Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com Helping Executive Leaders Accelerate Business Growth Tue, 08 Apr 2014 14:51:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6.1 Helping Executive Leaders Accelerate Business Growth Bill Zipp no Helping Executive Leaders Accelerate Business Growth Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://billzipponbusiness.com 17-Point Checklist for Writing A Great Business Blog http://billzipponbusiness.com/business-blogging-checklist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=business-blogging-checklist http://billzipponbusiness.com/business-blogging-checklist/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 07:00:01 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4064 Blogging, once the exclusive domain of hobbyists and technophiles, has become the most important marketing strategy to emerge in the last decade. Here’s why. It allows people the opportunity to get to know you, like you, and trust you before any dollars are on the table. In a very real way, it pre-qualifies interested prospects, […]

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checklist-2Blogging, once the exclusive domain of hobbyists and technophiles, has become the most important marketing strategy to emerge in the last decade.

Here’s why.

It allows people the opportunity to get to know you, like you, and trust you before any dollars are on the table. In a very real way, it pre-qualifies interested prospects, setting the table to sell to them.

Business blogging has become a proven means for lead generation and the creation of loyal online communities, two critically important marketing strategies for building business today in the face of traditional advertising’s (insert interruption here) demise.

Doing this well, however, is not as simple as starting a business blog and writing a couple of posts a week. Or three or four or five. More of bad is not better. Blogging is a specific genre of communication that has its own keys to success. You must master them for blogging to work for you.

I’ve written a business blog for six years–over 200 posts and counting–and have, as a result, experienced real commercial success through it. The same can be true for you and your business.

Here’s the 17-point checklist I utilize for every post:

1. Write a powerful first sentence

Other than the title, which I address later in #9, the first sentence is the most important part of any blog post. You’ve got to grab people’s attention right away. Make a claim, give a promise, quote a statistic, tell a story, read their mind. In short, engage your readers’ emotions immediately.

And forget what you were taught in English 101, let that first sentence stand on its own as your post’s first paragraph.

2. Write an engaging second paragraph

Once you’ve written a great first sentence, follow it up with a great first paragraph. Back up the claim, promise, statistic, or story with some cold hard facts, capturing both the heart (your first sentence) and the mind (your second paragraph) at the very start. I write and re-write this part of any post until it’s perfect. It’s that important.

3. Keep each post less than 1000 words

Business leaders are crazy busy and will not read long rambling articles. Keep it less than 1000 words. The average length of my top five most read blog posts is 888 words. Got more to say than that? Turn it into two posts.

4. Utilize 2-3 sentence paragraphs

This is an important nuance of business blogging: no paragraph should extend for more than seven lines. If it does, the post appears too dense and people’s eyes will glaze over in their head. Leave lots of white space that contain short, pithy paragraphs. Remember, your readers are crazy busy. Make it easy for them to access your content.

5. Make it personal

Blogging is a personal, conversational form of communication. It’s this authenticity that makes it so powerful. Yes, you can go way over the top here, but the more real your business blog is the more you’ll connect with your readers. One of the ways I do this is being honest about my failures as well as my successes.

6. Talk to Trish

This is something I learned from Sonia Simone in her brilliant content marketing e-class: write to one person. That means knowing your core customer and speaking directly to him or her. Even those people who aren’t your core customer will be drawn into the dialogue because, again, it’s real and authentic. Trish is the very real person I write to, and filter every post through her profile.

7. Use lists

Bulleted lists or numbered lists, like the one you’re reading now, are a great way for busy readers to consume your content. Most people first scan a blog to see if anything’s in it for them. A list grabs the attention of these scanners and pulls them into the post.

8. Break up your text with sub-headings

If a numbered list isn’t appropriate for the particular post you’re writing, allow scanning readers to access your content with sub-headings. Every 2-3 paragraphs summarize a salient point in a memorable way and use it to break up the text.

Here’s how I do that: The Hour That Changes Everything

9. Create a compelling title for your post

This is the most important strategy of writing a successful blog post.

Yes, you’ve got to have good content, but no one, and I mean no one, will consume that content unless you have a compelling, attention-getting title.

And it’s the biggest mistake I’ve made in blogging, assuming that my content alone would attract readers. It won’t. The day I learned to write compelling titles was the day my blog readership took off.

If this is so important, why isn’t it at the top of the list? When I first write a post, I don’t know what title to use. It takes time, thought, and multiple versions to pick the perfect title for a post. It’s the headline of the story, so you’ve got to get it right.

Here, too, is what I’ve learned about blog post titles over the years: clear is better than clever. These are the titles of the most read posts that I’ve written in the last six years. What do you see?

13 Warning Signs that What You’ve Delegated Won’t Get Done

Five Leadership Styles: What Style Are You?

My Teenage Daughter, Migrant Farm Workers, and the Real Power of Personal Productivity

10. Give attribution

Generosity is the spirit of the blogging world. If an idea isn’t original with you, that’s okay. Share it freely and tell your readers where you got it from.

11. Set internal and external links

Here’s another way of giving attribution, create an external link to the place where an idea originates, like I do in #6 and #14. While you’re doing this, direct readers to other places where you address the topic under discussion with internal links, like I do in #8 and #9.

Any decent blogging software makes this super easy to do. A side benefit is this: Google loves links and they’ll improve your blog’s search engine rankings.

12. Pose a question for discussion

The very best part of business blogging is interacting with your readers in the comments section of each post. This is where online community is truly built. So ask for comments by posing a direct question to your readers.

13. Proofread, proofread, proofread

Yes, typos happen. There’s probably one in this post. But unlike publishing a book, a blog typo is easily corrected.

Even so, I proofread every post I write three times: once in my word processing program, then in MarsEdit, a desktop blog editing software I use that uploads to WordPress, then again in WordPress before it goes live

14. Assign categories

Categories are the topics your business blog addresses, and they should be few in number.

Before I read Platform by Michael Hyatt (a must read for anyone with a business blog), I had 16 different blog categories. Yikes! Now I have five: leadership, strategy, sales, personal productivity, and employee engagement.

Exercise the discipline to write within your categories or no one will really know what your blog is about, including you!

15. Optimize for keywords

Here’s another mistake I made for years in writing my business blog. I didn’t optimize for keywords. Again, I figured that people would read my blog because the content was good. But if they can’t find that content, how will they read it. Right?

Keywords are specific words or phrases people use to search for information online. You must know what those terms are for your products and services and blog about them on a regular basis in a natural way. When you do, you’ll appear in searches for these terms and, in turn, people will read your blog. It’s as simple (and as challenging) as that.

16. Place image(s)

The Internet is a visual medium so your blog should be visual as well. Take pictures, buy pictures, draw diagrams, create process visuals. Put them in your blog posts and give attribution where appropriate.

17. Include a clear call to action

Unlike a personal blog, a business blog is part of a larger marketing strategy. And with marketing strategy there’s always a next step you’re asking people to take.

Rarely, however, is the next step buying anything.

An appropriate next step usually involves downloading a whitepaper, signing up for a newsletter, attending a webinar, or joining an online community (See my call to action below). Ask for it every time and track which posts produce the most responses for your business blog, then write more posts like them.

Expand your leadership and increase sales with this short article series sent directly to your inbox, Seven Business Growth Accelerators.

SIGN UP HERE

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Death of the Salesman and the Rise of Smart Salespeople http://billzipponbusiness.com/smart-salespeople/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-salespeople http://billzipponbusiness.com/smart-salespeople/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 07:00:57 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3986 It’s the statistic that sent chills up the spine of sales leaders everywhere. It’s not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill statistic that you can shrug off, either. This one strikes at the heart of the very existence of the sales role in business. The statistic was reported by none other than the Marketing Leadership Council, a division […]

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60It’s the statistic that sent chills up the spine of sales leaders everywhere. It’s not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill statistic that you can shrug off, either. This one strikes at the heart of the very existence of the sales role in business.

