Jan 7th

Visionary Business Transitions, LLC Annoucement

By Steve Gustafson

We are pleased to announce that our principals have closed another business sale. All of our clients' customers are not yet aware of the sale. Consequently, confidentiality is still a key to successfully transitioning the business to the new owner.


However, we can tell you that: 

  • Because of our marketing efforts, more than 60 prospective strategic and financial buyers signed Non-Disclosure Agreements
  • Serious negotiations were conducted with more than 10 prospective buyers
  • Our marketing and negotiating strategies resulted in a final sale price that was more than double the original offers


Selling Businesses is Our Business!

Nov 29th

Growth Questions for a New Year

By Philip Krone

For many of us, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is often one of reflecting on the year about to close and planning for the one about to open. Here are some thought-provoking questions our clients and prospective clients find helpful to make the most of their reflections. We hope you will, too. As always, we are here to help you facilitate discussions about these questions, or to help you implement the answers. 

  1. Which would have the greatest impact on new business development in the coming year:

    1. More first meetings, opportunities, inquiries to quote . . . or
    2. A higher success rate with the opportunities you are already enjoying?
  2. Do you need to find additional ways to obtain competitive advantage that creates value for customers and clients . . . or an increase in the skill of communicating the value of that differentiation while reducing the focus on prices/fees?

  3. People often focus on what will change in their markets in the coming years. For this exercise think about what will be unchanged and consider how well you are prepared to focus on those and have your brand be consistent with those.

  4. If you were a startup business entering your marketplace what would you do different than what you are doing today? Should you do those things now?

  5. How would all of your services and product offerings being connected– that is, being digital–transform your business?

  6. Assuming that all products and services will soon be connected, and that all of the companies behind those services are collecting data, which data would you like to rent, license, or buy to provide you with a competitive advantage?

If you would like to discuss these issues with us, please give us a call at at 847-446-0008, or write to pkrone@productivestrategies.com.

Nov 9th

Rebranding Strategies: Building Your Brand Relaunch Plan After an Acquisition

By Jonathan Fisher

Rebranding Strategies: Building Your Brand Relaunch Plan After an Acquisition

by Bo Bothe and Caitlin Devereaux


Even highly capable leaders make the mistake of vaulting straight into market strategy without first considering brand. The most effective window to develop a brand, however, often arises when you first launch your company, acquire a new private equity venture or embark in a new direction after reaching a business turning point. 

Especially at the start of these new ventures, leaders are faced with difficult decisions about how they will launch the company or initiative:

  • Do I brand my product or services from the start? Or revisit branding after I gain some initial traction?
  • How much money should I invest in my brand up-front?
  • Will it be worth the time if it means postponing my launch?

brand launch illustration

Since we've helped many clients navigate the decision-making process for new branding initiatives, we want to share these experiences with you. To make sure the advice is actionable, we'll be discussing examples from our client, American Disposal Services (ADS), now Milestone Environmental Services. Their journey mirrors many of the challenges entrepreneurs and business owners face as they embark on a new business venture or significant strategy shift.

We're excited to share advice and insights from both our CEO, Bo Bothe, and the President of Milestone Environmental Services, Gabriel Rio. Gabriel discusses how his company made the decision to rebrand after its acquistion, with the goal of a strategic relaunch and expansion into new markets. Gain strategies to lead your company through a brand launch or rebrand at a critical business turning point, including how to determine the right timing and appropriate investment. 

The Turning Point: Identify the Initiating Force

Intervale Capital had acquired ADS and placed Gabriel Rio as President and CEO. Gabriel aims to transform the regional, formerly family-owned business into a large-scale company with greater national presence. But the company’s existing brand identity felt limiting; it was too kitschy to reach the scale he envisioned for ADS’s future. Rio discusses his experience partnering with BrandExtract as he prepared to re-launch and rename the ADS brand for a new era of company growth.

The Decision to Rebrand

Gabriel Rio:
 I have not always been a believer in the power of branding. At a previous company, I was convinced that brand would not make a difference in the oilfield waste management space – however, other company leaders felt our regional brand and its logo were failing to attract talent or gain traction with our customers to earn national work.

When we introduced a new, aspirational brand, the energy of the whole company changed. It was not just about a new name or logo; it became a way for us to engage with our customers and employees about what made the company strong.

When I arrived at American Disposal Services, I discovered a similar situation. While the company has great processes and technologies, they were unsure of how to take the business further. The ADS brand did not speak to the full value of the company we want to build, nor does it possess the infrastructure to scale in a meaningful way. To support our growth objectives, it was crucial to invest in strengthening our brand.

