Do you need to “Detox “your business before it can hit your goals?

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About twelve weeks ago I had a wakeup call. I had my regular check up with my doctor and he informed me I needed to have a prescription for high blood pressure. It seems my blood pressure was dangerously high and if not addressed could lead to a stroke or heart attack. I am not a big fan of taking medication that addresses the symptom and not the cause, so I asked the doctor what I should do. He reviewed my folder and looked me square in the eye and said “you need to lose weight, I don’t know if you realize it but over the last seven years you have gained over 50 lbs…loosing this weight would be a great start.” What the doctor did not know was that I was working out three times per week but just couldn’t lose the weight this time.

A friend had a noticeable weight loss (70lbs) recently so I asked Dave what was his secret? Without hesitation he said “Medifast” and he gave me the phone number of their local office. When I met the counselor she started by asking me a number of questions, taking my blood pressure and handing me a prescription for blood work I needed to have done at a local clinic. The counselor then explained the weight loss process will begin with a week of “detox” .

Instantly my mind raced and I became apprehensive and anxious. I thought of the infomercials from television about detox programs and how John Wayne was supposed to have had over 20lbs of undigested toxins in his system when he died. I started to worry about the process and how uncomfortable it probably would be.

The counselor obviously has seen the look I now had on my face before, so she started to educate me about how our bodies work. Our bodies were designed to be amazing efficient machines. We are designed to consume food that contains essential vitamins and minerals to keep us alive and full of energy. What happens through poor food choices, stress, and bad lifestyle choices is we accumulate toxins over time. Toxins significantly impair the efficiency our bodies were meant to operate in. Toxins surround fat cells and if left unchecked, prevent our bodies from metabolizing stored fat for energy. One result is we consume more food and do not burn the stored energy reserves as we were designed, and coupled with inactivity we gain weight.

When we detox our bodies we help clean out accumulated toxins and bring our bodies back to the efficiency we were designed for. In addition to now accessing fat cells for energy, your body will absorb vitamins and nutrients as is was designed and need to eat less.

Since starting the program with the m’lis suppliments eight weeks ago, I have lost just over 30 lbs and I have noticeably more energy, I’m wearing clothes I have not worn in years, and most importantly I no longer need to have a prescription for high blood pressure. The detox process prepared me, my body, to achieve my desired goals.

As I went through the week of detox it made me reflect how a number of the businesses I have helped over the years needed to detox before I could truly help them. Businesses accumulate toxins and by not actively participating in their markets they lose their effectiveness and become sluggish. They find their gut and intuition is not producing desired results. As I reflect about the process I have used to help companies over the years I noticed they often followed a predictable series of steps;

1. They ask for help, something is off; a missed goal, poor performance of key indicators…, they learn what it would take in commitment, time, cost, and they postpone or choose not to change…live with it hoping the problem, the pain, goes away on its own

2. Wake up call, something happens; having to use their line of credit to make payroll, they lose a key account (or two), a competitor launches an amazing new product that obsoletes their cash cow, poor EBITDA, or the board gives the leaders a timeline for improvement.

3. They commit to change

4. We go into their market, find out why people do business with them, find out why others do not, and gain the markets’ perception of what this company does and does not do.

5. Discover market problems no one is solving

6. If the business has a solution that solves unresolved problems, reposition it in the markets’ voice based on the problems this product or solution solves

 

7. Identify roadblocks, how easy or hard is it for your clients to do business with you? Identify the “flaming hoops “customers need to jump through, and tear them down

8. Detox- the entire team, flush all the old , dated , beliefs and clean the business from within of all the roadblocks preventing the efficient absorption of revenues and profits. One area that grows fat and becomes less effective is often marketing. I discussed this in my post; “Skubala” Marketing. Sometimes it is actually team members we need to deter as Art Petty identified in his blog post Detoxing Your Team.

