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It’s been a great week – first, speaking in NJ to business leaders on the topic of security awareness.  NWN, along with Cisco, McAfee, and HP sponsored this event in an effort to educate managers on the trends we are seeing in cyber crime and data loss.  Then off to Virgina to speak to home schooling families on the subject of entrepreneurship; a topic I have focused on this year, not just with families, but with anyone building a business in this unstable economy.  This includes sales people, business owners, resellers, vars, and smaller high-tech firms, as well as those going into business with new ideas.  A couple of points worth reiterating:

Your competition isn’t as smart as you think

Competition – most are competing on price!  If you sell high-tech solutions in a high-involvement sales model, you don’t want to compete on price.  Especially if you resell technology!  There’s just not enough margin in it.  As I told students in VA this weekend, people stop learning when they graduate.  I’m not sure why that is, and it’s not universal, but it is common.  People have stopped reading meaningful books and have largely turned to their friends for counsel.  When someone hears negative comments, they tend to dismiss them rather than looking for the truth in it. The world is full of time wasters and mediocre performers.  Study, seek out wise counsel, learn from others mistakes, read great books, take notes, and use your discretionary time wisely.  Then schedule free time to relax, goof off, and enjoy the weather.  When it’s scheduled, it makes sense; when it’s part of the daily routine, it leads to ruin.

Come up with Bad Ideas

I love what Seth Godin says about ideas in Linchpin; People don’t have good ideas, but they don’t have bad ideas either – they just don’t have any ideas (I’m paraphrasing here).  You can’t come up with great ideas if you don’t come up with ideas…most of them will be bad ideas, but that’s okay.  Just start coming up with ideas.  Take time to think, brainstorm, collaborate.  Interview people, watch people, think on what you hear and observe, and start writing about it.   As you write and think, you come up with ideas.  Look for the good ones and execute.

Focus on Your People Group

People Groups – This is a powerful concept.  I used the example of a lemonade stand in my talk this weekend.  Let’s say you decided to start a lemonade stand.  You might sell to anyone…but suppose you begin to realize that most of your customers are bike riders on long rides, passing your house on weekends.  You might decide to expand your business, carrying snacks – maybe Twinkies! But bike riders don’t really need Twinkies – instead they might like Goo or Power Bars.  Later, you might even start to stock bike parts.  Suddenly, it’s not about food, but rather, meeting the needs of bike riders.

In another discussion I was talking with someone who raises bees, sells honey, and provides equipment and expertise.  “Is it about the honey, health, or beekeepers?” I asked…If it’s about your own bees, you won’t be successful.  If you aim to help people with health, you may find your adjacent markets take you into all kinds of health areas including supplements or organic farming.  If it’s about helping beekeepers, selling bees, and supplies, etc, your adjacent markets look much different.

The point is, you need to know who your people group is.  From there, you should be studying their specific needs in order to solve the problems typical among your people group.  Once you have that – you must become the best person to meet those needs; suddenly price is not the issue.

Your Hand on the Pulse

What would Google do?  I mentioned Jeff Jarvis’ book before, What would Google Do?  It’s worth a read – the market is changing.  Sun UNIX workstations used to be a highly profitable business, Novell was at one time the go-to NOS company, and perhaps everyone will be sporting iPads in place of laptops if things continue to go well for Apple.  I spoke with one young man in the real-estate business.  How will real estate change –  how is the Internet taking over some of the value agents used to provide?  This sames question must be asked by every company, especially by those of us in the high-tech market.

© 2011, David Stelzl

Photo Taken By Hannah Stelzl

I had the honor of speaking the West VA. F.E.W. conference this past weekend on building profitable businesses…a couple of points worth reviewing:

1. Brand – memorable is the key word here!  I see companies depending on best pricing, certifications, status with vendor partners, and just thinking their people are great. The truth is, every company has people and certifications, and while customer service does vary, it’s hard to present your company as “Better” unless another company is failing while you are standing next in line.  This does not grow business.  Branding must be something unique and memorable.  I have written and taught on using positioning questions.  Download my free copy of the House & the Cloud (right hand side bar) to learn more about this.

2. Sell, then build.  Most do this the other way around.  Building an offering, and then looking to fit it into your client’s world is backwards.  Identify the needs, selling the client on fixing them, then create the solution.  This provides unique value and commands a higher fee.

3. Be the best.  Specialize…there is no such thing as high-involvement sales people who sell everything.  No one wants to pay big commissions to someone who takes orders.  Your value depends on expertise.  As a sales person, this expertise should be at the business level – learn your target prospects business, become an expert at solving certain problems that tend to exist in this type of business – using the tools your company provides.

4. Don’t paint yourself into a corner.  Specialization is important, but if you’re not careful, you might find yourself in a business that has no where to go.  Business expertise tends to provide greater options in the future, where highly specialized technical expertise will eventually commoditize – if you focus on the latter, be sure to watch the trends and grow your career with the market.  About every two years you should be looking to grow into a new technology area that seems to be growing.

5. Setting Fees.  Sales people who continually discount are on the road to disaster.  Work out the right pricing before you propose and make sure your value matches your pricing.  When it comes time to negotiate, change the scope when a price change is needed.  Honest pricing means you can’t change it without a scope change.

6. Great products die without great marketing…plan and execute marketing plans and messaging.  Working hard to sell is a waste of time without it.  Sales people should plan out there marketing each quarter – use social media, events, webinars, and email – be sure you have one core message you are representing.  Build your brand by continually focusing everything on one central theme – perhaps you are the Retail Automation Expert.  Your company may do it all, but you should be known for one thing!  Make it memorable.

7. Learn how finances work.  Understanding how businesses make money, where they lose, how debt, depreciation, ROI, TCO, op-ex vs. cap-ex, and budgets work will go a long way.  Defining the terms is not enough, learn how they work.  Read The Wall Street Journal and Google terms you don’t really understand.

© 2011, David Stelzl

Photo Taken By Hannah Stelzl

It takes a few years longer, but hiring my kids to work with me has been the best decision I’ve ever made (not to mention the tax advantages)…It takes about 15 years of dedicated work and mentoring, but in the end, the quality is unsurpassed.   My wife and I are raising entrepreneurs!

Some home schoolers are accused of raising socially inept teens.  While I have not seen this to be true, no one is accusing me of this.  Sometimes I do get comments about child labor laws, but lucky for me they don’t apply to your own children.  I know, because I tried using that line when I was a teen.

So meet David, my 16 year old sales rep.  Born and raised in our house; he started his first business managing a bee farm about four years ago (still going strong), builds incline stretching platforms for local physical therapy offices in Charlotte NC, and is in the process of rebuilding his bathroom from the studs up (new tub, cabinets, walls, tile, plumbing, etc.)  He’s a problem solver, enjoys building, math, science, and gourmet cooking; on weekends we mountain bike together, along with his three younger brothers.  One day he hopes to run his own bed and breakfast – perhaps in the nearby Blue Ridge mountains.  In the mean time he is learning about business.  He sells online classes for me, is studying and working with my accounting system, and attends events I speak at, to assist with logistics, AV, and product sales, while learning to interact with business people. Most recently he attended a demand generation event in the mid-Atlantic and closed his entire table of eight on moving forward with a security assessment (to be performed by the sponsoring reseller).  We’re looking forward to a great year together!

© 2011, David Stelzl