Today’s Lesson: Press It!

press it

“Press it!” Cousin Ira said.

Ira believes in hot and cold dealers and dice, karma, good runs and bad luck. I had been on a good run of luck and to Ira, this is precisely the time to raise your bet.


Not so much. I guess I paid attention too much in math and logic classes.

If you’ve ever been in a casino near a hot blackjack or craps table, you’ve probably heard an experienced player telling a beginner who’s on a hot streak and doing well to press his bet. The instruction is to raise the wager because things are going well; Karma or Fortuna is in your favor, so “press” your advantage.

Talk to gamblers and some, like Cousin Ira, will tell you that the way to win big is to press your advantage. Others will say – correctly – this is hogwash, the gambler’s fallacy, that all bets are independent of another.

In gambling, I fall in the latter group, though admittedly, I will sometimes press even knowing the folly of it. I just like the adrenaline rush and regardless only employ a small bankroll considering it entertainment dollars deployed.

In business, though, we are not playing in a game with house odds, but rather one that rewards among other things hard work, preparation, ingenuity, and creativity. In business we weigh upsides and downsides and then take action.

So, when things are going well, certainly keep doing what you are doing to continue with the great results. But, this is also the time for experimentation. To me, this is similar to how thriving companies increase their research and development budgets in good times in order to experiment at the margins. They press it.

My last few months professionally reminded me of Ira exhorting me to “Press it!”

Things at SalesReformSchool are going well and I’ve been “Pressing It” this year. You may have noticed that lately I’ve spent some money and put some time and effort into a few new marketing items.

First, I had the talented Kristen Myers put together the below graphic of the SalesReformSchool Proven Process to help explain what I do for my clients. It took some time, but I think we got it right.

SalesReformSchool Proven Process FINAL

Next, I joined with my partner Frontline Selling and began a live video webinar series. You can get to the first episode here.

And lastly, I went to Fiverr, and hired irfan4 from Pakistan to create a whiteboard video for me. I’m thrilled with the result and early reviews are very positive.  In less than a week and as of this writing, 2,519 people have viewed it on Linkedin. This blows me away.  Please let me know if you want to learn more about this fascinating experience.



The ideas for these projects came from others. They are all out of my zone of expertise, but with help and some effort, and because things are going well, I decided to press it. I’m confident they were the right things to do at the right time and hey, it was worth the risk.

So, I’ll ask you: If things are going well, what are you going to do to PRESS IT?

SalesReformSchool: Food For Thought 

I’m a DIYer when it comes to personal finance.  I’ve read The Millionaire Next Door and thought it was terrific.  Even better and shorter, please read The Psychology of Money.  It’s the best thing I’ve read on personal finance in a long, long time.

SalesReformSchool: Extracurricular

Full screen, sound on. You’ll thank me.

Yes, suitable for work or home.

Good Selling!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Today’s Lesson: Can She Sell?

During or after coaching or consulting engagements, my clients often ask, “Do you think she (or he) can sell for us?”

Similarly, friends, colleagues, or former SalesReformSchool students often ask me whether they (or lately, their kids) should pursue a particular sales position.

When I think about it, I tend to use the same four criteria for both answers.

  1. Passion
  2. Requisite Intelligence
  3. Competitiveness
  4. Fearlessness

Read More

Today’s Lesson: 10 Links

I’m going to try something different this month.

When I procrastinate, I read. A lot. I also like to share stuff. Sometimes my friends and family say I over-share. Oh well, I gotta be me.

So, I hope you enjoy these 10 Links which I found interesting in the last month or so while procrastinating. Read More

Today’s Lesson: How Do You Get Better?

You may know that I have been a member of a Vistage Trusted Advisor group for over five years. I consider it my graduate business school. While I have a Juris Doctor, I am not a Master of Business Administration. Because of Vistage, though, I feel I’m actually in a business school of sorts becoming a better owner, consultant, trainer, and coach. Maybe even a better person.

At a recent meeting, our chair Larry Hart reminded us about the five reasons for being a member. While the below list contains universal capabilities, it applies especially to sales people. We want to be heroes. We also tend to get bogged down in the immediate at the expense of the long-term.  We forget then to do what it takes to grow.

So, here are the five Vistage capabilities that sellers need to work on for professional and personal growth: Read More

Today’s Lesson: Receiving Feedback

Constant improvement is one of my bedrock principles for starting SalesReformSchool 12+ years ago. Recently, however, I received written feedback from a post accusing me of not modeling Active Listening in my public discourse like I teach my clients. It knocked me back on my heels.   Had I slipped or not really improved?

