’ve come to concluded the importance of “interpersonal engagement” stems from my work with and the books I have written about companies like the Pike Place Fish Market, Zappos, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Starbucks, and UCLA Health Systems. Here are a few lessons and tools I’ve picked up along the way by watching the consistent care afforded by leaders in these organizations:

1) Employee Engagement Drives Customer Engagement.

While a causal relationship would be difficult to prove, strong correlations exist between employee engagement and customer engagement. As such, leaders in “world class” service organizations measure and actively seek to drive employee and customer connections. Ultimately these leaders seek to have employees who feel their opinions matter, are recognized for work that is well done, are provided opportunities to work and grow and to function in a community environment where employees experience autonomy, mastery, and purposefulness.

2) Customer Engagement Drives Loyalty and Advocacy.

Customer satisfaction does not ensure customer loyalty. In fact, satisfaction alone leaves your customers a coupon away from trying a competitor. As such, great leaders and business owners seek to instill a culture of service excellence through a clear delineation of the optimal customer experience (operationally and emotionally), and by constant discussions of core service values, as well as an emphasis on the overarching purpose of the business. These leaders collect stories of service excellence and link them back to the desired optimal customer experience and to their companies mission, vision, and values

3) Business must be transacted for high efficiency but filtered through the lens of humanity. In my book Leading the Starbucks Way, I share a conversation I had with the company’s CEO Howard Schultz in which he demonstrates this point best, “Take love, humanity, and humility and then place it against a performance driven organization; these are in conflict to the naked eye but …we have become more performance driven than at any other time in our history and the values of the company are at a high level. If we can infuse love, humanity, and humility on a global basis and build it into a performance-driven organization, we are unbeatable.”

So rather than trying to craft a catchy slogan like the customer is king or queen, or the employee is number one, how about redoubling efforts to drive the engagement of both customers and employees while fueling a high-performance organization in which leaders makes decisions through the lens of humanity? That seems like an unbeatable combination to me, how about to you?

 

From John: I agree with Joseph in large part, but I will sum-up my thoughts with one Awesomely Simple phrase…

The customer’s experience will never exceed the employee’s experience.

I hope you found this helpful, if so, please share it with your network. Thanks so much – John

 

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