Growing Salespeople From Within Your Company

dan-3

We all know that finding and hiring good sales people has become a problem. There are just not that many good ones out there right now. They are either, retired, gone to work in other fields or like the old general himself just faded away. So what are you going to do? You need sales people. You need more feet on the street and you need them now.

But don’t despair, there is a solution and that is to grow your own. I can just about guarantee that there are a number of very good sales people buried somewhere in your own company, right there under your very nose, people who are just sitting there hoping that someday they can be asked to join the glorious ranks of outside sales. All you have to do is identify them, talk to them and get them on track to becoming good outside sales people. Here is how you do it.

The first place to look is your inside sales team. By all rights this should be the training ground, the farm team for your future outside sales people. But this is not always the case. There are many inside sales people who like what they do and want to keep doing it for life. But there are others, always at least one who is just chomping at the bit to get out of there and get into outside sales. You know the one, often he’s not even as good at his job as others in his department are. But he has the gift of gab and he is almost always the favorite of the outside sales team. This is the person you talk to and start grooming for outside sales. Not today mind you, but in the future because there is still work to do get him ready for that plunge into outside sales.

Then you should also look at your engineering people. Look for that person who is good with customers. The person who seems to have a better working relationship with your customers. He is the one who always seems to be mentioned in those customer testimonials lauding your company for how helpful you are. This is the person who always stands up for the customer when there is a customer issue and once again this is the person who is the favorite of the outside sales team.

The same characteristics apply to anyone in the company, Quality and operations people as well.

Once you have spotted your likely candidate start the process:

Sit down with her and talk about her career path (you should be doing this with all of your employees anyway, you’ll be shocked at how much talent you actually have in your company). If she is interested in a career in sales start grooming her for that positions. Do don’t put her out in the field right away. Develop a long term plan for her, figure out how long it will take and start the training then start by developing a full-blown training plan.

This plan should include:

  • Learning all aspects of the company so the person has a complete understanding of the process; how boards are built from beginning to end.
  • Exposure to all other departments especially Engineering and CAM.
  • Spending time with the inside sales team; actually not only watching what they do but also doing it as well.
  • Learning how a board is quoted and priced and how the customer is approached with that price and becoming familiar with how the quote is written up and delivered to the customers
  • Merchandizing and negotiating directly with the customer. How to upsell.
  • Learning everything possible about the company how it started and its’ history.
  • Becoming familiar with the company’s sales strategy.
  • Becoming familiar with the company’s marketing and branding plan including all of the collateral materials and advertising.
  • Teaching the person how to sell for the company. Have one of your best sales people teach her how to sell.
  • Get him involved in “ride-alongs” with the sales people.
  • Have her attend a local trade show

You should be evaluating them all along the way, checking out to see just how into it they actually are. This is a great time to not only see how they do but if they are well suited for an outside sales position.

Then when she’s ready assign her a territory and wish her well; and the start the process all over again with a new candidate.

In the end this will all pay off. In some cases you will dodge a bullet be discovering that the person is not well-suited for a sales job; but in many cases you will be developing a well-trained company loyal professional sales person. One who will make your company proud. You will not only have developed a great sales person but you will have launched a person on a good and productive sales career as well. Now all you’ll have to worry about is treating that person well enough so that he stays with your company. It’s only common sense.

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On Selling Contract Manufacturing Services

dan-7

Contract manufacturing is a service not a product. As CEMs, we are actually building someone else’s product, someone else’s baby. Our customers are putting the fate of their companies in our hands. If we build the product incorrectly our customers will be the ones to pay. In the end they are the ones who have their name on the product. They are responsible for designing, engineering, and marketing the products, we are responsible for the manufacturing of that product.

Think about that for a moment. Consider how much trust comes into play when our customers decide to turn over the manufacturing of their products to our contract manufacturing services. They are putting their company’s reputation in our hands, they are putting the entire future of their company in our hands.

This is a huge decision on their part. They must make sure that we are able to handle all their needs. They should be certain that we have all the processes in place to deliver a product that is as good, if not better than the one they themselves could produce, and at a better, more competitive price. So, these companies have two very difficult decisions to make. The first being if they should use a contract manufacturer in the first place; and the second, which contract manufacturer will they select in the end? And this is where, we as professional sales people come into the picture. It is our responsibility to convince our customers that they will be in good hands if they decided to trust out company with the fabrication of their product.

When you consider all these factors that go into a decision like this, it become evident that ours is not a simple sales process. It’s not merely holding up a product and giving a sales pitch for why the customer should buy our product. No, not at all. This sales process is very personal and some would even say emotional. In a way is almost like turning over your child to be raised by others.

When selling contract manufacturing services, as great sales people, we should focus on making our customers feel completely comfortable and yes, safe, and secure, enough in our company to choose us to build their products. This means that when selling to these customers we must focus on the following key factors:

  1. Reliability: They need to understand, nay believe, that we are completely reliable. The best way to do this is through references and testimonials. They should be able to see a track-record fully based on happy and satisfied customers. Customers who are happy enough with our performance that they are willing to talk about it to other customers. If our target accounts see that we have customers who are willing to stand up and vouch for our reliability they will feel safe a secure in making their decision to engage with us.
  2. Consistency: When potential customers come to our company we must prove to them that our process is in control and that are production lines are putting out the same great consistently high-quality products from the first assembly, to the last. We must demonstrate that we have all the right systems like ISO in place, assuring them that we have a fool-proof quality assurance system.
  3. Credibility: This is key. They need to know that we are completely truthful in all our business transactions. This is the time for open-kimono discussions. Our company must be on an open-book basis to our customers. We should concentrate on showing them that we are a real, viable, and yes financially sound company, that will not only be there for them today but in the future as well.
  4. Flexible and easy to work with: This is so very important. As a CEM, you are literally their business partner in a relationship that is much more intense than the typical vendor/customer relationship. As a great CEM partner, you must always have the customers’ welfare at heart, realizing that you are playing an integral part in their success as well as yours. You have to always be prepared to walk that extra mile to assure that your customers are selling the best products money can buy, products that your company is producing for them.

As a salesperson, it is your responsibility to convey all of these points to your customers, to assure them that your company will indeed treat them as true partners. But you cannot do it alone. The most important thing to remember about selling contract manufacturing services is that the entire team should be involved in the sale. From the owner/president of the company, to the program managers, to the Quality managers, to the department leads, to the all-important purchasing manager, everyone should take part in convincing your customers that your company is unquestionably the most qualified, reliable, consistent, credible, flexible, and capable company in the industry to build that their products, it’s only common sense.

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Selling On Price Is How You Lose

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If you prospect for price you are going to get price oriented customers. You are only going to “buy” your way into an account and yes, you are going to set the precedent for the life of that account. So says Mark Hunter in his great new book High-Profit Prospecting published by Amacom.

And allow me to add, if you think that the only weapon you have is price then you are a lousy sales person or you work for a lousy company or both.

Look selling on price is suicide in the long run. And again in the long run it will kill you. But it’s not as simple as all that. First you have to know exactly what your price should be. You have to do your research to make sure that your price is not only fair but marketable. Your price has to make sense.

If you are selling on price as Hunter says you will get price oriented customers. You will get customers who place no value on what you do and how well you do it. All they care about is, well, price, and if that’s all you have been talking about that is what they think you only care about as well. Not to mention the fact that you will give them the impression that it’s all you’ve got.

You always have to remember that any customer who gives you an order because of your low price will not be a loyal customer at all. In fact, he will jump to the next guy who comes in with a price that is even lower than yours. Since he sees no value in what you or the other guy does, he sees no difference in what each of you has to offer thus he doesn’t care where his “cards” are built as long as he wins his company’s award for buying the cheapest stuff available on the market today. Yeah right, that’s who you want to work with! The minute you discover this about a prospect get out and get our fast before you waste another minute of yours and your company’s time.

This is where prospecting the right way comes in. You have to research the accounts you are going after make sure that they are true prospects and not just suspects. I recommend creating an ideal customer profile based on careful contemplation of what you do best and what kind of customer best fits what you do.

Think about your current customers; reflect on the best ones. The ones you have worked with the longest; think about the ones you and your company like dealing with. Then examine those relationships and look for the root reasons why you like these customers and most importantly why they like you. Why do you and these customers like working together. Make a list of all of their characteristics and how they fit so well with what you do and then use that list as a filter for finding new accounts.