9. Create new product solutions if your current offering does not solve the unresolved problems you discover

10. Collect testimonials of clients, in their words ( do not “marcom” their words) that describe the problem they had and how your product solved it

11. Tell, tell everyone in the market the problems you solve

12. Start absorbing the new revenues of a healthy business

13. Plan to detox your business frequently as markets change

If your business is not healthy today, you are not alone. The current economic condition was a wakeup call for a number of businesses. As Kristen Zhivago identifies in her blog post Bravery and your Revenue, it takes a brave CEO to operate in the “beyond the call” mode. For a number of teams they learned their business was not as healthy as it outwardly appeared in good economic times, times when the phone just seemed to ring and they were in call mode. Good economic times do not push us, stress us, and test the overall health of our business. Just as a stress test or a blood pressure cuff can provide an early warning to a potentially fatal problem in the future, tough economic conditions show us the weak points, the kinks in our corporate armor that must be improved.

The majority of the teams I have worked with needed to detox, flush their old beliefs, and inside out perceptions ,processes, and their “company speak” prior to being positioned for explosive growth. The most common way of detoxing your business is to seek the truth. You find truth in your market asking questions , not sitting around board tables starting sentences with; “I think” or my personal favorite “ when I ran _____( you fill in the blank) 10 years ago we …..” That probably worked great 10 years ago and that is why you now hold a leadership role. But guess what, the market has changed! Once the business completes the detox process they are positioned to become healthy, and ultimately a market leader in their space.

If you cheat and try to cut corners, not flush all the toxins from your business you will only postpone your future profits and shareholder value. If you don’t flush the dated perceptions, non contributing team members, policies and procedures that serve your team, but feel like flaming hoops to jump through for your customers, your business will remain inefficient, ineffective and could, if left untreated …die.

So do me a favor, start detoxing your business today and your team will become more efficient, effective and ultimately a market leader. Market leaders have higher gross profits, grow 2X that of competitors, have higher morale, and valued higher.

Most competitors will choose to be lazy and keep carrying around the dead weight of old assumptions that suck the life out of their growth, profitability, and their market value as an organization.

A couple of questions for you:

What Toxins has your business accumulated over the years?

What symptoms have you seen over the last nine months that were a wakeup call for you and your team?

If you choose not to detox, what is the reason? What are you afraid of?

Do you have team members that need to be detoxed?

How healthy is your bottom line?

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The Leadership “Two Step” … how well do you score?

images follow leaderHow do you know if you are an effective leader?

 There are two quick steps to determine if you truly are a leader;

 1. Check to see if you have willing followers

2. Take a look at the shadow you cast

 

The first one is pretty easy, and often very obvious if you take the time to look. Do you have people willingly following you? I say “willingly “because I am not referring to employees who do what they are asked to do, but team members who choose to follow you and believe in your vision. Guess what, if you do not have any followers…you’re not a leader and you can quit reading now.

 

So you have people following you, but are you effective as a leader? The second question may take a bit longer reflection time. I was taught early in my career that leaders must be intentional about the shadow they cast. Your shadow will speak volumes over what you say to your team. As a leader you must be intentional about the shadow you cast…after all EVERYONE is watching! Ineffective leaders do not walk the talk and are not aware and or do not care about the shadow they cast.

 

If we are to be intentional about the shadow we cast, what are some common characteristics of true leaders? Below are my top 10 favorite leadership characteristics;

 

1. They gain power through lifting others up, not by pushing them down

2. They focus on problems ( road blocks), not people

3. They delegate authority to team members closest to the problem

4. They ask what is best for the overall organization, not the CEO, owners or employees

5. They personally take ownership of risky strategies

6. They describe a clear destination and share the flight plan to get there with mile markers along the way

7. They do not delegate the “hard stuff”

8. They are accountable , they own their decisions and do not look for fall guys if things go wrong

9. They are humble

10. They focus on what’s working, verse what’s broken

 

How about you, what are some of the characteristics you look for in a leader?

 

What are some characteristics you see that you cannot work for?

 

Do you report to someone, what does their shadow look like relative to the above 10 characteristics?

Don’t let “FUD” cause you to “soft launch” your next product

images fearOver the years I have experienced two types of product launches; a “Hard Launch” and what some people have referred to as a “Soft Launch”.