I immediately became defensive in my head.

“You’re accusing me? How dare you.”

“Who are you to write that?”

“No way, can’t be right!”

“You’re just an internet troll.”

I trashed it. Then, I took a deep breath.

“What if he is right?”

Another deep breath.

“No, wrong question.

Assuming he’s right, what do I do about it?”

Whenever we receive criticism, personally or professionally, our natural inclination is to either get defensive or shut down. It’s the fight or flight instinct. If our goal, however, is constant improvement then take the leap of faith. AGREE with the criticism and consider what you should do to correct the suggested flaw. See, there’s no downside in accepting the criticism, as long as it’s in line with your values.

How might this work in sales?

If your sales manager says you are interrupting your prospects too much, don’t argue the point. Accept it. The next time you are speaking with a prospect, take an extra pause before speaking to check whether you are interrupting.

If your subject matter expert says you are not preparing them enough for a conference call or demo, resist thinking, “Geez, all I do is talk to you about what to say and not say.” Instead, ask them, “How do you think we should prepare together?” Then create a preparation process.

If a colleague hears you on the phone and offers the unsolicited advice, “Man, you talk SO much on your calls,” don’t sneer at them to mind their own business. Be grateful for the feedback and start listening to yourself in conversations with an internal clock. Maybe you ARE too verbose.

Me? I’m going to try hard to make sure I am listening to my own advice whether I need to or not: Acknowledge, Clarify and Recap. And to improve even more I’d like to take Aaron Burr’s advice from the musical Hamilton: Talk Less, Smile More.

SalesReformSchool: Food for Thought

Sticking with the same theme of continuous improvement – I learned how to perform a meeting retrospective from a fabulous facilitation course I took from Leadership Strategies, Inc. At the end of each workshop or day within a workshop, I ask the participants to list out all the things they liked about the day we spent together. They can list anything ranging from that day’s content and processes to the lunch menu.  These are the ‘Plusses” or “+s.” I also ask for any gaps or things they didn’t like, appreciate, or understand or even agree with about the day or the day’s lessons. Everything is fair game.

These are the “Deltas” or “Δs”. Sure, it’s a little “Meet the Fokker’s-ish” to call them deltas rather than minuses, but the theme is improvement, and I can’t improve if I don’t know the gaps or deltas. Then I go around the room listing and listening to what everyone noted under + and Δ columns on a board for all to see. The rules for me: Document and seek clarification, but resist discussing or defending. I complete the process by reviewing the board, especially the Δ column, to see what I need to fix or improve. Please note though, that I am rarely responsible for the lunch menu.

My agile software development tools client tells me this is in line with the “Agile Sprint Retrospective.” I like that. Here’s an example from a workshop this month –


SalesReformSchool: Extracurricular

“We are not working together as a team!” If you’ve received this criticism and are in the Atlanta metropolitan area, try an escape room at BRAINSTORM ESCAPEGAMES. These games are a fun way to check whether your team is listening to each other and collaborating towards common goals. I’ve secured the promo code SALESREFORMSCHOOL for you to get 20% off.

Good Selling!

Adam signature

P.S.   Did you like this post? Any comments you’d like to share?  Please post a comment below or  email me.  Also, please consider sharing this post!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Carly*, a millennial sales executive in one of my workshops came back on day two beaming with pride.  She had implemented the “Empathy” skill we worked on the day before, but not in a business setting; rather in her personal life.

Here’s what happened:
Carly’s boyfriend worked in a restaurant and often came home at night with a complaint about the manager. Carly would offer advice often replying with “You should…” only for that solution to fall on deaf ears.  That night it happened again, and they talked about it.  This time, instead of jumping in right away with “you should” instructions, she adhered to the Active Listening process: Acknowledge, Clarify, Recap.
With a sweet smile on a beaming face, she proudly reported that after their conversation, “He looked at me with eyes like I’d never seen before.”
*name changed to protect her identity.

How did this happen and
what had she learned the previous day?

Sellers have been told since the beginning of capitalism:
Connect with your buyers! Build trust in your relationships to be successful! Show you care!

 What’s this all about? 


Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. 

Seems pretty simple, huh?  So, how do you practice and show it as a seller? Why is it important?

