Archive for category Business
It’s amazing how much can get done when you decide to stick with it
Another year another strategic plan…or worse yet another month another strategic plan. Does this sound familiar to you? Well it does to me. The most difficult thing to do when you’re a strategic consultant like I am is to make sure your clients stay focused, that they keep their eye on the ball.
My philosophy is very simple a good plan implemented and followed to fruition is always better than a great plan abandoned before its time.
A good plan has to be given time to work. A good plan is only as good as the commitment and dedication that people are willing to give it.
During all my time in business I have seen good, even great plans abandoned way before they had time to work. I have seen great plans stall when a company leader loses interest in the plan laid out for his company. A plan I must say that he had put a great deal of time and effort in. In one particular case the owner was known for jumping from one project to another leaving a trail of unfinished projects in his wake. Which as you can image created a ground hog day environment in his company. That is some kind of leadership isn’t it?
I think to some people there is something so much more appealing in starting a new plan from scratch than in persevering with the current plan that many companies have been hurt by its” leader’s new plan addiction. Yes, business like life is a marathon not a sprint. There are no quick fixes because yes, even the quickest of fixes takes a certain amount of time to gain traction.
Here is the way it works. A team comes together and puts a plan together. That plan must begin with a clear and complete understanding of where the company wants to be in one year…in three years…in five years. Then this team has to work backwards to today, to present time in order to establish the steps they’ll have to take to make this plan come to life. They have to be fully aware of when the plan will start producing the results they are seeking. These steps should be marked with dated milestones so that the team will know exactly where they should be in the plan and on what date. Done correctly this method will provide a good visionary and yes somewhat patient team with a good idea of where they should be and when they should be there. Without a strong implementation roadmap most plans will fail.
When you set out on a car trip you have to know exactly where you are going, how far it is and when you can expect to get there. You wouldn’t dream of starting out on a cross country trip from say New York City to Los Angeles without first of all knowing how far Los Angeles is from New York City, how many hours it is going to take and yes where you are going to stop on the way for the night. Think of how discouraging it would be if you just set out in a general western direction without any insight of how far you were going or when you were going to get there, and when you were going to have to take breaks. Well now think about your strategic plan as only stating the ultimate goal without any steps on how to achieve those goals. Get the picture?
They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step and of course that’s true but then it takes another step and another step and another one and so on. Without that understanding without the patience to take all those steps the journey will never be completed.
If this sounds basic and obvious it is because it is and it’s pretty simple as well but for some reason people especially business owners have a very difficult time getting it. I think it’s that entrepreneur thing. They are always looking for the next new thing and have a hard time focusing on the thing that is right in front of them. I have also found that this lack of focus and attention has led to the downfall of many companies that would and could have made it if the owners had just had the patience and tenacity to diligently follow the plan as it was laid out originally.
If you are an owner or a company leader and you see yourself in this column, then all I can say is change. Figure out how to have the tenacity, patience and yes courage because it does take courage to follow a plan when it reaches the darkness before the light stage, the courage to stick to the plan and drive it all the way to its successful destination. Its only common sense.
It always amazes me that the same people who claim to be building the best products on the market today are also the ones who want to buy the cheapest ingredients they can.
Think of your customers, how many of them have told you this…
“We are building the best Missile, MRI, Automobile, Computer than money can buy and in order to do this we have to have the very best components that money can buy. If you can give us the best there is, the highest Quality there is, we will happily pay for it.”
You have never heard this from any of your customers? Really, no one has ever told you that? I’m shocked. I thought all of your customers, or at least the ones who claim they build the best products in the world would be wanting the best. You would think so wouldn’t you?
Instead our PCB customers like to tell us that they need the best price possible or else. If we do not provide them with the best price possible they will find someone who will, even if that means going yo another country, to find that price that they want.
In other words do whatever you need to do to give them the cheapest boards that money can buy or else. They want us to do whatever we have to do, cut whatever corners we can, do anything we can do, to give them the cheapest products under the sun.
I am amazed at this because sorry, it is just not common sense. When a great chef creates he wants to use the best ingredients that money can buy. If a great artist is creating great art he wants to use the best materials that money can buy. When a craftsman builds a beautiful cabinet he wants to buy the best wood that money can buy. All of these people want to use the very best materials or ingredients that they can.
So how can many of our customers claim that they need the cheapest materials they can get their hands and then turn around and tell their customers that they are building the best products in the world? Sorry it does not add up. You cannot make a great product out of crummy materials, that’s all there is to it.
