Archive for category Opinion
Man, how many times I am going to have to say this? For those of you loyal readers who have been checking out this column for years I apologize in advance and won’t blame you if you want to sit this one out because you’ve read it all before right here and yes too many times. But I can’t help myself; every time I think that people have gotten the message I am proven wrong. Every time I think the times they are a changing I am disappointed, discouraged and then finally angry. Angry because some people still are not getting. So here we go…and I wish I could promise you that I am going to say this one last time, but I somehow doubt it. Instead all I can promise is one more time for now. Yes you need sales people! The biggest problem that every board shop I talk to has is lack of sales, not enough sales, not enough customers. Not enough new business, not enough backlog, not enough new customers. But then when I ask them how they are selling they say things like, “Oh word of mouth.” Or “People know who we are.” Or this beauty, “We’ve had the same customers for years they are not going to leave us.”
When I ask them about sales people they will tell me that they have had some in the past but they just didn’t work out. Or they don’t believe in sales people. Or my personal favorite as soon as they buy a drill or a router or a press they will hire some sales people. And then I sit there scratching my head wondering how that is going to work?
Let me see. You don’t have enough business so instead on spending some money on sales people you are going to buy a piece of equipment for the same amount of money of two or maybe even three good sales people for a year. Then I have to wonder, what are you going to do with the equipment? You don’t have enough business now but you are going to spend from a quarter to a half to three quarters of a million dollars for a piece of equipment that is going to sit idle because…can we say it all together you don’t have enough business!
Now you guys who sell equipment don’t get your knickers in a knot I am a great believer in investing in your company by buying new equipment. But you have to admit it would be nice if your customers had the right amount of business to use on that new equipment. Maybe your customer base would be up around twelve hundred like it was in the good old days instead of a little over two hundred a number that is so small that some of you are leaving and going to China and the rest of Asia like those proverbial rats of that sinking ship.
Look guys it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, and now that I think of it some of you are probably rocket scientist to figure this out. If you don’t have enough sales you have to hire some sales people…or at least one to get the ball rolling. And I mean a real sales professional a man or woman who has a proven success story a sales professional who is going to be able to get you some business. And frankly a sales professional you are going to have to pay like a professional. Don’t try to skimp, don’t try to convince them to work on commission only for a while until they get some business and then you’ll give them a salary….really?really? That is just plain stupid. Would you ask that of a production manager? Would you ask that of an engineer? Would you ask that of well of yourself? Then why the heck do you think a sales person would be willing to take that deal? It just doesn’t make any sense.
So now listen to me and listen very closely because if you do and you heed my advice I won’t have to write this one more time, maybe this even will be the last time. Ready? Okay hear I go, here are my pearls of wisdom:
You don’t have enough business. I to get more business you need to have sales people, feet on the street, people calling companies and getting them to buy your products. And the good ones costs money. They will not work for minimum wage, they will not work for commissions only, and they will not work at a salary for six months with the promise of it being cut in half in six months. No they are professionals, they need to be treated as professionals, they need to be paid as professionals and they need to be respected as professionals. And guess what if you hire a good professional sales person you will get some business… and yes that’s only common sense
We have all likely heard the quote attributed to Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, who in 1899 famously said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” He then recommended that the Patent Office be closed and resigned his position.
It has now been proven that he never said that. The whole thing was made up, or the result of a misunderstanding. Regardless, the quote was just too delightful to let fall into oblivion, so we still love repeating it today as a reinforcement of how uninspired a government bureaucrat could be and to congratulate ourselves on how modern and innovative our generation is. So, while the bad news is that Duell never said it, good news is that a hell of a lot of cool stuff has been invented in the ensuing 118 years.
They say that the world’s knowledge now doubles every 10 years. Judging from the news and the last election, I have a hard time believing that. But look at all of the cool stuff that is being invented today in what we like to call the United States of Innovation. With the help of this month’s issue of Fast Company magazine (which everyone should buy and read religiously) here are some of the coolest innovations that have been introduced so far, this year…and we’re only in May!
- A drone-based cure for drought: Yes, drones are not just for spying on people and then taking them out; they can be put to other uses as well. A partnership between Las Vegas’s Desert Research Institute, manufacturer Drone America and aerial services provider Avisight recently launched a fleet of drones for cloud seeding, a process that releases rain from clouds. The group plans to deploy the drones in other regions later this year.
- A bridge with a mind of its own: Engineers at the University of New Hampshire have installed sensors along the span of Memorial Bridge which will gather data on everything from the soundness of the structure to traffic patterns (to make everybody happy) to the effect of the bridge on the marine life below.
- A water sensor that can see underground: Wellnet, a company in Milwaukee, has developed solar-powered sensors that can turn any well into a smart one, allowing owners to check on current levels and recovery time (how long it takes for the well to refill), with all the data going into an app monitored from a smartphone. This is a brand-new product that will be distributed all over the world starting immediately.
- A new industry for tobacco farmers: We have even invented a way to save tobacco farmers now that we have (almost all) quit smoking. Stony Creek Colors is encouraging tobacco farmers to use their land to grow indigo plants which are used to produce its blue dye. They will also come out with other colors, all made from high-yielding plants that can be grown on former tobacco land.
- A solar spark for farmers: Purdue University has developed an affordable machine that harnesses the sun to create high yielding dehydrated crops and give farmers a steady source of electricity. It is being tested on farms in Kenya and Senegal.
- A green scheme in coal country: Kind of sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But it’s true, this month the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development will begin hiring displaced coal workers as paid interns. They will be taught to use their existing skills to become energy-efficient auditors and energy contractors for the state providing an economic boost to Kentucky’s post-coal economy.
And yes, there many more new innovations, just four months into the year:
- A housing-locator service that does not discriminate
- A matchmaker for craftsmen (and craftswomen, I assume)
- A big-city tech pipeline
- An open sky for drones
- A park paid for with pennies
- A high-speed hookup for rural residents
- An illumination plan for Detroit
- A fresh take on urban blight
- A multi-tasking coastal barrier
- A more deliberative courtroom
- A sustainable tech fund
And the one we have all been a waiting for: a guilt-free to-go container. From North Carolina’s Don’t Waste Durham comes the Green ToGo, a reusable and returnable container program that for as little as twenty-five dollars a year allows customers to pick up boxes at participating restaurants and drop them off throughout the city (hopefully at other restaurants). Excellent. Now that this problem is solved, I can sleep at night!
Now if we could only find a new and innovative way to successfully sell circuit boards, we’d have it made. I think I’ll start working on that.
It’s only common sense.
Where are all the PCB salespeople?
A few years ago there were all kinds of sales people on the street. Good sales people; seasoned veterans with proven track records who had been victimized by first the stream of mergers that left them high and dry when the conquering company went with their sales force and let the victim company’s sales team go to avoid redundancy. Then we got hit with the great recession and shops went out of business and more sales people hit the street. But now business is back, people are investing in their companies again and now they are calling me looking for sales people because they’re having a hard time finding a few good men and women.
So where did they go these good and experienced sales people? Some have had it and have left our industry to find better and more stable positions. Others have just plain given up and settled for something in other fields altogether and then well some just got older and retired.
But for the rest of you out there and you know who you are; The ones who had a job once, were doing a pretty good job and still have the intoxicating thrill of the hunt flowing through your blood, where are you? The industry is looking for you to come home and start selling PCBs again. It’s time you looked up from whatever you’re doing and realize that the sound you hear is the whirring is that brand new Schmoll drill machine. The shops are running again and they need your help. They need you out there fighting for their company in this great new era of Board Wars.
Things are different now. Those company presidents and owners want you back, they are looking for you and they are ready to make some deals. Yes things have changed, companies are more flexible, they want more feet and the street and they are willing to make it work for you.
There are still the traditional deals. You go to work for a company and they give you a territory, a salary, some commission points and expenses and off you go, yes those jobs are out there right now. Then there are some more creative deals for those of you who want to me a little more independent. There are hybrid deals available. A hybrid deal is when a company is willing to pay a small retainer and reduced commissions to get you back in the field. They will do this for six months or a year depending on how long it will take you to get to a full annual revenue rate on your commissions alone. Now this is a pretty good deal for both parties. The company gets a seasoned sales professional at a reduced rate and they have more control over that person than if she were an independent rep. They can ask her to turn in reports, a forecast and attend meetings (at the company’s expense of course). It’s also a good deal for the hybrid sales person as he can represent other non-competing lines yes even other board shops if they complement one another rather than compete with one another. The sales person can even make several hybrid deals so that he has a pretty good monthly income coming in. In many cases this type of arrangement allows a sales person tom become a rep without going through his life savings in those first two years (assuming he has any life savings left). The hybrid deal works very well for sales people coming back into the industry as well as existing reps who want to take on new lines but need a little financial boost to help with that crucial first year of lead generation and prospecting.
Some companies are willing to turn over existing accounts. This is something that I highly recommend. Many reps wills and hybrid sales people are will to take a reduced commission rate to take over those current accounts. This only makes sense. When I’m working with companies helping them with their sales effort I always urge them to make this arrangement. First of all a real live sales person calling on an account is always better than one doing it over the phone and secondly the chances are growing that account beyond the current sales rate is far greater with a sales person, with skin in the game, trying to grow that account. It only makes sense.
So yes calling all sales people, come on back, there are good opportunities out there for the right experienced sales professionals…if you’re willing to put in the time and work you’re you know what off. Get out there and start looking, I know you want to, I know you can’t stay away, I know you just love the smell of solder mask in the morning. It’s only common sense.
It always amazes me that the same people who claim to be building the best products on the market today are also the ones who want to buy the cheapest ingredients they can.
Think of your customers, how many of them have told you this…
“We are building the best Missile, MRI, Automobile, Computer than money can buy and in order to do this we have to have the very best components that money can buy. If you can give us the best there is, the highest Quality there is, we will happily pay for it.”
You have never heard this from any of your customers? Really, no one has ever told you that? I’m shocked. I thought all of your customers, or at least the ones who claim they build the best products in the world would be wanting the best. You would think so wouldn’t you?
Instead our PCB customers like to tell us that they need the best price possible or else. If we do not provide them with the best price possible they will find someone who will, even if that means going yo another country, to find that price that they want.
In other words do whatever you need to do to give them the cheapest boards that money can buy or else. They want us to do whatever we have to do, cut whatever corners we can, do anything we can do, to give them the cheapest products under the sun.
I am amazed at this because sorry, it is just not common sense. When a great chef creates he wants to use the best ingredients that money can buy. If a great artist is creating great art he wants to use the best materials that money can buy. When a craftsman builds a beautiful cabinet he wants to buy the best wood that money can buy. All of these people want to use the very best materials or ingredients that they can.
So how can many of our customers claim that they need the cheapest materials they can get their hands and then turn around and tell their customers that they are building the best products in the world? Sorry it does not add up. You cannot make a great product out of crummy materials, that’s all there is to it.
I know, I know, when I challenge my friends on the buying end of the business about this they tell me that all PC shops are the same, the Quality is exactly the same, the technology is the same. The company has done its homework and they know their suppliers and they know that it will all get down to the price. They actually believe that they can buy the cheapest products possible and still be covered enough to put out the best products in the world.
How is that? How does that work? I can tell you the answer to that question, it doesn’t. You just cannot build the best products in the world by buying the cheapest products in the world.
Think about this:
Do you really want to have a pacemaker that is built from the cheapest components that money can buy?
Do you really want that nuclear reactor to be made up of the cheapest products that money can buy?
Or how about that missile, or that automobile, or that airliner, or that Space Shuttle, or that surgical laser?
Sure you would be really happy if all of these things are built from the cheapest parts possible.
Dare to be great
We are all so busy running our businesses that we seldom have time to do what really needs to be done to move our businesses forward, to take them from “good to great” to use that old but true cliché.
I know that all of my friends who own board shops are always so occupied keeping their heads above water that they seldom have time to do the things that would make their companies thrive, the things that could put them head and shoulders over the competition.
Look, I know we are all busy, I know that running a board shop or any business for that matter is much more difficult today than it has ever been, but please take the time to not only read these five things we should be doing them but try to make it a point to spend some designated time doing them. And if you do that, if you make it a regular practice to spend time working on these five things you will in the end become the outstanding company you truly deserve to be.
- Be an entrepreneur, spend time thinking about how you can change your company to better serve your customers. If you are a bare board shop then add design services, if you are a contract manufacturer add bare board services and offer the entire package. Just think how powerful it would be if you could take a project from schematic to assembly in one event, just think how much more powerful it would be if you could do it in less than a week! Think about that and figure out how to get it done. But that’s only one idea, there are many more out there. Spend some time thinking this way, explore the possibilities, and learn to say “yes” to them.
- Super customer service. I don’t just mean the normal reactive customer service that we all practice. I mean setting aside some time every single week to sit with your team and brain storm looking for ways to service your customers better than they have ever been serviced before, better than you ever have and better than your competition ever has. Be the LL Bean of the industry.
- Sparking your sales team. I mean really get them excited. Lately sales people have been the whipping boys of our industry. They are often the ones being blamed for lack of business. Let me ask you what is the point of that? You want your sales people out there feeling like super men and super women, you want them feeling invincible. Come up with ways to get the very best you can from them. Remember that a great manager is one who leads his team to greatness.
- Spend time with your insides sales/customer service people. These people are the face of your company. In the end, they are the final force determining what your customers think of your company. Spend time with them. Work with them to find ways to help them be the best they can be because in the end, your company is only as good as your customer service people. Find ways to get them excited about coming to work every day. Empower them, give them some financial parameters to use to satisfy your customers. Help them to be the customer service giants that you want them to be. Hell, make them want to be the customer service giants that you want them to be.
- Look to the future. That’s right, lift your head up, get your nose away from that grindstone long enough to take a cold clear look towards the future. Do all that you can to define the future and most importantly your place in that future. As the old saying goes if “you don’t determine your future someone else will”. Study the future, read everything you can from the trendsetters, listen to your customers and you sales people let them help you put an educated and informed ear to the ground to determine to the best of your ability what the future will be like. The develop your company’s strategy that will best take advantage of that future. Yes, it’s a great time to start thinking about tomorrow.
And one more thing, remember under promise and over deliver, and that is innovate, lead your people to think like innovators. Hold regular sessions where you study everything you do and work on making it better. Look at the way everyone in your industry does things and strive to do it better. I guarantee that if you and your team spend just one hour a week working on how you can do things better, you will in the end do things better.
I know there are only so many hours in the work day. And I know that we are all busy. But spending time doing these six things with the right attitude and dedication will take your company a long way up that road to perfection. It’s only common sense.
Sometimes 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.
In sales and in life for that matter you are only as good as the people you know, work with and are friends with. You are only as strong as your affiliations. You have to know and be willing to work with everyone if you are going to be successful life. So with that in mind embrace every bridge you have and never ever burn them.
“Allow me to be generous “is my philosophy and it has done me well. I believe that if you go out of your way to help people in general and your business associates specifically you will never go hungry. That if you “pay it forward” as the popular phrase goes good things will always come back to you.
Harry Truman once said. “It is amazing how much gets done when you don’t care who gets the credit”, and nothing could be truer. If we all look out for one another, remember one another and try to help one another, good things happen, they always have, they always will. It’s simply a matter as I said earlier
It’s interesting to me that although I have been living by this credo for more years than I care to remember, with the onset of social media, networking has become big business. What I always considered a nice, natural and normal thing to do has now become an art. Networking has become a formal subject that is being taught in business classes! There are all kinds of books and seminars covering the right way to network, whom to network with, how to participate in a network how to create a network and how to grow your network and how to get the most out of your network.
Now while I think this is all well and good and I encourage everyone to learn everything they can about being a great networker. I’m somewhat bemused at how what I always took for granted as the right thing to do has become a business strategy, nay more of a business tactic to get what you want out of people. To me this should only be common sense (sorry it just fit so well here). It should be something that we learned from our parents, something that has just always been the right thing to do.
I have to refer back to my old favorite book Reverend Robert Fulghum’s famous, In which he talks about all of the things we learned when we were five years old still apply today. In fact in terms of social behavior by the time we were six years old we had been taught everything we would need to know to successfully get by in life.
Look the new books are great, there is nothing wrong with picking up some new tools and tips. Social media is great, a wonderful way to put people together but really now is there really anything new? Is there anything that will change the way we interact or interact with people?
So just as a review I will list my simple rules for connecting and working with people or what we now call networking:
- Treat others as you want to be treated.
- Allow me to be generous. Let me help you in any way that I can.
- Let’s not keep score. I am happy to help you without limitations.
- Feel free to share especially ideas, people and opportunities.
- Trust people until they prove you wrong and then re-trust them if they express remorse for having been untrustworthy.
- Every time you meet a new person think about what you could do for them.
- Every time you meet a new person think about what they could do for someone you know.
- Never expect anything in return…except maybe the warm comfort of knowing that you did the right thing.
- Always be connecting people you know if they can help one another.
- Never look at life as a zero sum game instead look at it in this way. If someone you know wins, you all win.
And oh yes, one more in the spirit of under promising and over delivering.
11. And finally avoid having “enemies” and if you do for some reason find yourself with an “enemy” turn that “enemy” into a friend. Having enemies is counter-productive. A friend of mine gave me this quote the other day. If you find yourself with an enemy one day do something nice for that person, it will confuse the hell out of them and put a smile on your face.
So there you have them my rules to live by. What are your rules? What do you live by? You need to think about this…a lot.
It’s only common sense.