Customers Still Deserve Your Respect

dan-5Times may have changed, but some things never do. The old adage that the customer is always right still stands. No matter how hard it is to accept, you have to live with that law if you want to stay in business.

We all know that it is harder to respect the customer now than it has ever been. Customers are much more demanding and insistent that we do things their way. And the irony is that they want less direct communication with us than ever before. The want to do everything online, and they won’t pick up the phone if you call them. And heaven forbid if you try to visit them in person…they want no part of that.

So you are supposed to figure out what it is they want, and in many instances with absolutely no help from them. Many times they will even get angry if you ask too many questions, even if those questions are designed to help give them what they want.

Difficult as it is, this is the world we live in, so we have to do whatever we can do make it work. Here are five things you can do to communicate with your customers and educate them, so they can help you help them to build a better product.

  1. Show them how valuable your knowledge can be to them. Instead of trying to “one up” your customers by showing them how much smarter you are about PCBs, try to educate them in a friendly and helpful way. Offer them seminars and webinars on how a board is built. Send them presentations and books about how boards are fabricated. Do whatever it takes to make your customers “board smart” because the smarter your customers are about building your product, the better their tools will be and the more respect they will have for your technology and what it takes to build their boards.
  2. Invite them to your facility. Look, captive board shops are a thing of the past. Many of the people we used to interact with, the ones who were buying boards or supporting those who bought boards, had come out of their companies’ captive board shops. For the most part these people are long gone and the people who have replaced them have never been in a board shop, so invite them to yours. Ask them over for the day, feed them, lecture them, tour them and educate them. Bond with them and create a partnership. This will go a long way toward making you their trusted advisor and expert on printed circuit boards.
  3. Learn everything you can about them. Visit their company. Find out how their boards are being used. Learn about their marketplace and who their customers are and what they have to do to succeed with their customers. Go to their receiving department and learn what they do with your boards when they arrive. Try to find ways to make it easier for them to use your boards. Could you package the boards in a way that would be more compatible with the way they receive the boards? Teach them how to handle your boards, how to pre-treat and bake them if need be. Show them how boards fabricated from different laminates should he handled differently and why. Be their expert, their partner, and their friend.
  4. Help them design the boards so that you will build them the best boards for the best price. I know this is not always easy and often they don’t want to hear what you have to say, but keep trying. If you have been working at doing items 1, 2 and 3, they should have enough trust and respect in you by now to listen to your advice about designing boards and calling out the right laminates in a way that will make your job easier while giving them the best product at the most economical price.
  5. Go back to what we said in the beginning of this column: the customer is always right. There’s another old saw that is relevant here: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Live by that; it’s the only way to go. And finally, one more (there is always one more in my “underpromise and overdeliver” world):
  6. Lead the way when respecting your customers. Show your staff by your example that you’re in business to serve your customers and that without customers you would not have a business. Never allow your folks to speak disrespectfully about your customers. Make sure you never speak disrespectfully about your customers, because if you do, you are giving everyone in your company permission to do the same.

The customer is always right and it is your job as a company leader to understand that and make sure everyone in your company understands it as well.

It’s only common sense.

———————————————————————————————————Dan Beaulieu is a 30-year PCB industry veteran, sales and marketing expert, and writer. He has contributed to numerous industry publications on topics ranging from sales and marketing, to board shop performance.

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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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Get Ready For 2018: It’s Not Too Early To Start Planning

dan 24No, I’m not crazy or obsessive, this is really the time you should start preparing for next year. September is just around the corner and September is when you should start planning for the following year. It’s time for you to get your sales team aligned and working on their forecast for 2018

Look, I know many of you out there don’t do this, but you should. I have worked with countless companies whose sales people have not made a forecast, or worse yet, the company has not made one. Or even worse than that, upper management has developed a forecast but not shared it with the rest of the organization, especially the sales people. Think about this, just for minute. It’s senseless. It’s as senseless as playing a baseball or basketball game without using a scoreboard. It’s as senseless as hoping to get somewhere but not knowing where it is you are supposed to go. It’s a senseless as…oh, never mind, you get the point. You need a forecast to plan where you are going to be in 2018. You not only need it for your sales effort, but you need it so that the rest of the organization can plan their resources for the following year as well.

So once again, and I know I’ve done this before, but too bad, I am going to keep doing it year after year until everybody I know does it.

Whether you are a VP of Sales, a Director of Sales or a Sales Manager, here is what you and your sales force must do to prepare for next year.

Account plans: everything begins with account plans:

  1. Create account plans for your top customers. Following the eighty-twenty rule develop an account plan for each of your top accounts. These account plans will include information such as:
  2. The customer’s technology
  3. How much of your type of business do they buy a year?
  4. How much of that business do you currently get?
  5. What do you have to do get more of their business?
  6. You don’t have to create account plans for all your accounts, just the top ones and the ones with the greatest potential. You should also include any what I call “investment accounts”, which are start-ups with great promise. I like to keep it at no more than ten accounts per sales person. But don’t forget the house accounts as well. There are many reasons for producing these account plans:
  7. It makes the sales person re-evaluate that account and update it based on what has happened in the past year.
  8. It educates the rest of the team on how that account is doing if it’s a legacy account and introduces them to the account if it’s a new one.
  9. And finally, it gets everyone’s sign in to either work with that account or not. This is especially helpful for new accounts. The old saying goes that you sell a customer twice and the second time is when you sell your own company on taking on that account. This is what you are doing now. One time, so that everyone on the team agrees that this will be a target account they are willing to work with.
  10. The account plan will also contain the month-by month forecast each account. This is key, because from this account forecast, the sales person will derive her complete annual forecast.

The forecast: The Key to success, heck the key to everything

If you are serious about running any successful business you must have a forecast. You must know how much business you are going to win next year. Operations needs to know not only what customers they are going to be dealing with? What technology they are going to have to be prepared to produce? What equipment they are going to need, and how many people they are going to need to build the enough products to meet that sales forecast.

To develop a successful forecast, you should do four things:

  1. Know what you did this year per customer
  2. Know if each customer is on an upward trend, and downward trend or staying the same.
  3. You should know timing of when the orders will be placed. This is critical
  4. And consolidate all your smaller accounts, the ones that do not have account plans into a category called miscellaneous, which can be forecasted as a single entity.

Once you know these facts you will be able to develop an accurate forecast. A forecast that will serve you well to manage your business in the following twelve months.

The sales manager should work with each sales person helping him to develop his own territory forecast. Then, the sales manager must consolidate everyone’s forecast into the company’s complete annual forecast, which he then turns over to the rest of the management team to make sure they have everything they need to do their planning.

Each company is a little different, so that the way you develop your account plans and forecast might vary a little bit. But if you follow these basic guidelines you will have a great set of account plans, an accurate forecast and a team with common goals on how to make 2018 a success, it’s only common sense.

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The Best Way To Compete With The Chinese

dan21Don’t. Just do what they can’t do instead.

While talking to a friend of mine the other day our talk turned to how American Printed Circuit Board shops can compete against the Chinese and other Asian board fabricators. After an extended exchange he turned to me and said. “It’s very simple Dan, the best way to compete against them, is to not compete against them.” After thinking about this for a few days I now realize that he was right, one hundred percent right. We let them play their game and we play ours.

Sure we are not that good anymore at what they do well, but on the same token they cannot do what we do either.

Look here is what they are good at: High volume low cost production. No matter how hard we try we will never have lower labor rates than they do. Well maybe never their economy is rising rather rapidly. But for the most part they have lower labor, they have more automation, they have more government support and yes they have also more support from our customers, some of our customers, you and I know who they are, the ones who learned technology from us and then sent it over to Asia to combine our technology with their lower labor and then eat our lunch for the sake of building the so called best products on earth with the cheapest circuit boards on earth.

That ship has sailed, we are never going to beat the Asians at this game, we never have and never will. The American companies who have survived and succeeded are the ones who did not bother to complete against the Asians in the first place, but rather looked for things that they could beat them at and then concentrated on those things.

What are those things? The things that we can do better than the Asians. Well let’s think about that for a minute. We are closer to our customers here in North America so shipping our product to them is much cheaper, as much as four times cheaper than shipping product from China to the U.S. Sure I know, I know all about those shipping containers and those slow boats from China and that mode of shipping does help with shipping costs, but it also eliminates the possibility of shipping small quantities fast. They have to have a whole lot of boards to fill those containers so there is no way that they are going to produce and ship five boards and have them to you in twenty four hours. No matter how much they say that can do it, and yes once in a while they can do it, but not as consistently as we can.

That’s right we can build and ship boards faster than anyone outside our country, so yes, that is an distinct advantage that we have over the Asians.

Technology is another one. As long as we can stay ahead of the technology curve we win. This is something that we have always done particularly well in this country and if we continue to focus on technology we will win the battle for that particular market.

So then building tough stuff fast gives us a strong advantage over our Asian neighbors.

Oh here are a couple of other things that Asian’s cannot do. They cannot build military boards, they cannot build mil spec boards or aerospace boards or anything that involves national security and no matter how many companies have tried to breach those compliances the door on doing that was shut nay slammed in the past year when the D.O.D. put our beloved printed circuit boards on the ITAR requirement list. So there. These products are to be built here in the U.S. and anything else is breaking the law. And as I always say do not hesitate to call the FBI whenever you learn of a competitor or even a customer who is trying to turn a blind eye to that fact.

And finally the granddaddy of all advantages we have over our competitors from the East is service. We can out service them any day of the week. Have you ever rejected boards you bought in China? That’s a lot of fun isn’t it? Did you ever try to find out what’s going on with those high tech boards you tried to have built in Taiwan? That’s equally as much fun isn’t it? NOT!

As long as we continue to service the hell out of our customers; as long as we produce what they need when they need it; as long as we keep ahead of the technology curve and as long as we build and deliver boards faster than anyone else in the world we will win. We will live another day we will thrive; and yes with all of the changes that are going on in the world right now; from innovative new product development, to on-shoring to re-enforced ITAR protection we’ll be doing just fine, just fine, 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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