7 Tips To Boost Your Business in a Down Economy

Listening to the news and many CEOs, you would think the country is in a depression. At a minimum, these reports put listeners into a depression. While I’m willing to let a few individual businesses slide because of what they do (e.g. residential real estate in Miami), if your company is not growing the way you want it to, and/or margins are shrinking, the problem is inside your company. If you believe otherwise, you are deceiving yourself. In many cases, even in sectors where the group as a whole is doing poorly, you should still be able to do better than you’re doing. Just like Warren Buffet does in the stock market, you need to jump on opportunities when the market is down and be aggressive, not defensive.

Some great examples:

  • I recently met with the Managing Partner of a mid-sized accounting firm who confided in me that he just came off a record year and did not believe his company could sustain the pace. He was already seeing a slowdown. However, one of his competitors, who also is my client, is having another record organic growth year.
  • In the fitness and health industry, many companies see a drop off in memberships and attribute it to people spending less on “extras.”  I have a client whose year-over-year growth this summer was 49%, and gross margins have expanded as well.
  • Another client of mine has a business that services the airline industry. You would think they would be doomed. Yet based on their order backlog, they expect 33% growth this year.
  • Staffing industry executives tell me their industry is down 30%, and many are laying off staff and otherwise cutting costs “until things get better.” I know of one company in the same market that entered the staffing business and in the last 2 years. They are growing in the high double digits and opening offices in several new states, having identified and pursued a segment of the staffing industry that is booming.
  • The owner of an insurance company experienced a decrease in revenue last year and is expecting another decline this year.  Meanwhile, I work with a competitor that is tracking organic growth of over 50% this year.

The initial secret of success for the above four companies is the executive team’s attitude about how they see the marketplace. When the market gets tough, that’s when a management team needs to be aggressive. Top CEOs know that the best opportunities present themselves when competitors are weak. Right now, your competitors are weak. They are focusing on costs. This defensive approach can kill a business. It usually starts with staff reductions. If the company does not get lucky in short order, it becomes vulnerable in 4 ways:

  1. Many companies release quality talent. Research shows that 1 top performer produces the value of 3 average employees.
  2. They reduce staff in the areas that are most important to servicing clients, causing a decline in customer satisfaction. Be very careful when reducing positions that interface directly with your customers or affect customer satisfaction. This will have a dramatic affect on their loyalty to your company and will make them vulnerable to your competition.
  3. They stop investing significant time and money in strategic planning and research and development. This failure to innovate and take advantage of new market opportunities results in not seeing that customer needs have changed. For example, anything you can do to help reduce energy costs for business is a huge opportunity right now. If your competitor can add this on to their offering, you will lose your customer.
  4. They extend intervals for maintaining equipment, have people working too many hours, or implement some other internal policy changes that reduces product quality. This causes another opportunity for you to lose market share.

Okay, so what can your companies do right now to ensure 20% or more growth?

  1. Planning – Have and work with a written business plan.
  2. Core Customer – Identify who is your most profitable and loyal customer, and focus on those customers that will most likely buy your product or services in the quantity required for optimal profit.
  3. Differentiate – Make sure that your company has an uncommon offering that is targeted toward your core customer that your business will “own” and leverage.
  4. Invest in Your Sales Force – Get rid of your “C” players immediately. Invest whatever it takes to train and develop your “A” and “B” players to peak performance.
  5. Improve Hiring Process of Sales Force – In our experience most companies do a very poor job in hiring salespeople. The assessment tools and interviewing processes they use produce a poor success rate. This costs companies a lot of money on the top line.
  6. Find Top Talent – Evaluate every employee at least once a year. Get rid of your “C” players, and figure out which of your “B” players can be developed into “A” players.
  7. Marketing – Great advertising and public relations is what attracts potential business to your sales force.

In summary, it is important that CEOs realize that a down economy is an opportunity.  Also, while I agree that all companies should always manage their expenses prudently, you cannot cut your way to prosperity. While focusing on costs, many companies inadvertently destroy their top line, requiring them to put more pressure on the cost line, thus creating a spiral effect. I would rather step on the gas and grow the top line while managing my costs well and never have to worry about layoffs.

Review our website to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Achieving Sales Targets Is A Simple Math Exercise

I consistently see management frustrated that their sales force is not producing. They will tell me there are enough sales out there, but their people are not getting it done. When I ask where the problem is, they cannot tell me. The reason they can’t tell me is that they are not tracking and measuring the right numbers.

The key to understanding the success of a salesperson is to measure as far upstream in the sales process as possible. Too often we ask salespeople to provide a list of their prospects, with an estimate of the dollar value of the contract, and they keep giving us the same people and deals. In order to properly track your sales activity and to predict sales results, you need to track the following for every salesperson:

How many calls they make daily, and break those down to:

  • Messages Left
  • Returned Calls
  • Conversations
  • New Suspects

How many meetings they have, and break that down to:

  • New Prospects
  • Referral Partners/Centers of Influence
  • Suspects
  • 2nd and 3rd Visits
  • Presentations
  • Deals Closed

In the Pipeline

  • Number of suspects – Scheduled and/or had first meetings
  • Prospects – Prospects need what you have, and there is a compelling reason to take action; you have developed a relationship, and they see you differently from your competitors.
  • Qualified Prospects – They are completely qualified to do business with you, and you are qualified to do business with them.
  • Closeable – You are ready to propose and close the deal.