Bo Bothe: Great point, Gabriel. We find many executives have initial reservations about how branding can revive a struggling company. There are plenty of misconceptions about what “brand” means or how it fits alongside your business strategy.

Branding should always be purposeful. A new logo or color palette is just a single, tactical element of your entire brand experience. Sometimes business owners establish these basic identity elements and mistakenly believe they have finished “branding” their company. 

We believe brand influences and reflects everything from operations to sales to internal company culture. It’s the ultimate power tool that supports multiple areas of your business from marketing to management to hiring and recruiting.

Especially if your ultimate business goal includes selling your company for a profit, we find time and again that our clients get better and more offers after engaging in a concerted branding effort. This has held true across every industry for a variety of clients, including Ascende (human capital consulting), Techcess Group (IT support services), Varel International (drill bit manufacturing) and Lone Star Medical Products, to name a few.

"Especially if your ultimate business goal includes selling your company for a profit, we find time and again that our clients get better and more offers after engaging in a concerted branding effort."

Determine the Right Timing

GR: Timing was a difficult decision, especially during the oil downturn. As a company, we are trying to be very conservative with our spending. I knew the investment in branding would also require the changeover of marketing materials and quite possibly modifications to our overall operations as we strive to support our brand promise.

It came down to growth. We’re in the process of moving from serving one oil basin to three. As we’re expanding, it made sense to put money behind the right brand that we want to support long-term.

Instead of putting up billboards or running advertisements in each market, we viewed this as an opportunity to understand customer needs and how these relate to the services we provide. Our brand became a core piece of our market strategy. 

BB: Exactly, that's the right approach. When you are presented with a natural point of change - in Gabriel's case: an acquisition situation, leadership transition and significant market expansion - you have a prime opportunity to set the tone for the brand going forward. 

Gabriel recognized that launching his company in two new geographical markets, and then switching out the brand soon after, would undermine the hard work done to establish equity in those regions.

Make these decisions in a very intentional way that works alongside your overall corporate strategy. The pay-off for investing upfront can be huge, as the right brand becomes a decision-making tool that can help guide your company through formative years. 

GR: The downturn actually turned out to be great timing for our rebrand. With customers focusing so heavily on price, they were less sensitive to a name and brand change, so we were able to avoid potential turbulence. 

Understand the Process

BB:  In a downturn especially, rebranding serves as a powerful, regenerative force. It's an opportunity to transform and improve the overall health of the company. When we started working with ADS, we engaged every possible stakeholder, from investors to customers to internal groups, to figure out what their audience wants and to learn what they perceive as its strengths and weaknesses. These insights informed the direction we took with Milestone’s new brand position and promise. 

Once you define this promise and invest in the structure and processes to support it, you often end up with a re-energized workforce and better relationships with customers.

"In a downturn especially, rebranding serves as a powerful, regenerative force. It's an opportunity to transform and improve the overall health of the company."

GR: Risk-free environmental protection turned out to be the baseline of what customers expect from us, not our key promise. During the rebrand, we discovered that the priority at the top of our pyramid was actually reliability. Our customers need us to be there for them and care about what ultimately happens with the disposal of their waste. Our new brand speaks to our commitment to reliability through out every stage of the disposal process.

Using BrandExtract to conduct third party research and interviews removed any agenda from the process. Our employees were not worried about saying what they thought the boss wanted to hear, and our customers felt open to speak freely because their feedback would be anonymous.

Weigh Time and Cost Considerations

GR: We felt strongly that it would be most cost effective to invest in establishing our brand upfront, before rolling it out to new markets, even if it meant delaying our expansion by a few months. The opportunity to develop our brand before launching a significant new venture saved us the cost and hassle of entering these regions, only to double back later to reinvest and reestablish our presence with a new identity.

BB: To build on Gabriel's point about investing in brand upfront, we often find that the depth and quality of a rebrand is proportionate to how much time or money an organization is willing to commit to the effort. Even if you partner with a third party, expect to be engaged throughout the process. The brand should reflect the authentic spirit of the company, which means providing your team with access to company leadership as well as the vital “boots on the ground” stewards of your brand. 

Benefits of Branding for Entrepreneurs

BB: The branding process helps align the organization around your values. Active engagement with and participation from internal groups leads to a more authentic expression of your identity. And because you cared enough to ask your customers questions about your service and their expectations, you have formed stronger bonds with clients.

