How to Make the Move to a Virtual Sales Force

This is a Guest blog post from Chris Tully

Tips for Hiring a Virtual Sales Team | Lucidchart Blog

 

As we start our sixth month of quarantine across America, it is time to come to grips with the fact that some version of “virtual selling” is here to stay. What this means for leadership is that just adapting in-person techniques to digital/virtual sales will no longer get the job done.
Instead, teach your team how to make the move to a virtual sales force.

Leaders are preparing for a greater virtual sales presence than anticipated earlier in the pandemic. A recently released Gartner study reports that in June, “a remarkable 23% of CSOs reported plans to permanently shift field sales to virtual sales roles” with another 36% unsure whether or not to do the same.

The study provides a framework for leadership to enable virtual selling. Here are key skills and tools to help your team effectively sell from remote settings.

Provide Virtual Sales Force Tools

High-speed Internet – This is mandatory for smooth virtual communications and presentations. You should consider funding team members’ Internet access upgrades since they are working from home by necessity. Salespeople represent your company – do you want potential clients to equate poor quality audio/video with the quality of your products or services? Spend the money, and upgrade those plans to gigabit internet, where possible.

High-end wired or wireless headsets
 – Salespeople are keen observers of body language. Without the advantage of being in the room with clients, it’s even more important for them to be able to hear the nuances of everything that’s said.

A reliable meeting platform
 – Zoom, MSFT Teams, Mitel MiCollab, GoToMeeting, Cisco Enable, Google Meet, and more: these are what companies are using and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Standardize the best solution for your company based on your existing technology stack. Be prepared to train your sales people on several platforms – they’ll need to be nimble enough to navigate clients’ preferred platforms, too.

Get your CFO onboard that these are all essential purchases right now and for the foreseeable future.

Tightly Integrate Sales and Marketing

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital B2B buying and selling. A McKinsey & Company survey report and infographic highlight the shift from in-person to digital, and what B2B sellers need to do to adapt.

Integrate sales and marketing processes
 – You need a demand generation strategy across platforms. The strategy should have well thought out social media, email, and outbound telesales support, and well-defined sales processes once a lead arrives. Make sure all your sales channels are incentivized to collaborate.

Optimize your e-commerce channel
 – For buyers’ ease and convenience, re-design to address top buyer frustrations with company websites. These are difficulty finding products, a long ordering process, hard-to-find contact information, and technical glitches.

Utilize online sales-enablement functions that intersect with buyers
 – AI-based conversational analytics help manage the full sales pipeline. Solutions such as sales chat bots, which reach back into your product database and answer questions, are becoming quite popular. These tools exist to improve customer experience and aid client problem-solving. They also improve the leads you capture from site visitors and help build your knowledge about their buying preferences.

Provide a robust CRM solution – 
Make sure both sales and marketing can access the same data. Customer relationship management (CRM) software should give your teams access to a full sales and marketing mix such as contacts, accounts, opportunity management, and campaigns, so both teams can work seamlessly toward increasing your revenue.

Provide Virtual Sales Force Training and Readiness

Sales people have limited attention spans (just like clients). So here are some hints for re-thinking sales training.

Deliver virtual training in tight 60-minute sessions
 – Break each session down into two parts: 50% presentation and 50% interaction (case studies, conversation, and questions). Limit training content to only the most valuable information, with a focus on understanding the client’s perspective.

Record and digitally archive sessions
 so they’re accessible to the team – This will be valuable for those who miss a session, need a refresher, and for future team members.

Role-play behaviors
 – How you talk with clients and how they respond is different virtually than in person. Role play across all stages of a sale, from first introduction to close. Have team members take turns being the sales person and the client; their calls will be more effective as a result.

Practice using presentation tools
 – Because everyone will be training from different remote locations, practice using multiple presentational tools and platforms with each other. This also helps people find the tools that are the most comfortable for them, which will support their ease and confidence in front of clients.

Changing to a virtual sales force also changes the way you think about and manage your sales team. Be prepared to reallocate your investments, and rethink sales strategies and performance metrics.

 

 

 

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.”

How to Hire a Stellar Sales Team to Accelerate Your Recovery

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

 

 

How to Hire a Stellar Sales Team to Accelerate Your Recovery 

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic-related economic shut down, it is that a lot of excellent salespeople are now available and hungry to contribute to your business. The opportunity here is to rehire your best performers and then build a stronger team than before.

To hire a stellar sales team to accelerate your recovery, you need a plan. Here are some things to consider that will help you create an excellent hiring plan.

 

1. Are your business goals different than before the shut down? 

In the past few months, you’ve had time to really think about your company. You may have revised your strategic business plan and reprioritized your goals. If so, take a look at your new focus and figure out, “what sort of sales power will get me there?”

As an exercise, picture your previous sales team. Imagine how they would – or would not – achieve your new goals, and what sort of salespeople you need going forward.

 

2. Are you clear about the sales role?

What is it that you really want your ideal salesperson to do day to day, and accomplish overall? What specific skills would that person need? Most importantly, be clear about the personal attributes of the ideal person to represent your business.

