Today’s blog is a guest post/interview with Nicola Cook, of Company Shortcuts.
Company Shortcuts is the UK’s leading sales acceleration agency, helping ambitious business owners create a profitable and scaleable sales operation for their business.
Based on the S.A.M© (Sales Acceleration Model) which was developed by Lara and myself, and supported by our extensive library of Company Shortcuts frameworks, allowing for faster and easier execution of the Company Shortcuts methods; we help businesses shortcut their growth through the challenging scale-up phase, by helping them build their own ‘Sales Engine’.
Services include: consultancy; online learning; a vibrant membership community as well as over 150 business frameworks and other business resources.
Following our support businesses are able to;
- Plan a profitable sales growth STRATEGY
- Recruit and build their very best sales TEAM
- Perfect their sales systems and develop TOOLS that enable sustainable growth
- Maximise profit through focused team execution and TACTICS
Who is Nicola Cook?
I describe myself as an Entrepreneur, Author, Sales Growth Accelerator, Wife, Mother and Bassett Hound lover!
I come from a ‘salt-of-the-earth’ ex-steel town in the North East of England, where I still live with my family. However, my interest in business developed in the 1980s when this part of the country was decimated by the closure of all the major heavy industries, including our own steelworks. I saw entrepreneurship as a way of taking control of my own destiny and creating employment for others.
The only problem; I couldn’t think of a great idea or new product to bring to market. So instead I initially followed a career path in sales and sales leadership – which has proved to be a great asset as a business owner.
How I started my first company
Following a blue-chip career where I held senior sales positions at American Express, Procter &
Gamble and Gucci amongst others, I then accepted an opportunity in a growing business where I was part of the management team that successfully scaled and exited, before starting my own consulting firm in 2004. I’ve had my own management, consulting & training firm every since. Company Shortcuts is an iteration of my previous company.
How Lara and I came to work together
I first met Lara when I saw her speak at a business conference in 2009, and was instantly struck by the similarity of her beliefs and values to my own. I remember listening to her tell her story and remember thinking “I think I’ve just met my mirror image”. I firmly concurred with her philosophies on sales and building sales teams, and so introduced myself.
Over the next 3 years we became friends, meeting up for dinner when our diaries allowed, then in 2012 she asked me to join her in her Company Shortcuts venture as our visions were so aligned.
(In hindsight, I realise now that I was probably involved in one of the longest recruitment processes ever!)
Over the next four years we worked closely on the development and execution of the Company Shortcuts strategy before coming to an agreement in late 2016 that allowed me to take full ownership of the company in 2017. She remains a firm friend (personally & professionally) as well as an ongoing supporter and advocate of the ongoing Company Shortcuts mission;
Growing the nation, by improving sales performance
What have I learned from Lara?
Sooooo much, it’s almost impossible to condense into this short post!
Much of what I’ve learnt is also embedded into the Company Shortcuts S.A.M© philosophies but here are a few nuggets I know have personally influenced me
1 Thinking strategically to grow profit
Until I met Lara I never really understood how to design a business strategy and profit was something that felt beyond my direct control. You kind of crossed your fingers and hoped that everything would work out how you had planned and the profit would magically appear.
Lara has taught me the thinking skills necessary to look at someone’s business (my own included) and decide on the best, fastest, easiest way to achieve the business’s ambition, whilst also evaluating and mitigating against risk. Whether that be by refining the offer (or product) to achieve a market edge, more clearly defining the target audience, by building a world-class sales team, by opening up new sales channels or markets, by improving process or execution of the plan, or by finding another way to beat the competition.
Most businesses don’t understand where their profit actually comes from and therefore are not able to focus relentlessly on the products/services and activities that deepen margins – most people are busy fools.
Lara has taught me how to stop being a busy fool!
If you are going to scale your business, ultimately you need to learn how to build a team and get the best out of them and Lara’s ability to build a tribe of uber hardworking loyalists is inspirational.