Hard Launch

A hard launch is when you set a specific date based on your market opportunity window, the ability of your team, resources, and market conditions. In a hard launch you have done your homework, you have market based data, and you have beta tested your product or service and received qualitative and quantitative feedback from the market. In a hard launch you have cross functional groups within your organization aligned and communicating regularly. If something unplanned occurs your team learns about it within days and has time to adapt verse finding out hours before the targeted launch that it will be late.

I believe in hard launches for four main reasons;

1. Sales can pre-sell based on your known buyer process and cycle

2. Execution, when hard launch dates are made, and communicated to internal and external customers…teams deliver

3. Buyers like vendor partners who do what they say they will do

4. Team members who hard launch products believe in their solution

Back when I sold big box retailers like Wal-Mart and others, if we  missed a launch date you would lose more than the revenue your product would have generated. To miss a key launch date violates your trust with that buyer and you had little if any likelihood of placing other new products in the future.

Hard launch dates create a “make it happen ” environment within high performance teams. In addition hard launch plans also quickly identify weaknesses holding teams back from becoming market leaders.

In most cases in my past I led sales and marketing teams and our goals were established based on a hard launch date. In the last 25 years I have never had my sales goals reduced because a product failed to launch on time. If your known buyer’s buying cycle is six months, you need to pre-sell to insure you meet the revenue projections that product management provided senior management to get funding for the product.

Soft Launch

If a member of one of my teams said we “need” to soft launch a product it would make my skin crawl. A soft launch means you did not thoroughly conduct market research, you are not sure you totally understand the problem you are solving and your solution may not completely solve the need. When someone says soft launch I hear them saying this product is an incremental improvement to a current solutions and is not a breakthrough product. I also hear them saying we will throw this product over the wall, into  our market and see if it sticks.Team members describe a soft launch as if it were some safe and effective way to launch new products. Their approach is like someone wanting to join the polar bear club and just putting their big toe in the frozen lake to check it out, and saying; I will ease myself in. It simply does not work. I hear some discuss how a soft launch is more cost effective. Again, I have experienced the opposite in actual real as well as the opportunity costs.

So I asked some senior leaders recently why they would or would not use a soft launch and what I heard in summary in favor of a soft launch was “FUD”…

 

Fear

Uncertainty

Doubt

 

 

 

 

 

Fear

· Fear the market may not accept nor embrace your new product

· Fear if you did a hard launch and you announced a future date your competitor would beat your team to market with your idea

· Personal fear, if this draws a great deal of attention, and it does not work I may be out of a job ( particularly in these economic times)

 

Uncertainty

· Not sure if their solution completely solves the unresolved problem you discovered

· Uncertainty in your teams ability to execute

· Uncertainty to the validation of the market justification data and process used to justify the ROI

 

Doubt (the what if’s)

· What if raw material costs go up?

· What if the market projection numbers and how we assigned goals was wrong?

· What if this new product in some way caused a negative feeling in our buyers that hurts our base business?

· What if the product turns out to be an incremental improvement and not a breakthrough product?

· What if by the time we go to market we missed the window of opportunity?

 

Market leaders do not wait for the perfect conditions and they lack “FUD”. Market leading organizations spend considerably more time in upfront research, doing their research in their markets and clearly understanding the unresolved market problems. The crystal clarity they gain insures the requirements for the new product or service are thorough, complete, and nail it the first time. Market leading teams have a launch strategy and plan that includes multiple steps and representatives from other cross functional areas within the team.

 

The next time someone recommends a “soft launch” what I want you to hear is “FUD” .Before you or your team spend any more time or money on this project you must identify what did not occur that should have. I have lived through soft launches and they never achieve targeted goals and thus ROI’s are missed. Soft launches , that put your toe in the water not only create doubt within your sales team, but customers have a 6th sense about products that are launched and just do not “feel right” so they wait. As buyers wait, your sales and marketing teams miss their key indicators and morale suffers. Soft launches are a sign you lack confidence in your product, product management, and marketing’s ability. With a soft launch sales does not pre-sell so even if your team totally nailed the solution, you now have the buying cycle before you generate the revenues and more importantly profits that meet ROI targets.

 

If you can’t have a hard launch plan, don’t launch it at all!

 

 

 

How about you, what experience have you had with “soft launches”?

 

How does your company launch products?

 

If you miss launch dates do you reduce the sales and profit key indicators?

