Show Up Prepared

Woody Allen says, “80% of success is showing up.

Woody Allen is wrong.

He should say, “Showing up will make you 80% successful.

It’s like getting to the 80-yard-line and then not scoring. It doesn’t count for much. And, it’s the equivalent of getting 80% of the way through your sales cycle and finding out your prospect is going with your competition.

I don’t know anyone in sales that wants to be 80% successful. If you are happy with almost winning the sale, stop reading now and go back to watching Dancing With The Stars or American Idol.

Oh, you’re still reading? Good. Let’s get to work.

The secret to success is showing up prepared. There are many ways to prepare for a meeting or sales call. This post is focused on LinkedIn because it’s my favorite place to start and often the best source of insight. Not every prospect uses LinkedIn, however, so learn these strategies and apply them to other technologies and other sources of information. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are great as well. Keep in mind that often the best source for information is your own offline network. Who do you know that knows your prospect? Somebody knows something. All you have to do is ask the right questions.

LinkedIn is one of the best ways to ensure that you are prepared in terms of your prospect. Most salespeople spend too much time memorizing their PowerPoint deck and every feature and benefit of their product or service, and not enough time (think, none) preparing intelligent questions or searching for commonalities that will help them to connect on a personal level. But not you…not anymore. What you will be able to accomplish in under fifteen minutes will take days, weeks, or even months off your average sales cycle.

Assuming you already know your prospect’s name and company, follow the steps below in advance of your next sales call or meeting.

Find your prospect on LinkedIn. Click through to the profile and look for:

How you’re connected to your prospect. Often, you’ll find that you are a 2nd or 3rd degree connection and that you have a mutual connection that you can reach out to for insight and the inside scoop.

Previous employment. Has your prospect worked with or worked for anyone that you know? Have you done business with a former employer? Perhaps you worked for the same company at some point?

Education. Do you love the school football team? Do you hate the school football team? Did you go to the same school? Did your prospect earn a degree that is completely unrelated to her current position? For instance, I look for people who attended law school but do not practice. Or a VP of Sales that studied molecular biology. Makes for a fun conversation.

Websites. Does your prospect have a blog or link to a non-profit organization or foundation? If so, click! Read the blog and print a post or two out to bring with you to your meeting. Same thing about the social cause – be prepared to ask questions about your prospect’s involvement.

Twitter. Many LinkedIn users list their Twitter account. Click on it and uncover what your prospect likes to tweet about. Is it something related to business or does your prospect tweet about a hobby or personal interest?

Status. What is your prospect working on? What has your prospect commented on?

Recent activity. This gives you an understanding of how active your prospect is on LinkedIn. If there’s no activity, that’s an indicator that your prospect is a passive user and that you’ll have to do a little more digging to find out what’s new.

Interests. If you’re meeting with the VP and your prospect lists fine wine or marathons, it’s time to study up. People love to talk about their passions, and this is your opportunity to uncover the path to your prospect’s heart. Come prepared with relevant information and questions.

Groups and Associations. What groups does your prospect belong to? Anything look familiar to you? Are you members of the same group? Are there groups listed that stand out as unique or unexpected?

Honors and Awards. How is prospect known within his industry? Is there something recent that you can congratulate her on?

Recommendations. What do others say about working with your prospect? What is he known for? What value does she provide?

Additional applications. Some LinkedIn users will turn on the, WordPress, LinkedIn Events, TripIt, or SlideShare applications (to name a few). If so, you’re in luck. Check to see what books your prospect has read recently and be prepared to ask engaging questions about how your prospect has used something he’s learned from that book in his business. Has your prospect traveled somewhere you have been (or perhaps to your birthplace)? What events has your prospect attended recently?

Sound like a lot? It is. A lot of gold. And it’s all on one page, right in front of your face. With a little practice it will take you only a few minutes to uncover enough insight to warm up a prospect at a first meeting.

I’ll make you one guarantee: you walk in armed with the information you gather from your prospect’s LinkedIn profile and you will instantly differentiate yourself from the 98% of salespeople (think, your competition) that show up and “wing it.” And, being prepared with engaging questions sure beats looking at the walls in your prospect’s office trying to come up with something pithy to say about bass fishing.