I know, I know, when I challenge my friends on the buying end of the business about this they tell me that all PC shops are the same, the Quality is exactly the same, the technology is the same. The company has done its homework and they know their suppliers and they know that it will all get down to the price. They actually believe that they can buy the cheapest products possible and still be covered enough to put out the best products in the world.
How is that? How does that work? I can tell you the answer to that question, it doesn’t. You just cannot build the best products in the world by buying the cheapest products in the world.
Think about this:
Do you really want to have a pacemaker that is built from the cheapest components that money can buy?
Do you really want that nuclear reactor to be made up of the cheapest products that money can buy?
Or how about that missile, or that automobile, or that airliner, or that Space Shuttle, or that surgical laser?
Sure you would be really happy if all of these things are built from the cheapest parts possible.
Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals. Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each other’s business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival.
One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, “I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?” The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, “Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!”
When someone sent me this joke last week I could not help thinking about the companies in our industry. We are so focused on beating the other guy, that we don’t spend much time working on how we can make our own companies better. In fact, we are always so focused on disrespecting our competitors that we would rather see them fail than succeed. I have noticed that there is usually some satisfaction when we hear that another shop has gone out of business.
Think about this. Should we be happy if one of the few shops left in this country goes out of business…really? We are already feeling the negative results of the steadily diminishing number of shops in our part of the world. The numbers are up for debate but from what I can estimate there were once at least twelve hundred shops in North American in the early eighties and now there are only around two hundred, and that’s individual locations not companies. If you consolidate all the TTM locations under just the name TTM you get even fewer.
This is what has happened while we were cheering the loss of our competitors:
- We have lost our leadership position in the PCB industry
- We are no longer the technology leaders we once were (Yes, it’s time to quit telling ourselves that all the technology is developed here in this country because it is no longer true)
- We no longer have the strong vendor base we once had to the point where if you have a shop in the Southwest or the Northwest you are no longer seeing vendors as often (if at all) as you once did.
- Which means that we have also lost the technical support we once relied on with having a strong vendor base.
- Our customers especially the defense contractors are so worried about the sparsity of qualified American vendors to handle their defense and aerospace PCB needs that they are petitioning the DOD to allow them to go offshore, or at least to work through American contract manufacturers who buy their boards from “qualified” offshore sources.
None of this bodes well for those companies that are left. We have two choices, we can keep beating the crap out on one another until there is no one left or we can figure out how to work together and become strong partners instead of weak and weakening enemies. Think about it, maybe it’s time for the remaining companies to circle their wagons and figure out a way to start working together and in a cooperative effort to stand together and make the American Board industry as strong as possible.
Collaborating with one another is the only way to go if we want to make the future ours, heck if we even want to have a future. PCB companies need to find ways to come together and present a stronger front to their customer base.
Instead of cheering for the demise of our competitors we should be making them partners in these ways:
- Communications: Start talking to each other. Find out what your competitor can do that you can’t and work out an agreement.
- Share technology research work on new innovations together.
- Share capabilities: One shop might have via-fill equipment while another has plasma etch by working closing together and doing some bartering both shops will be able to offer both capabilities.
- Combine your buyer power. Remember the old granges where farmers got together to buy seed and equipment and get a better deal from their vendors? That’s the idea. If four board shops get together to buy four drills from one equipment vendor, they are going to get a much better price than if each buys their own. And they will also have more influence when it comes to having that equipment serviced.
These are just a few of the things that shops could be working together on. If they choose. They say that if you don’t define your future someone else will. Aren’t you tired of someone else determining your future? Don’t you think it’s time you did something about it? It’s only common sense
Looking at the title of this column, you might be saying to yourself, “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” but stop and think for a minute. What can you offer that goes way beyond the product itself? What can you offer that will get your customer thinking beyond price issues? What do you have to offer that will make your customer tremble with terror when his CPA suggests dumping you because your prices are 20% higher than anyone else’s? And what drives your customer to tell his CPA to forget it, because he considers your products, services, and—most importantly—your overall value to him to be so strong that he does not want to live without your company at any cost? That is true value, and that is why selling value is so important—not only to your customer, but to you as well.
Check out Tom Hopkins’ great book on customer service, The Art of Selling. Hopkins has coined the phrase “The 7 Cs of Customer service,” which he described in a blog post:
The first C stands for Concern. I think people want to know that you are more concerned with serving them, helping them, and that they are happy, and want a long term relationship with you than you are with making the sale and getting the check. They want to feel that concern and many people in sales don’t get the dollar signs out of their eyes. If a person feels you need the sale and they feel pressure to purchase a product they’re not ready to commit to, they will fight you because they want your concern.
