Who is next in line for the throne – 7 Step Guide

Succession Planing is something that is not talked about nearly enough. Succession planning according to investopedia can be broadly defined as:

“Succession planning is a strategy for passing on leadership roles—often the ownership of a company—to an employee or group of employees. Also known as “replacement planning,” it ensures that businesses continue to run smoothly after a company’s most important people move on to new opportunities, retire, or pass away.”

The process is important no matter what type of company you own, work for, or operate. If you are running a small family business then you need to figure out who in your family has the ability to take over your business. If you are running a large corporation then it is important to have succession planning for nearly every exectuive position so that if something were to ever happen (death, retirement, left company, etc) you have a plan in place and you are not scrambling.

This process must be, proactive in nature, if you are caught off guard by someones leaving and you are searching for a replacement then you are already too late. I am going to run through some of the most common practices to perform a thorough planning process.

  1. You need to figure out what this person’s role is with the company and what the company will look like without them performing their role.
    • This allows for you to start building a TDK (Tasks, duties, & responsibilities)
    • It also allows for you to know how crucial their role is and how quickly it would need to be filled
  2. Start evaluating who could fill the shoes for this position.
    • Do not limit yourself with this search (John Spence once courted a future employee for ten years before actually having a position for him) The proper personal takes time to find, it is okay to be picky, and to start early
    • Explore employees at your company, colleagues, employees or owners of other companies, nobody is off limits
    • Evaluate what kind of training the possible candidates would need (Remember that just because somebody is a great salesman does not mean they would be a great sales manager. People far too often just look at who is next in line evaluate the candidate not their experience)
  3. Develop a plan for their succession.
    • This means outline everything on paper from tomorrow to 3 years from now (Nothing crazy but a simple blueprint or outline for how it will go down
  4. Once you have a good idea of who you think it could be open a dialogue with the successor.
    • Just because you think they would be good at the job does not mean they are up for it
    • Explain to them the process that you have drawn up
  5. If they are an internal employee you can begin training them.
    • Prepare them for certain aspects of the job that they have not been exposed to
    • Perhaps even hand over some of the responsibility to them as needed
  6. Lastly you will be taking a key employee off the floor and moving them to a different key position. Discuss with HR what you will be looking for ahead of time to replace the new successors.
  7. Final warning if you are a big company do not leave Successor Planning up to your HR department!
    • This is far too important a process and it needs to be handled by people extremely close to the candidates and processes (Nothing against HR it is simply above their pay-grade)

Again, as I mentioned earlier these principles apply to any size business. I recently was hired by a medium sized contracting company to find 3 possible successors (Outside of his current employees) to take over his company in just a few short years. And these are the steps that I followed. We had to evaluate the owners position in the company, what he did on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. After we new what the specifications were reached out to our connections to find candidates that may possibly fit the mold. From there we sat with the owners and developed a 3-5 year plan based on the candidates qualifications on how the succession would take place. Then we begin interviewing the candidates for the role and started the dialogue. Ultimately we were able to find 4 extremely solid candidates for the position of the successor to the owner. Both the owner and the candidates are thrilled with the opportunity.

Be proactive and start evaluating your company today.

Comfortably Uncomfortable

Listen up everybody, if you want to be in sales people have to like you. People buy from people they like and respect. Typically, a great salesman has the ability to captivate an audience with a story and garner the status “life of the party” wherever they go. This is because a good salesman has become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. They understand that in that brief moment of uncomfort that prosperity will soon come (prosperity does not alway mean money). Being comfortably uncomfortably is a trait that people are drawn to it demonstrates a level of confidence that very few people have. Nobody likes a pushy salesman but everybody loves a good listener with a relatable story.

Sales is one of the most difficult professions to be successful and one of the very few where your performance is tied into your pay on a daily basis. However, according to CNBC sales is one of the top 20 best paying jobs with average mean salary of $140,320 right behind that of a lawyer. One of the reasons it is such a tough profession is because you have to prove yourself and your product. You have about 30 seconds or less at the beginning of a meeting to build a rapport with someone then if that is successful you have about 5 minutes to demonstrate how you can make them more money or you are out.

