The Effect that Good and Bad Apples have on your Sales Team

18 Sep

A “great” salesperson isn’t just a performer – he/she is a team player who is able to help co-workers due to their experience from past challenges and successes. A “bad” salesperson isn’t only a poor individual performer, they are a bad employee even as they attempt to sell for the organization.

I often talk about the importance of hiring strong salespeople, but today I’m sharing a true story about the positive impact of a great salesperson – and another example of the ramifications of keeping a bad salesperson.

The Good Apple

A few years ago, I was consulting with a company and running their monthly sales meeting. Other than their monthly meeting and separate one-on-ones with their leadership, I had little contact with the salespeople outside of those two hours a month. My job was to run a great meeting and motivate the salespeople while keeping them on track.

What the meeting was lacking was a veteran salesperson. I asked ownership why their top three performers weren’t required to attend the meeting and convinced them that we needed to have the best of the three present at the next three sales meetings.

We quickly determined that Julie was their best all-around salesperson. She knew which suspects made great prospects… she knew how to balance the workload and pressure of hitting her goals… and Julie knew how to close.

Because I wasn’t a full-time salesperson in the company, Julie was better equipped to share real examples with the greener group of 8 salespeople. I asked Julie to attend three meetings and basically, made her a one-person panel.

  1. At the first meeting, I asked her 10 questions about lead generation and the activities she focused on in order to always have enough prospects in her sales pipeline.
  2. In the second meeting, I focused my 10 questions on targeting and qualifying. Which suspects and prospects deserved her time?
  3. In the third meeting, it was all about the close. How did she hit her record numbers over the past year? Exactly what was her sales process all the way to close? She knew the questions that I was going to ask ahead of time and never failed to show up prepared with great examples and stories.

WWJD?

By the end of that third meeting, I saw the sales team’s eyes light up. For the next few months it was WWJD – What Would Julie Do? We talked about how she built up her base of clients over the last four years. We discussed her obstacles and how she overcame them. The effect she had on that group as a significant sales performer was immeasurable. By the end of that year, the company had surpassed their 16% projections – mainly because of the newer group of salespeople getting out of the gate faster than expected. I give most of the credit to Julie.

The Bad Apple

This past year, I had a 6-month project working with a software company. Before I started the engagement, we gave a sales assessment to the entire team of 11 salespeople. 4 of them were clearly wired for sales. 6 of them seemed coachable and had the potential to become top performers. One was an obvious misfit for the sales role.

Thomas was the sore thumb. He had been there for two years and hit his goals just once out of all eight quarters. I joined him on a sales call and caught him out-right lying to a prospect. As I dug in, I realized that there were two tough customers the company worked with – both clients had been landed by Thomas. In my second month, a project manager shared with me that there had recently been an issue with a client that had been promised a delivery date that wasn’t humanly possible. Guess who was behind that promise? Thomas.

Thomas showed up to half of the internal meetings late. He blew me off as someone that couldn’t help him with his sales process. He had a likeable personality and supposedly a huge rolodex when he was hired, but he wasn’t a good salesperson.

The year prior, half of the salespeople hadn’t hit their numbers. It didn’t seem to be a problem with their software, operations or delivery. The problem seemed to rest squarely on the sales team’s lack of activities. And Thomas had the least phone calls, least appointments and fewest proposals the prior quarter.

Harvard Review recently did a study (https://bit.ly/2FrduBJ) and found that “employees are 37% more likely to commit misconduct if they encounter a co-worker with a history of misconduct. This result implies that misconduct has a social multiplier of 1.59 — meaning that, on average, each case of misconduct results in an additional 0.59 cases of misconduct through peer effects.”

I convinced management to cut ties with Thomas. Without his negative presence, I’m confident that most of this team will hit their 3rd and 4th quarter numbers if they commit to the activities. For those underperforming, their chances probably doubled the day he walked out the door.

The bad apple exists in most companies. If he/she sits in the sales team, they are costing you real money. Good apples pay dividends – not just in terms of their individual production, but the amazing effect that they can have on the rest of the team.

