Archive for category Business

What Customers Crave More Than Anything Else

dan-7When 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

 

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The Good Old Days

dan-1

Remember when it was fun?

Yes, the good old days always seem whole lot better than they probably really were at least in the rear-view mirror. But, looking back from these too serious times we live in today, they probably were a lot better than we even remember

Here are a few stories from that somehow seemingly, lighter, and more carefree past:

From the 70’s: As a program coordinator (actually, a gloried name for expeditor) for Maine Electronics, in Lisbon, Maine, back in the non-computer days when we had to track every single layer, of every single board, by hand and wrote down the status in a black notebook.  There were six of us “program coordinators” getting to work at 5:00 AM, so that we could find and status all our parts for the big meeting at 7:00. At Seven sharp, the meeting would begin. There were six large cafeteria tables put together in a big conference room, and there still wasn’t room for everyone: supervisors, process engineers (methodizers, we called them back in the day) quality engineers, and sales people all quietly listening as each program coordinator read off the status, program after program, part number after part number, literally hundreds of them. While the rest of us lived in fear of the division president who sat at the head of the table, stopping the read of the status, every so often to scream at one supervisor, or another, because a part in the supervisor’s department had not moved in three days! Heads rolled, tables were pounded, accusations were made, fingers were pointed, and wild threats were made about the various things that would be done to the guilty party’s posterior, ranging from “getting a new one,” to chewing it, to a making it a new place for his head, to frying it; while a giant Maalox bottle was passed around the table.  Oh, the good old days!

Or from the 80’s: As the New England Regional Sales Manager for General Circuits out of Rochester, NY. In those pre-FedEx days, driving 200 miles a day. From my home office in Bedford, NH to Boston’s Logan airport to pick up boards that had been sent over night via US Airways, and bringing them to Computervision in Bedford, MA. Then dropping them off, visiting the buyer, an extremely salty old guy by the name of Lou Cardillo, who would threaten my with what he was going to do to my posterior if my boards were late again, and then giving me more purchase orders (yes we got PO’s every single day!) and the artwork films, which I then took back to Logan Airport, to send overnight to Rochester; and then picking up more boards that had come in since my last trip, for Digital Equipment and drive them to Acton, Littleton, Chelmsford, or Andover depending on where they were located at the time. Dropping off the boards, going in to see the buyers, getting my posterior threatened again (what was it with posteriors back then?)  Getting more orders and yes, more artwork, and taking it back to Logan. Then back home. Unbelievably we were doing so much business with these two companies, that my company, did not want me getting any new business…can you imagine? Ah the good old days!

Or from late 80’s early 90’s: There is nothing so challenging than working for a company that is in Chapter 11; and as it turns out, heading to Chapter 7. I’ve done it twice. General Circuits was eventually bought by a 26-year old would-be Michael Milliken, who in true Milliken fashion, milked it dry and then destroyed, that once great company. I was the Director of sales and Marketing at the time and my biggest issue was, as you can imagine, was keeping my sales guys invested and motivated. The second biggest issue was hoping that my company credit card would work at business dinners and checking into hotels when I was on the road, more times than I care to count it did not.

The very worse day of that entire sordid experience Was the last day (which I didn’t know at the time) with the company, actually it was everyone’s last day with the company, came when I was leaving Rochester.  I had a middle seat on the flight back to Boston and wanted to change it, so I called the travel agency (remember them?) and asked if they could call the airline for me and change my seat. Here is what the nice lady at the travel agency told me. “Do not change anything, do not talk to anyone, just take your ticket, and go straight onto the plane; because, if you stop and talk to any airline official, they will pull your ticket, your credit card payment was just cancelled, in fact your company card has been cancelled!” So, I did what she said, and gladly sat in the middle seat all the way to Boston. Once I landed, my beeper (remember those) was going off like crazy. Every one of my sales guys was paging me. So, I had to find a pay phone (remember those?) to call each of my remaining sales guys, who all informed me their pay checks had bounced that afternoon and asking what I was going to do about it?  Oh, the good old days!

Maybe they weren’t as good as all that?  Ya think?

Oh, one last thing. Remember that Computervision buyer I talked about? Lou Cardillo? That crusty old buyer from the 80’s? Well, I spoke to him on the phone last Sunday because it was his 98th birthday. We’ve known each other for over 30 years, and he’s still my best friend. It’s only common sense.

