Sunday, October 04, 2015

7 Tips For Better Team Meetings

Team meetings often suck. The reputation of bad company meetings is so cliche that many companies have stopped having end of year meetings or new year kick-offs to motivate their employees. They skip the meeting to save money and not take people out of the field, but no meetings are a bad idea, as shared experiences build relationships. Over the last decade people are less satisfied with their jobs, do not feel their employers are investing in them, and have less loyalty.

Is there a connection Maybe..

Motivation is a word that get a bad wrap. Many people cringe at the thought of motivational meetings that are meant to encourage their team. People say things like "you can't motivate others", or "motivation doesn't last". Yes in high dollar industries and sales oriented companies there are often team meetings that are designed specifically to motivate. So why does it work for high performers, but not the regular folks? Or is it that without motivational exercises, people get stuck in mediocre?
People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.
Zig Ziglar
As we enter the 4th quarter, now is the time to look at planning your company meeting. It need not be expensive to be awesome and to have an impact. Here are 7 tips to make your team meeting awesome:

1. Have a stated purpose. Do not host meetings for the sake of hosting a meeting. Begin with the results in mind, and let your staff know why you are going to have this gathering.

2. Include stakeholders in the planning process. Get people from different parts of the company to be on the organizing committee and let their teams know they are part of the team that is working to make the meeting meaningful.

3. Have an outside presentation. This may or may not mean hiring a professional speaker, but an outside point of view can often get people talking. Professional facilitators exist because they do provide value to meetings, but often you can get a vendor, customer or friend of the boss to present to your team.

4. Have an agenda and keep on track. Meetings that meander and run long suck the excitement out of the crowd.

5. Be interactive. Nobody wants to have the whole day of a team meeting be a series of lectures. Let your employees get involved and participate in the discussions.

6. Include some fun. A team meeting should involve some bonding activity before, during or after the business portions of the event.

7. Have action items and accountability. A main reason meetings and motivational messaging fails is once the day is over nobody ever keeps the conversation going. Be sure that this meeting is on purpose and that purpose continues after the event ends.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

***Thom Singer has special programs for team meetings.  Call today to learn more.  512-970-0398

Friday, October 02, 2015

Selling Professional Services

Selling is hard.  This is why the top companies in the world pay their sales people very well.  Selling is the oldest profession, and to do it well means that there is always a job waiting for you. Smart leaders are always seeking proven sales professionals to add to their company.  The best business leaders cherish those who can sell.

Professional services firms face a problem that their partners (lawyers, accountants, consultants, engineers, etc...) are often doing double duty as the sales people.  If you look at sales oriented companies, the selling team gets the new clients on board, and other people deliver on the work.  But in a services firm the practitioners often has to do both.  This is what it is, and will not change anytime soon (although the largest accounting firms figured it out twenty years ago that having a top tier sales team was the best solution).

To be successful at selling professional services you must accept your role in sales.  Too often lawyers (and others) try to hide behind their work product.  However, being a "good lawyer" is just the ticket into the stadium.  It does not guarantee you will play on the field or win the game.  

Clients expect you to be good at your job.  Heck, they expect you to be great.  So thinking your work is your competitive advantage is a path to mediocre numbers.

The first question I ask those in a service profession is "what differentiates you from your competition?".  Do you know?  Can you clearly articulate the points of differentiation?  Bankers always answer this question by saying "We are a relationships bank".  They are so proud of this statement, but is it really different if all your competition claims the same unique selling position?  Most have no legitimate answer.  

To be able to describe what makes you different and to believe the words in your soul takes time.  This is not an exercise you can complete in an hour long coaching session.  And your answer could, and should, be morphing over time.  This is serious stuff, and yet regularly ignored.

A mistake that is made by those in professional services is that they spend little to no time thinking about sales, business development and their personal brand.  They lament their leading competitors who are winning the game, but they do not examine what those people are doing behind the scenes.  Assumptions are made all the time, but no research or actions are being taken. 

Oh, and social media is NOT selling.  There is a lot of people talking about "social selling", but for the those who are really finding success, social media is an add on to their success, not the basis of it.  Most professional services firms need to get their people focused on old-fashioned prospecting.  This means attending live events and meeting people and then using the phone to get on the calendar to have real conversations.  Even in our social media crazy world, the way people make most decisions still comes down to the human-to-human relationships.  People do business with those they know, like and trust.

CRM systems are great, but they will not bring you more business.  A mistake made in many businesses is they mistakenly think the system is key to sales success.  My friend Jim Pancero has been a sales trainer for over 30 years and has seen all the changes in sales over the decades.  He says that we need to remember the original CRM system was a 3x5 card (and they still can work today).  I remember in my early days of selling that I had a plastic box filled with information on index cards.  Computer programs are more efficient, and allow those inside you company to access this information, but sales still come from people making calls on live prospects.  Emails and tweets will not drive your bottom line.  Gathering information and repeated calls to prospects is how you win new business.

