Blog for Building Materials Companies

Reducing Risk To Make Sales Easier

  |  Posted in Sales

Reducing Risk To Make Sales Easier

Reducing Risk To Make Sales Easier With Ray Ziganto, Allison DeFord, Mark Mitchell, Mark Roberts And Chris Luecke

Thank you so much for joining us for Sales and Marketing Game Changers. This is part three of our month-long event.

You can read a transcript here or you can listen to my podcast or watch it on YouTube

We’re in the 3rd week of 4 of Sales and Marketing Game Changers. This a four-part series with some great people to talk about, where are we? Where are we going and how are we going to get there? The people I share the stage with are Ray ZigantoAllison DeFordMark MitchellChris Luecke and Mark Roberts. We talk about reducing risk to make sales easier. Enjoy, and I love to hear your thoughts.

We are here to make you the hero of your company’s growth story. To do that, we’ve come together as a tribe of doers with diverse experiences, perspectives, and a common passion for businesses that are like yours. Being back for round three with this lovely crew, let’s get to our introductions. Let’s start with Ms. Allison DeFord.

I’m Allison DeFord, the resident Trailblazer and Founder at FELT Marketing. We are the only marketing retrofit company for manufacturers since 1994. Manufacturers are definitely the hero of our story. They are struggling and challenged with staying relevant and profitable in this changing at the speed of COVID world. It’s hard to know who to trust and which marketing tactics to use because there are many now and they don’t want to waste money in the process. There’s a lot of fear around that. We help them retrofit their traditional marketing system with modern components to make sales easier because that’s what it’s all about. I’m also the cohost of a little podcast called MFG Out Loud with the unicorn with the mustache.

Thanks, Allison. Mr. Mark Roberts, your turn.

My name is Mark Roberts. I’m the Founder and CEO of OTB Solutions. What we do is we help companies fix their sales problems leveraging data. We’ve been doing it for quite a long time and our passion is helping your senior management team and all your leaders have good current data to make good strategic decisions. As you can imagine with COVID where we’ve been busy is capturing the voice of your customers as well as virtual sales training. The sad reality is about 60% of salespeople are struggling selling virtually, and that’s a problem that you can solve.

Thanks, Mark. Ben.

Thanks, Mark. My name is Ben Baker and my company is Your Brand Marketing. I am the Chief Storyteller of Your Brand. My job through our show. We have a company called Podcast Host for Hire, and what we do is we help companies create, produce, host and distribute customized podcasts for them that’s on brand, on message, and allows them to tell their story by interviewing both strategic partners, vendors, customers and employees.

Thank you, Ben. Chris

I am your token boots on the ground sales guy. By day, I work as an Account Manager for Rockwell Automation. I help customers in the manufacturing space achieve their digital transformation goals. Taking all the buzz words that they’re hearing in this space, Internet of Things, and applying the right technologies to their business problems through automation and information solutions. By night, I am a podcaster as well. I’m the host of Manufacturing Happy Hour where we talk about the latest technologies and trends in the manufacturing sector, through interviews with industry leaders to help you take your career and your business to the next level. I’m excited to be here.

It’s great to have you here, Chris. Thanks. Mr. Mark Mitchell, please.

I’m Mark Mitchell. I’m a Consultant to building material companies with a focus on their channel of distribution. I help companies to figure out why won’t architects specify their product or distributors carry their product, or why can’t they get on the shelf at Home Depot. My niche is the building materials area and I enjoy it because it’s challenging, every day is a new challenge. I’ve written a book on building material marketing as well as I have a weekly newsletter that I send out provocative insights on the industry to get unstuck, keep doing the same things better, maybe it’s time to change some things. Any of you interested, please connect with me on LinkedIn. I love to learn from you and share my knowledge.

I’m Ray Ziganto, the Manufacturing Unicorn and Founder of Linara International. My afternoon job is working with Allison as a proud cohost of MFG Out Loud, our podcast dedicated to the manufacturing world. My goal in life is to help manufacturers get the rhythm back. We all know manufacturing when done correctly is about flow and things moving effortlessly through the system from customers’ requests all the way through the organization. We know a lot of times, it doesn’t work that way, especially in the face of a lot of change. My role is to help get in there and help you get your groove back and make your manufacturing operations fun and profitable. I’m thrilled to be here with this group.

This is our 3rd in the series of 4 of our gatherings for the game changers to talk about how our audience can make a big step. We’re not talking about finding a way to get 2% or 3% more improvement or sales for their business. How do you double it? How do you triple it? How do you make it ten times? We want to take a big leap. Some of our leaps we’ve taken so far in our first episode, we talked about marketing that is seen, heard and felt. One of my key takeaways from that was, emotionally engaged customers are 33% less price sensitive, 44% less likely to go to competitors, 300% more likely to recommend you. I’ll throw one in for extra credit, 70% of the buying process is over with before a buyer ever even talks to your salesperson.

They’re looking for you online and you’ve got to find ways to engage. If you want to know more about that, check out episode one and you will have plenty of info for you to dig down on that. In our second series, we talked about leveraging data to stop selling naked, provocative title. We love it, but so applicable to what’s going on. One of the key points and takeaway there is doubling down on what’s worked pre-COVID creates frustration, not results. The water went out when COVID hit and we found out who was swimming naked and it’s time to cover up and get back to business. Start with the data you already have on your business, on your customers, on your channel partners, on your sales teams. You’re all sitting on a gold mine of information.

If you start mining it, it’s going to help you make big improvements for your business. The nugget I want to share with you is Mark Roberts was kind enough to dig this one up, but the top 20% of your customers are driving 150% to 300% of your profitability before the profit leaking customers drain away what you earned. Think about that and what that can mean to driving your growth. Mark touched on it in his introduction. Sixty percent of salespeople are having difficulty working remotely without any training or supervision. We’re giving you the tools, information and access.

We want you to take these things and use them to drive big improvement for your business, which leads us to our conversation. We want to talk about reducing risk to make sales easier. Our first question for the panel that we want to get out there, what are the risks that companies struggle with and how do they create the roadblocks to sales growth? I’m going to throw this one over to Mark Roberts. What do you think? What’s your take on this one?

Reducing Sales Risk: The two things that erode customer trust the most are inconsistency and irrelevance.

 It all starts with not understanding what’s going on in your market and I don’t blame anybody for that. Think about all the disruption and uncertainty that we’re faced with. What I often see is, dated value propositions, old messaging that probably worked many years ago is not resonating now. As Ray said, doubling down, doesn’t help. It only makes your sales team more frustrated. We’re also starting to see a lot of growth in virtual inside sales, and it’s critical that you have the right people with the right skills and the right roles.

Without that, you have a high degree of risk. The other thing is to close the question, when’s the last time you checked on your customers and asked how happy or satisfied they were? When we do the voice of the customer work, one of the experiences that we deliver, tells you who’s about to defect and it’s often pretty staggering. The time to save them is before they leave. There are a lot of ways to mitigate risk, but make sure that your sales team has the skills. They have the right process based on the way buyers want to buy and they’ve been trained.

I want to build on that theme that you brought up and we’ve touched on this in our other sessions as well about the buyer persona and understanding who it is that you’re speaking to. Allison, you’re a prolific contributor in that area, what are your thoughts as far as knowing your customer, as being a source of risk mitigation? Is there a connection?

Absolutely. I was thinking about this question that the risks that companies struggle with and the roadblocks to sales growth. I thought about all the obvious things that we all know about supply chain, economical, seasonal, pandemic. I’m the marketing brain. That’s how I think. I thought the two things that stand out the most. To answer your question, this is what affects customers the most: inconsistency and relevancy. When you’re inconsistent in your communications, messaging, follow through, salesperson turnover, innovation, you don’t come across well-meaning and that doesn’t build trust. The same thing with being relevant. COVID is a great example. Did you hunker down and shut down and wait to see what was going to happen because you were afraid?

No judgment a lot of people did that, but as a manufacturer, did you do that or did you lean in and lead with transparency and support? Doing versus saying and getting in there to support your customer. There was Dr. David Schoorman of Purdue University, Indiana and had done some of the most influential work and studies out there about building and earning trust. I happen to see this article in Forbes and I thought, “This came from the universe because we’re doing this.” No matter how competent a company tries to be, even if you prove it and this is the one thing that’s going to blow your mind, if they don’t believe that you’re benevolent, they will not buy from you. In order to be benevolent, meaning, you’re showing that we’re well-meaning and we’re kind. I believe that inconsistency and relevancy are directly tied to that. If you want to mitigate risk, you need to look at your inconsistencies, how relevant are you and how benevolent do people believe that you are?

Ben, you’d said in a prior conversation that your company’s brand is only worth as much as your least satisfied employee. What’s your sets of beauty?

Your brand is only as valuable as your unhappiest employee on their worst day. When we sit there and think about, “We have unhappy employees.” Those unhappy employees are dealing with our customers and other employees. They’re managing process, picking up the phone, processing orders, doing the work well enough to get paid and well enough not to get fired. When they are in a position where they’re not engaged, they’re apathetic, they don’t care. That’s what your brand is. It’s like handing out cheap pens. If you hand out cheap pens, you’re seen as being a cheap person, you’re seen as giving something that’s poor quality, that might leak in our pocket and say, “How well is this manufacturer going to take care of my job? How well are they going to produce something that’s quality, if they’re handing away cheap pens?”