Small Talk is for Small Sales.

“How’s the weather over there?”

“Enjoying the heat?”
“Did you see the game last night?”
“Man, it’s sure raining out there!”

Chatter. Chitchat. Babble. Blabber. Jabber. Small talk.

Anything about the weather, television, movies, or sports…it’s all small talk.

Small talk is conversation for conversation sake. Small talk is meaningless yapping about nothing at all. Small talk is safe, but it accomplishes nothing of value. It’s a restatement of the obvious. Small talk is for small sales.

What you need is something more meaningful. Something more engaging. A conversation starter, not a time-waster. A warm-up for the sale, not a nervous exchange. A thought-provoking start, not a bunch of fluff. What you need is a great open that puts you on the path to making a sale, instead of making small talk. Can you imagine going back to your office saying, “Hey Boss, I didn’t make the sale…but we really agreed about the fact that it’s been so hot lately!”

Eliminate the small talk from your sales process and you’ll be on your way to earning bigger sales.

Instead of five minutes of “winging it” or “shooting the breeze,” walk in ready to rock with a focused line of questioning that gets your prospect thinking and engaged in conversation about things that earn you respect, the right to come back again and, a better shot at making the sale.
The more thought-provoking your conversation, the more likely you are to become perceived as a person of value. The more valuable you become, the less you will be perceived as a salesperson. For why you should do anything and everything to become perceived as anything other than a salesperson, read The Stigma of Sales.

A few more thoughts:
1. The deeper your relationship with your prospect or customer, the deeper your conversations will be. That’s a report card for your chances of earning the sale.

2. How well you open determines whether you’ll close. When salespeople ask me what’s the most important part of the sales process, I always answer “The approach!”

3. To prepare your prospect for a more productive discussion, send a brief agenda in advance of your meeting. Nothing too formal…just some bullet points so that your prospect knows where you’re going together.

4. The best way to engage a prospect in a meaningful conversation is by asking powerful questions. It’s not “Hi, Bob, how are you doing today?” It’s “Bob, how did you get started in this business?” or “Bob, what are you most proud of in your role here?” Check out Don’t Ask. Don’t Sell. for guidelines for creating your own power questions.

5. Come with a few ideas for your prospect. Ideas about them and their business. Ideas about their productivity, profitability, efficiency or image. Bring big ideas, because big ideas lead to big sales.

Prepare for your next sales call. Create a plan. Write and rehearse your questions in advance. And walk out of your next meeting with the only thing that counts – THE SALE!

image credit: RubberBall Productions

Manage Yourself. Lead Your People.

This week I’ve decided to share a webinar that I delivered for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association on leadership and management. It’s a combination of my own experience as a sales leader, VP of Sales, CEO, and understudy of Jeffrey Gitomer and his latest book, “The Little Book of Leadership: The 12.5 Strengths of Responsible, Reliable, Remarkable Leaders That Create Results, Rewards, and Resilience.”

Here’s a taste of what you’ll get if you watch the entire show, starting at 4:55 & ending at 46:52 (If you’re watching on a Mac, you might need to download Flip4Mac)

The secret to becoming a great leader begins with an understanding of:

