Motivate Your Sales Team to Power Through the Mid-Year Slump

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This is a Guest bog post from sales and sales management guru Chris Tully.

It’s officially mid-year and given human nature, a time when too commonly Sales Reps find themselves taking their foot off the pedal of their Sales Activity. This doesn’t tend to occur in Q4 due to heavy Sales Leadership focus on closing out the year strong or during Q1 when the entire organization is rallying around new year goals. However, the gap of time from Q2 through Q3 is often when Salespeople are left to self-motivate. This is when it’s essential that Sales Managers are proactive in helping Salespeople stay focused to keep the momentum going.  

I’ve found that in addition to the trend of this period having decreased hands-on sales management attention, there are a variety of reasons that the mid-year slump can be easy for a Salesperson to fall into. The three I see the most often:

  • Sellers being distracted with planning for mid-year vacations in addition to their children being off for summer break.
  • Buyers being less accessible due to summer business activities along with their own personal time off.
  • The mid-year interval simply giving Salespeople a false sense of security that there is “plenty of time left” to finish the year strong and no harm in lightening up activity a little.

To combat these demotivators, Sales Managers need a good pulse on key performance metrics to detect sales sluggishness early on before it turns into bad habits. This visibility prompts the Sales Leader to recognize when to deploy motivation tactics to usher back in the right balance of activities that will protect long-term Sales Goal achievement. Sales motivation tactics need to be tied to the “Dials and Levers” we know directly correlate to influencing “the right” behaviors. They also work well to bring focus to new strategic direction changes that may have been decided upon during a company-level Mid-year Review.     Haven’t completed your Leadership Team Mid-Year Review? Draw from my workshop model to learn tips on facilitating an effective review that assesses how the organization is tracking toward meeting its annual goals, and methods for collaboration when course correction is needed. Access the blog here:  Mid-Year Review: Collaborate to Accelerate Your Business     Sales Management motivation tactics offer various positive results; however, most notably, they sharpen your Sales Team’s focus and stimulate behavior adjustments to feed more strongly into meeting future sales objectives. The following are key steps to take when approaching the development of motivation tactics to ensure they are on-target to correct the break-down areas.   STEP 1: During the mid-year span, assess your sales results from a leading and lagging indicator standpoint asking yourself things such as:

  • Are you ahead or behind on your fiscal-year-to-date (FYTD) Sales Goals?
  • Is your revenue performance trending as you forecasted?
  • Does your Sales Pipeline show adequate volume and predictability?
  • What is your Sales Pipeline projecting for Q3-Q4? This critical timeframe leading up to year-end needs to be secured far in advance.

STEP 2: Isolate opportunities for improvement and develop motivation tactics that have a direct connection to your “Dials and Levers” that drive performance. I’ll get you started with a series of examples after I finish laying the groundwork on these action steps.   STEP 3: Verify your current metric tracking system is equipped to monitor performance on new programs and develop adjustments as needed. Effective tracking is essential in understanding your Sales Rep adoption rate so you know when and with whom attention may be needed.   STEP 4: Develop your Sales Team communication plan before you take action. This is the essence of Sales Management; being connected with your Salespeople, ensuring they understand the objectives for new programs and buy into the benefits to them personally. This may call for individual one-to-one meetings or pulling the group together in a creative way. Invest time in your introduction in a way that aligns with the results you’re looking to achieve.

Let’s drill into what I referred to as “Dials and Levers” in STEP 2. These are the areas you’ll want to focus on to develop your motivation tactics to achieve big impact improvements. Below I’ve laid out a model to relay how you may want to approach this exercise. However, please note this is merely a sample model. To be effective, motivation tactics need to be custom developed to align with your Sales Process and overarching Company-wide Strategy.   To get you started, here is a sampling of how certain problem areas can be tied to a motivation tactic to promote a different outcome:  

Potential Mid-Year Sales Improvement AreasMotivation Tactic Considerations
Sales aren’t closing with desired product mix balance.Feature in-stock inventory promo (box spiffs) Incorporate varying commission model
FYTD sales are X% down from forecast.Establish top account action plans & review cadence Conduct weekly group calls with individual accountability
There’s not enough Sales Pipeline momentum to support Q3-Q4 sales goals.Deploy promo/contents through supply chain partners Establish current customer referral strategy
The same Sales Rep(s) continue to under-perform.Swap-out Sales Rep on untapped high-value accounts Formalize Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)
Any of the above or othersUtilize Feedback Model by facilitating idea generation workshop with your Sales Team

Mid-year Sales Sluggishness transcends industries, which is why it’s essential that Sales Management stay attuned to their Salespeople to apply motivational tactics to avoid the slump. It’s human nature for Salespeople to lose focus and momentum, especially during certain times of the year. With impending summer vacations giving rise to false senses of security heading into the second half of the year, it’s key that you have a “finger-on-the-pulse” of your Sales Team. With the proper motivation approaches, you will help your Sales Reps keep their foot on the pedal all the way through to a successful fiscal year-end!

