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2013 GEM Rising Star

March 1, 2013

Scary Wins in Scary Times

Dec. 1, 2008
The battle for supremacy in the emerging economy will be won by business owners and executives who are bold enough to be scary.

Industries are shrinking, profits are getting smaller and the global competition is getting scary good. You have three options on how to go forward.

Close the doors, give up and curl up into the fetal position and hope everything gets better — eventually.

Continue doing what has worked for the last 20 years because it has always served you well to this point

Get Scary in these Scary Times

The NEW economy is here and to grow and thrive requires a different approach to employees, customers and how and what you offer in the marketplace. But first a few scary statistics:

  • One in every five people lives in China. With 1.3 billion people, China has 20 percent of all of humanity within its borders.

  • India's prime minister has committed the next big wave of government investment into higher education with the goal of producing over 500 million skilled technology workers by 2022.

  • The entire population of the United States is 300 million.

When you have 20 percent of humanity on this planet within your borders, you have a workforce size that is indomitable. China is emerging on the global scale as a corporate player, not for lowest-cost, minimal-quality goods as we have seen in the past, but with top-quality goods and the commitment to play the business game better than anyone else. That also means they will have the buying power and resource demand to completely reinvent global competition. If you saw the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, you know with practice and commitment this country can mobilize and synchronize a juggernaut of immense proportions.

As far as GDP or purchase power parity based on 2006 data, the United States is still in the lead, but other areas of the world are catching up. The current rankings are: U.S. ($13.13 trillion); European Union ($13.06 trillion); and China ($10.17 trillion).

This is the foundation of the new economy. The United States is fast being approached by the competition, which means all businesses need to adopt the Olympic slogan of “Faster, higher, stronger.”

You might be thinking this only applies to Fortune 500 companies that are multi-national organizations, and that it has nothing to do with your small business. Are you aware small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) make up 99.7 percent of businesses in the United States? Were you also aware that small businesses employ over 50 percent of the American workforce? Small businesses are the engine that drives this country, and the global economy and competition have everything to do with your business!

If you've recently filled the gas tank in your car, gone to the grocery store, watched the news on television or picked up a newspaper you know we are in different, some would say scary, times.

How do you react? Do options A and B at the top of this article inspire employees and encourage customers? Of course not, yet they are becoming a common scene across the business landscape in this country because business leadership is running scared.

Don't be scared — just get scary. Scary wins in scary times because traditional well-worn efforts no longer work in this new economy.

Scary Sales

Having a sales staff of order takers calling on the same customers hoping for renewed orders is old school that functioned satisfactorily in the good times of the 90's and before. Today, it's a new economy that requires sales staffs to be high energy, product smart and prospect savvy. High energy is a must for the salesperson to be able to expend the needed energy and effort daily to locate the best opportunities, dial in the best approach to get to the decision makers, and leave them breathless with the opportunity being presented. Does your sales staff have this attitude? This standard for every sales opportunity presented? Are your salespeople ready to ramp up the effort and energy level at least three notches to compete?

High energy will get salespeople in the door and potentially to the right person, but it won't close the deal. They also need to be product savants. One salesperson in one of my audiences stopped me in my presentation to tell me he offers thousands of products to customers, so it is impossible for him to know them all in detail. How correct he is! A person selling thousands of products is nothing but a walking catalog. That is useless today! Get rid of your sales force, put all the products and descriptions on your website, post an order form and tickle the customers with an e-mail once in a while if that's all you want your salespeople to do. It won't work, but you will sure save on your labor cost!

Salespeople today need to know each product as if they invented it themselves. They need to know the applications for each customer, the potential challenges, the proper pricing, and billing schedule that best suits the customer and be able to answer any question the prospect or customer has, without the B.S. lights flashing and horns sounding.

Run free trials, do experimentation with the customer, assist them with their research and development efforts and identify better ways to use the products more efficiently before the customer even asks to be able to. In other words, provide a “Shock and Awe” campaign in your sales efforts. You may have to actually add more salespeople to accomplish this, and you will for sure have to add more training for your salespeople. Is that a scary thing to do in this economy? You bet it is, but it's what you have to do to win.

Scary Leadership

I've been hearing for 10 years about the multi-generational workforce, and how people are so different and how the younger age workers just don't have the same work ethic as we boomers and geezers and no loyalty, blah, blah, blah. Business executives are still trying to cram the workforce of the new millennium into a 1950's style of management box. It doesn't work! So why do they keep trying? Because it's what they understand and what worked for them for a long time. And … the new ideas scare them.

Scary leadership involves removing time clocks and time sheets and expecting people to get their work done and accomplish what they need to do. It involves offering a flex-time schedule that truly means flexibility. Organizations who offer day-care services, gym membership benefits, time off with pay to experiment on new ideas and projects are doing the scary stuff and making it profitable. Who needs an annual review when you are giving weekly performance feedback and developing better habits and practices along the way? Scary leaders don't wait for job openings to find new employees; they are in a constant talent search. When someone with top talent is located they hire that person and then find the right fit for them in the organization.

One of my clients had it all figured out. Their conference room didn't have a table; it had a bar, complete with a keg and a tap that operated by the same pass key that everyone had to get in and out of the buildings. On the bar sat a name tent that read: “This is a conference table.” Many evenings a week the CEO, department managers and shift leaders of this call center would gather for a “meeting” in the conference room. No one had more than two beers, and the conversations hardly ever revolved around sports, or jokes or idle chit chat. It was all about business. How many accounts they sold, what the wait times were, how many customers they handled on this account, how many new people were signed up, what problems they dealt with and victories they wanted to celebrate. These guys were all young guns and they worked hard, had high energy and were savvy about customer development and employee management. In over 25 years in the workplace, those were the most constructive, beneficial and profitable management meetings I've ever witnessed. It was leading in the new way.

A year later the entrepreneur sold his company to a large holding company and one of the first steps they took was removing the bar and analyzing the financial reports for ways to cut costs. Sadly but predictably, that company immediately lost revenue, profits and their best talent. The new ideas scared them. The employee freedom scared them. They just couldn't allow themselves to be scary leaders because it was too much to expect from people stuck in the past and doomed for the future.

The responsibility of business owners and executives is to legally do what it takes to stay on the cutting edge and make the organization the best it can be for the employees, stockholders and customers — no matter how scary it gets.

The author is president of Pinnacle Solutions, Lake Wylie, S.C. and a trainer and international speaker with 25 years of experience as a Fortune 500 manager and consultant. He can be reached at (877) 275-9468 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Visit his web site: