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October 2012

Don’t Stop Fantasizing – Especially Now

Oct 4, 2012 9:31 AM
Nicki Weiss

 When my children were little and I had a hectic work life, I secretly fantasized that I would get into the car and just drive away. Of course, I never did. But I found it comforting to retreat every now and again into this harmless daydream in which I drove to a quiet, beautiful place where everything was slow and peaceful and I could just be by myself.

My friend Cindy, who has combined a stressful and demanding career as a criminal lawyer with raising two children, has a little sustaining escape ritual of her own. A pro at taking interesting vacations (did you read my article a few years back about my disastrous canoe trip? Or the one last year about my blissful Caribbean yoga retreat? Cindy was the mastermind behind both) she always plans the next trip while still on the road.

Many people harbour a little private fantasy of what they would do if they just couldn’t take it anymore and dropped out of their stressful lives. Maybe their Plan B is spending six months working and six months bumming around the world, or moving to the country and opening a bed and breakfast.

Unwelcome dash of cold water

However, these dreams seem to be crashing along with the Dow Jones index. As a recent New York Times story observed, the cultural fallout from this economic crisis is so all-encompassing that even our fantasy lives are suffering.

This unwelcome dash of cold water comes courtesy of the reduced circumstances of our respective nest eggs. Instead of daydreaming about one day saying, “Take this job and shove it,” those of us whose once-busy workplaces are shrinking have no choice but to put up and shut up.

This new reality is making itself felt in every age group, even among those not yet launched in the work force. We’re all being discouraged from exploring our fantasies in favour of landing, or holding on to, a secure position that pays cold cash. As a result, what is quickly spreading, hand-in-hand with this harsh new economic reality, is sadness.

A psychologist friend recently told me that she is seeing a significant jump in anxiety and feelings of overwhelm among her patients. In her view, this increase can be directly attributed to a sense of mourning for the death of their Plan B. Without these dreams of escape, we feel we have no options or control. And a sense of at least some degree of control over our lives is essential to our well-being.

Start Daydreaming Again

In these discouraging times, is it possible to bring back some feelings of optimism and possibilities? Yes, it is, but you need to apply some discipline to the process. Make a conscious effort to put aside your “to-do” list for at least five minutes a day and take that time to nurture your Plan B dreams. You might even come up with a way to make whatever you are dreaming come true. Where and when can you daydream? Try Albert Einstein’s method: he said that his best ideas came to him in the shower.

Take a time out

To keep your creative juices flowing and manage your stress level, go play once a week for an hour or two. Pick something you find relaxing and fun, but do it alone.

In our work lives, we often can’t find the solitude necessary for the free-flow of ideas. Our creativity is blocked by ringing phones, email, meetings, or people stopping by our office to chat. By giving yourself some relaxation time, you let your ideas percolate in the back of you mind, away from conscious concentration. Kierkegaard swore by a long walk, Steven Spielberg claims that his ideas flow while he’s driving, and a friend extols the benefits of an hour puttering in the garden.

So begin your solo activity, whatever it is.

Just because the economy is depressed doesn’t mean that you have to be.

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Leadership Tips From My Dad

Oct 2, 2012 9:18 AM
Nicki Weiss

 Lee (L.B.) Weiss (Sept. 21/25 to April 30/82)

My dad has been dead for almost half of my life, yet I think about him every day. I am grateful to have had a funny, loving and wonderful dad who left a legacy of decency and wisdom.

L.B. had a saying for almost any situation. Something about his style made these sayings stick, perhaps a combination of his humour, timing, cheeriness and innate common sense. After he died, many friends wrote our family, saying they will always remember L. B. for saying such-and-such. My mother compiled these snippets of wisdom, and when I reviewed them recently, I realized how much my dad had taught me about sales, coaching and leadership.

If any of the following touch you, please feel free to quote them as 'L.B.isms':

"There are more horses asses in this world than there are horses."

This saying works for me on many levels, especially in work relationships. If I am dealing with someone who is acting badly, either being rude or inconsiderate or demanding, I try not to stay around them. Following my dad's advice, I give myself permission to only deal with people I like and respect.

This saying also reminds me not to be a horse's ass myself (not always so obvious to me). A client who I adore recently cancelled a seminar on the day it was to run. He had a number of good reasons for canceling, however, our agreement states that he pays me the full fee in this situation. As I was writing up the invoice, I felt uncomfortable, and my father's saying popped into my head. I could have rightly charged the full fee, and felt like an ass for being petty when this client has given me so much business. Or I could do something different. I didn’t charge him.

"The last chapter hasn't been written on Nicki."

As I was misspending my youth (dropped out of university, lived in a teepee on one of British Columbia’s most beautiful Gulf Islands, picked apples and oysters), my father continuously reassured my mother that I would turn out OK.

I am grateful for my father's confidence in me. He was able to see my potential when others couldn't, and his assurance that I could do anything I wanted to and be successful still stays with me.

My father was a coach in the truest sense of the word. He saw his children, and our friends, bigger than we saw ourselves. He could clearly see a path for us, and told us what he saw. He saw that my kind sister, who was good with her hands, could be a wonderful occupational therapist, and that my brilliant sister-in-law could be an ace accountant. He told me to go into sales.

I was completely offended. Sales? He suggested that when I was 20 years old. At the time, I thought sales was anti-intellectual, manipulative and boring. L.B. saw it differently. He told me I was a noodge and a noodnik (translation: a persistent pest). He told me I was a hard worker, smart, a good generalist, persuasive, talented with people, had others’ best interests at heart, and liked variety. He told me that I would be wildly successful. After university (yes, I went back and finished), I remembered what he had said. I got my first sales job, and loved it.

“Don’t dig a $.10 hole for a $10 tree.” Or “Don’t put a $10 tree in a $.10 hole.” (I can’t remember exactly how he said it.)

As a kid, I was always trying to find shortcuts for finishing tasks (that is, do the bare minimum and hope it works out). Well . . . he usually caught me and made me do the task right. My son calls this process ‘taking the long cut.’

These days, I think more about how to make my $10 tree survive and thrive. I try to take a stewardship perspective to my business, that is, make choices that are caring and responsible for its well-being. I see my business as something bigger than me . . . something that can be a vehicle for my success and well-being over the long term. I want my business to help me thrive financially, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. In that environment, $.10 holes, and $.10 effort just don’t cut it.

"Different is easy. Good is hard."

L.B. had great instincts. He had an uncanny sense about new products that wouldn't fly: a process that was too complicated; people who were a little too full of themselves; a wheel that didn't need reinvention.

He was a stickler for quality and competence. My father was a corporate accountant who always had a business on the side. One was a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor. He was constantly hiring and training teenagers to scoop ice cream that was exactly two ounces, to treat customers well, to not rip him off, to be able to count back change and to work hard. At the dinner table he regularly talked about what constituted good work and what incompetence looked like.

He taught me that there are no short cuts to quality; the only route is through repeated practice.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

As kids, we were always running out of money. Our eyes were always bigger than our wallets. (I know lots of big kids today who have the same problem.) My father taught us the art of leading a balanced life, and the lesson that living debt-free would give us choices. He taught us that borrowing money from friends could wreck a friendship.

In this age of instant gratification, where bigger and more is better, I bless the wisdom he left me. It has never steered me wrong.

"What's a nickel or a dime when you're out for a good time?"

My father the accountant was always careful with money. Some may have called him cheap. Yet, whenever we were on vacation, he loved to live it up. He didn't spend money in an extravagant way (at his core, he was a product of the Great Depression and World War Two), but in a cheery, life-affirming and fun way.

He always said to be generous to yourself and to others, particularly if you are down on your luck.

"I wish she had the courtesy to treat me like a stranger."

My father would say this about his problematic mother-in-law. Apparently, my grandmother wasn't always so nice to him.

This principle is so amazingly simple. It says: "If you don't like me you can be indifferent to me, but mean is unacceptable." I notice a fair amount of meanness in the workplace that takes the form of passive aggression. We've all seen it but maybe not put a name to it: gossip, withholding or not fully sharing information, criticizing management, and not supporting colleagues. We wouldn't treat strangers like this.

“When she got the urge to exercise, she lay down ‘til the urge went away.”

My father said this tongue-in-cheek about my mother. He was always up for action; my mother was often reluctant. (Although, since his death, she’s become a jock and an adventurer. Go figure.)

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September 2012

Do You Have a Strong Value Proposititon?

Sep 27, 2012 9:43 AM
Nicki Weiss

 Thanks to “Selling To Big Companies” by Jill Konrath for helping me get my head around value propositions.

A few weeks ago I got a call from a company I had never heard of. The pleasant-sounding rep on the other end of the phone first asked me how I was (why should I tell you, Mr. Stranger?) and then launched into a spiel telling me how his company did the best employee engagement surveys in the industry, they offered programs in a wide variety of areas, and they had been written up in the Wall Street Journal.

Who cares?

I quickly got him off the phone and thought about why the call irritated me.

The answer? He had a lousy value proposition. He only bragged about his products and ignored my needs. If he had asked I could have told him I need a service that can either help me grow my business, reduce my costs, or spend less time working.

He is not unique. Most salespeople have lousy value propositions.

What is a value proposition?

A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible business results a customer receives from using your products or services. It answers these questions for prospective customers: “How can you help my business? What difference do you make?”