This list should include: technology, service, quality, communications, understanding and appreciation of the value you bring to them, chemistry, ease of doing business with, loyalty and last but not least their ability to pay. Then apply these parameters to the customers you are going after. If they match up as closely as possible to the customers with whom you have enjoyed a long time successful relationship then you will be in the right track, and the chances of not only winning this new prospect’s business but establishing a long and productive and yes profitable relationship with that customer will be greatly increased.

I should mention that there are some instances where you do have to sell on price and that is when you have an account that is a perfect fit for you but that you are going to have to do some special pricing to gain entry into that account. Now let’s be clear, I am not talking about the old bait and switch but rather what we call strategic pricing. Pricing that is strategic because you will use it to gain entry into the type of business you want with the company you want as a customer. This type of pricing takes a great deal and research so that you know everything about this target account and enough to justify making a long- term investment in terms of time and money with a plan to value engineer your process so that your price will be competitive but also make you money in the long run.

In short you have to do your homework in advance. Spending time before you even start to prospect a company will save a lot of time, effort, money and aggravation in the long run. It’s only common sense.

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Contract Manufacturers: Does Anybody Know Your Name?

dan-6

Unlike PCB shops where there are now less than 200 left in North America, there are well over 1000 contract manufacturers of all shapes and sizes. Everyone knows the big guys from Celestica, to Flextronics, to Sanmina to Plexus all of them doing hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, but what about all the others? Most of them are under twenty million dollars and many of those are under ten million. There is nothing wrong with this, most of these companies are very good, very well-run companies.

But the true problem lies in the sheer numbers, there are so many of them that it’s hard to tell one from the other. There are very few of these companies that can be identified by more than a handful of companies who, work directly with them, which is the very reason today’s contract manufacturers need to develop and implement their own ongoing marketing and branding plan.

I say “implement”, because that really is the key to any good plan, especially a marketing plan. Here are the more basic steps to developing and implementing your own customized marketing and branding plan:

  1. Tell your story: This is where it all starts. What is your company’s story, when you did you get started? Who started the business and why was it started? What is the company’s mission and vision? Talk about some of the history. This will be the foundation of all your marketing. It is also helpful for your own team to have a good understanding of the company that are part of.
  2. What are you good at? What separates your company from the rest of the pack? This is sometimes called your unique value proposition. What is your forte? What do your customers like about you? Why do they keep coming back?
  3. Who is your ideal customer and why? Speaking of customers, who is your best customer? Why are they your best customer? What markets are they in? Develop an ideal customer profile and use it as a template when going after other customers. These are the customers and markets you should pursue.
  4. Getting the word out: Now we get down to it. You know what your company is good at, you know what customers and markets you want to pursue, now it’s time to put your marketing together and get your message out there to the right companies. Done right, this can be very effective and will not cost you much money at all, in fact, you can do it yourself if you want. The first thing to know is that marketing is a mosaic and all the marketing options listed below are the tiles making up the mosaic. It’s up to you to decide what you want your marketing mosaic to look like based on which of these, “tiles” you decide to use. Here are three of the most important “tiles” to use in your marketing mosaic.
  5. Interviews: This is your chance to tell your story. You can be interviewed by one of the trade magazines like this one I-Connect 007, which offers all types of interviews from print, to audio, to even video. They will give you the opportunity to talk about our self and your company. Your story makes a great cornerstone for your marketing because as in the case of I-Connect your story is put in front of their thousands of readers, and once it has been published, you can use it for your own marketing and social media. You can put the interview on your web site and your newsletters. You can send the link to your customers. You give it to your sales team for them to send it to customers. If its print interview, you can have it reprinted in a glossy magazine style format complete with photos and use it as a hand out. All very effective and powerful ways to market your company.
  6. Press releases: Please send out press releases about everything that happens at your company; from hiring a new sales person, or general manager to buying a new piece of equipment, to updating your technology. Press releases are a great way to keep your name out there. And just like everything else you can re-purpose your press releases through your own marketing and social media once they have been published in the trades.
  7. Newsletters/ technical bulletins: This is the very best way to get your name out there to the right people. But this is not a “It’s Sally’s birthday!” newsletter. The best newsletters are filled with content that is valuable and appealing to your customers. Each newsletter should contain:
  8. A president’s message that highlights what has been going on at the company as well as what is contained in this issue.
  9. Anything you had had published since the last newsletter.
  10. Some helpful technology tips that will help your customers
  11. A special call to action

The newsletter will go out to your entire customer base and will serve as a valuable “touch” to those customers once again keeping your company’s name and services in front of the right people.

And yes, in the spirit of under promising and over delivering, there is one more “tile”, and that’s social media. Don’t groan! It’s about time you went there. Linkedin and Twitter are the most useful and powerful forms of business social media right now. Stop bragging about the fact that you don’t even know what Twitter is anymore, it’s no longer cool to do that and sorry but you’re showing your age. There are many books and seminars on social media today so it’s for you to get on board very quickly. My friend Bruce Johnston (brucejohnston115@gmail.com) is one of the world’s leaders in LinkedIn and he offers excellent training courses for you and your team to learn how to use LinkedIn effectively. The good news is that everything you do as part of your marketing plan can be re-purposed via social media reaching many more people and reaching them very quickly

One last thing to remember, and it’s worth restating, marketing is a mosaic and you should develop a complete annual schedule of the marketing you are going to be doing for the next year, month by month, quarter by quarter so that you will always know where you are going by following this time-lined road map. And by the way I have a great sample marketing plan I can send you if you contact me.

So please, start working at getting your name out there. You are competing with over one thousand other companies and in the end the true winners are going to be those who marketed the smartest and yes, the loudest. It’s only common sense.

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A Better Relationship With Your PCB Manufacturer Will Yield Better PCB’s

dan-5

We have talked a lot in this column about how board shops should treat their customers. How they should try to get to know their customers and their needs. So now let’s switch things around and talk about how customers should treat board shops, how they should work with board shops to get the best products and the best performances out of them.

For years now we have been talking about the new way of doing business. We have discussed things like what I call the “gray market” where companies like to buy their PCBs on line without ever having to talk to anyone, which by the way I consider the ultimate step in the commoditizing of the printed circuit board as a product. The trend in the electronics market has been to trivialize the circuit board to the point where the technology is considered pedestrian, repeatable and in some cases not even worthy of its own ITAR protection.

Companies can buy boards off web sites with a computer and a credit card without ever having to talk to anyone.

The sales people I work with find themselves overwhelmed with frustration caught between a rock and a hard place with their management whipping (yours truly included) them to get out there and visit those customers. Meet with them face to face; while those wily customers do everything they can to make sure that doesn’t ever happen, putting up barriers made of anything they can imagine to keep those sales people from seeing them face to face and in person. And that’s just the buyer, forget the chance of ever seeing anyone from the rest of the project team.

In short the relationship between the board shops and their customers is now virtually (no pun intended) non-existent.

And that spells trouble. Big trouble. All business is about people, people talking to each other, people understanding each other and yes people caring about each other. And now that has been lost. People are not talking to each other…pretty much never.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us to where we are today when we have the biggest gap between the people who design and engineer the end product and the people who build the boards that go into that product so that now the people building the board have nothing more to go on than what they are asked to build actually; just what is in front of them. They are operating in a vacuum.

In the old days, back in the days before the internet these people used to talk to one another. The customer’s project team would visit the board house or vice versa or both and then they would discuss the project. Then the customer would talk about the project in detail with her vendor. He would explain what they were doing, she would explain why the boards needed to be the way they needed to be and make sure that the people building the board understood why the board needed to be the way it needed to be. In these meetings the board guys would get a good understanding of what their boards were going into and why certain parameters were extremely critical. They would be exposed to the whole picture to the point where the customer’s call outs would make sense to them. And yes often around that meeting table ideas would be exchanged. The board guys could and did come up with suggestions and improvements for making the board a more effective component of the end product as well as more easily manufacturable and yes often, surprisingly often, less expensive.

And then through this process another thing would happen. The teams, the customers and the fabricators would bond, they would start becoming one team, real partners to the point that they were all working on the same project with the same goal in mind, the success of that project. They would become brothers and sisters in arms working for one common goal. This of course would cause them to be open and honest with another. People from both sides of the relationship would get to know each other. The company to company relationship would far exceed the buyer to salesperson only relationship (if you want to call it that) we have today. The teams would get to know each other all of them from engineers to the quality people to program managers they would work on the project together. If the boards were particularly difficult and the shop was having a hard time building them; their customer, their partner would send their team in and they would work side by side solving the problems and thus successfully producing good boards…together….as a team.

Now the irony is that today our end products are more sophisticated than ever. The PCBs to go into those products are more complicated than ever but now we have no partnerships. People in both companies seldom if ever talk to each other never mind actually meet. This has got to change. We have to go back to those pre-internet days where people met, discussed, came up with common solutions and goals, got to know and trust each other and work together building the products of tomorrow. As an old PCB guy I am looking right at you our customers right now and saying clearly and in plain English. “Dear customers we can’t do it without you. Come and visit us, Let us visit you, come and get to know us, come on let’s work together on making your products better than they have ever been.”

Stay tuned as in future columns we’ll talk about the specific steps we have to take to develop those partnership; steps that will make both of us better together than we can ever hope to be apart, the way things are going now. So check in with me next week and we’ll go there…together. It’s only common sense.

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Choosing The Right PCB Vendor Is Critical To A Contract Manufacturer’s Success

dan-7

Choosing the right PCB vendor is not as easy as you want to think it is.

There are still many contract manufacturers out there who believe the myth that all PCB shops are the same and that in the end it’s only a matter of basing their decision on price and price alone. Oh, sure you’ll make yourselves feel better trying to know more about who you are dealing with. Some of you will actually visit potential vendors and perform surveys on them. This is a good thing, sometimes, because there are some shops who look fantastic when you visit them, pass your surveys with flying colors, and then go on to be a disaster when it comes to day by day performance. That’s because selecting the right board shop goes further than what it looks like on paper, or what it looks like period. I know some great looking shops that can’t perform worth a darn and then some of the ugliest shops you’ll ever see that are great performers.

Putting all of that aside, here are five good ways to choose the right PCB vendor for your contract manufacturing company.

  1. Ask them about their delivery and quality performance. Actually, ask them to back up what they claim their performance is. Ask to see the charts, the numbers. They are all going to tell you that their delivery and quality numbers are in the high 90’s don’t believe them, ask for proof. I mean look them in the eye and ask for proof, hard evidence, of this stellar performance they are claiming to have. Ask them how they measure this performance. An honest measurement for delivery is whether or not they meet the original date. Some companies will get a new catch-back date from their customers and then meet that date and call it on time. That is not on time. Meeting the original delivery date is true on time performance, no exceptions!
  2. Get references. Why doesn’t anyone do this? Ask them for references and then call those references and ask what their experience has been. It’s even better if you now someone who is or has been one of their customers and get their opinion of what’s it’s like to deal with this vendor. Find out for yourself. Do your research.
  3. Ask them if they are financially sound. The last thing you want is to invest in a vendor that will be out of business three months into the relationship. The repercussions of that situation are endless, especially when their doors are locked and your product is held hostage.
  4. Ask them how they handle customers issues. You will find that most customer/vendor relationships are formed in hardship. Any time you work with a PC shop there will be issues, there always are, and how you are treated dealing with those issues will end up making or breaking the relationship. Ask them to tell you about a time they had an issue with a customer and how it was handled.
  5. Once you decide to use a shop, start them off with a fairly simple order. Too often customers will lead off with their most challenging board. The one that they’ve had a difficult time sourcing, the one that everyone has had a hard time with. Do not give them that board. The first order should be an audition order. It should be simple and straightforward technology. You are checking out how their system works. How efficient their quote process is, how easy it is to place an order and of course how they perform on that order. Once you have a good feeling about their logistics, then start placing more orders and even get to the more challenging ones.

