Mother’s Day – A Flawed Model for Leadership

Mother's Day Card (1915)What began 100 years ago, with President Woodrow Wilson signing into law a National Day to honor mothers, has come to represent something of a flawed model for truly honoring those we care about.

In today’s culture, where ‘busyness’ rules the day, we can quickly and easily fall into familiar patterns that look an awful lot like day-to-day survival as we work through our to-do lists. By the time Mother’s Day rolls around, the scramble to ‘show Mom how much you love her’ can simply become another checklist item.

As leaders, we can fall into these same patterns.

‘To-Do List’ Appreciation
Many years ago, working with one of my leaders on this very topic, I had observed an unhealthy tension between the leader (Ron) and his staff members. With one particular staff member (Robbie), it was especially pronounced.

I met with Robbie and asked him why he was so angry with Ron. He proceeded to describe the dysfunction between Ron and the whole staff.

One of the examples Robbie cited was that when Ron would walk in to work every morning, he would walk right past every one of his co-workers without saying a word, much less “good morning.” Hearing these examples, I sat the two of them down to talk about these behaviors in order to bring insight to Ron, and facilitate a healthier work environment.

As Robbie shared his example with Ron about not saying “good morning” when he walked in, Ron wrote a note on his paper, saying aloud as he wrote…”Say good morning to Robbie when I walk in.” Ron’s tone was clearly patronizing. Robbie hung his head in disappointment.

Ron was terminated shortly thereafter for a variety of reasons, including his lack of value for people. He relegated respect and honor to a checklist item.

A Look in the Mirror
We hear stories like the one I just described, and we are appalled. Yet if we look in the mirror, how often do our actions reflect aspects of this very same behavior. For example, if we are marking our calendars in Outlook with reminders to ‘get Mom a card’ are we truly honoring her?

I am not advocating doing away with Mother’s Day. I just believe that we have an opportunity to ‘honor’ differently. If we truly want to honor her, we make it a priority and demonstrate our love and honor through our regular actions.

And so it goes with those we lead. It is easy for us to say we value our staff, but do our daily actions reinforce that our actions match our words? If not, let’s change that.

Let’s use this Mother’s Day, not as an annual reminder of when to ‘honor’ mom, but rather as the beginning of how we will honor those we love and care about each and every day.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

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Challenger: Use a Warmer to Build Credibility

Challenger Sale WarmerIn my previous post, Are your questions killing the sale?, I framed the ineffectiveness of reps using exploratory questioning with prospects to get deeper into their business issues.

The consequence of this approach is that the prospect gives little more than short answers to your questions, with no meaningful information shared. This is because your initial questions suggest you know less about the type of problems they face than they do.

If you are a rep that struggles to get deep in conversations about real issues with prospects, or a Sales Leader struggling to improve your team’s close rates, this post is for you.

Brief Recap of the Problem
Your opening statements and questions will immediately convey one of three things to the prospect about your ability to address the problems they are facing, or will face in the future. Your question will either show:

  1. You know more than the prospect about these areas
  2. You know equal to the prospect, or
  3. You know less than the prospect

For example, if a rep asked the following question of a prospect, what would it suggest about their knowledge of the customer, their industry, and/or the issues they are likely to face?

“What are some of the challenges your business has been experiencing?”

If you chose #3, you are correct as the question suggests the rep knows less about the prospect, their industry, and problems they will face than the prospect does.

Important to note is that questions or statements that infer you know equal to or less than the prospect creates no value in their mind. They have no need for you unless you can successfully demonstrate you have traveled this path before and have successfully navigated businesses like theirs to better outcomes. The trick is not to make it all about you.

Aim Higher in Your Opening
The goal of the Warmer in The Challenger Choreography is to build credibility by quickly demonstrating you understand business issues like those that they face. This is a critical first step, especially since the next step is to Reframe the way they have been thinking about their issues.

“A proper frame (a.k.a. The Warmer) must be in place before a Reframe can occur”

A proper Warmer statement contains 3 elements:

  1. Relate – This gives the prospect the sense that the businesses and issues you work with, will relate to them as well. They aren’t alone. (e.g., “I work with businesses similar to yours from all over the country”)
  2. Demonstrate – Saying you work with others like them isn’t enough. You must demonstrate understanding by identifying the issues they are likely facing. (e.g., “Three of the most troubling issues we see them face are [x, y & z].”
  3. Validate – This is not a monologue. Therefore, take a minute to validate you are on track with what they are facing by asking a question. (e.g., “Are you experiencing these [business issues] too, or are there others you would add?”)

If you truly know and understand what businesses like theirs are experiencing, the underlying message to the prospect is, “I understand you and companies just like you.” This builds their confidence and your credibility, which will lead you into deeper discussions with prospects more quickly.

Warnings on Assumptions and Arrogance…
It is common for reps and leaders to ask, “Isn’t it arrogant to assume we know more than they do without talking to them and asking them questions first?” My answer? If these concepts are misunderstood and misapplied, then “Yes.”

The only real assumption made here is that if you have worked with many other customers, affected by similar issues, you have a reasonable belief that this has, or will, affect them too. If so, you have a broader perspective and expertise from which to help. That isn’t arrogant, nor assumptive.

Upcoming Posts…
Next, I will be addressing what I have labeled the ‘PreFrame,’ followed by the Teaching Point. Both of these precede the Warmer, but the Teaching Point should precede any interaction with a prospect or customer.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Implementing the Challenger Sale, Visually

Making a Powerful Impact, Visually

In January 2012, I was giving a keynote address on becoming a ‘Challenger’ to a room full of highly competent sales reps, who were self-described as Relationship Builders in their selling approach. In fact, this approach was reinforced by the whole organization as it had been centered around relationship building for more than three decades.

To create an impetus for changing what had been endorsed as the preferred selling approach (a.k.a., status quo) for decades, I had to create a constructive tension in a visually compelling way.

This post is aimed  at showing how I did so in a way that resonated with 5 different sales teams that didn’t know this was a problem.

Background: The Sales Team’s Profile
As aforementioned, the 5 various team types (i.e., B2B, B2C, B2I, 501(c)(3), and licensing/franchise sales), were comprised of highly competent professionals. Most of the team had tenure between 5-20 years and knew their customers, their issues and aspects about how the products, services and solutions would benefit customers more significantly than any competitive offering.

Due to a very unique, well-defined marketplace that is not very large, the relationships that had been formed over many years with customers were very strong. From the customer’s point of view, the reps were highly regarded. Furthermore, these reps were instrumental in taking market share from competitors year after year.

Why Change?
After a deep dive into the metrics, processes and behaviors, I saw an opportunity to go from good to great, especially after identifying that the intentional behaviors were not leading to predictable and repeatable results. As a side note, whenever I see leaders and/or teams that don’t have these 3 characteristics (intentionality, predictability and repeatability) in their performance, I see risk and ripe opportunities.

Additionally, having worked years ago with a 100 year-old company who mistakenly believed that relationships were key to their successful sales, I saw this as the Achilles heel, that not only would bite them, but already had some overlooked signs of performance drains.

Relationship Builders
When it comes to the Relationship Builder, statistically, this sales profile has the lowest probability of success for becoming high performers, particularly in a higher complexity sales environment. According to the Sales Executive Council’s research, only 4% of Relationship Builder’s are likely to be high performers in a complex sales environment, whereas the Challenger profile, at 54%, was very likely to succeed in a complex sales environment. (See Fig. 2.4 from the SEC below).

Challenger Sale Effectiveness

A Visual Case for Change
As with any change effort, it is never just one thing. There are many aspects to leading a successful change effort, much of which is not described in this post. That said, I wanted to share of one specific and practical way to illustrate your point in an experiential and visual way.

With the data shown above in Fig. 2.4, and my diagnosis of where these teams stood to make transformational improvements in their performance, I did the following. I made a life-size bar chart on the stage as the backdrop for my keynote address. I used stacks of the company’s products to make the representative bars for each respective sales type (i.e., One stack for the Relationship Builder, one for the Problem Solver, and so on for the Hard Worker, Lone Wolf and Challenger).

Each product represented 5% within the stacked bar . I took the organization’s most iconic product, which measured approximately 14 inches high in its package, and made the graph with the Relationship Builder profile at 4% on one end and the Challenger profile at 54% on the other end.

There were two aspects of the visual representation that made the effectiveness of each sales profile particularly hit home:

  1. First, the Challenger bar stood over 10 feet high, towering over me as I made my points
  2. Equally as stunning, was the Relationship Builder bar – The fact that I had to cut 20% of the product off the top to accurately represent 4%, since each product represented 5%, had a sobering effect

The stark contrast between the two ends of the life-sized bar chart not only was visually stunning, but resonated with each of the reps who recognized the gaps between what had been and what should be for them.

Challenger Profile Statistics

Life-size bar chart of Challenger statistics

The Results?
A year after The Challenger introduction and implementation, performance improved across all teams. Following are some stand out achievements from three different teams:

  • Team A had a 22% performance improvement from the year prior with all reps far exceeding quota, and within 1-2 points from one another
  • Team B sells registrations, of which post-sale cancellations are also expected. They used the Challenger approach to reduce cancellations, which led to the lowest cancellation rates they had ever seen
  • Team C had an individual from the team that went from being ranked dead last in performance, to consistently #1 or #2 for 6 months in a row by changing to Challenger behaviors

Reflections:
Many leaders wait until they see problems before they initiate a change effort. How about you?

  • Do you know what to look for?
  • If so, do you know what to do about it?
  • Are you challenging the status quo?
  • Does your team know which behaviors to be intentional about that lead to predictable, repeatable results?

An answer of “No” to any of the questions above can have dire consequences if not addressed. If that describes you, seek out a trusted resource, colleague or other business professional with a solid track record of improving performance in these areas.

If you would like to receive other insights on The Challenger Sale and how to get intentional, predictable, repeatable results from your team, follow my blog.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

1 Minute Leadership Test…Will You Pass?

The role of the leader is a difficult one, to be certain. Done well, it is one of the most rewarding professional and personal experiences for the leader and those they lead. Done poorly, and at best, your team may achieve incidental success from time to time…despite their leader.

After two decades of working in leadership and developing leaders, I continually see one common area in which leaders often fall short. This one minute video clip sums it up as King Leonidas asks Daxos’ men one simple question. After playing the clip, see how quickly you can spot the problem?

Leadership Test: If those you lead are asked about the organization’s or team’s top priority, would your team answer like the Spartans or more like the Arcadians?

How did you do? May I suggest that if your first thought was to evaluate the person who leads you, you’ve already failed. This is not a message just for CEOs or only leaders with teams. The message is to the leader within us all…to rise up and paint a better, more clear picture than what others can see for themselves.

If your team is lacking a “WAR! WAR! WAR!” response, time for the mirror test. How they respond is your responsibility. For additional tips on how to create more intentional, predictable and repeatable results, see this post on Vision.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Leadership Lesson from X Games

Tucker HibbertTalent Alone is not Enough

January 27, 2013 marks the first time an athlete has ever achieved a six-peat…six consecutive gold medal performances…in the winter X Games. Tucker Hibbert did so in remarkable fashion in the Snowmobile Sno-Cross event Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t his talent alone that won the finals for him. The X Game analysts were quick to point out that this was one of the most experienced and capable field of champions they have ever seen.

What they did point to as the differentiator, rightfully so, was his preparation. You see, in between the semi-finals and finals, Tucker chose to spend his time walking the course to evaluate how the snow conditions had changed. He also spent time evaluating where the shadows were falling on the course along with identifying the intended lines he would take. It turns out that he was the only competitor that did so.

Assimilating all of that information resulted in his selection of starting lane (afforded to him because of his semi-final finish), which was counter-intuitive to where most others wanted to start from. By the time they all completed the first lap, Tucker was in the lead and on his game plan. More than half way through the race, conditions continued to change as the shadows continued to shift and the snow conditions on the track worsened.