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Facing Those Staffing Challenges

Dan - another pathOf all the challenges we face in the PCB industry today, the most challenging by far, is staffing. It is getting near impossible to find good people. This is especially true for engineers and Quality people as well as management.  Most of the good ones have either retired, changed careers, or gone to work for our suppliers. Some have even gone to work for our customers. And, the few who are left are in such high demand that they are being lured from one company to another by higher (read crazy) wages making them so expensive that they are barely affordable.

This situation leaves us but two options. Either hire from the shop floor and train, or hire from college and train.

Let’s address the former first. Although hiring young people for floor jobs is still a challenge, it is not as much of a challenge as hiring experienced professionals. There are still people coming through our doors looking for manufacturing jobs. So, the first step is to check out who you are hiring for these positions. What I recommend is a careful screening of these incoming people during the hiring process. Not necessarily for the entry level position they are applying for but rather for the potential of what they could eventually become. Look for applicants who have ambition, who talk about not wanting a job, but a career. Ask them what interests them? Ask them what they like to do in their spare time? If they have some college, ask them why they did not finish; and if they plan to complete their degree one day. Find out everything you can about them. Train your HR people and your hiring supervisors and leads to look for these same things. Hire based on potential for the future.

I’d also recommend you evaluate the people who are already working for you. If you’re in upper management, set up informal talks with these people. Get to know them. Often you were not the one to hire them or manage them, so you don’t really know them. Get to know them. Meet with them and ask them the same kind of questions you would ask new hires. These people are already on your team. They have already been exposed to the company, and the industry. By now they should have a good idea as to whether they like working in this industry, in your company. Thy might even have already decided what career path they would like to pursue, making your job that much easier.

Develop formal career paths for these individuals. By doing this you are in fact growing your own staff of the future, developing your own team of experienced professionals. Setting off on this path will also make your company a much more desirable place to work attracting more of the right people to your team.

Now let’s get to hiring young people right out of college. First you must get to know some. And the best way to do this is to offer summer paid internships. Obviously, someone has already had this idea, so you will have to compete for these paid interns. Once again, the company that has the best career plan will attract the best candidates. The good thing is that the current generation of college students has a larger percentage of people interested in making things. The Makers’ Movement has created renewed interest in manufacturing, so that many of these potential candidates are looking for manufacturing jobs, they want to work in a PCB plant!

Offering these potential candidates, the opportunity to learn about your business while learning how to make something with their hands can be very appealing. Showing them a complete career development plan, which should include a step by step timeline outlining what they can expect their end game to be is the best plan.

In all cases from new non-college hires, to hiring form the shop floor to college graduates, the most important thing is to show them the future with all its potentials. Teach them about the industry, including its rich history of being an integral part of everything from the space shuttle to computer development to SpaceX and Blue Origin to automotive. Create a sense of excitement about our industry.

And finally, show then the earning potential they can count on. Certainly, they are not going to earn Wall Street money, but then who does? But, they will have the opportunity to make very good money, by building something that is an integral part of every new electronics product invented. Yes, show them the money! And the future, and the possibilities. It will not only solve your staffing problems, it will make you a better company as well. It’s only Common Sense.

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Six Things That Will Guarantee A Great 2018

dan-5Okay here we are again. The beginning of a brand-spanking shiny new year. 2018! Who would have thought we would make it this long?  But we did, and the North American PCB business is still alive and kicking. But, as we turn the page on another new year we should consider what we want to do with this new year.  Are we going to do what we have always done and expect different results? You know the answer to that old saying, don’t you? This is what I think, I think, that if we all do things a little bit differently this year, if we all make a resolution to look at our business model a little differently this time, if we all change our attitude just a little bit, things will change for the better. Yes indeed, we can make a difference and we can have a better maybe even a great 2018.

Here are six things we can do to make sure that this year will be a great one.

