August 31st, 2011
Think of your current leader. Think about yourself as a leader. Most leaders are very busy and most of our days are booked solid… there is no breathing room on the calendar. Sometimes we even talk on the cell phone between conference room jaunts — or worse, text others in the middle of discussions. But somewhere along the line, busyness replaced productivity.
I was taught to be accessible as a leader. But how do you maintain the feeling that you’re accessible for your team, despite the overwhelmingly packed calendar? Today I called a friend who runs a successful not-for-profit to schedule a meeting and his support staff shared that the next time he was available was more than a month out. I am certain this is for some very good reasons. However, what if I wanted to give a large donation or refer a Board Member?
What I’ve learned is that accessibility is much more than calendar time, it is being there to listen. See, if I create an environment where I am always unavailable, so will my business practice leaders. If I let calls go to voice mail, so will my company. If my door is shut… you get the idea. For this to work, the “system” must support this openness, so we must teach others to listen for opportunity. We must respect others and believe that all in our organization are truly important. We must have respect.
When leaders don’t have support from the system, that stress or negative vibe shows up and it often offsets the business’ tone. I know my team can sometimes tell when I have something going on in my life — if I am not feeling well or have a personal issue. All of us take cues from the verbal and nonverbal cues around us, and when leaders seem hurried or under stress, people misconstrue.
I frequently think of one of my father, Alan’s, credos that he is famous for, “Attitude is everything; do not be overwhelmed. Never show it. Shut your door if you must, but do not show it.” Remind yourself each day that your leadership persona and the way you carry the responsibilities of the day (crazy busy or not), determines the outcomes of the day for your team and your business.
Or as the saying goes, “Never let them see you sweat.”
August 24th, 2011
If you have read Jim Collins‘ book, Good to Great, this might be vaguely familiar to you. I give Collins full credit for this exercise, but the Mars experiment is something I have done at CBI Group to discuss our company culture. Imagine a group of anthropologists from Mars have come to Earth to observe your company. They do not speak the language and they would like to learn what your company is like, what it stands for and what your business culture is like. It is up to you, your management team or your employees to select someone to observe. In other words, who is the best person to represent your company and its culture? Who would you and your company nominate? Why?
This exercise is a terrific opportunity to have some fun and to recognize folks on your team! So many times organizations struggle to define their organizational culture, which is the personality of the business. Leaders debate about it and know it is important but aren’t certain how to describe it and bring it to life. I believe that businesses need less rules and employees that know how to make decisions (hopefully without management). When a company’s culture is brought to life by all employees, leadership becomes simple. It comes down to repeating cultural messages and catching people doing the right things. Leadership is difficult when you are uncertain what your culture really is. Consider this fun, strange but rewarding Mars exercise — it may help clear things up.
Be sure to be specific with why you nominate someone. In this example, “I nominate Maria because she is great with customers,” why or how is she great with customers? Connect your reasons to unique and specific things in your company. What this training session can do is help to crystallize the actions and behaviors that represent the intended or desired culture. For example, at CBI Group we hear, “that was an Nth degree moment,” or “you were really front door, or thanks for taking the risk and being entrepreneurial.” Each of these are cultural tenants that make up our company culture — they provide daily guidelines for all to follow and support a company built for and around the customer.
Not sure who to send to Mars? Don’t know where to begin to reinforce or build your culture? Start by thinking about what your customers want and need your business to be for you to deliver. And what behaviors and actions you want to see in your business…then figure out who in your company embodies those traits and behaviors.
August 17th, 2011
This is a play on the incredible book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. As Verne is to running a company, I hope to be to understanding sales in a customer centered selling organization.
Growing a company is an incredibly complicated undertaking. Growth takes a good idea where a market exists. It takes money, a leader, planning and a business strategy. Eventually it takes employees and culture. However all of these things are not enough. I have worked with many, many organizations that have all these things — yet they do not know how to sell anything. They try, they hire sales people, attempt to market and they sell some things. But they are frustrated and challenged and they struggle to figure out how to improve their selling habits.
I have some observations and ideas but a word of warning: words are easy, but implementation? Not so much. In the early days of any business, the business sells to everyone. Then you make more sales based on good service. If you have some customers and you treat them well, they will buy more. You can grow for a month, a quarter, or even a year by taking an existing cadre of customers and asking how else you can help. This supports the known premise that it is easier, cheaper, better, to keep a customer (and in this case grow with them) than it is to procure another.
But companies (your clients) decline, are bought out or outgrow you all the time. Your sales strategy, through excellent service keeps producing but not at the level you planned. You’re off forecast. Now what? This is where companies begin to add professional sales to their business model and strategy. And professional sales has a lot of complexities and selling habits to get it right:
- Leadership sells. They are the best in the company and compete for everything.
- Leadership is not ready to manage a sales force. Time, routine, planning are not in place and it takes time.
- Expectations are high. A sales force will come and go. But high activity targets for calls and meetings often create real frustration.
- Sales forecasts are unrealistic. The company expects the sales person to hit a revenue target very quickly. And they have too. There is no other way to justify the return on the payroll.
- Marketing role — do you have the tools and resources necessary to support sales?
- Poor targeting and lead generation — imagine starting off with the wrong potential targets for your service and all of your sales efforts over weeks, months, even years are directed to the wrong people? Happens everywhere…
- Lack of respect for defining a sales operating philosophy. How will you differentiate? Just go make more sales calls is the mantra!
- The natural tension between sales and service. We are different types. Yes, we are one team, it just takes time and effort for a team to find its way.
- Speaking of team and balance, it is difficult to shift from a service company, to one with a sales voice.
- Hire and ignore. Entrepreneurs do this everyday in areas of their business they don’t understand with no no source for training and little regard for knowledge building.
- Sales pipeline is often confused with sales wins.
- CRM: selling without a CRM means there is no process for managing prospect interactions. Selling with one means there are a lot of rules and administration to establish and keep up with.
We understand each complexity on its own, but the true complexity is that they all must run as one. To grow, formalizing sales and marketing is a reality. And it is habit of Outside-In® companies.
August 10th, 2011
CBI Group turns 10 this month. As the song goes, “what a long, strange trip it has been.” 10 was a great movie but I am no Bo Derek. 10 is the number of my favorite soccer player, my son Josh. And 10 is the number of the world’s best soccer player Messi, who Josh happens to idolize. 10 is an interesting number that is typically used in scoring to describe perfection. “The perfect 10” in gymnastics, for example.
Yet anyone that has started a business and decided to become their own boss would note that there is nothing perfect about running a company. It is an imperfect pursuit. It’s great fun and full of challenge, but far, far from perfect. I figured that I would share my reflections, musings and even some advice after having made it to the number 10.
First some interesting statistics about business and their longevity:
69-70% make it to 2 years.
49-51% make it to 5 years.
34% of businesses make it to 10 years.
CBI Group is now a member of the 34% club. Does this make you wonder what happened to the other 66 out of 100 companies? I think I know. Here are 10 musings.
Musing #1: Running a company is harder than it looks. Lets call it the “Expertise Paradox.” Starting a business requires skills and experiences beyond what most people have that attempt it. And maybe more importantly, few will put the sheer time and effort into their venture to overcome their deficiencies. Frankly most do not even figure out what their weaknesses are and their business simply fails. I am amazed at how much I have had to learn and change to be here today.
Musing #2: Bigger is not Better. Better is better. Over the years I have changed my perspective on why my business exists. My business serves a need that exists in the marketplace but at times I have pursued growth as if growth were a game. Growth is important, without some growth you stand still — and as trite a statement as it is, your business will die without growth. But growth does not mean you are the best. So, in my tenth year, I pursue a slightly less serious, more fun positioning these days. Let’s have fun and be really good at what we do… and the rest will come.
Musing #3: It takes just 1 degree difference to differentiate. It doesn’t matter what business. Nor what the competition is doing. It’s small, but 1 degree makes enough impact.