Lap 9, Tucker was jolted by hitting a rough patch in his originally chosen line. He adjusted his line to his plan B approach by the time he reached that same rough section on lap 10 and continued to put distance between himself and the second place competitor. Six laps later, he had finished the race creating a phenomenal 13 seconds of distance between his next closest competitor.

The Mark of Effective Leadership is Reflected in Their Preparation

Tucker prepared in a way that his competitors failed to do. In fact, all things being equal, each of the competitors had the opportunity to win with similar experience, equipment and conditions. Yet, it came down to Tucker’s preparation that enabled him to respond asymmetrically to an otherwise, equal playing field. Tucker clearly had an advantage over his competition. An advantage also available to each of his competitors, but they declined, instead relying upon their own experience to see them through.

For leaders, you can certainly attest to the pressure to perform while leading your team to do the same. With the level of responsibilities a leader typically carries, the tendency can be to approach business as just another day. merely showing up and reacting to whatever the next day has in store. This is certainly no way to lead, and definitely not a recipe for intentional, predictable and repeatable success.

So how can you tell if you have fallen into this trap? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do today’s actions reflect about your preparation to lead your team to success?
  • Specifically, what have you done today to ensure your team’s success?
  • Does your to-do list focus more on tasks than it does in leading your team to success?

If these questions have exposed some vulnerabilities in your daily approach, you are not alone. Be encouraged as you have taken the first step to acknowledge complacency. Complacency threatens all of us if we don’t intentionally disrupt our own status quo. Here are three steps to help you prepare differently, much like Tucker had done for his record performance. After all, wouldn’t we all like to succeed in intentional, predictable, repeatable ways as Tucker did?

3 Ways Effective Leaders Prepare Differently

  • Intentionality. Evaluating ever-changing conditions in the business environment requires being prepared for anything. This includes anticipating problems before they happen, and even planning how you will respond to the unanticipated. To have this ability, the leader will need to take intentional steps and set aside time to address these areas. Action: Schedule this into your calendar to address consistently and frequently. This needs to become an habitual routine.
  • Predictability. After you begin intentionally looking for ways to be better prepared, you will begin to see patterns. These patterns often come in the forms of team member behavior that leads to lesser performance, complacent reactions of competitors, or even economic rhythms that you can predict and address now that you see them. Action: Practice predicting outcomes privately. Start developing this capability and pay attention to predictions and what surprised you along the way before you go public.
  • Repeatability. When you have devoted the time to be intentional, others begin to notice your seemingly innate ability to predict outcomes and that you are well-prepared, you will find that repeatable successes happen with much greater frequency. This makes you an invaluable asset and resource to your team and your organization. Action: Look for ways to repeat your success without relying on repeating the same exact actions. Life usually doesn’t work that way. But for the effective leader that knows how to succeed repeatedly, do as Babe Ruth did and call your shots before they happen. Then make good on it by developing your intentionality and predictability muscles.

The most meaningful things in life take time to develop. Effective leadership is one of those meaningful areas worthy of pursuing. But it’s up to you. What will you choose? What will you do differently today, that will make a noticeable difference in what you and your teams do tomorrow?

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

3 Steps to Cultivating Confidence

Keys to ConfidenceAfter two decades of working with individuals, managers and leaders at various levels, I have observed and identified 3 behaviors that lead to intentional, predictable and repeatable results.  Practicing these three simple behaviors will put you on the fast track to cultivating confidence.

The three behaviors are as follows:

1. Self-Reflection – We can all get caught up in the activities that our jobs and personal responsibilities require. The tendency during the busyness can be to ‘act’ or ‘react’ without paying attention to whether that was the best course of action to take. Furthermore, because the focus tends to be on the task at hand, one can fail to assess if the action taken is achieving the results originally intended. For this reason, setting some time for intentional, self-reflection can shift your focus back from results, to behaviors that create the results.

When a person is more intentional about changing their behaviors to best achieve the results, and evaluates their intention in comparison to the outcome, significant learning takes place that guides your future steps.