  • The difference between compliance and commitment. You may be able to “get someone to do something” but that’s a short-lived win and a telltale sign of poor engagement. I don’t want a bunch of yes men working for me. I want engaged, passionate, dedicated people who are willing to fight for what they believe is right. I don’t want people who comply with my commands – I want people who are committed to doing what’s best for the company and for the customer every time.
  • The difference between a manager and a coach. Managers are needed for supervisory purposes in industries that require remedial tasks. And even that’s a stretch. Nobody really wants or needs a manager. What they need is a coach. Think of the greatest coaches of all time: Vince Lombardi. John Wooden. Pat Riley. Joe Torre. I’ll bet you can name 25 off the top of your head. Now name the greatest managers of all time. Go ahead. Can’t think of one? That’s because managers are forgotten. Coaching and leading leaves a legacy.
  • The difference between motivation and inspiration. Dr. Bob Nelson wrote, “You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.” I couldn’t agree more. Great coaching leads to employees who perform well even when the boss is away. Motivation is temporary; inspiration is forever. And the key is to inspire your people to win for themselves – not for you.
  • The difference between expectation and encouragement. This is the difference between “You better do this or you’re fired” and “I know you can do it…I’m behind you every step of the way.” You’ll get far more out of your people as a result of your support, your help, and your encouragement. People like a little chanting from the crowd. Be their support network, not their taskmaster.
  • The difference between telling and showing. “Do as I say, not as I do” is the oldest and most trite parenting technique in the history of mankind. It’s also the most ridiculous thing you could ever say to your kids. Your kids watch you, they emulate you, they follow you. So do your employees. Lead by example is not just good advice – it’s a standard by which the best coaches and leaders (and parents) live.
  • The difference between negative and positive reinforcement. Both are (sometimes) required. But positive reinforcement should be given publicly, and negative privately. Try catching your people doing something right for a chance. You just might like what happens next – they’ll do more right things more often!
  • The difference between quitting a job and quitting a boss. If you say, “Bill quit,” you’re only one-third right. “Bill quit ME,” is two-thirds right. But the reality is that you were fired by your own employee. People don’t quit jobs. They quit bosses.

Note well: If you understand and agree with what I’ve written above, you’re ready to begin your evolution. Coaching is an action. It’s a process. It’s not a title. It’s an honor that your employees and colleagues bestow upon you. And it only comes after you have established a track record of your own dedication, your own commitment, your own performance, and your ability to bring out the best in everyone.

Ready to get started? Great! Now keep in mind that “Coaching is 90% attitude and 10% technique.” Author Unknown

How’s your attitude? Are you an upper or a downer? What tone do you set when you walk in the door each morning? Let me guess: your attitude is just fine – it’s the people who work for you that have the bad attitudes. They just always seem to ruin your mood. Here’s a hint: you are completely in control of your attitude. And, as a leader, you can influence the attitude of your people (and, therefore, their performance) by creating an environment in which positive attitude is revered and people with negative or toxic attitudes are voted off the island.

Six Secrets of Sales Success

I recently conducted a sales training day for a little over one hundred automotive parts professionals. Two hours in, somebody slipped me a note that read, “What’s the secret to success?”

I responded, “Two words – hard work.”

Somehow I think the audience felt cheated, so I decided to continue.

“Want a more in-depth answer?” I asked. “Work your tail off.”

The reality is that salespeople often look for shortcuts. They want the easiest path to success (aka commission checks).

Here’s the good news: there are no shortcuts. If you want to win, you’ve got 
to be willing to work harder than your competition.

Sure, sometimes luck plays a role. But, as Jeffrey Gitomer often reminds 
me, “Hard work makes luck.”

Success in selling means destroying your quota. It means having a closing 
ratio that exceeds that of your teammates and your competitors. Success in
 selling means becoming your best, earning customer loyalty, and not having 
to cold call.

Success is the reward you get when you think the right thoughts, when you take the right actions, when you bounce back from adversity, when you fully dedicate yourself to your craft, and when you do the hard work it takes to become known as a value provider and resource rather than simply “sales guy.”

I have studied thousands of successful salespeople across hundreds of industries. While many of these salespeople have their own definition for success, most of them agree on what it takes to get there.

Here are the six secrets to sales success:

1. Work hard. Really hard. The world doesn’t owe you anything. Nor does your boss. The only one who owes anyone anything is YOU. You owe it to yourself to skip tomorrow’s episode of Dancing with the Stars and instead make a half-dozen sales calls.

2. Start early, stay late. Don’t worry about how many hours you’re working. Hit your numbers and then look for ways to become more efficient. But first, hit your numbers.

3. If you’re not getting what you want, you’re probably not asking for it. So, ask for it. Ask your customers, your boss, your prospects.

4. Find your passion. Success in selling has more to do with your confidence, your belief system, and your passion than anything else. If you’re not passionate about your company, your product, and your ability to help your customers, you’ll never be successful.

5. Put “sales calls” and “cold calling” in your appointment book. If your iPhone or Droid or PDA doesn’t have an hour blocked for outbound sales efforts each day, you don’t have a shot. You’re not going to ever “get to it” or “squeeze it in.” You’re busy. You’ve got paperwork. You’ve got inbound phone traffic to handle. If you intend to make sales calls, put them in your calendar. Otherwise, get out of sales.

6. Take risks. Playing it safe will ensure that you have a job forever. Taking calculated risks will help you to earn a fortune. Put yourself out there. Take your shot. Reach out and sell something!

Taking a little liberty, I opine that success is a journey, not a destination. It’s a journey through consistent positive action, dedicated effort, and endless pursuit of improvement.

When You Need a New Idea, Often an Old One is Better

I’m an avid reader of sales books. Sometimes, I find a concept that was created hundreds of years ago that just needs a little adjustment before it is relevant in today’s world. And, sometimes, I read something a hundred years old that is just as relevant today as it was when it was written.

I recently re-read Napoleon Hill’s How to Sell Your Way Through Life and was amazed at how on point nearly the entire book seemed. One particular section really spoke to me. I intended to revise and comment on it for this week’s Ark of Sales article, but the more work I put into the process, the less powerful the piece became. And that’s when it hit me: the times may have changed, but salespeople today are making the same excuses that sales people in Napoleon Hill’s day did. Therefore, I’ve decided to share this powerful piece with you as it originally ran.

As you read this, think about your own career, your own habits, and your own personality. Do you have what it takes to succeed in sales?

Here it is, a direct excerpt, from Napoleon Hill’s 1939 classic:

The Major Weaknesses in Personality and Habits of Salesmen

Success in selling is the result of positive qualities that one must possess and use. Failure in selling is the result of negative qualities that should be eliminated. Among the more outstanding negative qualities are the following:

1. The habit of procrastination. There is no substitute for prompt and persistent action.

2. One or more of the six basic fears. The man whose mind is filled with any form of fear cannot sell successfully. The six basic fears are:
a. The fear of poverty
b. The fear of criticism
c. The fear of ill health
d. The fear of loss of love of someone
e. The fear of old age
f. The fear of death

To this list of basic fears should, perhaps, be added fear that the prospective buyer will bite the salesman.

3. Spending too much time making calls instead of sales. A call is not an interview. An interview is not a sale. Some who call themselves salesmen have not learned this truth.

4. Shifting responsibility to the sales manager. The sales manager is not supposed to go with the salesman to make calls. He has not enough hours or legs to do this. His business is to tell the salesman what to do, not to do it for him!

5. Perfection in creating alibis. Explanations do not explain. Orders do! Nothing else does! Don’t forget that!

6. Spending too much time in hotel lobbies. A hotel lobby is a fine place to “park” but the salesman who parks there too long is bound to get walking papers sooner or later.

7. Buying hard-luck stories instead of selling merchandise. The Business Recession is a common topic of discussion, but don’t let the purchasing agent use it to switch your mind from your own story.

8. Imbibing too freely the night before. Parties are exciting, but they do not add to the following day’s business.

9. Depending on the sales manager for prospects. Order takers expect prospective buyers to be hog-tied and held down until they arrive. Master Salesmen catch their own prospects on the wing. This is one of the chief reasons why they are Master Salesmen.

10. Waiting for business conditions to pick up. Business is always good with the robins, but they do not wait for someone to dig the worms out of the ground. Be at least as clever as a robin! Orders are not being slipped under the salesman’s door this year.

11. Hearing the word “no.” This word, to a real salesman, is only a signal to begin fighting. If every buyer said “yes,” salesmen would have no jobs, for they would not be needed.

12. Fearing competition. Henry Ford has plenty of competition, but he apparently does not fear it because he had the courage and ability to turn out an eight-cylinder car at an amazingly low price during a period in which many motor manufacturers were retrenching.

13. Devoting too much time to the “poultry” business. The only sort of chickens that lay eggs are the feathered variety, and they roost on farms, not on Broadway or Main Street!

14. Reading the stock market reports. Let the suckers bite at this bait. You may be smart enough to dodge the hook, but think how the sales manager would feel if you won a fortune on the stock market and quit the house, as 1 out of every 10,000 who play the market do—sometimes!

15. Plain pessimism. The habit of expecting that the prospective buyer will give you the gate is likely to result in your getting it. Life has a queer way of trying to please. It usually gives that which is expected!

Don’t Ask, Don’t Sell

Salespeople often tell me that their biggest frustration is with the seemingly unnecessary time it takes to close a sale. Some salespeople complain that their prospects are “indecisive,” or that their prospects “lead salespeople on, give all the buying signals, but fail to pull the trigger for months and months.” I have yet to meet a single salesperson that does not want to speed up his/her sales cycle.

Customers today are guarding their cash. They’re slower to react than they used to be. And they expect more of you than ever. In today’s economy, all of the power has returned to the customer—and the customer has become impervious to closing techniques. If you’re still “selling through telling,” and you’re finding that your words are not as persuasive as they used to be—you might want to try using your ears.

I ask salespeople regularly, “What’s the most powerful question in sales?” The common response is, “The most powerful question is when you ask for the sale.” Dead wrong. Asking for the sale is the most avoided question in sales, but it is not the most powerful. Salespeople elude asking for the sale out of fear of rejection, out of what they perceive as being polite, out of wishful thinking, out of negligence, but mostly because they’re unprepared.

Actually, there is no one most powerful question in sales. There are, however, specific characteristics of what makes up the most powerful question for your specific sales situation, or a particular sales call. For example, during one call you may use a question to answer a customer’s question. “When can you deliver?” the customer asks. “When do you require delivery?” the perceptive salesperson responds.

On another call, you may choose to use a powerful question to begin the conversation. “Mr. Prospect, how did you get started in this business?” I have yet to meet a single businessperson who does not like to talk about him/herself. If you can get your prospect talking, you will find all the opportunities you need to uncover buying motives.

Uncovering buying motives is best accomplished by asking powerful questions, which must be prepared in advance to be effective. Here are five tips to help you prepare powerful questions for your next sales call:

1. Questions must be open-ended. Anything that would result in a “yes” or “no” answer leaves you doing most of the talking. The goal is to get the customer talking so you can listen for opportunities.

2. Start with friendly, personal questions. Most salespeople foolishly begin with small talk: “How’s the weather? How about those Yankees? How are the kids?” Save the small talk and ask something that will allow your prospect to connect to something on an emotional level. My mentor always begins with “Where did you grow up?”. Take a moment and think about where you grew up. Where was it? I’ve been there! Remember that great restaurant on Main St…? Got it?

3. Facts and figures often go unheard, but questions require thought. There’s a significant difference between the statement, “83.7% of all business professionals fail to properly save for their children’s college education,” and the question, “What are you doing to ensure your child will be able to attend the college of his/her choice?”

4. There is such a thing as a dumb question. Your elementary school teacher lied to you. Actually, she didn’t lie—she simply forgot to qualify the statement. What she should have said is, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question IN SCHOOL. In real life, however, you will be judged by the questions you ask.”

5. Don’t look to uncover the pain; find the opportunity. Instead of asking questions about problems, pains, or challenges, focus on your prospect’s dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Get your prospects to connect with what life would be like if and when they do business with you. “How would my product help you to achieve your goal? How would our software increase your productivity, your efficiency, your profit? What will you do with the additional cash flow my company will provide?”

Here’s the lesson: Invest your time preparing powerful questions, and your customers will spend their money with you. It all boils down to these four words: Don’t Ask, Don’t Sell.

Now it’s your turn: Share your best questions in the comments below. Or, ask for help developing powerful questions for your specific situation and I’ll be happy to respond.

Do You Follow-Up or Follow-Through?

Follow-Up or Follow-Through?When I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to work with Jeffrey Gitomer, I worked my tail off to connect with influential business and community leaders, to build a local reputation as a person of value, and to fill my sales pipeline with people with whom I have already established a friendly rapport. I attended somewhere between five and ten business networking functions per week. Sometimes three on the same day. Yes, it was a big commitment. Yes, it took a ton of time. But it beat cold-calling any day.

As a result of putting myself out there, I had the pleasure of meeting new people on a daily basis. That pleasure also comes with a challenge: I left each function with a stack of business cards, often as many as fifty, and often struggled to keep up with follow-up. That is, I struggled until I created a process.

