May 22nd

ROI: Hiding in Plain Sight?

By Philip Krone
ROI: Hiding in Plain Sight?
Yes, absolutely. But you're not alone if you don't see it or make the most of it. Begin to open your eyes—or, more to the point, better focus your eyes—on these hidden figures.
By Phil Krone, President

Is boosting your topline the first place you look to increase ROI? It is for most companies and rightly so. Not only are results easily seen, but closing sales is just plain fun. 

Other, less-travelled roads can also take you to improved ROI. If they're not as exciting as nailing a big sale or gaining a new customer, they can be just as satisfying and profitable—sometimes more so—and they are only slightly behind sales as a reason to celebrate. 

The roads less taken are the other components of ROI: margin, turnover of assets (efficiency), and leverage (risk). They're familiar travelling companions and have always been at your side. In our experience, too many businesses don't give them the opportunities they deserve as ROI boosters. Keep in mind that while we can help you with sales, marketing, and lead generation issues, we know other firms—ones we have worked with and trust—that you can consider in other areas. 

How can you help them contribute to the journey?

First, the basics. 

The bottom line is earnings divided by equity, and the bottom line is made up of your three longtime travelling companions—margin, turnover, and leverage. Improve any or all of these components and ROI will increase. But sometimes even experienced business people miss ways to improve the bottom line because they don't see the ways those three factors can be improved in their businesses.* Here's how it breaks down.

Doing the math by crossing out the common elements gets you to Income/Equity—ROI—quickly, maybe too quickly. The components of ROI disappear before your eyes and are, in effect, hidden in plain sight. You and your team are less likely to take advantage of smaller, but effective, opportunities to influence the bottom line. 

Here are some strategies to consider to improve the key ratios that lead to ROI. 

Margin: Income/Sales 

Reduce Expenses: Non-labor expenses can be reduced dramatically if specialists from each area of your supply chain are brought in. These specialists do more than competitively bid what is currently being purchased. They look for innovative ways to change what is being bought. We work with a partner who saves our clients so much money it significantly changes the ROI.
Increase Prices: Accurate costing models can help you to better know what it costs to produce a product—information that can in turn help you adjust pricing. In some cases prices can be lowered, leading to more sales; in other cases prices can be raised without hurting sales volume.
Eliminate the Risk of Un-Collectibles and Write-Offs. Easier said than done? Yes, but why not just do what you do to protect other assets: Insure your receivables. There are several benefits.

First you can eliminate bad debt because the insurer, not you, assumes risk of nonpayment. Insurers in this field have run the numbers and have the expertise to know whether extending credit to a particular account makes sense. Second, this step can help you increase sales because now you can accept business that you might have previously rejected due to poor credit worthiness. Third, insured receivables make you a better credit risk, which means you can borrow at lower rates. 

Segment and Rank Profitability Sources: Typically, 20 percent of customers and clients produce 80 percent of the sales. Similarly, 20 percent of the products and services produce 80 percent of the profits. Do you know who they are in your business? We work with partners who can help you develop the necessary data. Once the data is in place we can help you develop marketing and sales strategies.
Turnover: Sales/Assets

Turnover is the amount of production and sales you can achieve using amount of assets deployed. It's a measure of "efficiency," a term sometimes substituted for "turnover" in the ratio.

Improve Operations: Operations and quality specialists can develop more efficient ways of producing the service or product being produced. They also improve quality levels which can in turn increase output. 
Increase Sales Volume: OK, so this one isn't all that "hidden," even when it's crossed out in the ROI formula. Nonetheless, improved consultative selling skills and custom sales processes arm the existing sales people and other business developers with the tools to bring in more business with the same amount of time and energy.

Such a training and coaching combination can increase the number of opportunities and the associated success rate. Combining sales efficiency with credit insurance can increase the limits you place on credit with existing customers and enable you to take on new accounts you normally would decline. 

Leverage: Assets/Equality

   1) Insuring your receivables can increase your ability to borrow
   against existing assets.
   2) Raising equity becomes easier when you're working on all
   factors to improve the bottom line 

We can help you address all of those strategies, and others, so please call 847-446-0008 or e-mail if you would like to hear more about how.
Mar 2nd

Do Your Salespeople 'Live the Brand'?

