Are You a Business Owner or a Glorified Sales Manager?

Are You a Business Owner or a Glorified Sales Manager?

If you are the owner of the business, you focus on:

  • Articulating the vision and developing the right culture
  • Creating a strategy and leading the execution
  • Connecting with customers / prospects and creating a great service offering
  • Hiring great people and developing them into leaders
  • Implementing processes and systems that will maximize productivity for the finance, operations and sales and marketing groups.
  • P&L

If you are the sales manager, you spend most of your time on sales. Since most sales managers are judged solely on sales and margin growth, they better keep focused on sales. Finance and operations will take care of themselves.

A good sales manager is focused on:

  • Connecting with customers and prospects
  • Hiring, training and retaining the very best sales talent (even if they work in the operations or finance group)
  • Developing a great sales process and messaging for the sales team
  • Sales numbers

A Focus on Only Sales Can Slow Growth

As strange as it sounds, focusing solely on sales can limit the growth of your company. In my experience, new sales begin to hurt a company if they haven’t adequately developed their operations, finance and marketing groups.

As an executive coach and business strategist, I help companies accelerate their growth. I work with companies that are at a cross road, where the founder is struggling to get their company to the next level. These companies typically have been around for 10 years and have revenues of $10-15 million.

Often, the owner and his team have an almost obsessive desire to grow their sales, yet they find themselves stuck enough that they hire an outside firm to help.

Building a Foundation for Growth

To help my clients grow, I first assess their current state. I have learned that many, if not most companies have very weak organizational structures because they are so biased toward sales growth.

Typically, the owner behaves more like a sales manager than as a business owner. Since, most startups fail due to lack of sales, the sales bias is justified when the company is new.

Lack of sales kills start-ups, but lack of organization and structure prevents sales growth for small and medium size businesses. To get to the next level, the owner and executive team must change their focus.

Build It and They Will Come

When I help new clients develop an organization and structure, many are initially impatient. They want to discuss sales strategies and nothing else. They are like the top heavy weight lifter at the gym who only works on his upper body – he can’t see that his huge upper body looks silly attached to stick legs.

To get a structure in place, I meet with the leadership team and we agree to the groups, typically sales & marketing, operations and finance. Next, we determine what each group will be accountable for. I always ask the team to agree on just 5 specific responsibilities for each group.

Next, we discuss who should head up each group. This step is always interesting. We are picking the person who should have this job going forward, not who has the job currently. Companies and leadership teams evolve and sometimes the guy who sits in the chair isn’t a good fit anymore – maybe they were never were. This step empowers the leadership team to get everybody in the rights seats and playing to their individual strengths.

So Does It Work?

Developing a solid organizational structure with specific responsibilities sounds boring, but it works every time. I get great feedback from my clients on this exercise. Typical comments include:

  • “Our company feels focused”
  • “The new structure improves cooperation, communication and accountability”
  • “Now that I only wear one hat, I feel energized”
  • “We are much more productive”
  • “This is the foundation we needed to grow”
A Case for Service

A Case for Service

How do you give back? How do you serve those around you? Not just your customers (in providing solutions to their needs), but the folks with whom you interact each and every day. As a leader, your role is not just to direct and make known your expectations, but to provide inspiration, guidance, humility and encouragement to those you lead. As that network expands, there are new ways to serve outside of your organization and for the benefit of many.

Industry Associations

Both Not for Profit and For Profit industry associations are designed to provide a strong network of leaders and knowledge to benefit the overall membership. Balance what you take from the membership and give more than just the annual check and conference registration. These associations are hungry for your expertise and your experience in navigating the landscape of our industry. Others can benefit from your stories, your context and your analysis.

Local/Regional Education

Local colleges, university and trade schools can greatly benefit from your knowledge and expertise. Whether through full course development, seminars, panels or as a guest lecturer, you can support the learning of others. Many schools have courses on operational excellence and supply chain management, but few provide knowledge of the brokerage industry and its impact within the larger supply chain network environment.

This connection to schools can help to shorten the learning curve of our industry and can position your company as a both a supporting entity of educational growth and as an employer of choice upon graduation for many potential new hires.