The second C is Competence. People demand competence and they deserve it. Clients expect you to be an expert. They want you to know your trade and your profession. They want to be able to rely on your professionalism.
The third C is Courtesy. Great people in sales are very polite. They are concerned about their manners, and they are very concerned about their vocabularies. They don’t in any way insult a person’s values by saying anything that might offend them. Our society is constantly changing its expectations for business behavior. Sadly, those expectations are often lowered, but I believe the highest paid people in business are very polite, very courteous and watch their vocabularies so they don’t insult the values of the people they are speaking with.
The fourth C is Commitment. This is one I find lacking in the business today. People are not willing to commit and dedicate themselves to becoming the very best in their industries. As you read this, I hope you realize that the top professionals make a commitment—it’s called being willing to get out of balance for a period of time so that someday they can have complete balance. I believe in balance in our lives today, but I also believe that in building a business you have to be willing to spend some time out of balance. That means if you have a family, you need to sit down with the family and say, “We are going to commit 24 months of putting in more time and effort. And, if I do everything that I have to do as a professional, I can work less time with much more income for the family. This will come about only because we are willing to make this commitment.”
The fifth C is Composure. It’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to get upset and frustrated with this business. Realize that you are in the people business and have chosen the vehicle of your particular industry to serve the needs of others. In the people business you can get messed up if you don’t keep your composure.
The sixth C is Consistency. Every professional I have ever trained who has gone on to be one of the best is consistent. Those pros know exactly how many contacts they need to make each day. They know exactly the number of calls, exactly the number of people they are going to visit, which will result in so many products sold and they make that commitment to consistency.
The seventh C is Creativity. The people I meet who do the best are very creative. In other words, if they have a challenge, they overcome it by being creative. If something is wrong in their lives, they handle it by being creative. If you have a sale that is about to fall out or cancel, get creative. If it doesn’t go through, don’t get depressed—become more creative. Approach it with the attitude that you will take what you learn from this opportunity and develop your creativity.
By concentrating on your buyers’ needs and giving them the proper service they deserve, you’ll develop a career that will support you and your loved ones for a lifetime! (Copyright Tom Hopkins International Inc.)
This is fantastic stuff, man. And here is what we need to do. We need to follow Tom’s rules to a T and come up with some ideas of our own.
Here are a couple that I have personally used over the years:
- If your company messes something up like a field reject, a quality issue, or a late delivery, and the customer is really upset, then get over there. Drop what you are doing and go visit that customer and talk to him face to face. It may provide him with nothing more than a live butt to kick or a live person to yell at, but it will be worth it in the long run. He will remember your courage and caring enough to come and see him live and in person. Yes, he will respect you in the morning.
- Here is another one. Living in New England where it snows once in a while, I always made a point to get in my Jeep and visit customers during those storms. Man, did that impress them! They talked about that for years and established my reputation as a guy who would go to any lengths to service his customers.
And there are numerous stories of people going to great lengths, chartering a plane, driving all night, doing whatever they could to dramatically deliver product on time.
These stories not only exemplify great customer service, they also become a part of your reputation as an outstanding customer service company. And that is really what customer service is all about. It’s only common sense.
Has this ever happened to you? You start off an email to a co-worker warning her about this customer of yours who is a real jerk and outlining a potential problem they are about to cause for no good reason but that he is a jerk who likes to push people around and if you had your say you would refuse to do business with him. Then you proceed to outline in detail the problem. Then the co-worker writes back agreeing with you about the jerk and telling you what you should do about it.
Then the problem you predicted does occur and you start working on it and for the next two days you work with your co-worker and some of the others in your office on the solution to the problem and how you are going to solve it. You spend time carefully crafting the perfect email response to your customer. You check and double check it and then when it’s absolutely perfect you send it to him.
And it explodes right in your face. The customer calls the president of your company screaming about how he is pulling his business and will never do business with your company again.
I bet you can guess what happened? That’s right you forgot all about the initial email exchange with your co-worker where you did your little “the customer is a jerk dance”, while she clapped along and yes it was at the end of the long string of emails you had worked on before you sent your customer the final perfect email. IDIOT!
Yes, emails can be exploding time bomb if you’re not careful so with a little help from Seth Godin in his book, Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck? And other provocations, 2006-2012, Here is a list of what you should consider before sending out that next email.
Is it going to one person?
Is it is going to a group, have I thought about who is on my list?
Are they blind copied?
Did every person on the list really need to opt in? Not sort of but really asked for it?
So, that means that if I didn’t send it to them, they’d complain about not getting it?
See # 5. If they didn’t complain take them off!
Have I corresponded with this person before?
Really? Have the written back?
Am I angry? (If so, save it as a draft and come back to it in one hour)
Could this work better with a phone call?
Am I blind-CCing my boss? If so, what will happen if the recipient finds out?
Is there anything in this email that I don’t want the attorney general, the media, or my boss seeing? (If so, hit Delete.)
Is any portion of my email all caps? (If so, consider changing it.)
Do I have my contact info at the bottom? (If not, consider adding it.)
Have I included the line “Please save the planet. Don’t print this email”? (If so delete the line and consider a job as a forest ranger or flight attendant.
Could this email be shorter?
Either start a fresh email or make it a habit to clean up the previous correspondence below your latest signature.
Are there any 😊 or other emoticons involved? (If so, reconsider.)
Am I forwarding something about religion? (Mine or someone else’s? (if so delete.)
Did I hit Reply all? If so, am I glad I did? Does every person on the list need to see it?
Is there a long legal disclaimer at the bottom of my email? Why?
Does the subject line make it easy to understand what’s to come and likely to be filed properly?
And now that we have heard from Seth, a few of my own:
Are you in the middle of a hot email fight with someone? If so close the computer and pick up the phone, call the person and settle it. Or better yet walk the three feet to her cubicle and talk to her face to face,
If you are using abbreviations and other shortcuts, are you certain that anyone besides you knows what you’re talking about?
If you are sending photos make sure they are right side up, otherwise you’re not sending a photo, you’re sending a problem.
If you want to set up a meeting set it up in English or whatever language you speak, mention it in the email itself, don’t use a third party something or other that takes 5 minutes to open to see that the meeting is at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.
Don’t use your email as a weapon. You know what I’m talking about, like trying to get someone to do something and copying her boss on the email for no good reason except to arm your email.
And yes, the big one, where it all started, make sure you know exactly who any email you send it going to…any email no matter how long or short it is, know who is going to see it.
Look, emailing is a great tool, but it is also a tool, like a band saw that needs to be handled carefully and with great respect. Please keep this in mind the next time you launch…er, I mean send that next email. It’s only common sense.
When it comes to what customers really want there is one big secret. They think that they want our products or services. They think that they want us to deliver good products on time. They think that they want good quality. They think that they want a great price (or “great value” as they would rather put it). They think that they want this product when they want it. They think that if they can get these things from a vendor they will have everything they want, everything will be right with the world and yes, they will be happy.
To a certain extent they are correct, they do want all of these things and it is our job to give them these things. But in the end this is not what will make them happy and it is most certainly not what will delight them. No, the thing that will make them happy, the thing that will delight them, and the thing that will send them running down the street excitedly telling anyone who will listen how great your company is…the experience.
That’s right, the experience of doing business with you. Experience, that intangible that can make all of the difference between a good vendor and a great vendor, experience that certain “je ne sais quoi” (roughly translated: a quality that cannot be easily described) that makes Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, Disney and Apple the super great companies that they are when it comes to delighting their customers.
It is the delightful experience of doing business with your company that will motivate buyers to actually pay more just for well, for the delightful experience of doing business with your company, even if you are selling the very same product with the very same quality and delivery as the other guy. In the end it is always the experience of doing business with a company that wins out.
What is experience? What is this illusive intangible that we are talking about? Well that’s it exactly, experience is made up of all those intangibles that you do for your customers. It’s all those small but extremely important little things that you do that a customer does not even realize you are doing until he does not get them anymore. These are the things that are as they in the commercial, “priceless”. “The things that people cannot buy at any price, from anyone else, but that they really value.” To quote Seth Godin.
Here is a list of some intangibles as listed on one of Seth’s blogs from his new book,
Participation: Brainstorm with the customer about how you can work together to create the thing they need. Participation is priceless. After all if all you’re doing is meeting my spec, why exactly should you be rewarded?
Enthusiasm: You’d be amazed at how much people value enthusiasm. Genuine transparent enthusiasm about the project you’re working on.
Speed: Don’t forget speed. If you are overwhelming faster than the alternatives, what’s that worth? For some people more than you can imagine.”