GR: Now we’re beginning to introduce the new brand to our team. If our sales people go out after this and continue to sell in the same way they did before, then we have not done our job properly. The rebrand means so much more than that. When customers ask “why did you change your name,” that is an opportunity for a field sales person to engage in a conversation about our company values that they do not normally get to have. And the whole idea is that these conversations matter to the growth our business.

Nov 8th

The True Spirit Of Networking

By Frank Agin


Green beans get a bad rap (at least from those under 10). While they may not taste like candy, they are really great for you. They are loaded with nutrients, vitamins and lots of other words the spell-checker would not recognize.


Attorneys get a bad rap (at least from non-attorneys). Yes, a small few literally chase ambulances. There are, however, many, many more who defend the innocent, protect the environment and work to preserve the free enterprise system.


Networking gets a bad rap (at least from those who do not truly understand it). Certainly, there are those who deploy abusive “networking” tactics. This conjures up images of loud-mouthed, glad-handing people looking to either sell you more than you want or con you into buying something that you do not really need.


Networking has nothing to do with salesmanship. In fact, it is the polar opposite. It is about two or more people working towards their mutual benefit. And, while the word itself is a verb, it is more than just an action. The true spirit of networking is really a state of mind.


This, then, raises the question, “What is the true spirit of networking?” In a nutshell, it is about focusing your habits and attitudes on finding deficiencies in the lives of others and then trying to fill them.


Those deficiencies vary from person to person and even situation to situation. It may be a lack of quality business referrals. It may be a lack of information. It may be a need for additional contacts. Whatever the case, the true spirit of networking is about eagerly seeking to help others.


 With that, some of you may be sitting up in your chair and thinking, “Hey, that’s me. I love what I do. I am eager about doing it. And what I do helps other people. Thus, I embrace the true spirit of networking.”


Do not be confused. A great enthusiasm toward what you do is a powerful thing. It ensures that you serve your customers or clients at an exceptionally high level. However, that is not really altruistic.


Eagerly servicing a client or customer is a wonderful thing but no matter how much passion someone injects into the process, at its core it is nothing more than a business transaction – compensation for services rendered or products sold. That is a far cry from the true spirit of networking.


The true spirit of networking is not limited to what you have to sell.  Selling is simply providing pleasure or alleviating pain through the goods or service you have to offer. The true spirit of networking, on the other hand, is looking to help another – providing them pleasure or alleviating pain – through any means available to you.


The true spirit of networking is about giving of your resources, time and talent, completely absent of keeping score or maintaining a tally of what so-and-so has done for you. It is about helping and not looking back with wonder or expectation of “what’s in it for me.” It is about helping simply because it is the right thing to do.


Certainly you cannot help but believe that the goodness you have heaped onto the world will make it back to you somehow. Nevertheless, you know that the only thing that you are guaranteed for sure is that warm feeling inside that is best described as a curious mix of pride and satisfaction.


The true spirit of networking is about helping others wherever you can, whenever you can and never worrying about what it means for you. After all, in the true spirit of networking, it is not how you help someone that matters most. What matters most is the spirit that moves you.



Frank Agin is the president and founder of AmSpirit Business Connections, a business whose purpose is to help others become more successful through networking. He is also the author of Foundational Networking: Building Know, Like and Trust To Create A Lifetime Of Extraordinary Success as well as several networking related books and programs. For more information on AmSpirit® Business Connections, go to www.amspirit.com or contact Frank at frankagin@amspirit.com.

Oct 10th

Interested vs. Interesting

By Frank Agin


As you network, remember that 99.9% of your energy should be focused on being genuinely interested in other people.

Learn their name. Find out where they are from. Listen to what they have to say and use it to lead into other questions. Be completely fascinated in what they do and how they do it.

As strange as it sounds, if you devote yourself to being interested in them, they will find you incredibly interesting.

If you are interested in learning about the AmSpirit Business Connections franchise opportunity, contact me frankagin@amspirit.com.







Jul 26th

Are You Coachable? Is Your Team?

By Philip Krone

Learning to listen and listening to learn are flip sides of the coach–ability coin.

By Phil Krone, President

Over the past 23 years business developers and others participating in our courses on consultative selling, consultative negotiating, and increasing referrals have demonstrated a wide range of coach-ability. Here’s how a few approached coaching, both giving and receiving. We hope you’ll gain some insight about yourself, your team, and using coaching to gain—and keep—an edge. 

