Archive for category Leadership

Building Leaders

dan-6The hottest topic on the PCB circuit these days is the lack of young people in our industry. As the rest of us get older, it is finally occurring to us that there is no one following in our footsteps, there is no one there to fill our shoes, when we decide enough is enough.

Thinking about this the other day, I remember what it was like when I started in this so industry so many years ago. It was with a company called Maine Electronics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rockwell International. Originally, I was supposed to be an English teacher, but after about an hour of student teaching, I decided that honorable career that it was, teaching was not for me. So, then I had to decide what it was I was going to do to make a living if teaching was out.

Through a series of circumstances and coincidences and a long story best left form another day, I found myself hired at Maine Electronics as what was then called, a Program Coordinator, a fancy name for an expeditor. My job was to track and report the status of every single PCB in the programs I was handling. In those pre-computer days, taking status and tracking boards was all done annually by myself and seven other Program Coordinators. It was an interesting group. All of us were young, all of us were men of course, it was only much later that management realized that women could track and expedite boards as well as men could, better actually. We were all under twenty-four. And we all had some college, some of us had degrees but most did not yet. All of us with the same demographics politically and socially, which meant long hair and liberal politics which was ironic when you think that we were working on Minuteman missiles and F-11 bombers.

You can just image the fun we had chasing our boards all over the shop, and competing with one another to see who could get supervisors to work on their boards first. It was a time when our technology was respected enough that our customers were used to late dates and catch-back schedules.  We lived under a great deal of pressure but as always when looking back at hard times, today when we get together, we consider those the good old days.

I was fortunate to begin my career in a company what was one of the leading PCB producers in the world. A shop was run by very experienced PCB experts from either Rockwell Autonetics in Anaheim or left-overs from the previous company Maine Research which had been designed and built as the most advanced PCB facility in the world.  Just to give you an example we were building controlled impedance boards before people even knew there was such a thing.

But the point I want to make, is that we young people were trained every day of the week. Everything we did was a lesson for our future. Once we had been there a year or so they started grooming us for the next step in our career development. Some of us were destined to become process engineers, others were to become supervisors or Quality managers and a few of us where trained as sales people. In other words, from the very first day we were hired we were considered long-time members of the Rockwell family, and training us was considered an investment in the future of the company. Ur managers were tasked with starting all of us on the career path of our choice…within the company.

They were always working on the future of the company, with great intention. There was nothing haphazard about it.

And now, as we look back on the past twenty years how many of us have done that same thing? Not many of us, which is why we are in the dilemma we are in today. I daresay part of it is due to the arrogance of the boomer generation. We’ve always thought that we were the coolest generation with no regard or much respect, for that matter, for the generations that followed us. We thought we would live forever, so why bother looking back? We could not imagine a world without is and so we concentrated on the present with little interest in the future, especially a future we would not be part of.

Thus, here we are, a bunch of old gray men and a few better-looking women wondering how we are going to sustain our industry going forward, wondering who is going to carry the torch into the future.

But here is a reality check for you; it’s not really that we have had a shortage of young people in our shops because our companies actually do have some young people working in them. Take a walk around your shop, look around. Notice anything? Yes, that’s right there are young people there. They have been there all along, working in the plating department or the drill room or in shipping. Yes, they are there but we have not taken the time to notice them. We have not taken the time to talk to them, to get to know them, to find out what they are like, what they like to do when they’re not working. We need to sit down and talk to them and find out what their career aspirations are? We need to work with them, develop them just like those professionals at Rockwell did with me and my fellow Program Coordinators so many years ago. And then we must sit by their side and start working out their career path. Showing them that a career in the PCB business can be a good career. Demonstrating to them just how important our work is. Explaining to them what these little green cards go into and how they are changing the world.

We should make them believe that this is a good industry, an industry to be proud of and an industry that can provide a bright future for the person who is willing to work and to learn. And we should be willing to teach that person and help him or her to become a viable contributing member of our PCB community both today and in the future. It’s only common sense.

