Planning and Execution – Ground Rule #1

This is the next in a series of posts that will describe what the CEO of the Reliance Electric Company thought about basic commitments, how the organization was going to operate and ground rules for managers. Once again, all the content of this article is based on the work of B. Charles Ames as outlined in his management manifesto titled Basic Management Concepts dated January 14, 1974.

Planning and Execution – Ground Rule #1 – Good Planning. Great Execution

Good planning is the key to successful results. A good plan is like a GPS app. You start at Point A, choose a destination and the app maps a simple, straightforward course between Point A and Point B. Your GPS helps you get back on course when you make a wrong turn. It allows you to take a side trip should you choose. Without your GPS…your plan…you are flying blind.

The plan must be in writing. Many small business owners claim to have the plan in their head. Unless the people in the rest of the organization are mind readers, a plan that is not in writing does not exist. It is the discipline of writing the plan that helps to identify blind spots and allows critical feedback during the planning process.

A business plan does not need to be elaborate. No need to worry about sentence structure. Don’t get hung up on the format. And, no matter how complex, a good plan that has been thought through properly can be summarized in a few paragraphs. Yes, keep it simple.

Planning alone, however, accomplishes nothing. People have to do things to get things done. Execution is critical. Further, according to Ames, “A Grade “B” plan properly executed will yield better results than a Grade “A” plan weakly executed every time.”

Or, as General George Patton put it, “A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

The danger of becoming so caught up in the planning process that nothing gets accomplished is real. It is important to understand that 90% of the benefit from the planning process comes from the first 20% of the planning process effort. The next 80% of the effort simply makes people feel good. It also stands in the way of getting on with the real work that needs to be done.

B. Chuck Ames and his wife Jay currently manage the Ames Family Foundation. They divide their time between a home in Vero Beach, Florida and a second home in a suburb of Cleveland.


Image Credit – iStock

Five Sales Mistakes You Can Avoid

| Author: Bob Wendt

Is your sales team effective? Is it as effective as it could be? There are five mistakes that should be on your sales manager’s radar. Correct these mistakes and your team will be much more effective.

1. Not knowing your ideal customer. Often sales effort is spent pursuing customers who aren’t a good fit for the company or who aren’t going to buy. Making the appropriate effort upfront to identify the attributes of the ideal customer and your ability to capture that customer will save you precious sales time. You need to develop a method of finding the ideal client. One idea is developing a scorecard that details what the ideal customer looks like, including sales volume, geography, product offerings, and market approach. Define how likely it is for you to start a new relationship with each client listed.

2. Spending time on unqualified customers. Without a methodology to qualify customers, your sales team will be wasting time on those that don’t have the budget, don’t have the authority to make a decision, or have misrepresented their need for your product. Help your sales force develop the skills to determine the gatekeeper’s level of authority. One way to polish these skills is by sending at least two people to initial client meetings. They can help each other decide if the customer meets your expectations as being qualified. Refining your sales process so your team can work on leads that have been qualified by lead-scoring increases your closing rates and creates more predictability for your sales pipeline.

3. Approaching a customer with no clear objective. Asking a potential client to meet so you can find out more about their business is not going to happen. Sales people must do their research to establish a reason for someone to meet with them or will never get those appointments that can lead to meaningful customer relationships. In today’s digital world there is no excuse for not understanding the company or contact you are trying to reach. Once research has been done, meetings can then focus on a client’s needs, new product, or expanding to new territory, and how your company can help, given that information.

4. Not measuring the right activity of your sales team. Activity is the driver of any sales organization and a good sales manager is constantly measuring it. Your products could be great, your value proposition right on target, but if you are not engaging enough customers your sales growth will stall. Limiting activity measurements to numbers of calls or meetings can easily be manipulated by a salesperson to create a perception of activity. More effective measures of activity should relate to activity that are more tangible, including estimates and proposals. These are directly related to an outcome that will impact sales. Not measuring these types of activity only create an illusion of progress but won’t lead to closing sales.