Practicing What You Preach: 
The coach who out-worked everyone.
One of our clients is a Division 1 university athletic department. The top recruiting coach in his sport believed that consultative selling skills would make him even better. He wanted to connect more effectively with high school recruits, to build trust faster and deeper, and to develop a process for other recruiters use. During the course, he did what he expected his players to do on two fronts. First, he outworked everyone else in the class. If others turned in one homework assignment per week, for example, he turned in three, and he took pages of notes. Second, he was willing to listen good advice, take it to heart, and apply it. 

Leading by Example: The CEO who outsold everyone else.
In 2009, the CEO of a billion-dollar, publicly traded company hired us to improve the selling skills of his top ten salespeople. He took the class with them, didn’t miss a session (four half-days), and did the homework. Afterward, he announced he would take a random lead from the funnel to test his new skills and the company’s new sales process we had created together.

The lead turned out to be a long shot. The prospect was “happy” with the current supplier under a long-term contract that wouldn’t be put out for bid for 10 months. However, as the CEO and his team put our process to work, the situation changed dramatically. The prospect decided to partner with our client to craft an arrangement to benefit them both. The contract never went out for bid: Our client and the prospect signed a five-year contract for $5 billion—that’s right, $1 billion each year. Our client doubled in size and was named Fortune’s fastest growing company for the year. (How did it happen? To find out, see the 75-second video,“The Billion Dollar Sale.”)

Key Point: This example isn’t about the size of the sale. It’s about the power of being willing to listen, learn, and “leap,” especially with the right training and coaching supporting your efforts. 

Know Thyself: The top producers who wanted more.
From time to time, salespeople who already earn in the high seven figures take our course. They are often the hungriest to learn more, to discover something they didn’t know, or to be reminded about something they used to do but have forgotten. They want to really understand what makes them successful. They want to leverage their time and improve the coaching they give others. Many top producers we meet say they have been unsuccessful in “passing down” their own success factors. 

Not Just Beginner’s Luck: The rookie who became the top producer.
One of our graduates had never sold anything before joining his new employer and taking our course. (A former law enforcement officer, he decided to change professions after being fired upon one too many times.) When he learned the many ways he could create value for his prospects and customers—and did the work necessary to use those ways in the field—he shifted into high gear and became a top producer. 

Already the Best? Get Better! The top producer who wanted to be coached.
One of our clients has closed some of the largest industrial commercial real estate deals in the country over the past five years. We’ve trained many people at his firm, but he requests more coaching on new deals than anyone. I’m writing this on a Saturday and have already spent over an hour with various emails to him and his team on another new opportunity involving a finalist presentation within the week. 

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: The sales rep who didn’t want anyone to know what she didn’t know.
One course participant was afraid others would discover what she didn’t know, and she refused to open the course workbook in class. She wouldn’t need it, she said, because she already knew all about sales. After about an hour I could see discomfort on her face. She wanted to take notes, though unwilling to show her colleagues. She finally gave up the charade and started to take notes (lots of them). 

If at First You Do Succeed, Try, Try Again: The top producers who repeated training.
Graduates of our FOCISconsultative selling program can re-take all or part of the four-session course at no charge if they are with the same firm that sent them originally. We want people to be as successful as they can be with what we have taught them. The rainmakers in one law firm have taken the course three times, learning something new each time.

Then, this firm asked us to coach its attorneys through an important RFP. The lead attorney felt his team wasn’t applying the concepts we had taught them, and he didn’t know how to turn things around. When we got the call, the firm was in last place against five other firms. We coached the attorneys on how to rework their usual presentation completely. The firm was jubilant when it won the account—its largest ever—and needed a full additional floor in their office building to handle all the new business. 

Golf Lessons? Who, Me? The reluctant golfer who saw the light.
Talk about coaching reluctance. Improving my golf game has been an ongoing goal with one condition: doing so with only small, easy-to-implement changes. I liked my swing and didn’t want to change it—at least not very much.

I didn’t want lessons to threaten the success I already had, which can only be called “average.” But, recently, I realized that lessons have never worsened my game. So, I asked a pro to help me learn something simple: to hit the ball straight. Instead, I learned something profound, at least for me. Hitting the ball straight, he said, is what average golfers want, but it’s not what the pros want. To gain more control, they draw each shot left or fade it right. With that revelation, I began taking lessons again. The jury is still out on the results, but now at least I’m confident that I will get better.

Please get in touch to learn more about how training and coaching in consultative selling and persuasive communications can help grow your business. Reach us at 847-446-0008 Ext. 1,pkrone@productivestrategies.com or, occasionally, on the links.
Jun 1st

'Special Ops' Selling: One Eye Closed or Two Eyes Open?