Self-Reflection = Intentionality. I call this ‘succeeding on purpose.’ When a person intentionally reflects upon behaviors that contributes to the result, and achieves their expected result, the byproduct is greater confidence.

2. Write it down. Documenting your observations…even in the briefest of forms…is the least fun, but most rewarding when you start to see patterns. For example, consider a recent example of a person on a new diet.

Everyday, around 2:30 pm, Steve eats a candy bar out of habit. Before documenting his eating habits, Steve was aware that he had a candy bar on many days, but not sure exactly when in the day, how often, or even why he ate candy for that matter. After reflecting on his behaviors and documenting his observations, he recognized that he snacks in between two meetings as a sort of distraction from the next meeting. It wasn’t that he was necessarily hungry after lunch, craving sweets or needing an afternoon pick-me-up. He simply needed a non-work related distraction before his next meeting.

Once the pattern was observed, he recognized steps he could take to improve his eating habits by keeping granola bars on hand at that time of day. Even better, he later realized that taking a 10-minute walk outside provided a more healthy distraction before stepping in to his next meeting.

You can improve or change that in which you are aware. Without awareness, you are just guessing, which is the number one killer of confidence. Self-reflection of your behaviors, followed by documenting your observations, allows you to start seeing patterns, which creates predictability.

Documenting = Predictability. Similar to the infrequent golfer who never knows where the ball is going with each swing, so it is with the manager that can’t predict outcomes based on their actions. Just as Babe Ruth used to do in pointing to where he would hit the ball, we too have the ability to accurately predict outcomes. Predictability contributes to confidence.

3. Debrief your actions. An important, and often over-looked, activity that benefits all who do so is to debrief each action taken. The Army refers to this as an After-Action Review (AAR). This process of debriefing includes all members of the team and asks questions such as:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What can be learned?
  • What should be done differently?
  • Who else could benefit from what was learned?

A thorough and proper debrief directly contributes to continuous learning and improved results, which enables a leader, individual and/or team to have, and repeat, success in the future.

Debriefing = Repeatability. Those that know how to repeat their successes are invaluable to organizations and to others. The ability to intentionally and predictably achieve a successful outcome at will…or repeatably…is an asset every organization would love to have.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger Sale: The Reframe Exercise

Challenger Sale Reframe

Practice reframes with ordinary objects

The Challenger Sale Choreography
If you are familiar with the Challenger Sale, you will quickly recognize the six components of the Challenger Choreography described as follows:

1. The Warmer
2. The Reframe
3. Rational Drowning
4. Emotional Impact
5. A New Way
6. Your Solution

A cursory review of what each stage of the choreography is intended to accomplish is largely unsurprising, and in five of the six stages, looks similar to many selling systems* out there.

There is more than meets the eye, especially as the real point of differentiation tends to hinge on the second stage with the Reframe. Being able to Reframe, or share an insight in a way that the prospect hasn’t thought of or considered before, is paramount to moving successfully through the rest of the choreography.

*Just a quick note to remind people that The Challenger Sale is not touted, nor intended as a ‘selling system.’ Brent Adamson shared the following on the topic in a blog post back in 2012…

“The Challenger Sale isn’t so much a “selling system,” as it is a way to think differently about how to approach customer interactions.”

— Brent Adamson

Cultivating Rep Proficiency with the Reframe
If you are looking to build proficiency in the way your sales and marketing staff successfully communicates reframes, perhaps the exercises we had done in weekly team meetings will be helpful to you in working with your teams.

Getting people to think differently about something in ways they have never done before is not an easy task, especially for those that had not been thinking that way. Therefore, we were looking to develop and cultivate competencies in this specific area so our team could recognize unique points of view and deliver them without the feeling of “starting from scratch,” as some had described the process.

The ‘Reframe’ Exercise

Following is an exercise I led the teams through to not just teach them what to say, but rather teach them how to think to create effective reframes.

Each Team Leader would bring a mystery grab bag of everyday items to the meeting. The team would pair up and grab an item from the bag. Representative items included things like scissors, a whiteboard eraser, aspirin, etc.