Focus: Focus and personal service are invaluable.
Generosity: Generosity is remembered for a long time. People remember what you did for them when you didn’t have to do a thing, when you weren’t looking for new business, when it was expensive or costly for you to do it.
Peer Pressure: Peer pressure is another silent intangible. What will my friends think if I choose you? What if I don’t choose you? Is it fashionable to pay a lot? How hard are you working to establish a connection across your market so that choosing you is the right thing to do, regardless of the price?
Hope: Hope is probably the biggest. Do you offer hope for something really big in the future? Maybe it is just around the corner, but perhaps in the long run. What does it look and feel like? Are you drawing a vivid picture?”
And there is one more, and this is the one that I feel in our business, and maybe in all businesses for that matter is the most important intangible of all and that is how you handle things when you mess up. How you deal with the situation when you make an error. There is actually a huge opportunity to deliver a great customer experience especially in a business to business setting. If you examine the relationship you have with your very best customer I can guarantee that somewhere along the line you have a problem with that customer’s product and the way you handled that problem is what formulated the great relationship you have with that customer today. Great business relationships are often forged by the way the vendor handled a problem.
If you want to be a great company, if you want to be that company that your customers brag about, then just delivering good product on time is not nearly enough. You have to deal with these intangibles. You have to give your customers this great experience that they won’t want to live without out. You have to be priceless. It’s only common sense
Dare to be great
We are all so busy running our businesses that we seldom have time to do what really needs to be done to move our businesses forward, to take them from “good to great” to use that old but true cliché.
I know that all of my friends who own board shops are always so occupied keeping their heads above water that they seldom have time to do the things that would make their companies thrive, the things that could put them head and shoulders over the competition.
Look, I know we are all busy, I know that running a board shop or any business for that matter is much more difficult today than it has ever been, but please take the time to not only read these five things we should be doing them but try to make it a point to spend some designated time doing them. And if you do that, if you make it a regular practice to spend time working on these five things you will in the end become the outstanding company you truly deserve to be.
- Be an entrepreneur, spend time thinking about how you can change your company to better serve your customers. If you are a bare board shop then add design services, if you are a contract manufacturer add bare board services and offer the entire package. Just think how powerful it would be if you could take a project from schematic to assembly in one event, just think how much more powerful it would be if you could do it in less than a week! Think about that and figure out how to get it done. But that’s only one idea, there are many more out there. Spend some time thinking this way, explore the possibilities, and learn to say “yes” to them.
- Super customer service. I don’t just mean the normal reactive customer service that we all practice. I mean setting aside some time every single week to sit with your team and brain storm looking for ways to service your customers better than they have ever been serviced before, better than you ever have and better than your competition ever has. Be the LL Bean of the industry.
- Sparking your sales team. I mean really get them excited. Lately sales people have been the whipping boys of our industry. They are often the ones being blamed for lack of business. Let me ask you what is the point of that? You want your sales people out there feeling like super men and super women, you want them feeling invincible. Come up with ways to get the very best you can from them. Remember that a great manager is one who leads his team to greatness.
- Spend time with your insides sales/customer service people. These people are the face of your company. In the end, they are the final force determining what your customers think of your company. Spend time with them. Work with them to find ways to help them be the best they can be because in the end, your company is only as good as your customer service people. Find ways to get them excited about coming to work every day. Empower them, give them some financial parameters to use to satisfy your customers. Help them to be the customer service giants that you want them to be. Hell, make them want to be the customer service giants that you want them to be.
- Look to the future. That’s right, lift your head up, get your nose away from that grindstone long enough to take a cold clear look towards the future. Do all that you can to define the future and most importantly your place in that future. As the old saying goes if “you don’t determine your future someone else will”. Study the future, read everything you can from the trendsetters, listen to your customers and you sales people let them help you put an educated and informed ear to the ground to determine to the best of your ability what the future will be like. The develop your company’s strategy that will best take advantage of that future. Yes, it’s a great time to start thinking about tomorrow.
And one more thing, remember under promise and over deliver, and that is innovate, lead your people to think like innovators. Hold regular sessions where you study everything you do and work on making it better. Look at the way everyone in your industry does things and strive to do it better. I guarantee that if you and your team spend just one hour a week working on how you can do things better, you will in the end do things better.
I know there are only so many hours in the work day. And I know that we are all busy. But spending time doing these six things with the right attitude and dedication will take your company a long way up that road to perfection. It’s only common sense.