It’s the same way with your people. If your people are not ecstatic about what they’re doing, if they’re not passionate about what they’re doing, if they’re not engaged, and if they don’t want to provide great customer experience, it shows in about 2.3 seconds to a customer and a customer sits and goes, “I have money. I have a problem. I can have it fixed. There are probably ten companies that can fix it. Why do I want to deal with this company that has this surly employee that doesn’t care when I can take my money and I can go somewhere else where I feel like I matter and my problem is important to them?” That unhappy employee is the worth of your brand. I give that story every single day. It’s amazing how well it rings true.

It applies broadly. Even in this area, we’re talking about de-risking, it starts within your four walls too. It’s not just when your sales team goes out in the field. Chris, you’re going to back clean up on the end on this one because you’re our field sales guy. Mark, we need to hear from the wizard on this, what are the risks that companies struggle with?

What I find is the biggest risk is, they don’t understand their customer. The senior leadership of a company understands finance, production capacity, sourcing, all of these other things that are designed around, you’re running the company and getting the product done, but they do not have an in-depth understanding of their customer and how their customer is changing. Manufacturers have to change because of Coronavirus and other things. Also, architects, contractors, builders, Home Depot, all of these companies are changing. What I find is the senior leadership of companies are not as close to customers as they should be. I’m reminded years ago, there was a Mayor in New York City, Ed Koch. He was famous for being on the subway or walking down the street and he’d go up to a stranger and say, “How am I doing as your mayor?”

He would literally invite, “Let me have it.” I find not enough companies go to their customers and say, “How are we doing? How could we make your life easier?” The second part of this is I find salespeople are aware of what the issues are, but they’re not taken seriously by management. Henry from Kansas City, he’s always complaining, “This customer service isn’t good enough.” Just tune him out. The second part of it is, you don’t know your customer well enough. You don’t particularly know how much different your customers now than they were a year ago, even though they’ve been making changes. I find that companies need to do a better job of listening to their salespeople.

Chris, how are we doing so far? What do you see when the rubber meets the road?

I am happy to back clean up on this one because Ben and even more so Mark provided a great segue into this. I’m going to put a slightly different spin on this. When I think of the biggest risks to sales and marketing, I think of it more in terms of marketing risk. This is coming from the perspective of a field sales guy at a large company. Mark, you mentioned that salespeople see a lot out there. They have a lot of direct intel from the customers, their ability to articulate what the challenges are. This has some assumption that the salespeople within an organization know and understand their customers. Let’s make sure that’s it.

When that’s present and salespeople are getting all this intel, they’re hearing the feelings, challenges, needs of customers on a regular basis, they have a lot of power to amplify marketing messages and even make them more authentic. Where I see a risk is with large companies, let’s be honest, they’re typically going to be a little more careful because they have a large established brand. They want to make sure they’re getting the right messages out there. I’d be interested to get Allison’s take on this because this plays into making sure that message is consistent. Where I see one of the big risks is not looking at employees, team members, salespeople as amplifiers to the messages that marketing is trying to get out. We’ll certainly talk about this more as we get into it, but that’s my baseline answer to kick things off.

We’ve got a sense of what some of the risks are that organizations are facing, the risks that are in the way of getting more sales, making sales easier. How can our audience determine the unique risk profile for their organizations? I’m assuming, it’s one of those radar plots where some organizations might be strong in one area and flat on another. How can they make that assessment in their organizations? What should they be looking for? I’m going to point this one towards Ben.

To bring it down to one word, it’s listening. People are not asking questions and they’re not listening. The only way we’re truly going to understand our risk profile and where our SWOT analysis, for lack of a better word, is to sit there and ask questions and not be afraid of the answers. If the answers you’re getting are not what you want to be, then you need to sit there and say, “Is there something that we’re doing on the backside that we think that we’re doing, but we’re not doing?” People need to be honest with themselves. There are too many companies that drink their own Kool-Aid, “We’re the best. We’re the biggest. Everybody deals with this. Everybody loves us.” It’s not true. There are people that hate Coca-Cola or Visa or will never deal with X, Y, Z company ever again, but the problem is we’re not taking those comments seriously.

Reducing Sales Risk: Companies need to be honest with themselves, ask questions and not be afraid of the answers.

Back to Chris’s comment, we’re not taking that information and sitting there going, “Why are these people angry?” Whether they’re people inside the company, vendors, clients or strategic partners and finding out, “What are the things we do right? What are the things we do well? What are the things that we can improve on?” Sit there and say, “Maybe we should look at that?” It’s time to sit there and go, “Just because we’ve always done it this way, doesn’t mean that’s the way we should constantly do it in the future.” It’s time to reevaluate. It’s time to put the ego aside. It’s time to stop thinking that your poop doesn’t smell because it does. It’s time to think of ourselves as a way of saying, “What can we do to be better companies and organizations and better for our employees?” Instead of saying, “We’re the greatest.” None of us are.