Culture doesn’t happen by accident; it takes constant and persistent focus and I’ve observed and copied many of her people management traits, from the language she uses when motivating or having difficult people conversations, to the seemingly endless stream of thoughtful gifts and personalised notes she sends, down to simple actions like ensuring that you’ve spoken to every one of your direct reports on a Friday afternoon before heading off for the weekend.
Being crystal clear of your expectations but then rewarding the hard work appears simple but Lara is a true example of how to deliver on your promises and make people feel valued.
3. Reducing verbidge & opportunity cost
Verbidge is the word Lara invented when she politely asked me “Nicola do you think you can reduce the verbidge and just get to the point” when I delivering one of my endless monologues.
Until you’ve worked alongside someone who receives 200-300 emails a day do you appreciate how much you should or should not communicate. Now, I stop and think about every cc. or reply-all on email, every phone call I’m about to make and ask myself, ‘Is what I’m about to communicate to this person going to help them achieve their objectives, offer value, or simply interrupt them and suck resource away from them and the business?’
Every action you and everyone in your business makes, carries an opportunity cost. Whilst you’re spending time on one task, you’re not working on something else, which could be more profitable. Being disciplined yourself and teaching others in your business to delete, delegate and outsource tasks that can be carried out elsewhere for a lower cost, allowing all to remain focused on key deliverables that drive profit, has been a major learning from Lara.
4. Know your numbers
I cringe when I think back to the numerous conversations where I would attempt to stack my argument on gut feel or opinion, when Lara would simply reply,
“Come back to me Nicola, when you’ve run the numbers?”
I thought I understood numbers, I certainly understood sales numbers; Revenue numbers, Pipeline numbers, Order book numbers – which is more than some, but I realise now how I lacked an understanding of other critical business numbers; Contribution Margins, the skills to accurately cost products/services and how to plan and manage cashflow and growth.
Every business will have critical metrics that must be understood and measured that once mastered feels like walking into a room and switching the lights on!
Lara walks fast, talks fast, types fast, thinks and makes decisions faster than anyone I’ve every met. What Lara achieves before breakfast could be a full days work for some. When you are laser-focused on outcomes, profit and productivity, you ensure you are maximising every available minute in your day.
She’s famous for consistently banging on about “Maximising the sales hours of the day”, and she’s a testament to that.
I’ve seen her end meetings (including client meetings) after 15mins when there is no more value to give or gain and cut short internal discussions where we’ve been talking round in circles unnecessarily.
The leader sets the pace, and Lara’s pace is fast, fast, fast!
What has been your hardest obstacle to overcome in business?
Almost going bust in 2008. I thought I knew it all. I was 4 years into my own entrepreneurial journey and thought I was a pretty decent business owner, until I almost lost the lot. A poor strategy, lack of ability to spot a changing trend in our market, and a lack of visibility on cash, met it wasn’t long before we became unstuck.
The personal learning that came out of this period however, was invaluable, but still very painful at the time.
Which achievement in your business are you most proud of?
I have two.
Firstly, without doubt, the improved business results we help our clients achieve. The average increase in a Company Shortcuts client one year after engaging with us, is a Net Profit increase of +140%. We have some clients who’ve seen increases of Net Profit as much as +400% over a 22month period.
Now that gets my juices going!
The second was starting 2017 positively cashflowed in my own business, for a full 12months hence. After being in business for 12years, that was the first time I started a year’s trading with that amount of cashflow stability, which allowed us to allocate resources to longer term product development and growth strategies, as opposed to constantly focusing on maintaining short-term cashflow.
If you could give someone starting out in business one key piece of advice, what would it be?
Get learning! Surround yourself with people who’ve been there and got the T-Shirt, learn from those who can share the shortcuts you’ll need.
Also, however long you think it will take to generate a pipeline that converts into revenue – double or even treble it … and remember: until you’ve made a sale, no other function in your business need exist.
Sales is the lifeblood of your organisation; master that skill first.
Here is a video of Lara and I presenting at Business Accelerator: