Football wasn’t three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman’s first love. The retired Dallas Cowboy and current Fox broadcaster said that as a kid he was initially devoted to baseball, noting that he only signed up for high school football so he wouldn’t disappoint his father.
“Football is very intense,” Aikman said, during his keynote address at the ASI Show Dallas. “It taught me a lot about life and perseverance.”
Aikman talked about his professional career, both in sports and as a broadcaster, using his 12 years as the Cowboys’ quarterback to dispense universal nuggets of wisdom. Though he was a number-one draft pick, Aikman’s rookie year wasn’t a success. The team only won one of 15 games, and Aikman pointed out that the Cowboys’ single victory wasn’t one that involved his efforts. Though the string of early losses left Aikman dejected, they also served him well once his team began to succeed.
“I never forgot how hard it is to win,” he said. Aikman also noted that he was drafted to win championships, not just to play. “I never doubted that it would happen,” he added.
When it comes to the business of winning, Aikman believes a sports team, just like any other organization, needs a strong chain of command. “If you circumvent that, it’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
Aikman shared stories of the tough, but fair leadership of former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, who would tell his quarterback: “You don’t coach a player to what he is, you coach him to what you want him to be.”
Aikman, too, expected his teammates to know their roles and treat professional football like the job it is. “People get fired for not knowing their assignments in the real world,” he said. “My job as quarterback was to do whatever it takes to win.”
For Aikman, the key to success and professional satisfaction has been collaboration, and he was quick to point out that his many wins were a team effort, not an individual achievement. It’s a philosophy that worked as well on the football field as it has off the gridiron for Aikman, in the various business ventures he has been part of since he retired from playing football in 2001.
“My life has been based on being around really successful people,” he said. “I’ve always bet on smart people, and I’ve never been wrong.”
The Health-Care Opportunity
While Aikman provided the inspiration for ASI Dallas attendees, a full schedule of education sessions also offered actionable strategies that distributors could immediately implement into their business plans. One such session took a look at the Affordable Care Act and laid out reasons for why the new health-care law could be the most impactful sales prospect available to ad specialty distributors today.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the costs associated with it are a major source of fear for many companies in the U.S. today, but for distributors the law is a “huge opportunity,” said Ron Williams, marketing director for Fey Promotional Products Group (asi/54040) and a retired health-care provider.
Williams detailed the economic impact of the sweeping law as well as how a distributor can boost profits by targeting the growing health and wellness market during his ASI Dallas session, “The Affordable Care Act: How It Will Affect Your Clients’ Buying Decisions.”
The ACA is expected to cost around $2 trillion to implement over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It’s a nearly incomprehensible and largely unsustainable figure, without filling the funding gap through new taxes and fees on corporations, Williams said. “These taxes are hurting your clients little by little, and it’s going to steamroll,” he said. Some businesses are seeing their taxes increase by 40% and health-care costs jump an average of 30%, Williams said.
Distributors need to become familiar with the details of the ACA in order to position themselves as go-to experts for clients, according to Williams. “The opportunity is staggering if you are out in front of the tsunami that’s coming,” he said.
The main opportunity Williams outlined is in corporate health and wellness programs, which many firms will be mandated to develop to comply with their coverage. There are two types of wellness programs: participatory and inclusive. In participatory programs, companies might reimburse the cost of a gym membership for employees who opt in, creating a “very loosey-goosey type of system,” Williams said.
They have low upfront costs, but the benefits cannot be tracked. Inclusive programs, conversely, are goal-oriented and provide strong metrics and real results. “They always lead to lower health-care costs,” Williams said. They’re also very lucrative for savvy distributors.
Though inclusive wellness plans have high upfront costs, it’s important to stress a client’s potential returns. For every dollar invested in such a program, a corporation can expect to see a return of anywhere from $6 to $15, thanks to fewer sick days, increased productivity and lower health-care costs.
Turning Business Obstacles Into Opportunities
Just like the ACA is a challenge that can become a big opportunity for distributors, there are many other obstacles that can be turned around for the positive. Ford Saeks knows all about turning challenges into opportunities. The business-growth expert and founder of Prime Concepts Group shared his own rags-to-riches background story during his “Turn Obstacles Into Opportunities: Increase Performance and Profits” class on Education Day at ASI Show Dallas. Saeks, who grew up poor in the Minneapolis projects, wasn’t expected to be a success.
“I blamed everybody,” he said. “I had a big chip on my shoulder. … I was kicked out of every class.”
But Saeks was able to channel his disruptive energy into entrepreneurship, launching a painting company when he was just 15 years old that earned the equivalent of $175,000 during its first year. Since then, Saeks has started 17 different companies, invented a number of successful products and brought in millions of dollars in revenue.
Saeks shared a number of winning strategies to help business executives change their mindsets and improve their performance. Of key importance, he says, is thinking about your goals and determining what you need to do to really achieve them.
“Don’t just stick your head in the sand,” he said. Instead, executives should step outside their comfort zone and come up with new ways to be successful. It’s all about adapting to the ever-changing marketplace.
A lot of it comes down to having a “success mindset.” Successful people engage in positive self-talk and break themselves out of negative conditioning. “If you don’t think it’s going to work, it won’t work,” he said. “We’re responsible for our own results. It’s simple, but not easy.” Understand the business skills you excel at, whether it’s marketing, sales or management. Hone your strengths and “hire your weaknesses,” Saeks said.
One surefire tactic to increase success is to institute what Saeks calls “an hour of power.” Spend 20 minutes learning something new, 20 minutes applying that new skill and 20 minutes taking care of your health. Just be careful where you go to learn that new skill; there is a lot of valuable, free information on sites like YouTube, but not all of it is equal. “You don’t go to a fat person to lose weight, and you don’t go to a broke person to make money,” Saeks said.
Other tactics Saeks shared with attendees include creating a private dream board: a visual representation of what you want to do, have or become. He suggested boosting creativity by engaging in playful activities and brainstorming by using idea-mapping, which uses your brain’s natural power to help you learn and retain new concepts faster.
How to Reel in Big Clients
Of course, the best way to overcome obstacles to improve your business is to sign deals with major clients. According to expert speaker David Blaise, there are five winning ways to reel in big fish, starting with the most basic lesson of all: Target them.
“You can’t catch a whale in a bucket of minnows,” Blaise advised a packed room of distributors attending the “Get Selling” track during Education Day at ASI Dallas. “If you spend all your time chasing small accounts, you’ll get small accounts. If you chase big accounts, you’ll get big accounts. Decide which companies you want to go after. It all starts with targeting.”
In his session, titled “Five Ways to Win Big Corporate and Nonprofit Clients,” Blaise also suggested distributors do the following: Determine and market their contribution, test for responsiveness and gauge need, overcome common objections, and finalize and promote your specialty.
“You can leverage your time and resources,” he said, suggesting distributors determine all the ways they can contribute to a potential client’s success and then offer them those solutions. Suggest ways they can be more creative with their logos, for instance, how they can attract and retain staff, reward employeses and increase brand awareness.
Don’t be just an order taker or a product seller, he warned. Instead, market relationships and promote yourself as an expert. “That’s what it’s all about,” Blaise said. “We want to market our contribution – not just our product line. Determine your contribution before you approach them.”
Salespeople are used to being rejected. One way to get past the inevitable is to learn how to overcome common objections. Create effective responses instead of issuing challenges or contradictions. For instance, if a potential client says they already have someone they do business with, suggest saying “Do you have a contract?” Ninety-five percent of the time, Blaise said, they don’t, which opens them up for further discussion – and possible sales.