I’m going to go to our data guy, Mark Roberts, what’s your read on that? You use data in all aspects of it, internally, externally. If we’re looking to de-risk, are there things that organizations can and should be looking at that might be some of those dark corners that would expose risks if we shine a light on them?

When I attend your senior management team meetings, board meetings, I listened for one sentence and that sentence starts with, “I think we should,” and that gives me pause. You want to get my attention. “The latest trend data on that particular product illustrates the following,” or “In our recent research, talking to our buyers, 66% of our buyers said they prefer virtual sales.” Those are data-driven conversations that we can build strategy upon. What makes me nervous and I’ve got to be a little cautious and little tactful in these meetings is, “I value what you think because you’ve been in the market. If you’re a senior leader, you’ve served this market 35 or 40, but what do you know about now? When you carry the bag, there weren’t cell phones. You didn’t have a laptop computer. There was not the internet.” When you start a conversation with, “I think we should,” I’d much rather you say, “Based on the research we completed. Based on a call I have with our top three customers. Based on the data that sales gave us in the CRM. One of the common sticking points in the CRM is right after ‘where we need to establish value.’” Now, we’re having business discussions.

Mark Mitchell, you see the whole spectrum from distributors to the manufacturers to the OEMs out there. What’s your take on that? Is there a way or a place that organizations can dig around and say, “I think we’re zeroing in on some of our sources of risk?”

I’m a big fan of the Wayne Gretzky thing about like, “Don’t go where the puck is, go where the puck’s going to be.” We sit here and, in any business, we should be stepping back and saying, “The world is changing.” I decided I needed some new plastic wine glasses. I’ve got three wonderful kitchen stores here in Boulder, but did I say, “I’m going to get in my car, drive over there and go into the store and walk around to find that they have these glasses?” No. I went to Amazon and in two minutes I pushed a button and it was okay, done. Task completed. What’s going to happen if we’ve been pre-programmed to do more things online? What is that going to mean to everyone’s businesses?

They’re not looking out at what is the future look at. They believe the way they’re doing it is the right way and the common thing that I see when I’m in meetings with the senior leadership is, I’ll see this 60-year-old VP of sales, who’s thinking about, “In five years, I’m out of here. The last thing I want is the headache of doing something new that could have risk and require a lot of extra labor, work and learning and so forth. I can ride this out for five more years.” That drives me crazy, but I see many times we have people in those positions that the status quo is what they’re looking for. They don’t have the energy they had when they were in their 20s or 30s to go and reinvent the company, but that’s what the company needs.

I was talking to a huge company that one of the only companies in building materials that their sales are down 30%. Everybody else I talked to in building materials, their sales are up 10%, 15%, 20% and it was because they are relying on the salesman, go call on local retailers, little small mom-and-pop retailers. That’s how you do business. They’re way behind in terms of eCommerce or all the wonderful digital and online tools we have. I was shocked to hear that from their marketing people. It’s about looking to that Wayne Gretzky thing, “Where is the business going to be? Whether it’s 1, 3, 5 years from now, and are you making changes to be there?”

Allison based on all of that, why don’t we just get a new website and a bigger logo and all of this goes away?

That is the equivalent to buying a new Bose speaker and thinking that suddenly everyone will hear this old crusty message that wasn’t working to before. It’s going be louder. Those things don’t solve the problem. I’m excited to be going forth because what Ben and Mark and Mark all said is true and leads into what I wanted to say. As they said, once you listen, understand your customers and your salespeople, and what’s happening and then doing a SPOT analysis. I call it that because it’s Strengths, Problems, Opportunities and Threats. It’s old school, but it still works. Like Mark said, then you can create these business discussions instead of, “I think.” You can pull the opportunities from the SPOT analysis and take a look at. Don’t just write down the problems, take a look at how those on the spot connect with the opportunities and then do something about it. Change what you’re doing, skate to where the puck will be.

The question that begs is always ask this, “And what else?” That will help you constantly be skating to where the puck will be so that it’s not like, “Let’s set it and forget it until the next big crisis comes along.” We’re always talking about, “And what’s next?” It’s like going to the doctor. If you go to the doctor and you say, “I’m having this pain in my shoulder.” As a person responsible for fixing the problem, whether you’re an outside consultant or an inside sales or marketing person, don’t stick a Band-Aid on that symptom. Go two levels deeper and look at the root cause. That’s where you’re going to find out what’s the problem, what’s creating the risk and then you can work on that and what everybody said here, then it involves all those components.