For some people, empathy is hard wired into their personalities. We all know someone who intuitively recognizes the emotional aspects of people and events around them.  They are sensitive souls who can “take the temperature” of a room and adjust their demeanor.  Friends seek them out for comfort or advice.  Unfortunately, it’s been my experience (and a little self-talk here), that most of these empathic people are not in sales.

If only it wasn’t true.

Most of us in sales have to work hard at empathy.   We struggle with getting into the minds of our prospects in our conversations.  We move in and out of opportunities because the prospect “doesn’t get it” whatever “it” is.

We realize only too late that we failed to truly understand the nature of the prospect’s goals, objectives, challenges and issues.  We are told to show empathy if we want others to open up about these things, but not how to do just that.  We are left winging it, and hoping for success.

Also, we are told over and over that buyers buy from people they trust.  We trust someone when we are convinced they understand our unique situation and feelings about that situation.  That is, we trust those salespeople – going back to the definition above – who shows they have empathy for us.

But try telling another person, “You need to show more empathy!”  I’m talking to you Sales Managers. They may agree, but they may also become either angry or withdrawn, feeling that you don’t have empathy for them!  They may also wonder, “How do I do that? How do I show more empathy?”

The Active Listening Process

At some point in a sales conversation, the buyer will complain about a situation or describe something they are trying to accomplish. Most sellers will then immediately go for the sale – attempting to solve the problem or describe their offerings as a way to achieve the buyer’s goals.


This is not only a bad move, but also dangerous to your sales cycle.  Just like Carly whose boyfriend didn’t listen to her whenever she tried to solve his restaurant manager issues without actively listening first, you are not showing empathy by reflexively going to your tool belt. You risk failing to build trust.

There is hope:  You can become an empathetic sales person who quickly gets to trust by employing a three step Active Listeningprocess.


Acknowledge the emotions of the situation.

While it sounds like the speaker wants you to fix it for them – and they very well may in the future – in reality, they mainly want you to understand how they feel.  “Acknowledging feelings” involves taking in their statements, looking at the “whole message” including body language, tone of voice, and level of arousal, and trying to determine what emotion they are conveying.  Then you let them know that you realize they are feeling that emotion by just acknowledging it in a sentence such as:
“Gee, I think I can understand how that might suck.”
“I can tell that’s really weighing on you.”
“Wow, yeah, that would be awesome!”

In a non-judging way, ask for clarification and detail.

This conveys that you are making a good effort to truly and deeply understand and not just trying to push your opinions onto them.  To formulate a relevant question in asking for more clarification, you will have to listen carefully to what they say. Frame your questions as someone trying to understand in more detail, perhaps even asking for a specific example. This also helps the buyer evaluate his or her own opinions and perspective. Some examples:
“What’s going on?”
“Did something happen today/this week/quarter?”
“How bad is it?”

Recap in a non-evaluative way.

This will allow the buyer to determine if he/she really got the message across to you, that you “got” it. It will also help the buyer become more aware of how he or she is coming across to another person, which may be clarifying for them.  You’ll show empathy by thinking about what the buyer is conveying and paraphrasing it back to them in your own words without judging the correctness or merit of what they said, and asking if that is what they meant. They will appreciate that you clearly took the time to listen first and again, that you “got” it.
“So, what you’re saying is….”


And yes, this three step Active Listening process for building empathy and earning trust, is not only a SalesReformSchool lesson, but a life lesson.  Just ask Carly.

Supplemental Material:

The response to my initial email was heartwarming.  Thank you for the many notes of congratulations on finding or returning to my passion.  I read this article this week that would have been instructive months ago.  Call, text, email, tweet or whatever at me if you ever want to talk about this stuff.

Extracurricular Activity

A sweet and fun movie on Netflix on finding or re-finding your passion.

That’s all for today.
Good Selling!

Through SalesReformSchool, I am available to you for Sales Process Design, Sales Messaging Creation, On-boarding/In-boarding Sales Team Workshops, Keynote Addresses, Facilitation, Group or One-on-One Coaching, Pipeline Reviews and other Sales Management Consulting.

Oh, Waiter. Want to Join My Sales Team?

One of the drudgeries of sales management is combing through resumes looking for that “Aha Moment.” Through real or virtual stacks of Curriculum Vitae, sales managers wait and hope for at least one spark to jump out as the reason to contact the applicant and start the interview process.   Even worse is the realization that can come some time later that the spark was false, a mirage, a masquerade.