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Company Culture Sustainable in Any Market

This is a Guest blog post from CONNECTpreneur partner and Coach Ines LeBow, CEO of Enterprise transformation Solutions, which specializes in helping early stage companies raise capital.

Company Culture Sustainable in Any Market

Herodotus, the ancient Greek intellectual who became known as “The Father of History” coined the phrase “Culture is King”. Companies rise and fall based on their culture, and challenging situations like we’ve faced here in 2020 test company culture to determine if it’s real or just a façade. In a recent article, I gave advice on how to “Pandemic-Proof Your Funding Pitch Deck”, but as an entrepreneur, are you really able to pandemic-proof your company culture? The answer is a resounding “yes”! In fact, you can create a culture that thrives in any market situation, including Covid and beyond.

Leadership-Driven Culture

How you, the entrepreneur, and the executive team lead at the outset of your business and through “normal” times sets the tone for your culture that will carry you through times that are trying. As Frances Hesselbein so succinctly put it, “Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”

For the leadership team that truly prioritizes the culture of their organization, there are a few core values that will be emphasized down the management ranks to the front-line employees and a call to have the actions of all personnel align with these values. The top core values include:

  • Two-Way Communication – Consistent and ongoing opportunities for the executive team to interact with staff (both speaking and listening) and for all team members to interact with customers (again, both speaking and listening)
  • Engagement – Fostering a sense of ownership and a common purpose throughout the organization to energize all employees and get them working toward a uniting vision
  • Organization Model – What is the composition of your workforce? Do you require staff to be on premises? Are you dependent on contractors or outsourced partners?
  • Wellness and Balance – Setting policies that value employees’ work-life balance, mental and physical health, and general wellness
  • Programs and Tools – Enacting programs and implementing tools that allow employees to thrive in personal and professional development, workplace collaboration, idea innovation, mobile and remote work setups, knowledge sharing, and more

The combination of forced and voluntary business shutdowns that occurred nearly overnight as a result of the Coronavirus response quickly led to 88% of companies that either required or encouraged their employees to work from home, according to a Gartner survey. Some companies were ill-prepared for this rapid shift. Many of the companies with the technical capabilities for hosting a truly remote workforce, however, lacked the type of culture that would keep employees engaged, communicating, and thriving when not in an in-person environment.

Having a great framework in place is essential and must include employees who come to a physical office location as well as employees who work from home, in the field, or from a remote office. As companies return to work, executives and board members are going to re-imaging how the company operates. The old approach of leasing large office spaces may alter significantly, causing companies to adopt a more aggressive mobile and remote work model. Re-thinking how these core values that contribute to the corporate culture can be dealt with is just as important to strategize over.

To learn more about creating an engaging culture or how to create an epic fundraising story for digital presentations to investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

About the Author: Ines LeBow

Ines LeBow

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Do You Have a Sales Pipeline or a Pipedream in Your Organization?

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This is a Guest Blog Post from Sales and Sales Management guru Chris Tully.

In recent blogs I’ve been writing a lot about the evolving market because it’s especially important in these conditions to have robust processes that lend confidence and set you up for success. When designed and operated properly, your Sales Pipeline is another key tool to serve in this purpose; a proxy to identify what’s going well and what’s not going well with your business. Your organization’s ability to scale is largely dependent on your ability to reliably forecast revenue, which really boils down to the quality and volume of data within your Pipeline. Setting up, leveraging, and monitoring this resource properly enables you to see performance against key metrics and accurately show where your business is headed.

However, there are stumbling blocks that many Owners and Sales Leaders face when they look to formalize their Sales Pipeline methodology. The primary misunderstanding I see is the belief that a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system on its own will provide the on-target visibility desired. This, coupled with too many bells and whistles, makes it easy to lose sight of the primary role of a CRM, to support a well-thought-out Sales Strategy in the simplest method possible. Getting caught up in the technology can lead to a misstep where companies invest in a system without completing the fundamental steps of defining the underlying strategy and associated processes first. 

When designed correctly, process discipline will be reflected in Pipeline performance, but only if the right technology is being utilized and if the salespeople are engaging with the system properly. So, take a moment and ask yourself if you’re operating a solid Pipeline that gives you confidence, or a “PipeDREAM” that frustrates you because of missed forecast projections.

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Over the years, when it comes to the Sales Pipeline, the key question I commonly hear Owners ask about is, “what’s the accuracy of the data and how do we know if we can rely on it?”   The interplay between people, process, technology, and continual inspection is the secret recipe that creates Pipeline data integrity (valuable, actionable data).    Let’s take a closer look at these main components that feed Pipeline data integrity, “the 4-legged stool” that should support every business.      