3. Are you willing to invest in a professional recruiter? 

Sure, LinkedIn JobsIndeed, and other free job posts or low-cost ads will get responses. But you and your HR people will spend an inordinate amount of time sifting through a lot of junk to get to the few gems. Unless you’re adding entry-level people, don’t cheap out – invest in a professional recruiter, particularly if you’re looking for experienced sales professionals with a proven track record.

Talent recruiters screen against your hiring profile, verifycandidates’ work history, and validate their self-stated strengths and accomplishments. Recruiters also help you find employed candidates who are not looking for a job but who may be perfect for your business.

 

4. Do you have your sales incentive structure worked out?

Although it isn’t a jobseeker’s market right now, people are still going to ask how they get paid. That’s completely reasonable. As the job market strengthens, candidates who know their worth are going to hold out for appropriate compensation. In addition to your hiring plan, you’re going to need an incentive plan to attract and retain the caliber of salespeople you expect.

 

5. What third-party tool are you using to assess candidates?

Third-party assessment tools are a must with hiring decisions. Let’s face it – salespeople are often chameleons. They are trained to probe for needs, listen actively, and position their products (themselves, in this case) in the best possible light to solve your problem.

You need some objectivity to balance those impressions, especially if you don’t hire that many people each year. There has been a lot written about the cost of a bad hire, which I won’t repeat here. Get some help!

These are three salesperson assessment tools that I recommend: 

6. Do you have an effective on-boarding process?

It’s important to have a well thought-out plan to get new sales hires acclimated to their role in your company. For that, you need to a road map that new hires can follow (as well as trainers) so nobody gets lost.

 

7. Can you “hire slow”?

This last question is a trick one: the answer has to be “Yes.” You’ll want to take your time and think about the answers to all of the questions I’ve laid out, in order to hire superb salespeople. It’ll be so worth the time and effort when the right team propels you to reach – and exceed – your goals.

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

The (Not So) New Game in Private Equity

This is a Guest blog post by Kerry Moynihan, Partner at Boyden.

Top Private Equity Firms Investing in Education Businesses ...

 

WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS MORE THAN EVER

A Very Brief History of Private Equity

The origins of today’s private equity industry (which I would define as including both venture capital and leveraged buyouts) date to 1946 with the foundations of American Research & Development Corp. (ARDC) & J. H. Whitney.  Prior, risk capital had almost exclusively been the domain of wealthy families.  Venture capital pioneers Mayfield and Kleiner Perkins were founded in 1969 and 1972, respectively.  In the buyout realm, the origins of LBO pioneers KKR began at Bear Stearns with “bootstrap” investments in the early 1970s, forming the foundation of the firm as we know it today.  TH Lee; Forstmann Little; Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe; and GTCR were all in operation by 1980 and became major players.  The modern private equity business continued to emerge in the 1980s with the realization that there were major discrepancies between public company management interests, the age old “agency problem” and the values that could be unleashed were business units to be decoupled from large public companies.  The year 1980 saw some $2.5 billion raised dedicated to the emerging alternative asset class and in the decade that followed nearly $22 billion was raised by venture and buyout funds.

The wide availability of junk bond financing fueled a boom during the 1980s, followed by a crash as the stock market tanked in October 1987.  High yield financing, or “junk bonds,” dried up for a time, and Drexel Burnham, the leading purveyor of these instruments, later went down.  However, institutional investors had certainly picked up on the higher returns available to PE than in the public markets.

Key to these were the availability of debt financing, the disparity between management that were merely salaried and those that were incentivized by equity, and the discrepancy between public and private market information.  For much of the next two decades private equity vastly outperformed the public markets.  Clearly, the emergence of technological innovation in software, semiconductors, and telecom fueled the venture side, while widespread industry consolidation and globalization largely propelled the LBO market.

As ever more money flowed into pensions and other institutional investor funds, the demand for higher yields accelerated.  This put more capital into the financial markets seeking higher returns and the boom continued.  Of course  there were blips and shocks, including the Foreign Debt crisis of 1997/98, the bursting of the dotcom bubble around 2000, the cessation of normal market activity following the 9/11 attacks, and perhaps most seriously, the major Financial Crisis after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns in 2008.

However, markets rebounded, time and time again.  Institutional capital, which seems to have a short collective memory, always seeks ever higher levels of Alpha (relative return) and will accommodate Beta (risk), often in unison, seemingly without independent, objective decision-making.

Institutionalization & Growth of the PE Industry

Funds were usually (relatively) small and privately held, and made individualized, partner-driven investment decisions.  Yet as their size has increased, and in many cases the larger funds went out to the public markets, the industry has fundamentally changed.  Now publicly traded, firms like Apollo, Blackstone The Carlyle Group, and others are, as the co-founder of one confessed to me “No longer in the business of making extraordinary, outsized returns on unique investments.  We are now in the asset management business. If we can beat the S&P by 150 basis points and put huge sums to work from institutional investors, we are happy and the investors are happy.“  With the traditional model of a 2% management fee on assets under management (AUM) and 20% capture of the return on investment, the carried interest, who would not be?

