By William Blades, CMC, CPS
Many people regard the oak tree as one of the strongest trees. Actually, the oak tree began as a little nut that wouldn’t go away. As business people, we need to take a lesson from the oak tree and be a little “nuts” ourselves to grow. Being “nuts” means that we must be willing to go “out there” once in a while. Why? Because very few organizational leaders have the vision to do so, which causes their teams to become boring and stale. Such a lack of vision is what ruins many companies.
Instilling vision in your group starts with the mind. After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Stretch the way your people think and their minds will not go back to their original dimensions. If you don’t stretch it, you’ll wind up with premature dementia and the “death” of many managers and salespeople. Consider the following vision questions:
- What new value-added service will you add that no one else in your industry dispenses?
- What personal services are your salespeople delivering, in a customized manner, to each major client?
- As the CEO or sales chief, are you too caught up in the day-to-day routine of mundane administration, or are you leading a group of professional change agents?
- Do you teach and then expect enhanced creativity from every manager and salesperson?
- Are you flooded with résumés from top sales professionals because of your reputation for creativity, leadership and fun?
- Do your employees and prospective employees fully understand your vision?
There’s only one correct answer for each of the questions above, and “I don’t know” isn’t it. In general, only one to two sales groups out of 100 truly have a belief in greatness. They can clearly answer the six questions above. The other 98 or 99 organizations only have a casual interest in greatness; their thoughts and actions simply don’t overlap. As you set forth with your vision, consider how you can improve some critical areas.
All company CEOs must be strong-willed. One person with a belief in greatness equals 99 who only have an interest in it. To see the vision through, the CEO’s initial mission is to obtain the right people and remove/reassign the wrong people. So, it’s not a matter of what the CEO is going to do; it’s a matter of who the CEO is going to get to do it. After all, a great vision without great people is irrelevant.
The CEO can delegate and empower the right people with absolutes they must accomplish. This removes the big list of “maybes” that are uttered daily in many businesses. CEOs must effectively communicate their vision throughout the organization and expect (and demand) buy-in. When the CEO’s expectations are high, he or she builds trust and respect. As a result, people follow the CEO’s lead.
The VP team
The CEO must have the best group of vice presidents (VPs) to see the vision through. If any individual in this group doesn’t have the respect and trust of his or her people, the CEO must act. Why? You can’t be the best at what you do without great VPs. Plus, you will never have the best sales team without a great VP of sales or, at the very least, a very good sales staff. The CEO must have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of the company’s current reality and know how to change that reality for the better.
At times, the CEO may need the assistance of an outside coach to facilitate a VP’s understanding of what he/she must do better. Often, people simply don’t know what they don’t know yet. That isn’t a crime because they usually got the promotion without the prior education of how to be a great VP. Instead, they got a desk with the usual instructions to “go after it.” Without the necessary training investment to provide them with needed knowledge, your VPs will never accomplish physical speed or the ability to execute faster than your competition. Eliminate the gap that exists between “what” and “how.”
You need leaders, as well as managers, in the VP role. But many VPs have ingrained habits that are unhealthy to the team and your results. Are your VPs scoring high with vision, discipline, communication, greatness and results? The true enemy is always the ordinary. Attack the enemy.
Most firms have a culture (of whatever) and some have discipline, but very few have a culture of discipline. Discipline means you develop a list of things you’ll stop doing (i.e., being the low-ball vendor) before you develop a list of things to do. Hiring and educating well-disciplined people who don’t have to be managed allows you to stay focused on the big picture.
You need people who’ll go to extreme measures to get things done right and fast. You need people who’ll pay attention to their part of the business. You need people who have a passion for self-improvement. It’s that simple, and that challenging. Hard work has a future payoff while laziness pays off now. Ask yourself—For your vision to become a reality, does your group look like it should? What will it look like in two years? In three years? Don’t be lazy in designing your future.
Benchmark against the best in your industry and decide you will be better than the best. Then, invest in the training and education necessary to accomplish the task. The biggest obstacle for your sales improvements will be to stop your managers and salespeople from teaching and acting on Sales 101. That teaching mode is five decades old. It’s time for Sales 501.
A study conducted by Proudfoot Consulting revealed the following:
The results show that leaders need to focus on proactive management, delegation, processes, achievements and communication, both internally and externally: “U.S. productivity levels will rise dramatically if steps are taken to improve the management and supervisory roles, ensuring that managers tackle problems before they occur, spend their time on ‘managerial’ activity rather than administrative and manual tasks, and communicate effectively to employees.”1
Innovation and creativity
Organizations fail when they don’t manage effectively, and when they don’t innovate. Fall in love with innovation, and not just with products but with the ways you think, act and do. The last frontier is the human brain. So to be super successful, we must think until it hurts. And that’s our challenge, because most people get in the habit of just doing and not thinking. With that posture comes same-ol’, same-ol’ and, in many cases, same-ol’ energy and same-ol’ results.
To ramp up sales, an organization needs to be famous for something, and then something else. Salespeople also need to be famous for something, and then something else. If not, you’re in the proverbial box. Fortunately, you can teach creativity. That’s a good thing, as studies prove that only one out of 100 people are creative. Start hiring creative, even eccentric people. Then, challenge these people to help bring new-found sparks to complement your vision.
What is creativity? It’s linking two seemingly unrelated things. It’s seeing an empty, transparent flower vase in a potential client’s lobby. Fill it with exotic fish and decorations. And it comes with a year’s supply of fish food with your private label on it, of course. (At least tape your business card to the food container.)
Know your business
Rule No. 1 is to keep it simple. Make it challenging and fun internally, and valuable and fun externally. Don’t stray from your vision or your values. Work smarter, not cheaper. Improve sales and profits through innovation and creativity. It’s called “delivering joy and value.” What are you doing to own the marketplace, and at greater margins, than all or most of your competitors? If you’re caught in price wars, the value your team is bringing is woefully weak at best.
Focus on value. Realize that this doesn’t mean just shipping on time. You’re supposed to do that. What’s the value you bring that no one else does? While it may not be easy to figure out, it’s “doable” 100 percent of the time. So, if one of your salespeople says your 2×4 piece of lumber is “just a commodity item,” hit him on the backside with it. Ask your salespeople what they’ve done for their clients to bring joy and value to the transaction.
Are your salespeople targeting the right clients? Are they (and you) building loyalty? Are they making the same “pitch” at other places? Great leadership and education will keep everyone focused on the right things and right clients… with the right margins.
Much of your vision starts with surrounding yourself with people who have vision. The right people will help you with strategy and tactics so you can put the vision in place and see it through. Great vision from the CEO, without great people, is just another visionary thing. Vision: The good news is that many competitors just don’t see it.
- Consulting, February 2002.
About the author
Bill Blades, CMC, CPS, is a professional speaker and consultant specializing in sales and leadership issues. He’s based in Scottsdale, AZ, and can be reached at (480) 563-5355, (480) 563-0515 (fax), email: http://[email protected] or website: www.william blades.com