1. PEOPLE – Training to foster understanding, adoption, and accountability. Even the best process, procedure and technology will fail without user adoption. The starting point is investing in well-rounded training to help the Salespeople understand how the infrastructure will help them achieve their individual goals; the technology or CRM being just one component. From there, creating advocacy within the team after having the right level of executive sponsorship from the start is the way to achieve essential adoption. This is especially important to motivate potentially stubborn Salespeople who tend to be resistant to change.   Once you are assured that your Salespeople understand how to engage with your Pipeline methodology and see value in it, then it is practical to expect compliance. This will open the door to your Pipeline becoming a powerful diagnostic tool that will allow you to pinpoint underperformance problems that need correction.     

2. PROCESS – Solidifying  repeatable and scalable process/procedure. As leaders, we need to equip our sales teams with tools to guide their success. It is not reasonable to expect Sales Pipeline data integrity until we provide a proven Sales Process and guiding data procedures. When designed properly, these approaches will fuel confidence in new Salespeople and tenured veterans alike. This will naturally occur as they experience or see their colleagues experience that investing in the model generates predictable results.   To learn more about developing a robust Sales Process, read my previous blog:“How’s Your Sales Process Confidence Measuring Up to the Results It’s Generating?”   Guiding data procedures will address data quality around things like sales activity, customer information collection, opportunities that feed into the Sales Pipeline, etc. All these moving pieces work together to provide the Salespeople and Sales Leaders a powerful view into real-time performance indicators that can be leveraged to optimize results. This level of visibility will also prevent the undesirable but common problem in CRM systems of “garbage in, garbage out.”     

3. TECHNOLOGY – It’s not about more, it’s about simplicity. Your technology should make everyone’s lives simpler and more efficient. If you’re an Owner or Sales Leader, ask yourself, “do I have a simple and easy-to-understand dashboard at my fingertips that allows me visibility to see where my business is going?” The most important thing to note is that the best Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is the one that gets used, helps your Salespeople succeed, and assists your leadership team in monitoring progress.   I come across companies that are still using Excel spreadsheets and notepads, and those that have fully integrated and advanced CRMs. In all cases, the first step is to define Sales Strategy and Metric Objectives so the technology can be aligned to the business requirements. Done properly, the technology isn’t the driver, it’s merely a vehicle to deliver on the business strategy. I often recommend scaling technology back to optimize adoption, a key contributor to data integrity. To get and keep users engaged, you will want to have the lightest possible technology structure that can deliver on key metrics.     

Tech-Tips

CRM Adoption Calls for LESS Bells & Whistles
1. Choose a technology that allows your Salespeople to see their productivity improve with its use so that you can avoid resistance to adoption.    2. Align technology to your requirements to create a user-friendly experience, as well as insightful data (clarity on your key measurements/metrics).   3. Make sure that you have only the technology that you need and nothing more.     4. INSPECTION – Tweaking and tuning to optimize data integrity. The fourth leg of the stool, Inspection, is the glue that makes Pipeline performance possible through the application of experienced Sales Leadership. It’s critical that the Owner or Sales Leader holding this seat monitors strategy execution and data integrity through routine Pipeline inspections. This, followed by targeted coaching with salespeople on an individual level, will fine tune sales skills and data entry compliance.  

As more data is available in your CRM system, your organization will benefit from the ability to consider history and trends; identify what’s working and what’s not. This will allow more runway to repair performance breakdowns before Sales Goal achievement becomes hindered. When Training, Process/Procedure, and Technology are all effectively designed and implemented, problem areas become easily identified through the Sales Pipeline. Diving in to inspect problem areas within a solid sales infrastructure will enable the Sales Leader to quickly diagnose root cause problems and apply the appropriate solution. Sales Performance will not be sustainable without ongoing Sales Leadership attention that embodies the full breadth of skills and activities needed to generate high-performance results.


To assess the strength of your current Sales Leadership approach, review my prior blog:“Sales Leadership Impact on Your Business”

In closing, let’s recap – you want your Salespeople only working on prospects with the highest probability of closure. Your properly designed Sales Pipeline will serve as a diagnostic tool to identify sales performance problems if it’s built as the “4-legged stool” I outlined. Just remember, even the best process and system won’t be sustainable without ongoing, effective Sales Leadership.  

THOUGHT PROVOKING TRIVIA ANSWER 70% of CRM projects fail. *   The management of customers and potential customers is critical. However, a key component of a productive Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is having a set strategy that the technology delivers upon.   I can help you avoid this misstep that results in a large CRM deployment failure rate. Schedule a time to chat.  *Source: Linkedin.com

About the Author  I am a part of a sub-group of Sales Xceleration Advisors dedicated to pooling our knowledge and expertise to generate insights, tips, and tools to help business leaders exponentially grow their revenue. We are seasoned  Executive Sales Leaders that have guided B2B businesses ranging from start-up to Fortune 500. I welcome any special requests you may have for future writing topics.

Chris Tully

Chris is the President of Sales Growth Advisors LLC, a sales consulting firm focused on increasing revenue growth and improving profitability.   He can be reached at chris@salesgrowthadvisor.com.

Chris Tully_Sales Growth Advisors

Make Your Sales Team Thrive: The Importance of Adapting to Virtual Selling

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This is a Guest blog post from sales and sales management expert Chris Tully.

Did you know virtual selling has been in the making for 94-years with the first video call dating back to 1927? Talk about it taking a while for technology to catch on! Learn more about the interesting start to video calls below.

The video call has come a long way to become a regular part of consumer mainstream technology over the last few years. But, over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the corporate world much faster into using video conference calls as a virtual selling platform and for day-to-day customer interaction. This idea brings to mind the old phrase, “It’s nice to put a face with the name.” There is a lot of psychology that goes into how a relationship develops because of the connection in seeing and “knowing” someone’s face and being able to read and react to their body language. There is a certain rapport and trust that is built. Today, the video call is a differentiator attributed to sales success. 

Now that sellers and buyers have embraced the benefits of virtual interaction, there is no going back. Sure, buyers and sellers will begin to meet again in the office, but a full return to in-person selling seems highly unlikely. Owners and Sales Leaders committed to their growth plans need to teach and equip their sales teams to perform at a high level in the virtual-driven business world.

Why is it that buyers continually express that sellers are falling short in how they engage in the virtual selling landscape? It’s due to buyers and sellers experiencing different benefits and challenges from this type of engagement. The internet is alive with online content on this topic, but the primary obstacle sellers face is failing to understand how virtual selling translates in to the three most important areas of sales:

  1. CONNECT – Gaining the buyer’s attention
  2. EARN – Developing trust
  3. SHARE – Presenting solutions

Sellers must understand how different their impact is to their buyer and transform their customer engagement and sales processes from direct human selling. Learning the gaps of virtual selling will create the path to bridging them. Sellers that effectively make the pivot will enjoy many more sales opportunities and create a larger pipeline with a faster sales cycle.

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Successful virtual selling begins with learning to make connections without direct contact. This idea is directly related to Emotional Contagion, which is the phenomenon of having one person’s emotions and related behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in other people. Back in the 90’s a group of scientists measured emotional contagion in the most effective salespeople nationwide. *This is because 50% of the information in a conversation is non-verbal. This means that we lose a large amount of data intake when we shift from in-person meetings (in 3-D) to video conferencing (in 2-D) due to a dramatically smaller view of the customer and their surroundings. This challenge grows tenfold when the salesperson utilizes solely phone communication (1-D). Although it plays a part, sales success is not because of great products or services. It is the result of an expert understanding of emotions and the ability to navigate them. When a salesperson is face-to-face with a buyer, it is easier for them to understand objection cues, minimize communication issues, ask for the next step, and gain commitment to close the sale.

Emotional-Contagion

Here are ten practical tips to help Owners and Sales Leaders guide their salespeople to more success in the 2-D virtual selling world: Five counter-productive virtual selling behaviors to avoid:

  • Jumping on a call on time but failing to check your audio and video in advance.
  • Wearing clothes that you would not normally wear during a face-to-face meeting.
  • Having poor internet connection that regularly freezes.
  • Failing to prepare in advance to learn the buyer’s interests and needs.
  • Talking too much and not allowing the customer to consistently engage.

Five things that positively influence video calls:

  • Allow ample time between virtual meetings to give yourself the time to mentally prepare.
  • Prep for the meeting by finding ways to connect with buyers to gain and maintain their attention.
  • Learn to manage the sales process with fewer cues (less Emotional Contagion).
  • Continually gain verbal validation from the buyer before moving onto the next topic.
  • Prevent the buyer from taking control and cutting the sales process short.

While the virtual selling world is new, it’s going to stay around quite a while longer and maybe become a permanent part of the sales process. Properly guiding your salespeople through this transformation will ensure that virtual selling is an effective way to grow your sales and business for years to come.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Back to Basics: Tips to Help Struggling Sales Reps

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This is a Guest blog post from Sales and Sales Management expert Chris Tully.

It’s common for sales professionals – both new and seasoned veterans – to run into bumps in the road from time to time that results in a struggle to achieve sales goals. Changing market conditions, taking on a new territory, loss of “that big deal” they invested lots of time into, and a variety of other causes can all be contributing factors to missed sales goals. Whatever the reason, Owners and Sales Leaders need to find ways to positively support their struggling sales reps to help them get them back on the right track.

A starting point to isolating skill gaps is to go back to basics by utilizing a proven sales call planning methodology. The Sales Leader will benefit by leveraging the model as a diagnostic tool. The salesperson will find it to be a helpful guide that enables them to produce stronger, more consistent customer engagement results.

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Every sales interaction should be intentional.  Sales reps must always keep in mind that the customer being called on typically has limited time and budget, and a plethora of other options to choose from. Effective call planning relates to all sales interactions, at all stages of the customer lifecycle. Investing time in call planning is a best practice for any salesperson who is looking for better control of their sales process and customer relationships, not just a struggling sales rep. When a call is made with clear direction and purpose, it provides the salesperson with more confidence and the customer with a better experience, which will lead to greater success.

Below, I have an outline of my Sales Call Planning Methodology that has proven successful:

  • Pre-Call Planning
    • Call Objectives
    • Discovery Questions
    • Value Proposition / Points of Differentiation
    • Desired Next Steps
  • In-Call Action
    • Key Information Gathered During Call
    • Resulting Action Items – Sales Rep and Customer assignments
    • Next Step Agreement
  • Post-Call Review
    • Was the Call Objective achieved?
    • What could have been done differently?
    • Key Take-aways

As you can see, an effective approach to sales call planning involves action items for the salesperson before, during, and after the call. With planning, sales reps will gain a clear view of what they want to get out of the interaction, and the ability to envision what the end result will be. Remember: Every sales interaction should be intentional. When a call is made with purpose, it’s going to have a greater impact. 

In addition to equipping your salespeople with a sales call planning method, sales coaching involvement is critical, especially for a struggling sales rep. The most effective involvement is when the Owner or Sales Leader participates in sales calls (in-person, or video calls). Be sure to spend time before entering the call by asking the salesperson about their pre-call plan. Just as important, spend time immediately after by talking through post-call review elements. This is when the most powerful learning can occur. Another effective coaching method is to utilize the sales call planning model as a diagnostic tool during the Sales Leader’s routine one-on-one meetings with each salesperson. After the sales team has had proper training on sales call planning, this can be a productive method to keep a pulse on how well the salesperson is able to independently approach their sales calls to achieve desired outcomes. 

Both coaching methods will enable Owners and Sales Leaders to quickly identify areas a salesperson may need help to improve their sales competency. Listen closely for these coaching opportunities as your sales rep shares how they navigated the sales call:

  • Based on who their calls are with, are they clear on target market and who they should be meeting with (i.e. the appropriate buyer persona)?
  • Have they set their call objectives and desired next steps to align with your proven sales process?
  • How well are they differentiating their product/service? Do they have a clear understanding of the company’s full value proposition and the ability to effectively articulate it?
  • Do they have a succinct and agreed upon next step established?

Implementing a “back to basics” methodology, like sales call planning is a step in the right direction to help your struggling sales rep but it is commonly not the full solution. For long term success, it’s critical to evaluate the current sales infrastructure in which your salesperson operates. Without a best practices platform that effectively integrates people, process and systems, Owners and Sales Leaders will continually find themselves chasing symptoms instead of fixing root cause problems.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

Shark Tank star Mark Cuban has been a startup investor and serial entrepreneur since his teenage years selling garbage bags, creating chain letters, offering dance lessons, and even running newspapers from Cleveland to Pittsburgh during a strike of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mr. Cuban is ranked #177 on the Forbes 400 list for 2020 with an estimated $4.3B in net worth.

Anyone who has listened to Mark knows that he has a lot to say and has very strong opinions on many topics. My goal here is to summarize how to be successful in business, especially for entrepreneurs in the startup arena. I’ve distilled Mark’s approach down to 7 key factors.

Be Passionate

Passion is at the core of everything in business, especially a startup business. Our passion will dictate the energy we bring to our work and will transmit our excitement to prospective customers, vendors, and partners.

“Love what you do or don’t do it.”

Be Ready

The ideal time is now, according to Mark Cuban. You need to always be moving forward in a tangible way to achieve your business and startup goals. You’ll always have doubts and the world will always put doubters in your path to throw up obstacles, to hurt your confidence, and to smother your passion. Don’t let them stop you, and don’t let changing circumstances keep you from doing it now (see “Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”).

“Always wake up with a smile knowing that today you are going to have fun accomplishing what others are too afraid to do.”

Be Bold

Dictionary.com defines bold as “not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger…courageous and daring…beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action; imaginative.” For a startup to be successful, an entrepreneur must be bold but not blind. They must have a clear understanding of what they are doing and why as well as what they’re strengths and weaknesses are. You really aren’t bold or courageous if you don’t recognize the challenges or dangers that you need to overcome to succeed. See my recent article on being bold in getting investor funding (“How Far Will You Go to Get Your Business Funded?”).

“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed. You only have to be right once.”

Be Knowledgeable

Knowing the business, the market, the players, the customers and their sentiments are all essential to being prepared to succeed in a startup business. Whether you need to convince Angels or PE/VC investors to fund your business or you are bootstrapping it, you need to know what it will take to win. Without this knowledge you have almost no chance to succeed. By the way, as your business grows and the market changes, you need to continually upgrade your knowledge to improve what you do and how you do it.

“Because if you’re prepared and you know what it takes, it’s not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there.”

Be Honest

Entrepreneurs who lie to themselves about their products, services, competitors, customers, and market conditions aren’t going to be in business very long. Don’t just make assumptions but deal in facts. If you’ve already formed assumptions, work hard to validate or invalidate them so you can prepare a genuine SWOT analysis. This will help you launch the business and bring the right product to market at the proper place and price with the proper message.

“One problem people have is that they lie to themselves…rarely is talent enough. You have to find ways to make yourself standout. You do so by playing to your strengths and making people aware of those strengths.”

Be Humble

Every startup entrepreneur wants to believe that their product or service has never been done before, but the ones who proceed with that mindset are inviting peril. Be a student of history. One of the first things you learn is that humankind doesn’t learn from history because we keep repeating the same mistakes. Humility will make you realize that somebody somewhere has probably tried this before. Do your research…and not just a quick Google search. Find out who tried and how they failed. Use their experience to learn the hard lessons without suffering the personal setbacks.

“One thing we can all control is effort. Put in the time to become an expert in whatever you’re doing.”

Be Unique

While your product or service may not be completely new, you need to make at least one aspect of it your own. Consider what characteristics you bring to the product, to how or to whom it is marketed, or how it is delivered to differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you try to be the same, you have no basis other than price on which to compete, and someone newer and cheaper can easily come along to take your market away from you.

“Creating opportunities means looking where others are not.”

“When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?”

“Success is about making your life a special version of unique that fits who you are – not what other people want you to be.”

If you aggressively pursue these 7 areas, your chances of startup success increase dramatically. What are you waiting for? As Mark Cuban says, the perfect time is now.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Before setting 2021 priorities, ask “What’s my ‘WHY’?”



This is a Guest blog post from Sales expert Chris Tully.

Before setting 2021 priorities, ask “What’s my ‘WHY’?”

Before you go all-in on finalizing the 2021 business plan, maybe it’s worth a review of what drove you to start your own company in the first place.

Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, believes that true success comes from a core belief that inspires others and infuses every achievement.

When I’ve asked people “Why did you start your business?” over the years, I’ve heard as many unique answers as people I asked, many of which do relate to pursuing a passion or core belief. The Wright brothers did that. They believed that they could make a flying machine – and without financing, higher education, or even much help, they succeeded and changed the world. 

In my experience, a business doesn’t have to have such a grandiose goal to succeed – and there are surely multiple definitions of success. So, what’s yours? Make sure you can articulate why you started, and what you are trying to accomplish – as specifically as possible.

Take a little time to reflect

Examining where you started and where you are now can shed some light on where to go next.

Is the original reason for starting your business still what drives you every day? Is everyone who works with you on board with that? Do your colleagues share your values and core beliefs? Do they share your vision and mission or could conflicting priorities be draining some of your momentum?

If your motivation has changed, has that motivation been carefully communicated and incorporated in how you run your business? Or is confusion over the goal causing some unexpected consequences?

What did you originally hope to achieve? Are you still on track to achieve that? If not, why not? Getting back on track (or adjusting course) should be part of your business plan.

Move forward with confidence

Only when you can articulate the above concepts with clarity and certainty should you start working on your business plan for 2021. For the coming year you’ll need:

SMART goals (for a quick primer on goal setting, check this out).

The right people in the right seats on your bus – especially at the leadership level

A repeatable sales process  that anyone with the right skills and motivation can follow

Simple, easy to understand key performance indicators (KPIs)

A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to monitor progress

A reliable sales management process

If any of these are missing, or if you are wondering how to make what’s in place more effective, perhaps we should talk.

With everything 2020 has brought (wrought), now is a good time for introspection. If you begin with why you were inspired to start your business in the first place, then I believe you can work out the “what” and “how” steps for a successful 2021.


Are you satisfied with your company’s sales effectiveness? If you feel like you need to do a better job attracting and winning the right prospective clients, give me a call.


Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership – Part Four

This is the fourth and final part in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

Embracing Your Competitive Advantage

Ask any sports athlete what gives them the fire to take their field of play, and they will likely cite the prospect of beating their rival. Indeed, without the subplot of competition, sports would be exceedingly boring – for both the players and the viewers.

As CEOs, competition, too, represents our drive, our passion, our reason for being. Though we might actually prefer owning the playing field and having it all to ourselves, we can be relatively assured that we will have company as we pursue excellence and strive for the only true tangible measure of success – revenue growth.