The statistic was reported by none other than the Marketing Leadership Council, a division of the prestigious Corporate Executive Board. Having surveyed 1900 B2B customers, they found that these customers will contact a sales rep when they have “independently completed about 60% of the purchasing decision process.”

The 60% number, surprising even the surveyors, varied little by business or industry. You can read about it yourself here: The Most Important Number in B2B Marketing .

What does this mean for sales?

It means that salespeople are left responding to the terms and conditions predetermined by the buyer when contacted by them, not setting the agenda of the sale. In a word that means one thing and one thing only: commodity.

You need only look at the automotive industry to see the future of this powerful trend. What does a car salesperson do anymore except respond to the terms and conditions of the buyer? And if they don’t, that buyer will go down the street to someone who will.

What does this mean for B2B sales? Are we in need of a new version of Arthur Miller’s classic play, Death of a Salesman?

Yes and no.

YES: Certain Sales Styles Are on the Endangered Species List

The statistic stated above is just one of the ways sales have changed forever the last few years. As with any disruptive change, there are things that can adapt to the new environment and things that cannot. Two things that cannot are the people-pleasing sales style and hard-working sales style.

People-pleasing has been beat into the heads of salespeople since the book How to Win Friends and Influence People debuted in 1936. Salespeople on the whole are loathe to disagree with a prospective buyer for fear of damaging the relationship and losing the sale.

The problem is, when a prospect has completed the majority of the buying process prior to speaking with you, people-pleasing sends you down the path of deep discounts, razor thin margins, and diminishing profit. This path, too, is traveled by the hard-working sales style, faithfully responding to the demands of buyers and having to do more and more in every sale for less and less.

Not that we should be alienating people in the sales process, or failing to work hard when executing it. But doing these things as our default response doesn’t serve the buyer.

That’s right, it doesn’t serve the buyer.

Consider the recent rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Government officials came to web developers with the request to build an online platform for health insurance enrollment. Getting so-called “young invincibles” into the system was critical to paying for the reforms in the bill, and using technology to do so was deemed critical.

The problem was in the preconceptions that apparently no one had the courage to challenge. How do you get one-sixth of the nation’s economy online in a matter of months? Let alone coordinate this platform with all the different kinds of providers, myriad of federal agencies with their own web sites and proprietary software, as well as 50 states agencies, some of whom had opted into the program and some of whom had not.

Regardless of what you believe about the Affordable Care Act, its rollout was a train wreck of epic proportions, as checks written to the lowest bidder were cashed. No one is served by this approach, hard-working and people-pleasing though it may be.

NO: Smart Salespeople Are More Important Than Ever

What this means, then, is that smart salespeople are more important than ever to the buyers who need them and the businesses who employ them. Smart salespeople do three things differently than the people-pleaser and the hard-worker.

1. Smart salespeople push back with respect

Smart salespeople are not afraid to challenge the buyer. They don’t do this in an offensive way, always maintaining respect, but they do it nonetheless. The reason they do is that they have found that in a complex B2B environment, erroneous preconceptions can be formed that will end up hurting the buyer, especially when they’ve pursued the process independently.

Although these conversations may become uncomfortable at times, smart salespeople have learned how to master them because they are in the best interest of the buyer. As one smart salesperson told me recently, “The customer isn’t always right, but the customer is always the customer.”

2. Smart salespeople collaborate with their customers

When I got started in sales, I was repeatedly told, “Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.” The thinking was, you must always control the sales conversation and not let it travel into the land of the unknown.

Just the opposite is true today. Smart salespeople ask lots and lots of questions they don’t know the answer to and take up permanent residence in terra incognita.

This dialectical process ends up serving both themselves and their customers. The complex global marketplace in which we work is filled with “unknown unknowns,” and no one has all the answers to the pressing problems we face. Multiple parties from multiple disciplines working together is what it takes to find lasting solutions. Smart salespeople facilitate this process through their strategic collaboration.

3. Smart salespeople arrive before the decision to buy is made

Finally, smart salespeople don’t wait until a decision to buy has been made to serve their prospects. They know that, by that time, it’s too late anyway. So they get there before a buying decision occurs.

How? Not by using clairvoyance, but by proactively providing value to their prospects. Smart salespeople set the agenda of the sale by becoming obsessed with the buyer’s challenges and bringing them ideas about meeting those challenges before they’re asked.

In this way they don’t say, “What’s keeping you up at night?” But rather, “Here’s what should be keeping you up at night!” And their prospects respond, “Wow, I’ve never thought of it that way before.”

That’s smart selling!

At the end of the day, smart salespeople are not seen as a salesperson at all, but as an important business partner. Salespeople like these are more important today than ever before.

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WARNING: Don’t Use Email This Way. Ever. http://billzipponbusiness.com/email-warning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=email-warning http://billzipponbusiness.com/email-warning/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 08:00:31 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3973 I look back on it now with complete and total embarrassment. I had been tossing and turning since 2:00 AM, and it was now 4:00 AM. A slight that had been served me became amplified in my sleepless mind into a full-blown violation of my basic human rights. I was incensed! Finally getting out of […]

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warningI look back on it now with complete and total embarrassment.

I had been tossing and turning since 2:00 AM, and it was now 4:00 AM. A slight that had been served me became amplified in my sleepless mind into a full-blown violation of my basic human rights. I was incensed!

Finally getting out of bed, I authored a sharply worded, extensively documented email, and sent it to every person on the planet. Then I went back to bed.

I awoke to utter humiliation and weeks of apologies.

We’ve all done something like that with email. This amazing technology provides us with the power to ruin relationships and destroy our brand as a leader with a click of the send button. Here are three things to avoid to keep that from happening to you:

EMAIL WARNING ONE: Don’t send under the influence of adrenaline

The great power of email, or course, is its immediacy. We can’t imagine the time when we waited a few days for a letter to arrive, let alone a week. “Snail mail” we call it with a sneer.

Immediacy is also one of email’s great weaknesses as well. There are times, especially when issues are tense and relationships strained, that a few days, or even a week, is exactly what’s needed before engaging in a conversation.

Here’s why.

The first thing that happens to us in a tense situation is that our emotions sense danger and adrenaline, the brain’s emergency response system, surges through our veins. That surge of adrenaline makes us more focused, more intense, and more prone to act aggressively to protect our turf.

Drunk on adrenaline we can say things or do things that we regret later. Anyone who witnessed Richard Sherman’s rant after winning the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49’ers knows what I mean.

This is referred to as “emotional hijacking” and it’s an apt image. Emotions charge the cockpit of our brain, take over the controls, and crash our relationships, and our brand as a leader, into the ground.

When an overwhelming impulse to send that perfectly worded email to put someone in their place comes over you, stop. Do nothing. Don’t write anything. Get control of your emotions, then, and only then, take action.

EMAIL WARNING TWO: Don’t correct via email

A second warning to heed regarding outbound email is this: never use it for correction. Please don’t conclude from that statement that you should never correct your people. That’s not true at all. Just don’t use the medium of email to do it.

Again, here’s why.

Correcting people via email is one of those things that’s efficient but not effective. It’s efficient because, being a busy leader, you’re able to scratch something from your list by zipping off a well-worded rebuke and getting on with your day.

The problem is: you can’t control the context in which that email will be received. And context is everything when it comes to correction.

Consider these possibilities:

  • The person who receives your email may have just been given bad news, like losing their biggest account or having a parent rushed to the hospital, and your correction rubs salt in their wounds.
  • The person who receives your email may read it quickly in-between meetings and miss the point entirely.
  • The person who receives your email may read it over and over and over again, becoming obsessed with the slightest shading of a word or phrase and losing complete perspective and objectivity.
  • The person who receives your email may share it with other people, making your private correspondence a topic of public conversation.