By Philip Krone

When you set your sights on a target, what’s the best way to really see it?

By Phil Krone, President

Recently, I was fortunate to have a rare opportunity to talk with an active-duty U.S. “special warfare operator.” In other words, a member an elite special operations force. As a result, I learned something I’m now putting to work in my own profession. Our firm helps companies grow their top lines, and one important way is through consultative sales training. 

The topics of physical and survival training are always fascinating. But my fascination was with the training process as it might apply to an issue we face with participants in our consultative sales training course, FOCIS. Specifically, I wanted to know how special operations instructors train and coach across the varying skill levels and capabilities candidates bring to the program. 

Now, all special operations candidates come to training with experiences and skills, some of which are required. They must, for example, meet several tougher-than-tough physical standards. Typical examples: Number of pushups in two minutes: 42 minimum, 79 average, 100 optimum. Number of sit-ups in two minutes: 50, 79, and 100. Candidates aren’t even in the running for the next stage until they meet or surpass the optimum standards. In addition, many are graduates of other, formal military programs, such as the United States Army Airborne School, or “Jump School.” Consequently, they can be highly skilled in one area but not in others. 

Some candidates enter special operations training with high-level skills developed informally over time. Chris Kyle, for example, who wrote the book American Sniper and whose war experiences were dramatized in the Clint Eastwood movie, grew up hunting and practicing shooting with his father. 

Do candidates who aspire to become elite military snipers, I asked, do better because they have that kind of background . . . that they grew up in families where hunting and learning to shoot were a big part of their lives? 

His reply surprised me. He said, “No, that’s not the case.” Then he continued (I’ m paraphrasing here): “Because our special operations training is the best in the world, sniper candidates are actually better off coming in with little knowledge or experience. They haven’t developed any bad habits that must be broken before we can teach them the right habits.”

Then he gave an example most of us can appreciate, even though it might seem counterintuitive. 

Hunters often learn from a young age to shoot with one eye closed. They believe, perhaps have even been taught, that sighting with one eye closed improves their ability to focus on a target. But soldiers, he explained, are concerned not only with focusing on targets. They are also concerned with becoming targets. Elite snipers shoot with both eyes open. In addition, ample evidence shows that both-eyes-open shooting is simply more effective.

The salespeople, professionals, executives, and other business developers we train bring skills and experiences that vary even more widely, from few or none to many and extensive. We know our process can improve the performance of just about anyone—novice or veteran. But we always want to do better. Now we use the special operations training story to make two points:

  • The obvious answer isn’t always the right answer.
  • Sometimes inadequate old skills must be “unlearned” so that superior new skills can replace them.
People often come to our course believing they already know how to sell—at least, up to a point. As children, most of us attempted to sell something—Girl Scout cookies, Christmas trees, lemonade. Plus, we’re all sold to every day. It’s easy to think that as adults we can sell in our current environment. And, anyway, aren’t really good salespeople “born that way”?

Neither is the case. The reason is that the sales children make are “transactional.” The sales process required to make a “simple” sale is not the same as the process used to make a “complex” sale, which is what most business-to-business selling is all about. 

In a simple, one-call, transactional sale, you are face-to-face with the one-and-only decision-maker. Her need is clear and her risk is low. Business-to-business selling involves multiple calls, high risk for the buyer, and almost always multiple decision-makers you’re not likely to meet. You certainly won’t be at the table when they decide the fate of your proposal. Few salespeople are “born” to navigate such complex sales. 

True, some top salespeople are “naturals.” Yet, even though they probably don’t realize it, they do essentially the same things as other top producers who are trained. A process is a process. 

Or consider professional athletes.
 They are clearly naturals but have in fact been developing their talent since they were children. They all received coaching and training all along the way. And they still do,even though they are at the top. They understand the value of training and coaching, especially for specific player positions and game situations. Why should selling be different? 

Could training and coaching improve your sales performance? To find out, ask yourself these questions and check the ones you’re most concerned about. If you manage salespeople or other business developers, ask them to answer the questions, too. Then, if you’d like to learn more, call us at 847-446-0008 Extension 1. We’ll talk about your specific challenges and opportunities. 

Do you find that you: 

 Have trouble being seen as an expert quickly—or at all?

 Take too long to establish trust?

 Sell fewer new products or services than you—or your company—expects?

 Give away intellectual property that your prospect shares with your competition?

 Receive too few referrals relative to the value you generate for customers or clients?

 Are much less successful if you are not referred in?

 Fail to persuade prospects with demonstrations or presentations?