I like that comparison reference pain, you may think your issue was in your shoulder when reality, it’s a pinched nerve in your neck or something. We see that all the time and in businesses. We want to keep this rolling. Chris sales guy perspective, a little different twist, because you’ve got the benefit of looking within your own organization and what you do and what you provide to your clients is in a way transformational that ultimately should be contributing to growth in their business progressing and stuff like that. Do you see it on both sides as far as where those pockets of risks may exist?

I don’t know if I’m going to answer this the exact way you’re looking for, but when I think of risks in this regard, since I am batting clean up again, what I’d say for whether it’s a large organization, like the one I work for, any organizations that we may work for is take everything that we’ve said and put a closed loop process around it. I know that in many ways, it should be self-explanatory. The nice thing of working for a large company like I do, and getting to see things from this perspective, is I am able to see where we’re looking for external feedback from customers.

Exactly like Mark Roberts has said many times about that value proposition audit, whether it’s that voice of customer on the value proposition aspect, whether we’re talking to an individual product or how easy is it to work with our company, go out and get that feedback. The same thing happens internally with large companies. If an organization is big enough, you should be getting that feedback. Like we said, boots on the ground salespeople. People that are in front of the customers, hearing it all the time, bring that to senior management as well.

If you have those external and internal feedback loops, what I’d say is the icing on the cake for something like this to start mitigating risk is when you get that feedback, take action and then have a process to communicate it back out as to what action was taken and then start over. It is a process that you need to keep going through because things will change again. The world we lived in at this time in 2019 is not the world we are in now. That will be the case with any year. Maybe, not as extreme as what we’re seeing. A closed loop feedback process both internally and externally is my answer for mitigating risk.

It moves us right into the, “What do we do about it?” We’ve identified some of the sources of risk. We’ve looked at what are some of the unique features or those dark corners within specific organizations to look for what’s driving the risk. Chris did a great job of getting us to that. What are we going to do about it? I’m going to work my way backwards. Allison, you opened the door to some of the things that they need to be doing about it. What else for our audience? We know where the risks are, what can they do about it to unleash sales and make it easier?

What we already said and that’s pay attention to the SPOT or SWOT. Pay attention to the answers and then create actionable steps to make sure that you’re improving the problem and then follow Chris’s advice and create that loop so that you can tell people, “And this is what we did about it. I love that.” Often we’ll do this analysis with clients. It’s not a judgment, but they get caught putting out the everyday fires and they never circle back to make sure that the stuff in the SWOT analysis or SPOT got taken care of. I know Mark’s seen this a ton of times. I would say one major thing and this is from a marketing standpoint. The reason I say this is because this is what supports sales and makes it easier.

Reducing Sales Risk: A closed-loop feedback process both internally and externally is the answer for mitigating risk.

 I’m not beating this drum because it’s self-gratifying or anything, but I do believe that if you do this one thing, shore up your infrastructure because usually it’s like, “That thing out there is causing the problem.” No. Look in here first. You’ve got to start inside. Shore up your infrastructure and the four things that you should do or can do, these are not rocket science, but they work. Like every single person in this group has said, start by listening to your customers. Don’t assume. When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. Don’t do that, ask. Second, de-silo sales and marketing once and for all, for God’s sake. It’s like have a united front that will change everything.

Three and Mark beats the drum on this and I completely agree with him, your unique value proposition. That brand promise is different now than it was five months ago. Take a look at that. Do an audit and make sure that it’s relevant. The fourth thing is be certain that at every touchpoint, every customer touchpoints, back to what I said in question one, be benevolent. Is it clear that’s your motivation? You’re there for the customer. Like you always say, Ray, it’s not an event, it’s an evolution. Please don’t said it and forget it or you’re going to get caught with your pants down again the next time another COVID or some sort of thing hits.

Mark Roberts, having a noble or benevolent intent, but not having process is a problem. There’s probably plenty of well-intentioned companies that mean to do something, but if they’re not doing the blocking and tackling, is that an issue?

What you’re striving for here is what author, Ed Wallace calls Worthy Intent. In sales, we can reach out. If we have worthy intent to serve the customer, understand their needs, actively listen and then completely solve them, customers are going to have great experiences. Unfortunately, though, quite a lot of salespeople have what we call commission breath, and they’re trying to hit their numbers. That’s all they talk about and we’ve all had those calls. They usually hit around dinner time and all we want to do is hang up. Once you’ve established the worthy intent, once you’ve equipped your salespeople with the right tools and the right messaging by persona, you need a process. You need a milestone centric process based on the way buyers are buying, you put all that together. I don’t care what’s going on in the economy. Your team is going to win.

