Archive for category Management

Salespeople Are The Voice Of The Customer

dan-2So as that voice, make sure you get it right!

One of the greatest responsibilities we have as sales people is being the voice of the customer. This means that we must strive to always relay the customer’s message truthfully and most importantly accurately, because, very often the future of the relationship between your company and their customer is in your hands.

This means that you are the one person in the company who has the be the customer expert. It is your duty to learn everything about your customers and make sure that you convey that information accurately to the rest of your organization. Be careful to speak without bias so that you never put your “spin” on what the customer is thinking, or doing, for your own self-serving reasons.

Here are nine things to keep in mind when acting as the relationship manager between your company and the customer.

  1. Knowledge: Know everything you can about your customers, including the business they are in, the amount of your kind of products they buy, what their hot buttons are, and what their needs are both today and in the future.
  2. How to win the business: Learn what it takes to win their business. Find out who they are dealing with, who your competition is, and why that competition is successful. Learn what your customer thinks it takes to be a great supplier and then pass this on to your company.
  3. Be the news reporter: Keep your company up to date on any changes in the status of your customers all the times. Are they in trouble financially? Are they buying someone? Are they going to be introducing a new product? Are they going to be sold.? All this information is vital to the customer/ company relationship and it is up to you as the sales person to make sure your company knows everything and I mean everything.
  4. Mediator: When problems occur, it is up to the sales person to help solve those problems. This is when she really earns her money and this is when accuracy in communications is especially important. This is particularly true when things heat up, when the relationship hits the skids. The sales person is the one who must cool things down. She is the one who must do everything possible to sustain the relationship at all costs. She is the one who makes sure that the company does not win the battle but in the end, lose the war.
  5. Bearer of bad news: As they said in the Godfather, management needs to hear the bad news immediately! No matter how painful it is to hear, bad news should be communicated right away.
  6. Be an Armadillo: Yes, a true sales person must have skin as tough as an armadillo because there are times, especially hard times, when the company is going to want to shoot the messenger because they are so angry and frustrated about the news they are hearing. This means the sales person has to hang tough. He should be able to relay the customer’s negative message with clarity and without exaggeration. He cannot let his own feelings get in the way of conveying the customer’s sometimes insulting message, in a way that will get the point across but at the same time will not pour gasoline on the fire. This is a tough, but important one.
  7. Provide a live butt to kick: When the customer is particularly irate it is up to the sales person to go directly to that customer an offer himself up as the sacrificial lamb, to provide that fresh live butt for the customer to have the satisfaction of kicking. You’d be surprised at how often this works and how often it serves to diffuse the situation.  A great sales person will show up and provide the customers the opportunity to vent. Believe it or not, the sales people who do this are the most respected in the business on their industry.
  8. Accurate and complete conveyer of all news: Sales people should make sure they know all the facts in any critical situation. They need to be able to correctly report any problems a customer is having with their company. If it is a technical problem they need to know all facets of the problem so they can convey it accurately to the people at their own company. They need to be able to anticipate the questions that their engineers and Quality people will ask to be able to develop the right solution to the problem as quickly as possible.
  9. Number one customer advocate: Always, the sales person has to put the customer first; and she has to make sure that everyone at the company does the same.

And finally, there is one more, under promise and over deliver, and that one is to never over promise and under deliver something that is often the case when it comes to sales people. Look, we know that a good sales person must be optimistic, but try to keep your rosy outlook in check. You are not helping your company out if you over forecast or if you let them know that everything is all good with that large customer, when it is not. No one likes surprises, especially negative ones, so no matter how much you would love to forecast that huge million-dollar order for this year. Make sure it’s in the bag before you do. It’s only common sense.

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That Won’t Work Here (And Other Excuses)

dan-6I don’t know about you but this drives me absolutely nuts. You’re in a meeting, you come up with a good idea but before you finish getting your idea out there, this guy across from you. You know the one, he graduated from the Dilbert School of discouraging new ideas jumps in with that smart smirk on his face and starts listing the reasons why it won’t work. And he has a great time doing it. After all your company hasn’t tried anything new since Nixon was president so why start now? Now this guy doesn’t deal in specifics, he doesn’t deal in what the general populace, the bulk of your customers, would think no he goes right to the exceptions, those few people who are not going to like your idea for that new product offering, a group that chances are make up about three percent of your customer base. Then he sits back and folds his arms and with that smug look of glee on his face as if thinking, “Great strike one for the great status quo!”

Or you get passed this guy, this objector this champion user of the word “but” and your idea is going to be tried, you are going ahead with it. Oh there are a lot of worried people around after all its not every day that your company tries something new and dar…well almost daring. Finally you are going to get a chance to see if you can bring you company into the 20th century (no that’s not a misprint I meant to say 20th century, heaven forbid you would be in the 21st. So you try your idea, you send out a mailing describing your offer and lo and behold it’s a hit! The majority of your customer love it; a whopping twenty percent take advantage of your offer and try it out right away. It’s all a great success right, it’s all good right? Well unfortunately two customers called in to complain. Yes two customers you sent the offer out to one hundred and twenty five customers but your company has doubts about ever doing it again because two customers complained. And here is what their complaint was, “if you can afford to make this offer then you are making much too much money and I want you to lower your prices to me.”

Well guess what? Deal with it. Handle that objection because there is always and this I can guarantee always someone who is going to say something like this. That’s just the way it is. There are always going to be some customers who are unhappy with anything you put out there. They are simply the corporate version of that guy sitting across the table from you with his arms folded and that smirk on his face, just looking for a reason to be unhappy.

Oh and another thing about those two customers’ objections, just a side bar here, but there are companies out there particularly in our industry who are absolutely petrified that circuit shops are making too much money, hell they are petrified at the mere thought of us making any money at all. Ours is one of the few industries where our customers hate it if we make a buck. Why is that… anyway that’s a column for another day.

But back to the point. If you want to be daring, if you want to try new things, if you want to do things differently from the way you have been doing them or even differently from the way the rest of your industry is doing things then you’d better be prepared to take some heat. You’d better be prepared to hear some objections. People hate change and people hate to try new things so if you’re trying something new you will have people hating you for it.

Remember a few years ago when a bright young man from Colorado got the idea to start doing some marketing so he started sending out postcards for follow-on orders and then he started sending out popcorn and coupons for pizza for his engineering and design customers? Remember that? Remember the brouhaha that caused? Critics jumped, jumped hell leapt out of their chairs screaming about all the reasons this was unfair, waving long lists of reasons why this would not work? Well that company is still going strong today and they are still giving away pizza and popcorn.

Then there’s my personal favorite, nesting, the art of putting multiple part numbers on one panel. Try this sometime. If you’re sitting around a table with a bunch of bored PCB executives at some boring industry event throw out the subject of nesting panels and you’ll see that table come alive faster than you can say “controlled impedance” You’ll be barraged with all kinds of derisive comments covering every negative aspect of that subject from one hundred and fifty reasons why it can’t work to why it can’t work in their company to accusations that the people who are doing it are out and out cheaters! I warn you that if you decide to bring this subject up you’re better be prepared to take some serious heat; and if you decide to defend the fact that nesting makes sense you’d better be wearing your worst suits because it’s going to be covered with pasty mashed potatoes and rubber chicken before the night is over.

But nevertheless keep those ideas, inventions and innovations coming because we need them now more than ever it’s high time that the companies in our industry start thinking about how they are going to grow their business instead of how they are going to stay in business. It’s only common sense

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Be Curious. Hire Curious People

dan-7Albert Einstein once said that being curious is much more important than being smart. If you’re curious about something you are going to spend a lot of time and effort finding out everything you can about it. You are going to focus as much as you can on that subject. You are going to read books and magazines, watch documentaries, go on-line, and do research in short do everything that you can to learn all that you can on that subject.