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Three Easy And Inexpensive Ways To Market Your Company

Okay, I give up, you don’t have the funds to properly market your company. You don’t have the less than one percent of your revenue that it would take to get your name out there like it should be. Or maybe you don’t want to. Remember the motto of PCB shop owners, “when your sales are low fire your sales people and buy a drill.” So maybe you’re just one of those guys who doesn’t get it. You never had to market your company before so why should you start now. Every time things got hard you just muddled through, cutting corners, and laying off people and holding costs until the business came back…because it always did, sooner or later. You’re not sure why, but it always did. So now even if business is down you see no reason to do anything but the same thing you have always done and that is…do nothing.dan21

Well let me ask you, how’s that going for you? Or maybe I should ask, how did it go for the over one thousand or more North American board shops that have gone out of business in the past twenty-five years? They didn’t do anything either. Some of them just kept buying equipment, equipment that in the end earned their creditors some of their money back. Or they just kept cutting costs to the point where one day, poof! They just disappeared into thin air.

Get this guys, times are not what they used to be. I know that in the seventies and maybe early eighties you could just sit tight and the business would come to you. You didn’t need to market, you didn’t need sales people. Back then all you needed was to build boards and they would come. But back then North America had over eighty percent of the PCB business world-wide and back then there was no Asia factor and back then, well how much are we going to cling to this “back then” stuff. The world has changed get over it, move on and do something about it.

And if finally, you get the point and at last realize that you are going to have to do something, here are three easy things you can do right now to market your company and get your name out there.

  1. Send out value-added newsletters about your company. They don’t have to be long and they don’t have to be fancy they just should have information that your customers’ can use. The newsletter should be made up of technical information that will help your customers with their PCB needs. They key is to build a data base of customers and potential customers and get your newsletter out on a regular basis, say about every six weeks. This means that with very little effort on your part your customers will be hearing from you on a regular basis. And once you have their attention you can stick in an offer that will serve as a call to action for them to start buying from you.
  2. Write and publish a regular column. There is something about appearing in print that somehow makes you an expert, whether or not you are one and believe me I know. You can write about a specific technology, or service that your company is good at. Writing a column will go a long way towards branding your company. And once columns are published you can use them for your own marketing efforts as well
  3. Issue press releases: This is the easiest one of all. Put together and send out press releases about your company when you buy a new piece of equipment or hire a new sales person or a new director of operations, or you are heading to a trade show to exhibit. This will keep your name out in the market and the best part it cost nothing. Done right, a well-written press release is as good as a paid ad.

And speaking of ads, there is one more, always under promise and over deliver. And my apologies, this is a bit of a commercial, but an important one. Spend a little money on some advertising. It cost much less than you think, and a publication such as Iconnect 007 offers special packages for all budgets. And the neat thing is once you are advertising with a trade-zine such as ours there are all sorts of bonus services that you will get; from free interviews to press release publications to even advice on how to send out the right message.

None of these ideas are difficult and except for the last one, none of them will cost you a penny. And by the way doing these things will help you to focus and define your company’s direction which is always a good thing. It’s only common sense.

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That Annual Sales Meeting

dan-6Last week, we talked about preparing for 2018 by developing account plans and forecasts. We mentioned that this would be presented, viewed, and discussed by the entire management team at the annual sales meeting that would be held in January of 2018. This week, we’ll discuss that annual sales meeting.

This is truly, the most important meeting your company will hold every year. It is the one time during the entire year where the team comes together and intentionally talks about business for the coming year.

Besides the sales people presenting their slate of account plans, and their customer-by-customer month- by-month sales forecast, operations will talk about what their plans are for the coming year and how based on the sales forecast they will plan production shifts as well as staff the company to meet that forecast.

Engineering will talk about the new technologies they will be coming up with in the next year and when they will be implemented.

Both operations and engineering will present a capital plan, listing expenditures for the coming year including equipment, and facility upgrades and a schedule of when they will occur.

And Quality will discuss any new specs and qualifications and registrations that they plan to achieve or be updating in the coming year.

The marketing department will deliver their marketing plan including a quarter by quarter plan for synergistic marketing that will tie in, advertising, newsletters, and social media. They will also announce the trade shows they will be attending and exhibiting at.

There will also be a download of market information including a study of each market from defense and aerospace to security, to computers, to telecom, to medical and commercial to decide which market to target. There will also be a discussion of the competition; who is winning, who is left, who has gone out of business and why, as well as which companies have grown by doing what?