When you correct via email you don’t intend for any of these things to happen, but they do every day in business as effectiveness is sacrificed on the altar of efficiency.

When you need to provide correction as a leader, control the context of the communication as much as you possibly can. While this may take a little more time at first than writing a quick email, it will save countless hours of unraveling painful misunderstandings.

EMAIL WARNING THREE: Don’t allow replies to get past two

We’re all familiar with these email software functions: forward, reply, reply all, copy, and blind copy. And we know the well established protocols related to them. Copy only those who need to be copied with an email. Never use blind copy, its deceptive. Only reply all when, truly, everyone on that list needs to be included in the conversation. Everyone. The same applies to forwarding.

When it comes to hitting the reply button, however, there’s one more protocol to follow. Don’t do it more than two times in an email string.

I arrived one morning for a series of coaching sessions with the executive team at a client company. Before getting started on my day, the HR Director took me aside and showed me a printout of the email correspondence of two executive team members. The stack of paper was over ten pages long, single spaced. Reading from the back to the front, each ensuing email was longer and more intense than the one before it.

Warning One was ignored, as both leaders were writing under the influence of adrenaline. Warning Two was ignored as well, the printed pages were full of correction. But before this happened, if Warning Three was followed, Warning One and Warning Two would have never been an issue, or at least not as much of an issue as they had been here.

When you feel compelled to hit reply more than twice in an email string, it’s time to talk. Make a phone call, set an appointment, pop in to someone’s office, but don’t resolve the matter via email. It just won’t work.

Additional articles on email:

Executive Email Effectiveness: Six Essential Steps

Inbound Email Mastery: Four Powerful Practices

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Inbound Email Mastery: Five Powerful Practices http://billzipponbusiness.com/inbound-email-mastery-five-powerful-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inbound-email-mastery-five-powerful-practices http://billzipponbusiness.com/inbound-email-mastery-five-powerful-practices/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 08:00:04 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3953 11,680. That’s the number Barry Gill reported in the June 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review. The average worker receives 11,680 pieces of email per year. That’s 234 pieces of email in a work week, 47 in a work day. One every 10 minutes. I don’t need to tell you that email overload is killing […]

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Email11,680. That’s the number Barry Gill reported in the June 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review. The average worker receives 11,680 pieces of email per year.

That’s 234 pieces of email in a work week, 47 in a work day. One every 10 minutes.

I don’t need to tell you that email overload is killing workplace productivity. It’s the technological innovation we love to hate. The most successful executives, however, have mastered email overload by applying these five powerful practices to its inbound flow:

PRACTICE 1: Have set times in the day to check inbound email

The first step in mastering the flow of inbound email is not letting it drive the agenda of your day. The way we’ve allowed email to interrupt our lives is like revving up the engine of a sports car, racing down the road at top speed, and then bringing that car to a screeching stop after traveling one city block.

And doing this constantly. All day, every day.

The most successful executives don’t live this way. They set specific times in their day where they process email and stick to those times religiously. What this takes is scheduling 10-15 minutes a couple of times in the morning and 10-15 minutes a couple of times in the afternoon to attend to inbound email.

Because you’re writing crisp, clear and concise correspondence and not letting email replace actual conversation, this is really all the time you need.

MORE: Executive Email Effectiveness: Six Essential Steps

What’s surprising about this discipline is that it will actually increase your email effectiveness not decrease it. Instead of giving half your brain to inbound email, during your set times you’ll be able to give it your undivided attention, and, as a result, execute better on it.

PRACTICE 2: Turn off inbound email alerts and pop-ups

The second practice in mastering inbound email is turning off all the notifications you receive when an email arrives in your inbox. What these alerts do is destroy your focus as a leader and keep you in a constant state of emergency.

The best option for this is actually shutting down your email application and opening it only during the specific times in your day when you check your email. But some people find this step too severe. So at the very least turn off the all the alarms that sound, all the bells and whistles that go off, and all the pop-ups that appear when you get an email.

Why?

A joint study by Microsoft and the University of Illinois found that it takes, on average, 16 minutes, 33 seconds for a worker interrupted by an email to get back to what he or she was doing. Multiply that 16 minutes and 33 seconds by the 47 pieces of email we receive every day, and we have a problem. A serious problem.

It’s impossible to provide the people you lead undivided attention and answer the pressing problems of business today with breakthrough solutions when you’re interrupted every few minutes, no matter how cool the ring tone. Turn all this stuff off.

PRACTICE 3: Do it or defer it

During the specific times of your day when you check your email, use the letters D, D, D, and F to guide you. No, that’s not your son’s latest report card (Okay, maybe it is). It’s a filter for processing inbound email.

When you read a specific piece of email and can take action on it in two minutes or less, do it and remove the email from your inbox. That’s the first D.

If you can’t take action on it in two minutes or less, assign it to a future day. That is, defer it, the second D. You can revisit this task later and decide whether or not it’s really something you need to do, but for now it’s out of your inbox.

Inbound Email Processing System

Under no circumstances allow your email inbox to become an additional task list. It’s merely a temporary staging area for incoming messages. That’s all.

Click and drag software exists to quickly turn an email into a task with the subject line becoming the title of the task and any attached documents being placed in the Notes section. This makes sifting through your email quick and easy. Follow the two minute rule and keep your email check-ins limited to 10-15 minutes or less.

PRACTICE 4: Delete it or file it

If an email is not actionable, that is, if it’s something you need to know and not something you need to do. Read it and delete it, the third D. Also, immediately delete anything that’s irrelevant to achieving your highest priorities and pre-delete unwanted email by unsubscribing to unnecessary newsletters and using your spam filters to the greatest degree.

If you must save certain email to refer to it later, create folders to put them in that are outside your inbox. That is, file it: F. Keep these folders, however, to an absolute minimum. I send email like this to Evernote where I keep track of all the digital details of my life and leadership.

MORE: 19 Essential Evernote Terms and Tricks for Busy Leaders

PRACTICE 5: Get your email inbox to zero

Now use the D, D, D, F system to get your inbox to zero at the end of every day and, with the few stragglers that are left in your inbox that you didn’t get to at the end of the day, absolute zero at the end of every week. Achieving this goal will be one of the most liberating things you can do for both your business and your life.

I’ve worked with executives whose inboxes were filled with thousands of email, and it destroyed their ability to execute crisply as important details fell through the cracks. If this is you, schedule an undisturbed block of 2-3 hours as soon as possible to sift through all your email using the D, D, D, F designations and get your email inbox to zero.

Now stay on top of your email every day. If your email inbox gets cluttered again, schedule another appointment with yourself to get back to zero.

I have three messages currently in my inbox, and that number will be zero by the end of the business day. I can’t tell you how freeing it is not to have the mountain of email screaming at me. The same could be true for you.

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Stop! Before You Lead Your Next Meeting, Ask These Four Questions http://billzipponbusiness.com/four-questions-for-leading-meetings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=four-questions-for-leading-meetings http://billzipponbusiness.com/four-questions-for-leading-meetings/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 08:00:46 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3925 Meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings. You’re probably sick of sitting in meetings. They’re the biggest time suck in business. If you’re going to be an executive who leads at the highest levels of responsibility, however, meetings will be an inseparable part of your life. Making them matter is critical to your success. Here’s how to do that. Ask–and answer–these […]

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Stop signMeetings, meetings, meetings, meetings.

You’re probably sick of sitting in meetings. They’re the biggest time suck in business.

If you’re going to be an executive who leads at the highest levels of responsibility, however, meetings will be an inseparable part of your life. Making them matter is critical to your success.

Here’s how to do that. Ask–and answer–these four questions before you lead your next meeting:

1.  What’s the purpose of this meeting?

One of the easiest things in the world to do today is schedule a meeting. Technology facilitates this process extraordinarily well, allowing us to place a meeting on the calendar, set endless recurrences, and send invites to the entire universe.

As much as I love all things digital, this is not a good development.

Your calendar needs to be a sacred space. Every meeting that lands on it takes you away from getting things done. Successful executives don’t confuse activity with accomplishment and only allow those things in their life that allow them to achieve their goals. Attending a meeting is one of those things that looks like work, but may not actually be work.

We’ve all heard the phrase time is money, but that’s simply not true. Time is more valuable than money. If you waste money, you can earn more. Not so with time. If you think you’ll need more money in the future, you can save it up for later. Not so with time.

Time, not money, is your most limited business resource. Treat is as such as a leader and spend it on those things—and only those things—that move you closer to achieving your goals. And that means guarding your calendar courageously.

Should we eliminate meetings entirely? Absolutely not! But we must submit them to the same rigorous standards we also submit our tasks to: is the purpose of this meeting aligned with my highest priorities? Will it help me do what matters most?

If not, don’t meet.

Meetings that matter

2. What’s the agenda for this meeting?

Okay, so you’ve determined that a meeting could actually occur, but you still haven’t determined if it should. Why? The next step in making meetings matter is crafting a meaningful agenda for a meeting.

A meeting should never take place unless the organizer of the meeting has clearly outlined what will be addressed in it. No exceptions. By thinking the agenda through beforehand, you’ll discover whether you even need to meet at all.

In other words: Are there enough items to warrant a meeting? Do the items on the agenda move you closer to achieving the goals of the group? And is a meeting even the best way to address these items?

Meetings cost money. At minimum is the cost of each attendee’s time plus the cost of the time spent getting to and from the meeting, getting ready for the meeting, and the opportunity cost of being away from your customers and employees while you’re in a meeting, plus the cost of the room, the technology, supplies, and refreshments. On and on it goes. Over the course of the year, the cost of meetings extends into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This cost warrants calculating the return on the investment you’ll get from every meeting.

So follow this simple rule: no agenda, no meeting.

3. Are the right people in this meeting?

One of my first consulting projects was an assignment from hell. I was asked by a company that built microprocessors to audit the workplace culture of a plant that was being built. Construction was way behind schedule and over budget, as two contracting firms had been fired, the latest for stealing materials from the job site and selling them back to the company.

Blueprints were lost, resources extremely limited, and relationships unbelievably strained.

I conducted hours of interviews and gave them my recommendations. In spite of the glaring shortfalls, the number one complaint from nearly every employee was this: meetings.

Too many meetings that went too long, had no point to them and achieved nothing. And the worst part? Everyone in the unit was required to attend every meeting, whether the items on the agenda were related to them or not.

When I gave the recommendation that only those people who needed to be at a meeting should attend a meeting—ironically, at a meeting everyone was required to attend—I received applause from the group. That’s never happened before or since.

Make meetings matter as a leader by asking this simple question: who really needs to be at this meeting? Who do the items of the agenda impact directly?

These are the people, and only the people, who should be in your meeting.

4.  How will you capture and keep the commitments of this meeting?

Most meetings end like a gun fight in an old-fashioned western. Final shots are fired and a big cloud of dust appears. A few bodies lie strewn across the landscape, while everyone else scampers off to the next gun fight. Keep this from happening to you by putting a system in place that captures the commitments of your meeting and ensure that they get done.

Your best friends in this process are the three W’s. Here’s how to use them: Wrap up every meeting you lead five minutes before its scheduled ending point. Review the actions items discussed in the meeting and make sure that each action item is defined by Who is going to do What by When.

As simple as this sounds, I encounter very few leaders who employ this fundamental meeting discipline. Most meetings end with no one knowing the commitments decided on in the meeting and the person who’s responsible for completing them, let alone when they’ll be completed. What a waste!

The three W’s—who is going to do what by when—keeps this from happening. In fact, if all I had in my consulting toolkit was this question—who is going to do what by when—I could travel the world helping organizations large and small dramatically improve execution. The three W’s are that powerful.

Now, when you start your next meeting with this group of people, don’t jump into new business. Follow through with these action item by reviewing the three W’s from the last meeting. Do this in all your meetings and you’ll quickly build a culture of accountability and become known as a leader who’s serious about execution.

“Follow-through is the cornerstone of execution, and every leader who’s good at executing follows though religiously,” states Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

10 Extra Hours a Week

John Anner has led not one but two successful organizations. The first, a for-profit company he started with only a few hundred bucks, is the Independent Press Association. This start-up grew to a multimillion dollar enterprise in a very competitive marketplace.

The second is a not-for-profit organization, the East Meets West Foundation. The East Meets West Foundation provides clean water, medical treatment, and education to developing countries, primarily in Southeast Asia.

“The most useful thing I’ve ever done in any organization is train the staff on how to have efficient meetings,” Anner says in the brilliant book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam.

What are his rules for meetings?

No one goes to a meeting who doesn’t need to be there. Every meeting has an agenda. At the beginning of the meeting, the meeting leader spells out the goals for the meeting; and at the end of the meeting the participants go back through the agenda to review what needs to get done before the next meeting. Meetings in his organization are short, sharply focus affairs that begin on time and end on time.

By increasing meeting efficiency, Anner says, “It gives me at least ten extra hours a week.”

What could you do with 10 extra hours a week?

When it comes to increasing your effectiveness as a leader, there’s no better opportunity than the way you facilitate meetings. Learn how to lead them well and crisply execute on the action items discussed. You’ll save the organization you serve untold time, money, and emotion and become a leader of leaders in the process.

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The Hour that Changes Everything http://billzipponbusiness.com/hour-changes-everything/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hour-changes-everything http://billzipponbusiness.com/hour-changes-everything/#comments Tue, 07 Jan 2014 08:00:00 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3820 One week has 168 hours in it. No more, no less. Subtract the time you spend sleeping and doing basic chores, like bathing, eating, and getting dressed, and what you have left is about 100 hours. The cultural narrative we’ve embraced—that there’s never enough time to do the things that matter most in life—doesn’t hold […]

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One week has 168 hours in it. No more, no less.

Subtract the time you spend sleeping and doing basic chores, like bathing, eating, and getting dressed, and what you have left is about 100 hours.

The cultural narrative we’ve embraced—that there’s never enough time to do the things that matter most in life—doesn’t hold water in light of these 100 waking hours.

It takes 4% of 100 hours to exercise rigorously every other day. It takes 3% of 100 hours to have a big family meal together on the weekend, including cooking and cleaning up. And it takes 2% of 100 hours to read from a book to your children before they go to sleep at night.

When you consider the fact that the average American spends more than 30 hours a week watching television, you realize that the use of our time is more about the choices we’re making than about being too busy.

The secret to using these 100 hours well, instead of wasting them week after week, is simple planning. Like the rudder on a ship, if you take one out of 100 hours—just 1% of your waking week—to plan, you’ll end up charting the course of your life in a very different direction than if you just let the wind and waves drive you.

I refer to this as the hour that changes everything and advise my clients to spent it in two ways. The first 30 minutes is spent one day a week in proactive weekly planning. The next 30 minutes is spent five minutes a day for the remaining six days of the week on daily check-in’s.

Here’s how each work:

one percent of week

The First 30 Minutes: Proactive Weekly Planning

The most important discipline you can instill in your life in this new year is scheduling a weekly planning meeting with yourself and keeping that meeting without fail.

I have a client who does this on Friday morning, another who does it on Sunday evening. I prefer the quiet of Sunday morning while my family is sleeping in. It’s crucial, however, that you carve out a private, uninterrupted space of 30 minutes every week to reflect and plan.

Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would like to modify his words slightly: The unexamined week is not worth living. For our life is made up of the days in our week, and the effectiveness of those days is dependent on their honest examination.

What do you do in that 30 minutes?

1. Answer these four questions

All the activities in your week should flow from the vision you have for your life and work. To ensure that this is the case, start this meeting you’re having with yourself by answering these four questions:

  • What kind of person will you be? How are you staying healthy and strong physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
  • What kind of relationships will you have? How are you investing in the lives of those whom you love the most?
  • What kind of work will you do? What’s the best use of the gifts, talents, and experiences you possess?
  • How will you give back? What contribution will you make to others who are less fortunate than yourself?

Over time, you’ll develop set answers for these questions, and that’s a good thing. Taken together they define what it truly means to have a vision for one’s life and work.

2. Answer this one question

Now ask yourself this one question, “What’s the most important thing I can do this week for these areas of my life?”

Your answer may not be just one thing, it may be two or three things, but they must be the most important things for the upcoming week. Neither are these things everything you’ll do in the week. Again, they’re the most important things. Your first things.

On the list may be regular exercise, a date night with your spouse, visiting your aging parents, one-on-one meetings with your team, follow-up calls to current prospects, or writing thank you notes to new customers.

All tasks are not created equal, and you’re choosing the most important ones for the coming week. You may have a journal where you write these things down or an app where you record them digitally. Do it. Don’t keep this stuff in your head.

Some of the activities that come to mind as I conduct my weekly planning meetings are recurring tasks, like reading and exercise, but many times ideas have come to me in my Sunday morning planning sessions that I had never thought of before and are the perfect solution to a pressing concern. I’ve planned trips with my kids and employee rewards programs, marketing campaigns and consulting innovations.

3. Schedule it

If you had a doctor’s appointment on Friday, how would make sure you got there? You would put it in you calendar, of course. Nothing really magical about that. The fact that a doctor’s appointment is scheduled on Friday allows all the other activities in your day, and even your week, to fit around that appointment.

This is what you do with the activities you’ve identified in your weekly planning meeting. Put them in your calendar giving each a specific day, date, and time.

Here’s why this is so important.

Imagine in front of you a five-gallon bucket, a pile of rocks, and a pile of sand. If you put the sand in the bucket first, there’ll be no room for the rocks. But if you put the rocks in the bucket first, the sand will sift around the rocks.

I refer to this phenomenon as Bill’s Law of Scheduling. Bill’s Law of Scheduling states:

Unscheduled events will conform to scheduled events.

In other words, when you place your top priorities in your schedule–your rocks–everything else will adjust to them. We all know email can take fifteen minutes or an hour and fifteen minutes. The difference? The way you schedule your time. Sand conforms to rocks.

Fundamentally, what you are asking yourself is this, what are your highest personal and professional priorities for the week? Having determined them, schedule them so you live life differently, based on importance and not urgency (or mere sloth watching 30 hours of television).

The Second 30 Minutes: Dynamic Daily Check-In’s

Now, just like you’ve scheduled a 30-minute planning meeting with yourself one day in the week, schedule a 5-minute check-in meeting with yourself the other six days.

The vibe of the daily check-in, however, isn’t the quiet reflection of a weekly planning meeting, but the quick connection of a football huddle. Your goal is to arrange the day in light of the weekly plan you’ve made and the dynamic developments that have transpired during the week.

Missed your workout because of an unplanned sales meeting? Reschedule it for this afternoon. Skipped date night because of sick kids? Reschedule it for the weekend when your sister’s available to watch them.

I have clients who prefer to do this at the end of the day and others who do it at the beginning. But do it without fail.

A daily check-in allows you to stay true to your highest priorities while responding to the challenges each new day brings. In this way your plans are not a straightjacket that binds you, but an agenda that you hold with an open hand: getting to all of the items on that agenda, but, perhaps, in a different order than you originally outlined.

Any cross-country flight, and any week in the ever-changing world in which we live and work, has things happen that take it off course. Regular mid-course corrections keep your week on track and get it to your desired destination.

Genius of the AND

There I sat with my 13-year-old daughter on a dirt floor eating rice and beans with some of the poorest people on the planet.

We traveled over 40 hours in a cramped van to the southern half of Baja Mexico to provide humanitarian aid to migrant farm workers laboring there. A trip that would have never happened except for the hour that changes everything.

I’ve raised three active children. As a dad it was critically important to me that they see how the rest of the world really lives. So my wife and I made sure they traveled internationally as many times as we could afford.

But here was my baby, my third-born daughter, living as an only child in an empty house as the other two moved-on to college. I wanted to take some extra time just to be with her. How could I do that?

I asked myself that question during one of my weekly planning meetings. A mere few minutes later, when we went to church as a family, the opportunity to go on a mission trip to serve migrant farmer workers was announced, and we signed up immediately.

For a solo consultant, however, taking two weeks out of the country on a mission trip is not an easy thing to do.

First, there’s the work that would be lost just before the summer slowdown, then there’s the complete disconnection from the outside world, and finally there’s the work that would have to be squeezed in both before and after the trip.

Enter Bill’s Law of Scheduling.

As my clients heard what I was doing with my daughter, their response was amazing. Each of them applauded my efforts and bent over backwards to accommodate my schedule. One person actually offered to financially support the trip!

Eating rice and beans on a dirt floor in Mexico would never be considered an elegant dining experience. But it’s the meal my daughter remembers more than any other meal we’ve had together almost a decade later.

Due to the 100 waking hours we’re given every week, we don’t need to make either/or choices between professional success and personal satisfaction. We can have both. Jim Collins refers to this as the “Genius of the AND” in his classic book Built to Last,

“Instead of being oppressed by the ‘Tyranny of the OR,’ highly visionary companies liberate themselves with the ‘Genius of the AND’–the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time. Instead of choosing between A or B, they figure out a way to have both A and B.”

The same could be said about a life that’s built to last.

Just ask my daughter.

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13 Warning Signs that What You’ve Delegated Won’t Get Done http://billzipponbusiness.com/delegation-warning-signs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=delegation-warning-signs http://billzipponbusiness.com/delegation-warning-signs/#comments Tue, 10 Dec 2013 08:00:43 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3782 Yes, you know you’re doing too much. Way too much! And, yes, you know you need to give things to other people to do. But you’ve tried delegating, and it doesn’t work. The last time you delegated something to someone, the whole project blew up in your face, and you ended up doing it yourself. […]

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Yes, you know you’re doing too much. Way too much! And, yes, you know you need to give things to other people to do.

But you’ve tried delegating, and it doesn’t work.

The last time you delegated something to someone, the whole project blew up in your face, and you ended up doing it yourself.

Not fun.

I can hear you saying now, “Give me something I can use!” Right?

But consider this. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not delegation that doesn’t work, but the way you delegate that doesn’t work. Read through the 13 warning signs below and see if you find yourself in any (most?) of them.

1. You delegate too much at one time

For many of the clients I work with, delegation is only attempted when they’ve become completely and utterly overwhelmed. As a result, the things they give others to do are delivered in rapid fire succession, like a drive-by shooting.

The problem is, like a drive-by shooting, an employee doesn’t feel empowered to act, but assaulted with a list of things to do that gets added to their already long list. And your delegated tasks go to the bottom of that list, not likely to get done any time soon.

The solution to this problem is being strategic with your delegation. Planning ahead and taking time with the assignments you give so they actually get done. That’s the point, right? In short, slowing down to move faster.

2. You expect people to read your mind

The next warning sign that what you’ve delegated won’t get done is when you delegate without being clear about what you really want accomplished.

Recognize this scenario?

“Hey Jan, could you do this for me, please? Thanks!”

Jan, eager to get ahead and look good in front of her boss, accepts the job, even though she has no idea what the job entails. The more time goes by, the more frustrated and confused Jan gets, but manages to actually get something done.

Unfortunately, the work Jan does in no way resembles what Jan’s boss had in mind, and, instead of giving Jan another chance with better instructions, Jan’s boss takes the job away from her, fiercely determined to never delegate anything again.

A least not to Jan!

Note this well: People can’t read your mind when you delegate something to them. Take time when delegating anything to clearly define what actually needs to get done. Apart from this practice, you really aren’t delegating at all but merely dumping on people.

3. You delegate without a due date

When people receive a delegated task, in their head they’re starting to shuffle the deck.

What I mean by that is any new task being asked of someone gets added to a list of things that already exists for them to do. The recipient must figure out how to fit that new task into their already full schedule, so they sort through the “cards” of their day in search of where to place it.

When no due date is given a delegated task, or at least agreed upon between you and the person being delegating to, guess where your assignment goes? Yep, to the bottom of the deck!

4. You delegate without following through

Here’s the brutal reality of leadership: people don’t listen to your words, they listen to your actions. So if you give someone something to do, but never follow up on it. That action–or the lack of it–is listened to loudly and clearly.

And the message people hear is this: When you ask someone to do something, you’re really not serious about it. You’re just kidding.

The problem is, you may be deadly serious about needing a project to get done, but without following through, you communicate that you aren’t by your very actions.

Inspect what you except. Even if it’s a five minute progress report. This kind of accountability sends a powerful message that you’re a leader focused on action and will help your people fulfill their best intentions.

5. You delegate to the wrong person

Often in the desperate hunt to find someone to do things we no longer have time to do, we pick the first person who makes eye contact with us that day. And this person, desperate as well to make a good impression on us, agrees to do it.

But they’re the wrong person. Ungifted or unskilled (or both) in doing what you’re asking them to do.

In defining what needs to be done for the successful completion of a task, take the extra step to identify what skills and abilities are needed to succeed in it as well. Never force a square peg to fit into a round hole, you’ll destroy both the peg and the hole in the process.

6. You view delegation as an event and not a process

The biggest challenge I face with my clients in the area of delegation is their perception of it. They see delegation as an event where something they need done is given to someone else to do. But, again, this really isn’t delegation, it’s dumping.

Real delegation has a five step process that looks like this:

delegation-PV

The first step of delegation is the realization that you are doing way too much. You know what that feels like, and so do I.

The next step, however, is not giving some of those things to someone else to do, but simply having them watch you do it. From complicated tasks, like executing a sales cycle, to setting the office alarm, people need to know what a good job looks like before they can do that job well.

Then move forward in delegation, doing the task together and watching the other person do that task themselves, giving appropriate feedback. When all these steps are completed, delegation is also complete. So, too, the tasks being delegated.

7. You delegate without adjusting your leadership style throughout the process

When you look more deeply at the five steps in the delegation process outlined above, you’ll notice that throughout the process leaders need to adjust their style each step along the way.

In the early stages of delegation a leader brings more direction to the table, more instruction and demonstration. In the middle stages of delegation, an effective leader’s style becomes more collaborative with a mutual interchange of ideas and decisions. Then, in the end, less is more as a leader releases a person to take actions on their own and keep them informed on what they are doing.

Failure to adapt your leadership style throughout the delegation process short circuits the development of your people and, in the end, leaves you doing everything yourself.

A genius with a thousand helpers is still a genius. He or she just isn’t a leader.

8. You delegate without explaining why something must get done

The brilliant Victor Frankl, survivor of the Nazi death camps, once said, “He who has a why can endure any how.”

Many of the tasks you’re delegating are difficult and challenging, or conversely repetitive and routine (a different kind of challenging). But they still need to get done. Right?

Tie each task you give others to do into the  big picture of the vision of your company–its why–so that your people have a cause that empowers them to endure the how.

In this way execution is just as much about emotion and it is about action. Providing a meaningful purpose for action powerfully engages people’s emotions and is a hidden driver of effective delegation.

9. You delegate without delegating the appropriate level of authority

Another element of delegation that needs to be determined is the level of authority being delegated to complete the task at hand. Lack of clarity on this can lead to delegation disasters.

Here are the four levels of delegated authority a person may act within:

Levels of Delegated Authority

These are vastly different levels of authority, from free reign to close monitoring. Deciding which is appropriate, based on the complexity of the task and the experience of the person being delegated to, establishes important  boundaries within which a person may act. A lack of boundaries like these paralyzes your people.

These levels of delegated authority, as with one’s leadership style, should also adjust throughout the delegation process. In this way a person is free to do what they need to do without checking with you first, unless, of course, checking with you first is what you need for them to do.

10. You only delegate down and not up or sideways

Delegation is not limited to being applied in one direction only: from you to your employees. You can delegate up to your manager and delegate sideways to your peers. Wise leaders know which direction to go when a job needs doing.

Specifically, there may be tasks that would take an employee hours to do, and perhaps never get done, that someone else in the organization can accomplish in a matter of minutes. Not because they’re better than that employee, but because they’re much better positioned in the organization to accomplish the task. Part of picking the right person to delegate to is picking the right place in the structure of your company to look for that person.

11. You close a meeting without using the three W’s

The most efficient way to utilize delegation is in a team meeting. Instead of having a dozen one-on-one sessions, a team meeting allows you to talk with a dozen people at the same time, and, just as important, for them to talk to each other to coordinate the details of delegation.

Most team meetings, however, are poorly led, go over their allotted time, and end frantically with everyone racing off to the next meeting. Opportunity lost!

Here’s how to prevent that:

  • Wrap up every meeting 10 minutes before its scheduled ending point.
  • Review all actions items discussed in the meeting
  • Make sure every action item is defined by Who is going to do What by When

These three W’s, Who is going to do What by When, are the backbone of effective delegation and work amazingly well as the wrap up to all business meetings.

12. You open a meeting without reviewing the three W’s

Again, team meetings are the very best place to utilize delegation. At the start of a meeting, however, people are eager to jump in to new business. Who doesn’t like to discuss new things?

Don’t! At least not yet, anyway.

First, review the action items from the last meeting and the three W’s related to them. By doing this you make a statement that you are a serious leader (Remember, actions speak louder that words), and begin to build a culture of accountability in your company.

13. You delegate without celebrating past success

What’s the best way to ensure that something you need done is completed over and over again?

Reward it. Simple, right?

Positive reinforcement encourages your people to take those actions again and again. Yet most leaders, upon the successful completion of a project, move on the the next big thing.

And, at some level, leadership is about the future and not the past. So I understand the impulse to move on to the next big thing. But consider this: You can’t drive a car down the road with an empty gas tank. Recognition and reward, even something a simple as a thank-you note, fills people’s emotional gas tank and empowers them to keep going, even in the most difficult of times.

Conversely, if your employees don’t think you appreciate what they do, their gas tank will run dry and their car will stop completely.

Here’s the bottom line:

“Getting things done through others is a fundamental leadership skill. Indeed, if you can’t do it, you’re not leading,” declares Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

Delegation is how you get things done through others. Master it and you’ll become the leader you know in your heart you can be.

Pick one of these warning signs to work on each week for the next 13 weeks. Master it and move on to the next one. In just 90 days you’ll be a much better delegator and a much better leader.

Your people will thank you!

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Executive Email Effectiveness: Six Essential Steps http://billzipponbusiness.com/executive-email-effectiveness-six-essential-steps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=executive-email-effectiveness-six-essential-steps http://billzipponbusiness.com/executive-email-effectiveness-six-essential-steps/#comments Tue, 19 Nov 2013 08:00:16 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3708 It was a big eye-opener for me. I was circling back with a client of mine who hadn’t returned an important email. So, naturally, I went back to that email to pick up the train of thought, and there it stood. Screaming at me. No wonder he hadn’t responded. He probably hadn’t even read my […]

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It was a big eye-opener for me.

I was circling back with a client of mine who hadn’t returned an important email. So, naturally, I went back to that email to pick up the train of thought, and there it stood.

Screaming at me.

No wonder he hadn’t responded. He probably hadn’t even read my email. I didn’t want to read my email either.

It was long, rambling, and pedantic, a wall of words that would never get read.

And it was then and there that I decided to apply a rigorous discipline to all my business email. I would write like the executive leader that I was: crisp, clear, and concise.

Here are six essential steps in that process:

STEP 1: Lead with a Strong Subject line

We know this, of course, but don’t fully grasp its implications.

Because of email apps, we process all our email—not by the content of the correspondence—but by the quality of the subject line. It’s the headline of story, and, depending on the strength of the headline, determines whether we keep reading.

So make your headlines clear and actionable. The formula is simple: one word + one statement.

Here are a few examples:

     REQUEST: Please approve final website copy by Wednesday, September 21

     REPLY: The Midwest Division’s input on sales bonus incentives for Q4

     UPDATE: Executive Team meeting agenda for Friday, October 4

Most business email is either a request, a reply, or the relaying of important information. You may have other words that you prefer; or may adapt the words above, as in SECOND REQUEST or READ AND REPLY.  I like putting them in caps to get the attention of my readers.

The second part of this formula, one statement, succinctly summarizes the email in a handful of words. It’s merely a shortened version of Step 3 below.

STEP 2: Start with a Short, Sincere Greeting

The people you are writing to, of course, are human beings. And good leaders acknowledge that fact in all interactions with their people. But these people are also very busy human beings. Starting an email, however well-intentioned, with a long, rambling salutation loses the attention of the reader.

A short, sincere greeting, however, keeps a personal touch and lets you get down to business.

Here are a few more examples:

     Good morning, Sara, great job on the vertical marketing roll-out.

     Hello, Mike. Another stellar sales quarter. Congrats to you and your team!

     Good afternoon, Dee. Thanks for your email inquiry.

Twelve or fewer words, that’s all you’ve got. Make ‘em count.

STEP 3: Write a one Sentence Summary

This is the discipline that transformed my email the most. Forcing myself to summarize what I wanted to say in one sentence made me think, at the very outset, what this email was really about.

 Email Effectiveness Essentials

Here are some more examples:

  • Please find attached a first draft of the e-learning proposal you requested for your sales managers on executive execution. Highlights of this proposal are:
  • This is your official reminder of our next Executive Team meeting via WebEx on Friday, October 4 at 11:30 AM Pacific. Items on our agenda are:

Answer the standard questions you were taught in Writing 101. Who? What? Where? And when? And, yes, I know both examples above have two sentences, but the first sentence is the summary and the second sentence is the transition to the list, explained in the next step.

I always write my summary sentence first because it drives the content of the entire email. Then I edit it down to use in the subject line.

Can’t summarize your thoughts in one sentence? Then you don’t need to write an email, you need to have a conversation. Really. So write an email requesting a conversation. Email is for short, brief, succinct communication. Never send one when a live interaction is needed.

STEP 4: List Supporting Statements

After creating a summary sentence for your email, stop writing prose. Make a list.

Any paragraph that comes after your summary sentence will be a wall of words that will cause your reader’s eyes to glaze over in their head. A bulleted or numbered list, however, does this:

  • It creates white space on the page. That’s a good thing!
  • It quickly communicates key points.
  • It keeps the discussion on topic with the summary sentence.

Get it? Make sure the items, as with the list above, are crisp and clear. Practice pith with each point.

STEP 5: Close with a Specific Step of Action

You’re an executive leader and your job as an executive leader is to move the business forward. By extension then, your job in writing email is to do the same. Always close with the next immediate step that makes sense with what you’ve just written.

For example:

  • Let’s apply this template to our team’s internal email by Tuesday, October 15. Okay?
  • Please send me additional items you would like to see on the agenda by EOB Thursday, October 3. Thank you.

STEP 6: Use a Simple Signature

Drop your fancy signature line with colorful graphics and a handwritten autograph. Not only is that distracting, but you’ll get sent straight to junk mail by a spam filter. List your name, position, company, and basic information in straight type (add color if you must). Two to three lines max.

Put It All Together

Here’s what an email following this template would look like:

READ AND REPLY:  E-learning proposal first draft with follow-up meeting

Hello, Mike. Another stellar sales quarter. Congrats to you and your team!

Please find attached a first draft of the e-learning proposal you requested for your sales managers on executive execution. Highlights of this proposal are:

  • On-demand availability for greater flexibility for your international team
  • Application of the philosophy of teach fast, practice slow with short 15-minute podcast sessions and real-world learning exercises
  • Inclusion of our most popular module, Achieving Email Excellence as an Executive
  • Variable pricing options to meet budget considerations in Q1

Let’s schedule a 30 minute meeting to nail down details and a start date. Does Friday, October 4 at 8:30 AM or Thursday, October 10 at 3:30 PM work for you?

Here’s the Bottom Line:

Stop sending email that’s a wall of words that will never get read. Write email like the executive leader you are (or want to be).

Be crisp, clear, and concise.

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Four Warning Signs That Your Sales Training is a Waste of Time and Money http://billzipponbusiness.com/sales-training-warning-signs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sales-training-warning-signs http://billzipponbusiness.com/sales-training-warning-signs/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 07:00:12 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3761 Businesses in the United States spent $67 billion on training their employees last year. You read that right, that’s billion with a “b” and dollars with a “d”. Sixty-seven of them! The sales training  portion of that price tag is estimated at $4-5 billion. With 49% of all sales reps under quota in any given […]

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money on fireBusinesses in the United States spent $67 billion on training their employees last year. You read that right, that’s billion with a “b” and dollars with a “d”. Sixty-seven of them! The sales training  portion of that price tag is estimated at $4-5 billion.

With 49% of all sales reps under quota in any given fiscal year, I’m pretty sure these dollars could’ve been better spent elsewhere. How can you tell if your sales training investment is a waste of time and money?

Here are four warning signs:

WARNING SIGN ONE: Sales Manager Misalignment

The way sales training is rolled out in most organizations is that sales managers hear about it at roughly the same time as their reps. And while you have every right to do that as an executive leader, it’s unwise.

Here’s why.

Unlike any other role in your company, sales managers are charged with the direct supervision of a process from which a significant amount of their pay is derived. Remove them from having a say in how that process is carried out, and you remove a powerful partner in generating revenue.

Most sales managers won’t actually sabotage sales training they don’t have a say in developing, but they won’t reinforce it either. Add to that end of month, end of quarter, and end of year pressure to hit their number, and they’ll stay loyal to what’s working for them, not some newfangled ideas.

Not to mention the fact that you may not know what your salespeople need anyway. I once worked for a company where the General Manager purchased an expensive piece of software that didn’t do a particular task that frontline employees needed to do a dozen times a day.

He made this costly mistake because he didn’t know that his employees even did that task, let alone needed it in the software package. And, really, how could he? Sure, he was a smart guy, but he didn’t know everything. And when you don’t know everything, you ask before you buy something for someone.

In fact, your sales managers can be the very best resource on what’s really happening in the frontline of sales in your company. Stay close to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. And let them help you shape the way your salespeople are trained.

WARNING SIGN TWO: Sales Process Disconnection

The next warning sign that your sales training is a total waste of time and money is that no real thought has been given to integrating it with your sales process. I can’t tell you how many rolled eyes and blanks stares I’ve seen from salespeople who’ve been pulled out of the field to participate in training that was in no way connected with what they were actually doing everyday.

Now I’m sure you have a sales process in place. And I’m sure everyone knows what it is. But what I find in sales organizations large and small is a tremendous lack of clarity about what that process actually means in day to day activity.

Want proof? Conduct this experiment:

Sit down with a few frontline salespeople in your company and ask them what the most important activities are in the execution of your sales process. Don’t give them any ideas, suggestions, or prompts. Just ask the question and listen. Now ask the same exact question to some of your sales managers, and compare the two lists.

Whenever I have done this in the sales organizations I’ve served, without exception, the lists have few items in common. It’s like these people sell on two totally different planets!

Before initiating any sales training program, review your sales process rigorously and identify the specific steps of action that need to be taken to execute it. Clearly define exactly what it means in your company to fully complete each step and train to those steps.

If you involve your sales managers in developing your training, as I recommend above, have them rank which steps are the most important to address based on what they see their reps struggling with in the field and adjust your training accordingly.

What this undoubtedly means, however, is customizing any curriculum you use and not buying something off the shelf. The best sales trainers are more than happy to do this for you because they want to deliver something to your people that actually works. And the extra investment is worth it, because, again, it’s an investment that’s connected to completing your sales process, not learning some generic curriculum.

WARNING SIGN THREE: The Compensation Effect

Upton Sinclair, author of the Jungle—a story about the brutal days of factory work in America at the turn of the last century—wrote this, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

This is just as true today as it was 100 years ago, and no more so than in the world of sales. A sales person’s paycheck is the ultimate teacher of what your company values most in sales, not a two day workshop. And if you’re training them to do one thing and paying them to do something else, it’s just a waste of time and money.

For example, I once worked as a consultant at a company that was making a strategic sales shift to growing revenue by deeply serving existing customers. This made sense because of the rapidly shrinking prospect pool due to mergers and acquisitions in the industry. The problem was, sales from new business was still being commissioned at a higher rate than sales from existing business.

Guess what their salespeople did?

If you’re going to invest in sales training, make sure that sales compensation reinforces your training, not undermines it. If you work at a bigger company, I know this is harder to accomplish that in a smaller, more entrepreneurial firm. But find a way, some creative way, to reward the behavior change you’re seeking to instill.

WARNING SIGN FOUR: Drinking from a Firehose

The final warning sign that your sales training is a waste of time and money is the way most training is delivered today: from a firehose.

What I mean by a firehouse is that people are put into a classroom for one or two days and pummeled with waves of input from well-meaning instructors. But even the most interactive methodologies, practice sessions, case studies, and role plays fail to produce permanent behavior change, quite simply because that’s not how people learn.

People learn through spaced repetition and gradual progress. What this means in real life is delivering a little bit of training, and following it up; delivering a little bit more training, and following it up, repeating this process all throughout the year.

Spaced repetition, gradual progress. Spaced repetition, gradual progress.

How can you afford to bring a trainer in that many times to your company? You can’t. So I recommend not buying sales training programs at all but buying train the trainer programs, bringing sales training in-house and rolling it out little by little.

The added benefit of that is your sales managers and seasoned sellers, many of whom would be your in-house trainers, will know exactly how to reinforce the training with your reps. In this way organizational capacity grows, along with sales, and your training budget ultimately shrinks.

Not a bad deal!

Photo courtesy Images_of_Money

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Cultivate the Will to Win: The Why and the How http://billzipponbusiness.com/cultivate-the-will-to-win/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cultivate-the-will-to-win http://billzipponbusiness.com/cultivate-the-will-to-win/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 07:00:44 +0000 Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=3541 Remember taking science in high school? Yeah, I know it was a (very) long time ago, but think back with me for a moment. Remember a certain gentleman by the name of Isaac Newton? Considered by many as the greatest scientist of all time, those of us who can actually remember anything from that time […]

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Remember taking science in high school? Yeah, I know it was a (very) long time ago, but think back with me for a moment.

Remember a certain gentleman by the name of Isaac Newton? Considered by many as the greatest scientist of all time, those of us who can actually remember anything from that time in our life will remember Newton’s second law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

What does this law have to do with business? Everything, for it’s not only a law of motion, it’s also a law of leadership.

As a leader, when you initiate action, there will be a reaction. Not just a reaction, but an “equal and opposite” reaction. In other words, the greater the action you initiate, the greater the opposition to it.

When you’re leading a business, there will be opposition. It’s inevitable. Having the courage to face—and ultimately overcome—that opposition is critical to success.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Revisit the Vision

There are three stages to goal fulfillment. The first stage, like the beginning of a race, is characterized by the adrenaline of excitement and the thrill of anticipation. The gun sounds, and we take off.

The third stage of goal fulfillment, the end, also has its own excitement. We can see the finish line and others are there to cheer us on. We sprint to break the tape and raise our arms in jubilation.

Both of these phases of goal fulfillment tend to take care of themselves. It’s the middle phase where we lose our way, get discouraged, and give up. Seth Godin refers to this as the “The Dip” and explains its dynamics in the following diagram:

the dip

The Dip is that gap between the excitement of starting something new and the reality of completing it, where the effort you’re exerting over time has not produced the results you were expecting (or desperately needing).

The Dip is where goals go to die. Vision is what keeps them alive. The fire of passion. The drive of a dream. Commitment to a cause. As Victor Frankl, survivor of the Nazi death camps puts it, “He who has a why can endure any how.”

Revisit your vision. Remind yourself of your why. Clinging to it tenaciously will get you through the how of the equal and opposite reaction that arises in the pursuit of your goals.

2. Take the Next Step … and the Next

Practically, however, what do you actually do in The Dip? The answer to that question is simple, yet profound. You take the next step, then the next step. And then the next.

I learned this lesson in the first 10K race I ever competed in. It was on New Year’s Day 2013, and when I woke up it was 22 degrees outside. By the time I got to the starting line, it had warmed up all of five degrees to a very frosty 27 degrees.

But emotions were high, if not the temperature. The gun sounded and I took off with the pack, running faster than I ever had for the first three miles of the race. The problem is, a 10K is not three miles long, it’s over six miles long. By the time the fourth mile came along, my legs felt like lead and my lungs were wheezing.

As I entered the fifth mile, all I could think about was quitting the race and walking back to the finish line. Embarrassed, yes, but pain free.

But I didn’t. Why? Because I had committed myself a year earlier to getting into the best shape of my adult life, and, for me, that meant being able to run a 10K in less that one hour. I had trained for it, and, dammit, I was going to do it.

I had found the will to win and kept going. In spite of the pain in my legs and my lungs, I put one foot in front of another and took the next step, then the next. And then the next.

Soon I was within view of the finish line and could hear people cheering. Someone read the race number on the bib pinned to my shirt, and my name blared through the speakers like an announcement at a football game. I sprinted even harder and finished with a respectable 56:36.

Please note, however, that my goal was not fulfilled at the fast start or the finishing sprint. It was fulfilled when, against everything I was feeling at the time, I clung tenaciously to the vision I cast for myself. The goal was fulfilled, quite simply, with a will to win.

3.  Recharge and Reengage

Finally, a will to win is cultivated by taking on other challenges, setting bigger and badder goals and pursing them with the same tenacity.

But first celebrate.

In other words, don’t go from one race to another without any breaks in between. It’s how runners get injured and leaders get burned out. Rest, relax, and take time to recharge your body and soul. And, yes, celebrate. Enjoy the win and revel in your victory.

The Will to Win and True Grit

Here’s the truth about goal fulfillment: it doesn’t really happen on the mountaintop, but in the valley. It doesn’t take place in the light, but in the darkness. It’s forged in adversity. To fulfill any worthwhile, meaningful goal one must possess a drive and determination to overcome opposition.

In short, you must have grit.

Not the grit of a gunslinger that the young Mattie Ross found in an aging Rooster Cogburn in the movie, True Grit. But the grit that researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth defines as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

According to her research, this kind of grit outperforms both talent and intelligence in activities as diverse as graduating from military school and competing in the National Spelling Bee.

Perseverance and passion for long-term goals outperforms talent and intelligence in business as as well. It’s the will to win that gets you to the finish line time after time, celebrating sweet victory against any and all equal and opposite reactions.

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