Close ratio

It all starts with phone calls and prospecting activity. If they do not do enough there, you are guaranteed to not have enough sales. In addition, with each individual, you can start predicting the amount of upfront activity it takes to achieve the desired sales targets, which will be different for each person. Some people are stronger closers and thus do not need as many deal opportunities. Some people are prospecting machines, but are not as good at closing. In the end, a certain amount of activity leads to a certain amount of productivity, and the math adds up.

We help clients achieve quick, efficient and profitable growth through the easy implementation of proven methods. Contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com to find out how a business coach, our consultants and trainers can help you accelerate your success.

Close Faster By Wearing Your Prospects’ Shoes

There are many skills salespeople need to learn to be successful.  In teaching these skills I have found that there are two words in the English language that most salespeople fail to clearly understand in meaning and application: “sympathy” and “empathy.” Not knowing the difference, and not knowing which will help you earn sales success, can cause significant delays in deals or may break them.

Many of my sales coaching clients and group trainees believe the words sympathy and empathy are synonyms.  They are not.  The difference is significant in meaning and can have a dramatic affect on sales performance.  Sympathy means that someone “shares” the feelings of another person or group of people.  Empathy means a person “understands” the feelings of another but leaves themselves in a position of objectivity. In other words, as a salesperson, if you share their feelings you are weakened in position, but if you are empathetic you can still help them.

In order to illustrate my point, let’s take a real-life scenario. A salesperson named Mike from ABC Company is given a lead for George, the owner of XYZ Company that wants his services.  Mike meets with George to discuss the company’s needs.  After 2 hours of fact-finding they are able to mutually agree on company goals and the assistance Mike’s firm can provide.  However, what George contacted Mike for was only a small part of ABC’s services and would not help them fully achieve their goals.  To really achieve the outcome XYZ wanted, it would take $80K. George explains to Mike, “I like what you have told me, but I have never bought this type of product and service before. This is a lot of money.  Give me some references. I probably will not do anything until next month anyway, so let me think about it.”  If Mike is sympathetic, he would say, “Sure, I would feel the same way if I were you. I will get those references and call you next month.”  By being sympathetic, research tells us Mike probably lost his deal.  George, who was probably very close to signing a deal, will find many reasons never to meet with Mike again. For example, George will talk to friends or other nonexperts who were not in the meeting, have never purchased such services, will hear the price tag, and will tell George it is unreasonable.

An empathetic salesperson would have responded, “I understand, but let’s be honest here, what will be different between now and next month?  If my references were to tell you that this is going to work, then can we move forward?”

Sympathy rarely has a place in sales. Certainly, sympathy is appropriate in dealing with matters involving the death of a client or family member.  However, you need to be very careful when you want to share someone’s feeling. In most cases, however, there is no place for sympathy in sales.  It is usually death for the salesman.

Buying is an emotional experience. If you do not understand how your prospect feels, you cannot help them buy.  It has been said over and over again, “people like to buy, not to be sold.”  You can only do this if you master the skill of empathy. So next time you look at your prospect closing ratio and think it should be better, ask yourself how well have you mastered the skill of empathy!

Contact me today to learn how Activate Group helps individuals to increase their success and works with organizations to attain consistent revenue and profit growth rates of at least 20% annually by calling [phone link=”true”] or e-mail me at shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Coaches’ Corner – Are you winning too much?

Winning too much is one of the most common issues we see in successful people, from the executive suite to the top salespeople. The suggestion that this might be a detriment is usually followed by an incredulous look from the recipient. After all, shouldn’t everyone want to win all the time? Actually, this one behavioral problem belies many others. Common indicators that this issue exists are as follows:

  • One does not realize that winning in a particular situation is more damaging than losing.
  • Someone shares a great experience, and the over-competitive person has to add one of his own better experiences.
  • One person takes credit for another person’s good deeds.
  • Someone tends to be argumentative in their desire to get you to see things their way.
  • An employee that is seen by most employees as hard-working, committed, and driving positive change is suddenly fired.
  • Belittling people who have a skill not possessed by the spoiler.
  • Regular withholding of information that is needed for others to be successful.

We are not suggesting that one should eradicate competitiveness or the desire to be the best. With that said, by engaging one of our coaches you might shift from “good to great” or “great to greater” performance by realizing when it is important to win and when it does not matter. Overcoming this issue has resulted in the following benefits:

  • More personal power in their organization
  • Greater sales performance
  • Lower employee turnover
  • Higher customer retention
  • More and stronger friendships
  • Higher degree of personal satisfaction
  • Stronger teamwork

We help executives deal with behavioral challenges like these on a daily basis. Review our website to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

* This concept is adapted from and explored more deeply in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshal Goldsmith. We recommend reading this book.

Consistently Grow Revenue at Record Levels – Article 1 of 2

By Howard Shore, Executive and Business Coach

There are very few CEOs that are not concerned with sales growth. Ninety-five percent of CEOs that I have spoken with this year described their sales growth as follows:

A)     Overall sales are below last year.

B)     Overall sales are about the same as last year.

C)     We are growing, but our growth rate is slower than that of our top competitors.

D)    Our growth rate is slower than last year.

E)     Our growth rate is not where we want it to be.

While this may not be a surprise, you’ll be interested to know that the solutions are easier than you think. Even more fascinating is that many companies are meeting sales targets that have been set extremely below potential. This article and the next will discuss how you can continue to consistently grow revenue at record levels.

One of the hardest and most important skills executives must learn or add to their repertoire is forecasting. It is most common to find two types of companies, those that fall well below sales expectations and those that meet them. Both should be concerns. The former usually miss their numbers because they are pulling numbers out of the air with no real plans. This group is under the common misconception that there is no way they can predict their numbers and believe they must guess. The main issue here is the harm this does to the company when you have no real measurements and standards to which you can hold people accountable. In these companies, hitting goals is no indication of good or bad performance because the numbers have no substance to them.

The typical excuse for failing to properly forecast is that the nature of the industry is too volatile and uncertain for accurate predictions. With the proper tools and talent management can conquer these challenges. The other excuse commonly offered is that the company is too small (or its margins are too thin) to hire adequate talent. The answer to this is simple. It costs far less to hire than not to hire. You must pay what it takes to hire the right person or person(s) or hire a consultant to come in at least quarterly.

Then there are the organizations that meet expectations. While it is possible that some companies set and achieve aggressively ambitious expectations, this is rarely case. In my experience, these companies use poor reference points (e.g. what they have done historically), allowing cultural norms to hold them back, fearing failure, and/or using ineffective incentive programs. A great example is a client that hired me because their historical norm of 8 percent in annual sales and profit growth had slowed to 3 percent. During the strategic planning process it was determined that their annual growth goal would be 10%, as they were concerned about harming their culture.

We developed a good strategy, and in the first year they grew 30% in revenue and 40% in profit, without doing any acquisitions or harming their culture. This sounds like an amazing success, but something stunning happened at about halfway through the year. The company was so far ahead of projections (actually 50%) that the leadership team stopped pushing and complacency kicked in. They lost focus on the business plan and failed to execute most of the business plan goals, even though they were achievable. At the end of the year one of the owners confided in me that it was very hard to get anybody focused when everyone was fat and happy.

I find that, regardless of the industry, if you are under $500 million in revenue and not consistently growing at 20% or more annually, you probably have a strategy issue. If you have a good strategy you should be growing at the top end of your industry’s growth rate, and in many cases your industry’s growth rate becomes irrelevant because you are far outpacing it. Many companies I encounter do not have a strategy. In other words, there is very little difference, if any, between them and their competition. These companies believe they do not have time for strategy and/or do not spend enough time engaging their best people in strategic thinking. If you are not setting at least 1 day aside per quarter for strategy, you are leaving revenue on the table. Most companies have great underdeveloped opportunities right within their organizations. They are too busy focusing on issues that seem important (and are not) and allow themselves to be taken away from truly driving the business to the next level.

Additionally, it is common to find companies with good strategies whose management unwittingly fails to understand what their strategy really is. In other words, they do not really understand the key reason why their customers have chosen them over the competition. Case in point, a company thought their customers chose them because of great quality. The economy turned, and they decided to cut staff to manage profits. Sales dropped almost immediately. As time went by, management noticed that sales were dropping much faster than expected. This was initially misinterpreted as the result of the bad economy rather than the staff cuts they made primarily in the customer interfacing areas of their business.

Eventually management started to realize that the company was losing market share, which meant that their sales were slowing much more than the competition’s. They decided to have a third party conduct a customer survey. From that survey they learned that the real key to winning customers in their business was great service. In the end, they refocused strategy around customer service, and the results were outstanding, with sales growth rates outpacing those prior to the economic downturn.

In the end, if growth rates in sales are not at the top end of your industry, or at least at 20%, look toward strategy first. In article 2 of 2, we will assume you have a good strategy and will address what you can do from an operational perspective to boost sales growth.

Review our website to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com. We bring proven tools that lead to new ways of thinking that lead to better results.

Consistently Grow Revenue at Record Levels – Article 2 of 2

The first step in consistently growing revenue is strategy.  You know you have a good strategy when your revenue growth is over 20% and/or at the top of your industry group.  However, growth is not easy to sustain.  There are roughly 23 million firms in the US, of which only 4 percent get above $1 million in revenue. Of those firms, only about 1 out of 10, or 0.4 percent of all companies, ever make it to $10 million in revenue and only 17,000 companies surpass $50 million. Finishing out, the top of the list, the top 2,500 firms in the US are larger than $500 million, and there are 500 firms in the world larger than $11 billion.*

Article 1 focused on the importance of strategy and having the right personnel on your team to help forecast the future.  While this is essential to building a high-growth organization, I have seen many an organization develop great strategy and forecast well and still not get it done.

Last weekend, my client and friend, Raul Segredo, CEO of Avionica, became the star of this article. Raul runs a very successful and fast-growing aviation company. He took me flying in a six-seat airplane. In our mission for the day – going to lunch – he took me through his routine, one that I believe exemplifies the way to consistently grow a business at record levels: having everything you need to see on one page, looking at leading indicators, and great communications systems.

Pilots regularly do exactly what the CEO needs to do. When we got to the plane, Raul had a routine that I will call leading indicators for a safe flight.  He inspected the entire plane to make sure that everything was the way it should be (equipment check, fuel check, etc).  He did not take off until he knew that he was not putting himself, his plane, and his passenger in danger.  He knew where we were going and had the flight charted on how to get there.  He had the proper training and knowledge to adapt to conditions if unexpected events occurred. . While we were in flight, he had everything he needed to see on one panel to stay on course and fly a successful mission. Lastly, had anything gone wrong, there was a communication system in place to address issues.

Goal Alignment

Goal alignment is a key to consistent growth. The best way to do this is to reduce your strategic and business plan goals to a “one-page” format.  Not only is this achievable, it is imperative.  The concern of many leaders is that there are a lot of moving pieces in their business and their tendency is to want to control all of those pieces.  This causes a lack of focus and too many unfinished things.  Rather than trying to feed the entrepreneurs’ desire, the one-page format forces them to focus only on what is most important to them “now.”  Using this methodology, everyone has the same control panel but with differing measurements, depending on their roles and responsibilities.  Some of the columns are the same for all, such as core values, vision, company targets, and brand promise.  However, there are columns on the control panel that are specific to the individual/department such as: accountability, actions, and measurements. On this control panel there should be no more than 3 key priorities and core measurements of focus.  In the end, all align with the CEO’s control panel.  By utilizing this method, you provide for complete alignment throughout the entire organization

Leading Indicators

As an affiliated coach with Gazelles, Inc. we are called upon to help the organization implement the growth tools talked about in “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harnish.  As part of its strategic planning processes, an organization must identify core stakeholders and processes that drive growth.  Once identified, it is imperative to have the 2 or 3 leading indicators that will let you know in advance (e.g. revenue and profit) that you are well on track to do well.  By focusing on these leading indicators you will better execute on your strategy and thus better sustain your growth.

A great example was a technology development firm that was growing over 100% per year.  After 4 years of consistent growth at incredible levels and being on the top of most highly recognized magazines’ (e.g. Fortune and INC) lists, they were seeing a decline in performance and turnover in employees who were considered stars.  Originally the CEO thought that the company was outgrowing his people. Ultimately, he realized that he was burning everyone out.  As a result, the company developed a new leading indicator of “Employee Hours.”  They looked at all of the projects and made it a company requirement that all projects were staffed and planned to fit within a “60-Hour Work Week.”  This became a critical leading indicator to their success and sustained growth. This goal actually revolutionized the way the company thought, improved quality, reduced cycle time, employee retention, customer satisfaction, and actually increased growth.

Another great leading indicator that is highly recommended for every business is Net Promoter Score (“NPS”).  In “The Ultimate Question,” author Fred Reichheld introduces the NPS as the way in which leading firms transform their customers into promoters.  The survey focused around one simple question, “Would you recommend us to a friend?”  The analysis shows that on average, if a company increases NPS by a dozen points versus competitors, it can expect revenue growth to double.  This is a radical change from the customer satisfaction score, which is totally ineffective in predicting success for a company.  .

Communication

You would think by the title of Patrick Lecioni’s book, “Death by Meeting,” it would be about companies having too many meetings. Actually, the point of the book is that companies have too many bad meetings. Your organization must have a system of daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings that focus communications around what is critical to driving your businesses, preventing bottlenecks before they happen, and promoting teamwork. Design meeting agendas to discuss those topics that will drive your business, using the information you already prescribed in your “one-page” plans.

Summary

Growing consistently at record levels starts with strategy.  Once you have developed a good strategy, you may not grow as much as you should because of poor execution of strategy.  The key is to learn from my friend Raul to be a good pilot.  Have a good flight plan that you can fit on one page, use leading indicators to identify issues early, and have a great communications system so you are able address problems rapidly and maximize growth and profits.

Review our website to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com. We bring proven tools that lead to new ways of thinking that lead to better results.

* Excerpt from Mastering the Rockerfeller Habits by Verne Harnish.

Five Crucial Techniques for Doubling Revenue

In preparing for our Sales and Marketing Summit and visiting with some of the world’s top sales and marketing thought leaders, as well as CEOs whose firms are seeing dramatic increases in revenue during this downturn, several actionable ideas have emerged which you can act on immediately.

Dramatically Reduce Sales Cycle Time

The first is from Dr. Victoria Medvec, negotiations expert from Northwestern University and author of the series High Stakes Negotiation: Ten Steps for Maximizing Outcomes and Building Relationships.  Nothing improves cash flow (CFOs are fans) and revenue more than reducing your sales cycle time.  And an important technique to dramatically reducing it is to use synchronous communication throughout the sales process.

“This starts with NEVER presenting a sales proposal to a customer without being on the phone or in person with them,” notes Medvec.  Emailing a proposal to a customer ahead of a meeting doesn’t give you the opportunity to react immediately to potential concerns and objections that might arise as they read through your proposal.  And the more time the customer has to ponder an objection and potentially pollute their colleagues with negative reactions (or spouse if it’s a business to consumer sale), the more difficult it will be to move the sales process forward.

Even if the customer is adamant about receiving a proposal ahead of a physical meeting, suggest it will save them time if you can review the proposal over the phone and that you’ll email it to them a few minutes before a scheduled phone call.  What you and your sales people want is the opportunity to see, hear, or at least sense specific objections, as you review the proposal, so you can react immediately.  And then you want to continue to utilize synchronous communication for the rest of the sales negotiation process.

“I’ve seen this single technique reduce sales cycles from months to weeks and even to days,” concludes Medvec.  Fred Crosetto, CEO of Seattle and China-based Ammex, who has seen his company achieve record revenues the first part of 2009, is so convinced of the power of this technique that he’s driving it across his entire company using Medvec’s series.

Pricing with Confidence

Of the four P’s of marketing, price is the only one which directly puts money in your pocket.  Yet I find companies setting price with very little strategy behind their decisions.  And panicked decisions about pricing in turbulent times can be costly in both the short and long run.  For answers, it’s imperative you read Pricing with Confidence: Ten Ways to Stop Leaving Money on the Table by Reed Holden and Mark Burton (and subscribe to their blog).  Pay particular attention to Rule Three in their book where they outline three simple pricing strategies all firms can use.

Noted Burton in a recent conversation, “too many firms have gotten caught flat-footed and are using price discounts in a panic to try to keep demand that is going away no matter what they do. The firms that do this are creating two very significant long-term problems. First, they are destroying the integrity of their pricing and the value of their brands.  Second, they are training their customers to negotiate for every last penny thus undermining their most valuable asset – trusting customer relationships.”

Both of these forces will make it extraordinarily difficult to bring prices back up when the economy finally does turn.  In addition, it will take much longer to bring prices back up to a level that reflects the true value of the goods and services being sold.

Burton suggests the way around this is to look objectively at pricing as a strategic tool that must be managed systematically based on value, market demand, cost structure, product lifecycle, and firm capabilities.  This view leads one to make decisions on the basis of preserving and gaining pricing power be it through reducing capacity to match demand, introducing low price – low value offerings, or making systematic adjustments to price lists so that list and street prices are more in line.

Multiple Channels

“Place” is one of the other four P’s of marketing.  And research by Neil Rackham, the father of modern sales and sales management techniques, reveals that companies with more sales channels trump competing firms with less.

This means setting aside all the debate about protecting various territories and giving your customers as many options for purchasing your product as you can.  In the end, you can’t dictate from whom and how your customers will purchase your products and services.  They all have different preferences and will find competitors who give them these options.

In turn, it’s up to your various sales channels to earn their right to distribute your services.  If the customer wants high touch, value-added consultative help in purchasing your product, they’ll utilize that channel.  If instead, they prefer to “do-it-themselves” then give them that option as well.  Read Changing the Channel by Michael Masterson and MaryEllen Tribby as they detail how to utilize a dozen different marketing channels for your business.

Case in point – as I’m writing this column on a flight to Australia, I’ve been visiting with a Sydney-based entrepreneur who has seen his revenue jump 70%.  One key is a website he’s launched that allows his do-it-yourself customers to purchase products direct from his factory vs. through his normal agency channels.  To smooth over what could be contentious channel conflict discussions with his agents, the website does offer a slightly different product line and it trades under a different name.  However, he’s utilizing multiple channels nevertheless and it’s driving revenue.

Half the Customers; Twice the Attention

Though a repetition of Neil Rackham’s advice I shared last year, more than ever you need to identify your best customers and shower them with twice the attention.

Chet Holmes, author of mega-hit The Ultimate Sales Machine, drives home this point in Chapter 4 of his book.  Holmes, who doubled sales three years in a row for nine divisions of Charlie Munger’s firm (Munger is Warren Buffett’s partner), encourages firms to focus on their Best Buyer or Best Neighborhood and then create a nurturing marketing campaign that touches these customers 10 to 15 times with educational information.  If you’re not familiar with nurturing marketing, also read Jim Cecil’s book Nurturing Customer Relationships.

It starts with doing a thorough job of researching the benefits of your product or service.  For one major roofing company, Holmes’ market research firm found that a large percentage of the time a roof is replaced when it only needs repaired.  In turn, greater than half of all building maintenance problems emanate from problems with the roof.  Armed with this research, the company structured an educational campaign that reached out to the owners of large facilities every two weeks over a period of months, which dramatically increased warm leads for the sales team to close.

Web 2.0

The third P of marketing “promotion” has taken on a new twist given the power of the web to reach customers.  Given the confusing array of terminology and options, read David Meerman Scott’s best-selling book The New Rules of PR and Marketing: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly.

The title itself gives you a flavor for the array of inexpensive promotional opportunities available to a growth firm.  And his book is the first to explain the options in a way I find non-tech growth company executives can understand and implement.  Though I’ve not read it yet, he has a new book that should be out by the time you read this column entitled World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories.

Keep on Learning

More than ever, the field of sales and marketing is undergoing a transformation while harkening back to basics that have always been critical to driving revenue.  As Crosetto, CEO of Ammex, shared with me, “It’s a mystery to me why companies cut back on learning and training in down time.  Now is when more focus should be put on training and capturing opportunity.”  So grab a book and start innovating in your sales and marketing activities.

Have Your Goals and Achieve Them Too!

You see it every day in your daily lives and particularly at year-end, with all of the New Year resolutions and business plans. Next year you are going to do all of those things you have never done, and more. Or maybe you just want to get back to where you used to be. You set goals for some really important reasons:

  • Keep you on target
  • Make better decisions
  • Keep you focused
  • Increase self-motivation
  • Develop self-confidence
  • How many goals do you have going right now?
  • How have the anticipated rewards influenced your progress (or lack thereof)?
  • Are all of your goals planned out fully? What difference might it make?
  • How do you know if you really are going to achieve those goals?

Here is a quick quiz to see if you are on track:

  • Do I state my goals in a way that tells exactly what will be achieved and by when?
  • Are my goals measurable in a way that I will know whether they are achieved or not?
  • Do I set goals that are attainable and are not designed to stretch to some level below that goal?
  • Are my goals set realistically high so that they require some sort of behavior change?
  • Do all my goals have a definite target date for completion?
  • Do I evaluate my goals to make sure that I do not have too many goals?
  • Have I taken the time to prioritize my goals?
  • Have I written down all of my goals?
  • Do all the people who contribute to my goals know exactly what the goals are and how they contribute to them?
  • Have I thought through in advance and considered all the detailed steps that it will take to complete my goal?

The answer to every question above should always be yes whether it is a personal or professional goal. For every question you answered as “no,” you can probably drop your goal success rate downward by at least 20%. Do not try to put more importance on any one of these items as that would be like building the engine of your car or baking a cake and saying one part or ingredient is more important than the other. The reality is that if one part or ingredient is missing, your car will probably not start or your cake will be inedible.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of some of the critical factors that can help you increase your goal success rate to over 90%. There are too many factors to cover in this article so my aim is to clarify some of the top (key) points.

There are a lot of things you do (consciously or subconsciously) to achieve or not to achieve your goals. although I would agree that outside circumstance can play a role in goal achievement. If you are honest with yourself, when you fail to achieve a goal, whether it’s more sales, customer retention, employee retention, or something personal like weight loss, success or failure is more dependent on the goal-setter than on outside influences.

Commitment

I always get a funny look when I discuss this issue with clients and friends. Many people think that because they made a decision, they made a commitment. This could be the farthest from the truth. Actually, the hardest decisions oftentimes have the weakest commitments, particularly the larger the group size.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? More than a year is spent thinking about something, maybe even a committee is created to evaluate it, consultants are hired, friends and colleagues conferred with, money is spent for market research, and finally an affirmative decision is made. The project, system, process, or other decision is placed into action, and all of a sudden the inevitable happens – problems arise, big problems, little problems, and problems disguised as attitudes.

What happens to most people’s level of commitment when faced with these problems? Rather than solving the problems, they ignore all of the thought that went into making the decision and allow emotion to take over. Their commitment to the decision it took them a year to make crumbles, and with it the chance of following through on the decision.

IF YOU MAKE A DECISION, MAKE A COMMITMENT!

Smarty Goals

The first step in setting goals is to establish a SMART goal that is stated positively. As alluded to in the Quiz, SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistically high, and Time-based. However, one often-overlooked item is the goal must be Yours. While this criterion seems simple, it is actually not easy in execution. If it were, everyone would achieve a lot more goals. Very briefly, let us discuss what each of these criteria really means:

  • Specific – You say exactly what it is you are going to do. Hazy goals are doomed to failure. For example, we are going to establish a new training program for our supervisors by 10/1/XX. You are not defining what you want to train them to do.
  • Measurable – The goal must be stated in a way so that you can definitely know whether it has been achieved. In addition, you should be able to see if the trend is negative in order to modify your detailed action steps accordingly. For example, we are going to increase the frequency of meetings with our hourly staff. How many additional meetings would you consider acceptable? What purpose would these meetings serve?
  • Attainable and Realistically High – Goals should have sufficient rewards and/or consequences to be motivational, and they must be attainable. If it appears that your goal will not require any kind of behavior change, challenge yourself to make sure that it does. Either the goal is too low, or you are not being realistic about what it will take to get there. The reality is you have set it as a goal because you are not already doing it, and the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.”
  • Time Based – When do you want this goal completed by? Be honest, are there goals you have talked about for years that are still on your goal list? It is probably because you have not committed to a deadline.

The following is an example of a SMART goal:

  • Get 10 appointments by the end of this quarter with decision-makers in the hospitality industry within 50 miles of the Miami area whose companies employ more than 250 people

Write your goals down and broadcast them!

It is not unusual to meet people that have goals about which nobody knows. Even worse, they may not be written down anywhere. In personal or organizational circumstances it is always best to write your goals down for the following reasons:

  • It strengthens commitment.
  • Unwritten goals change unconsciously.
  • It rounds out your thought process and gives you an opportunity to think things through.
  • It provides a means to communicate to everyone who is responsible for execution.

If you have goals and they are not communicated succinctly to everyone who is responsible for doing what it takes to get to where you want to go, what is the likelihood they are going to do it? People like to have purpose and know where they are going. We use goals to focus individuals and organizations in the same direction. When we achieve goals, it increases energy, and that has a positive impact on results, thus further increasing energy, increasing focus on goals, increasing results, increasing energy, and so on. It is that simple!

Review our website to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Proper Time Management Earns Trust and Success

If you are regularly rescheduling, canceling, missing, or late to meetings you must read this article. Keeping your time commitments is a success secret that I share with every client. However, many do not take it seriously at first. They find it hard to accept that time management provides such a big opportunity. This is particularly true in Miami, where being late and canceling meetings is an epidemic of grave proportions.

Resistance notwithstanding, time management is a concept that is basic and simple to apply, and the positive results are astronomical. Whether you are in sales, management, or working your way up the ladder, being on time and keeping your meetings can be a goldmine. I have had clients partially apply this secret and the results are automatic. Interested? Then read on!

The real problem it that is difficult to isolate and quantify the direct and indirect costs of canceling or rescheduling meetings, being late, or missing meetings. The culprits always justify their actions with comments such as:

  • My biggest customer needed me.
  • An emergency had to be dealt with.
  • I had too many phone calls/e-mails to return.
  • Another matter was more important.
  • Traffic was bad.
  • The other meeting ran too long.

Regardless of what people tell you, if you are late for meetings by more than 5 minutes twice a week, reschedule or cancel meetings more than twice week, or miss meetings twice a month, you can be more successful by improving your time management. The comments above may be reasonable responses on occasion, but, in most cases, they are excuses for not being responsible, and they are costing you something even if you cannot isolate and measure the cost.

Think about your own experience. What are your true thoughts about someone who is late? When your doctor keeps you waiting for 45 minutes, are you happy when he finally sees you? Does he seem more qualified, somehow better than other doctors, worth paying more to see? Is this someone you would want to refer to a friend, invite over for dinner, do a special favor for, or maybe work until midnight for? Of course not! Amazingly, though, as bosses you somehow think it is okay to make your employees stand outside your office for 20 minutes while you take a phone call, or have them wait in the conference room until you’re ready, ask them to cancel meetings to accommodate yours, and so on. But you were tending to your biggest customer, so they should understand. Right?

I use a method in my coaching to educate my time-challenged clients on the importance of keeping appointments. If they do not give me 48 hours notice before cancellation, they pay me a large fee for meeting cancellation. This is done to help my clients realize that every time they cancel a meeting, whether it is with me or with someone else, and there is less than 48 hours notice, there is a cost to every person involved in the meeting and those around them. For those of you who think I do this for revenue, less than 10% of my clients ever pay even one late fee, and only two clients have ever paid more than one.

What does canceling meetings have to do with trustworthiness? As I coach salespeople, I have to help them with the first step in the buying process, which is to get the prospect to “buy” the salesperson. If the buyer does not trust the salesperson, it will likely not matter how good the company or its products are. The salesperson will go home without a sale. If the salesperson does not show up on time, it lowers trust.

Well folks, everyone is in sales. We are selling to employees, bosses, boards of directors, shareholders, children, customers, vendors, and so on. If you are on time and keep your meetings with someone, you help earn trust, which in turn helps earn power with someone, and then the sales process has a chance of happening. On the other hand, if you cancel meetings, make people wait, show up late, and constantly reschedule, you lose their trust. You lose power with that person, and there is no deal. It is that simple!

Even better than being on time, I propose that everyone start living on the “15 Minutes Early Plan.” Have you ever noticed that when you arrive at someone’s office to have a meeting, that is when they start preparing for your meeting? This is especially true if you are in sales. The prospect is never ready, so by getting there just in time, you lose at least 10 minutes of your allotted time. Arriving early usually gets you 10 more minutes of productive time. And if the prospect is someone really important (like the CEO), it might be weeks or months before you get “face-time” again, so those are 10 big minutes.

Another benefit of the “15 Minutes Early Plan” is to lower the impact of road rage from the horrible traffic in Miami and South Florida. Estimating a just-in-time arrival takes PhDs in geography, quantum physics, and mathematics, and a lot of luck. By planning to be 15 minutes early, you can bring less stress to your meeting and your life.

Even if you do not have to drive, it is just no fun to rush around. It is nice to have a few minutes between meetings to have a glass of water, call your significant other to say hello, or take a few deep breaths before running to the next meeting. You will find that you get more done, and your input will be much better.

As I’ve already mentioned, all of this is linked to success. What is meant by success? Success is defined by the individual, and typically defined in terms of money, friends, possessions, colleagues, status, power, prestige, customer satisfaction, strong family, etc. At the end of the day, I leave it to you to find your definition of success. Master your use of time, and you will have more of it to enjoy your success.

Review our website at to understand how an executive coach or business coach can help you increase the success of your career and business or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Prospecting for More Sales in a Bad Economy

A poor economy has too often become an excuse for poor performance of many businesses. While the current economic situation is a contributing factor, many of these businesses can perform much better. Most businesses in the U.S. are small and have sales that equal less than 1% market share. If your business has less than one percent of market share, it should be able to grow in any economy.