The pairs would take 5 minutes to come up with their Teaching Point, followed by a Warmer and a Reframe on their respective item. Next, they would present to the team for a team evaluation. We would then debrief with the whole team by asking a series of questions, such as, “Did they lead WITH the solution or lead TO the solution?” and “Did they share an insight in a way you hadn’t considered before?”

In one of the exercises, the teams were tasked with reframing the same item – a wire coat hanger. Some groups went down the path of calling out the many uses for a wire coat hanger (e.g., “perfect for unlocking car doors,” which is the stereotypical, product-centric, ‘lead WITH’ approach). We debriefed and they understood where they made their mistake.

However, following is what came from one group [in abbreviated form] as they had a better handle on the reframe process…

Teaching Point: Homeowners are often short on closet space and fail to realize the main culprits of closet space are plastic and wooden hangers which are 5-10 times the width of wire coat hangers.

Warmer: “We often hear from many of our customers that closet space at home is at a premium as they cite that they have too many clothes and their closets are too small. Is this something you experience as well? [They validate with the customer, so as not to assume a problem they don’t have]. The customer/prospect is invited to share the specific details of their problems.

Reframe: “We hear that a lot. In fact I hear solutions ranging from changing out their clothes for each season to complete remodels to build larger closets. What is interesting is that when you consider the #1 choice of hangers for most people, it is the plastic coat hanger. Have you ever considered the fact that a plastic hanger is 7x thicker than a wire coat hanger? Perhaps a different question is why your local dry cleaners don’t use plastic coat hangers? While many believe it is due to cost, their reason is that they would need to build a facility 1.3x larger to house the same number of articles of clothing that they currently house by using a wire coat hanger.

We call the process batting practice as it is a way of warming up before sales calls. This process has been fruitful with our teams as they have started to recognize and develop reframes on the fly to get people to see things differently all throughout the day.

In fact, for several, they have begun to pass along affirmations to their colleagues in the form of, “I never thought of it that way before,” when they have successfully reframed whatever the point was in which they were speaking. They are having fun with the process and the audience, be it customer, prospect, family member or friend, benefits as a result of the new insight.

Following is a resource you can use with your teams to practice Reframes of common everyday objects.

Reframe Exercise Worksheet

Share your insights on exercises you have used or are using with your teams.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

1 Easy Step to Shorter Meetings

Shorter MeetingsProblem: Habitual Thinking About Time
Think about a meeting you typically schedule for your team. How long do you schedule for the meeting? For sake of discussion, let’s assume it is an hour-long meeting. Is an hour really needed, or is scheduling an hour just a habit in thinking about time in 30-60 minute increments?

We have become accustomed to increments of time that are rounded off…and most often, rounded up to greater increments of time. For example, consider human behavior with New Year’s resolutions.

What is normally considered a goal, becomes a resolution because it was set on or around January 1. Then most people stick with it for as long as they can…typically a couple weeks…then say to themselves, “I will try harder next year.”

While we are accustomed to think habitually in terms of year-long resolutions, when what is really needed are week-long or even day-long resolutions. Why wait a whole year to make adjustments to what didn’t work after a few weeks.

Shorten your time increments. Similarly, when we schedule meetings, we tend to look in 60 minute blocks of time, when what really may be needed is 45 minutes or perhaps even 20.

Solution: Plan for Less

To Meeting Organizers – Reduce meeting time by 25% or more.Before scheduling your next meeting, first be a responsible organizer and do the following:

  • Ensure there are clear decision points
  • Communicate to all necessary attendees in advance of meeting
  • Determine how much time you think will be needed for the meeting
  • Then recognize you are thinking about time in traditional ways and reduce the time by at least 25%

This is counter-intuitive, but you will be amazed at how properly prepared attendees that know the meeting time is short, will focus in on the essential decision points. Longer meeting times suggest to the participants, that there is plenty of time, so settle in and pace yourself.

To meeting participants – Plan to leave early.
For your next scheduled meeting, let the meeting organizer know that you will have to step out [25% of the meeting] early (i.e., leave 45 minutes into an hour-long meeting).

  • Ask the meeting organizer to cover the key points while you are there
  • Identify a colleague to get a recap for the last 15 minutes missed
  • Congratulate yourself for taking intentional steps to reinvest valuable time
  • Recognize this is a short-term solution, so address it at the root by sharing these tips with others

I understand this is not possible for all meetings, particularly meetings that your supervisor called. In those instances, what you can do is share the concept you read here. Let them know these methods have increased staff productivity levels in excess of 25%. What supervisor would not be a fan of that?

“Less talking, more doing!”

This really works and puts valuable time back in your day, especially when you attend or hold multiple meetings each day. The result? Spend less time talking about what you will do and more time actually doing it.

Please share your successes in employing this technique. Also, if you have a favorite way to reduce meeting times…or meetings altogether, we’d love to hear about them.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenging Sale vs. Challenger Sale

After speaking with a number of people across a variety of industries regarding their interest and curiosity in the Challenger Sale, I continue to find one common misperception about the disposition of a Challenger. Too often, their picture of what a Challenger approach looks like in marketing and selling gets depicted like the picture you see below. In other words, they picture a ‘lean forward’ posture, that uses an aggressive and controlling approach. In their minds, this is substantiated by the tagline, “‘The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.”

Challenger Sale Misapplied

With some effort and due diligence, one would quickly agree that this is NOT what CEB was intending nor depicting in the research.

I cringe at the thought of how that kind of posture in messaging, whether in sales or in marketing, would play out with potential customers. In fact,  I recently saw one company’s marketing attempt to ‘challenge’ the prospect’s status quo, which implied that using the competitor’s products may actually “hurt” the end users, not “help” them. Further exploration of this marketing piece revealed that the ‘hurting’ vs. ‘helping’ question asked in the subject line, was not only never answered, but not addressed at all in the body of the email.

Providing unique insights that truly teach prospects into thinking in ways they had never thought before is difficult, and requires much time and attention to do so responsibly. Failing to give the appropriate organizational time, focus and effort to develop a true commercial insight, before launching into what is perceived as a ‘Challenger ‘ message, is not only irresponsible, but likely offensive.

After personally grappling with CEB’s research for a year now, I remain compelled by the evidence of their findings. That said, I also quickly recognize that the ‘how to’ of changing an organization’s and rep’s behaviors is far more difficult than the ‘why to’ that CEB’s book spoke about. It is worth the pursuit, however, and CEB has been instrumental in helping walk through the process of the Challenger implementation.

I am curious, particularly from those familiar with the Challenger Sale behaviors…what picture would you describe of the Challenger to someone inquiring of what a Challenger Sales Rep or Challenger Marketing message looked like? Please leave your comments below.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Reorganization or Turnaround? (Part 2): Top-Line Temptation

Top Line TemptationLast week, I wrote about common mistakes made with an underperforming Division or Business Unit in my post titled Reorganization or Turnaround? (Part 1). Most notably, I spoke of the tendency to prescribe a reorganization to situations when a turnaround was really needed, by failing to recognize issues that are below the “waterline.”

If you are the leader of a struggling division, business unit or team that has solid sales, but have continued to underperform the profitability expectations for multiple periods, this post is for you.

The Top-Line Temptation
There is no doubt that top-line revenue covers a multitude of sins. The problem is that too often this is seen as a good thing…or at least acceptable. These ‘sins’ in business, so to speak, that detract from profitability are analogous to the roots of a young tree that later grows to disrupt the foundation. The foundation, in this case, represents the whole organization. Addressing the root of these problems is always better done earlier, for obvious reasons, as the picture of the tree below perfectly illustrates the implications of letting problems persist.

Unfortunately, what happens all too often is that with solid revenue comes the belief that things will correct themselves over time. That increasing the sales will begin to create economies of scale, eventually leading to profitability. Question – When was the last time you saw a profitability issue like this work itself out over time?

Getting at the Root of the Problem
There are a variety of reasons why a leader may be experiencing solid sales with poor profitability, but I want to address one of the more common reasons I see. This is the ‘sales at any cost’ approach. When this is the case, the inappropriate pursuit of revenue tends to come in one of two forms.

Root Cause

The Root of the Problem

The first way revenue is inappropriately pursued comes in the form of aggressive discounts, incentives, and promotions. Unprofitable discounting creates an inflated sense of demand, which bursts the minute the discounts stop. The more inherent problems with this approach, other than increased costs and false demand, is the longer term impact of discounts and incentives lowering the perceived value in your customer’s eyes.

The second way that revenue is inappropriately pursued is through disproportionate costs of acquisition and retention, beyond that which is profitable. In these situations, typical strategies include increased marketing campaigns, sales blitzes, additional staff or even the introduction of new products or services on top of an overly burdened cost structure.

In some cases, a division may inappropriately pursue both, discount strategies and increased activities. The compounded effect of having lower revenue at higher costs puts the business area on a fast track to what I call ‘divisional bankruptcy.’ Not only is this unsustainable, it is a terrible strategy in general for leading a division to profitability.

5 Questions to Determine if You Have a Profitability Problem
Now that we have a good handle on some of the problems and why they occur, it is important to determine whether these are your problems are somebody else’s problems. Also important to note is that the conditions described above are not the sole list, but rather representative of the type of conditions that lead to solid sales with poor profitability. Therefore, the following questions will help in determining if you are in a situation requiring a reorganization or turnaround.

  1. Were your most recent profit results intended? Comparing performance to plan (PTP) is an important measure. There are times when losses are planned. If so, did you meet the plan? If not, proceed to #2.
  2. If your PTP was not intended, do you know specifically what contributed to this? If you answered “no,” stop reading now. Enlist all necessary resources to figure this out. Without this, remediation is impossible.
  3. What specific steps do you have in place, to correct the problems? Assuming you answered ‘yes’ for #2, specific SMART goals should be in place with key staff that will correct the profitability shortfalls.
  4. How long will the plan take to restore profitability? Remediation should occur within 6 months or less. Be very careful about setting anything longer as too often you are delaying the inevitable. The time to act is now.
  5. What is your track record for accurately forecasting corrections? This is an important gut-check. Be honest. If you tend to be overly optimistic, best to confront that now as people are depending on you.

Reorganize or Turnaround?
After having assessed the cause of the problems and determined next steps, you should have a sense of clarity on whether or not you have a ‘waterline‘ issue or not. If you have diagnosed your problem to be below the waterline, this is a turnaround. You are now in a dead sprint to correct the problem before your CEO steps in on your behalf to correct the problem simultaneous with your exit.

Time to A.C.T.
Now that you have properly diagnosed your predicament and are committed to an expedient correction, it is time to act. I have put the steps in the form of an acronym to serve as a virtuous, or repeatable, cycle to follow throughout the recovery.

  • Assess. Pull out the financials along with your sales and marketing metrics to assess where the key profit detractors lie. Don’t fall for only cutting easy, non-essential areas. The allure is that it looks like you took action without disrupting anything too significantly. The problem is that it won’t disrupt anything too significantly. Cut the small stuff, but cut the big stuff first. Remember the tree picture above…address the root issues!
  • Correct. Having identified where to cut, commit to correction through decisive action. These times aren’t easy, so best to communicate lavishly before, during and after the turnaround. Before lets people know what to expect. During to give updates and demonstrate it’s working. After confirms that your actions were worth it.
  • Target. Cuts are important and necessary, but are not the entirety of your action. Time to target key start and stop activities that contribute more quickly to your division’s profitability. Examples include not pursuing unprofitable customers, or to stopping marketing activity that aims to discount its way to profitable growth.

As described above, this process is intended to be followed and repeated, assessing and adjusting as you go. If you are entering this process of a turnaround, I would like to offer encouragement as you have demonstrated the two characteristics I described last week – Humility in acknowledging your situation and Courage to address the problems head on. Once you successfully turnaround your division or business area, not only will you have the respect and admiration of your staff and CEO, but this will likely serve as one of the largest confidence booster’s in your career that will serve you well in years to come.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.