As you know, this blog series has been keenly focused on helping you achieve this drive for excellence. In previous blogs, we have looked inward – talking about how being more engaged with your team and how focusing on the way consumers are embracing (or eschewing) your product or service, are critical keys to growth-oriented success.

Now, it’s time to take a look beyond our walls – at the competitive forces that we must manage in order to ensure survival. Understanding how our rivals are nipping at our heels is the essential insight to positioning our product or service appropriately in the marketplace. To be a successful leader, you must be able to identify where your company advantages are really resonating — whether it is product quality, customer service, uniqueness, corporate structure, or some other characteristic — and use those attributes in your promotional efforts.

In my work with companies, I have noticed that a surprising number have not considered these competitive essentials. Even more companies have stuck with antiquated methods to promote their competitive advantage – only to watch that advantage evaporate due to technology.

In these situations, there are some fundamentals that I recommend CEOs follow immediately to get their competitive efforts on track:

Review Your Positioning: With the world changing so rapidly, this is something I recommend doing on an annual basis. What may have been a competitive advantage five years ago may not even raise the consumer’s eyebrow today. This may require some internal restructuring – particularly with marketing – to ensure that the company can keep pace with market dynamics.

Take the Pulse of the Market: Now is the time to invest in robust qualitative and quantitative research that gets to the heart of changing consumer tastes. I often see companies that come up with a great idea for a new product and accelerate its launch, while skipping critical steps. Gauging consumer demand, surprisingly, generally is the step that is overlooked.

Understand the Essence of Sales Pressures: It has been easy for any company to blame flagging demand on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has been a smokescreen for some companies who were already experiencing the effects of competitive pressure. The ability to see the big picture through a regular, and in-depth, competitive analysis, is a critical part of sifting through the superficial and getting to the heart of matters.

Call in an Expert: Sometimes, putting the competitive landscape into perspective is a bigger job than your existing go-to-market team is able to manage. Even people who go to a doctor for regular checkups will, at times, need a specialist – or a surgeon! That’s why it can be wise to call upon a specialist in market analysis to make a true, objective, third-party examination of the forces that are impacting your standing in the marketplace. They can also help you assemble a library of resources so you can consistently be updating your competitive research and ensure that you don’t fall behind on this important strategy again.

As a CEO, it’s critical that you use the tools in your arsenal to earn – and keep – your competitive advantage. Rather than viewing competitive research as an expense item, consider it a priority to help you break through the clutter that has only been amplified due to the onslaught of digital tools.

In case you missed the previous articles in the series:

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership – Part Three

This is the third in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

Knowledge Is Power

What’s holding you aloft in 2020?

Whether or not you have cracked the code of 2020, most CEOs have spent the year snapping back to a changed reality. In our last blog, we looked at the importance of being engaged, insightful, and plugged in as the “table stakes” of leadership change in turbulent times.

But all the engagement in the world is pointless if you don’t know the direction from which your headwinds and tailwinds are coming.

More to the point: If your company were an airplane, then insights—the detailed information you need to understand competitors, targets, trends, and market news—can be considered the wind beneath your wings.

And if you don’t have a keen focus on how these megatrends are keeping your ship in blue skies, you may just find yourself hopelessly lost in a cloud bank. And falling asleep at the controls – well, that could just be deadly.

A recent example: I was working with a large hospital group in the mid-Atlantic region that was trying to understand why a satellite emergency care facility wasn’t generating the profits they expected. My first fact-finding mission—a demographic market survey—uncovered a critical misstep by the group: There was simply no need for the satellite facility to begin with, based upon the existence of other healthcare facilities in the region and the size of the market.

It became abundantly clear: A simple dive into the basic blocking-and-tackling of insights would have saved the company millions – and the awful mistake of building something for which there was no demand.

It’s a faux pas that I see repeated time and again: Leaders, without any research whatsoever, and based simply on a “good idea,” are convinced to plunge resources into products or services that fall flat in the market, and then wonder why they’re not making any sales.

In my view, this is but one example of why the ability to look at data and insights is a critical skill for CEOs who are looking to make more effective decisions – a basic tenet of being in charge these days.

So, what types of insights should a CEO be focused on in order to ensure the relevance of their offerings? Here are just a few fundamentals that I believe are useful:

Customer Focus: It’s important not to become too far removed from your buyers these days. In days of yore, it used to be that successful CEOs could get away with pushing off customer insights on other department heads. Now, with digital marketing, and the availability of instant knowledge about target audiences, the CEO has to be keenly aware of market factors which can move for – or against – them quickly.

The most successful CEOs I work with are the ones that have innate knowledge about their customers and their relationships with their companies. They even phone customers directly to hear what is driving their decision making. In this manner, they can see a necessary pivot coming if customer needs are changing, or if the market is exerting different forces on their business.

Insights Machine: Some companies have elevated insights to an art form and have even installed Chief Information Officers to help lasso, wrangle, and otherwise manage myriad data points into submission. This new CIO role ensures that a member of senior leadership has accountability for delivering proprietary knowledge and a library of information that helps keep the company’s competitive edge sharp.

Research, Analyze, Repeat (Often): Both CEO and CIO will benefit from a robust and dynamic industry analysis program that delivers insights on a very regular basis. No longer is it appropriate to conduct this type of research once a year – once a quarter may be the appropriate interval to gather data that spells out all the threats and opportunities that are hitting their specific industry. And in my experience, the most insightful companies don’t just insist, but mandate, that their entire senior leadership team, as well as their board members, consume this knowledge.

As an example, I worked with a company recently that was experiencing massive shipping delays as a result of the pandemic and couldn’t quite figure out why. After gathering insights, they learned that lighter packages were being delivered significantly faster than heavier ones. By unbundling some of the shipments into smaller chunks, they could significantly accelerate their supply chain.

Another company in the beverage industry was having trouble sourcing the bottles that their drinks were packaged in – and upon analysis, learned that this would remain a challenge during the pandemic. They pivoted their entire production line to can-based packaging to ensure their ability to keep up with the surging demand for their product.

In our next blog, we’ll roll up what we’ve learned about the importance of being an engaged and well-informed CEO and put these traits to work in honing your competitive advantages in the marketplace.

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership: Part Two

This is the second in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

The Four Inhibitors of Engaged Leadership

Little known fact about ducks: Though they exude grace as they glide atop the water, ducks hide a little secret just below the surface.

For all the poetry they project in our view, ducks are actually shuffling their feet quite quickly to achieve that silky-smooth movement.

As a CEO, you know this bifurcated existence all too well. Though you are expected — nee, required — to display a semblance of outward calm, beneath this facade are the fears, insecurities, and realities that come with the job.

So why must you glide and not shuffle — especially given all that the recent past has thrown at business leaders?

It’s a proven fact: If a business leader is passionate, energetic, and hardworking, it filters down to company employees. This is leadership by example at its best.

In addition, an effective leader can quickly gather the information needed to make decisions and act without hesitation. With such a leader, employees are loyal, self-actualized, and tend to go beyond traditional work requirements. Competitors have difficulty replicating this leadership style.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the costs of being a disengaged CEO can be immense. One study undertaken by The Engagement Institute found that employees left rudderless by ineffective leadership can cost companies between $450 and $550 billion — with a B — per year.

So, what are some of the pitfalls that can derail engagement and cause you to paddle in circles, rather than to glide ahead?

Lacking Authenticity: Having your actions match your words — coming off as being authentic and true — is as simple as doing what you say you’re going to do. To the contrary, if a CEO is saying something about how valuable employees are — and then turns around and cuts retirement benefits or buys himself a corporate jet in a time of austerity — he can inflict significant damage. Being authentic is the first key to displaying the guts and leadership skills to take quick action.

Indecisiveness: A lack of decisiveness can put a stranglehold on your resources, and by extension, your company. Any time not spent on executing the strategy and vision to move the company forward tends to be wasted. One coping mechanism I have observed over the years has been when a leader ends up spending too much time in tactical minutiae, as a distraction to making the big decisions that will move the company forward. A fearful leader — one unable to make decisions — can have a ripple effect throughout the company and create a culture of fear.

Lack of Emotional Intelligence: It’s critical to remain focused on the task at hand, and to see it through to completion. Too many times, I have observed CEOs lose the respect of their employees because it was clear that they were trying to be good at EVERYTHING, and instead weren’t any good at ANYTHING. This often is embodied in a patchwork of short-term fixes that made little sense for the long-term growth of the company (though they did look good on the CEO’s resume). This type of behavior became transparent to the members of the leadership team, and ultimately made it hard to keep people motivated to undertake, and execute, on the big-picture items.

No Support Structure: There are others in your shoes who are grasping for the same brass ring, but struggle with the same insecurities. Groups like Vistage and other executive networking programs provide the missing outlet for the need to have a truly honest and inwardly focused discussion.

I recently met with the CEO of an up-and-coming West Coast beverage company, led by a similarly rising star in enterprise. In his early 30s, this CEO already has expanded nationally and completed two rounds of capital raise. But all this time, he felt the crushing stress of having to undertake this major expansive cycle in isolation. Through the supportive atmosphere of Vistage, the CEO was able to find solace among others who had walked in his shoes.

In our next blog, we will explore the ways an engaged leader uses insights and intelligence to make more effective decisions. Meanwhile, check out my recent interview with OnFire B2B Podcast.

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.