And finally, the entire team will come together and discuss the company’s strategic direction for the coming year. This will involve setting a complete plan in play for the coming year, including sales tactics based on the customers, technology, and markets that the company will be targeting not only in the next twelve months but also twenty-four, thirty-six and yes, even sixty months.

This team will study, discuss, and make major decisions on a number of key topics including whether or not to develop and implement an acquisition program for buying or merging with new companies. They may decide to develop and implement a roll-up plan where they acquire suffering companies and roll up their business into their own. Or they might decide to vertically integrate and buy an assembly company or a design service bureau so they can offer a total solution from design to assembly. Or alas, they might decide that it is time to call it day and sell the company or worse yet just close it…that’s ugly.

This annual sales meeting is a good time to discuss partnerships. Maybe the team decides that it is time to face facts and start offering offshore services, finally going out and getting some Asian suppliers to complement their own capabilities.

These are all issues that are discussed at this once a year annual meeting. But, the most important thing by far, is that all the company’s key people are together in one room for one, two, three days or even a week. Decided together the direction of the company. This is the real reason for the annual meeting. And therefore, every second of that meeting must be carefully planned. There should not be a minute wasted. Everyone should participate and have their fair representation at this meeting. And yes, everyone should come fully prepared to not only discuss their particular area but also with their strong ideas as the overall direction of the company.

And then there are three things that have to come out of the annual meeting:

  1. Everyone must be in complete agreement as to the direction of the company once the meeting is over. Inside the meeting room, there can be infighting and chair throwing and loud words and intense arguments. But once the meeting is over all management must come out of that room fully aligned and marching in step toward the company’s future.
  2. There has to be a communications plan. Once the direction of the company has been decided and everyone on the management team is marching in place, all the managers must go to their respective departments and convey these marching orders. In as little as twenty-four hours everyone, and I mean everyone in the company, must know chapter and verse the direction of the company.
  3. And the last thing that comes out of the annual meeting is a fully assigned and dated action plan. The plan that will become a working document. The tool, the blueprint, that everyone uses to not only implement that plan but measure that company’s progress against the plan’s dated milestones. Too many companies go to all the trouble of holding an annual meeting only to throw the plan in their bottom drawers and completely forget about it until the following September when it is time to repeat the entire process of annual planning. And that ladies and gentlemen is sheer foolishness.

If you are not planning to have an annual meeting this year. If you are not planning to develop account plans, and forecasts, and capital plans, and engineering plans. Then why don’t you just do yourself a favor and just plan to check out. Call my friend Tom Kastner and start the process of selling your company while you still have something to sell. It’s only common sense.

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The Path To Success Leads Through Customer Service

Dan 8All customer service starts at the top. It’s a cultural thing. To have great customer service you have to have respect for your customers, everyone in the company has to respect the customer not just the customer service people.

Look, it’s pretty easy to pass everything along to the customer service people (by the way when I say customer service people I also mean inside sales people because I have found that in our industry these terms are pretty much interchangeable). So for the record here, if a company wants to have great customer service everyone in the company and I mean everyone from the owner to the president to the sales manager to the plating supervisor to the maintenance person to the person in shipping and yes to the customer service person everyone has to be completely focused on the customer. Everyone has to live, eat and breathe customer service. Everyone should be staying up nights trying to figure out how to deliver the best possible customer experience on the market today, and the company leader should be personally leading that charge.

You should also remember that when it comes to the ways customers judge your treatment of them you are not only competing against other board shops but you are also competing against the best customer service companies in the world from Disney to L.L. Bean from Tiffany’s to Nordstrom’s. That’s a lot of pressure!

Yes, great customer service comes from the top and filters all the way through the organization. But please be careful. Be very careful because that sword cuts both ways. As the leader of a company you have to make sure that at no time and I mean at no time will you ever bad mouth a customer. If you get angry at a customer, if you get frustrated with a customer or if you just don’t get along with a customer, you never let than show. You never let anyone in your organization hear you bad mouth a customers. The fact is that anything that comes out of your mouth is multiplied ten-fold when it hits the troops. If you are a company president and you publicly knock a customer you are literally yelling to your people that they now have permission to knock that customer as well. You will have set that example and once that happens there is almost no turning back.

Have you ever said something like this?

My sales people are too close to their customers they need to be reminded of who they work for?