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

blueoctopusllc.com

4 Questions to Take out of your Backpack

28 Aug

Your kids have probably loaded up on pencils, notebooks and a few new clothes in preparation for another year. Summer vacations in Minnesota are aplenty and it always seems to be the slowest time of the year (quickly followed by the busiest). As fall arrives, this is an important time to refocus and examine past and present business and personal goals. As we shift to a more hectic time of year, set aside an hour to do a little self-reflection.

The August stock market has soured as the United States, Europe and China’s economies have decelerated in 2019. The Federal Reserve cut rates, job growth has slowed, China and the U.S. haggle over trade agreements and Brexit drags on – there is a lot of uncertainty and undoubtedly, lack of confidence in the year ahead.

Economic highs and lows are a part of running any business. Don’t miss the opportunity to gain market share if the downturn occurs. As your competition restricts, they will under-perform and provide you a chance to gain new customers. Are you ready to seize the day?  

September is upon us! This month can be critical for you setting the right tone as the end of the year nears. Below are a few questions for you to consider as you approach the last four months of the year.

1. How did the last 8 months go? Have you taken time to objectively reflect on the successes of the first half of the year both personally and professionally? If not, take a moment to note how the big deals were closed, how goals were accomplished and why you missed the mark on others.

2. Are you ready for the last 4 months? Your sales projections for September through December were probably made almost a year ago and may likely seem a little out of touch right now. It’s time to fine tune them. If the general business climate is slower, do you have sales methods to overcome it? What is your big hairy audacious goal for this year? Which goal needs to be put aside for the moment – so you have the time to ensure that you surpass your gross margin goals?

3. What else do you need? Do you have the support and resources around you to hit your numbers? Who can help? Have you reached out to them? People make the world go round and often we fail to simply ask for support and guidance.

4. Are you happy? We probably don’t ask ourselves this question often enough. Do you have the right position and work environment – or is that something you need to work on before 2020 is upon us? Do you have the best team around you? Whether you are the manager or not, you have an influence on your team and culture.

This 2/3’s turn of 2019 must be a time for questions and reflection as you charge forward. If you are behind, it’s still possible to catch up. If you are asleep at the wheel, a good year can turn south quickly. And if you are on track, examine what you accomplished and how it can be repeated or even improved upon.

Good luck accomplishing your remaining 2019 goals!

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

blueoctopusllc.com

The Game of Tones

21 Aug

Woot woot! John Snow and Winter are no longer coming – and the final episodes of G.o.T. are finally behind us. I never watched the show for the sake of time, but it’s 67 episodes are on my list of things to do when I retire!

Today’s topic is about your voice. If you are in sales or leadership, it’s vital that you understand the importance of your tone and pitch in communication – certainly in the workplace, but it comes in handy outside of work as well.

When I had the opportunity to be on the radio this past spring, I did a self-examination and put my voice under the microscope – specifically for the radio program, but also as an ongoing examination of “What do I really sound like?” and I went through the list below on the 8 areas in which you can improve upon your communication.

  1. Volume. Identify if you are a quiet, medium or loud talker. You don’t hear yourself the way others hear you (hence, record it!) so you are probably going to have to ask others for feedback if you are unaware. Adjust your volume to the appropriate level for any given situation.

2. Tone. In speaking, as opposed to music, higher or stronger intonation is created by using more volume. More volume – or loudness, in the musical sense – does not raise the tone to a higher pitch. Sometimes the most effective method is lowering your voice. The psychology says that people key into those words because of the change and take your calmer sounds more seriously.

3. Pitch. Your pitch can refer to intonation, but it can also refer to the overall level of brightness in tone that a speaker consistently maintains. According to the BBC World Report on NPR, British speakers generally speak with a higher pitch than American speakers. Of course, everyone is different, but there is some general truth to this.

The higher the pitch, the louder one’s voice will sound. To the extent that pitch is like intonation, there is the potential for misunderstandings when we consider pragmatic language. There is also the potential for simply not being understood at all by using intonation and stress patterns in both words and phrases that are foreign and unfamiliar to native speakers.

4. Speed. The number of words communicated over one minute has everything to do with the setting and audience.

  • In a speech, you slow down…
  • On the radio, you exaggerate your annunciation of words at a steady pace (but don’t pause for more than 1 second!)…
  • Over the phone, you also focus on pronunciation but should pause occasionally throughout the conversation…
  • In person, pronunciation isn’t as important as your pace and pauses…
  • One on one with your best friend, you probably talk twice as fast as normal…
  • And of course, around your grandparents, your speed slows down…

See a theme here? You are probably talking too fast and your listener is missing a lot of your message.

5. Confidence. You must be aware of the fine line between confident and cocky. If you are boasting, it should start with a self-deprecating comment. Whatever you do, don’t use a booming voice when you are across the table from someone or you’re likelier to sound cocky versus confident. Confidence is important in creating conviction behind your statements. You want the audience to believe you so convey confidence in your words. Too many hesitations, “um’s” and “ah’s” as well as licking your lips may cause the listener to doubt you.

6. Listening. An underrated component in understanding your own voice is being a better listener. Are you aware of the volume, tone and pitch of others? Do you consciously listen for it over the phone? If you can hear it in others, you can start to hear yourself better (at least when you record it and play it back to yourself). If you show a genuine interest in their words, you are more likely to receive the same level of interest from the other side.

7. Authenticity. I’m a HUGE believer in authenticity, as many of you know. This isn’t about faking it, it’s about training yourself to communicate better. It’s not about changing your personality, it’s about raising the volume of your mousy voice or slowing down your motor mouth. We all have a natural style with some bad habits – similar to learning how to use “bigger” words or spell correctly, we all need to work on the sounds that come out of our mouths.

8. Non-verbals. Your audible words along with non-verbals all play into communication style. Make sure your physical positioning is in sync with your voice, so you’re easily understood. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Are you pursing, biting or licking your lips?
  • Are you maintaining a balanced level of eye contact with your audience?
  • Is your body in line with the listener(s)?
  • Are your hand movements in sync with your message?
  • Are you crossing your arms and looking disagreeable?
  • Is your body language relaxed and approachable?

Here is a link that will give you more non-verbal suggestions: https://bit.ly/2x2rESK

Practice makes perfect.

The key to really getting others to listen to you is your own curiosity. Analyze yourself and others’ communication styles. When talking with others, use their first name and ask questions. NOW they are interested in what you have to say.

Practicing these habits rewires your brain and soon the changes won’t have to be conscious (21 days creates a new habit!). As you record yourself on video, you are going to see other habits to be aware of as well. I’ve managed and coached salespeople for years and I’m adamant that they should record their presentations quarterly in order to watch and hear themselves and hone their craft.

Since it’s impossible to make a living without communicating with other humans, make the most of it. We all want to be understood. Never stop working on helping others understand you clearly by refining your communication skills.

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

blueoctopusllc.com

Changes to Your Business Bookshelf

23 Jul
No longer a classic.

Good to Great… it’s time to put it away along with Collin’s Build to Last and Tom Peter’s In Search of Greatness. They made a lot of money off us over the years, but their philosophies were false, and they are outdated today. At the bottom of this blog, I have a list of 11 books that I would recommend.

Between those three aforementioned books, Tom & Tom named 50 successful businesses that were destined for long-term success. 19 of those companies beat the market… 13 succeeded to meet projections. That leaves 18 that failed including Maytag, Ford, HP, IBM, Delta, Kodak, Citicorp, Motorola, Sony, Pitney Bowes, Fannie Mae and Circuit City.

What did the Toms have wrong? Only two major things:

  1. They had NO IDEA what technology was going to do to these titanic companies. I can forgive them here.
  2. These companies are all running their companies on short-cited decisions that focus on profits NOW. Their stock value TODAY.

I won’t delve into the technology boom and unpredictability of the internet that brought Wi-Fi and an astronomical shift to cell phones and smaller devices. Only a few of the technology greats predicted it would happen as quickly as it did.

But #2 has stuck in my craw throughout my lifetime. Why are we making stupid decisions in major companies and pretending its wisdom? Everything I’ve seen in publicly traded companies is based on squeezing the most out of the orange this quarter. Even the model companies like Apple, Facebook and Google are under this same pressure.

The leading companies on this list are following the same path. Sure, go ahead and invest in them because half of them will succeed and pad your retirement – but we must make some changes in America. Or at the very least, in your business.

Don’t run your business like a publicly traded company. Stop looking at Wal-Mart, Philip Morris, Merck, Disney and Johnson & Johnson like they have something to teach you. They are hiring and firing without emotion, they are destroying our environment (or at least China’s), they are gluing our eyes to screens like never before and they are propagating an epidemic of “medicines” and mental health into our U.S. culture.

Instead, build your business making long-term decisions surrounding profit – and an authentic culture.

A few books to read in 2019:

  • DO NOT put away Carnegie’s How to Win Friends
  • …or the Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • The Snowball -Warren Buffet
  • Crush It! -Gary Vaynerchuk
  • The 4-Hour Workweek (becoming an oldie but goodie) -Tim Ferriss
  • Drive -David Pink
  • Predictable Revenue -Aaron Ross and MaryLou Tyler
  • Smartcuts -Shane Snow
  • Learned Optimism -Martin Seligman
  • Mojo -Marshall Goldsmith
  • Rework -Jason Fried and David Henemeier

Next week, I will write about one more book that should come off your shelf as well as recommend a list of business books focused on sales management and business development.

I’d like to hear about what’s on your bookshelf. Please comment or drop me an email!

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

blueoctopusllc.com

LinkedIn Messaging

22 Jul

Just a short and sweet blog today. I’m curious about how people that are having success marketing through unpaid messaging on LinkedIn.

I’m getting saturated with messages from connections (literally 4-5 daily). They are easy to spot from the word GO because they tend to be long messages and have links or attachments. I just ignore them and move on.

The only luck we’ve had messaging strangers with LinkedIn (or via email) is sending brief and clear messages to open the conversation.

Hi George, we do this. If you have any interest, please reach out.” ~Drew

So I’m befuddled by the methodology. The only thing I can think of that is working for salespeople is that they are sending out 1,000 messages a day and playing the old “spin the bottle” mass email method. If you are doing this, shorten your message and I think you’ll be taken more seriously and have more success.

There’s got to be a better way to prospect?

I’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to comment below or drop me a message directly.

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

blueoctopusllc.com

YOU are the Sale

17 Jul

In 2019, we are selling ourselves. It doesn’t matter what your position might be – frankly, it becomes more and more important the higher you are in a company. And as an entry level salesperson, you carry YOU forward – whether that’s at the same company all your life or more likely, whatever career is generated from your first few years in the workplace.

How do you sell yourself today?

1 – You have a kick-butt LinkedIn profile. Because that’s what professional people do. You also have other social media sites – at least Facebook – where you are community-facing on a regular basis. In the old days, networking happened in your neighborhood or at your place of worship or the grocery store where you knew everyone. Today, it’s on the world wide web.

2 – You operate every day with every person under the golden rule. People around you start saying (because you usually succeed at living the golden rule), “I wonder what that guy does…”. They won’t listen or remember – unless they ask with genuine curiosity. That curiosity only comes when they like you as a human being.

I grew up learning from people and many sales books that the buyer didn’t need to like you. It’s actually true – but then you can only be one thing – an expert with a perfect product or service. In case you aren’t the expert yet and/or your product service is only very good in a competitive field, genuine, trusting relationships go a long way in the ten years that I’ve been running my own business.

3 – You are authentic. Part of being likeable is being vulnerable. You have a couple warts and you talk about them openly.

For example, I don’t like golf. That makes me a bit odd in the business community, but I haven’t played a hole since my third child was born. Somehow, I’m accepted.

I’m also a spazz. My children and fiance definitely understand this. They also know they can say “shoosh you dumb bear”… and I’ll immediately realize that I might be talking an octave too high about something that probably isn’t that big of a deal.

4 – You strive to be the best in the world at something. It doesn’t have to be work-related because whatever it is, it makes you human and helps people remember you. I’m not the best in the world (yet) but my passions and talents are in writing. I’m a recruiter, consultant and salesman, so I decided to put off the fiction novel and pour my efforts into these blogs and business books until I’m 50 (then I write the novel).

If you have these four principles above well in hand, there are many directions you can go from there. It’s all about taking your passions and making you memorable – beyond the privacy of your friends and family...

You’re good at golfing… then represent your company at EVERY charity tournament this year.

You’re a juggler… then learn how to juggle EVERYTHING and tell everyone about it (think concise, short stories 🙂 ).

You love to travel… is your office covered with pictures from your vacations away? What’s the front-page screensaver on your phone? Buy a padfolio with photos on the cover. Start a blog for photos or writings.

You’re a pastry chef… then why isn’t EVERYONE at your office getting a birthday cupcake from you every year? Or maybe deliver some cakes to your clients? They will think you are nutty… but they won’t forget you.

You’ve got a heckuva story to tell… you don’t have to be a writer to be an author. What would be cooler than starting your own book? I can help you with that one if you reach out.

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

Pivoting around Chickens Rabbits and Zip Lines

15 Jul


Drew Schmitz
Sales Recruiter (Blue Octopus LLC) | SalesContingent Coach (Grow Faster LLC)… See more74 articles

Since “pivot” has been a common theme of mine the past month, I thought I would share a couple stories about personal pivoting – which is obviously a key strategy in any organization trying to make a profit.

We use the verb version of the word pivot in business to describe a rotation, turn, spin, swivel, twirl or whirl in our business strategy. You might be selling to European truck drivers in 2018 and suddenly you find there is a better market for plumbing and HVAC companies in 2019. It often doesn’t make any sense until it starts to happen to us…

PART 1: HOOPS & ZIP LINES

About four weeks ago, I was putting the finishing touches on a basketball hoop for my 14-year-old son, Jonah. It had literally taken me a YEAR to complete – the pole needed to be cemented into the ground… then I had to fill it with cement which took four additional days (when it wasn’t raining). But slowly, and surely, we were building the world’s coolest basketball hoop for my future NBA All-star (hopefully he turns out taller than me)!

The last step was attaching the glass backboard, rim and net. I was beyond bored with the process and had other backyard tasks, so I hired David, a handyman, for a 1/2 day to help finish it as well as assist me with a couple of other projects.

As they were tightening the bolts on the backboard (my son holding it, David attaching it and me running back and forth with tools), the basketball hoop’s post snapped in half and almost killed my son. Jonah walked away with a bruising scrape on his back but was otherwise, entirely intact. I have no idea what happened and had an attorney come out and take pictures; I followed every bloody step of the instructions (and I hate instructions) and even re-examined the process after-the-fact.

A week later, I asked my son, “Jonah, how about we skip the stupid hoop and I finally build that zip-line off the treehouse that I’ve been promising for years?”

“That would be pretty cool…” Time to PIVOT!

PART TWO: CHICKENS

About three weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter, Amelie, asks me “Dad, can we get chickens?”

“Huh, what?” I asked.

“Well, we are raising chickens in science class and we can buy one for $5 and bring it home at the end of the year.”

“Cool!” I stupidly respond. “Let’s do it! Get two but make sure they are hens,” All she had to do was bring a permission slip signed by a parent to class and come up with $10.

My fiancé rolled her eyes at me as soon as I excitedly shared the news. “We’ll have to build a chicken coop…” I was already running ahead to raising chickens.

“What in the world do you know about raising chickens? What are you going to do with them in the winter? Have you Googled or researched anything?” she asked me.

“Um… it will be fun. If we don’t like them, we’ll just get rid of them at the end of the summer!”

And… so it began (we’ll finish this story after Part 3)…

PART 3: RABBITS

About 2 weeks ago, I stopped by a bar that serves up my favorite burger and the bartender overheard my fiancé and I discussing our pet rabbits (we have two “free range” bunnies that have roamed the backyard for the last 2 years and we almost never lock them in their hutch).

Kevin, the bartender, starts asking us questions leading to… “Do you want my rabbit, Winchester? I’m pretty sure he’s fixed… I got him from a lady that didn’t want him any more…”

A week later, Winchester arrives at our home. He wasn’t fixed and immediately started mating with our male and female rabbits (Jonathan & Domino).

PART 4: BACK TO THE CHICKENS…

My daughter failed to turn in the permission slip (or get me the teacher’s contact info) and so the last day of school came and went and we were chicken-less.

So, Winchester is now in the half-finished chicken coop. We have a vet friend that has fixed the other two rabbits, but she’s gone for the summer. I’m going to build a better coop and am shooting for autumn chicks… that way we can actually have adult, egg-laying hens next spring.

PIVOT! I wanted a basketball hoop and chickens this spring… but I end up with a cool, new rabbit (albeit a bit randy) PLUS I will have a zip-line by the 4th of July.

Have you considered pivoting your sales strategy of late? If you don’t, life has a way of forcing you to pivot. Ideally, you are planning ahead, and you’ll experience less chaos.

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

Collecting A/R from Scoundrels

10 Jul

A friend of mine has done a lot of individual projects for book authors, editing and helping them get to the publishing stage (please reach out if you’d like an introduction). In April, she took on a new “high profile” client (we will call him “D”).

D still hasn’t paid her 90 days later. I could mud-sling and share his name with you (if you are a Minnesotan in business, you no doubt know his name), but I’ll spare getting thrown too far into that circus – with that clown…

Today, I’d like to focus on A/R and collections. If you sell something, it’s darn important that you collect your money. As a self-employed businessman, I learned this early in my career. If you are a salesperson, you need to land paying clients, or your commissions will be reduced. As a sales leader, your job may depend upon it. As an owner or C-level leader, it’s our meat and potatoes!

I’ve been fortunate to have few troubles collecting from my Blue Octopus clients and have ended up in small claims court only once. I make sure a contract is signed as I collect the retainer. Also, I usually know them first-hand or they are recommended to me by someone I personally already know.

So, in our example, what went wrong? What did Amanda control?

1.      She didn’t ask for the money up front.

I’ve worked in the temporary staffing universe in the past. It was the worst-case scenario because we paid our employees/contractors weekly at Jeane Thorne… and the client paid monthly; or in the case of the fortune 1000’s, we got paid every 60 days.

At Blue Octopus, I do everything (including consulting projects) on a retainer. You don’t have to ask for a lot of money but getting the invoice, W-2 and a small stipend out of the way early definitely helps.

2.      No contract was signed.

It was fishy from the very beginning. The book publisher met at their offices with Amanda and D to discuss the rough draft of the book. No one signed a contract. It was a friend of a friend deal, and it seemed like Amanda could take it at face value. Unfortunately, she has learned otherwise.

3.      The end-client / author had a “reputation” for paying slow or not at all.

Not sure I have to say anything more.

4.      It was unclear who was responsible for the invoice.

The client that hired Amanda did it in an odd fashion. The manuscript was delivered in person to Amanda’s home. The email addresses given to Amanda were all personal emails. It was fishy to say the least. We’ve found out in the end that the employee did the project “off books”. She, of course, didn’t claim responsibility – and D, the scoundrel – errrr “author”, has disappeared.

5.      She didn’t “chase” the collection very aggressively after 30 days.

I always make a phone call if an invoice hasn’t been paid in the first four weeks. It’s amazing how a polite phone call can turn it around that very week.

6.      Amanda didn’t chase it aggressively at 60 days.

In fact, at this point, everyone was ghosting her. There was never a follow up meeting to go over Amanda’s 30 hours of edits. The “three-week project” was delayed and delayed and delayed… thanks to the devil-who-shall-not-be-named. He said the book would be out last September, then March… Ummmmm, what?

7.      It’s dead by the third month…

The money is gone at this point. Amanda thought she had the golden ticket because she was the only one with a copy of the edits. She thought she had a long-standing publishing company backing the project. We all take risks when we take on new clients. Amanda is not the dumb person here, but you better believe, she’s going to modify her process for the next client.

The Moral of the Story?

Be mindful of some of the steps above when starting out with a new client. Also, don’t do business with dumb people. They do dumb things and don’t care about their reputation. If they’ve cheated in the past, they are going to cheat again. And Amanda, if the book sucks after your first read-through, maybe chalk that up to the price of doing business and pass on it?

Amanda has some decisions to make. She’s obviously not going to be getting her check but there isn’t a digital copy of the manuscript (because the client is dumb) and she has all the edits. I will pass on any of your recommendations to her.

Good luck to everyone with your collections!

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

8 Characteristics of Inauthentic Leadership

17 Apr

authentic

Authentic leaders stay true to who they are and are comfortable voicing their own truths. They aren’t pressured into decisions or judgments by outside influences. Because of this, people who are authentic succeed over their competition.

Do You Have Any of These Flaws?

dumbo1. The unauthentic don’t expose their own faults. Instead, they hide their flaws and try to make themselves look ‘perfect’ which drives people away. A few years ago, I wrote a piece about “the fat fireman”. Essentially, I told the story about a disarming neighbor that cracked jokes and always had a smile on his face. I compared him to an intelligent attorney who always wore an expensive suit and perfect bow tie … but the lawyer was plain and not interesting. People were drawn to and disarmed by the fat fireman. I’m friends with the fat fireman and all his flaws and would definitely buy from him.

mistakes2. Therefore, they don’t learn from their mistakes. Because they are always hiding their faults, the unauthentic aren’t going to learn from them. A strong leader fosters an environment where faults and mistakes are not only accepted but encouraged. Everyone in their world is required to speak the truth and give feedback even if it hurts. Great leaders and their teams will learn much more from their mistakes versus their successes.

Ass_Kisser_Mug_300x3003. They are butt-kissers and people-pleasers.  Don’t kiss butts – it doesn’t work long term. Instead, tell the truth and be direct. Help, give and make genuine relationships with the right people and stop worrying about taking care of everyone. If your organization doesn’t promote this type of culture, you are probably working for the wrong organization.

4. They make short-term decisions that benefit themselves. Hopefully the reasoning behind this is obvious but it’s amazing how commonly this occurs. Great leaders stick to their guns and often make unpopular long-term decisions for the greater good.

Corporate America fails at this over and over again. They care about the stock price today, tomorrow and at the end of the quarter. This causes them to lie, hide and often make horrible decisions for the long haul. Artificial bubbles are created by poor, short-term decisions – and I have no doubt that America is building another bubble right now.

tightlipped5. They are tight-lipped. Don’t get me wrong, an authentic individual doesn’t need to be totally transparent. And a great leader usually isn’t the most talkative person in the room.

I have a deal with my three children that they can ask me anything and I’m comfortable answering 3/4’s of their questions. But there are 3 other categories: (a) I’ll tell you when you are 18 (b) I’ll tell you when you are 21 and (c) That’s dad’s business and I’m not going to share that information with you. Strong leaders need to express their thoughts, feelings and views unapologetically. In business, stay away from religion and politics… the rest should be fair game!

6. They are more concerned with impressing versus helping others. I had lunch with someone last month and I almost walked out on him after he referred to himself in the 3rd person for the 5th time (“John is really good at sailing…”). I decided instead to call John out on it. Let’s just say it was a funny moment (for me) but I don’t think we’ll be having lunch again.

Authentic leaders don’t care about their self-importance. They are much more concerned with helping those around them become successful. The authentic individual gives and shares because it’s obviously the nice thing to do – but understands that it also will benefit them. Warren Buffet isn’t significant because of his money and boasting. Buffet will be remembered for a long time to come because of his humility and value system.

surrounded-100526213-primary.idge_7. They surround themselves with anyone and everyone. Inversely, authentic leaders carefully select their trusted inner circle (because they tend to attract so many people). They conscientiously choose others that are direct, reliable and honest. In turn, authentic people are loyal to these relationships to the end of time.

8. Their value system constantly changes. That doesn’t mean those with strong value systems don’t adjust their principles here and there. If you watch the hit NBC Show “Good Place“, it provides laugh after laugh while consistently focusing on good ethics. In today’s ever-changing-world, the show recognizes that the definition of a “good decision” changes… but the core value system does not. Authentic leaders understand that their strong value system is at the heart of all they do.

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If I haven’t convinced you yet that authentic people win long term, I’ll close with the fact that unethical behavior will cost you real money in business. You won’t land certain deals and customers because of poor decisions. A recent study by Goodpurpose demonstrated that where quality and price were equal, the leading purchase driver for 53 percent of consumers was social purpose.

So be real and be you. Live without regrets and be authentic!

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

blueoctopusllc.com

Blogs Written at a 5th Grade Reading Level are Better?

9 Apr

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Surprisingly, blogs (or any of your marketing materials) that are written at lower grade reading levels typically get the most attention. I’m failing. My last three blogs were written at 8th, 9th and 9th grade reading levels. This article is written at an 8th grade level. I’m striving for a 7th grade reading level.

The Wall Street Journal is written at an 8th grade level. My local paper, the Star Tribune (and probably most newspapers), is written at a 5th grade level. Hemingway wrote at a 4th grade reading level and Leo Tolstoy wrote at a 7th grade level. The Affordable Care Act is written at a college reading level! 

4 reasons why I think blogs written at lower levels succeed:

1. Your entire audience can’t read at a 7th grade reading level. 

There’s a book called What Makes a Book Readable that cites:

  • 1/3 of adults read at a 2nd-6th grade reading level
  • 1/3 of adults read at a 7th-12th grade reading level
  • 1/3 of adults read at college levels

If you write at a lower level, everyone obviously has a better chance at being able to understand it.

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2. Even the smart people need new material dumbed down a bit.

Learning Solutions magazine says that we forget 50% of what we learn within an hour. The more complicated, the more likely we are to forget. Humans require immediate comprehension of the material to increase our chances of retaining the information; when reading an article, we are often reading about topics that we don’t know a lot about.

3333. We want it quick and fast. 

In the internet age, things get skimmed, not read. The most popular blogs are one of two types: Lists and How-to’s. The most attention any of my 100+ blogs have ever received was a recent post I did on the Top 50 Largest LinkedIn Groups (Largest Groups on LinkedIn). Lists are simple – and how-to’s tend to be quick lessons that can immediately be applied. It has been found that on screens, we read faster and consequently, understand less.

44444. Reading has changed.

With the younger generation clamoring to YouTube and Facebook for “news” and information – and communicating through short texts and emojis, the demographics have shifted to suit our shorter attention spans. As a writer or blogger, you should embrace this change versus fighting it. If you want to write the next Moby Dick, go for it! But recognize that half of your audience CANNOT comprehend it (granted, it is probably much better material than your average blog).

What is the ideal grade level for your writing? 

The answer is dependent upon your audience, but my overall point of this blog is that it is probably a few grades lower than what you think. A few suggestions for “improving” your score include keeping your paragraphs and sentences short, avoiding complicated and unnecessary words and breaking up your content. And a few pictures and bulleted lists go a long way in keeping the reader’s attention.

There is a measurement called the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Reading Formula to determine the level of any piece of writing. It was first published in 1948 and it relies on the structure of the English language taking sentence and word length into consideration in order to determine readability.

How to figure out the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level:

  • If you are a user of Microsoft Word, go to the Review option at the top of the screen and Check Document.
  • This will give corrections (like spelling, as you probably know) and other refinements; after running through those, the Readability Statistics window will pop up.
  • Listed are the word counts and averages as well as the readability score which shows the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of your document. This will pop up after you run through the suggested corrections and refinements.
  • If you aren’t a Word user, you can also go to this site to measure the documents readability: https://readable.com/
  • Here is another site for editing lengthy and complex sentences: http://www.hemingwayapp.com/
  • Lastly, there are a few other formulas if you’d like to try them out: the Gunning-Fog Score, the Coleman-Liau Index and the Dale-Chall Formula.

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Now, my title is a bit deceiving… I don’t think 5th grade level blogs are “better”. But if our end goal is to garner attention and educate, we need to be thinking of our audience and cater to them. I personally need to do a better job of making it easier to read my material. It’s not about dumbing it down but rather making your point clearer and more concise.

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew Schmitz

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

blueoctopusllc.com