Strong value propositions stress tangible results like:

  • Increased revenues
  • Faster time to market
  • Decreased costs
  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Increased market share
  • Decreased employee turnover
  • Improved customer retention

Here’s what a good value proposition sounds like:

“Industry research shows that a jet uses up to 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel/day. The airline industry spends $43 billion/year on fuel. Our new kadiddle could save your airlines up to $4 billion in fuel costs each year.”

A CFO would be irresponsible not to learn more.

So, how’s your proposition?

You have a weak value proposition if you start your pitch with descriptions of features and capabilities, or if you try to impress with self-aggrandizing puffery.

Can you describe what you do in terms of tangible business results? Do you have documented success stories?

Or do you need to do some work to enhance your value proposition? If it's not strong enough yet, don't despair. Most people and rep firms have a much stronger one than they use. They just get caught up in describing "what" they make or "how" they do things.

Here are several steps you can take to enhance your value proposition:

1. Use Numbers

Tangible value is typically expressed in numbers, percentages, and time frames.
Think of ways you could quantify your offering. For instance, it could:

  • Cut labor costs by 25%
  • Save $100,000 in manufacturing costs
  • Improve productivity by 37%
  • Reduce customer complaints by 30%
  • Increase margins by 9%

You need to be explicit and use actual numbers. “We help you increase sales” won’t impress anyone. Tell a real success story that includes metrics.

  • How much did sales go up?
  • What kind of savings were realized?
  • How much did you lower the cost of goods sold?
  • What was the financial impact of the time saving?

2. Use Industry Statistics

Some of you are probably panicking by now. No statistics or metrics, right?

Well, you're not alone. Sometimes it's difficult to measure your impact. Sometimes customers hate tracking things. Sometimes what you're doing is so new that no one has numbers.

Keep your eyes open for relevant metrics and use industry research someone else has done. Use trade publications, the business section of your newspaper, the internet…you know how to do this.

If you search hard enough you will have a 99.97% chance of finding statistics that support your sales efforts.

3. Brainstorm with Your Colleagues

Review with your marketing materials and your ways of getting attention with other reps in your firm and your manager. If you're not talking tangible results, they can help you strengthen your value proposition by asking, "so what?" questions.

  • So what if you are a one-stop shop?
  • So what if it’s an efficient system?
  • So what if your products are environmentally friendly?
  • So what if you can custom-engineer products?
  • So what if it's high quality?

By answering “so what?” over and over again, you'll get much closer to the real value you bring to customers.

If you're a sole proprietor, do this exercise with a group of other small business owners.

4. Talk to Your Customers

Your existing customers are your best resource to find out what value you bring. Ask for their help in giving their opinion on the real value of your offering

Most people are scared to approach their customers in this way. It took me some time before I was willing to take the risk, but what I learned was a real eye-opener. Not only did their answers change my value proposition, but they also changed my offerings and self-perception.

5. Engage New Customers in Measurement

That's right! You can ask your customers to create a benchmark. If you're confident that your product or service will deliver positive business results, ask them to measure what you deliver. Here’s how:

  • Ask your customers to define what success looks like how will they know that things are changing?
  • Ask them how they would measure it
  • Ask them how they would like to report the results will they write something up? Will they report it to you and you write it up?

Some customers really like to do this. They want to see if their investment in your offering truly did make a difference. And if it did, believe me, they will be telling everyone in the company about their great decision-making!

Once you can offer hard proof of your impact, your value proposition will be much stronger. In fact, it will be just what you need to get your foot in the door of a whole new collection of prospects.

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How To Manage Smart Salespeople

Sep 25, 2012 9:35 AM
Nicki Weiss

 The other day a friend of mine recounted over lunch the woes of dealing with her unsupportive, ineffectual and insensitive sales manager. After a few forlorn stories, she asked, “Did I do something in this or a previous lifetime to make me deserve this?”

I didn’t know what to say, other than no one deserves to have a bad manager, and certainly not this friend who is bright, hardworking and fun. However, unfortunately, she is not alone. Many people with the title of manager don’t quite rise to the challenge.

It’s often not their fault; sometimes they just haven’t had a good manager to role-model. Then again, sometimes they just focus on the wrong things.

More than anything else, smart salespeople want to be in environments where their talents are appreciated and developed. Successful managers cultivate that kind of environment in every interaction with each salesperson. Every phone call, email and meeting with each salesperson clarifies how that individual’s talents contribute to the team’s goals.

Ask Your Team What They Need To Kick Ass
All members of your team know what they need from you to help them rise to their potential. Listen to them, then do as you are told.

Asking them what they need from you is an enormous act of respect. You are inviting them to step up and become fully invested in their work. If team members say that they don’t need anything, then they’re making a clear statement that they only have themselves to blame if they’re not performing at the top of their game.