Through trial and error, defining and refining a process, and observation of how others follow-up, I created a best practices list that I now follow. Before I share that list with you, however, you should know there are two major considerations with regard to successful follow-up.

The opportunity for impactful follow-up is limited by only two factors: The time between the meeting and the follow-up – and your creativity.

Quite simply, the more creative your and the sooner you follow-up, the more impactful the impression you make on your new contact will be. There’s an old cliché, “Out of sight, out of mind.” It’s old and it’s a cliché because it’s true. Your greatest opportunity for impactful, memorable, and effective follow-up is within the first 24 hours after your meeting. And, the more creativity you employ, the more likely it is that you will stand out from the other 49 people your new contact met yesterday.

I have developed a 7-Step Process for follow-up that is not only impactful, but it is efficient and organized. I challenge you to adopt it, master it, and then modify my process to fit your own personal style.

1. I get the contact’s business card, double check for an email address, and tell the contact that I will be in touch shortly.

2. I write something on the back of the card that will jog my memory about my conversation with my new contact. Sports fan? Grew up in Milwaukee? Really loved the appetizers? Interested in new technologies? Something personal and relevant.

3. I scan the business card into my address book with CardScan. I find that if I scan the card, I can often trigger a specific memory when I look at that image in the future. As I’m scanning the cards, I put aside the few that I want to build a relationship with. Although I want to stay connected to everyone, I can only be personal with a few.

4. I then import the entire batch of scans I just completed into Ace of Sales. I’ll send the majority of contacts a “Branded Email” with a few comments about the networking function and a call to action to connect with me via any of my social media profiles.

5. For the contacts that I am interested in building a deeper relationship with I create an “Email Greeting” that I personalize for each recipient. I use the stock images from the Ace of Sales gallery, or pictures I snapped at the event (a photo of your contact ALWAYS gets his/her attention), or even something relevant from Google Images.

6. In that “Email Greeting” I always ask for an appointment or a commitment to meet for coffee. But not before I deliver value first. If I had an interesting conversation with the contact, I’ll attach an article that discusses something relevant. If I know someone who would be a good prospect for my contact, I’ll introduce that prospect right in the email. I give my contact a reason to want to connect with me beyond what I may have established the day prior at the event.

7. My inbox gets flooded, my phone rings, and I fill my calendar with appointments and my pipeline with prospects.

There’s one more secret I want to share with you, and it is the key to maximizing the opportunities you encounter after a first meeting. Lots of people follow-up. The call or the email sounds something like, “Hi, Noah, this is Joe. We met at the networking function last week. I just wanted to follow-up and say that it was great to meet you. If you ever need anything, just call!” Nice, right? Joe took the time to reach out to me. But Joe also failed to stand out from every other contact I made last week.

I have found that the secret to successful follow-up is all about follow-through. Look at the difference in the power of the following two opening lines of an email:

“I’m just following up to say that I enjoyed meeting you and look forward to seeing if there’s a way we can work together.”

“I just mentioned your name to a friend of mine that would be a perfect customer for you…let’s meet for lunch.”

Which one gets a reply? Which one gets the appointment? Which one leads to the sale?

One final tip: Remember to bring your business cards to the event! I cannot tell you how many times I failed to bring enough cards (or any cards at all, on occasion) and how frustrating it is to have to tell a new contact that I “forgot my cards at the office.” When you forget your cards, you look unprepared and uninterested in connecting. I know this is a weakness of mine, so I took a proactive, creative approach to ensure I would always be ready to connect—anytime, anywhere. I bought a domain name for $8 and built a simple one page website in less than an hour. Now when I forget my business cards, I tell people to visit If you want directions on how you can create your own online business card, visit IMetNoah, connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter and send me a note. I’ll be sure to follow-through on my offer to help!

6 Easy Steps to Reducing or Eliminating Your But

“I would, BUT…”

“Right, BUT…”

“I know, BUT…”

“I could, BUT…”

“I understand that, BUT…”

“I should, BUT…”

Those big buts above are the precursors to statements like “I’m really busy this month” or “the economy is too uncertain” or “my boss won’t let me.”

The word “but” is the introduction to every rationalization for mediocre performance, inaction, and self-pity I have ever heard.

Most people allow their environment to direct their actions. If you work for a boss who is not interested in your new ideas, you stop creating new ideas. If your coworker avoids teamwork, you retreat to your cubicle. If your spouse fails to uphold his/her end of the bargain, you stop trying.

That little three-letter word—”but”—creates big problems. Big but problems.

Your big but is a symptom. It’s a symptom not of what others do to you, but of a poor attitude. Your poor attitude. Your poor belief system.

The Problem: When your buts are bigger than your accomplishments, you will find your wallet a little thin.

The Solution: Get your butt in gear!

Here are six steps to getting your big BUT back in line:

1. Start moving. The hardest part of any task is starting. Once you get moving, you will find that inertia will keep you motivated.

2. Allow yourself to succeed. If you give up a task or project at the first sign of adversity, eventually you will convince yourself that your next project is not worth starting. Instead, focus all of your energy on completing the task at hand—NO MATTER WHAT.

3. Build your belief system. Big belief will beat big buts anytime. The bigger your own self-belief, the more likely you are to overcome your inner-skeptic.

4. Don’t ask for permission. You don’t ever need permission to do what you know in your heart is best for your company. Try walking into your boss’s office after implementing your new idea with proof of success. “Hey, boss, I just did something a little ‘out-of-the-box’ and our customers loved it. Here’s a purchase order for $10,000.”

5. Exercise your freedom. Freedom to succeed implies freedom to fail. The best baseball players strike out two out of three times. But the runs they score when they do hit far outnumber the runs they score while sitting in the dugout.

6. Know when to quit. Sometimes you will fail. Don’t blame your but. Instead, understand that sometimes you must choose to cease working toward a goal. Quitting is a choice—and sometimes it’s the best choice. Practice saying “I chose not to complete this project so that I can focus my time on a higher-priority task.”

The bottom line is this (yes, that’s a pun): Your biggest but is in your head.

I Hate Email.

OK, truth be told, I don’t hate email. I do, however, hate that I allow email to distract me. I hate that many people do not know how to use email appropriately. I hate that I can never seem to get to the bottom of my inbox. I hate that people expect me to reply to email within minutes. I hate that I can rarely work uninterrupted. I hate that for every one email I am able to send, I seem to get three in return. I hate that I spend hours each day writing emails but can’t seem to find the time to write a blog post. And, if that’s not enough, I hate that I find myself checking email on my iPhone pretty much everywhere.

I Hate Email

You see, email in and of itself is not the problem.

The problem is that we have become slaves to Outlook (or Apple Mail if you’re a Mac like me, or Gmail – which is a close third by now). Email is actually a great tool. It’s one of the most effective forms of marketing, it’s one of the easiest ways to stay in touch, it’s a savior when communicating complex or detailed information, it’s great for reminders, it’s fast, it’s free, and it’s, well, I could go on and on. My point here is that email has become an ever-present and necessary part of business. And, it’s not going anywhere soon. So the trick is figuring out how to leverage the strength of email as a platform without falling victim to it’s many time wasters.

Here is a list of the best practices that I have developed and do my best to follow:

Touch it once. This is a hard but important point. If you can train yourself to only touch each email once you’ll cut down on nearly 50% of the time it takes to empty your inbox. The moment you read the email for the first time, make a decision about what you’re going to do with it and then…DO IT RIGHT THEN. File it, archive it, respond to it, forward it, whatever. Some emails do require a more detailed response and/or deeper reflection. In those cases flag the email for later follow-up or put it in a follow-up folder. Whatever you do, don’t keep reading the email every time you scroll past it in your inbox.

Push delete! You don’t need to read every email. Once you realize that the email is junk, spam, irrelevant, unimportant, duplicative, or distracting DELETE IT right away. I’ve found the secret to reducing workload and time spent in your email program is ruthlessness with the delete button. If you’re worried that you might need that email one day set up an archive folder that you move these lesser important emails to.

Use filters. If you create email filters and rules that automatically sort and store incoming messages you’ll cut down on the time required to clean out your inbox each day. For instance, I receive about a hundred emails daily that are carbon copied to me for informational purposes only. It’s information that I rarely need, so I created a rule that moves those emails upon receipt to a folder for storage. If I ever need to go look at them, I can do that easily. You’d be surprised at how much of the “FYI” email you receive is actually not needed.

Sign up for Sanebox. This is a service that I cannot recommend highly enough. I pay $4.95 each month (which Sanebox says gives me “sanity for the price of a latte) and I get back hours of time each week. Sanebox filters my email automatically so I don’t have to. Basically, Sanebox moves unimportant emails to another folder called “SaneLater” that I peruse nightly but leaves important emails in my inbox. You don’t have to do anything to get it work. It just works. You can train it to be smarter, but you don’t really have to. Sanebox includes a host of other features for email management that I’ve found useful – and I’m sure you will as well.

Set aside email hours. One of the biggest distractions throughout the day is leaving your inbox open and attempting to reply to every email as it comes in. I have found far greater success with taking an hour in the morning, and then again in the late afternoon, to do nothing but email. It’s tough to hold yourself to that schedule but it does wonders for your productivity.

Create expectations with your signature. Include language that explains what senders should expect with a statement like, “I reply to all email within 24 hours. If you’d like an immediate response please call me direct at 414-555-1212.”

Set your download frequency to longer intervals. I used to have mine set for one minute. Then I changed it to 15. Now I’m on 30 minutes. I know people who set theirs to an hour – and still others who leave it on manual download only. I’m not quite that ready to let go, but I have really appreciated the ability to work on responding to email without the fear of another four or five pouring in at the same time.

Turn off notifications. Dings, beeps, counters, bells, chimes, badges, and even the old-school “You’ve got mail!” announcement were all created to do two things – divert your attention and distract you. Turn them all off. You don’t need them. When you open your email program, you’ll know if you have new mail.

Forward with care. Email unto others as you would like them to email unto you. Nobody really needs to see another email about cats. Or dogs. Or anything that says, “Forward this to 12 of your friends today and you will have good luck.” The way to stop the insanity is to stop the spread of stupid email by refusing to forward anything you would not appreciate receiving yourself. I’ve even responded to emails from my colleagues and friends within the industry with “Hey, pal, don’t send me crap like this. Please.” Now I only get the REALLY funny stuff.

What steps do you take to help you keep your inbox under control?

Fish Stink from the Head

My father-in-law, Sam, is known within his industry for his many insightful and pithy statements. In fact, we’ve come to dub his statements “Sam-isms.”

One of Sam’s most frequent reminders to leaders is that “fish stink from the head.” What Sam means is that the worst smelling part of a dead fish is its head. But what Sam really means is that most problems within a company can be traced back to its leadership. Since you’re reading this, odds are that you’re a leader within your company. Odds are, I’m talking about (and to) YOU.

When you’re evaluating a problem within your business, it’s easy to blame everyone around you. It’s easy to point your finger at your peer, at your manager, at your assistant…pretty much at anyone. The hardest thing is to ask (and answer) why the problem truly exists. Often, your employees’ actions are a symptom of a greater problem. And, often, that greater problem is, well, you.

I’ll clarify:
Your people are a reflection of you.
Your people are a reflection of your work ethic.
Your people are a reflection of your attitude.
Your people are a reflection of your encouragement (or discouragement).
Your people are a reflection of your example.

You may not realize it, but you’re being watched. Your employees look at you, they look to you, and (sometimes) they look up to you. No matter how they feel about you, however, they emulate you. You set the standard.

Don’t tell them what to do, show them how it’s done.

Ask yourself:
▪ “How’s my attitude?”
▪ “How do I react to stressful situations?”
▪ “How do I treat customers?”
▪ “Do I always get to work on time?”
▪ “Do I follow my own rules and policies?”
▪ “How often do I praise my employees for doing things right?”
▪ “Do I always deliver on my promises?”
▪ “How well do I listen to my employees?”
▪ “Have I provided my employees with adequate training – both in technical skills and personal development skills?”
▪ “Am I living (and leading) by example?”

Those are tough questions. Well, actually they’re easy questions that result in tough answers and tough work should you need to make changes in yourself.

But the results are worth it.

The bottom line: Be who and what you want your employees to be.

Bonus questions: If you were your own employee, how would you stack up? Would you hire you? Would you fire you?

Sales Blog