We do this by making small talk, if it is an in person meeting be sure to comment on something in their office, find common ground. This does not mean that if your buyer likes to hunt in their free time that you have to be the worlds greatest hunter, you just need enough to get the buyer talking. When the buyer is talking you are doing something right… within reason.

For example, if I walk into my buyers office and he has six taxidermies on the wall, I may say something like “Some nice animals you have on the wall there, I myself have a 30/30 in the gun rack at home”. Just find common ground. If you can get the buyer talking about something they are passionate about, they will like you. Everybody is 99% interested in what they have to say and 1% interested in what you have to say. You just have to make sure that you capitalize on the 1% that you get to say, make it worth while. Read Johnny, your 8 year old buyer for more information on the 1%.

If you are unable to meet with the buyer in person and are tasked with a phone meeting, there are a couple avenues that I recommend. The first one is to do as much research as you possibly can. I was recently in a meeting, admittedly that I was unprepared for, luckily my business partner had done his homework. As we got to the ending questions, the dreaded trial close, the buyer began to backtrack and showed signs of hesitation. He expressed that he had recently been furloughed by his biggest contract due to Covid – 19 and wanted to wait to hire us until the contract was active again. My partner quickly was able to reference, based on his research, what he thought would be our buyers biggest contract (based on his website). Once the company named was mentioned the whole demeanor of the ending remarks changed as he respected where we were coming from. We ended up signing the deal. It is all about relationships and trust, the customer has to like you or they will not do business with you. You will be surprised how big a customers wallet opens when they like and trust you.

The second recommendation for an over the phone meeting is to bring up something that affects everybody; sports, weather, holiday, Corona, etc. This allows for instant common ground, not nearly as affective as personal common ground but effective nonetheless. Often times generic small talk can lead to personal common ground if you can ask the right questions.

All of these aspects are important for every meeting that you go into whether in person or over the phone. Just remember that the product is less important than the relationship, find common ground and be likable. If the buyer does not like you then you’re not going to be able to sell them anything. People buy from people they like and remember nobody likes to be sold but everybody likes to buy something.

Money is not the root of all growth – Right?

We met with a client this morning who has endured many trials and tribulations in their business and have persevered through them all only to find themselves in a situation where they think they need money to grow.

Sound familiar to anyone?

They have led their industry at one time with a superior product and exceptional service. What happened to them is a far too familiar scenario for many companies. They ran out of steam and more importantly ran out of money. They stopped moving and adjusting to the ebb and flow of business and the economy. They allowed their competitors to get an edge on them and the circumstances that followed caused debt and a non-existent pipeline of business. Now they find themselves in a situation where only one company comprises 50% of their business and many of their past customers have moved their loyalty to other vendors. They face an uphill battle but luckily, they are prepared to fight and take direction.

The old adage, “don’t let this happen to you applies”. I once read a great quote from the famous motivational sales trainer Zig Zigglar. He said that at one time his greatest form of exercise was to fill the bathtub, climb in, pull the plug and fight the current. Clearly a ridiculous exercise and certainly one that is grossly ineffective. I would submit that many business owners today are simply fighting the current rather than navigating the rocks.

The current Covid-19 pandemic is a great example of how people either succeed or fail. I have read countless stories about companies that have seen a need and filled that need rather that continue to try and conduct business as usual. Adjusting to the business climate and the economy is something that a company needs to be prepared for but more importantly, be ready to act and change. Keeping your eyes on what’s going on in your industry and even industries that you interact with on a regular basis is crucial for the success of your company.

In the wild the term survival of the fittest is ubiquitous. It is clear and obvious when you look at the natural world around us. Plants and animals adapt to their surroundings or they perish. They find ways to fend off predators or camouflage themselves as to not be seen. The essential and overriding thought is to survive, period. There is no difference in business. In the 1986 movie Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood as Gunny Highway says, “You’re Marines now. You adapt. You overcome. You improvise.

Let’s take some creative liberty here and rephrase that statement for business owners. “You own a business. You pay attention. You take action. You adjust. You succeed.

Personally speaking, my company started as a sign company and has morphed into a highly successful digital marketing and consulting firm. That didn’t happen surreptitiously or by chance, it happened through a diligent focus on supply and demand and filling that demand. It happened by paying attention to the needs of my customer base and giving them what they needed thereby allowing my company to grow and become malleable, flexible and progressive. Although I can’t stand the word progressive in a political context, I do believe that a progressive company is one that will stand the test of time, succeed and gain strength.

That strength is solely dependent on your ability to be a proactive business owner and by building a strong foundation one block at a time. It means a painstaking placement of the correct block and a block that, if necessary, can be replaced by a different block. Of course I am being metaphorical here and each block could represent a miscellaneous business practice such as a marketing strategy, a key personnel hire, a location change, a new compensation plan or any one of a myriad of steps that need to be taken to adjust and grow.

Change is eminent and the growth of your business is predicated on your ability, as the owner and leader of your company, to be watchful and to adapt. How will you be defined? How will your company grow? Will it remain stagnant?

“You own a business. You pay attention. You take action. You adjust. You succeed!

The Intimate Negotiation

It does not matter what you do for work or what position you hold in the company, there will be a time where you have to have one of these “intimate negotiations.” There are a couple of times when these conversations occur, of course dependent upon your position within the company:

  • Salary negotiation upon hiring (both employee and employer) 
  • Conflict resolution among coworkers 
  • Dealing with a disgruntled employee
  • Dealing with a demanding boss
  • Asking for a raise 

The list could go on for a while but those are the general basics of when a tough discussion would occur during your working years. These conversations are bound to happen so no sense in trying to avoid them. If you have never had one of these conversations, then you probably fall into one of the following categories: underpaid, overworked, running a failing company, being extremely inefficient, or altogether working or running the wrong company. 

Like every good relationship you need solid communication. Without communication, you are not able to achieve win-win negotiations (See post on Negotiating a Win Win). That is all these tough conversations really are, intimate negotiations. I think often times we are comfortable with performing negotiations with our customers or when it comes to purchasing something, such as a car or house, but when it comes to people that we work with every day whether employee or employer, it is more intimate and that is where the innate problem lies. 

There are really two situations for which the intimate negotiation occurs as an employee. The first is with superiors and the second is with peers. As an employee, remember that you are a valuable commodity — you would not be sitting wherever you are sitting if you were not. You were hired because they wanted you there, now it is time to start acting like it. I am not saying to walk into your bosses office and demand a 200% raise because that probably will not work but you most definitely need to stand up for yourself. The only thing that is being hurt as a result of lack of communication is you. Eventually, of course, it will affect your work and the employer might be the one having the conversation. The phrase I like best when approaching these situations goes something like this, “If you want me to be able to perform my job to the best of my abilities I need not be worrying about money. This means that I need X, Y, and Z.” When dealing with a conflict with another employee the conversation does not go all that differently. Explain why the negative relationship is affecting your work and how, if not resolved, you will be forced to take it to a higher power. The easiest thing to remember is just be confident, direct, and calm. 

As an employer, remember that your people are your most valuable asset and you must take care of them. However, often times as an employer we think that all of our employees are altogether happy and often times that is not the case. This is why an open door policy, where you can really connect with your subordinates, is so critically important. This allows employees to be willing to discuss the uncomfortable topics with you. Without them, your organization will suffer and duties will be performed far less efficiently. As an employer, the most important conversation, as it pertains to employees, is when you notice a disgruntled employee . This employee may even be one who has simply checked out — a time card puncher, if you will. I just read an interesting book called The Energy Bus and it talks about how everyone who works for you needs to get on your bus, share your vision. When they are not on your bus you need to figure out why and if they are capable of getting on. If not, then it is time to cut ties. It has become a doing problem not a fixable knowing problem (Post Coming Soon on Knowing Doing Problem). 

Ultimately, the point is you need to have these conversations otherwise, your happiness or business could altogether diminish. Be direct and to the point by using “I” statements and always refer back to the company. Remember, this is ultimately an intimate negotiation. 

One Customer

Many years ago I had a client that gave me the best feedback I had ever received and he did so without even knowing it. I was working with a company developing a new strategy for an unexpected surge in business. We worked diligently to expand his message and to make sure that they could accommodate the quick growth in terms of personel and production.