Make Your People Visible
Stars need to shine. Sales managers have some visibility in the larger organization and can champion the accomplishments of their people. When you highlight individual achievements, you earn the trust of your people, and they will repay you many times over for that gift.

In the unspeakable acts department, there is never a reason to take credit for the work of a team member. This action only poisons your own well. If there is ever ambiguity around who came up with what idea or is responsible for some achievement, yield in favour of the salesperson.

Stop Obsessing Over the Close
“Always be closing” may be a well-worn cliché among salespeople, but it should be banished from the lexicon of sales managers. The beginning and the middle of the sales process are just as important as the end.

Sit down regularly with your people to check their progress, coach, role-play difficult calls, and help them strategize.

Raise the energy level
Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. Hustle begets hustle…and so on. When team members go too long without stimulation, their edge dulls. Keep your salespeople’s energy up by deliberately micro-managing their calendar to include situations, people and groups who challenge and, frankly, scare them. Personally, my energy level skyrockets when I work with a big group of entrepreneurs or take a new course like improvisational acting.

Brand Your Team ­ Brand Each Player
While branding can mean a lot of things such as a great logo, coherent message, or razor-sharp materials, to me a brand reflects character. Authentic branding can give your team members an extraordinary competitive edge. They have nailed their brand when clients know what they stand for and trust they will deliver. What is Nicki’s character…behind her promise? Why would I want to buy from Michael? What does Joanne do that contributes to the larger world?

Good managers spend significant time helping each salesperson, and the team as a whole, articulate their brand. Ask your team members to describe their colleagues’ strengths. Encourage them to notice how they behave when they get their brand “right.” As my father used to say, “It is easy to notice a fly on someone else, and hard to see an elephant on yourself.” Have each person on your team take Strengthfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, to help identify strengths.

Develop Yourself
Directing a sales team is not the same thing as selling. Nor is it like overseeing manufacturing or running an entire company. Sales management requires a very specific skill set.

You need to know how to coach, develop and motivate reps, and how to hire and fire reps. You also need skill in organizing sales territories, setting appropriate quotas and drafting a compensation plan that rewards sales and meshes with your firm’s overall strategy.

Most sales managers learn on the job, a process that can take years and incur invisible costs, namely, lost revenue and disgruntled staff.

Take seminars specifically about sales management and coaching, or, at the very least, pick up a book or two on the subject.

Talk Back: I’d love to hear your ideas for managing smart sales people.

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Improvisation Techniques Can Boost Business

Sep 20, 2012 9:54 AM
Nicki Weiss

 Last fall I started taking improvisation lessons.  I am a somewhat self-conscious introvert, and I wanted to learn how to think faster on my feet, and how to speak up in meetings without feeling a clench in my stomach. I also thought improv techniques would help me work more fluidly with my coaching clients, and that the classes would add some zest to my usual round of activities.

The experience has been great.

What I didn’t know was:

  • There are rules for improvisation;
  • If we followed some of these rules in business we would quickly increase the ability to trust our teammates and bosses, think more effectively under pressure, sell and manage more powerfully, and have a lot of fun in the process.

Above all, improv is about teaching kindness.  Who knew?

For example, we played a game called ‘Hotspot’.  As a group we turned our faces to the wall, and one of us had to go into the middle of the room and start singing. Of course, the first person was embarrassed.  Very quickly, one of us facing the wall had to save the singer by taking his place and starting to sing. Then we repeated the process: save and sing, save and sing. The goals of the exercise are to take a risk, not let your teammate look silly for too long, and to save each other graciously,
even making the previous singer look good.

What a concept!  What if that was the focus of how we interact with each other in sales meetings?  Take a risk . . . I will save you when you risk embarrassment . . . and I’ll try to make you look good. Sales meetings could even become enjoyable, and more people would look forward to attending them.

Here are some other improv exercises that could help living up your meetings, teach some valuable skills, and boost business at the same time. Each activity only takes minutes.

‘Yes, and…’  (versus ‘No, but…’ or ‘Yes, but…’)

The intent: To tell a story by accepting and building on each other’s ideas rather than by blocking them.

The process:  One person starts a story by saying a simple sentence, such as, “Joe went to the store”. The next person adds to the storyline, beginning the sentence with “Yes, and… he bought an ice cream cone.”  Keep going, starting every sentence with,”Yes, and…” until the story concludes.  If, after everyone has had at least 2 – 3 turns, an ending isn’t in sight, ask the next few people to start concluding.

In our group, some people had trouble accepting and building. We asked the person who blocked an idea to try again, using “Yes, and. . .”

If your team begins a sales meeting with this game, all the participants can agree to only use “Yes, and . . . “ throughout the rest of the meeting discussion. See what happens.

The payoffs of “yes, and . . . . “ to your business can be huge: breaking down barriers, generating ideas, and increasing cooperation and trust. You can also do this exercise on the phone, so it works well for virtual teams.

Environment Build

This is a physical variation of ‘Yes, and…’  I’ve started using this activity in my training classes, and it is hilarious. 

The intent:  To quickly create a frozen scene with three people, each person building on the action.

The process:  Everyone stands in a circle.  One person moves into the centre of the circle, announces what object he or she is, then freezes in that position (i.e., “I am a tree.”)  A second person comes in, announces what he or she is, and freezes in that position (“I am a dog walking toward the tree.”)  A third person enters the scene, announces the next part of the tableau, and freezes in that position (“I am the owner of the dog, holding the leash.”)

The first person then takes him/herself and one other out of the scene.  (i.e., removes the tree and the dog.)  The next scene begins,” I am the owner of the dog, holding the leash.”  The next two people build on that scene, creating something entirely new, and so on.

The business payoff:  When people have fun creating together, they can come up with innovative ideas for tackling sales and other business issues. Also, it is impossible to make mistakes in this activity, so it is very safe to include everyone (even those who are shy or contained) and reap a variety of ideas from all participants.  

Tongue Twisters

The intent:  Loosen up everyone’s lips before a meeting begins.

Try these words as a group (repeat each about 10 times, very quickly)

Unique New York
Toy boat
Red leather, yellow leather
She stood on the balcony, inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping, amicably welcoming him in.  (Good luck with this one!  It’s not as bad as it looks.)

The business payoff: Everybody has already tripped over their tongues in front of the group, so they can participate comfortably. This is another great exercise for virtual teams.

Talk back:  I’d love to hear how you are using improv techniques in your company, and what the business payoffs are.

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Positive Practices for Hard Times

Sep 18, 2012 9:39 AM
Nicki Weiss

 Paul, a fifty-something invest/ment banker (with two secretaries, a corner office and a big paycheque), got the surprise of his life when the foreign bank/financial organization eliminated his strategic business unit and he was out of a job. Paul heard a presentation I gave about how your inner voice influences your relationships, and he phoned me to begin some coaching sessions. His story is a wonderful example of how to survive, and even thrive, during hard times.

Paul is now working as an invest/ment advisor (a very competitive field), building a portfolio of clients. This is difficult work and, for some, could be demoralizing.  Yet, there is no self-pity about Paul.  He is an elegant and friendly person, and here are the lessons he is learning.  May they inspire us all.

‘Not Knowing’ Is An Advanced Life Skill
While Paul has lots of expertise in invest/ment banking, he had some sales experience, and very little in selling his expertise directly one on one. In his new role, he set out immediately to become an instant expert on giving invest/ment advice, and buying and selling stocks and bonds, reading voraciously and attending as many product training lectures and workshops as he could find. However, he feels frustrated because he isn’t at the “expert” level yet and is aware of how much he doesn’t know.

His strategy for coping might seem full of paradox, since he is mastering the art of “not knowing” by letting go of his need to be an instant expert. This is strange territory for Paul and his learner’s mindset helps guide him in this uncharted place.
 Curiosity, patience, humility and a sense of adventure are the companions that steady him as he accepts his temporary non-expert status.

Find a Mentor/Coach
Paul hunted out the top sa1esperson in his firm to ask his advice on how to build a practice. He helped Paul see that his former connections to wealthy people wouldn’t work here.  Downtown doctors, lawyers, and corporate professionals are usually over marketed and often have less to invest than assumed.   He suggested that Paul look for thriving small- to medium-sized entrepreneurial businesses, and to call on them in person -- not by phone, or e-mail, or by making an appointment.  This approach of just showing up is completely counterintuitive to the former high-powered invest/ment banker ~ he was used to appointments, people calling on him, and not feeling like he was begging, waiting around, or wasting his time.

And it’s working.  Slowly, yet steadily, business owners are inviting him in for conversations, coffee, and advice.  He is building a niche of ideal clients.

As we work together, Paul is getting a clearer sense of his internal chatter and how his various “inside team members” (the many voices, both positive and negative, that form the chatter) help or hinder him in growing his business.  This understanding gives him the ability to call on the helpful members of this inside team when he needs them, particularly when he is prospecting.

Listen To Your Thursday Voice
Every Thursday, one of Paul’s inside players, what he calls his  “Thursday Voice,” kicks him out of the safety of his downtown office and into the independent car dealers and autobody businesses (his current target market) that line the streets in the west end.  At first, he thought he’d rather die than do this, but the “Thursday Voice” was insistent.

He knows that that guys who look like him (banker types in expensive suits) are an unusual sight among the autobody shops, so he dresses very well.   He is polite; he is humble; he is friendly; he has an attitude of curiosity and service.