Community Efforts

Donating time, dollars and other resources to various community needs serves to strengthen the people affected and the community as a whole. Raising hope and building bridges (where both are, unfortunately, absent) can create long lasting encouragement for the individuals helped. While the motivation for volunteering shouldn’t be about how it serves your interests, the potential benefits for you and your company are powerful in building the brand beyond commercial identity, but to become a more holistic entity that has deeper context and empathy.

Mentoring

Mentoring can be focused internally in support of your current team new associates, or it can be focused towards groups outside the company or even the industry. As you look through your own development path, you can identify those people who helped you achieve your success. Providing similar supportive guidance to others can raise the level of conversation, ensure more thoughtful decision making and allow for more personal and professional growth.

You, through your success, have been given a gift. You are given the power to change lives and promote positive values and ideals.

Today is a day where you can utilize the right given to you and make your voice heard in the way our local, state and national political actions are undertaken. Please go out and vote today.

If You Get The Culture Right, The Other Stuff Will Take of Itself

If You Get The Culture Right, The Other Stuff Will Take of Itself

“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com

Tony Hsieh knows a thing or two about business. He graduated from Harvard, sold his first business to Microsoft and started the internet powerhouse, Zappos all before age 40.

Most business owners and managers would likely agree with Tony – a good culture is critical to the success of a business. However, recognizing the importance of a good culture is very different from actually working on your company culture.

Most business leaders don’t work on their company’s culture because they don’t know where to start. It is much easier to work on tangible, easy to understand problems, but working on the company culture will help you eliminate future problems and position your company for growth.

Culture is Important, But Not Urgent

Unfortunately, for most of us, developing a good culture is one of those “important, but not urgent” activities that never gets works on.

Instead, we get lost in a sea of urgent activities like customer issues, hiring, firing, vendor problems, cash flow gaps and new business development opportunities. After all, these issues must be dealt with now or there will be no business, so the culture won’t matter.

Besides after we close these new deals, we will have plenty of money and time — then we will spend our days philosophizing about the perfect culture, but for now there is no time.

You Get a Culture No Matter What

Your company develops a culture, whether you actively influence it or not. The culture will grow based on the inputs it receives. If you are not actively steering the company toward the culture you want, then you will get a culture you don’t want.

Your company’s culture is like your waistline or credit card spending. When you don’t pay attention, it only goes in the wrong direction.

Think of your culture as your garden. You plant and nurture the plants you want and you weed out the plants you don’t want. As time goes on, you may need to prune back a good cultural trait that was growing too big or in the wrong direction. If you don’t work on your garden, it will grow in unpredictable, crazy and unproductive ways – the same is true of your company culture.

Tony Hsieh is Right

Tony suggests that if you get the culture right, the rest of the stuff will take care of itself. When you have the right culture, the customer issues, employee hassles, and vendor problems go away.

Your company’s culture must become a priority not for some fluffy social good or new age value. You should make your company culture a priority because it will help you grow your business. In my experience, companies that actively work on their culture also have happier owners, employees and customers.

So What is The Right Culture?

Every company will develop it’s own culture. The industry, founders, leaders, employees and a host of other issues will all impact your company’s culture.

There is no right answer, however some desirable cultural attributes are listed below:

  • Visible, inspiring leadership
  • Effective, positive management
  • I want to work there brand
  • Shared values
  • Collective vision / purpose
  • Individual motivation
  • Day to day communication
  • Easy, flexible workspace, inspiring surroundings
  • Great team dynamics
  • Empowered decision making

How Do I Develop the Right Culture for my Company?

Below are some things to consider when improving the culture of your company:

Top Down Leadership

Everybody in the company has the ability to impact the culture, but it is senior management’s responsibility to determine the culture the company should have. Culture improvement must be led by senior management.

Determine the Right Culture

Employee behavior is dictated by company culture. If you want to improve your company’s culture, start by observing employee behavior. Determine the behaviors you want to see less of and the behaviors you want to see more of. You will know your culture is improved when you see the right behaviors exhibited by your people.

Long Term Commitment

Getting and keeping the right culture at your company takes deliberate action over the long haul. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets when it comes to culture.

Get Outside Help

It may make sense to hire outside help when taking on culture improvement. A coach or consultant that is experienced in culture development may be a good investment because they will bring a proven process, diagnostic tools and a fresh perspective on your company culture. An outside expert will also be able to coach you and your employees through the process. As an executive coach, I have worked with dozens of companies on culture improvement. These engagements are not always easy, but the results are always worth it.

A great culture will not happen accidentally. If you want a great culture, you will need to make a conscious effort to create it.

4 Aspects of Leaders to Combat Entitlement

4 Aspects of Leaders to Combat Entitlement

Entitlement – the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.

Every day someone is trying to find a way into your success. Other brokers are trying to become the transportation provider of choice for your best customers. Some team members are trying to show that they have the skills to replace you. Power is a fickle partner. Knowing how to encourage employees to take on responsibility with a healthy dose of confidence, while keeping entitlement at bay, can be a tricky balancing act.

No one is entitled to your success – it must be earned, nurtured and grown to sustain it. Protectionism is a poor use of resources for sustainability and sows seeds of distrust. Long term success is built on grit, wisdom, collaboration and change. Your leadership must balance these aspects to create a dynamic organization.

Grit

Hard work is the antithesis of entitlement. The consistent effort to prove results and maintain high performance quickly refutes questions like: “Why do we work with his broker?” or “Why do we follow this person?”. Celebrate past success, but focus on the improvements of the future and the benefits that you bring to bear in your relationships.

Wisdom

Contextual intelligence and good judgement ultimately lead to better decisions. Experience, peppered with failure and adversity, lay the foundation for soundness of action. Wisdom allows you the perspective to understand when you are on the right track and when you are off. Trust in your own perspective and those around you to see the moment as well as the horizon.

Collaboration

Organizations, and particularly their leaders, do not exist in a vacuum. New ideas, contradictory beliefs (to limit anemic homogeny) and innovation are energized through collaborative efforts between individuals, teams and joint ventures. Consensus and shared directives accelerates activity and initiatives. While yours may be the final decision, don’t let it be the first and only. Delegate to develop others and to free yourself to focus on core activities that increase your energy and provide the greatest results.

Change

Respect for differences and the power potential they hold allows leaders to make better decisions. One must understand what works well, what can work better and what is not working at all. Change, then, becomes necessary to move forward. Accept that change is an inevitability, as sure as aging and the movement of time. Embrace it as a weapon and a shield to overcome the obstacles that are before you.

Even though you aren’t entitled to succeed, you still have the capacity to find amazing success through your own insights and those with whom you partner.

You Train Everyday

You Train Everyday

Good leaders learn to play a myriad of different roles. They create vision. They communicate that vision. They hire. They fire. They develop teams. They create operational procedures. They create culture. They develop business relationships. They monitor finances, and the list goes on. But one of the most crucial responsibilities of a leader is often neglected: developing people.

If we were to interview future leaders and ask them why they wanted to be a leader within their company, we would probably hear answers pertaining to increased income, prestige, authority, freedom, and personal satisfaction. It would be rare to hear a fledgling leader talk about their desire to be in a position where they can help others better themselves both personally and professionally.

But I ask you, is development of others not a primary responsibility of leaders? Many leaders don’t recognize the need to develop people as one of their primary responsibilities. Others recognize the importance of this responsibility, but they don’t prioritize it or they don’t have the skills or resources to pull it off.

We wonder why our attrition rates are so high. We wonder why we can’t just get productive employees that don’t cause us any problems. Well, productive employees are not so much born as they are made. We need to invest the time, effort, and yes, dollars, to help these people reach their full potential. This is done through TRAINING and DEVELOPMENT.

Training programs come in two distinct forms, formal and informal. Every company has some type of formal training program even if it’s just; here’s your desk, here’s the employee handbook, here’s how to use our TMS, and here’s how to book a load. This piece of the formal training program tends to have a specific time frame attached to it and once it has been completed, there is little additional effort made for further development.

The piece that is often missing from the formal training program is the ongoing professional development that we all need. We need to provide employees the opportunity to grow professionally by providing them with opportunities to learn about skills such as customer service techniques, relationship development, effective communication, time management, conflict resolution, how to influence people, how to negotiate, how to be effective on the phone, having a positive attitude, etc.