As a manufacturing guy, you spoke to me, a process is important here. Mark Mitchell, I saw you had to pan out. I know there are some pearls of wisdom pouring out on the page.

In my experience, the ability to deal with risks, which means change starts at the top. The first thing that CEO or president is either interested, or they’re the type of person that says, “I need to keep improving. I need to keep evolving to reduce our risk.” My piece of advice to the leader is to stop listening to your team’s feedback.” It’s like an echo chamber. I see this all the time with clients I work with. They are afraid to tell the president or CEO something that they feel they’ll disagree with. They go, “We should be doing this, but I brought it up years ago and was shot down. I know that they don’t bring this subject up.”

I walk in and I go, “Mr. CEO, what are you doing?” Because I’m coming from the outside, I have some authority or credibility and the employees will look at me and say, “Mark, thanks. We’ve been trying to tell this guy for three years this.” There’s the second audience, which is one leader, and then however many employees they have. I find this knowledge and awareness of risk are more maybe based in the employees than it is in the leader. The employee that has this thinking needs to instill that message to the leader ideally by showing the risk, getting some fear in that person that, “We’ll do better if we do this, but if we don’t do this, we might not be in business. We’ll go out of business over time.”

They effectively do that. Usually, to me, it comes from somebody in marketing. Salespeople tend to be like, “I know how to make my numbers. I don’t want to look at another way to do it. I don’t want to look that there’s a different customer. I’ve got a thing here.” Where marketing is more looking and going, “I noticed this competitor doing something different than we are. I’m seeing the customer change.” There’s one that the leader needs to find out for themselves what’s going on in the world and then the employee needs to have the balls to go point this out to the leader that they’re facing some risk.

Ben, there’s a lot about that willingness to bring up the bad news, the listening side of things from the market, the closed loop process, what’s your take? What should they be doing?

Let’s start with a conversation I had with a customer. She was excited because at the beginning of September 2020, they do their annual engagement survey and they have 16,000 employees across North America. They’re going, “We’re going to get all this great insight.” I went, “That’s great. What percentage of the information that you gather gets enacted on?” I get blank stare number one. Number two, I said, “What is your feedback loop to allow people to understand the results of the survey? All 16,000 people get insights of what that survey meant. What were the insights that came out of it? What does it mean to the company? What direction is the company going to take now that they’ve got this information to build the next 24 to 36 months?” I got another blank stare. I said, “Don’t feel bad. You’re no better, no worse than most of the large corporations I talked to. Most companies, that strategic plan that comes out of a lot of this stuff, 60% to 70% of employees never see it.

They might be getting a 50-word memo that comes out of it, but that’s it. They don’t understand the why. Employees take the time to go through this survey and answer the questions and think about things. The third time that they do this and nothing happens. The next time they get asked for an engagement survey, they just dial it in. They don’t put down any comments. They check a box. They may not even give the right answer. They said, “It doesn’t matter whether I check the A box, B box or the A and B box, because no one’s looking at the information anyway, nothing’s going to happen.” That’s the biggest risk that I see is apathy. People are going to become apathetic. When they think that all this work that I do, all of this input that I give, all this advice that I come up with. The thoughts that I have don’t mean anything. They’re not valued. “I’m not listened to. I’m not understood. I’m not valued.”

If we can’t allow our people to feel valued within the company, why are we hiring them? If we’re not empowering our people, why are we hiring them? If we’re not trusting our people, why are we hiring them? If we’re not allowing them to use their initiative, to be able to help make the company better and help make customers better, why are we hiring them in the first place? There are too many companies out there that think they know what’s best for their employees without ever asking them. If you want to know where the risk begins, your brand is only as valuable as your unhappiest employee on their worst day. Not caring about your customers and the internal customers and not listening to them, that’s what’s making the unhappy employees.

We get wound up in tracking activities. We forget about outcomes like that big survey that was out there. We’ve identified some risks and some of them seem to be general business. Some of them are extraordinary that can hit us like COVID, some of them can be technological disruptions that are occurring around us on an ever-increasing pace these days. How does an organization remain on alert without being paranoid? How do you stay on your toes? Chris, do you want to go first?

I’ll go first on this one because I didn’t quite get to answer the last question, but this will segue into the one you’re asking as well. It’s good that I got skipped because I had talked about having that external and internal feedback loop. Mark Mitchell and Ben did an excellent job of highlighting the importance around that and further expanding upon it. The one thing I would add on top of that is, you have to have the right culture in place. It’s one thing to have the formal process, but it’s as important to be able to walk up like, Mark, you were saying, being able to have the balls to tell an executive or a leader to say, “This isn’t working.” You need to be able to have that cultural dialogue, not in a negative regard, you’re not trying to pinpoint someone’s individual flaws, but you need to be comfortable having those type of courageous discussions within an organization regardless of what your title is.

Having that culture complemented by some closed loop feedback processes is important. When we’re thinking of talking about overcoming some of these risks, being prepared without being paranoid, I’m going to go back to something I talked about at the start, and this is another tactical example. Allison, you had brought it up when you mentioned the de-siloing sales and marketing. I want to jump on this risk once again, or a way around this risk. One of the big ways to start de-siloing that, when I started this conversation, I mentioned that salespeople need to be taken seriously as marketers. They need to be allowed to amplify that brand message. From the perspective of a large midsize company, one thing you can do to mitigate some risk around that is coming up with maybe a social media policy. One that has a bias towards sharing and taking action versus a bias towards, “Be careful about what you say.”

If you create something where you can highlight what other team members have done to amplify a company’s message saying, “These are great examples of ways salespeople, engineers, or anyone within the organization have been amplifiers for a marketing message.” Highlight those and encourage other people to do the same, because what it does is two things. One, it gets people getting the message out there to more people. You create a group of amplifiers. Two, you mitigate some of that risk by setting some guidelines around that. Most employees that understand the brand of a company they work for are going to be able to articulate what they do well and many times, and maybe a more authentic way than if the brand were doing it. Creating some guidelines that provide a bias towards action rather than a bias towards caution.

Reducing Sales Risk: If you have worthy intent to really serve the customer, actively listen, understand their needs and completely solve them, they are going to have great experiences.

Allison, do you want to jump on that?

Recognizing that indeed things have changed and a quote I’m going to throw this out there because this struck me between the eyes, like a brick to the head. We had on our podcast, Darrin Mitchell from Trout River Industries and his experience with an actual perspective customer blew my mind. I won’t tell the whole story, but this is the quote that came from it, “When the guy sitting in front of you, trust the guy on the screen more than he trusts the 6’2” men standing right in front of him, you know things have changed.” It’s the same guy. Darrin was standing in his office and the guy hadn’t even said anything. He’d flown all the way there to meet with him and Darrin said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but are you going to get off your phone?” He said, “I’m watching your video.” He’s like, “Give me a PO.”

I had to share that because that to me is telling that this isn’t doing things like we’ve always done them. This isn’t doing things like we did things before. Listening, creating these processes where people can then know that they were heard and then this is what you’re going to do about it. That closed loop that Chris is talking about is one of the most brilliant things that’s come out of our talk. Like Mark said, they do the survey and they’re asking you, but they don’t care because you never heard anything about it again. I hope I didn’t not answer the question or get off topic, but I feel like you don’t want to get caught with your digital pants down the next time something like this happens. It won’t be your digital pants, it will be another pants, but it’s coming. Prepare and keep that loop open and closed, but keep it going.

It’s a continuous improvement approach to things. Mark Roberts, what’s your take?

A lot of us grew up in an era where we went away for a long weekend with our senior leaders and wrote a strategic plan and we executed it for the next twelve months. If you’re doing that now, it’s not working. What we need to do is be much more agile. It was in the last episode where we talked about the dollars in your data. There are a lot of dollars and insights in your data. You’re collecting more data on your servers than you’ve ever had in the history of your company. There’s more data on a cell phone capability than there was in the first spatial. Are you using it? Ask yourself four questions.

Why do people buy from me? Why don’t people buy from me? How effective are our salespeople and how much more effective could they be? If you ask those four questions, you’re going to be on a path to improving your results. That feedback loop that everybody’s talking about is critical because it’s not going to be popular, but a lot of the manufacturers that I’ve worked with and helped, bad news from the market is not well received. I had one senior leader say, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” That person wasn’t equipped to solve that problem. We need to change that mentality because we’re trying to figure out a new normal, and we need information and we need to find the dollars in the data.

Ben, you’re going to back clean up on this one. I’m going to go to Mark.

What I look at is there are two kinds of leaders. There are leaders who are faced with a challenge and they stick their head in the sand and they go, “There’s this Coronavirus, what can we do? We’re screwed.” There are people who’ll say the old thing about like, “We’ve got lemons, let’s make lemonade.” They look and say, “What’s the new reality? What’s our current situation?” There was a book written years ago that I loved by Noel Tichy called, Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will. That speaks right to it that I see certain people go, “I’m going to let the marketplace determine if I’m successful or not.” As opposed to, “I’m going to determine if I’m successful or not.”

Some people go, “What can we do? The customers want lower prices? What can we do Home Depot doesn’t like us?” There are those two kinds of people and you want to be the one that’s in charge of your own destiny. Since March 2020, I’ve seen some companies that made huge changes in their business, dealing with the reality and they’re doing well. Other companies, that put their head in the sand going, “There’s nothing we can do about this.” There’s the further part of that, which is eventually it will get back to normal. No, it won’t. That’s my thing is to be in charge of your own destiny. Don’t let the marketplace or outside things determine whether you’re going to be successful or not.


The biggest challenge I see, and it goes back to what Mark was saying is about data. The fact that we dashboard everything, everybody wants to condense everything to these little wheel diagrams and bar graphs and bring it down to one sheet. Give me 1/8 and 1/2×11 piece of paper that tells me what my entire 16,000 employees are thinking across eight different divisions. The problem is the manager tells the district manager, the district manager tells the vice president, the vice president tells the senior vice president, tells the board of directors and everything gets condensed all the way down and everybody whitewashes it a little bit to make themselves look good. By the time the information is up in a level where the decisions are being made, how accurate is that data?

How accurate realistically, if it’s gone through eight different hands? The game of telephone comes to mind. Even if everybody’s intentions are good and clean, which they never are. There are going to be problems with the way that data is interpreted from person-to-person. Take in the human factor. If people don’t sit there and say, “I’ve got this dashboard. This is what it says. Now, I need to go back and spot check it.” There are many companies out there that don’t take the time to spot check it, to go out there and do a walk on the floor, to go sit there and talk to a couple of employees. To go sit there and call a manager in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one in LA and one in Alaska, and sit there and say, “What do you think about X?” Listen to them and spot check it. Instead, they go, “This data, something’s wrong with this.” Instead of going up and spending $1 million, $5 million, $10 million, $100 million on a direction, based on a one-page datasheet, you better take the time to go out there and make sure that data that you have is accurate. Whether it’s internal or external data, we need to sit there and not assume that everyone and every zero is equal.

History certainly repeats itself. There are many examples that we’ve all seen with our own clients or read about where the numbers look good, but their business flew into the ground. How can that be? You’re right. That big disconnect that comes there. It’s time for our lightning round. What we want to do here with everybody is I want to hear that one thing or that one long sentence, depending on your preference that our readers should do right now, that will help take some risk out of their sales process and make selling easier. Chris, hook me up. What have you got?

I feel like we’ve had a good theme going. I am going to answer with one line, closed loop process. If we could get the audience to walk away with one thing, because this is something, they can take action on right away, but it’s also something that will be repetitive in a good way moving forward. I found a way to take that one line and say three sentences, but I give the ground back to you.

Mark Mitchell, what’s that one thing?

The one thing to me would be, do a better job of listening to your customer. That would be my one easy to do, it doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t require a big change in your organization, you could go and do that.

Reducing Sales Risk: Create guidelines that provide a bias towards action, rather than a bias towards caution.

 Ben Baker, give us that one thing.

Stop assuming that we know everything and be okay with it.

We’re going to revisit that many times. Thank you, sir. Mark Roberts?

Listen to your customers and listen to learn, not to reply. Once you learn insights, make sure and train your salespeople and align your team to serve your customers the way they want and need to be served.

Allison, how do we reduce risk and make sales easier?

My thought is to be 1% better every day. If you do that, it’s being consistently better is my message here. Your consistency breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds trust. If you want to reduce risk, don’t forget to be benevolent because that’s what matters to people. Remember that it is all about them. Like everybody else here has said, “Customers don’t care about you, your brand and your X, Y, Z widget. They care about them.” That goes the same for your employees. Make it all about them.

That’s an excellent place to wrap up. I would like to thank the Game Changers on our panel for their insights, as well as the Game Changers in our audience that are doing the work to get the results that they know are possible. We are all highly visible on LinkedIn and Twitter, and we would love to connect with you directly. Please feel free to reach out any time you have a question and idea, a good joke, if you want to say hello, we’re okay with all of that and would love to get acquainted with you. Please track us down. You’re going to be able to find this episode and the others of our Game Changer Series on the GettingYOUNoticed on YouTube is where these are going to reside for your viewing pleasure. Please join us for the final installment of the Game Changer series and our topic is going to be Leading Your Team Through the New Normal. In the meantime, thanks for hanging out with us. We appreciate you and we’ll see you next time. Thanks, everybody.


Subscribe To My Newsletter

If you like what I say, sign up for my newsletter here and get my weekly newsletter every Sunday night.

What is the biggest challenge to your sales growth?

Contact me to discuss how I can help you grow your sales.

About The Author

I am the leading sales growth consultant in the building materials industry, I identify the blind spots that enable building materials companies to grow their sales and retain more customers.  As I am not an ad agency, my recommendations are focused on your sales growth and not my future income.

My mission is to help building materials companies be the preferred supplier of their customers and to turn those customers into their best salespeople. Contact me to discuss your situation.