If you think about it some of the biggest contributors to society have been people who were curious; Thomas Alva Edison was curious about everything from finding the right filament to make a light bulb work for longer than ten seconds to how to save sound on a wax disc to how to play that sound with a needle and a giant speaker horn. Henry Ford was curious enough to try to figure out how to make an affordable car by inventing the assembly line. Newton was curious enough to figure out why an apple fell on his head…or so they say, I have my doubts about that one. But anyway, he was curious enough to find out why things fell that he figured out gravity and how it works. Okay you get it curious people are people who move that great tin foil ball of civilization down the road to progress.

Now let’s apply it to our profession, let’s apply the quality of curiosity to sales. How can being curious help you to be a great sales person? How does being curious help you to win and keep customers? I just read a book where the author said that when he hires sales people the number one thing he looks for in those sales people is curiosity, their level of curiosity and if he sees that in a candidate he will hire that candidate whether or not that person knows anything at all about the product he is going to be selling. Because of course that person’s curiosity will drive him to find out everything he can about that product without anyone having to urge him to do so.

A curious person will want to know everything about the product she is selling. Not just what her company is selling today but everything else about the product from how it was developed in the first place which includes the history of the product, to how it is used, to who uses it, to why they use it. In the end that curious person will know much more about her product than people who have been dealing with the product for decades.

That person will be curious about the companies who use his product. The customers. He will study his customer base. He will, get this, ask his customers why they use this product, which type of product they prefer and how he can make his product or service so good that they will buy more from him than anyone else.

He will also talk to those people who are building the product he sells. Not only to find out what they are working on now but what they will be working on tomorrow. In short, he will be looking into the future of the product.

But even better than that her curiosity will drive her back to her customers to find out where their business is today and also where it is going in the future so that she can have her customer literally telling her what kinds of products they will need in the future so that she can go back to her own company and advise them on the types of products they should be developing in the future that will be the most useful and appealing to their customers.

And that curious person will also be constantly analyzing the way he does things, seeking a better way to do them. He will always be trying to find a better and more effective way to grow his customer base. He will always be developing new and innovative ways to make his customer sales calls more productive. He will invent better reports and matrices and he will be finding better strategies to sell his products.

The curious sales person will use her curiosity to find ways to be the best sales person in the industry. She will study other successful people to find out what makes them successful. And thus, she will use her curiosity to become as successful as they are.

A curious sales person will do everything, study everything and learn everything to be the best he can be. He just can’t help himself because he is driven by is overwhelming curiosity. Are you curious enough to be successful? Are you smart enough to hire curious people? You should be. It’s only common sense.

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Don’t Be Afraid, Have Courage!

dan-5They say that courage is the number one quality of all successful companies. You have to have courage to get anything done. Because it is a big scary world out there and if you don’t have the guts, think courage, to face it you will not survive.

The more I work with companies the more I realize that all this talk about having courage and not being afraid to do the right thing when it needs to be done is true. From when it’s time to hire someone, or to reprimand someone or yes, the worst one of all to fire some many of us will do anything we can do avoid doing the right thing

The best run companies are run by managers who are not afraid do what they need to do. Conversely poorly run companies are managed by people who cannot make a decision if their life depended on it. They procrastinate until it’s too late participating in analysis paralysis and using that to fool themselves into thinking that’s doing something

Great managers act. Great managers are not afraid of anything, they are:

  • Not afraid to get involved in that new technology even if buying that equipment is risky.
  • Not afraid to hire that new process engineer, even if he is very expensive.
  • Not afraid to have a hard talk with someone who is not doing his job.
  • Not afraid to change the direction of the company.
  • Not afraid to take the time to learn new things.
  • Not Afraid to change their minds.
  • Not afraid to fire that person who needs to be fired.
  • Not afraid to do the right thing for their customer even if it hurts the company.
  • Not afraid to put the customer first, whatever it takes.
  • Not afraid to say she was wrong.
  • Not afraid to build that addition.
  • Not Afraid of handling cash flow issues head on.
  • Not afraid to say “no” no matter how hard it is.
  • Not afraid to make that decision when it has to be made, even if he doesn’t have all the facts.
  • Not afraid to stand up against conventional wisdom.
  • Not afraid to face his own flaws and do something to fix them
  • Not afraid to hire people smarter than she is.