The informal training happens on a daily basis as the employee becomes more deeply immersed in, and affected by, the culture of the organization. They are watching everyone else to see what the norms are. How are people treated? What can you get away with? What do people complain about? How are crises handled? What values are upheld and which ones don’t really matter?

You see, you train people and develop them whether you realize it or not. Training is happening constantly in your business. So, you can either just let it happen and evolve on its own (which usually does not end up being anything close to what you want it to be), or you can consciously, with strategic intent, develop all aspects of your training programs. Control the outcome by elevating the training programs to a priority within your company.

Why Your Sales Training Failed

Why Your Sales Training Failed

At TranStrategy Partners, we do a lot of sales training and we have a high success rate. We know sales training can significantly improve sales in an organization.

However, not all sales training works. This article is about why your sales training didn’t work.

The Feel Good Intervention

Sales training is the feel good intervention. When a sales manager sends one of his salesmen to sales training everybody feels good. The salesman is happy that his boss has decided to invest in his sales education. Perhaps the sales training will provide a process, messaging and approach that he never got from his company.

The sales manager gets to feel like an enlightened manager and hopefully get a nice ROI on her training investment. If she suspects she made a bad hire, maybe the sales training will redeem her low performing salesman.

With a little luck, the sales guy will get some silver bullets at class that will enable him to make some monster sales once the training is done.

Five Reasons Your Sales Training Didn’t Work

1. Lack of Management Support

Sales training, like every other corporate initiative, works best when there is management support. A company’s management must do more than pay for the sales training. Trainees need to know that their management values the training and expects their full attention. Ideally, management should participate in the training by introducing the trainer or attending the wrap-up session.

2. Poor Follow-up

To be effective, the attitudes, skills and knowledge gained in the sales training need to be turned into actions. Without implementation, there are no results and the training was a waste. At the end of the training, keep the trainees focused on the agreed upon changes and revise sales processes if required. Reinforcing the training will help the sales team to internalize the lessons from the sales training. Consider bringing the sales training reinforcement into the regular sales meetings.

3. No Competitive Advantage

The freight brokerage business is very competitive and it is important that companies develop a niche where they have a competitive advantage. There are a lot of freight brokers and 3PLs who sell a commoditized service, which makes sales much harder. The positive impacts of sales training can sometimes be limited by a lack of good market strategy.

4. Bad Company Culture

In our experience, sometimes a company’s culture can undermine sales. Training sales people won’t help grow a company’s revenues if the company culture is negative. Company culture is nothing more than the shared values and practices of the company’s employees. Company culture can be tricky and fragile. Even good leaders can find themselves stuck with a bad culture. To get the most out of sales training, first fix the culture.

5. Sales Process Not Aligned to Buying Process

To be successful, a company’s selling process must be aligned to the customer’s buying process. This means a company needs to understand their customers and how they buy freight brokerage services. For instance, if your company is looking for strategic customers, then your sales team should not use a transactional sales process. Your company’s lead generation, messaging and sales channels should also align to the buying process. Obviously, a company won’t be ready for sales training until they align their sales processes.

No Silver Bullet

Sales training is a great way to develop your people and grow your sales, but it is not a silver bullet. To grow your sales, develop a niche, put the right people and processes in place, and get a deep understanding of your customer’s problems and buying behaviors. Then, your company will benefit from a good sales training program.

That Which is Hidden Within

That Which is Hidden Within

“Nothing is more surprising or frightening than what one already knows.” Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, 2018

Every brokerage business has the potential to become a thriving, successful enterprise. It is only a matter of vision, resources and the dedication to execution that either accelerate or limit the ability to achieve success. Business leaders must recognize and accept that change is a necessary part of growth and the key component to reaching organizational goals. Change must become an inherent and intentional feature of the vision and culture – in deciding how to deploy resources (dollars and people), in communication and in how the strategic initiatives are carried out by the team.

One of the greatest challenges for business leaders to overcome is the identification of where change needs to manifest within the organization. Too often it is identified as a sales issue or a productivity issue, when these are only symptoms of a larger issue related to strategic direction and/or culture. Objectivity is essential in identifying troubles and gaps in operational effectiveness.

Assess Your Business – Are the metrics you use effectively gauging your success?

As a leader, your feelings about the business are valid, but are often clouded by recent or long term operational prejudices. Having clear, and clean, ways to measure activity and productivity allow you to look at the business in an unfiltered way. These metrics should align with the behaviors that you want to encourage – whether phone activity, revenue creation or on time performance. Each of these activities must be tied to an organizational goal. Measurements and metrics that are arbitrary can misdirect your team’s energies and remove the focus from where it matters.

Define Success – Create the Vision

The overall vision for your company, again, needs to be clear and as simple as possible – to facilitate communication and to facilitate understanding. By having a specific point of success that you are trying to accomplish, it becomes easier to see and easier to internalize across the organization. Vision is accomplished through a variety of lenses – the telescope, the microscope and the mirror. The telescope provides a clarity on the long term and horizon-based strategy (tectonic), the microscope provides clarity on the smaller daily initiatives and changes (incremental), and the mirror provides clarity about the people (yourself included) who make the decisions about the future of the company (cultural).

Build Belief – Communicate and Compensate

When the vision presented is both clear and has value, the organization is positioned to succeed. Psychologically, people need to have a defined purpose to move them forward. Without a common goal that makes sense, people will revert to what makes sense for them (comfort) and their compensation design (security). When the vision, purpose, behaviors and compensation all follow the proper order, positive actions will begin to take place. People will find ways to achieve the vision. Innovation and creativity will overcome old obstacles and new challenges. When people know where they are going and work together they can see what the success can look like and take/make the necessary actions/decisions to bring the vision into reality.

Execute – Block, Tackle and Review

Intent and follow through remain the driving principles of execution. If there is truly belief and clarity in the vision, every action that serves this goal is the correct action to make. Review every decision through the lenses of the vision and measure it against the defined metrics to verify its quality against the process standards.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

With any process, each time it is completed, one can review what worked and what did not. Identifying performance issues and disconnects outline additional changes that can be improved for the next iteration. It is all there in front of you. It is just the matter of intent. Take control of your present, understand your past and direct the future.

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

What got you here, won’t get you there is the message that we are increasingly delivering to our clients.

At TranStrategy Partners, our executive clients are very successful people, typically the owners and senior leadership of freight brokerage businesses. They have grown their companies through brains and hustle – lots and lots of hustle. Definitely a battle-hardened group of entrepreneurs.

These guys and gals are masters of the freight management universe and experts at cold calling, carrier network development, load tendering, customer service, problem solving and everything else needed to run a successful freight brokerage.

They come to us because they want to get to the next level, which means something different for every one of our client. Our engagements typically begin with a 360-degree business assessment to understand the current state of the organization. From the assessment, we make recommendations and partner with companies to develop:

· Strategy and implementation
· Training and people development
· Improved organizational structure and accountability
· Sales and marketing muscle

Our recommendations are changing somewhat, because doing the same things more effectively and more efficiently isn’t enough in the rapidly changing transportation market. To win in the new competitive environment, freight brokerage companies will need to do different things.

Do These 4 Things to Get There

1. Be an Industry Expert
Shippers are looking for a company who can solve their problems – ideally a company that specializes in solving problems for people just like them. If you are the shipping manager for an ecommerce company, wouldn’t you rather work with a company that specializes in ecommerce shipping? Stop generalizing and start specializing.

2. Become a Total Solution Provider
Freight brokers have a narrow niche – they match great carriers with great shippers and manage every step of the process. But shippers often have other transportation needs like LTL, courier service, freight forwarding, etc. It might make sense to expand your service offerings. The fast-growing ecommerce company you serve no doubt has LTL and home delivery shipments and your competition who moves those loads, will be pushing hard to take over the shipments you currently manage.

3. Provide Insights and Recommendations
Business intelligence, big data and analytics seem to be all the rage these days even though most people have only a vague idea what they mean. I like to keep things simple. I think all those fancy terms refer to collecting data, analyzing it and providing actionable insights. Your company’s transportation management system (TMS) collects and stores all sorts of useful information. Talk with your ecommerce customer and determine if data in your system can be used to help them make better decisions. Perhaps, shipment data from the last 6 months holds the key to a solving a big problem that your customer has. Put your data to work.