A failed hire is like looking up into the sky and getting excited over the first star at night, only to see it move and become disappointed that it’s just an airplane.  Here’s an idea for increasing the chance an Orion joins your team instead of a 747.

Over coffee, I asked a colleague of mine how he has been so successful finding inside business to business (B2B) sales people.  His answer surprised me.  I expected to hear about a particular college major, experience in other business roles, or some sort of extra-curricular like team sports.  Instead, he said he loves and has had a lot of success hiring people who speak positively about their experiences waiting tables.

Don’t think Flo would have been a good sales executive? KISS MY GRITS!




Ever wait tables?  I did and I loved it.  Until that coffee meeting, though, I hadn’t connected it to my career in sales.  Here are my three reasons for enjoying being a waiter all those years ago:

 1)    Variable Compensation – As long as you provide the minimum expected service, you get 15% (usually).  Exceed expectations and the tip rate goes up.  Get real busy, turn tables, exceed expectations – JACKPOT.

2)    Teamwork – As long as I helped others – bar staff, hosts and hostesses, line managers, they helped me.  If everyone does their job well, we all make more money.

3)    Service – A lot has been written lately about Servant Leadership – the idea that you will succeed in business if you give priority attention to the needs of your colleagues and those you serve. While waiting tables in my teens and twenties, I wasn’t introspective enough to realize it, but I really did get jazzed by knowing that I had a role in creating a table full of content diners.

So, it does make total sense.  I certainly would want to interview an applicant who hoped for variable increased compensation, who’s resume showed the ability to function well as a member of a team, and who appeared to be happiest when serving others.

Further, according to, the top three skills you need as a waiter and waitress are the ability to 1) manage your time, 2) multi-task, and 3) get along with people.

One at a time:

Time Management – says sometimes you need to speed up your effort and treat your diners as if they are your only table. Other times you have to slow down aware of the pace your table desires. And “never keep a guest waiting more than 5 minutes (it feels like 20 minutes to guests) for anything, especially the check. You do want a big tip, don’t you?”

What if we re-wrote the last paraphrased and quoted paragraph with some minor substitutions and additions:

Sometimes you need to speed up and treat your PROSPECTS as if they are your only OPPORTUNITIES. Other times you have to slow down aware of the [BUYING PROCESS] pace your PROSPECT desires. And “never keep a PROSPECT waiting more than 5 minutes (it feels like 20 minutes to PROSPECTS) for anything, especially the AGREEMENT. You do want a big COMMISSION, don’t you?”


Multitasking – explains why “full hands in, full hands out” is a guiding principle for successful waiter:  “A good waiter or waitress knows that the more productive they can make each trip to their tables, the easier the whole shift is going to go….Always think, ‘How much can I get done on this trip out to the floor’.” But it goes deeper than that.  A good waiter doesn’t just do that tasks he enjoys, like taking down orders and delivering the bill, collecting the tips.  He also knows that to be successful he has to check-in on his table to see if they need anything, keep tables clean of clutter, answer questions about the menu, etc. And sometimes, he has to pivot from one table to another clearing one, answering a question at another while delivering ketchup to a third. All with a smile and the right amount of enthusiasm.

Same with sales.

For outside sellers, “full hands in, full hands out” means maximize your time in the field asking yourself constantly whether there are other prospects or clients near the area I am going to that day or week.  For inside sellers, “full hands in, full hands out”  means asking themselves, “How much can I accomplish with this conversation? Or email?” Even though sales people try to plan out their processes and schedule their days, interruptions happen.  Multi-tasking also means that pivoting is part of the job description.  While you are researching a new prospect, you may get an urgent call or email from another.  A manager may request your assistance with another opportunity.  Top notch sellers can take on the extra tasks and juggle their responsibilities.

People Skills –
Curmudgeon’s need not apply.

Thumbs down to you as well – for a career in sales. defines people skills as the ability to make total strangers like you by establishing rapport and finding something you have in common.  But do not be false.  People skills include being honest about dishes and possible menu shortcomings. “If the guest sees that you are really trying to take care of them, then they will take care of you. Be professional, but let your personality come out.”

Being extroverted, gaining rapport, being able to find common ground – this is not new ground for defining sales skills.  But the second part of the “People Skills” definition is enlightening.  Buyers, like diners, want to feel comfortable that the seller they ultimately buy from is genuine, cares about helping them, and treats them with respect.  Did the waiter push the special of the day because it was delicious and exactly what I wanted or because it was expensive and the restaurateur over-purchased that item that week? Sophisticated buyers (and diners) can sense when their needs and objectives are out of alignment with the sellers. It’s a big turn-off and can often explain losses to no-decision or a more “waiter-like” competitor.

