Three lessons for your business from Steve Jobs

It’s been 10 years since Steve Jobs passed away, but the lessons to be learned from his life and the business he built will be around for a long time. 

Possibly the best insight into what made Jobs what he was comes from the biography “Becoming Steve Jobs” by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. 

The book was published in 2015 but I read it earlier this year and the takeaways have been rumbling around in my head ever since.  

In my work with clients at FiveFour, I see some of those lessons play out in real life. Not so much in the specifics of building Apple into the most valuable company in the world. Rather in the development of people from entry-level entrepreneur to fully developed business leader.  

You get that message right away from the book’s subtitle: “The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader.” 

What you learn is that Jobs was the right person at the right time to found Apple. He was driven and uncompromising in the goal of revolutionizing the personal computer.  

And he did just that – he took on the biggest computer companies in the world – and won.  

But then he stalled. Not as a company, but as a person. He didn’t develop.  

Jobs was forced out by the Apple board of directors in 1985. The company nearly died before the surge of innovation that revolutionized communication with iPhone, iPad, iEverything. 

When he returned to running the company full-time in 1997, he was a different person. He’d grown and was ready to turn Apple into the most successful company in the world.  

Reading that I was reminded of something we say frequently at FiveFour: Businesses don’t grow, people grow.  

There are three points I take from “Becoming Steve Jobs” that illustrate that phrase. 

First, he learned how to make the products that consumers wanted and the ones that he wanted. That meant he needed to compromise on some things he wanted in order to get a product to market.  

He realized another one of our favorite sayings at FiveFour. That 80 percent done and shipped is always better than 100 percent done and stuck in your head. 

Second, he realized the pitfalls of his own ego. I don’t think the first adjective that comes to mind when you mention Steve Jobs is “humble.” But when he came back to Apple, he was more willing to listen to others, innovators such as the brilliant designer Jony Ive, and Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar. 

He learned he didn’t have all the answers. Cue another of our favorite sayings: Don’t be the smartest person in the room. If you are, switch rooms. 

Takeaway three is the relentless focus Jobs brought back to the company. He whittled the product line down to a few things and then made them the very best in the world.  

It’s that commitment to vision, mission and values that separates one company from another, from the highly successful and those that don’t stand the test of time. 

Jobs’ vision was “to make a dent in the universe.” 

He died on Oct. 5, 2011. 

We are still talking about him and the companies he built. It’s a testament that, while he could be an incredibly difficult person, he made that dent. 

If you want to make a dent with your business, book a call and we’ll talk. 

In the meantime, I’m waiting patiently for my iPhone 13.

The “And”

Most of the companies I work with have been built on the passion and drive of a charismatic founder. The sales “process” was simply to free up as much of the founder’s time to spend with prospects and watch them magically convert.

But they quickly realize that if all sales has to go through them it puts a lid on company growth. So, they start building a sales team, but I have seen many make this mistake: they hire people for sales and…

There are many versions of the “And”

  • Sales and marketing
  • Sales and social media
  • Sales and design
  • Sales and fulfillment
  • Sales and

They’re still hiring as if they’re the small, scrappy startup, asking their people to play multiple roles.

There’s just one problem: building a sales team for the first time is hard work. If you don’t do it the right way – by documenting a clear sales process, identifying your ideal customer, laying out the expected daily activity, painting a clear picture of success, managing and coaching – the first sales people you hire will struggle.

And if they struggle at sales, they’ll be more likely to spend time on the “And.” People naturally want to spend their time on things that are succeeding. So, they’ll subconsciously find a need to post something on Facebook rather than make the next uncertain sales call.

One of my clients who made it through the adolescent phase and is now more than $200 million in annual revenue said that the biggest growth in the company came when they started hiring to plan and not to need.

They had plateaued at around $10 million for more than a decade and had always been hiring for their current need, waiting until everyone was overwhelmed. It was only when they began to hire people that they wouldn’t need for 3-6 months that growth took off.

Resist the temptation to hire sales and…

Hire them for a sales role they can grow into over a few months. Do the hard work of setting them up for success and coach them so they can help you succeed.

This is the fourth step in our 4D Transformation Method: Drive Results. I talk about it here:

If you want to drive better results by setting up a sales team for success, reach out to see if I can help. Just fill out this short assessment and book a strategy session with me.

You can’t know everything

In a meeting with one of my clients, a member of the leadership team mentioned that she was surprised when a member of the team she manages asked about a new development in another area of the business and this leader didn’t know about it.

The implication was that there was a communication breakdown at the leadership level and to her team it appeared that she was out of the loop.

I pushed back. Was it something she needed to know?

Growing businesses like the ones I work with require different things from their leaders. Some changes are obvious. Others are less so.

In the early days, everyone is a doer. But as you grow, leaders must become supervisors, managers or, well, leaders. Having to do everything will limit the growth potential of the company.

That part of leadership development is pretty straightforward.

But adaptation is also required when those leaders come together as a leadership team. They must play a new role there as well.

Just as they have to trust their team to perform their responsibilities, they must also trust other members of the leadership team to lead their part of the business.

That means that they can’t know everything going on because that would place another limit on the growth of the business. It would also make leadership team meetings a long series of informational updates. Anyone ever been in one of those?

As a business grows, you must become comfortable focusing your attention on fewer and more important aspects of the business. That goes for each leader individually and as a leadership team.

She asked how you know what you should share as a leadership team and what you shouldn’t. There’s only one way: constant communication.

If she felt like she really needed to know the information that surprised her, she should simply say to the leader of that part of the business, “My team surprised me with that and it would have been nice to know in advance.”

But I challenged her first to think hard about whether or not she really needed to know about it. If not, she could have simply replied to her team member by saying, “As the business continues growing I’m getting used no longer knowing everything that’s going on. But I have full confidence that the leader of that part of the business is leading well and will keep me in the loop whenever necessary.”

The only business where you can know everything is a small one. If you want it to grow, sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that you can’t know everything.

TNU – They’re Not You

I was recently visiting with the HR director at a five-year old company that has experienced significant growth. They have a good product in an expanding market.

In the early days, it was the CEO who was doing most of the selling, and – like the CEO of every company who has early success – he was good at it.

But as the company grew, so did the list of CEO responsibilities. And he increasingly found himself torn between selling and fulfilling. It’s the sales-fulfillment teeter-totter that I’ve written about here before.

So they started hiring salespeople. Some did well and others have yet to achieve their quota in any time period that they’ve measured.

Sound familiar? It’s very common in the companies I work with. Give me a call and we can chat about your situation.

Taking over the sales role from a founder isn’t easy. You can never replace that perfect blend of passion, product knowledge and motivation.

I am constantly reminding the owner-operators I work with: TNU – They’re not you.

So, what can you do? How can you set up your first sales hire for success?

There are four things:

  1. Get the hiring process right. Seems obvious, but this is missed far too often. A young, growing company is not right for everyone. Make sure they match the culture you’re building and have the mindset of someone who can succeed in selling your service. Be honest if they’re walking into an undefined role that will be difficult for them.
  2. Don’t assume that just because they have sold something else, those skills will perfectly translate to what you’re selling. Make sure the sales process is documented and ready to execute.
  3. Be clear on expectations and then inspect what you expect. Having a job scorecard is critical. If they have to make 50 calls per week to be successful, put that on their KPI dashboard and look at it weekly.
  4. Don’t expect perfection. Again. TNU. They’ll never sell at your level. Shoot for 80% as good, then coach and develop them so they can continue to improve.

That’s some of what we do in the fourth step of our 4D Transformation Method. Watch this video to learn more:

Can I help you be successful in sales as you continue to grow? Reach out and let me know. Just take our short assessment and then book a strategy call with me.

And always remember. TNU.

“The only people who don’t want to hear from me are the people I’m paid to talk to.”

I was speaking virtually to a group of salespeople recently and you could see their demeanor change as they came to this realization.

Like most companies, theirs looked to hire extroverts – the “High I’s” on the DISC assessment – that would be comfortable talking to new people. This can be a great strategy, but it comes with a potential problem.

That is, the people who like to talk to other people are usually the same people who really, really want everyone to like them.

In modern business, there is no shortage of people vying for our attention. We have bosses and co-workers, customers and suppliers, and so much more.

They’re calling us, leaving voicemails, sending text messages, tweets and direct messages, pings and dings on any number of social media platforms (that all of these salespeople are told they need to be on, right?).

Those who have a need to be liked feel a need to constantly reply to anyone and everyone who asks for a piece of their time. Because each individual response makes someone happy – thus making the responder happy.

But for salespeople, like the ones I was speaking to, there is one group of people who are not asking for their attention – prospects.

That’s when the salesperson said, “The only people who don’t want to hear from me are the people I’m paid to talk to.”

That’s why time management is such a big deal for salespeople. But it’s more than the ability to manage time. It’s the ability to get yourself to do the stuff you know you need to do but don’t want to.

That’s why author Nir Eyal, says that a better term for time management is pain management.

So, how do you manage your pain? It’s a process of knowing your goals, determining the highest value tasks to help you reach those goals and the using your calendar to prioritize those tasks.

It’s that simple.

And that hard.

It’s one of the things we do all through our process of working with companies as they go through our 4D Transformation Method. We help them prioritize their time so that they can spend it on the things that make their highest value contribution to the company.

But we spend the most time on it when we’re documenting the sales process and helping their sales team prospect for new business.

You can learn more about that fourth and final step in our process by watching this video:

If you are an owner-operator who wants to improve the results of your service-based business, I might be able to help you. Just take this short assessment and book a strategy session with me.

I’d love to help you stop avoiding your prospects and growing from the inside out.

Should we slow down?

That was the question posed by the leadership of a highly successful business that I recently started consulting with. 

They had recently come through a period of rapid growth. 

And that growth exposed some missing systems. A few client engagements had gone off the rails. Salespeople were chasing the wrong deals. 

And the leadership team was spending a lot of time putting out fires. We’ve all been there. 

The fires started the way fires do. Not enough clarity. Lack of accountability. Poor communication brought on by different behavioral styles. 

They were particularly disturbed by the misfires with clients. The business had exploded because of what they accomplished for their customers. They took pride in their customer experience. 

It was in that context that the question surfaced, “Should we slow down?” 

They wanted to know if a pause – to let systems and people catch up – was a good idea. 

I understand where that question comes from. Many of the owner-operators I work with run back and forth between sales and fulfillment.  

Revenue’s down? Go sell.  

Sales growth hurts the customer experience? Jump into fulfillment. 

Business starts to feel like a teeter-totter. In that environment, a slowdown can sound like a great idea. 

In some circumstances, a pause may be necessary. But I don’t believe you have to stop growing to build your systems. 

It’s what I call, ‘Growing from the inside out.’ 

It starts with the culture. That’s what I talked about last week in this video.  

When a business is small, everyone can pick up the culture just by hanging around the leadersThat closeness disappears once the business starts rapidly expanding. That’s when maintaining culture requires a new level of intention. 

After the culture, the next thing you must get right to grow from the inside out is the customer experience. 

Again, when a business is small, and the owner-operator is highly involved with every customer, you can grow without defining every step of the fulfillment process. 

But without that defined process, the customer experience will suffer once you grow beyond the leader’s capacity to be involved in every step. 

Growth from the inside out requires a world-class customer experience. That’s what I talk about in this video: 

What’s the experience like for those who do business with you? Find out by taking my customer experience assessment. At the end, you’ll be able to book a strategy session with me where we will discuss the results of your assessment and the biggest opportunities for improvement. 

Your customer experience may be great today, but if that’s because you’re involved in every interaction, it will become a barrier to growth. Position your business for growth from the inside out by taking this assessment today.