  1. Stop being so desperate, so scared that our business is dying. Because it’s not. The pros tell us that we could see a $70 Billion-dollar market this year. Think about that, $70 Billion! And then think of the relatively small fraction of that business you need to make 2018 your best year ever.
  2. Tear down those walls. In the end we are all in the sales business. We sell PCBs, all kinds of PCBs. You are already paying for that sales force, you might as well leverage it as far as you can. Offer you customers everything from value-added offshore to domestic ITAR, to flex and rigid-flex. If you don’t build it yourself find a partner who does.
  3. Make you sales effort intentional. In simple terms this means treat sales like you mean it. Give it the respect and attention it deserves. Sales is the most important department in your company. It is the only one reaching out to the market with the goal of growing your business. Anything else you do from buying new equipment, to growing into new technologies, is all dependent on how good and successful your sales effort is. Too many of you have been treating sales, and everything it encompasses like a necessary evil; and as far as that goes you’re only half right, it is necessary, extremely necessary to  your company’s future.
  4. Get your name out in the marketplace. People need to know who you are if they are going to find you and buy from you. Your competitors are marketing thier companies using everything from traditional advertising, to social media, to SEO (sales engine optimization), this is no time for shrinking violets. This is a time to get out there and tell people about your company and what you can do for them.
  5. Hire new blood. We have all been horrified at the lack of youth in our industry here in North America, let’ stop being horrified and do something about it. In the past few months I have come across a number of aggressive, well-educated, young people who are passionate about our industry and want to join us. They are out there, and they are ready to get involved, learn everything they can about both bare board fabrication and contract manufacturing and get to work. Once again, I’ll use that word “intentional”, let’s intentionally seek out, hire, and train the youngsters. We are not going to live forever, and the way things are going our American PCB industry is going to die off with us, if we don’t do something about it.
  6. Forget the “good old day” they are all a figment of your imagination. I was there, and I can tell you they weren’t that good. You just remember them with those rose-colored glasses we use to view the past. So, forget about them, and for heaven’s sakes stop, please stop waiting for them to come back because first of all they won’t, and second of all you wouldn’t like it one bit if they did.

And yes, one more as always under promise and over deliver. And you’re not going to believe this one. Have some fun. That’s right have a good time for once. Let’ stop being so darned serious about our business. Let’s look at the bright side of things and realize that we have a lot of good thing going for us right now. The industry is growing, the technology is rising, our customers are getting smarter and more appreciative of what we are doing for them, and over all things are getting better for those of us in both bare boards and contract manufacturing. So, lose the gloomy attitude and get to work and “intentionally” do what you have to do, and it will be a great year. Have a good and prosperous 2018. It’s only common sense.

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Does Your Plant Look As Good As You Think It Does?

dan-6It’s all of those little things that make a big difference

How good do you think your company is? How do you think you’re doing? What do you do well? What do you need to work on? What do you people think when they walk into your lobby?

These are questions you should be asking yourself at all times. You should be constantly thinking about your company how it presents itself to the outside world; what it looks like when you walk through it; what it sounds like when you call in. Does your company appear to be a well-run lucrative company or does it look like a company on its last legs ready to go out of business?

Then you have to consider what you want your company to be. What do you want to look like to your customers?

Walk into your lobby: What does that look like? Is it clean and welcoming? Is there a live person there waiting to help you? If you must have some sort on contact system make sure it is apparent, effective and easy to use. I have been in a couple of companies lately who are using an I-Pad on a stand to connect you with the person you want to see. If you’re going to have system instead of a person this is by far the least of all evils

Make sure the lobby is well lit and well painted and clean. It is after all the face of your company. Make sure your magazines are new. What do you think a ten your old copy of Circuitree says about your company?

The same with plaques and awards unless it’s the Noble Prize for Technology don’t display awards that are more than ten years old! No one will be impressed with an award for your work on The Minute Man Missile program,

You want your company to look good, sharp and up to date.

This is not a money thing; paint does not cost a fortune, clean floors look great and don’t cost anything but a little soap and elbow grease…and don’t get me going about those restrooms. I once talked to a Quality auditor for a large OEM who told me the first places he looked when he surveyed a company were the restrooms. He told me that was the most telling place in the factory when it came to indicating how the company was run… really!