I’ve had my clients (after I worked with them) toot their horns that they were told by new customers that they won an opportunity not necessarily because of what they sold, but rather how they sold it.  That they seemed trustworthy and respectful in the sales process, and the feeling was among the decision makers that if they were like that in the sales process, they were more likely to be customer focused in delivery and support.

Back to my coffee colleague. He hit on another extremely important similarity between inside sellers and waiters:  They both often have to deal successfully with different personas in a short amount of time. Their livelihood depends on it.  A the same time, a waiter may have one table of rowdy kids and harried parents, another with lovebirds that just want to be left alone, and a third with demanding professionals interested in the exact amounts of butter or salt the chef uses in particular dishes.  He has to treat all three tables well, respecting their different needs and circumstances. The same with sales people: Within the same opportunity, one key player may only be interested in long term product plans and high level descriptions, a second may be the financial buyer demanding a tightly described cost v. benefit analysis, and a third may be a previously burned technical buyer who needs to check copious references and fully understand your implementation scheme before coming on board.  The best sales person appreciates that all buyers (diners) are not the same, yet all need to be treated with respect (served).

So, who knew that your favorite bistro was also a crucible for developing sales talent?  That confident guy or gal that  greeted you with a smile and asked “where are you from?” or at the end of the meal asked “Would you like to hear about our delicious pie?”  He or she may be the next rainmaker for your company.

Good selling (and eating, this post is making me hungry)!

Unleashing Our “Inner Steve Jobs”

Carmine Gallo writing in Entrepreneur magazine last month offered up his seven principles that drove Steve Jobs success.  Gallo suggests that “any of us can adopt them to unleash our ‘inner Steve Jobs.'” So, to unleash your “Jobs-siness” in sales I suggest reading Gallo’s list and considering the following –

1) Do what you love.  I’ve never been someone who could sell ice to eskimos.  If I don’t believe in my product, love my product, I can’t sell it.  For me, life is too short to work on something dispassionately.  If you don’t love it, why should someone else?

2) Put a dent in the universe.  What’s the big vision for how your prospect’s world will look if you work together?  Consider whether you have created a vision big enough to excite others.

3) Make connections.  If you are reading this blog post you probably already consider yourself a life long learner.  Why else read a blog on sales?  Good for you!  Now, think of all the meaningful events and activities in your life.  How can they contribute to and inform your next important client interaction? For Jobs, among other things, it was the connection between calligraphy, India and designing computers and electronics.

Me? I went to law school and practiced law for a few years.  Hated the career, but loved the education. Believe it or not, it helped me learn to empathize with my prospects.  Much the way a lawyer needs to analyze both sides of a negotiation or dispute, a good seller understands his prospect’s point of view. So, my law studies helps me be a “student” of my prospects.

You are the sum of your experiences.  So use them to relate to others.

4) Say no to 1,000 things.  Can you disqualify an opportunity and rationalize your pipeline?  Can you fire a customer who isn’t worth it?  Saying “no” and “No Way” can help clarify why you are working on the good opportunities and with the attractive clients.

5) Create insanely different experiences.  Are you offering up anything that differentiates you from your competition? Or, do your conversations, presentations and websites fill up a Buzzword Bingo card?

6) Master the message. Create and practice your personal and company stories and DON’T WING IT.

Your stories should seduce both sides of the brain – inform and inspire, educate and entertain your prospects.

7) Sell dreams, not products. The things or services you sell are only props that help your clients achieve some goal or objective.  So, talk with them about their goals, objectives, challenges, struggles.  Then show how using your stuff can help make the dream come true.

Good Selling.

On-Boarding (or In-Boarding) Salespeople to your Sales Team

Here’s my presentation from today’s AA-ISP, Atlanta Chapter meeting.

In case the images are too cryptic,I’ll briefly summarize:
The four foundational elements of a successful sales on-boarding process are:
1) Expectations – What do you expect your sales team members to know, do and exhibit;
2) What is the sales process for these team members?  A sales process must include the steps and tools sellers need to complete, the know-how to get them done, and the metrics they are trying to achieve;
3) The messaging tools to execute in each step of the sales process – scripts, questions, templates, for individualized conversations, etc., and
4) Have a model for pre-call practice as well as looking back on how the call went (“retrospecting”).
Good selling!