 Struggle to get second and third meetings?

Did you answer “Yes” to any of these questions? Then it’s a good bet that you can benefit from sales training and coaching.

Finally, think about one more counterintuitive fact. More sales “rock stars” enroll in our course than you might imagine. Without fail, they are receptive and enthusiastic. Later, they are often complimentary about how the training and coaching helped them—and continues to help them. 
Apr 25th

How Creating Value Gets You In — and Keeps You There

By Philip Krone

What would you say is the goal of buyers, purchasing agents, materials managers, or supply chain managers? The typical reply from most salespeople would probably be “to get the cheapest price.” And in many cases that's true.

But we're finding that, depending on the industry, more and more procurement professionals see their role as getting “the best value.” That's good news for salespeople with the right skill set. Buyers looking for value see learning from vendors as fundamental to the process.

One of the greatest, unrecognized values that salespeople can provide is an ability to probe for the “unknown unknowns” and discover whether prospects have issues they aren't even aware of. But many obstacles can prevent salespeople from getting the chance to help. For example, some buyers:

  • Think they already know what they need because of online research

  • Rarely answer the phone or listen to voice mail

  • Ignore e-mails except from sources they already know.

Those “reasons,” and others, get in the way of buyers looking to get the most value from their supply base. Put another way, buyers who at least allow themselves to go through a strong consultative sales process can discover whether they need to change the vendors they use, stay with what they have, or try a type of product or service they've never used before.

Recently, I moderated a panel discussion about how the very best salespeople create value before making the sale. Entitled “What Every President, CEO, and Owner Must Know about the Sales Process,” the panel examined how “top producers” sell—that is, how they bring in 12 to 15 times more revenue than the average salesperson. Professional salespeople on the panel from banking, insurance, business development consulting, and executive-level financial staffing opened up about situations in which their prospects did participate in discovery and found tremendous value from the process.

Here are a few examples from that panel.

#1: Finding the Unknown Unknown. One way to create value within the sales process, explained Lee Fahrenz, is to help a prospect become aware of a problem he didn't know existed—in other words, helping him to know what he didn't know. Fahrenz' firm, Euler Hermes North America, offers credit insurance.

Fahrenz was able to offer receivables insurance for nine of a new prospect's key customers but not for the tenth. Confidentiality prevented him from providing details behind the denial. But the prospect drew his own conclusion that the customer was, or soon would be, in a “slow pay” mode with creditors due to financial issues. With that knowledge, Fahrenz's prospect immediately got in touch with his customer's CFO to set up a payment plan the customer could follow. Identifying an unrecognized problem—that a major customer was “uninsurable” in this context—clearly provided value during the sales process.

#2: What do you really need? SALO's Mitch Ornstein, whose company provides interim and project financial executive and staff services, offered another value: Help a prospect articulate, even originate, the objectives she's seeking. Through your discovery, you help a prospect clarify objectives at both a higher level and in connection with your product or service.

A current client's CFO was discussing corporate-level objectives. Eventually, SALO's sales discovery process shifted the focus entirely by helping the client clarify a more pressing objective. Frustrating flaws in a financial management system had led two plant controllers to move on. The current controller had a handle on the issues; yet our client felt she might lose him too because other work kept getting in the way of resolving them. The discovery process offered a different perspective, and a critical objective emerged: Retaining this key employee. Such clarity enabled the SALO team to find the right executive to handle operations tasks until the controller got the financial system on track. Four years later Controller #3 is still on the job.

#3: So That's Where New Products Come From. One of our senior consultants, Scott Pemberton, shared how identifying a need in the field without an existing solution and bringing it back as a new product idea helps companies grow the top line. To use salespeople as “market researchers,“ however, requires a process that ensures they ask the right questions and assess identified needs realistically.

A client developed software to help a major drugstore chain identify interactions among prescriptions its pharmacists filled, especially negative interactions. The client's salespeople then asked, as they were trained to do, “Is there any other way that the solution might help you?“ Well, yes, was the answer. The chain's customers were also taking medications provided by other pharmacies—its competitors, in fact. Could our client identify interactions in that context, too? The resulting new software product delivered value to our client, our client's client, and to pharmacy customers themselves.

#4: More Than Meets the Eye. Jeff Michalczyk, The Private Bank, discussed helping a prospect become aware of the implication or consequences of a challenge. Even if prospects are aware of a problem, they don't always—in fact, rarely—appreciate the full impact of the consequences. Good consultative selling helps them see the devil in the details.