One hidden area in which to find more sales is right under your own roof. According to “Baseline Selling” by Dave Kurlan, 60% of all sales people are not prospecting consistently, and 50% of all sales people won’t prospect. Combine those figures with the fact that 60% of all sales people suffer from the habit of making excuses, and I think we have uncovered one of the secrets to bringing more sales to your top line.

Simply, if you get everyone responsible for sales to focus on prospecting better, you will increase sales. I recently spoke with the CEO of one of my client companies, and he was complaining about how his sales disappeared. So I asked him who is responsible for sales. He named three people. I went down the list, person number 1 did no prospecting in the last week, person number 2 did no prospecting in the last week, and person number 3 was prospecting only sometimes. Bingo!!!

There are nine rules about prospecting that I have learned over the years. If these rules are followed, they will give you the results you need:

  1. Set Goals – It is very important for sales people to have specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based goals for each step in the selling process. One step most commonly skipped in the goal-setting process is prospecting. Failing to set goals for prospecting is a huge mistake. When setting prospecting goals, one must have overall prospecting goals and goals for each element of prospecting, placing greater emphasis on higher value activities. For example, it is a good idea to set up a point system (e.g. 4 points – closed deal; 3 points – proposal; 2 points – conducted a meeting; 1 point – scheduled a meeting). Each week, establish an overall goal for the week based on their schedules and what they believe is lofty-but-realistic, and they can then set their goals for each of the areas.
  2. What Gets Measured Gets Done – Every sales person hates to report on their activity. However, research has proven that whenever someone collects their own data and reports it, their results increase dramatically. Whenever I work with a client who refuses to complete the tracking sheets that I provide and send me the “Week-in Review,” I already know that client is underperforming. What those people are telling me is they do not want to be honest with me or themselves, and they are not doing what they need to do.  The more detailed your activity tracking, the more you can learn and the more you can predict. Measurement can tell you how much activity it takes to produce the sales you want. It also tells you how you are being inefficient or in many cases when activity is lacking.
  3. Be Prepared – Be ready to explain what you do in one simple sentence. In addition, your explanation must be from the perspective of the client. Lastly, you must be ready to explain to someone in one sentence what a good referral is for you.
  4. Schedule Time for Prospecting – The best way to address a task that you do not want to do is to put it on your calendar like any other important meeting. You should put time on your calendar to make cold calls, call people that will give you qualified referrals, and to follow-up on referrals and leads. By blocking time you are making a commitment. Caution: This is not the time for organizing your client database or other administrative tasks. Also, do not fool yourself. Make sure that you are calling a fresh prospect list. I am amazed at how many people will beat up the same contacts week after week and think they are doing legitimate prospecting.
  5. Avoid Leaving Messages – When prospecting, too many sales people are hiding behind voicemail, e-mail, and text messaging to avoid rejection. This is not prospecting. Statistics tell us that it takes 5-7 attempts to get through to someone. They will answer the phone if you have faith. Try calling at different times of the day, on different days of the week, but do your best not to leave a message. Once you leave the message or send the e-mail you are acting, sounding and will be treated like a salesperson.
  6. Give a Reason For a Returned Call – If you leave a message or send an e-mail, you must be creative. If you call and leave a message of regarding your identity, company name, and purpose of your call, you are not going to like your success rate. I like leaving messages that keep them puzzled. Most times your message should be simply, “this is YOUR NAME. Call me when you are back in the office. My number is XXXXXXXXXX.” Say it with confidence and urgency. They may have no idea who you are and will call you back because they think they are supposed to remember who you are.
  7. Prospect Consistently – This should be a daily activity. The only reason to miss prospecting on a given day is because there is no work that day. All other excuses are unacceptable. If there is ever a break in your sales production, you can always track it back to a time where there was a break in your prospecting consistency. Failing to prospect is the equivalent of failing to breathe. If you stop breathing, oxygen does not get to your brain and you die. The more consistent and healthier your breathing patterns are, the better your brain functions.
  8. Have a System for Getting Referrals – Statistics speak for themselves. If you spend your day making cold calls you might get 2% as customers. If you network your odds may go up to 10%. However, referrals increase your chances to between 50% and 75%. Ask any salesperson and they will tell you that their highest close ratios come from referrals. So you would think that they would spend most of their time working on referrals. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Most sales people I talk to do not have a system for getting referrals, and what they call referrals, I call cold calls. In my opinion, getting someone’s name and permission to use them as a reference is not a referral. It is a reference. A good referral system consists of helping others uncover a potential client through a system of questions. Those questions help your referral source conclude that they know someone that has a problem, they would like to help that someone, and they think you are the right person to solve it. The referral source is then willing to contact that person and make the introduction before you make the call.
  9. Give More Referrals Than You Receive – The secret to getting a lot of referrals is giving a lot of referrals.

If you want to get the sales needle moving in your sales department you probably need to look no further than the prospecting efforts of your sales people. One hour of daily effective prospecting in the right places will put you ten paces ahead of your competition.

Review our website to understand how coaches and sales force development experts can help you increase the success of your career and business, or contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or shoreh@activategroupinc.com.

Reference and excerpts taken with permission from online sales training and development tools developed published by www.myprofessionaldevelopment.com, of which Activate Group, Inc. is a licensed distributor.