By Philip Krone

A brand can be broadly defined as the "face a company shows to the world." But it's much more than that—or, at least, it can be. The question is how do you build and support a company brand to get the most out of it? 

There are many ways to build, adjust, and sustain a company's brand. But they can be summed up in four stages:

1. Strategy: Creating and evolving your brand's differentiated positioning.
2. Expression: Exploring essential creative expressions of your brand, including identity and voice.
3. Activation: Using internal culture and multifaceted external campaigns to bring your brand to life in the marketplace.
4. Equity: Calculating and leveraging the power of brands in your operations and on your bottom line.
(Source: Preview, American Marketing Association Chicago, Brand Smart, Conference, April 27, Gleacher Center.)

We believe a fifth stage called "living the brand" is also essential. It's an offshoot or extension of Stage 3—"activation"—and in fact applies to people throughout an organization. Here, though, we're focusing on the power of salespeople and other customer-facing stakeholders to communicate the meaning of the brand in tangible and powerful ways.

An Inconvenient Question
How do you think the PricewaterhouseCoopers brand will fare after the Best Picture Award mix-up at the Oscars?
Let us know your thoughts at

"The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart," Starbucks founder Howard Schultz once wrote. "Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic."

Over the years we've found that "authenticity" by anyone associated with your company is essential to building trust and, as the readers of this column know, building trust is essential to making sales. More important, we've found that consultative selling is a powerful tool for building trust by enabling prospects to experience your company's authenticity. Why? Because effectively trained salespeople ask questions that show they sincerely want to help prospects, not just "sell" them. Asking the right questions in the right way at the right time builds the trust so necessary to making the complex, business-to-business sale. It's how you learn a prospect's goals and problems and their impact on that specific business. It's also how you persuade prospects that your product or service is the best solution to their problems.

Even more to the point, an entire sales force using consultative selling techniques is a highly effective way to build the corporatebrand. Salespeople are living, breathing proof that the brand "walks the talk" of its marketing—or, that it doesn't. "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," said sales great Zig Ziglar. In sales, the best way to communicate that you care—and the best way to make a sale—is to ask prospects questions, not trumpet the glories of your company or product. Don't just tell prospects your brand promise, show them.

Branding is of great interest to us here at Productive Strategies because we witness a lot of business-to-business sellers whose sales process and inside culture don't reinforce or even reflect their desired brand values. We also see that it limits sales. Here are two examples:

Once, at lunch with an executive whose company's messaging proclaimed its ability to "listen," I asked how listening translated into results in the field. What was the company doing to train and coach its salespeople to gain competitive advantage by listening more productively and reflecting the brand promise? I was floored when he said, "Nothing." Commercials on Chicago AM radio, he apparently believed, were all his troops needed to know about the company's brand promise.

Some time ago, one of our clients had invented a device that reduced the evaporation of gasoline at service stations by 1,500 gallons per station per month. In a meeting with a major oil company, our client and I learned that company executives were indeed impressed with the financial implications of his invention. The company's advertising—on nationwide TV, mind you—emphasized the company's commitment to protecting the environment. Naturally, we asked what the "green" value of the device would be to their business. To our surprise, they dismissed the "environmental impact" as inconsequential and of no interest—a complete contradiction of the company's branding, its "face to the world."

So, how can salespeople increase sales by making the most of the substantial investments many companies make in building their brands? The short answer is to communicate the values behind your brand to prospects so that they see how your brand benefits its customers day to day. Use discovery to help them understand that you as a salesperson representing that brand live those values day to day. In business-to-business selling, prospects not only buy your product or service, but they also buy you, someone they trust to deliver on the brand promise.

In our popular consultative sales training course, FOCIS® Selling, we train salespeople to do just that. They develop or improve consultative selling techniques and build a sales process tailored to their company, their industry, their products, and their specific needs.

Finally, to learn more about how to build your company's brand—and make it work for you—consider registering for the American Marketing Association Chicago Chapter's 15th annual day-long Brand Smart conference on April 27 at the Gleacher Center in Chicago. It's the largest such event in the Midwest, offering four learning tracks to some 300 participants that include not only marketers but also CEOs and other senior executives.

And, if you are interested in being a sponsor, please contact us at847-446-0008 or* Sponsors receive multiple scheduled times to present their brands to attendees.

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

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 or contact Frank at

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







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, 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 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.
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