Relevance is The Holy Grail

“Nobody cares about you, your brand, or your company. You’re irrelevant…until proven otherwise.”

–     Steve Woodruff, “Clarity Consultant” and best-selling author

Sad, but true.  The proliferation of choice and apathy in most markets today, and the general risk-averse nature of most procurement processes means that proving relevance takes precedent to proving value.

Brands still matter, but only if they find a way to matter.

Sales pros still matter, but establishing relevance and trust are the entry points to mattering.

That ___________ we sell?  Someone else sells a very similar ___________, or if they don’t now, they will, soon.  To compete and win, we need to first be relevant to multiple constituencies.

First, we have to be relevant to our team members.  We can’t just provide jobs and income and benefits, we have to make meaning for our teams.

Second, we have to be relevant to our suppliers and partners.  If we treat them like commodities, they’ll treat us like….well, like we deserve to be treated.

Third, we have to be relevant to our clients and customers.  We need to make it difficult for them to imagine each day without us in it.

Finally, we have to help our clients and customers be relevant to their clients and customers.  Sometimes it’ll be the ___________ we sell.  More often, it will be the questions we ask, the engagement we bring and the commitment we show, while delivering the best _________ we can.

Empathy in Professional Selling

“Empathy is the ability to step outside your own bubble and into the bubble of other people.”

–     C. JoyBell C., author

As sales pros, we’re paid to get the best deal for our employer.  As owners, we’re incentivized to get the best deal, the best return on our equity or capital.  Negotiating skills training has often focused on how to get what we want at the expense of what the buyer wants.

That.  Doesn’t.  Work.

Buyers have too many choices these days.  It’s like TV networks when I was growing up.  We had three choices, plus public TV.  Today, there are channels about channels about topics on channels.  Buyers have similarly wide options for most of the goods and / or services we sell.

That means table-stakes for us is getting out of our bubbles.  Positioning what we sell in the best possible way for the intended beneficiary of the service.

We might have to give up some margin.  We might have to choose different terms or assume more responsibility for the ultimate outcome.

Or, perhaps we just need to write our story from within their bubble.  Empathy is about seeing through others’ eyes, hearing through others’ ears and feeling with others’ hearts.  In professional selling, it’s about seeing the value we provide in the manner in which they receive it.

We might not have to give up some margin.  We might not have to choose different terms or assume more responsibility for the ultimate outcome.  We might simply need to see the value they way they see it and position it accordingly.

Transactional vs Sustainable

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts…”

–     Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), Greek philosopher

In professional selling, solution selling is sustainable, transactional selling is tenuous.

Of course there are places where transactional selling still works — the floor of the exchange and the auction house to name a couple.

If professional selling however, the whole must equal more than the sum of its parts.

Professional solution selling involves the solving of problems.  It involves understanding the “why” behind the “what,” and it involves the concept that even after the currency changes hands, the value still needs to flow both ways.

If what we’re selling is a one-and-done, “off we go, our separate ways” engagement, that’s transactional.

If what we’re selling means that how the buyer feels about it matters, and our ongoing success depends on seeing that buyer again, and seeing that buyers counterparts again, we need to find a way for the buyer to genuinely believe that thing we sell to be more than just that thing that we sell.


A Tribute To Moms

“All that I am or ever hope to be I get from my mother.  God bless her.”

–      Abraham Lincoln

I had a great mother.  We fought.  Oh, man, did we fight, but, at the end of the day, she was a great mom.  I was raised to believe that there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish if I set my mind to it.  I was raised to believe that chivalry and manners and all that stuff mattered.

Somehow, I was raised with the freedom to challenge authority, but the knowledge that I had to respect my elders.  Those two may have swung out of balance lately, but it’s getting harder and harder to find people older than me!

She was a handful.  She was a pain in the backside.  She was HIGH maintenance.  And she was a great mother.  So much of what I am or ever hope to be I get from her.  Thanks, Mom.  God Bless you!  (I had a great dad, too.  We’ll save that for next month…!)

I have the benefit of living with a great mother.  We have, on occasion, been known to disagree, but at the end of the day, she is a great mom – and she is a great partner.  Our kids are learning that they can accomplish great things if they set their mind to it.  Somehow, they’re exercising the freedom to challenge authority, but they clearly understand that they have to respect adults and follow guidelines for good behavior.

My wife is a handful.  She’s not high maintenance, but she is a great mother, and all of what I and our kids hope to be revolves around her.

I’m pretty lucky.  While I lost my great mother 12 1/2 years ago, I still get to see great mothering all the time right here in our home.

On Sunday, have a Happy Mother’s Day.  Today, make a difference, in honor of the moms who have made a difference for us.

What? Me Worry?

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

–     Corrie Ten Boom (1892 – 1983), Dutch watchmaker, hero and survivor of the Holocaust and Ravensbruck concentration camp

In my youth, Mad Magazine was one of my sister’s and my favorite distractions.  It’s cover character, Alfred E. Neuman, was famous for his impish, “What?  Me worry?” countenance and headline.

My mom was a world-class worrier.  She got it from her dad and my sister got it from her.  Worry knocks on my door (and probably yours) several times each day.

I’ve learned, at least most of the time, to not answer the door.

Because I’ve learned that Corrie Ten Boom is right.  It’s pointless.  It has no effect on the outcome of the thing we worry about, and it wrecks today, worrying about that thing it won’t impact.  Remember, this is the perspective of a woman who helped dozens, if not hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust, before being arrested and interred at a concentration camp.  She really had plenty of opportunity to worry, and instead, she chose to keep today’s strength in today.

As business people we also have plenty of opportunity to worry.  The market might turn.  There might be a product recall.  As sales people, worry can be almost (key word, there, almost) standard-issue.  What if the deal doesn’t close?  What if they push back on price?  What if my commissions get cut?  What if I miss my quota?

Clarity is our best weapon against worry.  Asking better questions.  Knowing the trade-offs to come.  (“If we can handle that problem, Miss Jones, do we have a deal?) Building a solid plan and trusting that plan, then reassessing frequently and adjusting as new information presents itself.  Clarity leads to focus, focus leads to committed action and there’s no room for worry in that equation.

Worry is designed by the Enemy to distract us from good.  Worry turns active time to idle time.  Worry draws our attention to one or two “can’ts” in a sea of “cans.”

Let’s take a page from Alfred’s book….um…er….magazine.  “What?  Us worry?!”



To-Do, or To-Not-To-Do?

Doc:  “Mater!  What did I tell you about talking to the accused?”

Mater:  “To not to…”

–     Dialogue from Cars, the animated feature film

Most time-management philosophies rightly suggest that we use a list of things we need to get done today.  Our “to-do” list becomes a cornerstone of our productivity, then, right?

Where the plan goes squirrelly is when we get a bunch of stuff on that list that isn’t a priority, that won’t move the needle or that won’t give us the maximum return on the time invested.

It is just as important we know what not to do, so that we can focus on the correct set of “to-do’s…”

Try this for a week.  Each evening, make your to-do list for the next day.  Each morning, strike off the “to-not-to’s” and see not only how much more you get done, but how much better you feel about the production.


“Easy is a soul word, not a circumstance word; not an assignment word.  Aim at having easy circumstances, and life will be hard all around.  Aim at having an easy soul, and your capacity for tackling hard assignments will actually grow.”

–     John Ortberg, in his book, “Soul Keeping; Caring For The Most Important Part of You”

There really isn’t an easy button, I guess.  Dang it!

Ortberg’s perspective is a good one, especially in times of great challenge or change.

If our soul’s are at easy, our tasks will seem easier.

It’s a perspective that should help us keep things in the right order.


The Ability to Choose

“The  ability to choose cannot be given away or even taken away — it can only be forgotten.”

          –     John Maxwell (b.1947), American author, pastor, leadership coach, as quoted in Greg McKeown‘s book, “Essentialism”

Pretty heavy stuff for Monday morning, right?

One of the challenges comes when we try to choose pertaining to stuff that already happened.  That’s impossible.

It’s about what we do next.  And the ability to choose in that context can’t be taken or given away.

The stuff that just happened, or the stuff that always seems to happen can make us forget.  But the ability to choose is always ours.





“Success never comes at zero risk; it doesn’t work that way.  We want to be a part of the inevitable disruption, not a victim of it.”

          –     Seth Waugh, CEO of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America, quoted in “Golf Digest” Magazine

Safe always feels safe, but it isn’t always safe.

Risky always feels risky, but sometimes it’s the safest path.

The key word here by Seth Waugh is “inevitable.”  Thirty years ago, market disruption was a concept.  Today, it’s a reality.  All day.  Every day.

The choice isn’t between safe and risky.  It’s between being a part of the future or a victim.


PS  Seth leads the PGA — the association of club and teaching professionals.  Those guys we see on TV, they’re part of the PGA Tour pros….affiliated, but not the same.  Seth’s guys stand in the hot sun and teach folks like us to stop shanking it all over the place, working 18 hour days for most of the summer, washing carts and re-gripping clubs.  It’s a great life for those who love the game and people who play it….I just didn’t want you to think he was saying this through the lens of Tiger, Phil, Rory, Ricky, Justin or Jordan.  He leads a real business at the top of a real industry — one that is under siege, just like the ones in which we work…


Strategy First. THEN Structure!

“Strategy is about trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.”

–     Michael Porter (b. 1947), prolific author and decorated professor at Harvard Business School

“…It’s about deliberately choosing to be different.”



Being different.  It’s difficult to make a difference unless we’re willing and committed to being different…

Strategy is talked about so often that it’s easy for us to think, “We got this!”  Except that not too many of us do.  I’m winging it here (shocking, right?!), but I’ll bet that 80% of the companies I’ve been exposed to think structure first, and then try to wedge strategies in to the structure, based on tenure or whose feelings might get hurt.  Those structure-first companies will get lapped by companies willing to deliberately choose to be different.

That’s one reason why strategy should determine structure.  If that’s uncomfortable to get our arms around, try it this way:  Structure must support strategy.  Leadership teams should relentlessly ask, “Does our structure support our strategy?”

Deliberately choosing to be different requires trade-offs.  One of the most uncomfortable places those trade-offs will occur is in discussions around structure.  Who reports to whom, head-count, functional fire hydrants upon which to “mark territories,” those are all conversations that likely tell us that we have the cart-before-the-horse, the emPHASis on the wrong sylLABle.

What are we trying to accomplish?  How will we be different, truly different?  Those are questions asked by strategically-focused companies — the kind that will make a difference.