Leadership

Vistage CEO Sam Reese on Art of the Possible Podcast: Thriving as a leader in the age of uncertainty

Listen to “Ep 24 Sam Reese, Global CEO Vistage. Thriving as a Leader in the Age of Uncertainty” on Spreaker.

Rob Hartnett:

Hi, I’m Rob Hartnett. On The Art of the Possible Podcast, we aim to inspire, entertain, and educate you in all areas of leadership and leading a life full of possibility. We speak with people who inspire by their actions and their attitudes, and cover a wide range of personal and business topics that are relevant for today. The Art of the Possible Podcast is brought to you by our sponsors, The John Maxwell Team, Extended DISC Behavioral Assessments, and Selling Strategies International. You can find out about all these brands and more at robhartnett.com. And now, let’s get on with the episode.

Rob Hartnett:

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have a very special guest today on The Art of the Possible Podcast, all the way from San Diego, USA. One of the gurus, one of the mentors, one of the great CEOs, Mr. Sam Reese. Welcome, Sam.

Sam Reese:

Thanks, Rob. Great to see you again, my friend.

Rob Hartnett:

And great to have you on. It’s been a while. Hey Sam, you’re a CEO, you’ve been a CEO for a while, but when you were growing up, who were your mentors and leaders? When you started sort of growing up and looking at your business career?

Sam Reese:

59 years old, it seems like that was a long time ago. And I think, when I look back, mine were mostly like athletes at the time. There was the U.S. champ in the marathon was a guy named Frank Shorter, 1972 gold medalist. He was one I looked at. Pistol Pete Maravich was another one I looked at. But then I think the first real mentor that sort of bridged athletics and business was a track coach I had in high school by the name, Bob Brown, just an unbelievable influence on my life.

Rob Hartnett:

That’s incredible because you were an athlete?

Sam Reese:

Yes.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah. And you were one of Nike’s first sponsored athletes, am I right about that?

Sam Reese:

It’s a long time ago, but yeah, I think Nike … they were sponsoring people. But ’80 was my first, and then ’82 I had a real contract with them. Long time ago, but yes. And that’s all I ever really wanted to do was, I only had one goal and that was … I know you’re a sportsman as well, I just wanted to be the Olympic champion in the 5000 meters. I never thought that that wouldn’t happen, until I couldn’t do it anymore, and then I’m like, “I guess it’s not going to happen.” But I had no other backup plan at that time.

Rob Hartnett:

No plan B, no plan C.

Sam Reese:

No plan B. I think it helped me for a while candidly, but then once I realized, about 22 is when I was pretty much done with my knees, I said, “I better start thinking about something else-

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, that’s right.

Sam Reese:

… because this isn’t going to happen.”

Rob Hartnett:

It’s typically health, isn’t it? It’s all going well until the health thing comes in, and I think that’s a great one we’ll talk about a little more. So, now you’ve always been, since I’ve known you, one of the great observers of what’s going on in the world. You’re always tuned in, you’re a great listener about what’s going in. Some people are coming through the pandemic, some are in the pandemic, some have got a little more light at the end of the tunnel, what’s been your observation of global trends? What are the best CEOs you’ve found, what are they doing during this crisis?

Sam Reese:

I talk to a lot of them and I’m really trying to get even better, and better at this. I’ve always tried to listen. I’ve always had really smart people like you around me, who I can listen to. But I think, right now, what I’m seeing more than anything, is smart CEOs are just respecting individuals. It’s a very strange thing, but now it’s not just politics and religion, it’s health too. All three of them, those are beliefs. And giving people the space to have their beliefs, making sure that you accommodate whatever those beliefs are. Not trying to tell people how to think. These are the ones I’ve seen struggle when they say like, “I’m telling my people they shouldn’t be afraid of this.” Or, “I’m telling my people they should …” Just give them space to think. I think that’s really important.

Sam Reese:

What I also see is, I just see the smart CEOs know right now is the time to get close to customers, and close to your people. There will be a talent war coming. We got to keep our best and brightest, otherwise when things change they’ll be gone. We got to stay close to all that.

Rob Hartnett:

I think that’s wonderful, Sam. I think that is so important. And it’s really interesting, I’m seeing the best sales leaders especially, are spending time with customers. They’re spending time with their people who are close to customers. But there’s a whole bunch who are just getting caught up in internal meetings, and endless Zooms, and they’re just getting … they’re actually getting further away from customers. Are you noticing that as well? Some are actually-

Sam Reese:

I am.

Rob Hartnett:

… going closer, some are going the other way.

Sam Reese:

I am. In fact, I keep battling it ourselves in our own company. There’ll be some great ideas and I’ll stop to think, “Well, that’s a great idea. Is this what our members want? Is this …” “Well …” “No, let’s keep talking to them.” It was so interesting what we found during the pandemic, is we thought we had to go do all this innovating, and then instead, all we had to do was listen because they were innovating. And then we were just catching it up and then operationalizing it. But you’ve got to stay close to that now, and stay close, like I said, to your best people. What I always find interesting is people will say, “Well, I feel really lucky that I even have a job now.” Well, whether that’s true or not, the best people, they won’t feel like that in a year now, and if CEOs are treating their employees like, “You’re really lucky to have a job,” they’ll be surprised because those people will be gone.

Sam Reese:

The best of the best, they’ll have somebody else hiring them. And I just feel like that’s what’s on my mind is, my best people, I’ve got to stay really close to. Make sure they feel important and can contribute right now.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, I love that. I was listening to a very raw interview with Simon Sinek, he was interviewed by John Maxwell, and that was very raw. I mean they, both of them were saying, “Hey, our businesses have really gone down, what are we doing?” And Simon was resurrecting his business. But one of the things he said was, he felt that businesses, the organizations that were doing best, were the ones where they had the leaders truly listening versus hearing.

Sam Reese:

He talks about that in his, I think, his latest book, The Infinite Game, is incredible. We actually had John Maxwell speak to all our members about six months ago, and Simon’s going to speak to them in January and talk about this very topic. But the part that I’ve learned from those thought leaders is, listen without an agenda. Listen without confirmation bias. And I’m sure you’ve seen that in your career too, just be open to just taking it in, rather than, “How do I take it in and turn it to something I believe in?” Just take it in. That’s where I’m really trying to improve because that is where the gold comes from. Just listen to them.

Rob Hartnett:

Wow, and that’s a great point. Though it’s hard to listen, isn’t it? It’s hard to listen with the intentionality of just listening and taking it in. You’ve got to have that, as I call, listening with a growth mindset. And one of the things I did with some coaching stuff I do now, and I’ve seen people have a great coaching plans, and GROW model and the rest, which I love. But one of the things as a game changer I did for a few clients, I just wrote on the very top, I said, “Before you do your coaching, just tick this box for me. Have I got a growth mindset or a fixed mindset about this person? Yes or no?”

Sam Reese:

Love it.

Rob Hartnett:

“What do you say, yes or no?” And so many people went, “Oh my god, I have a fixed mindset that I …” I kind of know what they’re going to say, “I’m going to take it in, but I’m hearing, but I’m not listening.” And I think it’s, sometimes we need these prompters because what you just said is fantastic, but gee, it takes some practice doesn’t it?

Sam Reese:

It’s hard, yeah. I think one of the things I learned early on in management that didn’t. I started in British Telecom many years ago, they had this incredible management training, and they had this whole course that talked about focus on the situation, not the individual. And at the time it made a little impact, but over my career, more and more I’m like, “I got it.” Every time I just think it’s the individual, then I’ve got assumptions, I have fixed mindset, instead of just be open. And you find with younger leaders, what I find, especially ones trying to drive their own agenda, they’re listening and they’re so selective, it’s complete confirmation bias, they go down the wrong path. You know, I’m trying over the years to just get better, and then the listening maybe hard. I may have to take something in that is something I hadn’t planned on. The other thing is, I have to listen without thinking about executing, because if you think about executing, like “Oh, but we can’t do that, Rob,” instead, “Tell me more,” then I’ll go figure it out.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah.

Sam Reese:

Very hard.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah. I think that’s true, and it’s also true for different styles. I mean, I do a lot of stuff around the extended DISC and DISC modeling, and it’s fantastic. I’m doing a leadership program now and it’s just been a … it’s like a revolution for these guys. And these are seasoned professionals, but they’re just … for those DI type drivers who want to get it done, those execution people. My sort of segment is concluder, I’m a concluder, Sam. You know what that means?

Sam Reese:

Yeah.

Rob Hartnett:

I like to get it done and get it fixed, right? You know, whatever your greatest strength is, is also your greatest weakness.

Sam Reese:

Oh, yeah. Hopefully you’ve thought about that because I’ve had that same challenge. That doesn’t work in our personal lives by the way. You know, when, “Hey, let me fix that for you, honey.” “And I don’t want that fixed, I just want you to talk. I just want you to listen.” I’ve had to learn that. I was CEO for Miller Heiman for 15 years, as you know, and when I left I took out my profile that they had done for me. It had some DISC elements in it. 15 years later and I read through, and I went … I hadn’t looked at it in 15 years and I went, “I cannot believe how spot on it was.” It was perfect. I’m that predictable.

Rob Hartnett:

Well, it’s interesting with mine, I like to put myself out there whenever I’m showing anything or teaching anyone anything because I’d like to say, “I’ve done it.” So I’ve actually got my DISC profile over … it’s over 10 years, so I’ve done three over that period, but it’s actually my natural style has shifted, and it’s shifted over those periods of time. Just as I’ve matured or doing different things. And one of the parts of me that’s … I used to have a lot, well, not a lot, but I had a little bit of what we call S, that stable, secure, thinking things through, more detail. I don’t have any, right? It’s gone. But Lisa, my wife, who you know, she’s 65% S, so I’ve just outsourced it to her.

Sam Reese:

Well, it’s better.

Rob Hartnett:

And she’s better.

Sam Reese:

Yeah, and she’s better at it than you were anyway. Yeah, right?

Rob Hartnett:

She’s way better, way better.

Sam Reese:

I think that’s what great leaders do though, what you just did, I really believe that’s what great leaders do is, they figure out all their resources. What they find is, they find what is great in all their people, what’s that one big skill of the people they work with, and then that really just raises the whole team. That’s a skill to figure that out.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, it’s self-awareness first, isn’t it? I really like that self-awareness part, and then go, “Look, I’ve got some great people. I’m not hiring me.” I find too many leaders hire like themselves, and all of sudden there’s this cluster of all … And that cluster group just goes around going, “Gee, everyone else are idiots. We’re really good. We’re really smart. Are you smart? I’m smart, I get it. You get it.”

Sam Reese:

Oh, god.

Rob Hartnett:

“I’ve got a 60 page PowerPoint deck, I think it’s fantastic. I would go to 65. Those other people are idiots.”

Sam Reese:

Run it by you, run it by your team, they all go, “It’s fantastic.”

Rob Hartnett:

That’s it.

Sam Reese:

And then you take it to a customer and they go, “We don’t like it.”

Rob Hartnett:

“We don’t like it. We don’t get it.” And like this point about you keeping close to customers, I think that’s wonderful. I’ll never forget, Sam, being in a session in Australia. You came out here, you were fantastic with your travel, and you came out. I remember sitting there with a leader and you said to the leader, “What are your customers saying?” And I recall this, and the leader said, “Well, I don’t know. Our voice of the customer research is being conducted later in the year. And it’s going to come back and then we’ll spend three months going through the analytics, and I should have it in about 12 months’ time.” And the look on your face, I’ll never forget it. And you were like, “No, what are your customers saying now?”

Sam Reese:

Now.

Rob Hartnett:

“Well, the voice of the customer’s coming in …” You go, “No. No. You go down and you talk to them.” And he looked at you like, “Wow.”

Sam Reese:

Today. Now. It’s funny because I find some CEOs feel like that’s dirty work. It’s the work. And that was one of the things when this pandemic first hit, I made a commitment that I would answer every single customer email that came to me directly. And the first week I thought, “What am doing?” Because I was getting 100 plus a day. But what happens is, you know, is pretty soon I have a lot of knowledge about the front lines. I’m talking to hundreds of customers and that detail, man, I would tell you, that was my security blanket helping us get through this thing, by having all that detail, customer by customer across the globe.

Rob Hartnett:

It’s an incredible thing. I remember when I was in a startup and with our good colleague, Bill Lang. You remember Bill Lang.

Sam Reese:

Oh, yeah.

Rob Hartnett:

I was in a startup with Bill and every customer email came in to everybody. So we’re a small team as a startup, but maybe there was 25 of us I think, but every customer email came to the 25 people, every one of us.

Sam Reese:

Everybody could see it. I love that idea.

Rob Hartnett:

Total transparency. But let me tell you what the big thing was, when we had meetings to sort out what our priority was, it was easy, everyone knew.

Sam Reese:

Easy.

Rob Hartnett:

Everyone knew. It was, we’re getting beaten up on the e-commerce part, or we’re getting beaten up on the signup page, right? You didn’t have to argue about that, no one had to say, “Well, how many people?” We’re getting all the emails. Now I must say, Bill, in a great stroke of wisdom, decided that … he made everybody a vice president in the organization, so that was pretty easy.

Sam Reese:

What a great idea-

Rob Hartnett:

It was a great-

Sam Reese:

… so it felt like everybody-

Rob Hartnett:

Even our EA was vice president of incoming, right?

Sam Reese:

So everybody was getting to the top. Well, it was funny, what I learned so much from all of this, I still do, but when it was first happening, and then I would ask questions back. And one of my favorite ones to respond to is people would send a note and say, “I’m sure you’re not really reading this, but if it gets to your assistant.” And then I would respond and say, “I am reading it directly, and I have a question for you.” And the feedback I got was incredible. The patience of our members, incredible. And just the creativity on what it took to keep everybody satisfied, I think, is really something you can get if you’re talking to customers every day.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, I like that. And one of my larger customers, Sam, are in logistics, so they’re absolutely flat out, you can imagine during this pandemic. But what they did, they got so busy they actually got all their frontline leaders, and I’m talking your level, were out delivering parcels for the last mile-

Sam Reese:

I love it.

Rob Hartnett:

… on the weekends. And I spoke to the leader of the group who himself was out, and he said, “Let me tell you,” he said, “there is nothing like learning the difficulties of last mile when you’re delivering.” He’s delivering parcels. He said, “At one place they had this giant dog and I just couldn’t get past the dog.” It’s a great story and he told me this fantastic story, but he said, “Let me tell you, I came back, I had such an understanding.” And to your point as well, when you take those … you don’t have to do them all year, but you took them at the start of it. He’s gone out there on the weekends and literally delivered parcels, saw what the challenge was, saw how they could improve it, and it just gets you so much closer, doesn’t it? I think that’s wonderful what you do.

Sam Reese:

You just respect them so much. One of the things that has been so clear for us as we’ve gone through this is, it’s just a really simple framework, was just a story framework, is we said, “Let’s make sure that the member,” and for us, that’s the hero of our story. Not us, all we are is we’re guides trying to help, but that’s the hero, and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve really seen. Making sure with our messaging that, that’s how we pivot in the world. It’s like, all the things we’re doing are great, but only because our members are great. Right?

Rob Hartnett:

Yes.

Sam Reese:

That’s the whole story. And I think sometimes when you’re a company, you have a lot of success like we have, or companies like you’re talking about, it’s easy to start talking about yourself. That’s not important and that’s not interesting. What’s interesting is what your customers are doing to change the world, and you take pride because you get to help them, and that’s really fun.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I-

Sam Reese:

It’s been a big aha for us.

Rob Hartnett:

It’s a really great idea. It’s how it’s the customer’s success, that focus on it. I think one of the interesting things, you talked about talent before and that war for talent, which I agree with. Do you think going forward though, that leaders are going to actually spend more time on recruiting talent that’s actually has resilience and agility, are going to be key factors?

Sam Reese:

Oh, yes. Yeah. In fact, I just wrote an article about resiliency, because I just feel like that is the thing we’re looking for now. I mean, think about what it means when you say, when you’re hiring people with agility and resilience you’re saying, you’re asking people who maybe are going to solve problems that we can’t even define right now. There’s a tremendous book called Range. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but Range is all about how generalists are the best at solving problems. That’s what we’re thinking about of this, is just how do we find these generalists, people that have done all sorts of different things? They’ve solved, they were engineers, they … delivery men, whatever. How do we understand that, find those people, so we can bring them into our organization?

Sam Reese:

And then when you switch the organization around, when you have to pivot, they’re not panicking about what their job is, what their role is, they just are leaning in to help. Resiliency is going to be, I think, the number one factor. I know it is for us, but I think that’s what people are looking for in employees or workers.

Rob Hartnett:

And that’s interesting because I think that, that generalist side, and I’ve seen some of my clients start to look at that, but gee, I tell you what, I would suggest the bulk of recruitment is actually still very, very narrow. It’s like, really narrow. And it’s getting narrower with even using tech. You know, after using bots and things like this, and automated interviews based on keywords search. Yeah, you’re just going to recruit these really narrow channels of people who are literally like deer in the headlights through COVID.

Sam Reese:

Yeah. You know what? Because I know there’s great technology and there’s a lot of things happening on digital technology, they’re really exciting right now because sales and marketing are coming together. If you’re a salesperson, you’ve got to be able to go one to many. But I reject the ideas when people come to me, some well-known companies saying, “We have AI that can do all of the prospecting for you.” I just reject it. People don’t really … they might respond on the front, and they still need to learn about who you are, what’s your business is, and have a tailored discussion, and that requires that they talk to real people. But I know there’s a lot of people that believe that. You know, boy, we could just automate everything with tech. It’s not that simple.

Rob Hartnett:

No, I don’t think so. I think it’s getting improved, and what I’d like to see-

Sam Reese:

Oh, yes.

Rob Hartnett:

… in sales tech is, just taking a lot of the hack work away. And I think there’s some really nice-

Sam Reese:

I agree.

Rob Hartnett:

… solutions out there now that can make key account management easier, that make opportunity management, but just take away a lot of-

Sam Reese:

Account based marketing-

Rob Hartnett:

That kind of thing.

Sam Reese:

… that’s really positive stuff. Yes. Yes.

Rob Hartnett:

I think there’s some good stuff in that space. I think the other interesting part, I think Gartner put it out recently, they said something like, “88% of B2B buyers rate the information they’re getting as unbelievable, like it’s really high quality.”

Sam Reese:

Yeah. What does-

Rob Hartnett:

They can’t make a decision now because it’s so good. So what they’re looking for is someone to make sense of what they’ve got, and to connect it to the problem they have. And they said that the information, the data, the credentials, the look and the feel, unbelievable. 88% said it’s unbelievable. We don’t know who to buy from, but it’s unbelievable. And-

Sam Reese:

It’s like what you said about the analogy you were given about the logistics company. It’s that last mile, we still need a capable person who knows how to understand what a customer’s needs are, how to tie the requirements to what their capabilities are. But I’m with you is, there is so much more of this sales process that can happen automated wise, serve me up good content. And candidly as a CEO, I like it better that way. I’m not ready to have a discussion, I’ll let you know when I’m ready to have a discussion, so keep giving me some information.

Rob Hartnett:

Yes. Yeah. And that’s the other big thing too is that, it was fascinating, I think there’s 66% of B2B buyers are saying, “It’s actually a better experience during COVID than it was pre-COVID.”

Sam Reese:

I’ve heard this.

Rob Hartnett:

Which is really interesting data saying, actually, it’s like you, I’m getting information, I can work myself through it, I’m loving this, the whole, whether I’m using Webex Teams or Zoom, it doesn’t matter because I can bring people in. You know, I did one yesterday where they needed me for 10 minutes, so I jumped in, I’m there for 10 minutes. You know, be brief, be brilliant, be gone, the old thing. But they only needed me there for 10 minutes, and that was great for me and it was great for them. Now, gee, if I had to fly somewhere to do that, or the whole productivity side, so I probably wouldn’t have been invited if I had to do that, and I wouldn’t have gone.

Sam Reese:

I think this has changed, Rob. I think this has changed dramatically. I don’t know how often it will be moving forward that you will get on a plane, fly somewhere to meet with one person whom you already know and have a meeting. I mean, I don’t think that’s going to be on my schedule anymore, right?

Rob Hartnett:

No, I don’t think so.

Sam Reese:

I mean, we’ll just do a Zoom call, and I walk in my office two to three, rather than … I mean, that works out great.

Rob Hartnett:

Yes. Yeah.

Sam Reese:

I think that’s what’s going to happen.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, I don’t think so. And the other thing that was interesting was this swing away from the … it was like telephone versus these type of tools. And it was these type of tools for everything, from prospecting right down to ongoing management, was like, “This is the way to do it.” So I think this, the way we’re doing things is going to be just more and more of it, and better, and better at what we’re doing.

Sam Reese:

Yeah, and better. At the start of the pandemic, if we were to talk to our … we have 1,000 chairs, these executive coaches across the world, if we would’ve said, “We’re going virtual,” that would have been a five year process to roll it out, prove it-

Rob Hartnett:

Yes.

Sam Reese:

… check it. Instead, in three weeks. I mean, it happened and because our members were saying, “Hey, we need to keep talking. This is the best way to do it.” And we made the switch and we see it as a big part of our business moving forward.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah. Yeah. I really liked it, and I saw a great case study on Nike actually, in APAC, and they were talking about their switch. And they said overnight they went from … the sales just dropped, through their retailers and online. But they decided a couple of things. They decided, we’re going to go digital, that was it. And they said, “Done beats perfect,” right?

Sam Reese:

Yeah.

Rob Hartnett:

That was their thing, “Done beats perfect, and the culture will be collaborative, pragmatic, and optimistic.” I just love that.

Sam Reese:

Oh.

Rob Hartnett:

I just love that.

Sam Reese:

I love that.

Rob Hartnett:

And that was their culture, and it was like, “Mistakes are okay, but done beats perfect. This is our culture.” And literally they went and then the Nike app collapsed, right? That they had too many people trying to get on.

Sam Reese:

I love it.

Rob Hartnett:

But they fixed it and they said, “Now, in Asia Pacific anyway, over 50% of their transactions are digital for Nike gear in APAC,” but they have just got the most unbelievable connections with their customers. They’re now seeing the app and they’re now able to write to people and say, “Hey, Sam, you’re now running 10K, we would suggest these type of sneakers. We would suggest stretching, here’s some stretching videos for you to watch.”

Sam Reese:

I didn’t even think about that.

Rob Hartnett:

They’ve just got this whole thing because they’re watching the app, and people are getting back and going, “I’m now doing that, what should I do?” And there’s forums opening up and they said, “Our digital, it’s changed completely in four months, that would’ve taken us,” to your point, “probably five years of envisioning what it would look like. And we’ll test this out, we’ll see how it goes in this country first.” They just said, “We went APAC, boom.”

Sam Reese:

Boom. What happened in our business that you’ll get a kick out of is, we have all of these networks, so these online networks that allow people with similar interests, let’s say, a manufacturing network, or a family business network. And we’ve always had good traffic, but during COVID it just spiked tenfold. And what was happening, it was really incredible to watch, like I said, instead of us thinking we had to innovate, we just to watch and sort of operationalize. But people were actually sharing manufacturing. Somebody would say, “Hey listen, I’ve got an order for face masks here in New York, can somebody else help me fill it because I can only do 500,000 of them.” Somebody would say, “I can help you in Germany.” Somebody would say, “I can help you in Australia.” It was incredible. But the traffic and it’s … with what happened is it stayed heavy now, it didn’t go down-

Rob Hartnett:

Really?

Sam Reese:

… they’re talking every day now.

Rob Hartnett:

You’re not going back because that’s collaboration, isn’t it? That’s collaboration.

Sam Reese:

Yeah, and you want to talk to people around the globe. If you’re a CEO, our business was, so much is just around the 15 people in your group, that’s changed now. It’s like, “The 15 people I know the best, but I want to talk to the whole Vistage network now.”

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah. You can just imagine where that’s going from a succession, from an acquisitions point of view, from global alliances and partnerships. I mean, Sam, your head must be just going nuts just thinking what … I mean, again, you’re going to have to just sit back and listen because it’s going to happen, because these people are all intelligent people. What are some metrics you’re seeing that good CEOs are looking for, or maybe changed up during this period?

Sam Reese:

Oh, I think that the top ones on people’s minds that I’m seeing really consistent is, and it goes back to this flight to quality, is really things related to retention. Whether that is talking about customer retention, employee retention, talking about net promoters score, but really trying to understand quality, that’s big. What’s happening in the midsized businesses too, is really trying to understand key metrics like revenue per employee, profit per employee. Because what I think a lot of them found is when things went crazy here, they had to trim a little bit, and in many cases they found, I’m talking midsized companies, some fat in the organization that didn’t need to be there. So revenue per employee is a gigantic one.

Sam Reese:

And then the stuff that you’re an expert on is, like right now when we talk to our members, we just did a research, talent was number one, sales was number two, and the metrics around sales, like really understanding what happens in the velocity of a funnel when things go in and out, that is … You know, you’re spending so much money at the top of the funnel, you’ve got to make sure that you bring it all the way home. Those are important metrics right now.

Rob Hartnett:

And I completely agree, and I think the other thing we’re starting to see is this impact of digital. You know, I was touching on it a second ago.

Sam Reese:

Yes.

Rob Hartnett:

But how comfortable do you think your CEOs are, and your leaders are, and your members with this move to digital? And maybe even digital replacing? The satisfaction of online chat has been incredible in terms of prospecting even.

Sam Reese:

Incredible.

Rob Hartnett:

What do you think the take-up is going to be like, or their knowledge? Or has it come too fast? Is it something they’re embracing, or they’re like, “Whoa, this is too much.”?

Sam Reese:

I think it’s more the latter, but I’m seeing people starting to embrace it more. When things started to change originally, there was a lot of pushback. We were hearing a lot of things like, “Oh, it’s not near the same. Everything’s got to be face-to-face, though I still need a phone call.” That people are understanding that there is no truth behind that, there are other ways to do this more efficiently. Some of our most popular speakers within our system are on this very topic, and it feels real evangelical to them. They go into the session, people are shaking their heads by the end, they’re believers. And I think a lot of it’s just there’s this, a lack of understanding on how sophisticated the tools are now.

Sam Reese:

Like the first time you show … I was in a meeting where we showed CEOs, LinkedIn Navigator. They had no idea of the power behind the … “You mean if you go to their LinkedIn sites, you can find out who the CEOs are in the area?” “Yes.” So I think a lot of it is just education. And then if you’re an operator, you can’t help but understand how efficient this can be.

Rob Hartnett:

I do a lot of work in this space, Sam, and partner with people like Gong, and Crystal Knows, and other ones. And I love some of the stuff from Gong. One of the greatest pieces I share with customers, and share with leaders is, and the statement is, “What happens when your prospect or your customer says, ‘Let me think about it.” And 90% of people go, “Oh, that’s dead-“

Sam Reese:

That’s dead.

Rob Hartnett:

… “That’s gone. You’ve lost that. They’re gone. That’s history. Let me think about it.” Right?”

Sam Reese:

Uh-huh.

Rob Hartnett:

And the research showed that actually, it increases the chance of the sale closing. When someone-

Sam Reese:

Is that right?

Rob Hartnett:

Absolutely, the data is this. And it’s done because they’re listening to calls, it’s done on solid B2B complex sales, when the customer says, “Let me think about it.” Now, if the salesperson does nothing, yeah, it’s gone. But if the salesperson says, “Absolutely agree. I tell you what might help you out here, I’ve got three customers who are in your situation and what they did was ABC. I tell you what, yeah, thinking about it, I agree with that. Here’s a couple of websites and a podcast I’d suggest you listen to. You want to think about it, look, we did the same thing when we went through the same situation as you, and here’s what we found.” Right?

Sam Reese:

Yes.

Rob Hartnett:

So when they responded and helped the customer buy with confidence, what happened was the close rate increased, but the sales cycle went longer. And that was the thing to remember, that the sales cycle went longer, but it absolutely increased in close rates when a customer said, “Let me think about it.”

Sam Reese:

Well, look how you addressed it, it’s because when I said, “If the person said, ‘Let me think about it,” you got to what the real issue is. I think a lot of salespeople go, “Okay, call me back.” I literally, just last week I sent a note to … I was looking at a recruiter for a high-level job we’re looking for, and I talked to three recruiters. I like one them, but she sent me back a note and she said, “FYI, just want you to know we want to work with you. Let me know when you’ve made a decision.” And I really like her.

Sam Reese:

So I kicked her a note and I said, “Give me a call.” She called me up and I said, “I’m not calling to give you the decision, but you should never follow up that way. You should always follow up with an idea or a thought. Well, what is it that I’m evaluating on? Are you interested?” Because she was afraid to ask me, “Well, what are you evaluating it on?” So I gave her some of the feedback. Because that’s what we want as leaders it’s like, “Help me. I want to make a decision, help me get there.”

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah. Give me some concrete-

Sam Reese:

That’s great research.

Rob Hartnett:

It’s really interesting and I first saw it. Now the other one, you’ll love this. The other one I came up with was, when there’s an increase in profanities from both sides, from the customer and the seller, the sales close rate goes up. And they said, “The key point here is that you swear with the customer, not at them.” They said

Sam Reese:

Well, I’m afraid to try that. I’m afraid to try that, I’m not going to do that.

Rob Hartnett:

But again, it’s off the data and the data was, when the customer starts using profanities what they found was, it meant the customer was in an agitated … like they needed to solve the prob. They’d gone from, “I

Sam Reese:

I urge you to.

Rob Hartnett:

… to, “I need to solve this.” Yeah, it was a needed thing. So again, it was that, how do you take that? And it was just fascinating. I’m just fascinated with the data, more than the … and there’s some funny stuff there, it gets attention, it’s entertaining. But it was interesting on the data that they said, “You don’t have to do profanities, but you should match the level. If someone’s getting excited, you should be excited for them. You should be passionate about this and be in the same ring as your customer. You’ve got to help them buy.” You know, help them.

Sam Reese:

Yeah, I love that research. I feel like that research validates the great salespeople I know out there. Those are the ways they think. When someone says, “Hey, let me think about it,” they hear it as, “Oh, I still have work to be done.” When I say, “Let me think,” that means, “You’re not convinced, let me give you another idea, that something you should consider.”

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah.

Sam Reese:

Whereas as you know, unfortunately the majority of salespeople that call on me, if I say that, they’ll go away, and then send me an email in a week to go, “Have you made a decision?” “You know, if I’d made a decision, I would have called you,” so I delete it.

Rob Hartnett:

And so I think that’s where the digital tools though, Sam, are becoming-

Sam Reese:

Yes.

Rob Hartnett:

… very useful because they listen, but they also watch. And so, if you or I start downloading a whitepaper, or having a look at a podcast … And I was just looking at a new banking app that’s in Australia at the moment, and it’s just using such intelligent AI. And what it’s looking for is whether people are really interested in a loan. Now it’s weird because the startup that I talked about earlier with Bill Lang, we were doing that back in 2000. We were using that intelligence to see where people were shopping and going, and we actually delivered to major banks, one who you know quite well, and said, “You know, we think these people are up for it.” And these people were totally opted in, it was 100% opted in, we they were really … we were getting them right down the funnel. But it’s interesting, and I think that some of those digital tools do that, at least that first part of the prospecting, to get it qualified.

Sam Reese:

You’re right.

Rob Hartnett:

If they’re doing a lot of the hack work on the qualification, I think they’re ready for it. So it’s what I call a sales-ready lead-

Sam Reese:

Sales ready lead.

Rob Hartnett:

… or a marketing-ready lead. It’s ready, not sort of out in the universe and it’s kind of

Sam Reese:

I think you’re right.

Rob Hartnett:

… might be bit.

Sam Reese:

I think you’re right. One of the things I see though, that I think people still make a mistake on, I talk to my people about it all the way internally too is that, because somebody’s interested in a whitepaper and because somebody wants to learn more, you’ve still got to let them go through their process, as you know.

Rob Hartnett:

Yes.

Sam Reese:

So the story I give everybody internally is, I say, “I’m walking down the street and I’m going to buy a pair of shoes. I look in the window, and I’m just walking by that day, and the salesman runs out and tries to sell me those shoes right now. What? I don’t want them right now. The next day I walk on the other side of the street, and eventually I go to another store and buy those exact shoes. So in other words, you’ve got to help me, but wait till I’m ready to buy.” And I find a lot of people will get this thought-leadership marketing, but somebody responds and then they try and sell them. You can’t do that, you’ve got to let them go through their process.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, and that’s that part of listening. But I just think, yeah, some of the digitization … So in terms of that, are you seeing some new roles come through here? So roles that maybe aren’t in your members now, but they’re now going to have to start recruiting for? Whether that be people who are better at critical thinking, people who are better at data analytics, that kind of thing?

Sam Reese:

Oh, yes. Yeah. I mean, we’re seeing it in our own business, and we’re seeing it in theirs, both of what you just said there, I think. What I think is so important in this data analytics piece of it, we’ve got our own business intelligence team now, and just watching what’s happened in this team over the four years I’ve been running the organization. From running some interesting reports to now being really like the centerpiece to where our smarts are in terms of what’s happening with our customers, what’s happening with our marketing, that is going to be really key. And integrating that, so it’s not just sitting in IT, but that’s got to be part of strategy and finance. And a lot of members are following that lead, really getting smart people to understand data. The recruiting part, when you talk about really being able to bring the right people in the organization, I feel like this is changing dramatically. That if you as a leader are outsourcing that to HR to just do it and give me good people, you’ve got to think differently right now.

Sam Reese:

The battle, as I said earlier, for talent is on right now, and it’s going to be on for the next several years. Everybody’s got to get good at recruiting, and finding these people that can really add value to our businesses. This is really what keeps me up at night right now, is I think about our company continuing to grow, I’ve got to bring great people in here.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah. One of my leaders I worked with many years ago in the tech space, they were just constantly in recruitment. The managing director and his CEO, they were a great team, and the CEO, totally wise guy, and he said to me, he said, “We’re just constantly in recruitment.” To the point that, the reason he told me that wasn’t to just … we were having a great conversation, he just said to me, “So, I want you to be on the lookout. So if you come across someone that you rate as good for our business, you tell me about that.” Right?

Sam Reese:

Oh.

Rob Hartnett:

And it was fantastic. So he was empowering us who were already there, “So if you think you meet someone who’s a good cultural fit, who’s doing really well in their business, or is maybe a little unsatisfied, or wants the next step up, you let me know about that.” And I just thought it was such a refreshing view to say-

Rob Hartnett:

And his point was, he said, “Great people will always make us money.” With great people

Sam Reese:

One of the best hires I ever made, one of the best hires, I was a young manager and I didn’t have any job openings. And it was for a sales position and the person said to me, “Do you mean to tell me I’m not better than your worst salesperson?” And I said, “No. No. No, I think you are.” And he said, “Well, why won’t you hire me then?” And I remember, I said, “Well, I don’t have any openings,” and he left and I thought about it, and sure enough I hired him. He actually told me when I hired him, he said, “And if I’m Salesman of the Year, you have to take my picture and put it on your wall.” I’ll be damned, a year later, it was on my wall. Top salesman of the company.

Rob Hartnett:

Isn’t that fantastic-

Sam Reese:

No, I love

Rob Hartnett:

… but what a great question to ask, because what’s the downside? And again, he was just proving that he was the right hire. As soon as he probably asked you that question, you, “I’ve got to bring this guy in, that’s a great question.”

Sam Reese:

I was thinking as a young manager, “What am I thinking? Just because I have no openings, I don’t look for great people?” Sometimes, I’d say throughout my career, I’ve felt like I’ve done a pretty good job of looking for talent, but I think this was a wakeup call for all of us, with COVID, and the changes, that now you’ve really got to be on your game because that is what’s going to be the differentiator, the great … No, the people we bring into our organizations are going to define the future.

Rob Hartnett:

I like that and, yeah, I’m blessed now to be doing a lot of leadership work, Sam, since you and I were together, and one of the great programs of John Maxwell’s is, which I do a lot of, is called Developing the Leader Within-

Sam Reese:

Oh, yeah.

Rob Hartnett:

… one of John’s signature programs. I took and read it-

Sam Reese:

Incredible program.

Rob Hartnett:

Oh, I go, “I wish I had this 20 years ago, because that’s exactly what he talks about. You read it and you go, “Oh my god.” But funny story about that with John, that I don’t know if you’ve got the new version, so he rewrote it 2018, it’s called Developing Leader 2.0. And he said, “I went to do an update because I wrote it 25 years ago, I changed 80% of the content.” 80%-

Sam Reese:

Whoa, is that right?

Rob Hartnett:

He said, “Yeah, 80% of the content.” He said, “Because I’d learned so much in 25 years. I went back to it and I go, ‘Oh, my god, I couldn’t believe I said that. Pulling that chapter and that. I mean, how did I get away with it?” And John tells it so well. But he said there was also some parts he had put into other books and gone deeper on, so he took some chapters out and he expanded on more, but it’s an 80% rewrite. And it’s fantastic, and I love that program because it’s so fundamental to where you’re spending your time, to thinking about strategy time, to hiring people. Constantly hiring people and trying not to do everything yourself, and trying to cover things off. And so-

Sam Reese:

Yeah, I remember his – love, John Maxwell. I told you he spoke to Vistage about six months ago-

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah.

Sam Reese:

… we did a webinar. I remember, love him. And I think the thing that he just gets you to do is to, like you used some of those things right there, it’s like, “Step back and find some time to think. Find some space to think. And if you don’t do that, if you’re just going the whole time, you’ll never get ahead here, you’ve got to find that space.”

Rob Hartnett:

Yep. Yeah, he calls that, the margin. You know, the margin, that you’re finding. Margin-

Sam Reese:

The margin?

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah. Yeah.

Sam Reese:

Margin.

Rob Hartnett:

And the crazy thing is that John will tell you, he’s the worst guy at margin because he just-

Sam Reese:

Of course.

Rob Hartnett:

… keeps wanting to do stuff. But he said, “When you do it, it’s so refreshing.” So I love that idea. You know, we were talking earlier about our boys. Your boys are a little older than my ones are, but what do you think the world’s going to look like as they’re doing their leadership and their careers? What do you think are going to be the big shifts between what you went through at the age of 59 now, to your boys?

Sam Reese:

I talk with my boys about this all the time. You know, two of them are in the professional world now, one of them will be soon. And I think one of the things that I believe is, I just believe that they, the younger generation, they’re all free agents. That’s how they should about it, they’re free agents. And the days of when we were first in our careers feeling like, “Isn’t it great that this company gave me a job, and I hope that I can hold on to it?” I think that’s forever changed. I think it is great people, free agents, and it’s up to the companies to keep them excited and engaged, and I believe that that’s what their careers are going to look like. You do great work here, you lose a little interest, you go to the next place, do great work.

Sam Reese:

But what is also so interesting to me that I see is, companies have to make sure that they really care about purpose, mission, vision, that. Back when we were first starting out it would be, “Oh, and here’s our mission, and there’s our vision. Now, it’s everything. They want to be connected because they’re so much better at managing, in my opinion, the younger generation, so much better at managing their personal lives and their business lives. My generation was work all day and then go home, get a little dinner, sleep, come to the next. They manage all that-

Rob Hartnett:

Yes.

Sam Reese:

… so they want to be happier, they want to understand it more, and so they’re going to work for the companies that respect them. They’re going to work for the companies that understand they need free time. And I’m going to push them to find those companies that allow that, and give them a chance to contribute and be innovative. Less about the position, more about the contributions.

Rob Hartnett:

I think that’s right, and I think there’s some big impacts for some of the clients that you and I have worked together on. Professional services, for example, a lot of the new generation, they don’t want to be that partner anymore, they don’t want to be tied down to that. They want to learn, they want to grow, they want to be great contributors. And the vision purpose thing, I see that more so even in Gen Z than Millennials. I’ve seen the Gen Z’s are-

Sam Reese:

Yes. I agree.

Rob Hartnett:

… and even the ones underneath are, it’s just really about … They don’t think diversity’s nice, they demand it. They don’t-

Sam Reese:

They don’t even understand how you could work without diversity.

Rob Hartnett:

How could you not do that? Right.

Sam Reese:

Yep, to them it would be strange. My middle son, he’s 25, and he is working for a big consulting firm here. I mean, he loves the lack of titles, the lack of structure, and it’s all about, “This is an exciting project, I want to go work on this one.” And just think about that, rather than, “You’re assigned to this.” “No, I want to be on that one.” And so you come with your energy, and your excitement, and your enthusiasm, it’s very different.

Rob Hartnett:

I did. You know, I tried that view, just let him know I tried that when I did audit at KPMG, and it wasn’t the answer I got and I … But it’s changed, but even … and still to this day I’m literally doing some work with KPMG at presently, but it’s just … and a great firm, but they’ve changed, changed dramatically.

Sam Reese:

Oh, yeah.

Rob Hartnett:

And they’re taking on different people, and different thinking. You know, we don’t need all the thinking to be in the bubble anymore, so I think that’s definitely right. I think I love the free agent side of things. And the thing that I like about it also, the younger group, is they demand coaching. “Who’s going to coach me? Who’s my mentor? Who’s going to be my mentor? What coaching program am I on?” I mean, when you and I got in there, if someone offered it we were like, “Wow, that’s amazing”

Sam Reese:

Yeah. And I think they, like you said though, what’s so interesting is they want the coaching, but they actually believe in the coaching.

Rob Hartnett:

Yes.

Sam Reese:

Whereas that’s what’s different, is they believe somebody is acting in their best interest, wants to help them. Literally, early in my career, I’d have to watch, if somebody was coaching me, especially when I was working for Fortune 500, I’d be, “Is this somebody I can trust? Is someone I can’t?”

Rob Hartnett:

Right.

Sam Reese:

Those days are gone right now. I would say the finance world is the one that has to catch up a little bit, they’re still really specialized, working in the old model. I feel like banks, private equity firms, they’ve got to be a little bit open to a little bit more innovative people to bring into their systems. They haven’t got to that.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah. Yeah, I think so. No, I think they’re getting there, and I think the rules and regulations have been switching to make them more … But I think their problem’s going to come for it, Sam, and you said right at the front, the war for talent.

Sam Reese:

Oh, yes.

Rob Hartnett:

They’re just not going to join them.

Sam Reese:

No.

Rob Hartnett:

The good people are not wanting to go there because they’re just … they’re going to go, “… look at the stigma. I think Fintech’s different, I think I’m seeing Fintech being exciting-

Sam Reese:

Oh, yeah.