Some Thursdays are a bust.  Some Thursdays produce hilarious stories.  One
Thursday, a shop owner who wouldn’t see him until Paul showed up for the seventh time, ended up opening his portfolio and asking Paul his advice. Another Thursday a very well-connected owner met with him, liked him, and referred him to a few other wealthy autobody owners.

The lesson here is to listen to whatever persistent inner voice propels you to take some chances, and to be grateful that you have that voice.

Life Is Not Fair … And Fairness Is Not The Issue
When life deals you a blow, you can easily be hobbled by self-pity, convinced that you have a harder time than other people.

While this may temporarily be true, no matter what your particular circumstances, resources, and aspirations, the inexorable turning of the wheel of life means that everyone has challenges, problems, irritations and setbacks. And for everyone, life goes on. As the expression goes, “it’s always something,” and it always will be.

Paul’s clear understanding of the human condition gives him the
detachment he needs to respond with action rather than despair when he meets an unexpected challenge.

When life throws you a curve, take a minute or two to whine (might as well explore your full range of emotion), then pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and see what this latest twist has to offer in the way of adventure, grace and insight.

It is always something, and isn't that grand?

Practice Gratitude
As a fifty-something, Paul is grateful for his hard-earned reputation as a fair and ethical businessman.  This reputation got him his current job. Headhunters told him that it could take 18 – 24 months for him to find another executive level position, and he wasn’t willing to wait.  He was grateful for the headhunter’s honesty.

He is grateful that people -- mentors, prospects, customers -- are willing to spend time with him.

He is grateful that his wife is supportive of his new venture and of his current pay cut.  He is grateful that he had the discipline to save money when times were good.

He is grateful that his outlook on life is optimistic and hopeful, not bitter.

He is grateful that his accumulated wisdom and experience are valuable and can make a difference in others’ lives.

He is grateful to the independent car dealers and autobody business owners. Without them, he wouldn’t be having adventures on Thursdays.

Talk Back:  I’d love to hear some of the positive practices you use during hard times.

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Profit By Recharging Your Batteries

Sep 13, 2012 9:35 AM
Nicki Weiss

 Here we are at the end of summer, and I’ve had a fine time.  My summer has been a great balance of work and play.  When I planned my three-week vacation, my work calendar looked rather empty and I was a little worried.  Now I see that I protected a lot of time to have fun (summer is so-o-o short in Canada ), and in doing so, gave myself the time and space to recharge, to think, and to create.  

The result: my work dance card has filled up quickly.  I have a brand-new sales training program called Selling With Integrity (and two new clients), three new coaching workshops on team effectiveness (and three new clients), and some great stories that will last a lifetime.  

Here are some lessons from my summer vacations that I hope I remember and continue to live, because they led to an incredibly productive and happy period.  

Mind the Company You Keep
My first vacation was two weeks at a family summer camp.  This place is not for everyone, since the cottages are very rustic and only have cold running water.  Despite, or because of, the lack of amenities, it also soars with a spirit of good will, camaraderie, interesting and physically challenging activities, beautiful surroundings, and wonderful people who appreciate the place.  In a heartbeat, I found companions with whom to walk 10K; go crashing through forests on our bikes; watch each other’s kids; share meals; go kayaking; learn improvisational techniques and laugh.  

As soon as we got home, I went on a camping adventure with some women in my book club.  We had one misadventure after another (unexpected seven-hour, 12 km portages, lost tent poles, a relentless thunderstorm) and we laughed ourselves silly.  If any of us had been sour, negative or lazy the trip would have been a disaster.  Instead, we have all committed to next year’s adventure.  

In business and in life, the people you hang out with will make or break your spirit.  May as well hang out with those who feed your soul.  If your soul is fed, it’s easy to feed your bank account.  

Break A Few Rules
Breaking a few rules that don’t hurt anyone is a wonderful adrenaline rush.  It can also greatly reduce red tape.  Some examples:

On the ill-fated canoe trip, we just couldn’t face the long portage with one heavy canoe loaded with all our clothes, tent, and food, so we also “borrowed” one of the park’s 18 canoes stacked near the parking lot.  We left a note on our windshield, and fellow paddler Cindy, a criminal lawyer and judge, promised to get all of us out of jail.  

A few weekends ago, my husband and I joined new friends for a civilized wine-tasting bike trip to various vineyards and wineries, and then mountain-biked through a crazy route in extreme heat.  For the mountain-biking part, we parked our car in a fancy country-club parking lot.  At the end of the ride, we were incredibly hot, and there was no close place to go for a swim.  Gary scoped out the country club, gave us four sorry-looking, middle-aged bikers a quick lesson on how to dive and dash, and covered for us with some story of how we were meeting a local doctor.

In business, sometimes reducing red tape can speed up a process.  Look for the opportunities, and live a little…

Scare Yourself on a Regular Basis
While I am not advocating putting yourself in harm’s way, I urge you to try spicing up your life by doing things that you are tempted to duck.  You will stretch your limits and learn that you can handle more than you think.  More stories:

I am a very cautious bike rider.  At the family camp, we took a mind-blowing bike ride where some parts were straight down, and in others you couldn’t see where you were going.  Sign me up again.  

Stuff doesn’t get lighter the longer you carry it.  Au contraire.  When we Princesses of the Book Club looked at that portage, and back at all the junk in our cars, we didn’t think carrying all our stuff was possible.  We did it.

When Cindy took a wrong turn on the lake and got lost, Merrilee and I paddled like crazy.  We found her.  

The lack of tent poles was a good challenge.  Anny and I strung the tent up with miles of rope and I casually mentioned that the tent should hold up, except maybe in a thunderstorm.  At

The lack of tent poles was a good challenge.Anny and I strung the tent up with miles of rope and I casually mentioned that the tent should hold up, except maybe in a thunderstorm.At 5 a.m., as the storm had already raged for six hours, rain made a lake at the bottom of the tent, and trees cracked all around us, we heard Cindy quietly saying the shma (an ancient prayer that you’re supposed to say just before you die) and Anny crying that we’d ne/ver get off the island.  We survived.  We got off the island.

What I learned was that I/we can take care of ourselves.  While I don’t get scared physically at work, I often get scared emotionally.  “What if this speech bombs?” “What if the group I’m training hates me?” “If I speak up at this meeting, I’ll look like an idiot.”

Frankly, compared to my canoe trip, business is a piece of cake.

Talk Back: I’d love to hear your stories on how you recharge, and the business results you experience.

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8 Overlooked Ways To Hire Winners

Sep 11, 2012 9:27 AM
Nicki Weiss

 Business owners and hiring managers frequently tell me they can’t find good staff, particularly salespeople, while also keeping their search costs under control. The following are some ‘easy wins’ that will bring excellent candidates to your door at little or no expense.

Make sure job must-haves and nice-to-haves stand out
I can’t tell you how many times I read job descriptions that are so vague or convoluted I can’t figure out what skills are needed to succeed in the role.  When you are writing up a job description, be as clear as possible on the minimum skill sets needed to land the job, and excel at it. This practice will show potential candidates that you know what you are doing, and save you time (and money) weeding out unsuitable applicants.

Do what you say you will do
Great people want great places to work, and information about outstanding companies is spread by word of mouth. Follow the golden rule of “do unto others…” and you immediately rank as a top employer. You establish a good reputation by treating potential candidates with the same respect and follow-through that you would expect.  Keep applicants informed about the hiring process, and be honest about their suitability for the job. I have a good friend who once said, “I can deal with love and I can deal with hate.   But I really struggle with indifference.”

Hand the candidate a sheet of paper, right here, right now
Hiring someone who seems great, then finding out that he or she doesn’t have basic writing, analytical or organizing skills, can cost a lot in extra training or in another candidate search. As part of your interview process, hand each candidate a blank sheet of paper.  Ask them to handwrite why they are a sales superstar; what they would do in the first 30, 60 or 90 days on the job; and what it will take for them to be successful.
You will see the quality of their writing, their level of skill in analyzing and problem-solving, and their ability to organize their thoughts.  This information is priceless.

Pay employees for successful leads
Ask your current sales team, or anyone else in the organization, to spread the word about a job opening.  Pay them $150 when the new salesperson joins, and $1,000 six months later if the new person is still there.

Recruit from your suppliers
Do you enjoy dealing with your vendors? Which ones treat you professionally and command your respect? Ask the good ones to refer potential candidates to you, following the principle that “quality recognizes quality.” Reimburse a vendor who refers a candidate you end up hiring. 

Stay in touch with great candidates
Sometimes great candidates don’t accept a job offer. Stay in touch with those people by sending your company newsletter or information about upcoming events. They may reconsider a job offer somewhere down the line, or spread the word about your company. Good people tend to have a network of equally talented contacts.

Discover your employer brand
For better or for worse, you and your company already have a reputation in the industry, or a “brand.”   Find out what that brand is by asking candidates what they know about your firm.  After the hiring process is over, follow up with candidates who made your short list but whom you didn’t hire.  Ask what they thought about their experience with you and your firm, and learn from what they say.

It is OK to say no
Keep your “brand” positive by letting candidates know quickly whether or not you have decided to hire them. Even if you are delivering a “no job offer,” this practice shows respect and allows candidates to move on quickly to the next prospect.