A middle-market CFO whose company sells its products globally believed that a large money-center bank would best serve his needs. Michalczyk and his team knew that middle-market companies and large money-center banks often aren't good matches. The companies rarely have the necessary systems, processes, or people in place. In addition, this company required frequent and responsive communication with its bank. The CFO regarded delays in his current bank's 1-800 line process only as simple “annoyances.“

During discovery, he called his controller and accounting manager in to get their thoughts. Michalczyk's consultative sales process helped to reveal to the CFO how frustrated they were with long hold times, lower productivity, and customers unhappy with slow response. As a result, the CFO allowed outside experts to assess the full implications of working with a larger bank. Eventually, the CFO saw that a smaller, relationship-oriented bank with global capabilities was a better solution. The Private Bank gained a new client thanks, in large part, to sales ability that delivered value during the sales process.

The panel's discussion framework was based on our firm's identification and development of “The 18 Ways to Create Value during the Sales Process.“ Just call or email us for a free copy at 847-446-0008 or pkrone@productivestrategies.com. If you'd like, we can also talk about how to learn whether your salespeople are delivering value during the sales process.


This panel was presented by The Entrepreneurship Institute (TEI). The panel members serve on the TEI Chicago board as does Tim Kramer, who hosted the workshop at Wintrust Commercial Bank, Rosemont, Illinois.
Mar 14th

Top 10 reasons you should consider video in your marketing efforts

By Andy Harper

A corporate video is an important marketing tool to have in your overall marketing plan. Spending your hard earned marketing dollars on video will reap great returns on your investment. 

Here are ten reasons why you need video and what they mean: 

1.     1.8 million words. Leave your elevator pitch for times you are meeting face to face. Elevator pitches have their time and place. Yes they are effective. Yes they sell. Can you convey 1.8 million words in 1 minute? Most likely, the answer is a resounding no. It is estimated the value of 1 minute of video is worth 1.8 million words (Forrester Research).

2.     80% of internet users watched an internet video ad in the past 30 days (Online Publishers Association).

            Here’s the breakdown:

            26% looked for more information

            22% visited the website named in the ad

            15% visited the company online

            12% made a purchase of the product

3.     41% more Web Traffic. Companies using video enjoy 41% more web traffic than websites without video. (Aberdeen)

4.     62% of consumers negatively view a company’s brand, (IF) the video is of poor quality. According to Brightcove.com, quality of video is paramount. Hire a professional production company. (No iPhone videos allowed)

5.     69% of smartphone users say videos are the perfect solution for researching brands online. (Adelie Studios)

6.     53% increase in chances of your website landing on page one of Google’s search results. Without video, your chances are poor. Google is changing it’s game. You must have video on your website to rank high in web searches. (Mist Media)

7.     88% retention rate. The average viewer spends 88% more time on your website if there is video, rather than just text and photos.  (Adelie Studios)

8.     800% more conversion rates with video on your landing page. Conversion rates soar if there is video on your landing page. (Orion21)

9.     74% of all internet traffic will be video in 2017. (Syndacast)* Estimate*

10.   52% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the best ROI. Video analytics can track viewer time spent, how much content was viewed and the location where they viewed it. (Syndacast.com)


What does this all mean?


Video is a powerful medium to reach your audience! It is one of the most effective means of social media marketing. A website with text and photos is not adequate anymore. Remember that one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words? That equates to nearly 3,500 web pages! Who has time for that much reading?


Smart businesses use video in a number of different ways:


1 . Introductory videos. Introduce your business to the world and explain what sets your business apart from your competitors. What is your differentiator?  What’s unique about what you do and how you do it?


2. Explainer videos. Do you have knowledge that you can convey to an audience about how your product works, or what you do?


3. Video Tips Series. You want to be viewed as an expert in your field. You have knowledge to share. If you want to set yourself apart from your competition, get yourself out there by sharing some of your knowledge with your potential customers. The public is hungry for information and loves to find it on the internet. Why not let them find you? They may just be your next, most-loyal customer.


4. Client Testimonial Video. Businesses love getting testimonials of satisfied customers. While you are the hero in your customer’s eyes, hire a professional production company. Then ask your customer to sit down for a few moments in front of a camera. Ask why they chose you and what made them so happy about your company’s product or service.


5. Video PSAs (Public Service Announcements) for non-profits. These videos are very effective in evoking an emotional response. One video PSA we produced for a large multi-national non-profit, helped raise over $1 million in donations for a wildlife campaign in California.  


It’s also very important to have a call to action either during or after your video message. You want to attract customers. You want their contact information and you want them to contact you for more information.