Vistage All-City Atlanta Part 2

Yesterday, I provided the first half of my notes from Tuesday’s Atlanta All-City Vistage conference.

This is Part 2.

Keith McFarland was CEO of a breakthrough company taking Collectech Systems from revenue of $10M to $150M in three years.  He then decided to study why some small and successful companies like his, think Inc. 500, “breakthrough” to become much larger successes.  His mentor-guru-muse is Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant and professor.

Aside:  The Daily Drucker is on my shelf.  I’ve thumbed through it.  Mental note:  READ IT.

McFarland’s book, The Breakthrough Company was inspired by a question from Professor Drucker:

Make a list as short as possible but as long as necessary of the things that determine which businesses win or lose. 

The answer forms McFarland’s central thesis:  There are really only three disciplines that will make a difference with your company (speaking to Vistage CEOs):

Strategy – vision, mission, etc.

Execution – the steps to get stuff done

People – who execute the strategy

And these are the three disciplines of “Breakthrough Companies”: strategy, execution, people.

So, if you are not on your way to becoming a breakthrough company, you probably have some routines that need to be broken. Leadership’s job is to break routines. Routines are dangerous b/c they don’t change as the world is changing.  First and foremost, if the routine isn’t working, change it.

Aside:  This is another way of describing the definition of insanity.

So, one by one, McFarland dives deeper into each discipline describing how to break the routine.

 Discipline 1 – Dynamic Strategy

With the right people and process, a company can build a strategy in 48 hours that is 90% as good as one we build in two months.  I like this.  What he is saying is that “good enough is good enough” and we saved a month and 28 days.

McFarland offer a new definition of strategy:  a collection of ideas on how we are going to win. Whatever “win” means to your individual company.

So, how can you create your individualized strategy?  Employ a Strategy Wheel cycle where anytime there’s insight that gets converted into a decision and the decision gets converted into actions, you have created a strategy.  You don’t wait until the annual or semi-annual strategy summit.  It’s a cycle and winners get this cycle going fast. The Strategy Wheel has to move quickly.

Strategy planning – how do you do it?

McFarland answers this question by setting up the problems with how most companies plan today and offering a fix.

Problem:  Strategic Planning is too infrequent. Some might say things nowadays happen too fast so strategic planning is dead.  Hogwash. Strategy has never been more important.

Fix:  Use a 90-day cycle and change the way you do it. For example, do a retrospective every 90 days so you get iterative -ability.

Aside:  I wonder if McFarland is familiar with Agile programming processes.  This description of planning is analogous.

For the first session, spend 48 hours locked in a room to start, then 2 hrs every 90 days to see what is meeting expectations, working and not working.

Problem:  Planning is too exclusive. Too often it’s the boss and direct reports.  This is not good.  These folks are too in bed together, same data points, all reporting to same people.

Fix: Bring more minds into it. Illustrating this point, McFarland gives a brief summary of an integral aspect of the hit TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”  He details the success rate of the three lifelines:

1)   Phone a friend – right 60% of the time, which is

2)   better than the 50-50 option, but

3)   Ask the Audience is right 87% of time.

Ask the Audience is like inviting more to the Strategic Planning process.  The idea is to get more minds working on it so “democraship”, a combo of democracy and dictatorship, occurs. When it comes time to figure out where we are going and how get there get as many people involved a physically possible because it’s two layers down at a minimum that really knows what is going on. Then build systems and processes that are rigorous enough to get us there.

Democracy – good at generating good ideas, but terrible at getting anything done. Consider bringing these groups in:

1)   two layers down from CEO,

2)   smart sales people,

3)   young up and comers and lastly,

4)   Eeyores those that are hyper critical that things won’t work.  They may be annoying, but their commentary is valuable.

Dictatorship – terrible for good ideas, none of us is smarter than all of us.

Problem:  Too often, strategic planning process is too CEO-centric. One person’s ideas, viewpoints.  It’s too limited.

Fix:  Need “insultants.” People who are insiders at the company but are willing to tear ideas apart and take full swings at issues.  This solves the problem of having too much deference to authority.   One rule with Insultants:  Limit them to only introducing metrics that someone can speak to without notes to prevent analysis paralysis.

Aside:  I like the double entendre:  Insiders who insult.  But in a good way.

 So, how do you get started on strategy? Ask these three questions (the right way) and every 90 days.

1) What are our 3 most important strategic accomplishments?  Real way to ask this question:  How have we changed the field of play in last 90 days?

 2) In last 90 days what are three most important ways we fell short of our strategic potential?  Yes, you are asking them to complain.  Everyone has a complaining quotient biggest complainers are 10s. That’s okay.  Try to influence what they complain about. – How we’ve fallen short of our strategic potential? Encourage productive complaints. Figure out top four. Which would leadership most want to eliminate from list.

 3) In last 90 days what are three most important things we have learned about our strategy? Emphasize last three words.  The answer can’t be focused on externalities. Takes a long time to get good answer on this one. The answer should focus on the strategy.

Aside:  He never really defines this discipline, but I like that he appreciates that WORDS MATTER.  Why is this discipline “dynamic” strategy?  Because it needs to be iterative, not static or set in stone.

 Discipline 2 – Embed Execution 

McFarland notes here that if given a choice, he would take execution over strategy.  At least you are doing something, not just talking about it.

Problem:  Too many companies have a loose link between strategy and execution

Fix:  Every 90 days, review strategy to see if there needs to be a reset.

Problem:  no “after action” discipline.

Fix:  Need to constantly discuss what went well, not well, what would you change. Make it an iterative strategy.

Problem:  Too often companies are rife with departmentally-driven priorities that sabotage achieving the strategy.  An example is people who safeguard their budgets to the detriment of company.

Fix – consider the breakthrough ladder – ultimately want to get to a sovereign organization where everyone is committed to the vision of enterprise. In the sovereign organization, everyone understands the 20% activities making up 80% of results. Everyone focuses on the 20% that must get done first.

If you don’t get the big rocks in first, they never get in.  Emails and fires are the gravel and sand. The big rocks are the execution items.

Some definitions McFarland uses to get everyone on the same page:

Mission:  what hill will we take in three years.

Strategic focus:  what 20% of activities do we need to focus on

Goals: items for this year we need to accomplish to hit three year plan that will help us identify what initiatives we need to focus on

McFarland suggests using a project management tool like SharePoint or its competitors to manage strategy achievement.

In such a system, a strategy manager breaks down output by goal, initiatives and tasks.

One way to define goals:  What are the four or five things we have to do to meet our breakthrough mission. These can be macro profit or revenue goals or micro ones by channel or market segment.

For each, ask:  What is the one thing to do to impact a detailed strategic goal? Do this instead of covering bets with too many initiatives. Once they figure that out, ask for another. These are your initiatives.

Initiatives – how are we going to meet goal?

Deadline for an initiative is 6-18 months. Initiatives are the big rocks.

Tasks: what are we going to do task by task to meet initiative? 90 day deadline at most for tasks.

So, a well-embedded execution breaks down strategy into the following buckets:

Purpose, Mission, Strategic focus, Imperative goals, Initiatives and Tasks

 Discipline 3 – People

Truly breakthrough companies take a Special Forces approach to people.  McFarland relates that we are fuzzy headed about people and performance.

Problem:  We too often deploy the “hire the great people” myth.  Well, sad to say, that’s impossible.  There are not enough of them.  McFarland’s favorite business question to ask, “What’s your biggest business challenge?” Too often, he says, the answer: “We cannot get the right people on the bus” – it’s a quote from Good to Great.  McFarland suggests that this answer is, well, cow manure.  There is no such thing as the “right” people.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Also right person at one stage may not be the right person at a different stage.

McFarland’s follow up question to these business folks: “You are referring to Good to Great, so what are you doing differently after reading?”   He gets crickets. Nada.  Nothing.  So, it’s an excuse.  Who hired these not right people, who is keeping them? They are.

Aside:  I never got around to reading Good to Great.  I probably never will after reading about The Halo Effect.

Fix: Instead consider leaving the position vacant until you find a good person, and then coach them.  Also, use executive development milestones. Think ahead about how to develop people to be what you want them to be at the next stage of your company.

Problem: Too much focus on climb-a-rope and Kumbaya team building. When dept heads aren’t working as team, it’s really a strategy problem, not team building issue. It’s likely that folks are not getting along because they are frustrated with their secret or unheard concerns about the CEOs strategy or execution.

Fix:  Make sure you are linking team performance to strategy and execution.

Problem:  Too often leaders are not using science in thinking about their teams.

Fix:  predict errors.  What sort of errors might occur in fulfilling the strategy?  Then set a culture and training regimen to anticipate them.