Where a billion dollar fund was once considered a large player, there were over 350 by 2018 and even more today.  There has been a veritable explosion in investment in the sector, as uninvested cash, or “dry powder“ at PE firms exceeded $1.5 trillion by the end of 2019.  Blackstone alone, the Wall Street Journal reported, had $150 billion in cash to invest at the end of last year.  Institutional Investor reported in July 2019 that 4000 funds were seeking to raise an additional $980 billion, up from 1385 funds seeking to raise $417 billion just four years earlier.

Yet in the 2010s the number of publicly traded companies stayed roughly the same while global AUM for PE firms and the number of PE-backed companies doubled, according to McKinsey & Co.  It comes down to simple economics as more money is chasing fewer good assets, hence driving up prices, and reducing returns.  S&P reported in November 2019 that the average pro forma EBITDA multiple was 12.9, up over 30% from pre-Financial Crisis pricing.  The massive leverage, low prices, and eye-popping returns of the 1980s are but a memory.  What is a simple fund to do?

Operations Management Software from Integrify

Adding Operating Expertise

Importantly, funds have changed their own internal structures over the last several decades. Almost no funds had seriously tenured operating executives as part of their investment teams in the 1980s, being almost exclusively comprised of “recovering investment bankers.”  The 1990s saw a bit of a change, but now almost every major fund has hired people who have more than an investment banking/finance background and have been senior operating executives who have actually run P&Ls.  In many cases these are actual full partners in the funds, as the Silicon Valley venture capital community was quicker to adopt this model, typically by adding tech CEOs to their rosters, than the Wall Street LBO community.  Many are termed Operating Partners or Management Associates, but whatever the nomenclature, there has been a collective recognition that strictly financial engineering and financing skills are necessary, but not sufficient, to create outsized shareholder returns.

Most of my clients and many of my good friends are private equity professionals.  Without naming names, an informal survey confirms the general thesis that by training they are not prepared to run the businesses that they buy.  Increasingly they recognize these facts, despite being “the smartest person in the room“ on virtually any topic (sic), in the not so distant past.

Where Are We and Where Are We Going

Fast forward to today, the late 2010s and early 2020s. The game has changed significantly, to say the least.  Not surprisingly, many of the factors that led to the tremendous success of the industry in years past have changed dramatically.  There is a changing reality and investment firms have, with varying degrees of success, made adjustments.  For example:

Financial engineering is no longer adequate.

Given the low interest rate environment of recent years, and explosion of alternative lenders such as credit funds, beyond the traditional large banks, a giant fund enjoys little advantage over a smaller one on the availability of financing or borrowing terms.  And, let’s face it, even if KKR or TPG can borrow at 25 basis points lower and with slightly less restrictive covenants than XYZ Capital Partners can, that factor alone is unlikely to be the deciding factor between the success or failure of an investment.

Globalization of the industry

Where venture capital and leveraged buyouts were virtually exclusively a US phenomenon just a few decades ago, today according to various studies, only about 55% of global private equity activity is in North America today.  While Africa and Latin America are somewhat underrepresented, Europe and Asia are booming in this respect and the former may well catch up over time.  It has become, as in so many industries, a much more competitive, truly international playing field.

Ubiquity of information has changed the game

The asymmetry of information that led to smart buyers and uninformed sellers is simply no longer the case.  The incredible proliferation of information and ease of access on a global basis means that sellers, even of relatively small and unsophisticated businesses, have a much better handle on the overall market than in the past.  An investment banker friend and I have a running joke that Old Uncle Burt, selling his cornfield in Iowa, knows that he can command 7.8 to 9.3 times EBITDA these days and will have five buyers lined up!  In short, because of this the market is much more ruthlessly efficient, further evidenced by the dramatic expansion in the number of deals done and in the ever higher multiples paid for them.

The Model Still Works

The increased volatility of public markets, however, continues to make private equity attractive.  What was once termed an alternative investment is certainly now very much in the mainstream for most sophisticated investors.  However, the delta in returns between public markets and private markets have flagged in the last several years.  As Bain & Co. noted in its 2020 Private Equity Report, “10-year public market returns match PE returns for the first time.”

Yet the current crisis, at the same time akin to the ones we seem to have every five or 10 years, and on the other hand of unprecedented scope, has obviously put an enormous dent in the wealth accumulated in the stock market.  The ability to be patient and not have to respond to quarter-by-quarter earnings can allow private equity investors to take a more strategic, long-term view and ride out much of the fickle fluctuations of the financial markets.

This may seem a bit ironic, since most PE funds would love to be in and out of investments in a 3 to 5 year timeframe if possible.  But with the public markets bouncing as violently as they are, private equity will remain a very attractive industry, both for Limited Partners as institutional investors and General Partners, the PE funds, as the custodians and direct investors of those funds.

Stanford Senior Executive Leadership Program | Stanford Online

 

Executive Leadership Matters, Now More Than Ever

Over time, more and more funds have gone to a model of backing individual executives or executive teams in what I call the “Back-able, Bankable Leadership“ model, or BBL.  Both venture and buyout funds have increasingly backed executive leadership that has had prior success and will continue to do so.  The proverbial “Holy Grail“ for investment funds is to find management teams that are proven and have as close to a proprietary idea as possible.  By this I mean either a specific target company(ies) for acquisition or a well-developed investment thesis with demonstrable potential acquisition targets.

How much better to create a situation where you have an organic genesis of an investment, rather than competing in a broad auction scenario against many other funds.  In the latter case, the “winner” of an auction may be successful in acquiring a business, but a loser as an investor, having paid too high a price at the outset.

An old saw in investing circles is that “You are more likely to win by backing an ‘A’ management team with a ‘B’ plan over a ‘B’ management team with an ‘A’ quality plan.“  At no time has this been more true than today, as many firms actually have to reinvent their business models on the fly.  As we face unparalleled turbulence in the markets, especially given the latest crisis, never has leadership, true leadership, been at more of a premium.  Operational excellence, coupled with the genuine ability to inspire, will always be valued.  In short, today it is more critical than ever to actually run businesses better.

Effective executive leadership makes all the difference.  It certainly makes me quite sanguine about the prospects for the executive search industry in partnering with private equity clients to create value.  Successful investors invest in superior management and leadership, especially when competition is greater than ever and times are uncertain, to say the least!

 

Kerry Moynihan is a Partner at Boyden. He has had a distinguished career of more than 30 years in executive search, making a significant impact on client organizations through strategic talent acquisition and development. Working across a range of industries, he specializes in partnering with boards of directors as well as private equity firms and the C-suite executives of their portfolio companies to deliver for investors. He can be reached at kmoynihan@boyden.com.

Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Spring Forum, March 7, Tysons Corner, VA

LORE SYSTEMS is pleased to host one of the most exciting angel and entrepreneurship networking forums in the DC Region on March 7, 2011 at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, VA.

Please come out!  Here’s the Eventbrite link:  http://connectpreneur1.eventbrite.com

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Spring Forum is a 1/2 day “NETWORKING MASHUP” of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.

Come see what happens when you put a group of “A List” business leaders and entrepreneurs in one room for a few hours!

This UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, due to the high quality of our attendees and participants, as well as our programming and unprecedented networking.

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum is an exclusive “mashup” of 170+ of the DC Region’s top entrepreneurs, business leaders, CXOs, angels and VCs.
Most of the attendees are “INVITATION ONLY,” and we are limiting service provider participation in order to maximize the experience for our Attendees and Sponsors.
Program Highlights:
  • “Hypergrowth – Zero to $500 million in 8 years” discussion
  • “Entrepreneurs with a Higher Purpose” panel
  • 8 Emerging companies seeking funding will briefly tell their stories
  • “Disruption, Disintermediation, and Destruction” luncheon discussion
  • Networking sessions before, during, and after the event
The venue is the Tower Club in Tyson’s Corner, Northern Virginia’s premier private business club.  A plated brealkfast and plated lunch are included.
AGENDA7:00–8:00 am – ARRIVAL / BREAKFAST / NETWORKING

8:00 – 8:05 am – WELCOME

8:05 – 8:45 am –  “HYPERGROWTH – ZERO TO $500 MILLION IN 8 YEARS!” – a conversation with Tony Jimenez, Founder and CEO of MicroTech
8:45 – 9:30 am  –  “ENTREPRENEURSHIP WITH A HIGHER PURPOSE”
Jim Cheng, Secretary of Commerce, Commonwealth of VA; Founder and CEO, Computer Hi-Tech Mgt, “Entrepreneur Turned Public Servant”
Dr. John Holaday, CEO, QRx Pharma, an ex-Army officer, Professor, and serial entrepreneur who has founded and taken 3 companies public, “Entrepreneur Seeking a Cure for Cancer”
Seth Goldman, Founder and TeaEO, Honest Tea, beverage industry innovator, “Entrepreneur  leading the Green Movement”
9:30 – 9:45 am – NETWORKING BREAK
9:45 – 11:30 am – COMPANY PRESENTATIONS
Fresh Tax
Pixspan
11:30 – 11:45 am – NETWORKING BREAK
11:45 – 1:15 pm – LUNCHEON DISCUSSION – “DISRUPTION, DISINTERMEDIATION, AND DESTRUCTION”
Duke Chung, Founder of Parature, CRM industry pioneer
Mark Walsh, Founder and CEO, GeniusRocket;  Chairman, DIngman Center for Entrepreneurship;  Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Union College;  Founder and CEO, VerticalNet
John Backus, Managing Partner of New Atlantic Ventures, Founder of Draper Atlantic Venture Fund, former CEO, InteliData
1:15 pm – MORE NETWORKING AND DEALMAKING
CONFIRMED PARTICIPANTS (partial list):
Over 110 Entrepreneurs and CXOs, plus another 40+ angels and VCs including Core Capital, Novak Biddle, New Atlantic Ventures, CIT, Capital Source, NEA, Maryland Venture Fund, MAVA, MTECH Ventures, Maryland DBED, Ruxton Ventures, Opus8, VentureCross Partners, McLean Capital, National Capital, Starise Ventures, Dingman Center Angels, Blu Venture Partners, Blue Heron, Washingon DC Archangels, Fortify.vc, Endeavor DC, Private Capital Network, APPTEL, Stanford Venture Advisors, MD Center for Entrepreneurship, SunWalker Group, Skada Capital, Keiretsu Forum, CADRE.
EVENT SPONSORS:  


Tien Wong’s 2012 Predictions as Published in WashingtonExec

Happy New Year!  I’d like to say a special Thank You to JD Kathuria and my friends at WashingtonExec for publishing my look into the crystal ball for 2012.  Here is the Post:

Tien Wong, Chairman and CEO of Opus8

2012 is here, and with it comes big changes for the Federal IT industry.  WashingtonExec gave local executives the opportunity to share their thoughts on where they see the government contracting industry headed.

Tien Wong, Chairman and CEO of Lore Systems and Opus8, gave WashingtonExec six factors that he believes will affect the 2012 Washington, D.C. entrepreneur and government contracting communities.

1.  IT SPENDING and THE ECONOMY – IT spending will increase both in commercial and government sectors, particularly in infrastructure, cloud, and mobility.  We have seen an uptick in business at Lore in the last quarter particularly from our commercial clients.  In conversations with many clients, I believe that overall confidence in the economy is improving a lot!

2.  PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION – Obama will be re-elected.  If the economy is improving, that favors Obama.

3.  STARTUPS – Startups in the DC region will continue to blossom.  The ecosystem is as active and sanguine as it has been in the past 10 years.  You are seeing groups like Startup America, Startup Maryland, Startup VirginiaFounderCorps, and established and new incubators take a keen interest in our region.  Angels are investing, and groups like Virginia’s CIT and Maryland’s DBED will be investing new allocations of seed money.

4.  CLOUD COMPUTING – Cloud adoption in the federal government will accelerate both internally via virtual private clouds, and via commercial providers with new FedRAMP guidelines and the award of commercial Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) contracts (GSA’s IaaS and the Army’s APC2, for example).  The economic and performance benefits are far too great for cloud not to be aggressively adopted well into the future.

5.  DATACENTER CONSOLIDATION – Regarding the federal government’s datacenter consolidation efforts, the government will successfully close many datacenters.  However, I doubt they will hit their goals in 2012  because many individual application owners and datacenter operators are not as cooperative in providing information and complying.  Further, there’s a cost to consolidating and there are limited funds to achieve this, so you’ll likely see a lot of funding come out of O&M budgets.

6.  SMALL BUSINESS – Because of drastically reduced budgets, the government will rely on small business and entrepreneurs for creative ideas to cut costs, drive productivity, and improve performance. The DoD customer has been very open to the commercial best practices Lore is bringing to the table re: datacenter consolidation and application migration.  In addition, small business is more nimble and unencumbered by the fixed costs of the “Bigs,” so we can offer creative pricing structures, and ways for the government to buy from us.  We will see more firm fixed price offers, and shared-risk pricing, which inevitably will save the taxpayers money.

Please let me know what you think about these predictions. Thanks for reading, and please subscribe to my Blog!  All the best for an awesome 2012!

Featured image courtesy of Mike Licht, notionscapital.com, licensed via creative commons.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  That’s one of my favorite sayings, and a true maxim in life and in business.  Having a “know it all” mentality can lead to disastrous decision making.  I’ve learned this the hard way, and if I had a dime for every time I have said “you don’t know what you don’t know” to one of my teammates or colleagues, I’d be very rich!

The beautiful hand painted wooden Russian Nesting Dolls from the city of Penza (above and below) illustrate this point very well.  The dolls descend in size and fit inside one another.  You open the largest one and keep going until you finally come to the impossibly tiny little doll at the end.

Ever had a problem you think you solved until another related issue popped up? Something completely unexpected.  Then you thought you solved it again but then another surprise came up?  And so on and so on until you finally got the correct answer?  Finding the right solution is just like opening up a set of these nesting dolls one by one.

Problems can be solved faster by knowing the simple fact that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  So here are some simple ideas to keep in mind.

1.  Don’t Assume Anything – You’ve heard bosses and mentors say, “If you A-S-S-U-M-E, you make an A-S-S out of U and ME,” right?  I have to agree that, while extremely difficult NOT to do, assuming things can be very costly, especially when communicating with others.  Of course, you have to assume or guess at some things, but try and get as many facts, background info, etc. ahead of time.

2.  Be Prepared – For anything.  Expect surprises, and just take the issue as it comes and think things through carefully.

3.  Have a “Beginner’s Mind,” or “Shosin” as the Zen Buddhists like to call it.  By being open and devoid of preconceptions, you bring a level of humility and desire for learning to the challenge at hand.

4.  Get Help – Ask experts or experienced people and advisers who can help you.  And do your homework independently, as well.

5.  Test and Iterate – If you have the luxury of time, take baby steps and test your ideas. Whether it’s a new product or a new target audience, or whatever, put it out there on a test basis first, then evaluate feedback and results….and then adjust accordingly.

We at Lore Systems have put in place these practices and have benefitted immeasurably in making better decisions in everything we do.

Good luck, and thank you very much for reading.  Please feel free to comment and sign up for my Blog!

Tim Ferriss: “9 Habits to Stop Now”

photo

In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss spends a good amount of space talking about time management and life management skills.  A few weeks, ago I wrote a Blog Post about Tim and his book.  I had a lot of reader interest, so I thought I’d follow up with another post on Tim’s philosophy.

The section entitled “The Best of the Blog” features one of Tim’s blog entries entitled “The Not-to-Do List:  9 Habits to Stop Now.”   Here is his list with my comments in Italics:

1.  Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers.  I admit I do this, especially since I get a lot of phone solicitations from people I don’t know.  If it’s important, the caller will leave you a voice mail, or try and reach you via email or other means.  The key here is that you won’t be distracted by any calls from unknown callers. 

2.  Do not email first thing in the morning or last thing at night.  Ferriss thinks the former “scrambles your priorities” for the day, and the latter causes insomnia.  While I like to batch ,my email responses as much as possible, I actually prefer to check my email first thing in the morning, as well as late at night.  I don’t seem to have any problem focusing on key priorities.

3.  Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda and time.  He also believes that no calls should take longer than 30 minutes.  This is great if you can do it.  Otherwise, I suggest setting expectations for topics and time at the very beginning of the call or meeting, and then stay on track as best as posible.

4.  Do not let people ramble.  Obvious.

5.  Do not check e-mail constantly.  “Batch” and check at set times only.  Sometimes, you are expecting emails and responses from important team members or clients so it’s necessary to stay on email continually throughout the day.  I agree that email can be a huge distraction, and a time suck, so try and do whatever you can to minimize wasted time and increase efficiency, including following this advice if it works for you.

6.  Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers.  Great advice and I will go even further and suggest that you should either terminate or restructure contracts with any low-profit and/or high-maintenance customers.  A huge key to success is in having discipline in the kinds of customers you accept.  Bad customers can put you out of business!

7.  Do not work more to fix overwhelmingness – prioritize.  Tim says that “the answer to overwhelmingness is not spinning more plates – or doing more- it’s defining the few things that can really fundamentally change your business and life.”  I agre 100%.

8.  Do not carry a cell phone or Crackberry 24/7.  Tim thinks you should take one day per week off from cell phones and emails.  Nice idea in concept, but the stark reality is that most businesspeople and business owners can’t afford to be out of touch.

9.  Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should.  Tim says, “Schedule life and defend iit the way you would an important business meeting.”  This is not easy for a lot of workaholics I know, but it’s important to keep this in mind if you seek true work-life equilibrium.

I don’t think there’s anything earth shattering here, plus I am sure you have heard of some or most of these ideas in one form or another over the years.  But it’s always good to think about tips like these to help you be more productive and focused.

Thanks for reading and please subscribe to my Blog via the link on my Home Page.

Featured image courtesy of timferriss licensed via creative commons.

Yanik Silver’s 34 WINNING Rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs

My friend Yanik Silver is a successful, young, internet marketing expert.  A self-made millionaire by the age of 30, Yanik exudes creativity, energy, and passion.  He’s a veritable idea factory, and I am impressed by his knowledge and wisdom at such a relatively young age.  His Twitter handle is @yaniksilver and his main Blog site is InternetLifestyle.com.

Yanik has, through reflection and analysis of his business experience and interactions with dozens of the world’s top entrepreneurs and business leaders, developed what he calls his “34 Rules “  They can also be found on one of his Blogs:  maverickbusinessinsider.com.

So here are YANIK SILVER’S 34 RULES FOR MAVERICK ENTREPRENEURS  (I added some commentary of my own in BOLD text below.)

  1. It’s got to be a BIG idea that you, your team and your customers can “get” in seconds.  Agree 100% that THINKING BIG is one of the most important things you can do in business.  See my Blog Post on “5 KEY LEARNINGS.”
  2. Strive to create 10x — 100x in value for any price you charge. Your rewards are always proportionate to the value you provide.
  3. You must charge a premium price so you have a large margin to provide an extraordinary value & experience.  This is right out of the Steve Jobs Playbook!
  4. Provide a ‘Reason Why’ customers should do business with you and pay you a premium.
  5. Get paid before you deliver your product or service. And when possible figure out how to create recurring revenue from transactions.  Collecting cash early allows you to finance your business, and ecurring revenue creates maximum shareholder value.
  6. You get to make the rules for your business. Don’t let industry norms dictate how you’ll work or who you’ll work with.  Another Steve Jobsism.
  7. Create your business around your life instead of settling for your life around your business.
  8. Consistently and constantly force yourself to focus on the ‘critically few’ proactive activities that produce exponential results. Don’t get caught up in minutia & bullshit.  Focus!
  9. Seek to minimize start-up risk but have maximum upside potential.
  10. Get your idea out there as fast as possible even if it’s not quite ready by setting must-hit deadlines. Let the market tell you if you have a winner or not. If not — move on and fail forward fast! If it’s got potential — then you can make it better.  The one great characteristic of internet-based businesses is that the feedback loop is shortened and rapid iteration can be done to perfect the model.
  11. Find partners and team members who are strong where you are weak and appreciate being paid on results.
  12. Your reputation always counts. Honor your obligations and agreements.  There’s nothing more important than INTEGRITY.
  13. Never, ever get paid based on hours worked.
  14. Leverage your marketing activities exponentially by using direct response methods and testing.
  15. Measure and track your marketing so you know what’s working and what’s not.
  16. Bootstrap. Having too much capital leads to incredible waste and doing things using conventional means.  I love this concept.  Bootstrapping builds a culture of resourceful and a “lean and mean” operating philosophy.
  17. Your partners and employees actions are their true core — not what they tell you.
  18. Keep asking the right questions to come up with innovative solutions. “How?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Who Else?” & “Why?” open up possibilities.
  19. You’ll never have a perfect business and you’ll never be totally “done”. Deal with it.  Warren Buffett has said that it’s not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.  See my related Blog Post on Buffett.
  20. Focus most of your time on your core strengths and less time working in areas you suck at.
  21. Make it easier for customers to buy by taking away the risk of the transaction by guaranteeing what you do in a meaningful way.  If you are supremely confident in your product or service, you should have no problem guaranteeing it, and every customer loves a guarantee.
  22. Always have something else to sell (via upsell, cross-sell, follow-up offer, etc) whenever a transaction takes place. The hottest buyer in the world is one who just gave you money.
  23. Always go back to your existing customers with exceptional offers and reasons they should give you more money. It’s 5x less expensive to sell to happy customers than go find new ones.
  24. However the flip side is – fire your most annoying customers. They’ll be replaced with the right ones.  I have done this and it has worked miracles in getting my Team focused on the higher-value customers.  Figure out how to “score” or rank your customers and rationalize the lowest value ones.  You can then apply the scoring system to new business opportunities you evaluate, so that you accept the customers you want.
  25. The marketplace and competitors are always trying to beat you down to a commodity. Don’t let that happen.  I agree that getting into a commodity position is a losing proposition because someone will ALWAYS be lower in price.
  26. Develop and build your business’s personality that stands out. People want to buy from people.
  27. Create your own category so you can be first in the consumer’s mind.
  28. Go the opposite direction competitors are headed — you’ll stand out.  It’s amazing how so many of successful business leaders and investors are CONTRAIAN in their thinking.
  29. Mastermind and collaborate with other smart entrepreneurs if they have futures that are even bigger than their present.  You can’t win by yourself.  You need peers, advisors, mentors, and others who can help you.  Create a group, join a YPO or EO Forum, or a Vistage Group.  I am in a YPO Forum and the learnings and experience have been priceless.
  30. Celebrate your victories. It’s too easy to simply move on to your next goal without acknowledging and appreciating the ‘win’.  This is a good one.  Oftentimes, you see Founders relentlessly clamoring for “more, more, more!” without stopping to celebrate success.  This is super important for morale.
  31. Make your business AND doing business with you FUN!
  32. Do the unexpected before and after anything goes wrong so customers are compelled to ‘share your story’.
  33. Get a life! Business and making money are important but your life is the sum total of your experiences. Go out and create experiences & adventures so you can come back renewed and inspired for your next big thing.  Life is very short, so enjoy your moments at every opportunity.
  34. Give back! Commit to taking a % of your company’s sales and make a difference. If this becomes a habit like brushing your teeth pretty soon the big checks with lots of zeros won’t be scary to write. If you think you can’t donate a percentage of your sales simply raise your price.  The more you give, the more things come back to you. Giving is great for the community, for your company, and your teammates.  
This is a big list and, for me, I like #1, #6, and #8.  I believe in “Thinking Big.”  You’re going to be thinking anyway, so why not Think Big?  As for #6,  your business will definitely differentiate better if you follow your voice and make your own rules, as opposed to following someone else.  The great companies create their own products and solutions.  They set the trends.  Finally, I can’t say enough about FOCUS (#8), because that’s one of the TOP 5 necessities for success.  I blogged about this in my very first Blog Post, SUCCESS FORMULA.
Which one of these 34 RULES do you like best or find most relevant to your business?  
Please Comment below and Subscribe to my Blog.  Thanks!       
Featured image courtesy of Ralph Zuranski, licensed via creative commons.

Winning with Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek

When Tim Ferriss‘ book The 4-Four Hour Workweek originally hit the airport bookstores in 2007, I must admit I scoffed at the ridiculous title and thought the author and content would also be ridiculous. I was not alone in my opinion, as his methods and advice have been controversial.

After hearing so much about the book, I did finally buy and read it, and I was pleasantly surprised!  I just read it again on a recent trip to Rio (they do practice the 4 hour workweek in Brazil!) and thought I’d write a couple of Blog posts on the subject.  While there are a lot of contrarian and unusual ideas in the book, Ferriss DOES render some excellent advice on a variety of matters including how to create or design a lifestyle.  He does it in a very motivating “I did it so you can do it too” manner.

His basic themes are:

1.  You CAN enjoy the lifestyle you want, and you can do it now

2.  Simpify to create space and create attention (attention is more important than time because time without attention is useless) to apply to other things

3.  Focus on what’s important in your life and that which makes you happy and fulfilled.

4.  His 4-step “DEAL” formula: Defininition, Eliminate, Automate, and Liberate

Tim Ferris’ DEAL:

Definition – Define the life you want and how much it will cost for you to achieve it (in short, define your Goals)

Elimination – Eliminate stuff that’s not critical to your achieving your goals.  Practice the 80/20 rule and focus on what will get you closer to your ideal lifestyle.

Automation – Outsource noncritical and basic functions.  Find and build a business which generates maximum revenue with minimal time/attention.  The key is to minimize your own personal involvement to free yourself up to do the things YOU WANT.

Liberation – Free yourself from a particular geographic location.  The idea is to be able to travel, or work from anywhere.  Mobility is a hallmark of what Ferris refers to as the “NR,” or “New Rich.”

Tim’s “Muse,” an income machine:  Ferriss urges the reader to find his or her “muse” (a calling or business), and then go for it. Ferriss lays out a blueprint for starting your own business which can essentially run on autopilot.  Apparently, he had done this himself and built a business that generated cash flow to pay the living expenses, while requiring a fraction of the time and effort.  While I believe him, he makes it all sound too easy.

The Top 13 New Rich Mistakes

1.  Losing sight of dreams and falling into work for work’s sake (W4W)

2.  Micromanaging and e-mailing to fill time

3.  Handling problems your outsourcers or-co-workers can handle

4.  Helping outsourcers or co-workers with the same problem more than once, or with noncrisis problems

5.  Chasing customers, particularly unqualified or international prospects, when you have sufficient cash flow to finance your nonfinancial pursuits

6.  Answering e-mail that will not result in a sale or that can be answered by a FAQ or auto-responder

7.  Working where you live, sleep, or should relax

8.  Not performing a thorough 80/20 analysis every two to four weeks for your business and personal life

9.  Striving for endless perfection rather than great or simply good enough, whether in your personal or professional life

10.  Blowing minutiae and small problems out of proportion as an excuse to work

11.  Making non-time-sensitive issues urgent in order to justify work

12.  Viewing one product, job, or prospect as the end-all and be-all of your existence

13.  Ignoring the social rewards of life

In summary, I believe this is a book worth reading, as it contains a lot of useful and highly applicable tips and advice, while proffering some proven scenarios whereby you can unchain yourself from a job or mundane lifestyle, in order to design and pursue immediately a life of your dreams.

Featured image courtesy of benjyfeen licensed via creative commons.

5 KEY LEARNINGS – National Capital Region Entrepreneur’s Club

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Recently, I had the honor of speaking at the September, 2011 luncheon of the National Capital Region Entrepreneur’s Club.  It’s a group of terrific business leaders from the DMV region.

Our host, Ingar Grev, asked me to tell my story, talk about some successes, some failures, and key learnings.  Ingar is a US Naval Academy grad with MS and MBA degrees from Maryland.  As fit today as he was 25 years ago when he was a star D-lineman for NAVY, Ingar is an entrepreneur, technology expert, connector, and CEO/executive coach known as The Growth Coach.

He was also nice enough to write about my presentation in his Washington Business Journal blog post.  At the conclusion of my remarks, I listed 5 things I had learned in my experience as an entrepreneur, CEO and investor.  Here are the 5 Key Learnings I shared with the group:

1.  Do the right thing always.  It can be expensive to take the high road, and it takes courage, but at the end of the day, your reputation is all you really have.  High integrity is impossible to fake, and integrity is a real magnet for other Winners and for success in general.

2.  Build relationships.  You can’t win without great partners, clients, and teammates. Success is all about creating, building, and nurturing relationships.  I am not talking about quantity, but rather QUALITY of relationships.  People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust.  The old adage about “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know” is true.

3.  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. The great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The Green Bay Packers never lost a football game.  They just ran out of time.” Luckily in business, there is no time clock!  Winning in business is about having staying power (capital, stamina, confidence, persistence)   In my case, my company CyberRep lost our largest client twice and faced extreme business challenges both times.   If we didn’t have confidence and persistence, we would have never replaced the lost business and grown our company.  We never gave up, and would up with a great outcome.

4. Think BIG.  Over the years, we set grand plans for ourselves and somehow managed to hit quite a few of them.  My philosophy is that if you’re going to think, you may as well think big.  Set your goals realistically but high.  Stretch yourself.  I know many people, including my partners and me, who have surprised themselves with what they were able to accomplish.  Your organizations will rally around and get excited by big plans and big goals, so go ahead and shoot for the moon.  If you fall short, you still will have made good progress.

5.  Greatness is defined by Consistency.  Great performers are able to produce day in and day out on a consistent basis.  Great companies deliver for their clients and customers consistently.  The challenge is figuring out how to get your organizations to do fantastic work over and over again.  If you can do it, then congratulations, your company is on its way to being “great.”

I hope you enjoyed this Post.  Thanks for reading, and please sign up for my Blog!

Featured image courtesy of woodleywonderworks licensed via creative commons.