Archive for category Management

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

dan-1

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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If You Are Not Growing Your Business, You Are Killing Your Business

dan-4Sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do. In fact, I view business like this: If you are not growing, you are dying. If you are not constantly trying to find ways to make your company more attractive to your customers, you will die.

I personally know of some companies who have shrunk themselves out of business. They have literally cut costs to the point where there was just nothing left. In fact, they actually celebrated when the vice president of sales and marketing left because they were not going to have his expense any longer!

They did not even consider their circumstances. They did not even take a moment to think that their biggest challenge was not having enough sales, and that now with their top sales guy gone they did not have a chance in hell to survive. And the guy had left because he was tired of fighting with them, trying to get them to do the right thing. He was tired of asking them to consider at least trying to deliver their product on time…at least once in a while. The owners were just relieved that they would not have to argue with him any longer. Now they could do things their way, which was to ship boards when they finally finished them, not when they were actually due.

It should come as no surprise that that company is no longer with us.

I knew of another company that never met a pay cut they didn’t love. Every time there was the slightest dip in sales, bang, they went right for that payroll! When I mentioned to them that with yields of less than 60% they were in fact throwing out more dollars each month in scrap than their entire monthly payroll was worth, they did not want to hear it. The owner just shrugged his shoulders and said there was nothing they could do about that. He also said that the scrap was due to the people on the floor, so they were getting their just deserts by having their pay cut. Now that was a happy environment!

They are no longer with us either.

Then there was the company that spent so much time trying to save money that they went broke. Yes, they went Chapter 11 in the end. Once again it was a sad case of being penny wise and pound foolish. They would not do any preventative maintenance to keep their machines running, so of course their equipment was always breaking down. They never paid for service agreements on the equipment either, so when the equipment went down, the equipment stayed that way for days. They also hated paying their vendors on time, so you can just imagine the kind of service they got from them.

Are you depressed yet? You know, as I write these stories (and all of them true, though I wish they weren’t), I can’t help thinking what a joke it is that these are the same companies who rant and rave about China eating their lunch and the US government doing nothing about it. These are the same guys who complain about their competitors under pricing them to the point where they are losing most of their business. And, yes, they are the same guys who go out of business and learn exactly nothing from the entire experience; they take nothing away except bitterness about how the market is unfair, the industry is unfair, the US government is unfair and the world is certainly not fair, all the while adhering to their old philosophy of cutting costs at all costs.

Are you ready to use your exhaust pipe as a straw yet? No? Well, maybe this one will put you in the mood: I know of one company who was actually so unacquainted with customer service that after two better than usual months of sales (I’m not sure how that miracle happened), they decided to get back at the customers they did not like by firing them.

Yes, this is true. They sent out a letter to the customers they did not like, particularly the low-end, lower-volume customers, and gave them the old heave-ho. They told them they were sorry but they were just so busy with their good customers (yes, they said that) that they no longer wanted their business. This was a few years ago, so they also told these customers to come and get their artwork within five days or they would go in the dumpster out back.

Of course, things went to hell in a hand basket for them and in three months they were desperate to get that business back. So they sent their remaining sales guy out to bring back those spurned customers as soon as possible. What kind of reception do you think he got out there? Terrible, of course, and he was not able to find a single customer who was willing to return. The owners told him that if he was any kind of sales person he could have brought those customers back and fired him. They were out of business a few months later.

So in the end, remember this, if you don’t remember anything else:

You cannot cut your way out of trouble, and you cannot tell your problem customers to take a hike when you have a couple of good months. It’s only common sense.

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A Lousy Trade Show Is No One’s Fault But Yours

dan-7Talking to people at IPC Apex Expo a couple of weeks ago, I came to realize that there are two kinds of people: those who just come here, set up their booth and expect things to happen and then blame the show organizers when nothing does, and those who make things happen and who now think it was a great show.

A trade show is another opportunity to make something happen; and just like advertising, social media or other forms of marketing, you will get out of it what you put into it:

If you want more traffic at your booth, then send a series of emails in advance telling people you not only that you are going to be there, but why they should come by to talk with you.

If you want to meet the right people, don’t walk around hoping to bump into them and then get mad when that doesn’t happen. Schedule the meetings with the people you want to meet ahead of time.

Do you want to make a splash at the show? Do you want to get noticed, leave a lasting impression? Then arrange to be interviewed. It’s not difficult; there are camera crews running around all over the place for content, looking for interesting people to talk about their companies and products, all you have to do is be willing to do it… and make sure you know what you want to say because when all is said and done you are creating a seven minute re-usable commercial about your company, so make it good.

This was a great show for those how put themselves into it and for those who expected something to happen by just being there…well not so much.

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