Video is the next best thing to talking with someone face to face. People buy from people they like. So engage your customers, educate, have fun, or even make them laugh, and you will have a customer for life. Hiring a professional production company to produce a top quality video helps put your best foot forward. Our team at Ross Stansfield Productions can produce the right video for your company.


- Andrew Harper and Ross Stansfield, of Ross Stansfield Productions. Call 703-307-6912 or email ross@rsprod.com.

Feb 25th

Prospects, Sales Reps, and SMEs: 'So What?' or 'Here's How'

By Philip Krone

Team selling with subject matter experts can be the best sales experience you'll ever have—or the worst. It's entirely up to you and your SMEs.

By Phil Krone, President

When subject matter experts (SMEs) and salespeople call on prospects together, things often go swimmingly. In fact, when they're using a sales process they've created together, a skilled consultative sales rep and an SME make up the most powerful sales teams we see.

But when they don't, sales calls can drown in a flood of misguided communication that results in frustration for prospects, sales reps, and SMEs alike.

What happens?

Decision-makers think in terms of implication. They are in "So what" mode: "If I buy this product or service, what will it mean to my business?" Subject matter experts think in terms of "Here's how" because that's what they love and what they're good at. Unfortunately, much too early in the process, SMEs tend to tell prospects, "Here's how our product works. Isn't that great?"

Bridging the gap are the sales reps. If they have well-developed consultative selling skills, they are in discovery the moment they walk in the door, if not before. They don't tell; they ask. They want to know what a prospect's objectives are in connection with their product or service so they can answer the all-important "So what" question. Then, if they can help the prospect appreciate the value their product brings to the table, a technical expert can be indispensable to sealing the deal. An SME reassures the prospect with detail: "Yes, our product is extremely effective—here's how and why."


But before that point in the process, an overenthusiastic SME can hijack a sales call by diving into an explanation of how a product works before the sales rep has had a chance to ask questions that build trust and establish whether a need even exists. The decision-maker can find himself caught in a crossfire of words that don't answer "So what?"


Over the years, I've sold with nuclear power-plant engineers, lawyers, real estate developers, software designers, and other highly talented and knowledgeable SMEs. There's nothing like the success that combines a strong sales process and consultative selling skills with great technical information. 


How can business developer-SME teams achieve that success during sales calls? We've found that three things come into play.


  1. Customized Sales Process: The most important factor. Years ago we taught consultative selling skills to business developers at a utility and created a sales process tailored to them and their industry. When the salespeople first understood the basic principles of our program, they insisted that their SMEs—engineers, in this case—receive the same training. Their rationale, paraphrased, was that "otherwise [the SMEs] will jump in and undo everything we are doing in the sales process."

    An effective sales process must draw intellectual property from the SMEs that sales reps can use in specific ways to learn a prospect's objectives and issues and to build trust. But this approach goes way beyond simply identifying needs or "finding the pain." It involves an inventory of potential issues the solution addresses, the implications of those issues, rules of thumb to gain perspective, and stories to help educate on the issues
  2. Skill Level and Clear Roles: Once the sales process is in place the sales rep-SME team has to decide how to execute it. Effectiveness here depends on the relative skill level of both the seller and the SME. At the beginning they may want to make calls together at the front end of the process. Later it may be possible for the sales person to work alone until the sales process has been advanced to the point technical expertise is needed. In that model, the SME takes center stage near the end to answer final questions and help close the sale. 
  3. Pre-Call Planning and Practice: The sales process should be reviewed before the first calls so that decisions can be made about who goes along, who is the lead, what role a second or third person plays, and so on. More pre-call communication among the team members improves effectiveness. A few minutes of role playing can
    work wonders.



Two other important factors also influence sales rep-SME teams: the compensation system and the level of trust within the team. 


The compensation system must establish who makes initial contact with the prospect, who helps sell the product or service, and who performs the work—that is, supplies the deliverable—once the sale is made as well as how each role is weighted for compensation and incentives. If this breakdown isn't standard, team members should negotiate splits on their own with each other. SMEs, especially, will come to value the sales rep's ability to speed up the sales process without calling on them until necessary. End result: SMEs can do more of what they love to do—implement the solution! 


Trust with sales-SME teams can take years to develop. If new people rotate in and out too often, trust simply cannot be in place. It can, however, be accelerated by experts in building trust, either from inside a company or outside. 



While we're not experts in sales compensation, we can point you toward proven professionals we know who are. Just ask us if you are looking for that kind of assistance.

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