4. Focus on Marketing
The freight brokerage business has historically relied on cold calling, which isn’t working as well as it once did. Savvy transportation companies are using marketing, usually digital marketing to fill the top of their sales funnel. A focus on marketing and lead generation is a big shift for many companies that have lived and died by “smiling and dialing.” To be found online via digital marketing takes just as much hard work and dedication as cold calling. The good news about the web is customers find you and if you do it right, they will reach out to you. When customers reach out to you, they know they have a problem and they think you can fix it, which is a much better way to begin a business relationship.

Culturally Speaking

Culturally Speaking

In a recent study by student loan financial firm, Comet, one thousand respondents were surveyed about the dissatisfaction of their current career position. While not the worst industry (Hospitality), Transportation and Warehousing was the third highest rated industry regarding dissatisfied employees. The top five factors for the dissatisfaction in our industry were:

5. Lack of Growth Potential
4. Low Salary
3. Workload
2. Heavy Stress
1. Lack of Appreciation/Recognition

Each of these components is driven by the culture of any organization. With the right culture, each of these components can be turned around to bolster the satisfaction of its employees.

With the right training and development plans in place, employees can have a sense of movement along their career pathway. By providing the requisite skills and tools for each team member, an organization can establish a model of consistency and work ethic that supports the goals of the individual as well as the goals of the overall company.

By aligning compensation to properly defined metrics, employees can have full visibility of their contribution to the team, department and organizational goals. Both control and visibility of earning potential creates a motivation for employees that is tied to organizational expectations and behaviors.

Defining roles and responsibilities for each employee with clear expectations of execution helps to limit the creep of scope and undue additional work. Employees end each day with a sense of accomplishment of their daily tasks and preparation for tomorrow’s needs.

Stress is often felt when people are either unsure of what they are expected to accomplish or do not have the tools/time to fulfill those expectations. By providing clear roles, goals and the tools to succeed, stress can be mitigated and productivity can be increased.

Appreciation is such an important aspect of personal motivation, yet leaders often forget the power of a simple “thank you”. When an employee feels that they are accomplishing their work, the reinforcement associated with recognition of the accomplishment builds both trust and a desire to receive more positive reinforcement.

While our industry has much room to improve when it comes to dissatisfaction, your business can easily buck the trend by establishing a culture that supports its employees and aligns their goals to the overall goals of the company. Communicate, Appreciate, Calibrate and Motivate.

The Quest for Diversity

The Quest for Diversity

The power (and bane) of connectivity algorithms and data insights has helped us, as consumers, to find bounty in our cumulative searches for information. Unfortunately, these same search algorithms push us further and further in one direction or another. Our likes and preferences begin to form the basis of the majority of our information access, leaving us without an important contrary and balancing voice to temper ideas and question one-sided wisdom. While this is particularly true of political and social positions, it also can become a problem in creating a homogeneous business model that lacks necessary diversity.

In recruiting staff, businesses often look for the right fit for their culture – people we would like to have a beer with or folks we want to socialize with outside of work. This can create a strong camaraderie, but it can quickly devolve into a fraternity mentality where equal amounts of time are focused on work and on less productive pursuits such as fantasy football drafts, happy hour parties or questionable behaviors. While company events can be a morale booster, they should be organized with inclusivity and team building in mind.

It will be exceedingly more beneficial to focus on who will challenge you, who will keep your integrity intact and who will be able to make the tough decisions that are necessary to drive growth and manage change. Judge more on character and proven success than on familial connections. Innovation and creativity are the result of diverse ideas and backgrounds. Valuable insights come, not from a single source, but from varied, alternative and unexpected sources.

Look to your anti-self, not at what makes him or her wrong, but what they love to do – that you do not – and what makes that person strong and successful. Find ways to capture their valuable qualities and incorporate them into your organization to provide balance. As a leader, it is your responsibility to inspire those around you – through insight, wisdom, action and support. Foster a culture of diversity to gain valuable insight, help your people grow and help your business become best positioned for changes to come.