Or this:

Look I don’t care what the customer wants, this is the way we do it here, this is our policy.

Or this:

So what if we’re late, everybody is late once in a while? We’re a board shop, board shops screw up once in a while, and they are just going to have to understand that.

Man, I hope you have never said any of these things or anything close to sounding like these things. But if you have, then you better rethink your role in the organization because you are sending a terrible message to everyone who works in your company, particularly those who are working on the front lines, like your customer service and sales people.

The point here is that you can come up with all kinds of great examples, ways to deliver great customers service and you can teach them to your customer service people until you’re blue in the face, but if the rest of the organization doesn’t buy into it you are wasting your time.

True company leaders lead, they lead the charge for great customer service. They monitor what their people are saying, making sure that they are always positive when it comes to the customer. They lead discussions and brainstorming sessions to find newer and better ways to “WOW!” their customers. When there is an issue with a customer, a problem to overcome, the true leader will always take the high road and do what is best for the customer and he or she will do it loudly so that everyone in the organization gets the message and completely understand that this is a great customer service company.

We’ve been talking about the president of the company but this kind of positive customer service modeling behavior has to permeate throughout the entire management team, from Directors to General Managers to Supervisors and Leads, everyone has to bring the customer to the table, everyone has to make sure that the people who work for them completely understand that there is no skimping when it comes to respecting the customer. The customer is king and the customer is the one who pays bills; and without customers there would be no business, there would be no jobs and there would be no company. It’s as simple as that.

In short everyone in the company works in customer service, everyone in the company has to have the customer foremost in their minds at all times and everyone in the company has to ask every time there is a decision to be made, “Will this be good for the customer?” It’s only common sense.

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Going The Extra Mile

dan-7

…and avoiding getting the door shut in your face

We know it’s tough getting appointments. It’s even tougher getting people to answer the phone; and then once you do get that appointment or that phone call you run up against a stone wall made up completely of attitudes of people who do not want to be sold. People are not only terrified of sales pitches, they out and out hate them. If a sales person comes anywhere near trying to get someone to buy something the person he’s talking to will turn off his mental hearing aid in a snap!

This is not only happening in our business, it is happening everywhere. I just read a book called the End of Advertising: Why it had to die and the creative resurrection to come by Andrew Essex, in which the author, who is in advertising, by the way, talks about the death of advertising as we know it. He points out that with all the ways of watching our favorite television programs fewer and fewer people are sticking around for the commercials. He points out that even those Super Bowl commercials aren’t cutting it any longer. Did you know there was absolutely no uptick in sales from the advertisers in the last two Super Bowls? Those companies who advertised, spending a combined $30 million on one big game each year got literally nothing for their advertising dollars. Actually,the only company that made out was Budweiser because after winning Super Bowl Fifty, Peyton Manning said that he was going to drink a “whole lot of Budweiser.” And he meant it! He wasn’t even getting paid to say it, he just planned to drink a lot of beer,

So, if the big boys are facing diminishing returns from conventional sales and advertising, what are those of us carrying bags for our companies supposed to do? First of all, don’t give up because there is hope, there is always hope and secondly maybe things are not as bad as they seem because at least in our world people are still using what we sell. The key is to sell something they need rather than to try to get them to want what we sell.

In other words, focus on exactly what potential customers need. A good sales person will be adept at finding out what they want, exactly, A great company will provide it. For those of you in the PCB industry, here are some of the things that our customers need at this time. And, if you and your company can provide these things, they will take your phone calls. They will take you up on your request for a meeting and yes, they will notice and read and heed your ads.

Okay, let’s get to it. Here are some of the most important needs your customers have:

  1. To get the obvious out of the way they of course need high Quality PCBs on time all the time.
  2. They need worry-free service from their PCB vendors.