Talk Back: I'd love to hear your tips about hiring.  Please contact me at

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The Funny Side of Stress

Sep 6, 2012 9:10 AM
Nicki Weiss

 My sister sent me this piece.  She thought our readers would get a kick (and some wisdom) out of it.  It was sent to her, and the author is unknown.

In a recent presentation, a lecturer raised a glass of water and asked, "How heavy is this glass of water?"  Answers from the audience ranged from 20g to 500g. The lecturer replied: "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it.

"If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.

 "And that's the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden increasingly becomes heavier, we won't be able to carry on. As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden.

"So, before you leave the office each night, put the burden of work down. Don't carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever work burdens you carry, let them down for a moment. Life is short. Enjoy it!

And then he shared some ways of dealing with the burdens of life:

* Accept that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue.

* Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

* Drive carefully. More than cars can be recalled by their maker.

* If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.

* If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

* Your sole purpose in life may be to serve as a warning to others.

* Never buy a car you can't push.

* Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time; you won't have a leg to stand on.

* Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

* Since it's the early worm that gets eaten by the bird, sleep late.

* The second mouse gets the cheese.

* When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

* Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

* You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.

* Some mistakes are too much fun to make only once.

* We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names, and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.

* A truly happy person can enjoy the scenery on a detour.
Enjoy the holiday season!

Talk Back: I'd love to hear your tips about how you deal with stress.  Please contact me at

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10 Role Playing Tips To Increase Sales Success

Sep 4, 2012 9:16 AM
Nicki Weiss

 I think confidence is the most important characteristic for a salesperson: in my experience, the more confidence, the more sales.

How do you instill confidence in your sales team? Vince Lombardi, the famous football coach, used to say, "Football is about blocking and tackling. The team that blocks and tackles better then their opponent will probably win the game." Translation ... stick to the basics and practice, practice, practice.

But DON’T practice in front of the customer. Just like a football team doesn’t hone its craft in front of a packed stadium, salespeople need to practice out of the limelight. They can try role-playing, an underused sales tool (only an estimated 21% of sales teams employ it) that is the easiest and most effective way to practice and build confidence. It gives salespeople the opportunity to learn new product information, test their selling skills and try new approaches.
As an added benefit, role-playing sessions help your team build an esprit de corps as they learn together. The more successful they are in the office, the more likely their success in the field. Here are some hints to make your role-playing sessions as productive as possible.

10 Role-Playing Tips

1. Never make role-playing easy

Salespeople must learn to be able to handle pressure (and stress) in the form of questions from prospects about value, price, competitive positioning and feature/function offers. Tough role-playing sessions prepare them for any situation.

2. Make it safe

Role-playing can feel threatening and embarrassing. To raise the safety level, keep groups to three people who alternate roles as salesperson, customer and observer. Have the first role-play be an experiment. After the debrief, conduct the same role-play so the salesperson can use the feedback to improve.

3. Add some fun

Ask each group to vote on its own best role-play and award prizes. Or give prizes all around, even to those salespeople who crashed and burned.

4. Role-play by title of buyers

The way you sell to a CFO of a Fortune 1000 firm is different than selling to the president of a small private firm. During the role-playing exercises, switch around the buyer titles.

5. Split role-playing between sales peers and sales management

Role-playing groups should contain both salespeople and sales management so they reflect different levels of approach and experience. Management and team members can take turns being the buyer.

6. Make a list of your top ten sales objections and use them

Note, and make use of, your toughest sales objections during role-playing sessions. Your team will get practice in learning how to manage a range of buyers’ expectations.

7. Redirect straying conversations back to the sales process

Prospects can change subjects and "steer" salespeople away from the sales conversation to chit-chat. Team members can use role-playing to see how quickly they can swing the conversation back to a discussion about relevant business issues.

8. Lights, Camera, Action

Videotape the role playing sessions to dramatically increase their effectiveness. Place the camera on a tripod in the back of the room and have the observer turn it on and off. Using one high quality videotape for each salesperson, tape each of their role-plays and the following discussion. Then give them the tape to keep, making sure that you have advanced the tape to a blank space every time so you captured a number of different situations. Each salesperson can review improvements when replaying the tape.

9. Debrief . . . with kindness and support

At the end of each role-play, the observer facilitates the debrief, asking the salesperson what went well, and what could change the next time.  Do not let the salesperson be too self-critical.  Ask the customer what the salesperson did that was helpful, and ONE suggestion for improvement.
10. Document strengths and weaknesses

Keep a record of each salesperson’s strengths and weaknesses during each role-playing session so you can build on the information in follow-up exercises. Understanding and managing your team's skill sets will help them hit their sales quota faster.

To achieve greater success - role-play more!

Talk back: Please send me your comments about how you use role playing, or any other ideas, to help salespeople master selling skills.

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