And one more, in the spirit of under promising and over delivering there is one more thing to think about and that’s the people. In the end it’s all about what you feel about the people you will be dealing with. You are after all, getting married to these people, not the company but the actual. people you will be dealing with. What kind of vibe do you get from them? Do you sense they respect their customers or do they delight in telling you some “the customer was stupid and we were so smart stories”? don’t laugh it happens all the time. Remember that your company and this company, your people and their people are going to be significant partners working towards the success of your company, so choose wisely my friends. No survey form ever tells the true story of the actual people you will be dealing with.

And, finally beware of board shops offering great price incentives, because in PCBs, like everything else, you get what you pay for. In the end a ten or even twenty percent discount will not make up for boards that are late holding up your production lines and causing late deliveries or worse yet, boards that have poor Quality causing eventual field failures on products that have your name on them, not that board shop’s. Once that happens, buying the cheapest board that money can buy will no longer seem like a great idea. It’s only common sense.

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Yes Virginia, Advertising Does Work…Sometimes

dan-5

I was listening to the radio, as I drove to the airport last Sunday, when an ad came on about smoke, and carbon monoxide alarms. I was half listening, not really paying attention, since it was not exactly a captivating subject. In fact, I was a little irritated, because I always get irritated, when I think about smoke alarms. I don’t like them. Oh, I know they are necessary for sure, but I always feel a little conned with that ”change the batteries twice a year thing”. You know, when you change the clocks, you’re supposed to change the batteries in your smoke alarms at the same time. And since I live in this rambling old house, with attics, and cellars, and hidden rooms, I have a lot of batteries to change in a lot of alarms, ten alarms in fact. All of them taking one, if not two, 9-volt batteries. This means twice a year I have to schlep down to Home Depot, and buy about thirty dollars-worth of batteries.  All because someone said so; and it’s a rule in our house. I’m not sure the old batteries are even dead. I know, I know, that you can push the little button, and the alarm will wail if they are not dead, but the ads have made me so paranoid, that’s not good enough for me.

The ironic thing is that I cannot bear to throw out the old batteries I remove from the alarms, so I keep them, and now, I have a box full of them. Do you realize, that once we were done with six transistor radios years ago, the need for 9-volt batteries went away…except for smoke alarms?

And, don’t get me started on hard-wired alarms. I have had my moments with those babies. Years ago, while staying alone at a friend’s house, one of his hard-wired alarms started wailing. It was on hard-wired to the ceiling, a twelve foot high ceiling, I might add!  After I had checked around the house and determined that there was nothing to be, alarmed about, I had to stand on a chair and hit it with a broom for a while, until I finally broke it. Ironically, the alarm my friend replaced it with, did the same thing …so much for that kind of alarm. At least with the battery alarm you can take the batteries out and it stops wailing.

Okay, now back to my ride to the airport, and the radio spot about smoke alarms. Apparently, these new alarms have a ten year built in battery. Ten years! Now, they had my attention! And these new alarms were  both a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide alarm as well. And get this, they shout the words instead of wailing, saying “Fire” or “Smoke”, or “Gas”, whatever the problem they detect is. And yes, they have a turn-off button too. Now, the voice on the radio had my attention. Now, I was listening. They had me.

Right now, I can’t wait to get home, and go to Home Depot and check these babies out. I don’t care what they cost, I’m in. Do the math: thirty dollars twice a year is sixty dollars, times ten years, is a whopping six hundred dollar savings; besides, avoiding all the aggravation, of climbing up ladders, and down staircases, to find all of my alarms and replace the batteries, twice a year. It’s bad enough the this is the same day, I have to change the time on about thirty clocks my old the house. Not to mention, changing the clocks in the cars, that’s another story.

Now, to the part about advertising working. This story is a very clear-cut example, of advertising working. This ad was telling me about a product, that would solve my problems. A product, that would make my life easier. From the very first time the announcer said, “Ten year build in battery,” he had my attention and had be paying attention all through the ad. The reason was that  this was something I cared about. Something, I wanted, something I had to have, even though five-minutes earlier, I did not even know I wanted it. Yes, Virginia, advertising does work, at the right time, and the right place, and to the right audience, an audience, made up of people, who need the product, they are talking about the in the ad.

The point is that if your product actually solves a problem, a problem, that people deem important. These people  will listen to your ad, and they will most probably, buy your product without hesitation. It’s only common sense.

 

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