5. Thinking your customers are making a decision based on price. No one buys on price. Clients go through a value equation that measures different factors, including turnaround, technology, and risk mitigation, that all play into the decision to buy or not. It’s the salesperson’s ability to understand the buying criteria that will lead to improved sales. That understanding allows the salesperson to connect the dots, not only with how your product works, but with the value it can bring to the client organizationally. If salespeople are ineffective at connecting those dots, then price will be the only differentiating factor, and that’s what clients will use to say no.

Feel free to use this as a checklist for your team. Highlight what you’re doing right and use these tips to find ways you can improve.

Are you doing everything you can to create an effective sales pipeline? For ongoing access to additional resources, connect with me on LinkedIn or subscribe to get monthly updates on growing your business in your inbox from Cultivate Communications.

Robert Wendt
Cultivate Communications

Robert is a lifelong Milwaukeean and his passion to see our Milwaukee grow led him to launch Cultivate Communications in 2010. Cultivate thrives on bringing together inventive ideas and marketing technologies to drive sales growth.

Some of the Best Sales Excuses

Sales quote: “You get what you tolerate”

Over the past few years we have facilitated hundreds of sales meetings. At that point when we ask salespeople to explain the quotes in their pipeline, we hear some great excuses. It is hard to not interrupt with “wait that’s excuse number 6. I know it well.” That often produces hand wringing, loss of eye contact and heavy breathing. It’s common for a salesperson who hasn’t performed, to offer up excuses for the poor performance.

Just to bring a little humor to your day, here are some we hear most often when salespeople don’t meet their goals. I’ve added the translation for you.
1.When you hear: “I’m too busy” It means: “My organizational skills are so weak that I cannot separate important from urgent, and I don’t have the administrative help I need. I can’t fit in 9 calls a week and so I’m obviously too busy”

2.When you hear: “Nobody returns my emails and calls” It means: “I’ve tried twice, got no response and I haven’t a clue how to make them really want my product. They are obviously too stupid to deal with.”

3.When you hear: “Our leads are no good!” It means: “I don’t have the motivation to find my own leads. It’s easier to blame marketing for not making my life easy and handing me great leads.”

4.When you hear: “Our prices are too high compared to the competition” It means: “I haven’t been able to come up with a better value statement about our products, so it is obviously price.

5.When you hear: “My prospect/customer is on vacation” It means: “I knew he was going to be gone, but I was couldn’t find the time to help him make a decision. Therefore, nothing will happen for a couple of weeks. It’s not my fault!”

6.When you hear: “Our sales goals are unrealistic” It means: “I might achieve these stretch goals if I work smarter, but that’s too much hard work. It is much easier to just blame my sales manager for setting the targets too high”

I bet you have heard some good ones too. Watch for these and others. Don’t accept these excuses more than once. If there really is a systemic problem; fix it! If it’s your salespeople just being lazy, it may be time for a heart to heart conversations with each of the biggest offenders.

Organization and Staffing – Ground Rule # 5

This is the next in a series of posts that will describe what the CEO of the Reliance Electric Company thought about basic commitments, how the organization was going to operate and ground rules for managers. Once again, all the content of this article is based on the work of B. Charles Ames as outlined in his management manifesto titled Basic Management Concepts dated January 14, 1974.

Organization and Staffing – Ground Rule #5 – Performance Expectations

 Let’s personalize this Ground Rule a bit. In Basic Management Concepts Ames told every manager to make sure that every individual in the manager’s line of authority knew precisely what was expected in terms of job performance, how the individual’s assignment fit into the whole and how the individual’s performance would be measured. As a manager, how would you rate yourself on these three criteria? Experience suggests that most managers would not average above a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. And that is where the trouble begins.

Ames argued that each individual needed to have a pre-established set of specific results that the individual knew he or she was expected to accomplish within a defined time frame. The specific results had to be measureable so there would be no misunderstanding about what was going to get done. The results of the individual’s accomplishment would serve as the performance standard for how well the individual performed.

Most managers dread performance evaluations. And, for good reason. The lack of clearly defined performance expectations is a leading cause of dysfunctional performance reviews. People who didn’t exactly know what was expected of them up front tend to become somewhat defensive when they are told their performance sucked…after the fact.

Ames went on to say that the organization’s entire system of rewards and penalties should be aligned with expectations and accomplishment. “And, the payoff should always be for achieving results, not just effort.” The individuals who met and exceeded expectations should be recognized, paid well and eventually promoted. Those who did not perform should expect more limited compensation and lesser advancement opportunities. Ultimately, they may have to leave the organization. More on this when we get to Ground Rule #6 – Dealing With Misfits.

B. Chuck Ames and his wife Jay currently manage the Ames Family Foundation. They divide their time between a home in Vero Beach, Florida and a second home in a suburb of Cleveland.

Uber and the On-Demand Economy

| Author: Ane Ohm

Who loves the “next big thing?” I’m so tired of hearing about mobile, cloud, big data. And yet… it’s true these have all had a profound influence on us. So what’s the next “big thing?” I’d argue it’s the On-Demand Economy and it’s coming, fast.

Uber launched its first car service five years ago with a few cars in San Francisco. Today it has a valuation of $41.2 billion. Let me pause a moment for that to sink in. It’s not a typo – that’s billions of dollars. For a point of comparison, that’s higher than Delta Airlines,, or Kraft Foods. The combined market cap of the three largest global staffing companies—Adecco, Randstad, and Manpower—is $25 billion.

Now another critical point: Uber’s total addressable market for car services is $11B. If car service domination is their ultimate objective, the math doesn’t work. So what’s going on?

To figure this out, first let’s look at what they’re actually doing: matching a job that needs to be done (someone needs a ride) with someone who will do the job (driver willing to provide the ride).

Matching a job that needs to be done with someone who will do the job. Does that sound like something we do every day in our businesses? Recruiting, watch out.


Perhaps you’re a bit doubtful, which I understand. I mean, really – what could that actually mean for us? It reminds me of another little Internet company: Amazon. At first, it was simply an online marketplace for books. Five years after Amazon’s launch, if you asked grocery chain CEOs whether they thought Amazon was a threat, they’d probably think you were an idiot or simply crazy. Ask those same CEOs today what they think about Amazon.


Of course, it’s not going to be easy for Uber and its competitors to move from what’s basically a consumer-to-consumer (driver-to-passenger) application to a business-to-consumer (hiring company-to-job seeker) app. Understanding the complexity of organizational decision-making is a distinctly different animal. As we know, corporate recruiting and staffing aren’t as simple as a car service (just like books for Amazon). At the same time, Uber and similar cohorts have raised billions of dollars to solve this problem. With a vision, the financing, and solid iteration, they’ll get there.


Keep your eyes open for the On-Demand Economy. The future is coming, whether we like it or not.


Ane Ohm Bio:

Ane Ohm is the CEO of HarQen, a Milwaukee-based recruitment technology company. She also serves on the Boards of The Good Jobs, a turnkey solution for attracting and retaining talent, and the Bread of Healing Clinic, a free clinic in Milwaukee. She was recognized as 2010 Woman Manager of the Year by Women in Management, Fox Cities chapter.


Ane is passionate about using technology to help organizations identify, attract, and retain the right people for the right job. Her career experience designing recruitment strategies for Fortune 100 companies has given her invaluable insights on how technology can best be integrated into recruitment processes to hire the best talent, faster and more efficiently.


In prior positions, Ane was President of LaserNet, Inc., a statement print/mail company, and Vice President at Pinstripe, Inc., where she played an instrumental role in the company’s rapid growth in recruitment process outsourcing. Before joining Pinstripe, Ane held various leadership roles at Strong Financial Corporation, including Vice President and Director of Mutual Fund Administration. Ane started her career as an auditor with Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and graduated with a BBA-Accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For Growth You Need to Manage the “C” of Change!

Author: Bob Wendt

Marketing is one of those business disciplines that many CEO’s don’t fully understand. When it comes to the intangible things that create sales opportunity or margin growth, marketing doesn’t always connect with CEO’s because they are more comfortable with hard numbers and analytics to gauge the effectiveness of their investment.

Who’s Really in Charge?

Marketing today is extremely complicated.  Customers now have all the control which means that they are in charge of the dialog and only want to hear from you on their terms:

    1. They only want to hear from you when they have a defined need
    2. They  avoid your messaging using technology that allows them to delete you instantaneously
  • And, if your product or service does not perform to their expectations, they can let the world know what they like or dislike

The Challenge of Growth

To grow your business you not only have to attract new customers and educate them to engage with your business, you have to  introduce sales at just the right time and build relationships that foster long term growth.  Plus, on top of all of this, you have to keep and grow your current customers.

Because customers are driving the equation, your marketing efforts must now align with the way your buyers buy.  If you are still marketing the old fashioned way using one-way communications (2-3 years ago) you’re wasting your effort.   Two –way conversations are what drive sales today.  Just like every other aspect of your business, you have to embrace the fact that customers have changed and as a result, you’re marketing has to change with them. To manage this “C” of Change you need to understand several key foundational principles.


The Internet is Ground Zero

Customer-relevance delivered through educational content is essential to draw customers to you.  That’s what they are looking for. New customer engagement starts on the Internet and your website is ground zero. Almost 70% of the sales process is complete before a new customer even contacts a company. Your marketing has to be focused on what’s important to the customer and your marketing technology flawless to take advantage of the opportunity to connect when your customer is ready.


What Customers Want

Customers today are looking for 3 things.

  • Are you capable, does your company have a product or service that meets their need?
  • Are you knowledgeable and can you demonstrate what you do in a way that proves you are worth consideration?
  • Are you likable and approachable?

Customer-Centric communities are essential to the growth of a business today. It starts with employees and extends to customers. Strong community building allows your customers and employees to interact together to share in the product, to engage in ideas for improvement and to always come away feeling that they are part of the brand.

Be Where your Customers Are

Channel selection is essential. You need to be where your customers are. Today social media shapes customers opinions more than traditional channels of communication. Engaging in a conversation when it is happening allows companies to interact at that moment of influence that can drive customers further down the pipeline.

Summing it All Up.

Customers are now driving the conversation so listening to them becomes ever more important.

If you take an educational approach and provide “helpful information” to your customers, conversations with them will be more effective than if you try to sell them in the traditional sense.

Align how and when you connect with prospective customers using a variety of channels.  Make your marketing efforts match their buying process.  By using a customer-centric marketing strategy, your customers will share their positive experience with your products with everyone they know.  Having them spread the good word is worth its weight in gold.


Can You Lead Through a Disaster?

Headlines Read . . .

Violent thunderstorms. Fatal Flooding. Category 5 Hurricane. F-5 Tornado. Golf  Ball Sized Hail. 100 mph Straight Line Winds. Trees Uprooted. Power Outage for 12,000 Residents. Gas Line Explosion. Local Businesses Affected.

Leadership can be challenging when things are going well, there is always something you need to work through.

However, the rules of the game change when disaster strikes. Regardless of the cause, the best run businesses have prepared a plan to handle a potential disaster situation.

Are you prepared to operate your business the morning after a disaster?

Do you have a Disaster Recovery or Business Continuity Plan?

Up to 40% of businesses affected by a natural or human-caused disaster never reopen. (Source: Insurance Information Institute)

If your business is prepared you get an “A-Grade”!

If not, is a place you can get unbiased information and resources to help you and your team be prepared.

Getting Referrals Isn’t That Hard

As we work with sales professionals, we regularly preach about the importance of getting referrals. Many feel uncomfortable asking for referrals from new customers. As with so many things, the easiest way to get referrals is to ask for them. It becomes surprisingly easy the more you practice.

Let’s look at the last time you completed selling a solution to a new customer. You are wrapping up the conversation. Everyone is feeling really good about the process. They are pleased with you and your company, and you feel confident that they will be happy with the results.

Now that you’ve established a strong new relationship, this is the perfect time to capitalize on it.  But do NOT make the common mistake of asking “Do you know anyone else I should be talking to about my product/service?” More than likely, that will produce the typical response of “Gee, no, I don’t” or “Hmm, let me think about it and get back to you.”

It is so much easier for someone to make a referral if they know the type of businesses or people you want to add to your portfolio of customers. You’ve done this homework already and know the type of customers that have been most successful for you. You have targeted customers by job title, annual company sales, location, approximate size, and other factors. Now, just use these characteristics when you ask for a referral. Try something like this:

“Martha, my best customers are those I have found from a referral. I’d like to describe my preferred customer. Would you be so kind as to just jot down the names that come to mind as you hear those qualities? “

After you’ve finished describing your preferred customer and a list has been created, ask for some details. Don’t overdo it. Get basic contact information and permission to use your new customer’s name when contacting the referral.

Our Growth Strategies

Our Growth Strategies

This is the third in a series of posts that will describe what the CEO Reliance Electric thought about basic commitments, how the organization was going to operate and ground rules for managers. Once again, all the content of this article is based on the work of B. Charles Ames as outlined in his management manifesto titled Basic Management Concepts dated January 14, 1974.

In a multi-business company like Reliance Electric, a one size fits all, master strategy defined by corporate was destined to fail, according to Ames. He did not see a single thrust in the business or an “either or” proposition. He saw a “combination of thrusts” that would create the best opportunity for obtaining the company’s growth and profit objectives.

With this multi-business, multi-thrust concept in mind, Ames suggested a three phased growth strategy that would 1) increase earnings at a rate that was attractive to investors and 2) improve the quality and stability of company’s earnings. To accomplish this he suggested the following:

  • Continued emphasis on our strengths to increase profits from our core businesses.
  • Increased emphasis on products and markets less vulnerable to the ups and downs of of the economy. Service businesses, maintenance, repair businesses, for example, fit here as did all of the telecommunications businesses.
  • Increased emphasis on acquisitions that added to our strengths, particularly in businesses less vulnerable to business cycles.

Ames left the rest up to the individual operating company to decide. He wanted dynamic product and market strategies that were tailored to the individual opportunities of each business. He suggested that each business strive for a momentum in order to “make things happen” rather than wait and react to the competition. He felt we could not win by being defensive. His advice was to be aware of the competition but take the initiative and let them react to us.

Interesting advice, on the competition, regardless of the business or industry.  Just as interesting was the reality that everyone in the organization knew exactly what was expected in terms of job performance. Ames wrote it all down for all of us. And that may be the most significant basic management concept of all.

B. Chuck Ames and his wife Jay currently manage the Ames Family Foundation.  They divide their time between a home in Vero Beach, Florida and a second home in a suburb of Cleveland.  


Unexpected Business Lessons from Artist Henri Matisse

Thanks Matisse!

I somewhat reluctantly (I am now embarrassed to say) attended the Henri Matisse retrospective at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I freely admit to a limited appreciation for art, but this was a fantastic exhibition. And Matisse offered up some unexpected business lessons:

 “Each picture as I finish it, seems like the best thing I have ever done…. and yet after a while I am not so sure. It is like taking a train to Marseille. One knows where one wants to go. Each painting completed is like a station—just so much nearer the goal. The time comes when the painter is apt to feel he has at last arrived. Then, if he is honest, he realizes two things—either that he has not arrived at all or that Marseille… is not where he wanted to go anyway, and he must push farther on.” – Henri Matisse

The artist’s quote illuminates the business canvas. Like why we, and the organizations we create, are in a constant state of change, chaos, and renewal. Which helps me understand why I have never met a satisfied, successful CEO. Which helps me appreciate the best CEO’s I know who take extreme pleasure in the journey, including the ups and downs, and treat the achievement of a goal simply as a part of the process.

Successful enterprises, and the CEOs who run them, embrace as compatible equals both evolution and stability; they neither fear, nor overly celebrate, the moments of light and dark that ultimately lead to business excellence.

A contemporary artist of a different sort, Steve Jobs, said: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”