Years ago, I was working with a company that had cornered the market on the ability to fabricate high tech PCBs from a material called LMR Kevlar. I say “cornered the market” because they were literally the only shop in the industry that had managed to learn to build MLBs with this very quirky laminate. Every year for five years we could count on at least three million dollars of business from two customers, two of the defense and aerospace industry’s OEM’s. Our relationship with them was very good and the business was just about guaranteed. Then one day we were faced with a very difficult decision. We had been working with several laminate suppliers and had helped them develop a new product called Thermount. The thing about this new Thermount material was that it had all of the characteristics of LMR Kevlar but it was much easier to work with and was only one fourth the price. This meant that just about any good board shop could now build boards that had the need for LMR Kevlar; so we would lose our edge over our competitors plus the price of the over-all program would go down because the material was now much less expensive.

“So, what do we do?” We asked ourselves. Do we tell our customers about Thermount and stand a chance of losing the business? Or, best case keeping the business but at a much lower price, or do just stay mum about it? In this case, the best and the right thing to do as good vendors… and good people was to tell our customers about this better solution. It was an easy decision but a hard pill to swallow in the end. And yes, they used LMR Kevlar for only one more year and then switched to Thermount which of course opened the program up to a much more competitive environment. We ended up losing the program a couple of years later. But, telling them was the right thing to do and we were not afraid to do it. It did take courage to face the fact that we were going to hurt our sales by a few million dollars of very profitable business a year. Now, looking back on this incident over twenty years later it is a decision that we are proud we made.

Never be afraid to do the right thing, even though sometimes it will hurt, it will pay off in the end. By the way even though we lost that particular program we did have a good ongoing relationship with those customers for years to come. Its only common sense.

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Putting Together Your Team

dan-6What do the Boston Red Sox, The New England Patriots, and the Chicago Cubs all have in common? Besides all being winners (and my three favorite teams) they have won by building teams synergistically. By that I mean they build teams by putting the team in front of individual players that way making the team much stronger. When Theo Epstein, President of baseball operations for the Cubs sought and won pitching ace John Lester for a cool $155 Million he also sought his battery mate aging catcher Dave Ross with a sub 200 batting average for a measly $5 Million. Why because he knew from watching them in Boston that they were a perfect pitcher-catcher duo and that Lester always did better when Ross was catching him. You might even say he “completed him”, sorry. That was the way it had been for them in Boston and in Chicago, well in Chicago, let’s just say they both picked up their World Series rings last week.

The New England Patriots have one star and he wears number 12 and even he is a kind of “anti-star”. Brady has had dozens of receivers over the years while breaking every passing record there is and he did it with a bunch of non-stars (expect for bad boy Randy Moss who was much better behaved as a Patriot than ever before).

On the other hand, as an example of a great player, maybe the player with the greatest God-given talent who never really helped any team he played for even the Yankees. Think Alex Rodriguez. No one needs an Alex Rodriguez on their team, no matter how tempting it is to hire one.

Why is this? Why are these teams so successful? If you want one more example of how putting a team together instead of hiring a bunch if great players works, then check out the movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt playing Billie Bean and you’ll see how it all works. No, I mean it, check it out and it will teach you by example how to build your own team.

Teams are built together with each member being considered in terms of their fit with the other members. A true team is really bigger, than all of its’ parts. A true team is made up of people who meld together, people who are willing to leave their own egos at the door for the good of the team. A true team has a certain chemistry that drives them to do things they should not be able to do. A true team makes all its’ players better than they are and better then they should be.

So, what does this have to do with you as a manager in a PCB shop? Everything, it has everything to do with you because you must be building a team, not hiring individuals but building a team. When you are ready to hire someone for your team, let’s say your top line management team, here are ten things that you should take into consideration during your evaluation:

  1. What additional skills does this person bring to our team?
  2. How will this person fit in with the rest of the team?
  3. Does he have the right chemistry with what we are trying to do here at this company?
  4. Does this person have the humility it takes to be part of a team rather than an individual star? (you don’t need an Alex Rodriguez, sorry Alex but I just don’t like you.)
  5. Will this person be willing to take one for the team when the time comes?
  6. Will this person be able to think of himself as a part of something bigger or is she truly an individual?
  7. Did this person “get” the vision when we explained it to him? And buys into it?
  8. Does this person have the passion for the industry we are part of? Or is this just a paycheck for her?
  9. Will this person have so much passion that he will be willing to pick up the ball when others drop it?
  10. Does this person have the skills and talents and abilities that our team needs right now? In other words, is the time right for this person to come onto the team?

And one more, there is always one more. Will this person have the passion to so love the team that he will be willing and able to take over the leadership of the team (if and when that day comes) and not only lead the time but also carry on with the vision and mission of the that team?

These are the things we should all be considering a bringing on a new teammate. Not what her individual skills are but rather how well she and her skills and her attitude will fit in with the rest of the team, thus making it stronger with her presence. Its only common sense.

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Elevating The Conversation With Your Customers


So we all think we are doing a pretty good getting to know our customers right? We think because we know what market they are in and what they build and have some sort of idea of what they need we are in pretty good shape right? Well I hate to break it to you but we haven’t got a chance. We are just not even at a point of scratching the service of working with our customers when it comes to the new world order of sales. If we are going to be successful in this world of complete customer engagement we are going to have to elevate our conversation with our customers.

According to a new book by Steve Andersen and Dave Stein called Beyond the Sales Process: 12 proven strategies for a customer-driven world. A book that everyone in sales, hell everyone in business should be reading right now we are going to have to go much deeper down the road of customer engagement to ably serve our customers both today and in the future.

Companies think our customers are going to be relying on us more than ever to help them to succeed. In fact they are going to start asking us to help them with their issues and challenges. They are going to start telling us things like, “based on our volume we believe we should be receiving more value from your organization that we’re getting right now.” Or “Our customers expect more from us than ever before, so we need to get more value from the suppliers we do business with.” Or “Our network of partners is vital to the health of our business, and we need to create value for the organizations that compose that network.”

So think about that for a minute. What are you going to say…what are you going to sow when your customer hits you up with these statements…and guess what she is going to.

Give up? Well it’s a good thing for you that I’m reading this book because straight from that book here is what you are going to do:

You are going to tell your customer these kinds of things applicable to specific situations and customer needs:

  • We’ll make it easier for you to do business with us. And then be prepared to tell him what you are going to do differently.
  • We’ll make it our business to learn more about your business.
  • We’re going to continue our focus on listening to you.
  • We’ll consult with you and help you solve your problems.
  • We’ll commit the resources and expertise required to help you meet your objective.
  • We will provide special pricing and terms to help you through a difficult situation.
  • We’re going to ensure that your people know who to connect with on our team, and how to best engage with them.
  • We’re strategically committed to our relationship with you, even when you are not buying. This is a big deal…never burn a bridge and never be a fair weather vendor. Assume they will be back buying from you.
  • We’re prepared to engage in planning activities so that we can chart a successful future together.
  • We’re interested in developing more peer-to-peer relationships between our senior leaders and yours.
  • We will invest the time to ensure that you understand the value that we propose to deliver.
  • We’re prepared to have our performance measured, and will help you develop the metrics to evaluate our success.
  • By pursuing the type of value target with other customers. We’ve gained knowledge, and we’d like to share some of our learnings and best practices with you.
  • We’re willing to establish a central focal point within our organization to make your strategy and decision making easier and faster.
  • We have identified a sponsor within our organization that will advocate in your behalf.

So are you ready to start making these kinds of commitments to your customers? It is different isn’t it? But it is the way of the world as we know it today. Customers are expecting this kind of commitment from their vendors and it is up to the vendors to provide it.

But there is an upside to all of this actually a huge upside and that is by helping your customers, by devoting your people, company and resources to your customers in some of the way listed above you are creating a bond that will be very difficult to break. In fact you are creating through this kind of committed partnership a customer for life and that’s the very best asset a business can have.

Its only common sense.

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The Incredible Exploding Email!

Hdan-6as 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.

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