Professional service firms also rarely do sales training or any type of inspiring motivation for the vary people who need to sell their product.  The largest sales oriented companies do a great job of educating, inspiring, and providing motivational materials for their people, but law, accounting, banking, engineering and consulting firms rarely invest in these skills.  These firms do "partner meetings", but rarely bring their whole team together for an annual "kick off" to make sure everyone is aware of the annual goals.  I find professionals cringe at the idea of sales skills training, yet the best sales people look forward to learning new ways to do their job.

Selling professional services is difficult, but not impossible.  The first step is to embrace the need for a culture shift inside a company.  The firms that have real leadership are making changes.  I see law firms that are telling partners to learn to sell or leave.  Wow, that was not said a decade ago.  Other firms are creating training and coaching programs for younger associates and working to get all of their staff engaged in developing new business.  

What have you seen professional services firms do lately that is driving their sales numbers?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#Eventprofs --- Take Your Conference Content to a Podcast

An exciting part of my work lately (as "The Conference Catalyst") is working with associations that want to take their conference content and use it to create a podcast.  There as so many ways to do this, and each group has different needs, but the cool thing is how affordable it can be for an event to morph content into the world of iTunes and Stitcher.

For some time I have been adding interviews of key stakeholders at events (speakers, board members, attendees, vendors, etc....) to my client offerings.  Early on I would use these high content chats as episodes for my own podcast: "Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do", but now clients can create their own on-going shows that are branded around their own association, company or the annual event.

Do you want to explore creating a podcast for your organization?  It is neither difficult nor expensive to create your own show. As podcasts continue to grow in popularity, now is the time to capture your audience.

Call me anytime an we can brainstorm ideas.  I like it when bold and entrepreneurial meeting planners want to chat about creative conference ideas.  They don't need to be my clients or ever hire me to have a call.  I learn so much from chatting with meeting professionals that I am happy to share ideas and see where the information goes.  So often people do not reach out, for fear of bothering people... but if you want to chat up this idea, I promise it is not going to bother me!!! 512-970-0398.

I believe that a great conference can lend itself to becoming the foundation for an ongoing podcast that will keep your audience engaged all year long. This is an interesting concept worthy of exploration!!!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Advice To Myself Thirty Years Ago

If I could build a time machine and go back to college... what would I suggest to the me of the past?

This question has been on my mind lately as I watch my oldest daughter navigate her journey as a college freshman.  She is doing great and is better qualified for the real world than I was at her age.  Yet I so wish I could consistently give her advice each day, but I know it is best to let her navigate her own path.

Imagining there was a method to communicate with the me of 1984, as in Brad Paisley's song "Letter to Me", what suggestions would I share to myself?

Five Tips I Wish I Could Give To Myself 30 Years Ago

1.  Don't worry so much about what others think.  No matter what is going on in your life, the reality is people are not paying nearly as much attention as you think.  Even the people closest to you are not judging you.  Your friends care about you and the rest of the people do not care.

2.  Think bigger about everything.  The world is really your oyster and there are so many opportunities to create an awesome future.  But do not sell yourself short, you have more potential than you understand at this point.  Don't wait until you are nearly 50 years old to realize the mark you can make on the world.

3. Take more risks.  Go for it... no matter what "it" is.  Your youth is the perfect time to take chances, and it will only get harder to embrace the scary stuff when you get older.

3.5 Bounce back from failure.  If you try for things, sometimes you will not get what you wanted.  That is okay.  You will get other things.  Take some time to feel bad, and quickly move on to your next adventure.  There is a Japanese proverb that says "Fall down seven times, get up eight".

4.  Cherish the people around you.  Older relatives and mentors will be gone from this earth sooner than you think, and your peers will go their own direction in pursuit of their dreams.  Let the people around you know they matter all along the way.

5.  Save 10% of your income from the beginning.  You will hear this advice many times in your life, but you wont do it.  All I can say is you will later wish you had been smarter with your money.  

6.  Always give a little more than you promised.  Over deliver in every interaction you have with people.  Tell them five and give them six.  It matters.

While I cannot go back and teach these lessons to myself, maybe one person will read this advice and take them to heart.  How cool if this blog post could impact one younger person.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Contemplate the World -- But Don't Expect Easy Answers

40 Tips To Re-Invent and Re-Launch at Age 40, 50, or Beyond. (Tip #18)

Outside on a beautiful day working at a coffee shop can bring all sorts of serendipity.  A random exchange with a stranger lead to an hour discussion about "taking back your life".  You never know what power comes from saying "hello" and where the conversation will take you.

The topic of "re-invention" is a popular one.  My new friend had just turned 50 and was is clearly a seeker of additional meaning in his life.  In Austin, Texas you can meet any variety of characters, and Richard was no exception.  Richard is a banker who no longer liked the world of high finance and he was taking a break to imagine his future.  

He had given the last three decades to others, his bosses, parents, wife and kids, etc....   He was quick to share that he hardly remembers his own purpose of self.  He is not unhappy, or confused, but he knows that his time on earth is limited and he does not want to waste the second half.

I can relate. I understand the need to find yourself again from time to time. My own life is full of questions as there is a desire to have more fun and achieve more success in my business.  I want to try new activities (thus the 108 story "Sky Jump" off the Stratosphere in Las Vegas), but not looking to start over (I love my family and career).

Contemplating your life is an important ongoing step.  Go on a retreat or sit on the banks of a lake and ponder the world.  Ask yourself who you would be in a your perfect scenario and weigh that against the reality of your life.  You cannot always have what you want, and disappointments are common, but if you do not know what success looks like, you will miss it time and time again.

Next you have to have a goal.  Without a goal you will drift.  Goals makes it easy to move forward when tough choices appear (simply ask: "Which action brings me closer to my goals?").  Create a plan for how to improve you situation and break it down to the smallest of actions needed.  Baby steps still move you forward.

Richard and I shared a moment of mutual understanding, but we came up with no answers.  He joked that it was good to know that being "seeker" is about the journey, not necessarily the destination.  I pointed him to my other writings on this topic and my podcast.  I even offered to have him as a guest on my show when he is ready to share his story.

Staring out at the lake is peaceful, but does not always bring the answers I desire.  I wish living a life's journey was easier, but it is complicated.  

If you read this and feel you connect with this meandering message.... reach out and let me know.  I think it is better to know you are not alone on the path.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, September 21, 2015

Leaders Do Something

Live your dream.  

Too many of us followed a path that has lead to jobs that pays the bills.  But I believe we can, with effort, find a way to follow our dreams.  I like to think I have done that.

Real leaders, when faced with adversity, find a new path. When some problem appears in the path they build a bridge, tunnel under, or drive around.  The other option is to sit down and feel sorry for ourselves, but that leads to mediocre.

I met a gentleman recently who is pursuing his life-long dream to become an actor.  He is 35 and for 20 years followed a safe path and became a teacher.  His parents, and society, told him a traditional career was a better way for a family man. While he wants to continue to provide for his wife and kids, he does not want to grow old with regrets.  He looked up a few months ago and decided he had to try his hand at professional acting.  He took his first acting class six weeks ago and tomorrow has a call-back for a major television commercial.

This guy is my hero.  

Waiting and wishing is not going to get anyone closer to their dream.  Actions are the key.  You have to lead, even if you have no followers.  Being a leader has nothing to do with others always being on board.  You have to lead yourself first. To get to live your passion you have to do the things that take you to your goals.

Do something.  You need not succeed all at once, but you have to build momentum.  Know what you desire and find small things that can help you get clear about how to go for your future with real intention.

However, bad things will happen along the way.  Everyone faces adversity and the best people get knocked down.  It is not what happens, but how you respond to situations that sets up the future.  I relate well to the Japanese proverb "Fall down seven times - get up eight".

I write this blog post in September 2015 as Carly Fiorina rises in the polls in the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary races (this is not political support for Ms Fiorina).  She was let go from Hewlett-Packard in one of the most public CEO firings in history, lost a daughter to drugs, and failed in a bid for the US Senate.  And yet today she is running for president, and gaining traction.  She did not get here by accident.  She is doing things.

Opponents focus on our failings.... but many who are at the top have dealt with hard times and done whatever was needed to rise up again.  Harvey Mackay wrote a book in 2008 called "We Got Fired" where he profiled some of the most successful people in our society who had bounced back from very public failings.  I love this book as it is a reminder that we just get up and find a new route to the top.

The people I admire get over disappointment quickly and create something new.  They are people of action.

Have A Great Day

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Thom Singer and the SkyJump at Stratosphere in Las Vegas

Get out of your comfort zone and try things that seem like you would never be able to do them.  This jump of 855 feet was scary and awesome.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, September 18, 2015

Don't Settle For Mediocre

40 Tips To Re-Invent and Re-Launch at Age 40, 50, or Beyond. (Tip #17)

Don't live for mediocrity.  Find creative ways to expect awesome and make them happen.

Recently someone told me their organization could not afford awesome, so they would make decisions based on price and are happy with meeting budget constraints.  Their association wanted to proved "Good Enough" to their members.  It sounded so wrong... but we all do it.  Money is a real constraint, but we forget that there are often other solutions than what we first see.

I have done this (settled for "good enough"). Heck, I will do it again.  But I am now more conscious of finding creative ways to get what I want in all situations.  This sometimes costs more money, but often it just takes discovering alternative options.

The older I get the less patience there seems to be in my soul for "settling" for mediocre experiences.  I am working to raise the bar of what I expect from myself, and this is not easy.  At 50 years old there seems to be a lot of habits formed, and many opinions that I have wedged in my brain.  To take re-invent myself I have to be diligent and constantly reassessing my actions and beliefs.

Where is mediocre living in your world.  Be honest with yourself and look to see if you can tweak how you behave and see if you cannot move the bar closer to awesome.  It is not magic, but it can happen with intention.  

Commit to seeing the areas where you are not living up to your highest potential.  Be honest with yourself and don't let your past shortcomings make you sad.  They are what they are.  It is what you do today and in the future that matters now.  

No change can come without honestly identifying your current place in the world.  Too often in my own life I have rationalized my failures and continued to live in the same routines.  This only produces similar results.  When I have taken the biggest leaps are when I see the dumb-shit things I have done and work to not do those again.  

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Sales is Hard - But You Gotta Keep Selling

We are all in sales, and that means sometimes you lose deals - even opportunities where you feel you are the right solution.  If you are not losing some of the time you are not talking to enough prospects.

In our "social media crazy world" there has been a lot written about using social media to sell, but for most industries that not going to get you to your quota.  Few people buy important services from a social media "like", "link", "share" or "follow".  While many can and should use social media to help grow their brand (if their clients and competitors use social media), I work to remind sales professionals that selling is still a belly-to-belly activity.

I recently was referred to a company to present a seminar to a team of sales people.  They were seeking a motivating message for a sales team in a blue collar industry.  I got the impression that they face a lot of up-hill battles, and needed a kick-in-the-pants.  I researched the company, and while I do not work often in their industry, their organizational profile excited me and I was confident that I could have a lasting impact on their company and their sales people.

The decision maker did not return my call for several days, and when I finally reached him he told me that I was not the right fit.  While I am not going to "wow" every prospect, I was not used to being dismissed without a conversation.  He was so adamant in his opinion that it caught me off guard.   I asked if he minded telling me why, and he replied "I looked at your stuff and you are all about social media the internet to sell (oh how I wish it was that easy), and that is not what our industry is about".

Duh.  Of course his industry is not about that (I don't think most industries can succeed by "Social Selling" alone).  I am positive about the internet tools we use in our modern times, but my presentation would have guided his team back to the basics of relationships selling.  It would have been highly interactive to get them talking about the issues they are facing.  For the team to get anything from a motivational talk they would need to discover their own reasons for doing what they do on a daily basis.  This clarity, plus accountability, were my plan for the class.  

The owner saw that my keynote is called "Connecting with People in a Social Media Crazy World".  The message of my talks are for professionals who will meet their sales through human-to-human engagement. He apparently mistook "Social Media Crazy World" to mean I would want his sales people clicking away via the internet.  That is not my message.... that is crazy!!!

When I tried to explain where we had a miscommunication, he was silent.  I tried to see if he was willing to chat more about the goals of his sales meeting, but his mind was made up that I was not the right fit for his meeting.

The conversation ended abruptly.  He did not want to re-consider, and I could tell he had gotten annoyed with me for trying to resurrect the sales discussion (which is what he should want his own team to do when facing adversity).  I decided to walk away.  I followed up with a nice note and a copy of my book, but I wrote this one off as a learning experience.

I am confident if this prospect and I could have started over that we would have found common ground. He is hungry to get his team motivated, and I share this goal.  We both want to see them bring in more sales and find more satisfaction in their sales career. But he did not want to talk any more.  The disappointing part for me personally was I had taken a strong interest in his company and was excited by the opportunity to have an open discussion with his team about the economic factors that are facing their industry.  The world is a complicated place, and sales is not getting any easier.  I was a 100% commission sales person for much of my career, so I know what it takes to be successful in a world where you live by your quota.

In sales you cannot win them all, and your first impression is a lasting one. My prospect had a strong idea (a wrong idea) of who I was, and he was not going to change his mind.  It is okay, that happens. 

Sales is difficult.  It seems ironic when I lose a deal for sales training (is it Karma that I could not win the deal if I can't sell sales training?).  However, when you are in sales, you brush off the loses and keep prospecting.  

My desire is that this guy will read my book and remember me for future team meetings.  This year's meeting is not meant to be, but the best sales people know that "NO" only means "Not This Time". 

Motivation alone is nothing. To get a team motivated means identifying reasons for a desire to keep doing something. I know what my reasons are, and thus it is easy to keep going.  I hope his team finds their reasons.

Tomorrow is a brand new day to go sell.  Remember, we are all in sales -- so get to it.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer