401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

New Revenue Potential

What I’m doing now and why I’ve shifted from consulting to instructing.

Well, when you start a couple of companies, you get pretty busy. We’ve launched the Cloud Era Institute, which is dedicated to the research and conversation about what has changed for business in the Cloud Era, what has stayed the same, and what managers can do about it. We just published our first State of the Cloud: 10 Truths for Managers report (it’s free – and packed with interesting interviews/insights). We’re interviewing Cloud Era experts and posting their wisdom on the site. It’s been invigorating, to say the least. We’ve also launched Cloud Potential, a management training company. My partner and I have dedicated ourselves to figuring out why digital marketing works for some and not for others in the Cloud Era – and how managers can raise their company up to the new best-practice level set by the leaders. We’ve spent the last year studying the digital marketing leaders in 6 different industries, and found that they had 8 fundamentals in common, and we’re now teaching those fundamentals. And for those of you who came here regularly for the blog, I’m now blogging at our Instructor Insights blog. I’ve always loved being on the bleeding edge of technology. This is about as edgy as it gets. There is no question that the cloud (along with mobile and social) have set off a business revolution. Those who get it (Uber, AirBnB, etc.) are zooming ahead of those who don’t. The playing field is definitely not level at the moment. My partner and I are determined to change that. We are working with managers in companies that have done well... read more

What they’re thinking while you’re pitching

We’ve been helping a company choose which cloud applications they should use in their transformation from a legacy, manual, silo-based organization to a cloud-based, automated, integrated system. So we are sitting through application demos given by application salespeople. Sadly, those salespeople are still miles away from where they should be. Why? 1) They still don’t ask you what you want to see.  Instead they show you what they think you want to see, which is . . . dashboards. “You can create any kind of report you want, and put it on your dashboard.” Whoever convinced salespeople that all anyone cares about is dashboards should be put in the same cell with the guy who convinced everyone that copy should contain “features and benefits.” Both those guys have missed the point. First, formulaic selling always fails, because every customer has their own specific requirements. Second, no one is impressed anymore with fancy graphics, in this age of fantasy flicks, video games, and sports show graphics. Besides, we know that any sales support assistant can create sexy charts from data. Showing us how quickly we can change a bar chart to a pie chart does NOT make us sit up at our computers and start salivating. News flash: We are business managers whose jobs depend on picking the right application, and a canned pitch is not going to cut it. While a salesperson is babbling on about things they already know, the managers are sending each other instant messages: “When is this guy going to show us what we need to see?” 2) They still don’t listen when you tell them. ... read more

Corporate versus cloud companies: No contest

There are two kinds of companies now: those that proceed according to corporate rules, and those that embrace the new fast-moving rules of the cloud. Corporate companies rely on hierarchies and structure and rigid processes. They meet weekly or monthly to look at financials and discuss the state of certain projects. They make decisions slowly. They inch along at corporate speed. Cloud companies manage by the hour and the day. Their managers are fully aware of the constant stream of distractions that keep people from meeting deadlines (texting, news sites, personal emails, less-urgent projects, etc.). Their management style is designed to create a sense of urgency about the most important deliverables. The pressure is always on. Falling by the wayside In head-to-head competition, cloud-paced companies beat corporate companies. Particularly vulnerable are the well-established corporate companies whose managers don’t realize the threat they face from a purely web-based company offering customers the same type of product or service, in a way that is more convenient and intuitive. The more established company is isolated within a bubble of corporate procedure, insulated from the realities of buyers who search for whatever they want, find it, and reward the most obvious and intuitive sites with their purchases. If they don’t find exactly what they want on one site, a better site is just a click away. The more established companies have spent years cultivating credibility and building relationships with other companies in their market. They have, they think, a solid and loyal base of return customers. They believe if there is a mass exodus, they will be able to sense it. Then, they... read more

Getting onto the short list

When the Web first emerged as a commerce platform, everyone thought, “Wow – a way to reach customers directly!” Which was true, sort of. It’s still a clumsy and intrusive business. Even (and perhaps especially) the more recent “retargeted” advertising method, viewed from the buyer’s perspective, just gets in the way. An example: I bought some vitamins recently online at Vitamin Shoppe, something I do every so often. Vitamin Shoppe used retargeting techniques to advertise to me, on the next 10 sites or so that I visited. Did it cause me to return to Vitamin Shoppe? No, it irritated me. I knew they were following me around; I knew why they were; and I knew that I only buy from Vitamin Shoppe when I need to buy from Vitamin Shoppe. No amount of advertising will cause me to return to Vitamin Shoppe when I see an ad, especially right after I have just made a purchase. My most likely response is to delete my web history so they leave me alone. This is just more hard sell, more calling during the dinner hour, more unwelcome interruptions. It’s the same old, same old. The real revolution associated with the Web has nothing to do with over-eager sellers. What’s the real revolution? The Web has made it easier for customers to learn from (and “sell to”) each other.  They exchange information quite easily now, via reviews, discussion groups, and social media. Learning from other customers’ knowledge and experience is so popular with customers that it has become the dominant factor in the online buying process. How many of us read the... read more

How to reinvent yourself

You will outlive your present career. That’s just the way it is now. We work for at least 40 years. The web, as we know it, didn’t even exist 21 years ago. The shift to the cloud and the explosion of mobile devices is changing the world yet again. Every new shift changes how people perceive what you offer, what they expect, and what they want to buy. The changes could be drastic or subtle (or both); what matters is that you recognize the changes, and figure out how to accommodate them. Easier said than done. Our egos, and our need for comfort, stand in the way.  When you’re good at something and succeeding at something, you gain satisfaction from it; there is comfort and security in your earning power; you have a sense of distinction and authority. When your market changes, your satisfaction and security and power are all no longer secure, and can literally disappear in the blink of an eye. Worse, it can happen without you even realizing it, usually until it is way too late. Instead of only having to make minor adjustments to stay in the revenue stream, you will lose your way completely. Money will start to flow out faster than you take it in. That feeling in the pit of your stomach is panic. This is the position that many are finding themselves in right now, which is why I’m writing this post. Having managed to stay in the revenue stream for many years, and having reinvented myself several times in order to do so, I can shed some light on what works.... read more

Roadmap to Revenue makes Forbes 100 Coaching Book Recommendations List

Caroline Ceniza-Levine has published 100 Coaching Book Recommendations in Forbes, where she says “books make excellent holiday gifts.” Yep. Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy made the Sales and Marketing section, where I’m in some very good company, along with Get Clients Now, Made to Stick, Purple Cow, and Selling the Invisible.  Warms an author’s heart. Merry Christmas!... read more

How to avoid the most common business failure

My husband came into my office recently for one of our always-enjoyable discussions, settled into his business philosopher’s chair, and asked me, “What’s the most common cause of business failure?” Because of some earlier discussions, I had a feeling I knew where he was going. We agreed it was the reluctance of the business owner to leave his comfort zone and make necessary changes. When a business is first started, there are a lot of areas that need to be built up. At this stage, the owner is open to new ideas and approaches. But as the business matures – even if it is only a year or two old – a calcification starts to creep in. The systems and processes that have been created are “good enough,” and are no longer seen as candidates for improvement. (Or, worse, the owner himself created whatever it was, and has a “don’t touch my baby” syndrome about whatever he created.) The owner’s day is spent fighting brushfires, taking care of employee or customer problems that crop up. Nobody thinks about improving what is already in place. As this continues, the business becomes less and less adaptive. Rigid, in fact. This rigidity creates easy opportunities for new entrepreneurs, who are not only open to new ideas and approaches, but see them as a way to steal customers from under the noses of these more established, rigid businesses. Are you reluctant? What are you reluctant about? If it isn’t obvious to you, ask around. The truth will come out soon enough, if you are asking with an open mind. Sometimes reluctance can be... read more

Are you an ember?

I have happily followed a strict business rule for a long time: I don’t work with jerks. I’ve recently added a new one: I don’t work with embers. I am not in the business of fanning embers in the hopes they will spring into flames. If the flame isn’t already there – if there is no passion, I’ll be helping someone else set the world on fire. Passion for what? Solving a problem, in a new and better way. Treating people right in the process. Always looking to learn, and improve. That kind of passion is what makes the business world work, and, frankly, makes the world work as well. There are more embers now because we are living in a time when baby boomers – the elephant in the demographics boa constrictor – are close to retirement. They have achieved a certain level of comfort, and they are loathe to do anything that would endanger that comfort. The embers refuse to embrace the changes and insist on doing what they’ve always done, following their own paths of least resistance, even as the business world continues to evolve at Web speed. You don’t have to be 63 to be an ember, though. Even 30-somethings can be embers, reluctant to step outside their comfort zone. Their customers, employees, and vendors can see this characteristic quite clearly, because when they come to an ember of a leader with new ideas, he never quite engages. He either dismisses the idea outright or he procrastinates, until the person who had the idea gives up. Everything reverts back to that comfortable, dull glow. The... read more

Why I’m Buying from John

I’m in the market for a business-to-business software product. I’m pretty far along in my buying process and I have narrowed down my choices to three vendors. I contact them all. Two of the three salespeople who get back to me are what I would call “typical.” They are cheerful, chatty, somewhat excitable, and they say things such as, “Let me be honest with you” and “No problem!” Half the time, I don’t feel they are really listening to what I’m saying, but instead are only thinking about what they will say next when I’m talking. I don’t have a good feeling about them being able to help me make a good decision. I can’t trust them. The third one, though, is different. His name is John. He’s serious. He’s thoughtful. He is strategic. He listens more than he talks. He’s almost an “anti-salesperson.” He knows his product really well, and he’s honest when he doesn’t have an answer. He’s not pushy, but he is persistent – he sends me something helpful and interesting every single week while we are in the process of discussions, meetings, demos, and the proposal. Frankly, it’s so much easier to move along the buying process with John. Every time I have a question, he either knows the answer or finds the answer. He helps me compare his product to the others. Is he biased? Of course. I expect it, but I don’t mind, because he has done his homework, and his analysis of his own product versus the competition makes good sense. What he says makes it easier for me to sell his... read more

How to Beat Your Enemies

In your business life, you encounter several types of enemies. There are competitors, who are fighting for the same customers you’re going after, coming up against you in deals, telling those customers all about your weaknesses, and doing their best to “position” themselves against you. There are bosses or other people in power (such as investors) who have decided they don’t like you, and will do what they can to replace you with one of their people. There are employees who continue to work for you but who don’t enjoy doing so. They make sure everyone (except you) knows why. There are bureaucrats who, for their own seemingly nonsensical reasons, take actions that could put you out of business. And yes, there are even customers who have decided that you are doing a terrible job and take it upon themselves to give you a black eye out in the marketplace.  We encounter these enemies even though we are hard-working, honest, careful, and courteous. Living this way gives us the upper hand with our enemies, before the battle has even begun. Which brings us to the first item on our “how to beat your enemies” list. 1) Do right, so you can be in the right. Enemies take full advantage of your weaknesses. If you are honest and fair-dealing with everyone, your enemies will be hard-pressed to make any accusation stick – especially any claims that you are dishonest or uncaring. If you have nothing to hide or be ashamed of, you start out ahead – and are much more likely to win in the end. 2) Know when to... read more

Managing individual salespeople

Is managing salespeople one of your most difficult tasks? If so, you’re not alone. CEOs who have few problems managing people in other positions still struggle with their sales department. Part of the problem is the kind of person who is put in charge of the department; I’ll cover that briefly later. It’s also difficult to tell if the person running the department is doing a good job or not, because of the conflict between what that manager says (“Everything is going great! No problems!”) and disappointing sales figures. And lastly, the CEO may not know how to manage salespeople, even if he’s done a little selling himself. He’s not able to tell what’s being done right – or not. The bulk of this article will focus on solving this last problem. What type of manager is running your sales now? Almost all sales departments are headed by salespeople who have worked their way up through the ranks. Unfortunately, salespeople have some inherent weaknesses when it comes to management. They are not, by nature, logistically minded. They’ll do anything to avoid digging down into the details of systems and processes. Also, they have succeeded throughout their careers by minimizing the negative and accentuating the positive. Strong managers do something else; they constantly look for problems so they can fix them. There are also two types of salespeople, or, I should say, two distinct schools of thought when it comes to making sales. One school says, “Tell them anything they want to hear, in order to land the deal, and worry about the rest later.” The other is, “Be absolutely... read more

Is your weakness a gift to your competitors?