Now lets’ get to the good stuff:

  1. They need PCB expertise. It’s not like it was years ago when our customers (OEMs) were the ones who were the PCB experts and they could tell us what they needed. No, not at all, those days are gone and those experts are gone so most of the people we are dealing with don’t have a working knowledge of our products and technology. That’s something they need and it’s something we must provide if we want to sell them PCB’s. We need to invite them into our facilities and show them how a board is built.
  2. They also need our expertise. They have to know they can count on us to provide them with the technical knowledge in PCBs they are going to need to build their products both today and in the future. We can provide this to them with manuals, DFM guides, webinars and seminars and lunch and learns.
  3. They need partners. This is especially true of those companies who are building “products of the future” such as rocket ships and satellites. These companies are sometimes working with technologies that are immature at best and not even invented yet at worst and they need partners to help them get there. Partners, who are willing to share in their mission with time and energy and yes, passion.
  4. And finally, they need to work with companies they can trust, companies who are going to keep their information secret, companies who they will feel comfortable sharing their vision for the future without fear of exposure to the rest of the market until the time is right.

Selling  printed circuit boards is no longer what it once was. It now requires a totally new level of cooperation, dedication, flexibility, passion and trust. The old sales model is broken, the new sales model is the only way we are going to succeed in this new world order. We have to give our customers what they need…not what we want to try to get them to want. It’s only common sense.

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Dare To Be BOLD!

dan-3Boldness is behavior born out of belief     Groeschel

When things get tough, the bold ones will always take action. They will forego the feelings of dread, the anxiety about what could go wrong if they took that action or any action for that matter. They will not be afraid of the possible dire consequences if they do something different from what they have ever done before. They will, instead, analyze the situation and make the move that feels right for them…even if they have never made that move before…even if no one in their industry has made that move before.

Well folks, things right now are tough. We have hit the summer doldrums and getting appointments, never mind getting new business is difficult at this time. My friends, in sales talk to me about how hard it is to sell. Sales managers tell me how hard it is to motivate their sales people. Owners, tell me how hard it is to grow their business. American companies tell me they are being eaten alive by offshore competition and the offshore companies complain to me that their margins are not at all what they used to be.

But, meanwhile the PCB market continues to grow, with predictions of it hitting $70 Billion globally in the next few years; which only stands to reason when you look around and see electronics every. It only makes sense that the business is growing, but where is it all going? Who is making all this money? Who is growing these days.

What you can do or dream, you can begin it, boldness has genius, power, and magic in itGoethe

It’s the bold ones who are thriving, the ones who are taking steps forward regardless of the possible dangers that lie ahead; without concern for delving into that great unknown.

We all have to face forward and play the cards we are dealt with a fearlessness that will drive us to success.

Here are a few examples of “risky moves” we are often faced with.  I ask you to read these and ask yourself what you would do? I think the results will be indicative of where you stand in terms of boldness:

You hear of a small board shop in your area that is about to go out of business, do you approach them about buying their book of business and hiring some of their key people? Or do you worry about what could go wrong and keep doing what you’ve always done?

One of your sales people starts talking to a new customer, a customer with very high-tech requirements. Requirements that you will not be able to meet unless you buy a new expensive piece of equipment. This potential customer needs these technology boards so badly that he offers to go into partnership with you. He will even fund that new piece of equipment if you agree. What do you do? Do you take him up on his offer and go full speed ahead? Or do you worry about what could go wrong and keep doing what you’ve always done?

You have the opportunity to hire one of the top technical people in the industry. This person could take your company to the next level. But, he is a bit difficult to work with and he is very expensive. Do you take the risk and hire that person investing in the future of your company? Or do you worry about what could go wrong and keep doing what you’ve always done?

There is a billion-dollar contract manufacturer in China. You have a small contract manufacturing company in the Midwest. The large Chinese company approaches you about a partnership where you assemble the smaller quantities of part numbers and then use them to build the mega-volume in their facility. If this works everything about your company will grow from top-line to bottom-line. Do you shake hands and make the deal? Or do you worry about what could go wrong and keep doing what you’ve always done?

Another board shop approaches you about a synergistic partnership. You build rigid boards and they build flex and rigid-flex boards. They want both of your sales teams to sell one another’s products. It’s possibly a very good thing. Your sales people are always coming across flex and rigid-flex requirements that you have to no-bid, while on the other hand it would be good to have additional sales feet on the street selling your products. What do you do? Do you shake hands with your new partner? Or do you worry about what could go wrong and keep doing what you’ve always done?

You have just met someone, an IT guru who can set you up with web site that will offer “no-touch” sales. You have been selling the traditional way with live sales people visiting live customers in real time. You are suspicious of this new kind of selling. You know that some companies are very successful at it. But it is just not the way you are comfortable doing business. Do you hire the IT Guru and go for it? Or do you worry about what could go wrong and keep doing what you’ve always done?

