What Is An A Cappella Leadership Team?

singing sillouhette

Any parent knows the huge popularity of a cappella singing these days.   In fact, at a small  college we just visited Saturday, there are no less than 5 a cappella groups on campus ( one of which sang at the opening session of the visit).  For the uninitiated, a cappella singing is a small group of people using no instruments but their voices which blend into some amazing harmonies.

It’s not a new music art form of course (in fact I always say the original a cappella hit was written in the 1630’s- have a listen here to that).  But of late, we can thank super groups like Pentatonix and others for the surge in popularity.

And it’s fantastic.  I love people singing together without “a net” or in other words, the safety of instrumentals to fall on.  When done well, it is a glorious sound of a half dozen folks who are uniquely gifted in their own ways but listen, really listen to each other blend together perfectly.

I won’t beat the metaphor alluded to in the blog title too hard, but there’s a lesson in a cappella for the very best leadership teams.   Every day it seems we are surrounded by Executive Leadership teams, Division leadership teams and more.  You yourself may be on one of them.    In the best kind of environment these leadership teams aren’t awkward, faceless or sound like a soloist performing with a couple of backup singers.  Nope –these teams perform like an a cappella group.

The a cappella Leadership Team members aren’t the same cookie cutter images of each other.   They look different and sound different and each has his or her unique gift of range, talent and responsibility – and would never be confused with one another.  Yet each sings from the same strategic score and must listen to each other equally – for if just one of them is dissonant, the whole thing falls apart.

These a cappella Leadership Teams are genuine and transparent.  There’s little in the way of policy, history, or hiding behind “the way we always do things” that an a cappella Leadership Teams lean on.  They are open, exposed and work without the trappings of a score recorded years ago or being played today by someone other than themselves.

Done beautifully, the a cappella Leadership Team knows their sound and messages must stir the people who look to them for direction and guidance.  They know they have to work very hard to impress, retain and attract followers based on their performance.

Take a look (and a listen) at a cappella from every angle and consider the lessons throughout.  It makes perfect sense and perfect pitch to me.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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How to Better Respect Small Business


How to Better Respect Small Business

I had two recent experiences that made me think differently about respecting small businesses.  And if you are in the business of marketing, selling, servicing or supporting small business that’s an important thing.

The first was while reading some research. The research said that Small business owners overwhelmingly see themselves as unique and define themselves additionally by their unique contributions to society. 

And I thought why do we so rarely acknowledge and respect small business owners for how they respect themselves?

Sure we respect them by acknowledging their value as a customer, their membership in an industry, their work ethic, their entrepreneurship, their common pain points, their challenges, their contributions to job creation as a whole and blah blah blah…..but don’t you see it?

There is little unique about that to the Small Business owner, instead it’s a wide swath acknowledgement of them as a group which exactly not how they see themselves individually.  And there is nothing respecting their unique contributions to society.

Last week I tagged along with my wife to a local business association gathering at a new restaurant that recently opened in town.   There had to be near 40 local businesses represented sipping on wine and appetizers.

This was not how I remember these meetings way back when I used to attend in another life.   This meeting was about toasting to the “Alan’s business that is driving the benefit tomorrow night for the family who lost their home in the fire last week.” It was about the “needed sponsors for the summer band series”.  It was about how proud the association was for being the “sole group responsible for installing a landmark historic clock in the center of town”.   So little of the time was promoting their business and when they did – 80% of them shared how “different” they were than any another accountant, or restaurant, or mortgage broker, or Mary Kay representative they knew.

So why do I (and I suspect, we) forget so often what our eyes see, our ears hear and our research tells us about acknowledging and respecting a small business?

What if we were to ask more often “What are you most proud of”,  “What defines you” or “What contribution as an Small Business owner inspires you?” when we talked with small business owners? What could we do with that? What would we learn?   What if we identified their perceived or real unique differentiators and societal contributions and embedded those into our variable data printing or emails or CRM data or Facebook pages we build for them?  The leverages are infinite.

Respect anew the small business owner in the ways they respect themselves. It just makes sense.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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Don’t Worry About Your Customers!


no customer

Don’t Worry About Your Customers!

Are your customers perhaps small or large businesses? If so, just forget about them.   Don’t waste your time focusing on them.  Quit obsessing and trying to impress, help, sell, service or support them.

It is a colossal waste of time.

Yet it’s what we’ve all been trying to do for so long we can’t think of any other way to think.    We love our customers.  We study them, observe them, train on their industry, study their social footprints and websites and basically stalk them hoping to learn what makes them tick and hence how to talk, market and generally influence them to love and buy from us.

And we wonder why the open rates are low, the quotas seem too high, the service levels sketchy and the NPS scores kinda meh.

We should think differently.

We should worry about your customer’s customers.   When you able to do that and do it gloriously; then you truly mean something and can influence them.

  • Is one of the clients you supply a small Sign& Painting company? Go and understand – better than they do – how local and state governments work their bid processes when they are looking for a client like yours.  Then you are different than any other supplier because you are worried about your customer’s customer and that is what they care about too.   And guess what – your sales go up along with theirs.
  • Is one of the clients you supply an automotive shop? Go and understand – better than they do – how consumers really shops online for service when they are looking for a client like yours.   Then you are different than any other supplier because you are worried about your customer’s customer and that is what they care about too.    And guess what – your sales go up along with theirs.
  • Is one of the clients you supply a small 3 chain restaurant? Go and understand – better than they do- the how consumers leverage social media in driving business to and from restaurants for a client like yours. Then you are different than any other supplier because you are worried about your customer’s customer and that is what they care about too.    And guess what – your sales go up along with theirs.

It is not semantics.  It’s a paradigm shift.   Think first about your customer’s customers.  How do they act? What do they think?  What’s important to them?  What influences them to work with your customer?

When you bring that to the party in new perspective, ideas and insights, you bring what really matters to your customer and regardless of what you sell, service or support, you’ve strengthened the partnership and profitability for everyone involved.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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Not Even A Dog’s Year Old


number six

Not Even A Dog’s Year Old

A small trip down memory lane today.  6 years ago on this day, this blog began.   I started it to help 10 sales folks I was working with at the time and it has become something different than that – but not really.   It is an effort to write something short, perhaps interesting but most importantly, something you can use that day to help you be better at what you do, and to grow the business.

Though not even a dog’s year old, there are more than 350 posts (and over 50 others in draft form so awful that you will never see them) and 180,000+ words blathered in blog form.  Thought it would be fun to share the most popular posts based on the stats as well as some of my favorite posts and a few more of my favorite posts today.

Have fun rereading or reading these today (I did).  And thanks as always for reading and sharing.

5 Most Popular (based on your views and shares)

“Piano Man” is a Bad Song

My 25 Secrets for Selling To Small Businesses

The 6 Rules of Marketing and Sales

Treat Your Boss Well


Some of My Favorites

I am Joe’s Lead

6 Questions Never To Ask a Customer

The Perfect I’m Sorry

Angela’s Assist

Platinum Questions Are Better

My Other Favorites (a bit closer to home- but lessons nonetheless)

My Great Pumpkin Lesson


The Luckiest Man in the World

A Wii Bit of Advice

4 Minutes with Little Miss Dangling Arms

Fixing a Throwback Problem

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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Role Players


image from inthenetsportsacademy.com

Role Players

The New England Patriots are going about it differently this year.  The players have only received Playbooks; they are not practicing.  Sure, they’ve had lots of meetings at camp discussing and talking about the plays, why they are constructed as they are and why the plays will work.  But not a single player has practiced the routes, the blocking schemes, the throws or the running plays.

Why would they bother?  It’s not real.  Heck most of the time in camp they are playing against each other on the same team!  How silly is that? Nothing counts and someone could get hurt and what’s the point of that?  Besides, they’ve studied the plays; they get it.


Of course the Patriots are practicing this year.  Of course the Patriots are learning their roles by practicing these routes, those blocking schemes, the throws and the running plays.

But we either hate doing that stuff or just don’t care about doing it.

The day I walk through a sales site and see a coach and a sales rep leaning up against some old file cabinets on a sidewall spontaneously practicing a customer scenario about objection handling; I’ll just about have my coronary and end it right there.  I have never ever seen that in real life.

The day I can go to 3 training sessions in a row (live or virtual) where the role play portion wasn’t cut off, or skipped due to time or just wasn’t part of the session – I’ll have that second coronary (well hopefully not with the medication I’m on now and the life changing behaviors I’d have adopted) but—you get the idea.

The day that sales manager from half way across the country Skypes his sales executive and forces her to go through the competitive differentiation portion of the conversation that’s going to soon happen in the C-Suite with a real customer, I’ll have that 3rd myocardial infarction (metaphorically of course).

Maybe I need to get out more often and this stuff happens all the time now.  But maybe it doesn’t.

The sad part is I have a lot of memories when people do some intense role play and apply that Playbook in sessions with their coaches or in war rooms or in “bull in the ring” sessions.   I have lots of memories where those people said, out loud, that that was the best part of working their boss or in the team meetings or in the training classes.

The Patriots aren’t fools.  They know they have roles to play.  And they know they need to play these roles and practice even when stuff ain’t real.   They know because when the time comes; they need to be ready.

And so do we.  Hut! Hut!.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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2 Little Things Driving Me Nuts about Sales Advice



2 Little Things Driving Me Nuts about Sales Advice

I’ll pontificate with the best.   And there are a couple of things I don’t agree with regarding sales advice of late that are bothering me enough to do just that.

Difference here of course is that when I pontificate I am right.  :)

Presentations Should Never Lead With Info About Your Own Company.   Wait, what? If I had a dollar for every post, newsletter, tweet, LinkedIn post and e-book of late that said this I would be rich and then actually I would be poor cuz’ I wouldn’t sell anything.

I get it.  Everyone says your presentations should lead with and be about your client, the result of your research, your discovery and how your company solves problems or drives revenue.  Yes, I get it.   But the reality is your company, its credibility, its experience, the friends it hangs out with and the intelligence of its people are always a concern for a prospect especially in this democratized world where a 1 person operation with a slick website and a social media presence can look like a big boy that has done nothing but looks like it has.   Buyers and prospects are more wary than ever because while a national and global marketplace is advantageous to buyers, it is no assurance that providers are inherently credible.

I’m not saying blather about your years of experience, testimonial and client lists in slide after slide in your presentations but you must at least lead with stories that build the trust and credibility of you and your company with like clients and prospects and then move into your key learnings and what your company brings to the table for the client.

The Client Should Do All (or most) of The Talking:   Really?  I’ve heard and read this like from the beginning of time – and I still see it and hear it daily.   But talk to the best sales reps out there.  It’s not true.  These sales people who are killing it are experts, challengers, loaded with insight and play a consultant role with prospects and clients.  They do a lot of talking, a lot of teaching, a lot of the story telling, and a lot of the credibility building as well as some of the listening.  They don’t just sit back 80% of the time and just take notes through the sales process.    The key here is these sales folks inspire their clients to share and talk honestly about their needs and their ambitions as a result of sharing their insights and by asking great questions.  It is far closer in effective sales to be ~ 50%/50% between client and sales rep than 80%/20% in favor of the client.

These reps know that Interrogation is Not a Sales strategy.   These reps know that what they provide has to be different and more worthy than what the client or prospect can find on the company website or brochure and that requires communicating.  These reps know the mastery of communication and conversation is not excelling at a mute Freudian analysis absorbing the soliloquies of the prospect or the client.


You may disagree with my take on both of these nagging feelings about sales advice.  In fact, I expect many of you do.  But you would be wrong.  (Or maybe, it is possible, remote-though possible, that I am wrong).

Either way – only good comes from thinking about these two or discussing with your teams or colleagues; They are important places to focus


Till next time,

Grow The Business.



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Hear Them Play



I didn’t  expect to break down.  Heck, I didn’t expect anything.

Last Wednesday, I had just walked in the door after work with bag in tow and sunglasses too dark for the basement door I entered through, and saw my son standing next to the old stereo.

“I fixed it” he said.  And he gently put the needle down and a vinyl album began to play.

And I lost it.

I’m not a hugger.  I’m not a crier.   But I remember that stereo.  I remember that sound!  So I did both hug and cry; hanging on to my 17 year old confused and somewhat concerned son.  I held on for a good 2 minutes.  He’s way taller than me and it must have been quite a sight at 6 O’clock at night on a Wednesday in the basement.

That stereo has been sitting in my basement for over a year.  It is more than 50 years old and was my mom’s, who passed away three years ago.   And it was glorious.  I remember it being just about as tall as me though it is not more than 3 feet off the ground.  I remember the music it sang: the operas, the arias, even country and western music and Anne Murray at Christmas.  I remember it all.

But I didn’t quite remember it all like that till I heard it play standing there in that basement last week.     The sound, the crackle of the hi – fidelity speakers, the soft dance and hum of the needle on the record.  It all came back.   And it was too much.  But it was not sadness that made me cry.  It was happiness.  To hear that sound again, to look at that stereo in awe and wonder again like I did as a kid.  To remember in a flash how much time I spent with that stereo through grade school and high school.  It was a good thing to feel.  Wonderful, actually.

I got to thinking about the things we hold on to.  I got to thinking maybe just holding onto things isn’t enough.

I wonder if that old hand carved cribbage board from grandpa needs to be taken from the mantle and put front in center for Friday night game night.   I wonder if that 8 mm camera with the black and white family films needs to be carefully and gently opened and then played for all to see.  I wonder if the dusty photo albums that never get looked at unless someone dies needs to get hoisted out of the crawl space and spread out across the kitchen table offering a backdrop to some great storytelling.

I got to thinking about things we hold onto at work.  I got to thinking maybe just holding on to things there isn’t enough either.

I wonder about that book you’ve had since you were first promoted and that you keep carrying with you from space to space; perhaps that book needs to be pried open and read again as it must have some gems.  I wonder about that dear and trusted relationship with a mentor you always remember fondly, if that needs a rekindling with a phone call or a joyful visit.   I wonder if those memories of the greatest successes you’ve had, faded though they may be, may need your undisturbed and thoughtful review for they have most certainly left lessons worthy to play again.

I’m not sure my son completely understands what happened to his father last week.   I’m not sure I do either.  I know this now for sure;

It’s nice to hold on to things but it’s magnificent to hear them play.


Till next time,

Grow The Business.



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