First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Steve Bookbinder: Fortunately, my wife, daughter, and I have avoided getting infected, which I am calling a big win!
My wife and I each run our own company and have been working remotely for years – so this pandemic hasn’t been a complete change – at least we already had our home offices all set up!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded DM Training
Steve Bookbinder: Currently, I am the CEO and lead trainer of Digital Media Training (www.dmtraining.net).
We focus on training salespeople, in both media and non-media industries, on the skills they need to accelerate their sales process in an increasingly virtual world where buyers are more informed through online research and rely on their network for recommendations.
Over the last 20+ years, I have spent my career traveling all over the world, delivering training workshops and keynote speeches for global companies.
My career has two parts: sales training and advertising.
I got into sales training following a career plan described in the book What Color Is Your Parachute – I found my career calling after first identifying the qualities that I wanted in a job: public speaking and getting a commission. I ended up delivering more than 5,000 workshops all over the world to clients in many industries. From this experience, I learned the best sales practices by selling my service to the best salespeople and then studying their top people with the best pipelines to learn their secrets to success.
Then, I began working with clients who were early internet companies in the late 1990s / early 2000s and realized I needed to jump into this world with both feet before I was left behind. I ended leaving the training business to go to work for digital pioneer 24/7 Real Media (now Xaxis, owned by WPP) and learned the tech part of advertising.
It’s at 24/7 Real Media, where I worked with former CEO, David Moore, who I eventually co-founded Digital Media Training with in 2009.
How does DM Training innovate?
Steve Bookbinder: We innovate by doing three things:
- Learn from our clients. I’ve been doing this since I began my career in sales training. I try to avoid the mistakes they tell me they’ve made while mimicking the sales tactics and strategies they use successfully. As a result, my training content is always refreshed and tested before I deliver a training program.
- Leverage every idea from every member of our team. Even though I am the CEO, we are really a very flat organization, and everyone’s ideas are encouraged, discussed, and tried. This includes interns, assistants, partners, and every employee.
- Keep moving forward. I swam the English Channel with my business partner, David Moore, and two others. This is where I learned I could accomplish any goal if I approach it right. This experience has helped me live my life like I’m on a mission. It’s allowed me to tackle challenges head on because I’ve learned how to jump into the cold water (literally!) without analysis-paralysis; organize myself and my team, so we don’t drown in rough water, and take a chance even if it means swimming through a school of jellyfish. This way, no matter what obstacle gets in our way, we keep moving forward.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Steve Bookbinder: Just before the pandemic hit and the whole world went on lockdown, I tore a ligament in my knee and was unable to walk for months.
This forced me to begin making changes to my business before the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, this gave me a running start and extra momentum to shift my traditional training business to a virtual, online training business.
One of the ways I cope with challenges is to focus on my motto: Always reinvent yourself.
There are two ways you can do this:
1. Change the environment around you. Literally, change what is on the walls of your office to reflect the positive messages you need. Change the voices in your head by talking to people with positive messages. Read different blogs and newsletters from different thought leaders. Listen to different podcasts, which can open up your thinking to new ideas. This led to me finding partners with complementary services. We now combine our training with the best assessment testing in the US, which is a win-win-win benefiting our clients, our partner, and us.
2. Take inventory of what you already have. Whatever you have a lot of, that is your currency. I have a lot of content and a lot of contacts. I am rich in that currency. When travel restrictions started, I became rich with available time. I put these three things together and started a new training initiative aimed at individual sales professionals. We began marketing these new “open” virtual workshops direct-to-sellers at an affordable price. This idea of virtual workshops also piqued the interest of our corporate clients, which led to privately-held custom virtual workshops.
After trying a lot of things that failed, we finally came up with a winning idea, based on enthusiastic client comments. We begin with this model:
- Assessment testing to determine the sales strengths of each individual salesperson
- Deliver playbook for participants to read in advance of the virtual workshop
- Host virtual workshop to review the playbook and then put the playbook into practice by roleplaying and applying to real customers and prospects.
- Reinforce all of the training with online learning and reinforcement as well as manager support
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Steve Bookbinder: The most difficult decision was to let myself and our team get very busy working on brand new, unproven ideas.
There is always a risk when you do something different.
The lesson I learned during my English Channel adventure helped me again during the pandemic: do everything without the safety net of an excuse.
A lot of trainers I know and small companies simply went out of business. They looked at the terrible situation we were in and used it as an excuse.
Maybe the greatest excuse in our lifetime…after all, who can blame anyone for failing during a global pandemic?
But, when you live your life without excuses, you keep trying to find a way to get there. You become relentless not simply because you want to succeed, but primarily because you can’t let yourself fail.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and DM Training in the future?
Steve Bookbinder: I wish I had a better answer to how I deal with stress. I’ve tried over-eating and drinking beer, but lately, I’ve found that intense exercise helps relieve my stress.
Mentally, I try to focus on two things: staying in the moment and leveraging the power of negative thinking.
I try to stay in the moment, constantly reminding myself that I am still working, my family and I are safe, and our clients appreciate our work. But I am also a big believer in leveraging the power of negative thinking.
All of us are at our most insightful after it’s too late, and we sit down with a cup of coffee and run our hands through our hair and think about “you know what we should have done?”
Rather than realize all of the great advice after it’s too late, I try to envision a year from now, a day after I failed. I visualize looking back in time and until I come up with what I should have done.
It sounds crazy, but it works because I’m thinking of this a year early while there’s time to try a new idea or a different approach.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Steve Bookbinder: The internet business has introduced me to the notion that competitors can be “friend-emies” and partners. I’ve applied that thinking to my training company:
Every sales training company has 3 kinds of competitors – other training companies, inhouse training departments, and technology companies that offer sales and marketing solutions.
I am currently working on a training co-op that would allow me to work with my competitors and technology competitors, both of whom really complement rather than replace my services, and sell the combined online offering to inhouse training managers.
When I look at it this way, I only have one competitor: myself. Either I will get in my own way or work through the obstacles to make my co-op idea a reality.
Your final thoughts?
Steve Bookbinder: Most of us are great at telling other people what they should be doing, but do you ever take your own advice?
In my experience, I have found that when I do take my own advice, I remind myself to be grateful for what I have, always find ways to reinvent yourself, and never stop moving forward.
This has helped me during the worst of times, and I know it will work for you too.
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