Interview With Jeff Thull – Author
Jeff Thull may be one of the most innovative thinkers that we have encountered. The team at The Prime Resource Group (Jeff is the founder and President) see the world as the world sees itself, not as others may want to see it. From that foundation, Jeff has been in the business of helping business and social leaders tackle the critical elements of how they produce value for their clients or populations in alignment with the real world structures of value recognition. Their diagnostic process relies on the study of the core objectives of an organization and how their value proposition is realized. The heart of Jeff’s message is that all organizations experience what he calls “value leakage” and their are ways to minimize and eventually eliminate that. Jeff’s best selling books shed further light on the methodology involved but the financial results of the organizations that engage these principles tell the best story. Our time with Jeff was spent talking about leadership.
As President and CEO of Prime Resource Group, Jeff has designed and implemented business transformation and professional development programs for companies like Shell Global Solutions, 3M, Microsoft, Siemens, Citicorp, IBM, Raymond James, and Georgia-Pacific, as well as many fast track, start-up companies. He has gained the reputation for being a thought leader in the arena of sales and marketing strategies for companies involved in complex sales.
Q: When you look at the leaders in organizations you have worked with, what are two or three of the attributes of those leaders who are going to end up embracing concepts of the Prime Resource model?
A: One thing is that they see the interaction between their customer and their organization as a critical part of success. They also see it as a strong competitive differentiator. They are not taking that link or interaction for granted as opposed to someone who is really focused on creating the best possible solution and believing that the rest will just fall into place. I think they really see the interaction between the customer relationship management and all the pieces that go along with that. That is a critical link and in and of itself would differentiate you even if you had a comparable solution in the marketplace. Probably related to that, is that companies are creating solutions that aren’t valuable in and of themselves. They enable the customer to create value, but that value doesn’t materialize usually without a considerable amount of concentrated effort and support from the selling company. People are expanding the level of professionals that they are providing their customer, which provides a very strong, integrated system of not only a solution but education and support. That is enabling their customer to make the process or personnel changes or developments to optimize the value impact that the solution was intended to create.
Q: It is important to see what you just described and how it reflects a leader that they buy into the fact that there is something about the client to constantly be aware of and be studying to truly bring value. Is there something unique about leaders that allows them to take that step more naturally?
A: It is simply an outward focus on others and an attitude of service. I take it very seriously that we have something here that can improve our customers’ life or their business results so that it is not just us selling a product or solution. It is about helping others succeed. It is an outward focus that is definitely an attribute. I have come across leaders who literally do not want to be bothered with customer conversation and field visits with customers. Then you have the other extreme with the people who are out with customers all the time and the store’s falling apart in their absence. But I think it is that sort of focus on the customer’s outcome is why we’re in business.
Q: How does taking on and owning the Prime Resource approach equate to really changing the entire belief system of an organization. I don’t want to overstate that, but one of the things I have observed about your organization is that it does have to do with a belief system in that the changes that are required to take place are significant and sometimes a shift in who a company thinks they are and what they can bring from a value standpoint.
A: If you go to the core of the process as we have evolved it by watching very successful sales professionals, at the heart of these folks is the desire to be of service to others and that outward focus of creating success for your customer. There is also the belief that if I help someone else become successful, I’ll be successful as a byproduct of that. The whole diagnostic business development system is sort of based on that, plus mutual respect and trust. When you look at the kind of behaviors that create trust, there is that openness, transparency and approaching the other party with wanting to understand what they are trying to accomplish. It is the mindset that is behind the diagnostic approach, so you could look at that and say that a leader who engages us is probably pre-wired toward that type of belief. You will see that theme throughout and it resonates with how they believe the world and the company should operate.
It has been an interesting thing to me over my career. My wife and I often talk about the fact that the people who are attracted to this are really super people who we really enjoy working with. We don’t get the call from someone who is looking to bring a product on the market that is not quite right, but they feel they can hit the market and get it out there, take the money and run. We don’t get those sorts of calls. They would probably pick our book up, look at it and not buy it. It wouldn’t take them long to figure out that it’s not how they operate.
Q: It appears that if you are going to take the Prime Resource approach, you are going to have to be all in at some level with the idea that this new way of selling, a transparent and learning posture, is really going to generate significant value for the client that it would be wrong for us as an organization to go back to the old way of selling.
A: Once you have seen it, or if you’re pre-wired and you recognize it aligns with your beliefs and your approach, it will allow you to operationalize what you believe is right in the marketplace. That sometimes is a very interesting discovery of folks who in their heart of hearts feel the sales approaches they have been exposed to didn’t feel right. You didn’t recognize there are alternatives. When you come across it captured in a book they realize, “well that is the way it should be.” And the concept of “all in” is when you realize that now you are thinking that you are successful when the customer is successful. You are now thinking that way from the beginning long before any sales organization gets a hold of a solution to take to customers.
So all of these principles roll all the way through the evolution on a path to market for a new product or solution and looked at through they eyes of success of the customer more than it’s looked at as a new technology that a lot of people would want to have.
Q: Looking back at the organizations and individuals you have worked with, how much of great leadership is taught versus it being born into someone’s nature to grasp the Prime Resource concepts and own them?
A: I am going to go on the side of I think it is highly innate and pre-wired and pre-conditioned that you have been brought up in a principled household or had a principled coach or mentor. Someone has given you these founding principles.
It is much easier to find people than it is to fix them and so I really look at that key process of understanding the characteristic, recognizing the behavior that emanates from those characteristics. And now as I am looking for a leader or a salesperson, I am looking for evidence that this behavior exists in their world and therefore they have the innate capability. So now we give them the process, the flow and so forth and they are on their way. If they are not thinking this way, it does take some constant coaching to evolve someone through that, and people most certainly can. Obviously we have seen a lot of that over the years, but it’s more the principles of business that we are talking about that resonate with the things they already believed.
Q: How do you see value as a concept when it comes to an organization engaging their client in the best ways?
A: It is that principle of help others succeed and you will be successful. If someone appears to believe something by stating perception, as different as it might be from your standpoint, you need to get inside their head to understand how they got to that perception before you can begin to think, should they be changed or should you be changed. That comes under a mutual respect. I mean it is a simple principle, like if someone calls and they are upset about something, you don’t look to transfer the blame, but you immediately step in to fix it.
We have a client that does inventory fulfillment and a lot of their clients do infomercials. In the early days of this, they were working with a really famous individual who had come to fame through those infomercials. They were finding that a lot of the things they were shipping were arriving damaged because the boxes were kind of falling apart. They suggested that they could design a sturdier box so it could make it through shipping. The guy from the commercial said that it wasn’t important and that the only thing he was concerned with was getting the order and shipping it out. They also suggested putting an 800 number on the label so customers can call if they need help with damaged products. The individual said no, but if they want to call they can find the company and do it on their own dime. I was hearing a real set of principles there as to how this individual was treating and thought about the customers. He didn’t want to offer any help at all even if the product was causing problems. Here is a guy who was operating on a different set of values and principles.
Q: Where are the real impact points in organizations that won’t make the tough decisions to get the right kinds of people who have the capability to embrace what you are doing at Prime?
A: I think if I go back to the root of it, it would be having the clarity of the process, values and approach is the type of person we need. If you have that figured out, you could probably be improving your hiring and selection process. I think the other piece of that is when you are not in a continuous mode of searching out the best people, you more often than not end up in a position where you don’t have any bench strength. When you don’t have that, you are going to put up with less than proficiency in a given position. You go back to the cop-out that it is better to have someone who is not perfect than to have no one. You can kind of see the chain reaction of things that leaves you in the position where you start to rationalize and tolerate people who are not the best for your organization, which causes a lot of compromises.
Q: What is the strength of impact an individual leader can have if they step in with the right set of beliefs and pursue moving that into their organization?
A: It’s enormous and you see it all the time. It is about 70% of our behavior that comes from watching someone else and their behavior. It is only 30% that we learn by reading about something or receiving instructions. That says if you are around people who are manifesting this exceptional behavior, it is going to reflect inside an individual. Your behavior is exhibiting positively or negatively and it is going to be reflected to those around you. You could have a customer who is not used to dealing with salespeople and you can come along with this trusting, transparent behavior with a relevant value capability and the customer will react positively with you more so than with people who don’t approach them this way.