So how did you do? What would you do in these situations. I know what I would do and I know that those bold ones who are succeeding in business today have done. They have made that bold move, that game changer that was a little bit scary at the beginning but has paid off in the in. They dared to be great. Its only common sense.

If you have the courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed. Kushandwizdom

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Team! It’s All About The Team!

dan-5Getting your direct sales people to act as a team

For the most part sales people are lone wolves. One of the reasons they choose to be sales people is the independence, they like to run their own race. I have found that the best sales people are truly the loners. Think of Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glenn Ross. While all the other sales people were drinking together and figuring out how to screw the company to make their numbers, old Ricky just quietly went his own way always making those numbers and claiming his Cadillacs.

No matter how much your sales people prefer working on their own, it is not good for the overall company. We should find some ways to get everyone to work together. We are still sales managers and we still manage sales teams. Not Individuals. Here then are some ideas to get your sales team working together, cooperating, and helping one another so that they all make their numbers and yes, in the end, the company prospers.

Here are ten tips to help you unite your sales individuals into a strong industry leading sales force: (Please note these tips are designed for a sales force made up of direct sales people who reside in their individual territories)

  1. Hold weekly sales meeting. These meetings should be about an hour long and should have a strong and clear agenda covering not only what is happening at the company but also what is happening in each territory. This will give your sales team a chance to talk to one another, talk about their successes and challenges and exchange ideas for winning more business. This is also a great time for them to communicate with your operations and quality people and find out what is going on in the shop.
  2. Require weekly written comprehensive sales reports:  These reports should be distributed to each member of the management team, inside sales; and, each sales person so everyone can see what each of them is doing. It will also provide everyone with an overview of what is happening with key customers
  3. Develop and keep an approved vendor list: This is a list of the multi-location customer you are approved to work with. Make sure that each sales person has access to it. If the company is approved at Raytheon in Andover then everyone on the sales team needs to know this and use it to win business at their own local Raytheon location.
  4. Share good tools: If a sales person finds a sales tool, albeit CRM or data base or research tool that they find useful it should be required that they share it with the rest of the sales team.
  5. Share good ideas: If a sales person has found an effective way to penetrate a customer, then they should be required to share that with the rest of the sales team.
  6. Sales is not a zero-sum game: Always be reminding the sales team that sales is not a zero-sum game. Everyone can win and everyone should be working as hard as possible to help everyone on the team win. The better the entire sales team does the better it will be for everyone.
  7. Discourage sales xenophobia: Don’t allow your sales team to hold their cards too closely, as stated earlier this is a team sport and sharing is a key to your team’s success. Yes, there is going to be some competition and yes, the sales people are going to have to fight to get their customers in line to make delivery dates when the shop is full. But you, as sales manager must demonstrate that at all times the company, and the overall health of the company comes first.
  8. Hold salesperson-only phone meetings: Encourage your sales team to hold phone meetings one their own. Invite them to use the company conference calls to have team meetings without you. This way they can share leads and solutions to problems they are having. This will go a long way in creating good team spirit.
  9. Take one for the team: Show them that sometimes they are going to have to take one for the team. Because they are direct sales people and thus employees of the company, their base salary is the compensation for doing work for the company. This means that things like covering house accounts and doing something to support a fellow sales person are part of their job and the reason they get a base salary.
  10. Create team incentives. Of course, each sales person has is or her own individual compensation plan but create some incentives that are based on the entire team making a certain goal. Nothing will create team spirit more than this.

And finally, one more, always under promise and over deliver, have an annual sales meeting at the company and I urge at the company. Don’t spend money going somewhere cool because that is a complete waste of money and a distraction as well. Once a year bring all the sales people in for a sales meeting. It will give them the chance to meet and talk with one another. To visit with the people in the plant, to take plant tours and check out the new equipment and improvements and to get briefed in new capabilities and technologies. It will also give the sales team and the management team the chance to review the company strategy and plan for the coming year. It will be beneficial and it will go a long way towards creating a strong bond between the sales people and the management team as well. Bring everyone together at least once a year and it will money the best money you spend all year. It’s only common sense.

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