Musing #4: You know you’re ready when you have run your business through periods of growth and recession. You really want to know if you have a good business? See if it is recession proof. Many of us have learned invaluable lessons in how we run things day-to-day that will make us stronger as the economy continues to improve
Musing #5: Culture is really important. I have advised too many businesses to count. And sadly, culture is still an afterthought for so many companies. Culture is a company’s personality. Not focusing on the culture of your business is a missed opportunity to express yourself and attract like minded customers, employees, and vendors.
Musing #6: Everything is temporary. My father reminded me that even after 27 years of being in business, not even his wife lasted working all of those years. When we are in the moment, we think that all of our relationships will last forever. But employees’ life situations are constantly changing. Have an open, honest environment that embraces that. It should be easy for folks to move on if they want.
Musing #7: Building a sales engine is hard. Most people push sell and build that into their sales function. Try treating prospects they way you want customers to be treated. Solve problems first.
Musing #8: Plan a sabbatical. I took one at five years for five weeks. The Blackberry did not even make the trip. And my company did fine in the short-term without me. I have great memories of camping all over the US with my family!
Musing #9: Being an entrepreneur is like running a marathon while reading your smart phone. Silly, right? However making it ten years is a marathon. And don’t you always feel like as you are doing one thing, you are really on a bigger treadmill? While finishing something small like opening the mail or sending a much needed email gives you satisfaction, there is always something much bigger that needs attention. I feel like this all of the time. And I think I like it that way.
Musing #10: I mentioned this one right in the beginning. Do not pursue perfection. Shoot for organized chaos. I have attempted many times to run a perfect company. And it does not guarantee success. Because something is always in need of a change. It could be strategy, or shift in marketplace conditions or economic information, or shifts in suppliers. The point is that it never stops. Some flaws are sexy. And only the right things need to work for a company to be successful.
Personally I have never believed in celebrating anniversaries. I was always taught that 10 years in business can mean slow moving, stodgy, behind the times, deadwood. I actually believe this and chuckle when marketing collateral brags about 10 years of experience. I am much more interested in today. I always have been.
I wonder if I could get 26 posts to this blog? Why 26 you might ask? That is the number of companies out of 100 that started 15 years ago and are still here today. CBI Group would like to get there too. You can help. Post.
August 3rd, 2011
Over the years, I have coached many talent acquisition professionals. One of the soundbites that I’m typically heard saying is, “don’t bulldoze!” What do I mean? Recruiters are tasked with presenting our company, knowing what our hiring manager is looking for and understanding technical terms to have knowledgeable discussions with prospects. Once we are prepped for an interview, we get so excited to share what we know that we tend to pitch the job. This usually sounds something like, “Hi John, I am Chris Burkhard from CBI Group and I am recruiting today for underwater basket weavers.”
The challenge with the job pitch approach is that it doesn’t leave a good next step. If the person does not have the right skills or is not interested, we need to quickly transition to asking for referrals or help with networking. The problem is that with this approach, the majority never talks to that person again. We keep plowing ahead for the talent we need for the requisition in front of us. We just keep running callers over to find what we want.
After I say, “Don’t bulldoze” and I have the recruiter’s attention, I suggest a more Outside-In® way to recruit. I certainly did not invent this approach but I have refined it over the years to be more customer centered.
Flip the conversation around and focus your conversation on the caller; find out what matters to the job seeker. What are they trying to accomplish in their career? Focusing on them typically sounds a little different. “John, I help talented underwater basket weavers achieve their next career objective. Could we spend a little time finding out about you and what you might be interested in?” This approach requires a lot of time, energy and curiosity. But isn’t finding out what the person wants helpful to determine if your current opening is a fit right? If not this req, then perhaps you can be honest and talk in bigger terms — about where your company is going and how the future might involve them.
The focus shifts to building a relationship with the talent. To building potential pipeline. This makes tomorrows’ recruitment easier and this is where good recruiting takes shape. It means you truly know your talent in the marketplace and particular people come to mind when open reqs fit their career goals and objectives.
It may seem so much easier to take the Bulldozer path. I hear it over and over again, “I do not have the time and I have jobs to fill.” But I think the typical recruiter has it all wrong. None of us should have the time to do it wrong the first time. Recruiting talent and getting to know prospective candidates is what recruiters should and must do to differentiate. No more bulldozing please!