 

Have you ever soft launched a product and exceeded your ROI targets? If so tell me about it.

 

Is there a case in which a soft launch is the best way to launch a new product or solution?

“Skubala” Marketing, take a quick quiz to see if you qualify….

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How do you know if your marketing is effective? How do you even define the word “marketing”? Simply put; marketing is about understanding your market, what they need, solving and serving those needs, and letting everyone in your market know you solve those needs.

So how do you know if you’re practicing “marketing good for Skubala”? This is an old Greek word, and is harsh. There is no mystery in what this word means , so I thought I would use it.

Take this quick quiz…

 

1. Do you clearly understand the problem(s) your product or service solves?

 

 

2. Does your messaging tell your market what you solve?

 

 

 

3. Do you know the buyer types you serve; do you have written buyer persona’s?

 

 

4. Do you know the buyer’s buying process?

 

 

 

5. Do you know your sales process?

 

 

6. Can you match the sales tools marketing provides to specific stages of the buying process?

 

 

 

7. Have you created any new sales tools in the last six months?

 

 

Pretty quick quiz right? If you answered “no” to any one of the above you are probably practicing Skubala marketing. If you said no to three or more (all) you’re marketing is definitely Skubala. How do you quickly fix this?….be able to say yes to all of the above.

 

How do you define “marketing”?

 

How do you measure marketing’s contribution to your bottom line?

 

Where do you start to change your marketing to make it a core competency in your organization?

13 “old school” steps to hiring the right independent sales representative

I have worked with independent sales representative firms throughout my career and wanted to share how I found firms that produce rapid results. These results include increased sales revenues, market share, and rapid strategic account product placements. As I discussed in my previous post “Should you hire Independent Sales Representatives?” before you hire an independent sales representative (ISR) you must understand the role they play as well as the role you will play supporting their efforts. For example, good ISR’s have a close network of buyer relationships and lines of complimentary products. Their goal is to sell as many of their product lines to the buyers they have built trusted relationships with over the years. ISR’s rapidly increase your speed to market and placement. At the same time they are “independent” if they wanted to be “managed” they would not own their own business.

So how do you hire the right ISR for you? Today there are many online tools to help you find ISR’s, from online rep finders to blogs and legal sites that even provide templates for ISR contracts. However sometimes the ways we did things prior to the internet, prior to the availability of so many tech based tools is still the best way. Below are the ten steps I learned to use over 15 years of experience on how to find top producing ISR’s.

1. Identify the accounts you want to sell in a region

 

2. Determine the appropriate buyers who purchase your product category at each account

 

3. Call each buyer, explain you are planning on hiring a independent representative and ask what are the top three firms you would recommend

 

4. Review your current markets where you have independent representatives and what complimentary product lines do your high performing firms have?

 

5. Call the sales managers at these complimentary firms. Ask them who they hired in the market(s) you plan on developing, and who they would not recommend and why

6. Take the lists you now have and prepare a letter of inquiry to introduce your company, your products, and the sales opportunity to the various ISR’s. Ask them to respond by a specific date with a presentation of their firm, the lines they currently carry and any other information you require.

 

7. Note the firms that called to confirm you received their information and asked if you had any questions. Weight them higher than those that do not follow up.

 

8. Sort all the responses and weight them with buyer and other manufacturer referrals. Review the lines they represent. Do not quickly dismiss firms that have competing products to yours as good independent firms will drop poor performing lines for product lines with bigger revenue opportunity or bring with them entrance into other strategic accounts within their territory. You may already have a relationship with an account in their market they have not opened, so representing you may open a door to a new relationship and sales opportunity for all their other lines as well.

 

9. Call the firms you are interested in working with and get a feel for their professionalism and phone presence

 

10. Book a Hotel room with an attached meeting room in the desired market and meet with all your top candidates. Request that not only firm principals attend but also some of their salespeople. A mistake many firms make is hiring an ISR based on meeting the principal of the firm, and they actually work with a team of different people.

 

11. How well did the firms you met with sell their firm and the value they can add to your organization?

 

12. Listen to your gut. Ask yourself honestly: How well does this firm match our team’s culture?

 

13. You also need to insure your product line will not get lost in their portfolio of products. How important will your product line be to this firm? Will your line provide 10%-20% of their overall commissions or will you “just pay their light bill?”

 

The above steps consistently produced high performing ISR’s in the markets I have served. It may seem like a lot of upfront work, however I have found the time you spend upfront finding the right firm for you will pay multiple dividends over the years, result in explosive growth quickly and a strategic partner to help your company grow year over year.

 

How about you…do you have a technique you use to find independent sales representatives?

 

Are you an independent sales representative? What do you want manufactures to know?

 

How do you know when it’s time to hire a new firm?

 

What do you do if a key account says they do not want to work with one of your ISR’s?

 

What is your policy on “house accounts” in the ISR’s market that you do not pay commissions on?

Should you hire an Independent Sales Representative?…the right firm is a key partner, not a necessary evil

I recently answered a question on linked in with regards to working with independent sales representative firms (ISR) that is all too common. The Vice President who posted the question mentioned his frustration with independent sales representative firms. He went on to say “how do you hire good representatives as he has to change representatives often, and none seem to be opening new accounts and growing our companies’ market share?” I really do not have enough information at this point to answer his question.

I have hired independent representatives for over 15 years of my career. Good independent representatives are worth their weight in gold. The company that chooses to hire an independent sales force needs to understand the role of these professionals. The main role of independent reps is to use their current relationships, established through supplying complimentary product lines they represent, to get your product placed. They have built trust with buyers in their market, and their relationships with their accounts will ALWAYS be more important than your rep contract…and their relationship with you. Factories come and go, but the accounts in their market limited. Just as you may feel risk when you hire an independent representative firm, the firm actually has a greater risk. Each product line they represent is both an opportunity to become more important to their buyers and increase their income, as well as a risk. Should they agree to represent your products and your company fails to do what they say they would do, and or your product fails to meet your brand promise, the local sales representative not only loses potential commissions, but they run the risk of a break in trust. (Their most important asset they have with buyers)

If you are thinking of hiring independent sales representatives, I would ask you to answer the following questions…

So tell me…

· What market are you in?

· What problem does your product solve for that market?

· The representatives you choose, how did you choose them?

· Did you profile complimentary products that touched the same buyers, and then hired those representatives that had those lines?

· What is your commission structure in relation to the industry, other lines the representative carries?

· When you hired the independent representatives, where did you get their names?

· What % of the independent firms overall income do you represent in relation to the time required to sell your product?

· How well do you know the buying process for your products?

· Do you have sales tools you have developed to help the sales process match the stages of the buying process?

· Do you have written buyer personas?

· How does your competitor(s) sell? Direct, or with independent representatives?

· Did you hire them with base revenue in each market, or will they only “eat what they kill”?

· Do you have any “house” accounts in their market?… you know, the big guys you don’t pay independent representatives commissions for?

If independent sales representatives wanted to be “managed” they wouldn’t be “independent.” As a manufacturer, a “factory” your role is to provide products that solve unresolved market problems. Your job is to understand the market potential for your product and build obtainable goals from the market up. Unfortunately the majority of factories establish goals by extrapolation. (In other markets we have sold z units, and you have y number of those accounts, so your goal should be z times y…right? Wrong!

I am looking forward to hearing from those companies contemplating the hiring of independent sales representatives.

 

Please answer a few questions for me;

 

How did you establish the goals for their territory? Was the independent firm involved in the building of the territory goals?

Do you have written buyer personas?

Have you mapped the buying process?

Do you know the sales process for selling your products?

Have you identified sales tools for the steps each persona takes in the buying process?

 

If you answered “no” to any (all) of the above then your problem is not finding the right independent sales firm, it is what you lack, and it is how you have set your sales representatives up to fail. Independent sales representative have instant access to goal achieving accounts if equipped and set up to win. What independent sales representative are not…they are not magicians, nor are they your product management, development or marketing.

In my next post I will share how to find and hire independent representatives that add tremendous value quickly. I will discuss how hiring the right independent firm is the most cost effective investment you will make. I will discuss how even the biggest bean counting CFO will be thrilled with the ROI produced by independent sales representative firms.