Big Lesson:  It’s not how you are wired, it’s how you wire your organization. It’s not just about getting the right people, it’s about getting the people right. McFarland offers stories about the Fastenal Company and Polaris as instructional. The Fastenal CEO said he has tried to build a company where ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Tip for interviewing:  Use a long form interview process as the best way to figure out if the candidate is the right person. Everyone can seem polished and right in 30 minutes.  Try doing it for 120.


I guess you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed McFarland’s presentation. Yes, I am now into the first chapter of his book to see how I can help each of my clients become a “Breakthrough Company”.


Vistage All-City Conference – My Notes

I attended the Vistage All-City meeting in Atlanta yesterday.  Vistage describes itself as “The World’s Leading Chief Executive Organization.”  I would guess around 300 CEOs, key executives and “Trusted Advisors” attended.  I am a member Larry Hart’s TA group.

Before lunch, there were three breakout sessions: one on technology, another on fitness and a third on best places to work. After lunch, best –selling author Keith McFarland gave a keynote presentation, “Getting Breakthrough Results.”   Throughout the day, I took notes on my Ipad, which I will share with you in two parts. If you want, you can skip to Part 2.

Aside:  I am really enjoying this move away from handwritten or laptop note taking for three reasons:  My penmanship is atrocious; the Ipad automatically emails me my notes which I can then copy, paste and edit without having to re-transcribe; and note taking on the Ipad is much less awkward than on a laptop.

Part 1

In the morning, I sat in the breakout entitled, Technology Panel: What every CEO Needs to Know about Digital Megatrends.  Scott Lutz of SAP led this discussion.  That’s a big topic for only one hour, and sure enough the roomful of CEOs and other high powered execs somewhat sabotaged the presentation.  If you reviewed a transcript you would guess the topic was “A 101 level Understanding of Cloud Computing” – there was a lot Q & A on “the cloud.”  Nevertheless, Lutz did a good job answering questions and a least describing an outline of what CEOs are paying attention to or at least should be.

Lutz said that CEOs today are tackling the following big five challenges:

1)    Preparing to compete with global competition both here and there;

2)    Security, collaboration and effectiveness of an increasingly tethered rather than physically present workforce;

3)    Taking business to near real time;

4)    Engaging with hyper informed customer; and

5)    Keeping an eye on reinventing the business model before competitors do it for them.

Since this was a breakout on “Digital Megatrends”, Lutz then listed four technology areas whose capabilities might help CEOs sleep at night:

1)    Cloud computing – that is, web accessible core applications which are highly scalable and deployable (this took up a large amount of time, but the audience was engaged and appreciative);

2)    Mobility;

3)    Analytics – driven by a CEO’s need to access the data he or she really needs to make decisions. Since Vistage is made up of small and medium size companies, the member CEOs often wear many hats.  They need to have access to information and analysis relating to sales, operations, finance, etc. at their fingertips, when they need it; and

4)    Social media.

Lutz commented that highly effective CEOs should figure out how these technologies can help them make decisions. Where to start? Know the answers to four questions:

1)    Where is your data?

2)    What decisions do I need to make?

3)    What are the sources of value?

4)    How can I control and consume data?

At this point, many in the audience started to squirm.  One gentleman asked, appropriately, “How does a CEO keep up and get unfiltered new info on technology?”

Lutz, who is clearly one of the well informed, suggested starting with these news and information outlets (I believe in this order):

1)    The Wall Street Journal Online

2)    USAToday online

3)    Silicon Valley online.  I believe he is referring to

4)    Analysts such as Saugatuck Technology

Those are my notes from the morning breakout session.  Later, possibly tomorrow, I’ll post Part 2 – my notes from Keith McFarland’s keynote address.

Job Opening

My network includes various recruiters whom I respect.  When they contact me with openings, I like to try to help them out. Here’s the latest:

Strategic Account Manager

I am currently partnering with one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the interactive marketing space. They are currently looking to add a new Strategic Named Account Manager in the Atlanta area to work with their large existing clients here in the area (think Home Depot and others). Position is to work with clients to help them see the full potential of their software and upsell into the organizations. This is a quota carrying role. 

The right candidate MUST have experience selling a SaaS offering into the interactive marketing vertical. OTE for the first year is around $180-200k. 

Great company and great culture. If you know someone who may be a fit – please have them contact me. 

Please send me your resume if this position interests you.