Rob Hartnett:

… and there is some really interesting stuff in the Fintech space. And if the big, more established private equity, and all the more established banks and financial services companies don’t get it right, that talent will just go to Fintech and it will.

Sam Reese:

I think that’s a great observation. We had that last year, this roundtable, bunch of CEOs, and it was such an interesting, but such a simple observation. And it was a great discussion, but the observation was, what people want, especially the younger generations, they want to make sure that they’re contributing and that their job is important. And when I say that, everybody nods their head, but we haven’t always thought about that. Every person wants to know their job is important and they’re contributing. As leaders, it’s not that hard to take an interest in what everybody’s doing, and to notice, and swing by and thank them a little bit. That’s what they look for. They’re not comfortable toiling away in a cube that nobody knows their name and they’re doing a few spreadsheets. They want people to know that they’re really contributing.

Rob Hartnett:

I think that’s incredibly important, and even more so when your team is working from home.

Sam Reese:

Yes. Oh boy, how true is that, and just staying close to them. I’d say, one other thing too is that, that what’s really important too moving forward, is making sure that we keep people balanced. I know a lot of CEOs are starting to realize that you can’t just drive them all day, especially working from home. You want people to be balanced.

Rob Hartnett:

Yes.

Sam Reese:

You want them to turn their computers off. You want them to spend time with their families because they’re actually better employees, better people, versus the 1980s and ’90s was, “How many hours a week can you work, and how dysfunctional can you be?” And we’d get promoted for that.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, I love it and I think there’s a … I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s some great research by Microsoft, he followed their work-from-home cohort. And one of the first things they saw in the first month of working from home, was this spike in Instant Messenger between 6:00 PM and 11:00 PM.

Sam Reese:

We saw this, yes.

Rob Hartnett:

And he went, “Whoa. That’s not sustainable, but why is it happening?” And it was a whole bunch of stuff around work-from-home, kid’s schooling, all sorts of stuff. But see, the hours were just going up, and the weekends were blending into weeks, and what they found was that it actually came down to frontline leadership. That the frontline leaders who were just checking in, seeing how people were, had more productive, more effective people, than the ones who were waiting to have all the answers, were waiting for corporate to give them the comms to do a town hall. You know, their teams were like, “What the …” and there was no visibility. But it was just a really simple, you said, it’s not hard, is it? It’s simple little things to check in with authenticity and say, “Hey, I’m going through a tough time too, but this is what we’re going to do.” I borrow it from John Maxwell, it’s a great line, he said it’s that, ‘You learn, listen, lead. Repeat. Learn, Listen, lead. Repeat.”

Sam Reese:

Yes. Listen, lead, yep.

Rob Hartnett:

It’s not hard. It’s not hard. Hey, we’re nearly out of time, so I’ve got a great question for you though. If you had to go back in the time portal with me, to your 15 year old Sam Reese-

Sam Reese:

Oh, god.

Rob Hartnett:

… what would you tell 15 year old Sam Reese about life?

Sam Reese:

I would say, oh, good, “15 year old Sam Reese could learn a lot about life,” I could tell you that, because his only interests were running and playing basketball. So I know what I’d say is, I would say, “Don’t take everything so seriously. Enjoy the day sometimes, just for what it is. And don’t always believe that there has to be another mountain to climb, not always. Sometimes it’s just the climb itself is enough excitement and exhilarating enough, so …” And over time I’ve had to get better at that, it’s like … and I’m sure you understand that as an executive. Sometimes you’ve just got to be thankful and happy for what you have, rather than always thinking there’s something else. That could have saved me a lot of stress in life if I would have listened to somebody back then at 15.

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah, isn’t that a great one too. Sometimes it’s just, you’re actually in the best moment sometimes, isn’t it? It’s not the next mountain, it’s like you’re in actually right now. And even right now as we’re speaking, it’s in that moment, so I really like that. Hey, Sam-

Sam Reese:

I’m learning.

Rob Hartnett:

And it’s the continual growth, isn’t it? We’re always-

Sam Reese:

Oh-

Rob Hartnett:

… always learning. I think you’ve got to keep that in mind too.

Sam Reese:

I am a work in progress.

Rob Hartnett:

That’s it.

Sam Reese:

I’m a work in progress, but I am getting better.

Rob Hartnett:

That’s it, I’m getting better. It reminded me of the great Pablo Casals, one of the great cellists of the world, and at the age of 86, and he was well renowned, he’d played in front of the US presidents and all sorts of stuff. And the age of 86 when a lot of people are in nursing homes and waiting for God though, he was practicing three hours a day on the cello. And someone said to him, “Pablo, why? Why at the age of 86 do you spend three hours toiling on the cello?” And he said, “Because I think I’m finally making progress.” I just love that line.

Sam Reese:

I love it. We’ve got to keep getting better, yes.

Rob Hartnett:

“We’ve got to keep getting better. I’m finally making progress. I reckon I’ve nearly nailed this one.” He’s 86. “You know, by the time I’m 90, I reckon I’m going to have this second chord.” I love that thinking. Hey, how can people find more out about Vistage?

Sam Reese:

You bet. They can go to two places, in the U.S. visit vistage.com or in Australia you would go under TEC, The Executive Connection, it goes by, go to tec.com.au

Rob Hartnett:

Yeah.

Rob Hartnett:

And you’ve got some fantastic research, I know you can rate people who are in there as well. So I recommend people, if you haven’t heard of Vistage or TEC, please jump on, see this great stuff they’ve got and you’ll get involved in these great communities. Sam, absolutely brilliant. Thanks. Great to connect with you again. So much fun having you on the show.

Sam Reese:

Great to see you. So proud of your success. And so awesome to see you and your family again, I’m just really proud of everything you’ve done.

Rob Hartnett:

Hey, thanks for listening and we hope you enjoyed this episode. Please subscribe and rate the podcast you listened to, so we can continue to serve and inspire those. Remember, connect to us on all the social media channels. The Art of the Possible Podcast is hosted by me, Rob Hartnett, and produced by Finn Hartnett. Connect with us directly on LinkedIn, Rob Hartnett, and Finn Hartnett.

 

 

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Sam Reese About the Author: Sam Reese

Sam Reese is CEO of Vistage, the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. Over his 35 year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizatio…

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