We spent a good amount of time on the phone an in person, one day he asked me how many clients I had. I thought that was a strange and somewhat direct question. I told him that he was one of many and that we had business all throughout the world. He was a bit surprised by my answer and went on to tell me that the reason he asked was that he felt like he was my only client. He was very happy with the time and attention he received from my company and felt like he must only be one of a few not many.

It was an extremely validating conversation and it made me realize that service and relationships create confidence, loyalty and longevity. Make sure your clients/customers are taken care of because as they say, if you don’t someone else will.

It’s imperative that you integrate a time management system that allows you to simply touch base and say hello to your customer base on a regular basis. Make sure they know that you still want to help and are interested in them. A simple “Hey Mike, how are thing going for you” phone call goes a long way!

I want to make money, who cares about the people…

In high school I had a friend that would always so “It’s all about who you know”. This phrase was tossed around so frequently that it got annoying and I don’t think any of us truly understood the impact of that statement. But it is all too true in the business world today. You could have the greatest product idea in the world but if you don’t know anyone to market it, fund it, produce it, and sell it then you don’t have anything. On the flip side if you have an inferior product but you have 10 investors, your brother owns a marketing agency, and your fraternity brother is the President of a manufacturing company then you are probably going to make a solid run at a new product launch. Hence the statement “It’s all about who you know”. 

This is why relationships and networking are so important. Many people think of networking or business relationships as a one and done. Go to a networking event and make a sale or land a job, that is not the goal. An early mentor gave me some networking advice that consisted of two basic principles; 1. Meet People 2. Ask them to introduce you to 3 more people. 

The larger you can grow your network and build legitimate relationships with your network the more successful you will be. Don’t you want to be the person that always seems to “know a guy”. This is done through extensive networking and sometimes you don’t even realize you are networking. The absolute best networking event is your four year college career. 10-20 years after graduation you will likely know someone in management in about every industry. This is one of the reasons that I believe college is so important. 

The back side to developing relationships is, firstly, that it has to be reciprocal, offer to help someone in your network, or throw someone in your network a referral. Secondly, you can’t be afraid to ask. This is the same sort of fear that creeps into people as they are trying to ask for the business at the end of a sales pitch. You have a relationship why not use it, if you need expertise then leverage a relationship. The worst they can say is no but if they say yes be sure to reciprocate.

Dress to Impress

The famous Zig Zigler once said “You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.” In short this means that you have to “look the part”, in business “looking the part” is an underrated principle that if mastered goes a long way. It does not matter which company you work for or which department you are involved with because you still have to look the part. Would you be a successful/respected janitor if you wore a tuxedo? How about a successful clown if you wore gym shorts a tank top and no makeup? Of course not, these are very elementary examples about what I am speaking towards. 

This principle works for more traditional business departments as well, here are a few: 

Management or Executive Positions: Must command yourself in a manner that demands respect and illustrates why you are the leader. This starts with your clothes, body language, attitude, and overall demeanor. People are looking for a leader, this does not mean that you have to wear a $5,000 suit, it simply means that your outfit has to be a non issue. (People don’t look at it and think wow thats a tough work outfit, he is my boss?)

Sales: You must fit in with the crowd that you are selling to. If you are selling Ferraris at the Los Angelas Ferrari dealership you should probably be dressed in business formal clothing as that is likely the clientele you will be dealing with and more so what your clientele will be expecting. However, if you are selling Ford’s in a small town in Maine then a polo and jeans will suffice and ultimately make your customer more comfortable with the buying experience. 

Marketing: Whatever business or industry you are in your website, signage, etc has to match your overall culture and brand. The marketing efforts must be impressive to YOUR customer base. If you are trying to attract a right wing conservative group, you had better have an American flag on your promo material. 

The main take away from this is to identify where you fit in a market, regardless of your department or industry, and make sure that you “look the part”.

Is there really such a thing as WIN WIN?

I have been negotiating projects and contracts for many years now. I have the ability to win and get what I want. Well, most of the time. However, I always know that when the negotiation is complete and I walk away victorious, there is someone, somewhere who lost. Although the agreement or contract went my way, I never feel good about being the superior negotiator in that fashion.

I have learned that negotiating a win-win is far more satisfying and honestly far more humbling to my Creator. I know that my desire is to control and steer the negotiation in a way that all parties walk away from the table happy that they got what they wanted and nobody lost. Distinction; this is not a compromise, this is a win-win.

I can remember negotiating with one of the areas larger general contractors about the amount of value engineering was needed to reduce the total construction cost and how the savings would be distributed once the costs were calculated if there was a surplus. Essentially the construction company was already awarded with the 27 million dollar project and we communicated that we were willing to walk away if we could not reach an agreement that was equitable for BOTH parties. We were able to achieve a win-win and all parties involved walked away happy.

There are many tips, strategies, steps or disciplines for negotiating and you can simply Google those things. My two basic tenants for negotiating are being willing to walk away and just as important, shut up and listen. When you listen, you hear things and when you hear things you can glean hidden needs or desires that will, if you allow, steer the negotiation. Don’t be in a hurry, just be patient until the end. In most cases, you will achieve a win-win which helps the relationship down the road – just be sure to listen.

If one party in the relationship loses and loses bad, do you think they will ever want to do business with you again? It really is all about relationships and building trust. Knowing that there isn’t a unilateral self serving motive really helps set the tone. Don’t get me wrong, I have been involved in some very aggressive battles where the gloves came off and those can certainly be fun, especially if you come out on top.

Be a Navy Seal QRT (Quick Reaction Team)

We all know that networking is a necessary strategy for success. Whether you are at a trade show, Chamber of Commerce meeting, or even at that barbecue that you volunteered to cook at. Networking can help you create exposure about you, your product or your service in a way that is somewhat innocuous. What I mean by that is most people that go into networking mode become immediately transformed into an obnoxious and cacophonous billboard/foghorn about all their company offers.

Networking requires specific tactics and talents in order to be successful. We all know that listening is a huge tenant of the sale cycle. The old adage that “God gave us two ears and one mouth” would indicate that we should listen twice as much as we talk holds true. In networking the first tactic that I would suggest is balance.

I have been to thousands of networking events and if you strike up a conversation with someone and stand there and listen to them pontificate endlessly then shame on you. Work to control the conversation gently, inserting your sales message and company information all while being mindful of the time. Networking is about quality AND quantity. If you attend a networking event that lasts 2 hours and you talk to 3 people then you have missed the boat. Basically act like a Navy SEAL QRT (Quick Reaction Team); infiltrate, meet objective, no shots fired, ex-fil and move on.

The objective is to meet as many people as you can, share your information, get their information and move to the next person. Hopefully you know what to do with all the contacts that you made. If not, do a quick search here, we’ve got you covered.

Who cares about what you are selling?

Trust and relationships are an integral part of any sales cycle. Far too many sales people focus on the process of closing a sale and not the relationship being built. It is true that through the use of sales tactics like presumptive closes, agreement building and “if I, will you” you can close a sale. The problem arises when that person walks away and feels like he/she was sold something, they take pause and realize that you had your best interest in mind and not theirs.

Nobody wants to be sold anything, they want to buy something and as sales people it’s important that we make that distinction when we are in a sales environment. Long term relationships are the high fruit and the hard close is all about the low fruit. Knowing that the person you just sold something to will benefit from your product and service in the long term will almost always guarantee repeat business. Repeat business is far cheaper than acquiring new business. It will also prove more valuable with regards to testimonials and referrals.

A relationship is far more valuable and profitable than a sale. If you go into a sales opportunity with the myopic goal of closing the deal, you will not develop a solid sales funnel. Conversely, if you go into the same sales opportunity with the desire to learn about the prospect and their needs and goals, you will develop a more trust centric environment and your odds of getting the sale will be much higher. Going into a meeting with the sole desire of closing a deal and you don’t, you will have a difficult path ahead of you to regain the sale. However, if you have their best interest in mind and you don’t get the sale, you have a better opportunity for follow up and a later close which helps fill your pipeline.