February 04, 2016
January 22, 2016
About two years ago, I rededicated myself to physical fitness in order to lower my blood sugar and improve my mental performance. I joined the David and Barton Gym in my office complex, hired a trainer and started going three or so times a week. While the whole point of working out was mind-body fitness, I learned some life lessons that have enhanced my professional performance as well. Today, if I don't work out, I feel like there's something lacking from my day. That's how any life-changing performance-improving process works. Here are the four lessons that I've taken away from the gym:
I'm curious: What life lessons have YOU learned in the gym? I'd love to read them in comments and am willing to append this post to add the best.
December 08, 2015
Each year, sales leaders invest heavily in their annual kickoff or sales conference. Presumably, it's purpose is to motivate the troops, introduce new products and services and solidify messaging for the market. But that's only thinking tactically. Winning sales leaders use their kickoff conferences to drive behavior, set tone and build culture. That's why the selection of the conference theme is critical to producing a strategic game-changing meeting.
Your conference theme determines content, messaging, scheduling and how sales leaders can evaluate the meeting's ROI later. But the theme should be driven by business needs, not word-smithing capabilities. As you plan sales conference ask yourself, "What is my group's biggest challenge in the field?" or "What can we do next year to leapfrog the competition?" This will help you craft measurable objectives for post-conference behaviors, which can lead to your sales kickoff being one of the best investments you'll ever make. If you pick a theme because you like the song's title, the way the words look on a whiteboard, etc., you are missing a huge opportunity. Choosing something that resonates with you (All In! or Changing the Game!) may sound good in a brainstorming meeting with your planning committee, but does it really address your business needs?
Examples: In 2010, several sales leaders determined that the 2008 recession had slowed down their prospecting and put them in hold-mode. So the theme they chose was "Bouncing Back!" This helped the sales team realize that it was time to get aggressive again and move the company forward. In 2012, several sales leaders realized that the market was heating up faster than their sales culture when it came to seizing opportunities, so they chose "Carpe Diem!" to signal that it was time to go-for-broke. In both cases, the theme was contextual and purposeful. And it worked!
For the last few years in B2B, the rising sales challenge is complexity. IDC research and Corporate Executive Board (CEB) find that there are more decision makers than ever involved in a quality sale. Buyers are teaming up, combining a variety of expertise, and it's making it harder than ever to land anything but the test-and-scale deal. Worse, the nature of what we sell is more complicated than ever, combined with the prospect's new habit of doing their own research and bringing sales reps into the process late in the game. In my research for my latest book (Dealstorming) I find that in many industries (technology solutions, advertising, BPO, services) the speed in which sales teams solve complexity determines their market position. It's no longer a matter of developing the best products or refining our delivery -- we have to innovate around sales complications faster than the competition to win.
According to MHI research in 2014, world class sales organizations that sell 20% more than their competitors cycle quickly through sales challenges by collaboration. For larger opportunities, they go wide, involving everyone in the company that has a stake in the outcome or knowledge about the problem. For medium sized deals, they create teams within their groups and in many cases, recruit customer champions to act as mentor-advocate-sounding board. In other words, sales innovation comes from team work. To quote General Stanley McChrystal, "It takes a network to defeat a network!"
This means that the new center for sales excellence is team building, team prep and team leadership. It's not just about smiling-and-dialing or forceful closing techniques. So, for 2016, a highly strategic theme for sales conference would signal leadership's focus on team based collaboration and rapid problem solving. "Come Together" or "One Company, One Team" or "Teaming Up To Win" or "Team Work Makes the Dream Work" would all be market centered themes that attack the greatest threat to the business ... deal complexity.
This is why I'm 100% focused on speaking about how sales leaders, managers and ambitious account executives can team-up their way to success. It's a matter of looking for collaboration opportunities, using sales skills to recruit team mates, then applying leadership talents to moving them to ideation, agreement and action. In my mind, this is exponentially more valuable to the sales cultures I address than simply, "pumping everyone up, so they too can climb a mountain or win a marathon."
As an opening keynote for a sales conference, I would emphasize a straightforward idea: Don't Go Down Alone! (Video)
November 18, 2015
After a writing journey that took almost three years, I'm excited to announce my next book, Dealstorming: The Secret Weapon That Can Solve Your Toughest Sales Challenges. Penguin Portfolio will publish it on Feb 23, 2016. It marks my return to talking about my days at Yahoo as a sales executive and introduces research and experiences I've gained as a consultant since then. For those that read Love Is the Killer App, you'll appreciate the voice and perspective of this book.
Initially, I set out to write a book on creativity in the sales process, something very needed in business to business, where it's getting tougher to land quality deals due to competition, more decision makers and technology. During my career, I often called upon my creative experiences (musician, poet) to tackle high-difficulty sales situations. A 2012 survey I conducted found a high correlation between sales executives who had creative projects and sales executives who were top 5% performers at their company. But as I dug into research on the nature of creativity, especially as it could relate to sales innovation, I made a startling discovery: There is no big idea, no lone inventor, no genius person. Most of all the breakthroughs in history occurred because of team-based collaboration, where multiple minds from diverse disciplines built upon ideas or observations.
This made sense once I could dispel the romantic notions of the lone inventor experiencing the eureka moment. At Yahoo and as a consultant, sales genius was always a team sport. When we included everyone with a stake in the outcome or knowledge about the sales challenge, we closed the business most of the time. After interviewing 200 sales leaders across all industries it became clear to me that cross-department team work is the secret to B2B success. So this book will reveal a repeatable process for team building, team leadership and sales innovation I term "Dealstorming." Over the next few years, I'll be writing about sales innovation weekly here along with my usual coverage of leadership and success.
If you have a sales conference next year or a B2B client summit, please consider bringing me in to give your keynote. I'll motivate everyone to collaborate when stuck, lead others to explore new paths and forge relationships across their company and out into the market. I'll also do free consulting prior to the event, helping you and your team immediately put these concepts to work against big opportunities in your pipeline or major accounts at risk. Contact us for more on this.
Thanks to my good friends at SLAM Agency, there's a video trailer to explain the book's concept and reveal details on how you can get a free chapter. Please share it with your friends and connection in sales and leadership. I'm going to be scouring social media to spot your shares, and will be picking out some of you to send a special gift to.Tweet
October 21, 2015
Yesterday I attended the first day of CEB's annual Sales & Marketing Summit. It's a must-attend for all B2B sales and marketing leaders, offering the most current view into the buyer's world and the best practices that come from following hard data. The opening keynote by CEB's Brent Adamson blew my mind as he revealed a plot twist in the B2B buyer's journey.
The customer's age of empowerment was short lived. The tipping point has been passed, where today, the customer wants less information and fewer choices. Like they were in 1990 ... simple prescriptions by suppliers will win the day. To quote Yogi Berra: "It's like Deja Vu all over again!"
Making matters worse, the rise in decision-makers (The 5.4 Problem) and the diversity of perspectives and agendas make the buying process "landmindish" -- cause Brent to wonder how companies buy anything or for that matter, get anything done! Between the landmines and the overwhelming amount of info and options, he declared that the seller's #1 competition is now ... The Status Quo.
Back to empowerment: Brent asks, "When you visit the grocery store today and there are 50 kinds of mustard on the shelf, do you feel empowered?" This is a good point as we marvel as shopping sites like Amazon, Expedia for travel, TrueCar for auto purchase, etc. While they put is in charge at some point, being in charge loses its luster. The CEB data confirms that the modern B2B buyer is as overwhelmed as today's consumer...but the implications are far worse for suppliers.
When the buying experience is overwhelmingly complex, the buyer usually regrets their decision later. Think about the last car you bought: If you were swimming in information, with endless cars to choose from and myriad options to pile on ... do you still feel like you made the right decision today? According to CEB research, the B2B buyer is more likely to regret their decision when the purchase journey was complex.
At this point, Brent raises the stakes for suppliers: "It's no longer about whether you win or lose, but now, it's about how the buyer feels about it later." To support this (very Lovecat way) of thinking, he offered this stunning chart, which proves that regrettable purchases are BAD for sellers.
Pay particular decision to the bars on the right: When the buyer regrets their purchase decision they actively advocate against the supplier! This isn't a Net Promoter Score dip, Brent points out, they are telling other people inside their company or out in the market not to buy from you!
The conclusion of Brent's keynote outlines a new selling approach: Prescription to drive ease-in-buying. "Put all your sales and marketing strategy through the Easeometer," he advises. In other words, to capture the essence of Bill Jensen's classic book Simplicity: Reduce the stuff, the steps and make the process simple. Brent defines prescription as "a credible and influential set of do this/don't do that recommendations, provided to customers across the purchase process, deliberately intended to ease the customer's movement toward purchase." This includes how the buyer should prioritize the problem, who they should involve in the purchase process and how they should arrive at supplier decisions. CEB research indicates that the Prescriptive Process will dramatically outperform the Responsive Process in terms of sales cycle & overall satisfaction.
He closed the keynote with a salient example of the Rise of Prescription: The comeback of travel agencies. Over the last few years, travel consultants have picked up a lot of harried consumers or business travelers who were overwhelmed with information and options about their upcoming trip. In a world of always-on smartphone powered buyers ... these travelers just wanted to "call someone and have them figure out the best way to book the trip." As I've learned in my research for my next book (Dealstorming), B2C trends like this are the Canary In the Coal Mine for B2B sellers. Which means that you might want to have a meeting today between sales and marketing and figure out how you can make the leap from responsive to prescriptive approaches.
For more on the psychological impacts of information overload, check out the 2004 research I conducted with Heartmath Institute, predicting the rise of New Economy Depression Syndrome.Tweet
October 15, 2015
Regardless of what business you are in, likely, you will face business model disruption in the coming years. According to authors Robert Tercek, Jay Samit or Bill Jensen, digital technology and the ongoing expansion of the World Wide Web are driving new value propositions and annihilating legacy companies.
Over the last 20 years, I've witnessed disruption in multiple industries, which ushered in new leaders or defined incumbents as agile and adaptive. What's interesting is that adaptation didn't rely on physical intelligence or capital stockpiles. It was pure psychology. Take Blockbuster and Kodak. Both of them could have pivoted earlier into new business models such as subscription (Netflix) or digital photography (Kodak). They had the resources, the customer base and the brand. But they didn't. Why?
These leaders, along with the rest of those who's companies ended up in the scrap heap of the Disrupted, made a bad choice when faced with the first credible signs of pain. They rejected the innovation, labeling it as a passing fad that would fade soon enough. As time went by, and the bleeding continued, they entered the resistance phase, where they stockpiled negative emotions towards the disruptors, their customers and in some cases the government for standing by and not rushing in to protect them. Take the current case of Uber. Taxi cab companies are clearly stuck in the rut of resistance right now, tick-tock-tick-tock.
Sure, it's a roller coaster ride...but that's the nature of being in any industry where Moore's Law continues to hold true. Things will change quickly. But some companies have figured out how to make the leap from being disrupted to becoming adaptive. Walmart (responding to eCommerce), Gillette (responding to disposable razors) and CareerBuilder (responding to social hiring by adding SaaS services) are three examples of leadership success in psychology.
In each case there was a fundamental decision by senior leadership that made the organization respond with agility: They replaced fear with curiosity. It's a decision, really. As Norman Vincent Peale once wrote, "If you can worry, you can dream!" His point is that our mental models can either lead us OR we can lead them. When you face hard data suggesting that your customers are responding to a new offer in the market, you either choose to reject-then-resist it to defend the Status Quo OR you double check the data, then move across the dip into the exploration phase. You do research that helps you understand, "What if we tried..." Like Proctor & Gamble, you stage hackathons, empowering your youngest talent to try way-outside-the-box ideas and then test them for scalability.
This is your challenge if you are facing disruption. So far, I've focused on technology as the change-maker, but in industries such as insurance or telco, it's generational shift that brings the pain. In health care or financial services, it's regulatory developments. Whatever. It's all the same in that you as a leader must make the decision to leap from shock to exploration faster than your competitors and certainly fast enough to retain your core customer base. The article Surviving Disruption in Harvard Business Review puts a process around the exploration and response phase.
Recently, I subscribed to Adobe's Creative Cloud services. I pay a monthly fee to have a suite of creative tools available to me, constantly updated to keep up with the pace of change. I never thought I'd subscribe to software, but in fact, it's the new way of harnessing technology innovations without getting caught in legacy-land. Many people wrote Adobe off for dead when Steve Jobs famously banished Flash to the software scrap heap. But Adobe's leadership responded by exploring how their best customers (creatives) would use their tools in the future ... and they made the leap. And now I'll spend $500.00 a year with them instead of using their technology for free.
(The above image was created by Coverdale, an organization founded by agility-leadership expert Ralph Coverdale.)Tweet
October 02, 2015
In 2000, I attended my first sales kickoff at Yahoo!. Our company (broadcast.com) had been purchased by them, and I had just moved to California to lead a sales-enablement/swat team. Little did I know at the time, but this kickoff event would change my life.
Usually, you'd think that the kickoff's purpose was to introduce new products, arm us with new tools and motivate us to hit the phones or bricks when we got home. But in this case, a single piece of advice changed everything. "Make some friends in unusual places," our Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Anil Singh told me. "Make our international managing directors feel at home. Huddle with the content development guests we've invited -- get outside of your circle." He explained that these relationships I'd force at sales conference would later be important as I worked with global brands on big deals where they needed all of Yahoo!'s capabilities brought to the table.
From the moment I stepped on the kickoff hotel's property, I shook hands and made friends. My new contacts included managing directors from Yahoo Japan, Italy, Korea, Brazil, Canada and United Kingdom. They were easy to engage with, and told me about promotions and products they'd built for their clients. Many of them were news to me! I sought out our non-sales guests, especially those we frequently relied on for post-contract delivery. I told them I wanted to understand more about how their groups worked, so I could pursue revenue but not create problems for them. At first, they filled my ear with concerns about various programs we were selling, but by the end of conference, they were suggesting new ways we could help our advertisers without compromising the user experience.
Over the next few years, these relationships were rocket fuel for our deals with global brands such as Sony, HSBC and Toyota. Because I'd developed relationships with international and non-sales leads at kickoff, I knew more about how they could drive a global relationship. Our post-conference conversations built up enough trust so that we could bring them into the sales process early, so they could help us tailor the global deal to each regions unique way of doing business. When I was promoted to Chief Solutions Officer, I looked back at the 2000 sales conference as my launch point.
If you are in business-to-business sales, you'll likely attend a kickoff early next year or Spring. Don't miss out on the opportunity to network and create a solutions web for future clients. The more you know about your company's total capabilities and the unique facets of each market it serves, the better you'll do at creating winning recipes for your customers. Here are some rules of the road for sales kickoff networking:
1. Set A Goal - I decided that I would connect with at least 10 new people during the 3 day kickoff. Having that goal kept me focused on adding at least three people to my network each day. Create your goal based on the unique strategy of your sales organization. If you are focused on global selling, focus on connecting with international attendees. If improving delivery is the goal, focus on connecting with non-sales leads. If sales collaboration is the priority, meet account execs and managers in other markets or product categories.
2. Go Outside Of Your Work Group - You see these colleagues every day, so don't be lazy and hang with them for convenience at kickoff. When you eat, find a new group to join. During breaks, look for friendly but unfamiliar faces. Think wide.
3. Establish Common Ground - During your encounters, seek out connection points. The best ones are common customers, common sales challenges (product/industry) or common sales opportunities. Don't be afraid to connect at the personal interest level either. I've connected over my love of World Cup or electronic music to open up the discussion...usually leading to frank work related conversations.
4. Contract - Strike up some agreement for post-kickoff follow up. It could be information sharing or a conference call based on the business common ground you've established. Don't let new contacts end with the conference. (Now that we all carry smart phones, it's easy to share contacts or simply take a picture of someone's badge or business card for follow up later.)
5. Follow Up - Send a note after you get home, keep any promises you've made and schedule a future time to reconnect. Putting a process around internal networking ensures that you keep the first burning and establish credibility. If you've been told about a concern that needs support or attention, be the messenger and marshal resources ... especially if you work at headquarters and have access to internal influencers and power brokers.
6. Expand From This Base Of New Contacts Over the Coming Year - Ask your new contacts, "Who else should I meet and spend time with?" You'd be surprised at how many introductions they will make, sometimes over email or conference calls. Whatever goal you set for kickoff, add a zero to that number for the networking you'll do over the coming year. The more you grow this circle, the better you'll be able to serve your customers.
The sales kickoff is important beyond any education or product introductions that happen there. They can be the social operating system of a sales driven organization, where loose ends are tied and a company truly comes together as a customer-focused team. Don't waste the opportunity to expand your network ... because it drives your company's net worth!
September 25, 2015
It's that time of year when publishers release copious amounts of business books. You've probably seen them popping up in the airport book shops. As a voracious reader and blurb-giving-author, I have the opportunity to review dozens of them between July and September. My interests range from sales & marketing to leadership to futurism to success. I look for a book that challenges conventional wisdom, offers a rich perspective grounded in fact and most of all, advice that I can put into practice.
This fall, there are three books in particular that I'm excited about and highly recommend:
The Challenger Customer by Brent Adamson, Matt Dixon, Pat Spenner & Nick Toman: This is the follow up to the fantastic Challenger Sale. In this book, the CEB team reveals how difficult it is for companies to buy services or change suppliers. This is due to a rising number of decision makers involved in every major purchase, and the disfunction that comes from diversity of agendas. Their solution is for marketing to create challenger content that acts as "a dog whistle" which attracts mobilizers inside prospect companies. These mobilizers often display signs of skepticism or demand action as go-getters. But they are the key in driving consensus and ultimately change. This is a must-read for any B2B marketing or sales professional. But note: The authors will challenge your current attempts to establish your company as a thought leader with barrages of content. In their eyes, "looking smart" isn't nearly as effective as "proving you are wrong" when it comes to content marketing that finds the mobilizer.
Vaporized by Robert Tercek: This book will take you on a journey of technological disruption, which few companies have mastered. Tercek is a certified futurist, with a career arc that spans from founding MTV International to consulting with the most elite tech and digital media companies in the world. He chronicles the vaporization of print, television and all types of media ... and why companies either found success or failure in the transition. Then he explains that "anything that can be infrastructure will be," using companies like AirBnb to illustrate the unfair advantage that comes from being digital. He reveals insights into the App Economy, Peer-To-Peer media and Big Data. But unlike most futurists, he won't leave you hanging. The end of the book offers a solid blueprint for navigating the vaporization of all things service, and how you can convert disruption into a game changing opportunity.
Grit To Great by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval: This book is all about the power of pluck and determination when it comes to leading others, being an entrepreneur or succeeding in the face of adversity. The authors reveal the attribute that Michael Jordan, Alibaba's Jack Ma and Michael Bloomberg share: Grit. In a world of look-at-me or stand-out-in-a-sea-of-sameness, Thaler and Koval offer a different viewpoint: Grit is about sweat not swagger. You are nothing special. Grit is cultivated over time and is the result of practice and design. The book lays out a series of steps, mostly decisions you need to make, that lead to a higher level of grit, which is easily converted in greatness (confidence, effectiveness, innovativeness). From the Lead To Learn conference, Thaler offers a glimpse into the book's content in this video clip.
September 16, 2015
There are many ways we can improve our ability to drive employee engagement and loyalty. We can pay people more (that doesn't scale), let them off easy (that's bad for business) or play tough-coach with them (that's bad for your employership brand.)
During the course of my career, I've found a better way to manage or lead: Turn up that noticing knob to 11! By that, I mean that we should go out of our way to notice contributions and thoughtful deeds. Giving recognition for the little things makes a big difference, especially for Gen Y (Millennial) employees.
It's not something that comes easy, though. We live in a world where non-stop news cycles, full inboxes and social media clamor for our attention. We work heads down, only noticing that which can be measured. But most contributions at work are not obvious. When one of your employees rallies a team to solve a big problem, do we notice this leadership exercise or do we wait to see if the problem is solved? When someone mentors a co-worker, do we notice that?
Then there's the two clicks down problem of recognition. Too often, we only notice what our direct reports (or favorite employees) do. But a leader should engage with all of her followers, not just the chosen few. At Barton Protective, CEO Tom Ward made a daily practice of "catching someone doing something right!" That's how he practiced management by walking around. Whether it's a custodian or cashier, turn up your noticing knob to spot laudable performances. Recognize people publicly too, as it only magnifies their pride-at-work.
There's a side benefit to turning up your noticing knob: You'll realize how many loyal and talented people you have on your team. Their efforts, noticed, will send a powerful message to you: You are not alone in this battle! This is important for leaders too, because confidence in team translates to confidence in general. And that's rocket fuel.
One way to turn it up: Every morning, instead of jumping on email when you first wake up, take 10 minutes to recollect the previous day to identify someone who's made a contribution worth recognizing. In the beginning, this exercise will identify the same old crowd, but if you do this long enough, heroes at work will emerge from the edges. This practice not only helps you start off your day with an attitude of gratitude, it viscerally forces you to keep your eyes open every day for people that are making a difference.Tweet
August 12, 2015
Ask a strategic consultant about the value of a strong organizational culture and she'll likely remark: "Culture eats strategy for lunch!" Her reasoning is usually based on the consistency of behavior that strong culture creates - enabling every associate to make "the right decision" even when the leader is not around. The name of the game in business growth is scalability, growing steadily without sacrificing consistency in quality (whatever that means to you.)
Org-culture is a conversation, led by leaders, about "how we do things here successfully." It's built up through hiring, on boarding and successions practices. It's reinforced through rituals and stories, often shared at the group level. The more leaders punctuate the conversation with action, the more the followers march in lock step with them.
But here's the problem: Every idea is based on an assumption, and similarly, every culture is based on a set of values. When transparency is a key value, the culture requires sharing information and avoiding secrecy. When someone violates it, they are shunned, punished or coached. The word 'transparency' is often embedded into internal communications and in some cases, the market facing branding. While few would argue against transparency, I would take issue with whether that value is a leader's personal value or a business driver.
The purpose of an organization is to produce customer/member value, which in turn is captured in order to sustain and grow it. If culture drives consistency, then it should be based on values that drive the business by producing a unique value proposition. In other words, your culture-driving values should differentiate a company in a way your customers care about. That's the real reason that culture has become a focal point of leadership development and corporate performance.
When Zappos put a supreme value on "Delivering Customer Happiness," it separated them from other apparel e-commerce providers. They redesigned call center rules, adopting unconventional KPI's to ensure that reps spend ample time with customers and display empathy and a sense of humor. They enforced the culture heavily throughout hiring an on boarding, famously offering briefcases of money to those who were willing to quit (and leave the Happiness Culture). In this case, the value drove the business.
But in too many cases, values are often created in a cramped conference room by over-worked founders or later in the life of the enterprise, by corporate communications during a turnaround. There is little or no formal training on how to vet a value for business output, it's usually just a random process where words or phrases are thrown around until the group forms a consensus.
That's why companies have chosen "Fun" or "Fair" or "Agile" as their values - making them the foundation of the culture they are building. And it's hard to debate the value of fun, fairness or agility from a personal or even professional standpoint. Why not? That's why they are often adopted. But what if the company is in the financial services market, where "Meticulous" is valued by the customer more than "Fun"? What if the company is in a risk-averse business, where customers value "Best-To-Market" instead of "First-To-Market"? In those cases, Fun and Agility are not business drivers, they are pet values, which are likely to build more of a cult than a strong corporate culture.
So here's the prescription: Test the values that you base your culture on for business value. If you choose "Honesty" for example, ask yourself, "is this a market space where deceit is a customer concern? Is this a lead story in our industry?" If it is, then this value will drive the business through differentiation. If not, then you are basing your culture on a foundation that could lead to a me-too market position. If your competitors are honest, then why is this a business driver value and not just "good business practice"?
You might be thinking, "What's the harm in including obviously good values in our culture mix? Why exclude "Fun" or "Honesty"? I thought that way too for a long time, but when I went to work in human resources, where values are a part of the talent lifecycle, I realized that you have to pick your battles, and limit yourself to a manageable group of norms you want to create.
Limit yourself to 3-5 values, the less the better. Much like phone numbers or login passwords, the longer the list, the harder it is to call up when you need them. Culture is all about living a set of values everyday, and if you throw in the kitchen sink, your associates will have to pick and choose, and that's where a culture starts to get weak (read: inconsistent).
It's never too late to go through the business driver value process with your team. If it leads to a new conversation about "how we do things around here moving forward," it just may help your company jump out of the pile, and rise to the top of the customer's mind. Just like a company can outgrow its founders, an organization can also outgrow its founding values.
Note: The recent holocracy movement at Zappos is based on the founder's value of self-management. It's yet to be seen as to whether that's a pet value or a business driver (their relative customer experience levels will be lifted). In the long run, the fate of the company's market position will be an acid test of my theory about picking personal or business centric values to base a culture on.
Watch: Culture Is A Conversation by Tim SandersTweet