You’re Selling Your Life for Dollars!

It’s sounds cold, harsh even…but it’s true. You’re exchanging hours, days and years of your life for money. It doesn’t matter if you’re in sales, providing service or working the line.

You need to feel good about that sale. If you’re working with clients that make you feel like a second class citizen…dump em. If you’re working with a boss that does the same thing, dump him too. You’re never going to do your best work and create true value in a negative environment. Hit the flush handle and move on.

I’ve worked with salespeople for 34 years. I’m always amazed when I hear stories that involve price cutting or clients that seem to think very little of their suppliers. The reps that suffer this lifestyle sell at the bottom, earn less and constantly turn over their account list. They enable the behavior that they hate.

I don’t understand how anyone can settle for this. A better client is around the corner. Demand it of yourself and for yourself. Trade up. Once you have, create the value you’re capable of and make yourself irreplaceable to your customer.

You’ll sell more and you’ll sell at a higher price. It will be fun and you’ll remember why you got into business in the first place.

How to get a job!

I had the privilege of counseling a young woman about a career choice, recently.  It isn’t something I do for a living but I have employed thousands.  Over the course of 40 years I have interviewed candidates I couldn’t do without and some that made me wonder how I got trapped into the interview.

This lady falls into the “boy I wish I could convince her to work for us” category.  She was trying to decide between two positions.  One included a very clear path for her future.  She would influence the direction but the prospective employer “had it all figured out.”  They knew what they were interviewing for and had a crystal clear job description in mind.

The second opportunity was a little hazy.  This company had a day to day assignment but also had an initiative they wanted to launch.   This new “project” involved finding business from a totally different sector.  The rules weren’t written.  The market hadn’t been surveyed.  An internal audit of resources and standard operating processes hadn’t been conducted or prepared.

As I spoke with the young woman I could feel myself leaning toward the first opportunity.  I didn’t mean to have a preference but found my words to be softly selling the more predictable “figured out” path.  It was simply easier to see…and trust.

That’s when the lady knocked me on my heels.  She decided on career path #2.  When I challenged the lack of process, she responded, “that’s why they need me.  I have an opportunity to help invent something.  I have a chance to put my stamp and standards on every detail.  I can make it mine.”

In that moment, the power in the counseling session changed hands.  She went on to share that she was responsible for her own life.  Her prospective employer provides resources, support and direction.  She expects to provide market feedback, intellect, hustle, persuaded contacts and success.  As she said “these things are my responsibility.  I’m responsible for my success.  My employer isn’t.  My life is up to me.” 

Wow!  She is 100% correct.  I sat in awe and listened to the new power personality in the room.  I had a chance to learn and didn’t want to waste it.  I was the one being taught…advised.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t convince her to relocate and work for us!

Speaking from an employer’s perspective, today’s companies want difference makers.  The higher the position being sought, the more this becomes true.  We have tasks and outcomes to be created and managed.  These are the objectives shared in an interview.  Ownership is the trump card, however.

The interview is full of emotional and tangible evaluations for both parties.  The employer is looking for credentials but they are also looking for someone that fits their culture.  Energy is invested trying to discern whether the candidate can do the work and will they disrupt the environment.

The most difficult part of this process is determining whether the prospect will do the work.  Knowing what the work is…and deciding whether the person is likeable is easy.  Their work ethic and “ownership of outcomes” is the great unknown.  It’s also the most important part.

Through the years, I have interviewed hundreds of sales prospects.  It goes with the turf that you’ll hear the following phrases.

If my company could get their price right, I could have millions in sales.”

“I need to find a new home as my existing company can’t take care of my clients.”

“My boss doesn’t have any vision.  I have all these great ideas but he/she won’t listen.”

When I hear these, or any of their cousins, I run for cover.  This candidate will be complaining about us in a few months.  When we ask where the business is, we’ll be met with shrugged shoulders and a file folder full of opportunities they couldn’t sell.  The missed bids or rfp’s will be shared as evidence that they are doing their job and that we aren’t doing ours.  These candidates are losers in the sales game and you don’t want them on your team.  They’re better at excuses than execution.

I perk up when I find myself interviewing someone that owns their life.  When a sales candidate understands that they are the CEO of their accounts, I’m intrigued.  When they take ownership of winning business and making their accounts crucial to their employer, I want them working for me.  When they understand that, ultimately, they are responsible for winning business, making it profitable, getting intimate with client objectives, aligning our solutions and making both client and provider happy…I’m sold.

People like this end up being the power in the room.  They fill every environment with ideas.  Their optimism is contagious.  Their focus is on possibilities over problems.  They are going to make your market feel exactly the way you feel during the interview. 

These are the people you want to hire.  Candidates out there looking…these are the people that get hired.  These are the people that lead their employers to new ground and new levels of success.  These are the people with exciting futures.

The young lady that decided on career option #2 will be successful.  She’ll own it and won’t stop until she is.  Then…she’ll redefine the boundaries and invent the next new thing.  She won’t stop because she doesn’t know how to stop. Her employer will benefit and find himself enjoying new revenue streams and new possibilities.  These are the people smart employers never let get away.

Accomplish Great Things!

With a new year comes new pressures – goals to set, goals to reach and relationships to start and grow. But with a new year also comes new possibilities, a blank slate of sorts to dig deeper and connect with your market in a new way.

However, often times we let the pressures overshadow the possibilities. The sales goals make us lax on the current relationships we have or the budget acts as a limitation, rather than an opportunity for innovation.  But growth comes from running through a wall – motivating yourself to achieve despite the restrictions.

We are able to accomplish great things when we don’t succumb to our limitations. Take Beethoven, who composed some of his greatest pieces while deaf, or Stephen Hawking, who even though bound to a wheelchair and only able to speak through a computer, has become one of the world’s most renowned astrophysicists.  As Hawking said, “People are fascinated by the contrast between my very limited physical powers and the vast nature of the universe I deal with.”

Don’t let your marketing budget keep you from pursuing deep connections. This year, despite the restrictions you may face, make your best contribution to your business and your clients.  You may find yourself setting more records than ever before.

That said, we’re thrilled to bring you the first Connect Magazine of 2016. If you don’t receive Connect let us know and we’ll make sure you do.  You can subscribe (it’s free) on our website or you can contact me directly.  It’s in production as I write this letter.

The cover feature, “Fruits of our Labor,” explores the underlying motivators that make us want to work. It also highlights how the workplace is changing with the influx of the Millennial generation.  In the second feature, experts weigh in on how they made their business and their brand stand out above the noise.

For the New Year, we’re bringing you a new look and some exciting things to come.

As always, it’s a privilege and a pleasure to serve your community, and we’re thrilled to have you with us for 2016.

Happy New Year!


Sometimes reps don’t tell the truth!

If you manage salespeople long enough, some very funny…as in odd, things are going to happen to you. You’re going to find yourself in unbelievable situations. Some will be exciting but some will be impossible.

I had one for the book I hope to eventually write in the 90’s. I answered a call on the plant phone to be greeted by a woman’s voice. She said, “Bill, I can’t tell you my name because I don’t want the industry to know I’m looking to change jobs. I would like to meet with you, however, and discuss possibilities.”

She went on to tell me she had a specific client that everyone in town wanted to work with. Unfortunately, she couldn’t tell me who it was…because then I would know who she was and the cat would be out of the bag. She simply couldn’t allow that to happen.

Like an idiot, I agreed to the appointment. Why in the world do we do that? Are we so desperate for sales that we’ll ignore every danger signal? What makes us set our prudence aside when it comes to hiring people that say they can sell? We don’t do that for any other position.

The mystery guest didn’t show for our appointment. She called weeks later and went through the story again. Once again I played the dummy and agreed to meet with her.

This time she showed. I sat across the table from a woman who wouldn’t tell me her name and attempted to do an interview. It was totally absurd. I was totally absurd.

It gets worse. We hired her. Of course we learned her name first…but we did hire her. My boss did a back flip when he learned who the client was and while it never would have led us to her name, it did get her hired. She started the next day.

Now comes the fun part. We waited. We asked when we were going to go see the big client. She explained that there were delays due to vacations etc. We waited some more. There was no work, there were no appointments and no discussion of business. There was only waiting.

After six or eight weeks of daily pressure she announced that we had an appointment. We were to meet in their downtown lobby at nine the following morning. Together we would go to the 33rd floor to get things rolling.

I was in the lobby early. Nine o’clock came. The mystery rep was missing. Then it was 9:10 and 9:15. I was solo and starting to wonder if I had misunderstood. Perhaps I was supposed to meet her on the 33rd floor.

At 9:25 she appeared in the lobby. I walked toward her in frustration as she explained that it would be fine. She had let the client know she was running late. Everybody was cool except me.

I can’t set it aside. The elevator is climbing and I’m fuming. We’ve waited eight weeks for an appointment and now we’re late. Nothing could be more unprofessional. Right?

It was at this moment she looked at me and said, “You know I’ve never met these people before” DING! The elevator door opened and we were standing in our target’s office. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide!

What I did instead was meet with the client. I made my best presentation and shared why I thought we might be a fit. I pretended It was a cold call. I guess it was a cold call.

Of course the woman of mystery didn’t make it. She was fired before we got back to the office. Our business owner was furious but had to laugh. We were so blinded by sales lust that we tossed caution aside.

So…what is the moral of the story? Employers, you owe it to yourselves to be diligent. Take your time with interviews. Ask for suitability tests (aptitude). Ask for references and check them. Include others in the process and don’t feel like you’re being intrusive.

Pay attention to the salary conversations too. If the demand for guarantee is too strong or too long, they don’t believe in themselves. If they expect you to carry 100% of the risk, odds are you’re going to inherit 100% of the surprise too.

I boasted to a peer once that I had hired a heavy hitter that didn’t have a single account conflict with our sales team of 15. The peer responded, “that’s amazing don’t you think?” Then it hit me. It wasn’t amazing at all. It was another stupid hire. Fortunately, I haven’t had many of those.

Hire talent but protect your company. Your existing employees are counting on you. You know how to do it.

It’s a crime to waste time!

I remember how I felt at my high school graduation.  I was excited to be there.  It took me a year longer than my classmates…than most people.  It was a victory.  To me it was another party with my pals.  It was just another event in a long succession of school activities.

Then, the Principal started calling out names.  He was presenting awards to the people around me.  There was scholastic achievement, participation, athletics…citizenship.  What there wasn’t, was the sound my name being mentioned.  I had been content to show up.  I did enough to graduate.  That’s all.

I remember the realization that my high school experience was behind me.  My chance to make more of it was over.  My chance to earn an award, impress my classmates or do anything special on a high school stage had passed.  I would never have that opportunity again.    

I hated the way that felt.  I grew up a great deal in that one sobering moment.  I promised myself that I would do all I could to avoid ever wasting another moment…another opportunity.  Kipling’s verse regarding “the unforgiving minute” was instantly larger than the graduation hall.

Time is easy to waste!  We tell ourselves we are productive when we gaze into our computers but are we?  How many of the minutes we spend in “research” are ever turned into action?  How many hours do we waste each week in cyber self deception?  Those minutes and hours are gone forever. 

I’m convinced it’s a large number.  I’m convinced we were more productive when we simply picked up the phone.  We have to do that, eventually, if we want to do business.  We can’t have secure client relationships if we don’t talk to one another.

The research we do has to turn into more than lists.  It has to turn into action.  It has to turn into sales reps making calls…going to see people…getting to know people and solving problems.  Endless lists of names and businesses that we’re going to get to one day are lies we tell ourselves.  They lead to wasted time, like my high school career.

I see the time wasters everyday.  This time of year you can find them in the office supply warehouse stores buying pens, pads, new computers and file folders.  They’re “fixin to get busy.”  This is going to be the year they change their path by getting serious about business.

If they are really serious, they’ll pick up the phone and call someone.  If you’re really serious you’ll click off of social media and invent the life you’re pretending to be living.  You’ll set aside any  concern you have for what people perceive you’re doing and get focused on the activities that can change you life.

I wasted my six…that’s right six years of high school but I didn’t waste my college experience.  I’ve wasted precious little time since that sobering graduation night.  I’ve made mistakes but they taught me stuff.  I’ve offended people along the way but never on purpose.  I’ve been laser beam focused on my life, family and career.  I won’t waste time moving forward.