So now here is a list of seven things you can do to make your company look fresh, modern and well run:

  1. The lobby of course we just talked about that. Make sure it is well lit, freshly painted, has modern comfortable furniture and up to date awards and samples of your product. Remember that your customers and your vendors will spend a lot of time with nothing to do but study your lobby.
  2. Those restrooms. They have to be spotless. Not just for your visitors but for your own employees as well. Sloppy restrooms indicate a lack of caring, that’s all there is to it, no argument.
  3. Hallways should always be clean, the floors should shine and you have windows that look into the various departments they should be as clean as that proverbial whistle.
  4. All departments from the drill room to lamination to inspection have to be neat and orderly. Everything in its place. Shelves and racks neat and well organized. They should reflect the look of a craftsman’s workshop.
  5. The same applies to the offices. Desks should be clean and organized and look like people who know what they’re doing work there. I don’t want to hear any excuses from that slob who says he knows where everything is despite the mess. Take my word for it he does not. Oh and make sure that the calendars are turned to the right month….never mind the right year! Or the right decade? I’ve seen that before.
  6. How about the front lawn? Let’s not forget that. Make sure that everything in front of your company looks great. That shrubs are shaped and the lawn is mowed. By the way things should look great all around the building especially shipping and receiving. I once visited a company that had four wet mattresses on the ground in front of the loading dock those mattresses completely destroyed that company’s image.
  7. Make sure all your lights work inside and out. You don’t want any dead light bulbs and forget that energy saving every other light bulb missing crap…you look like you’re going out of business.
  8. And one more. Always under promise and over deliver. Make sure your equipment is all up to date and taken care of. There is nothing that gives better impression than well-maintained equipment.

There you have it. Now it’s time for you to take that walk. Look around and see what your place looks like. What do you see? Does it look fresh and clean and new and well organized? Does it look like the people who work there care about what they do? More important does it look like the people who work there know what they’re doing? If the answer to these questions is yes then you’re on the right path to success. It’s only common sense.

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PCB Vendors vs Customers: This Is What We Do About It

dan-5

Two weeks ago, we talked about PCB customers who were not happy with their vendor’s performance and last week we talked took things from the other side of the issue and talked about why PCB fabricators have a hard time being good and productive suppliers (both articles can be accessed by scrolling to the bottom of this page). Both sides had a lot of complaints about the other side and not much good or productive to say about each other. So, this week in the interested of seeing a problem and solving it, we are going to talk about what we should do about it. What needs to be done.

Here are seven things that we have to do to improve the PCB vendor / customer relationship to make it as productive and yes as rewarding as possible:

  1. Choose suppliers you trust: and the only way to trust them is to know them personally. Get off line right now and get your top PCB supplier on the phone and talk to her.
  2. Visit that supplier. Go and see the people who are making your boards. See what their facility looks like, see for yourself how difficult it is to build boards, your boards, and most importantly talk to the people. Learn everything you can about their company and the way they work and ask them what you can do to make sure they have everything they need to build your boards correctly.
  3. Create a co-company team. This is the most important advice I can give you. Vendors and customers need to create partnership teams where they openly discuss the projects they are working on today and the projects they will be working on in the future. Get all those NDA’s signed in preparation for good open and productive discussions about your products and how as a team you can work together to a successful end.
  4. Bring in key people: Make sure key people from each company are on these teams, including engineers, pcb designers, operations, and quality people.
  5. Use fewer vendors: Because this takes time and effort on both sides, maybe a little more on the vendors’ side, at least more effort than is being expended now it is important to choose your venders carefully, if you follow these guidelines you will need fewer vendors because through these concerted efforts you will be investing time and money into developing a vendor base of key board fabricators who will be able to handle all your needs. The pcb fabricator will be able to develop special and unique processes just for you. And with your cooperation they will become the supplier you have always wanted to work with.
  6. Talk about the future: Once you have found the right pcb vendors and have created partnerships with those vendors, you will have the comfort and trust in them to be able to share key information about your company and some of the products of the future you are going to be building. By having the trusted pcb manufacturer as your partner you will gain valuable inside into his perspective that in the end will help you design the best and most economical PCBs possible. Your PCB partner will be able to advise you in laminate selections and design for manufacturability. This will save you literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.
  7. Fabricators: trust your customers: Get rid of that “we have met the enemy and it’s our customers mentality”. A good and effective and open partnership with your key customers will make you a much better fabricator in the end. Your customer will actually drive your technology to a higher level. Just by listening to what your customers need you will be able to implement technologies and services that will make you a much better supplier not only to that particular customer, but other similar customers as well. You will be raising your overall level of excellence as a great PCB supplier

And yes, one more, under promise and over deliver. Customers…Vendors… treat each other with respect. Create an atmosphere of regard from one another. Face facts your need each other to make this all work do the sooner you understand and undertake this attitude the sooner everything will get better.

Many of you (customers) are building products of the future. Products that require PCB technology far beyond the normal technology of today; and you are heading in a direction that is going to require PCB technology that we could only dream about just a few years ago. PCBs of this technology level cannot be bought inconspicuously on line. They cannot be bought from a faceless unknown source. They can only be bought from people you know. People whose capabilities you understand and people who in turn completely understand your specific high tech needs both today and in the future. So for heaven’s sake, start talking to each other! Its only common sense.

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The Other Side Of The Story

dan21We ended last week’s column with a group of designers from a high-tech company asking me the ignoble question, “Why do all PCB shops suck?” And, I promised, I would not only address that question but also explain why there are two sides to that story.

First, let me say that the designers who asked me the question work for a company that builds innovative products of the future, that fact is vitally important to this story.

Now I will tell you what I told them.

For the most part board shops are trying to do the best they can with what they have. But the problem lies in the fact that most of our customers are now making a concerted effort not, and I repeat not, to talk to us. All sorts of barriers have been created to keep board shop representatives, engineers, and quality experts from talking to anyone at your companies:

  • You get furious if a CAM person from a board shop asks too many questions about your design. In fact, some designers have been told to never listen to anybody at a board shop telling these designers that they are in charge and the people at board shops don’t know anything. Tell them to shut up and build it the way you designed it.
  • You have created such a barrier ridden bureaucracy that it is almost impossible to get through to you to have a decent conversation about your board needs today and in the future.
  • You have found middle men purchasing systems like Exostar which contribute nothing but “gorilla dust” to the vendor customer relationship. Thus, making it near impossible for the vendor to talk to the customer.
  • In fact, some of the larger companies have created such a barrier-ridden bureaucracy that their own engineers avoid going through the “proper channels” when they need to buy prototypes or proof of design boards, preferring instead to use online board buying services and their credit cards, thus circumventing the clumsy purchasing system completely.
  • Part of your purchasing strategy is to “commoditize” the PCBs to the point where you feel comfortable saying that all shops are alike, so you just got the cheapest one, justifying your decision to use sub-par vendors who probably really do suck.
  • You would rather listen to your suppliers who will work with you to spec in something, (laminates for example) without even talking the board shop who will have to process boards with that new product without knowing or even caring if that product might be impossible to process in a normal board house.
  • You play fast and loose with your qualification expectations creating a double standard for the Asian board houses versus American board houses
  • You subscribe to the theory that board shops, particularly American board shops, are making too much money, so you must beat the ever-loving crap out of them to get prices as close to offshore prices as possible. And then you wonder why they can’t afford to buy that LDI or Laser drill that they are going to need to build your boards of the future.
  • And in the case of this particular company, remember them? The one who asked me the question in the first place, you are building products of the future with technology that no one has ever seen before, yet you are discouraged from having any communications whatsoever with the people who are going to be building your boards. So that the first time they ever see these requirements is when you send them the quote. And then expect those boards quoted in one hour, and please no questions asked!

Once upon a time companies talked to one another. They worked in partnership; vendors and customers working hand in hand to develop processes to build innovative technology boards that had never been built before. Companies like Martin Marietta, Lockheed Sanders, Raytheon, and others used to send teams of experts into board shops for weeks at a time to work with the board shop’s teams to find ways to build boards out of everything from LMR Kevlar, to Copper Molybdenum to Copper Invar Copper to Thermount, boards that would go into programs like Tomahawk, Lantern D-Smack and Trident. And these teams would stick to it until they developed a process and got the boards right. That’s how things got done.

Now our customers won’t even allow sales people to enter their building. Customers won’t even pick up the phone when a vendor calls with a question or an idea, never mind allow that vendor to talk to their technical people.

Some of the top companies in this country, companies building products of tomorrow have people engineering and designing those products, who have never even been in PCB shop and because of that have no idea how a board is processed.

These then, are all contributing factors to why board shops suck.

I hope that someday our customers, and yes, our vendors will get it. Someday they will realize that PCBs are much more technologically challenging than they like to believe and that there will be a new-found understanding that a twenty-eight layer blind and buried via printed circuit board is not a commodity. That today’s high-tech circuit boards are very sophisticated and not easy to build, especially in the 72 hours or less you give them to get them built. Its only common sense.

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