Everybody has their weaknesses. But when you become a leader, you really have to leave yours behind. The most effective, successful leaders make a point of finding out what their weaknesses are and attack them. They do everything they can to become strong where they were once weak. These people are very rare. The more usual leader avoids addressing his personal weaknesses. After all, he is the big cheese, right? Admitting the weakness would run contrary to how he likes to see himself. It’s easy enough to blame the ensuing problems on others. He doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal, and he is not willing to push himself. The weakness is often rooted in a mode of behavior that worked when the person was around five years old, but has become counterproductive now that the person is an adult. These inappropriate, childish behaviors in a leader affect the performance of the entire company. Employees dread coming to work and dealing with the consequences of their boss’ behavior, and customers will avoid doing business with the company because they are aware of the negative consequences caused by the boss’ beliefs and behaviors. All employees see the boss’ weaknesses, plain as day. They know the boss avoids conflict, or needs to micro-manage, or has to play Little Dictator. They know the boss is always late or talks too much or plays one person against another. They know the boss tells little white lies. They know the boss talks a good game, but when it comes to actually following through, he’s missing in action. They know the boss dotes on... read more

5 Ways to Blow the Sale with the First Contact

I recently posted a freelance web development project on a web development job board. Most of the responses, unfortunately, were perfect examples – of what not to do. Since a lot of sales these days start with “virtual” contact, it’s instructional to see how these guys blew it – and what you can do to make sure you do it right. You don’t want to do these five things. 1) Don’t send an email filled with typos. Most of the messages were, unfortunately, filled with typos. The customer’s reaction: I’m not just looking for someone to fix one site. I’m looking for someone who can be a potential long-term vendor, someone I can refer my clients to. If you don’t even pay attention to details when you’re trying to impress, no way am I going to trust you with my own sites or refer you to my clients. Remember: Potential customers always decide that if there are mistakes in your selling messages, there will be mistakes in your work. 2) Don’t be a nuisance. Several candidates went beyond their initial response via email, and started using other channels to bug me – including Skype, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I was just starting to go through all the emails I’d gotten (in other words, I was at the beginning of my buying process), and these guys were pinging me every two seconds, trying to close the sale. Their own behavior – failing to follow instructions, exhibiting inappropriate behavior, and stepping over the line – automatically put them on the reject list. The customer’s reaction: Back off! Just because you need to... read more

The salesperson’s first test: Making an appointment via email

We all use email to agree on a meeting time. Unfortunately it’s terribly inefficient, especially when it’s done incorrectly. A salesperson who is sloppy about it will drive the new, potential client nuts and make the client wonder if she really wants to do business with the salesperson. It is the salesperson’s first test. You’ll want to pass it. Here’s an example of good form: Hi, Judy.  I understand you want to see a demo of our SuperBigProgram.  I’m able to do this with you at these times – all EST.  Mon April 8 from 2 – 5 EST Wed April 10 from 11 – 3 EST Fri         April 12 from 9 – 12 EST Please let me know if anything works for you within these ranges, or suggest another day/time. I will send you an invite with a link to the WebEx meeting. [Or, if it is a phone call: “Please also tell me which number you’d like me to call.”] Thanks. I look forward to speaking with you.  [Sig – with name and FULL contact information, including name, title, website, email, physical address, and phone number.] I also suggest that your email “from” be your name and phone number (as in, “Kristin Zhivago 401.423.2400”) so that people never have to open your email to find your phone number. The worst thing you can do is send emails without any contact info at all. Everyone uses emails to find the phone numbers of people they want to call. Note that the example above: Immediately states what the email is about. Clearly states the time zone... read more

Metrics can tell you what, who, and how, but not why. And why is all that matters.

Thanks to site tracking, cookies, and A/B testing, you can monitor and analyze what any person does on your website, and how they respond to your content. So why are companies still struggling to produce content that helps them sell? Because metrics can tell you what, who, and how, but not why. If you don’t know the why, you don’t know what you have to do to sell more. I’m writing this post because I feel sorry for all the companies that waste so much time and money on websites that don’t move the revenue needle. I am saddened to see managers being misled by their tracking results. I’m tired of everyone thinking that A/B testing is the end-all, when it never tells you the all-important WHY. All of this weblog analysis and A/B testing, if not coupled with real-customer-interview research, falls into the same old stupid category of “I am going to figure out who they are without ever actually getting to know them.” It’s just as pointless as the old-school, pre-web, “throw the pasta at the wall and see what sticks” marketing methods. What makes us think we can get away with this? Fear and ego. We are afraid that what we learn from real customers will force us to change what we are doing. That bothers us, because we like what we are doing. We thought it up. It makes sense to us and we are comfortable with it. The bad news is, this thinking leads to business failure. What makes sense to us is always off-target. Each time I ask CEOs what they think is... read more

Comfort is your real product; your character is where it comes from

The entertainment industry tends to portray people in business as greedy, selfish jerks. I spent a number of years in that industry, and I can understand why they think that way. Most of the people in power in that particular industry really are greedy and selfish. Any industry that requires you to be thinking of yourself 24/7 tends to attract a certain type of person. I decided to leave show business because I knew that if I stayed in it, I would be ruining my chances of being the kind of person I wanted to be. But the “jerk quotient” can also increase as companies grow. I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs and other managers running companies of all sizes. There’s no question that the bigger the company gets, the greater the possibility that it will be filled with jerks, unless the founder is absolutely devoted to customers and employees. As customers, we recognize those customer-centric companies easily; they stand out in their industries. Zappos, Southwest, FedEx, and Amazon come to mind. They provide something to their customers that very few companies provide: Comfort. It doesn’t really matter what they’re selling – shoes, flights, package delivery, or, in the case of Amazon, just about everything. What matters is that the company’s leaders actually care about their customers, and their customers can feel it. They are comfortable dealing with the company. Each successful interaction raises their comfort level further. In return, they do everything they can to reward that company with their business. You can’t fake caring, even though it is common practice to try. Politicians are the best... read more

The single most important thing you need to focus on in 2013

What is going to matter most to all companies in 2013? Only one thing, whether you are a MomPopoly (great new term – thunk up by Carlos Dunlap et all at Colloquy) or a Fortune 50 corporation. Not the news, the wars, the disasters. Not the constantly shifting regulations, the “cliffs,”  or the larger trends. Nothing matters as much as your customers’ experience, every time they interact with your product, people, or processes.  Their experience determines what they say about you to others who are considering buying from you. What they say determines if you prosper or struggle in 2013. It’s that simple. Even something as basic as your phone system will make them want to do business with you or want to avoid you; recommend you to others or warn them to stay away. Let’s look at this as if we were the customer. When you call a company to ask a question, you only do it AFTER you have looked online and have been unable to find the answer. When you call, what do you really want? YOU WANT A HUMAN BEING TO ANSWER THE PHONE ON THE FIRST RING. Yes, I typed that in caps for a reason.  Further, you want that person to be pleasant and helpful. You want that person to be so knowledgeable about the company that she can connect you with the right person to solve your problem – or solve it herself. Or, if she has to pass you on, you want her to stay on the line until she is sure that the person understands your problem and that your... read more

“Why Aren’t You Selling Us the Other Stuff We Need?”

I just finished interviewing a very smart customer for one of my clients. He’s a high-level manager in a tech company, a buyer of my client’s business services. During the interview, he explained how there were always two forces working against my client’s services: the comparable cost of accomplishing the same services in-house, and the fact that this customer is constantly pitched by competitive firms. Every so often, his own manager comes in and asks, “Are you still getting value for your money?” The customer is expected to have proof at his fingertips when that happens. He wants to be able to say, “Yes, they accomplished X last quarter for Y dollars. If we tried to do the same thing in-house, it would have cost us Z more.” Or, “Yes, last month they figured out how to improve on the automated portion of this process, and now we are getting that part done twice as fast, with fewer bugs. They also told us about a new tool they’re using with other clients, and we’ve decided to add some new services to the contract.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? If the customer was able to say these things to his boss, my client would be able to keep this customer for a long time. The problem is, my client isn’t reporting on their successes, or coming up with new tools and processes that the customer would love to benefit from. My client’s people are just doing the work, and since they’ve had this client for several years, they assume the client is happy and all is well. My client has two... read more

I am  now blogging at Cloud Potential.  Please click the link to see my new articles and you can sign up for the mailing list there.



Kristin Zhivago



Whatever you sell, there is the potential for new revenue. I know how to unlock that potential and turn your company into a revenue machine.


Give me an hour or a day, and I will completely revolutionize your revenue-generation beliefs and processes.


Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy is the only book that takes you, step by step, from where you are to where you need to be.