I invite and challenge everyone to make 2016 a year that is not wasted.  Click off the box and make the call.  You’ll be amazed what you can learn in 30 seconds of live conversation.  You’ll be excited to discover how many people want to hear from you.

Focus on the Customer!

Customers purchasing from you should not signal the end of the relationship.  Too often  it seems that consumers fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” category after they buy something.  In reality, that’s when companies should work the hardest at strengthening relationships with their communities.  According to a new survey conducted by Dimensional Research, an overwhelming 90 percent of respondents who read positive online reviews said they influenced the buying decision, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews.

Your customers don’t stop being important once they’ve bought from you.  Once they move through your sales funnel – if you’ve been able to keep them happy during the process – they will reenter the mix and join those other voices.  If they feel like you have slighted them in any way, the long-term negative impact to your brand could be significant.

The experience must be good or else.  It’s a buyer’s world, and you must assume that your community of clients and prospects have robust networks of their own.  So, a new level of sincerity and excellence must permeate every facet of your organization.  You may revel in gathering a few dollars in the short term, but long-term sustainability is not built on taking the pulse of a market, but by being part of that pulse.

In today’s world, you need to drop your tunnel vision on short-term profit and relentlessly focus on being excellent for everyone, regardless of where they are in the sales funnel.  Buy or “goodbye” is no longer effective in a world where purchase decisions are made before human contact takes place.

We address our efforts to continually support the market in the next issue of Connect Magazine.  The cover story “Never Grow Up” is a fun piece that reveals why companies can never get too set in their ways.  Change and the shortness of lifecycle curves demand that we never let our organization, products or services get tired and stale.  If you don’t already subscribe, call us and we’ll get an issue to you.

Focus on customers!  Look at every stage of their interaction with your company from their perspective.  As yourself what it’s like to be them at any specific moment.   Then, design your answers and programs to turn them into raving fans.

Keep everything in sight.  Good luck and good selling.

Thanks For Everything!

I love this time of year!  Somehow, the holidays help me regain my focus.  I always begin the New Year charged up and committed to a better me.  At times like these I reflect on how lucky I am and how the world is full of blessings and heroes.  I met one recently.  Allow me to explain.

It was a Saturday and I had made a trip to the post office.  When I got there, the place was in a total stir.  They had closed early leaving the customers to weigh their own packages and to buy stamps from the vending machines.  Because this was new to most of us, things were moving slowly.  Lines were long and tempers were short.  No one was in a good mood.

As I stamped my letters, an old man walked through the door.  He looked to be in his mid 80’s.  He was bent at the waist and could barely walk.  It took him forever to cross the floor and arrive at the postage scales.  It was painful to watch him move.

I must confess that I tried to finish before his presence could inconvenience me.  I don’t know why I was in such a hurry.  I just didn’t want to wait.  I didn’t want this guy to interfere with my ability to get to my next trivial task.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him struggle with the scales.  He had a large magnifying glass and he was trying to read the display.  People waiting behind him were losing their patience.  Like me, they were all resenting him holding them up.  None of us seemed willing to share the post office with this guy…this veteran.

For some reason I spoke to him.  I asked if I could help him with what he was doing.  He said that I could.  A thirty something woman behind him exhaled in disgust and left the post office in a huff.  Obviously, she had very important matters waiting elsewhere.  This guy was really causing a problem.

“What are we trying to do?” I asked.  “I’m trying to mail this book to a friend in Texas,” he explained.  “I have arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, so I can’t do much,” he added.  “I can’t read the scales either.”

I asked if I could help him address the package.  He said yes and explained that it was a book on B-24 bombers.  He was mailing it to a friend in Texas.  The two of them flew together in World War II.  They had not seen each other in 44 years.

He told me how his granddaughter found this guy’s address on the Internet.  “She’s real smart,” he said.  “She knows how to find the address of anybody in the whole country just by typing their name,” he added.  “Then she went on the Internet and ordered this book.  We got it in the mail the very next day.  Have you ever heard of such a thing?” he asked.

As I purchased the necessary postage and stamped his package he told me what a thrill it was to find his old friend.  They had been talking on the phone and he had decided to send him this book.  His face lit up like the sun as he talked about their phone conversations and the missions they flew during the war.  He really loves and misses his friend.

By the time we finished, the post office was empty.  He turned to say thanks and offered to give me his left over stamps.  I refused and told him that I should be thanking him.  There was no way to repay the debt that we all owe him and his fellow veterans.

As he left, he turned, snapped to attention and saluted.  It was all I could do to choke back the lump in my throat.  This man was proud of his service to us.  He took it seriously.  We should too.

So…it’s the season of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  What are you thankful for?  I’m thankful for many things.  One is my mother who cried every time the flag passed in a parade.  Her blood ran red, white and blue.  She taught all of her children pride in family and country.  I appreciate that.

I’m also thankful for our servicemen.  I include those serving today and all that have put it on the line for us in the past.  I’m also thankful for the old soldier that “couldn’t do much.”  Thanks for the gift you gave us all before I was even born.  Thanks also for the gift of your need when I was nearby.  I’m glad I was the one to receive it.

What does all of this have to do with printing and publishing?  Absolutely nothing, unless you consider our right to do it.  Nothing unless you include the fact that we’re free to write what we think even if it is against policy.  You’ll have to answer that question for yourself.


Growth is Exciting – There are Endless Possibilities!

It might seem odd to talk about equipment additions in a blog…but we’re excited.  Bennett Graphics has added a new workflow line that will allow us to add flexible packaging, labels and shrink sleeves to our products.  It’s a huge addition, directly driven by customer requests.

In a few days, Bennett Graphics will take delivery of a HP Indigo WS6800.  There will also be finishing and rewinding equipment (AB Graphics Digicon 3) and shrink sleeve equipment.  Space is being built out for the new addition now.

This is exciting stuff with tons of marketing potential.  Everyone has seen the personalized Coke bottles and decorated Bud Light cans.  Today, we’re limited by our imagination only…not by possibilities.

Come see us!  Visit Bennett Graphics.  Examine the new gadgets an imagine the possibilities…the Endless Possibilities. We can’t wait to see what you invent!

Bathwater? Buyer Friendly VS. Seller Friendly

The idea that a given market is considered “buyer friendly” versus “seller friendly” is prevalent these days.  If a market is saturated with supply, it is believed that buyers have all the leverage.  In turn, many businesses invite competition, and then feel pressure to lower prices.

Certainly it’s easy to color a market toward the buyer, but that mindset is not healthy for the business overall.  Data may tell us that pricing is low and the number of substitute products and services is high, but giving way to those variables distracts us from connecting with clients on a differentiated level.

Our contention is that if we simply defer to the metrics of a business environment we are not creating value.  More specifically, value is created through a deep level of understanding of a community and by entrenching yourself and your company within it.

We are not saying that you throw the baby out with the bathwater and disregard the pricing within a market.  We believe that over the long term, sustainability is rooted in your brand’s relationship to your clients.  Just because you may have to sell certain products at lower levels, doesn’t mean you toss aside the opportunities that may not be explicitly clear right now.

When you have a deeper relationship with your clients, you become a trusted voice in their world.  The sale of a lower priced product without a focus on building trust defines your brand at a level that can prove to be unrecoverable.  Consequently, the sale of a lower priced product, coupled with trust, sets you up for an impactful future.

Some of you subscribe to our publication, “Connect Magazine.” This month’s cover story, “Back in the Saddle,” examines why it is important to embrace the lessons learned from the missteps that happen along the way and what future disciplines they can help you make.

Our second feature, “Impact,” takes a hard look at the art of going deeper than data and exploring the benefits of more intimate engagement with your market.

We hope that the lessons we’ve learned, shared and will continue to share can help you strengthen the relationships and commitments you are building with your customers.

Excuses are just Excuses; Go Sell Something.

Fifteen years ago I attended a special service at church. There was to be a guest speaker on Sunday night. The sanctuary was packed and I ended up sitting on the front row. It was a blessing.

A man named David Black walked to the podium and introduced himself. He was born without arms. He shrugged off his jacket and somehow draped it across the back of his chair. He did it so fast I can’t tell you how he managed.

Next, he sat down, slipped off his shoe, picked up a pitcher of water with his foot, poured a glass, sat the pitcher down and took a drink. He slipped his shoe back on and stood up. He walked to the microphone and said, “Tonight I want to talk to you about focusing on what you have instead of what you don’t have.”

I was totally dumbfounded. For the next ninety minutes he talked about working, driving a car, using telephones and computers. He explained that he is married and has children. He’s a successful businessman and public speaker. The time passed at light speed. When his time was up it seemed too soon. The entire audience was mesmerized.

Another inspiring character was my very good friend Jim Pipkin. Jim is gone now. He died several years ago in the west. He was traveling in his RV seeing America. He had already seen the seven seas.

Jim was the victim of a boating accident. He broke his back and did irreparable damage to his sensory nerves. His motor nerves worked fine. He just couldn’t feel things he needed to feel.

Let me describe how this influenced his daily behavior. Jim could barely feel his feet and hands. He described it as the way we all feel when our foot or hand falls asleep. The tingling and numbness were with him 100% of the time. There was no relief…ever.

I watched Jim burn his feet while walking barefoot on hot pavement. I watched him tear up things he was trying to handle because he couldn’t tell how hard he was squeezing or pressing. It caused him to limit his driving to short trips and reduced his work day to less than three hours. Everything that depended on delicate touch and agility was impacted.

Now…Jim was a printing salesman. He was also a boat captain. He taught me how to repair my boat and drive it. That was no small task. It was big (60 feet) and very heavy (54,000 pounds). That’s a lot of weight with no brakes. It takes a sense of touch…a sense Jim no longer had.

I mentioned that Jim sold printing. He sold a lot of printing. He sold enough to earn six figures. He did it in three hours a day. He managed to grow when he couldn’t go.

His accident was just that. He didn’t let it own any more of him than it deserved to own. He just couldn’t and wouldn’t make that excuse or waste that time. He insisted on being happy, funny, productive and…on the water.

I remember having to repair my marine toilet. They’re complicated devices and not everything you encounter is…glamorous. I made every excuse in the world for putting it off.

Jim cornered me and said, “Billy…how long have you been this way?” He made me stop and address the repair. He sat with me and watched every step. He told me what to expect and what each turn of a blade should feel like. I was the hands and he was the brains. He taught me to do something he couldn’t do himself. In the process he inspired me. I miss him every day.

These two guys had it right and had something in common. Neither allowed their circumstances to win. They refused to let their disabilities define who they were. They refused to make excuses for being mediocre. Because they refused…a new standard was set and obtained. They dictate the rules. They control the results.

Now what does this have to do with us? What is my point this time? Why am I parading two people you don’t know in front of you now?

Because I want our industry to make a difference. I want each of us to see limits as exactly what they are…excuses…lies we tell ourselves to allow the comfort of being mediocre to continue. I want us to resolve to change that…today.

I wonder what David Black would say about a “price problem.” I’ll bet he would kick off his shoe, dial the phone and talk to the client about what it would really take to win the business. I’m guessing he would share the answers with management and insist that we step up and earn the work.

I wonder what Jim would say about any employee’s comment that “I don’t have time to manage my work.” I’m fairly certain he would address them the way he addressed me about the toilet. I think he would find it interesting that the tools and technology available today don’t empower us to do more than ever before. I don’t believe he would be sympathetic to excuse makers.  I’m confident he would borrow a phrase from Nike and say “Just do it!”

That’s what we should do. Just do it. Make a difference. Commit yourself to asking more of yourself. Throw out the rule book and write your own. When needs change…throw that one out too.

I’m getting out of the excuse business. I’ll mange my weight by pushing back from the table and my sales by dialing the phone. My work will be as promised because I’ll make it be. These things are under my control…as they are for you. Excuses are just excuses. They’re nonsense.

Jim would let me have it. He would say, “Billy…how long have you been this way.” My answer would be lame so I’ll keep it to myself. I pledge to simply get busy and do it! Join me please! You’ll like what happens.