What does YOUR Year End Review Look Like?

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The year end brings a perfect time to take a clear look back to see what worked and what didn’t in your business.  Too many times, senior leaders look at “did we hit our number?” as the all consuming barometer.  That is absolutely critical.  It’s also dangerous if that’s the only thing that’s reviewed with a magnifying glass. 

Start at the basics to ground you in the brutal economic truth.

  • Are your sales & profits up or down?  How close to your budget?

  • Are you getting better at what you do?  Usually your margin %’s are an indicator here, all things being equal (input costs, pricing), margins moving north indicate productivity improvements and/or favorable mix.  Sometimes businesses plan them up or down based on op ex investments, so margins relative to expectations are the critical view.

  • In almost all cases, up beats down…….but in my experience, businesses that can not grow margin rates over time are forced to grow the topline at accelerated rates, and that can be expensive for shareholders if it’s not done organically (ie via acquisition).  Growing margin rates and top-line revenue are obviously not mutually exclusive, doing both is where it’s at.

 

Investment & Focus areas

  • People/Team?  (new hires, promotions, existing employees), how have you done? 

    • Are key individuals getting significantly better, or are they treading water?
    • How much did you spend on training?  Did you see an impact?  If not, why?
  • Culture? 

    • Overall workforce engagement (morale) and ownership of outcomes and common definition of a great future.  What have you spent against this?  What was your ROI, or if too difficult to measure, would you repeat it?
    • What’s your turnover rate and is it better or worse?
    • What’s your safety record?
    • What are your quality defects?
    • Are you happy with the results orientation of the business among your people?  Or do they have just a cursory view of business performance and their respective role in improving it?
    • Is recruiting becoming easier because your existing workforce is turning into the company’s best advocates?
  • What does your business pipeline look like going into the new year? (Customers)

    • How strong are you with your existing customers?  Are they growing as a group, flat or declining?  What are their intentions going forward?
    • Strong enough to recover from key customer losses and still grow?
    • How does your innovation stack up?  Are the new products/services in development likely to pull margins up or down, or are you doing more of the same?
    • Are you telling your story (marketing) effectively and attracting people to YOU?  Have you embraced the world of digital or still part of the masses that think it doesn’t apply to you?
  • Process Improvements?  All areas of business have a process, whether well defined or not. 

    • Have you analyzed your key business processes to look for improvement?
    • What’s your key business process where the management team comes together?  How strong?
  • Equipment?  Better, more efficient, safe equipment, or more total capacity….

  • Technology? 

    • Still stuck in a world of cocktail napkins or contemplating a real company system?  Or are you stuck in a world of spreadsheets where power users get it, others struggle?
  • Last, is your company stronger financially at the end of 2016 vs. the start of it?  Multiple metrics for this, but your balance sheet ratios of liquidity, debt coverage, shareholder equity and cash are all good indicators.  NOTE:  All of these metrics are the outcomes of everything above

[Continue Reading…]

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Being “Title Blind” in The Sales Game: Learn From Sunshine

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There are a few things that won’t ever get old in business (or life).  Many times, they are painfully simple and don’t cost a nickle.

  • A smile

  • A pat on the back

  • “Please”

  • “Thank You”

  • Atta Boy!  Atta Girl!

  • I appreciate you!

You know what can get messy?

When you treat people dramatically different, or are BEING TREATED dramatically different once your title/role/position authority is understood.  The entire game is changed.

A brief story…

While sitting at the desk with an office staff all away from the desk, the office phone (remember those things?) rings.  I pick it up:

Me:  “LM Foods?”
Caller:  “Hi, Mr. X please.”
Me:  “Sorry, Mr. X is tied up in the plant, been a crazy week, how can I help you?  Where you calling from?”
Caller:  “Calling from company Y.  When is Mr. X Available?”
Me:  “Hard to tell, it’s a plant and he’s putting out fires, tell me what company Y does?”
Caller:  “Sir, I’m one of Mr. X’s vendors, why don’t I just call back at another time when Mr. X may be available!”
Me:  “What kind of business have we done with you in the past?”
Caller:  “I’m one of Mr. X’s Vendors, but you buy product A from us if you need to know and you bought it in January?”
Me:  “Interesting and thanks for sharing that, but Mr. X is not the person that can help you with that?”
Caller:  “I used to deal with Harry, he’s no longer there and someone told me to talk to Mr. X!”
Me:  “Why don’t you send me a brief e-mail with a short description of your company, how we’ve done business and if I have that context I’d be happy to get you to the right person so your not so frustrated?”
Caller:  “What is it that you do?”
Me:  “Well I own the company, on a good day!”

What do you think our caller did next?

  • First (after a long pause) the tone softened dramatically!
  • Than an apology for the short/terse conversation.
  • Then I counseled the caller that I felt a little bit of pressure when all I’m trying to do is help, “and to be honest the tone/vibe shouldn’t change when you learn of my position which is what I’m feeling right now.”

 

Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for the follow up email.

Sometimes helping sales people (or anyone) can only happen when they want to help themselves.

This little story reminded me of “the old days” and a former team member of mine.  I used to work with someone who earned one of the great nicknames that can be given to a human being:

“SUNSHINE”

Nicknames only matter when they stick.  Sunshine earned her nickname.  That’s what I felt when I interacted with her.  As did everyone around her.  Sunshine is human like all of us, had her bad days like all of us had.  But like the real sun, she rose each day.  And whether you were the owner of a company, or whether you were the janitor, she treats everyone like they are the most important person in the room, and status never got in the way of her basic, warm approach to human interaction.

At the end of the day, sales is about people connection.  Forming a bond with humans.  So is leadership.  So is doing a good job if you are a factory worker, a delivery person.

I believe most humans NOTICE when behavior changes on a dime, and whether they know it or not, they can spot the trigger of that change a mile away.  Those are the moments a connection is made, but all too often, it is LOST.

If a person’s behavior IMPROVES as the person recognizes a person title, when that title has some “status” watch out.

If a person’s behavior is great all the time, but ESPECIALLY thoughtful to the people at the lower rungs of the ladder, watch closely here as well.  That person may have a gift.  That could be a nose for sales.  Or an ability to lead or inspire.

Or maybe, that person just has a component of Sunshine?  One thing I’m fairly certain:  Every company needs a little Sunshine.

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2 Warning Signs in Talent Selection

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One of the hardest areas in business to consistently get right is “picking winners.”  Great talent that makes an impact is a game changer for any business.  Of course, picking winners is easier said than done.

I’ve written on some recruiting challenges in the past….

The Talent Hunt:  Where’s the Will To Win?

Where Job Candidates Fail:  Articulating GBE

Talent Selection:  Skills or Values? 

Picking the winners is flat out hard, no matter how sophisticated the process.  Many people try different methods to increase their batting average:

  • Personality Profiles
  • “Case Study” Presentations – Give the candidate an assignment, have them present results to a panel
  • Extensive reference checking
  • Skill screening tests (especially for technical areas)

All methods provide insights/data points to increase the odds of success.  Unfortunately, I have yet to see a combination of methods that increases the odds over time.

However, I HAVE seen a couple of warning signs that DECREASE the odds of the candidates success:

  • A real hard charging focus on up-front salary negotiation  
  • A greater than “average” concern for a particular title, one that looks good on the resume’ or provides a degree of “prestige.”

Let’s take the first one, the hard charge towards maximizing the starting base salary.  I get it, I love the hustle, the ambition and the fight for what a candidate perceives to be their fair market “value.”  Salary is one of the most sensitive areas of business, it’s a black and white number that tends to be compared, analyzed and too much self worth wrapped up in that one number.  It’s one of the ultimate barometers of business.  There’s a problem however with the hard charging negotiation for candidates that have been extended an offer/invitation to join a company….

By definition, a job candidate that has been extended an offer has not accomplished one thing.  What they have demonstrated is an impressive showing BEFORE the bell rings.  

Their pitch on value is all related to potential, or their past track record.

Some level of negotiation could be considered “expected.”  However…

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a candidate completely confident in their ability to produce great results and say “why don’t we go with YOUR number, than lets sit down in 90 days when you actually see me action?”  Do you think that candidate would stand out while simultaneously showing they are willing to let their performance do the talking? [Continue Reading…]

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A Lesson From The Shark Tank: Simplicity & Focus

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I love the Shark Tank.  It’s not only great entertainment, it’s a fantastic education to the start-up world and how entrepreneurs pitch investors, what’s important to both sides, sales/communication and how both sides come together to form a partnership (or not).

While all the sharks are brilliant, maybe the best overall clip I’ve seen is “Money” featuring Kevin O’leary.  He hits every important theme in brutal clarity.

It is clear how Kevin O’leary views the world.  He keeps it simple, and he evaluates everything quickly with a disciplined approach.  Everyone that watches the show, or this clip will quickly realize that you need to get to the point, show value, and most importantly, leave no doubt as to how you will protect and make money.

This got me thinking….

What if everyone had a “vision” as crystal clear as Mr. Wonderful’s, regardless of what they do in life?

What if everyone had a bed-rock mantra that differentiates them and makes them stand out?

Would they not be more successful?  More happy in whatever they do?  ABSOLUTELY.

Lets take your basic professional worker in a “grey area” results role.  I consider a grey area role anything that is not PURE and tied to easily measurable contribution, which in business is the majority of roles.

  •  Direct Sales may be the easiest to assign a numerical contribution too, although the value of sales driven by one person vs all the other contributors is always debatable.

How do MOST workers value their OWN performance to their employer?

If I had to sum it up, MOST would view their performance in terms of INPUTS, not OUTPUTS.  In other words, the amount of effort, dedication, attitude and approach they put into the role, vs the actual outcome of all those characteristics.

  • If I work hard and put in the extra hours, life will be good.
  • If I’m well respected and liked, life will be good.
  • If I’m dependable, reliable and know my job I’ll be valuable.
  • And on the story goes….

What would the Kevin O’leary equivalent manager use to evaluate the performance?

OUTPUTS FIRST.  INPUTS second.  And a distant second.

 

 

If you want the long version spread across all of the sharks, here’s a good one.

 

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Hustle Case Study: Pitbull

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Education is not only about IF and where you have a degree from, it’s about lifelong learning, and more learning happens OUTSIDE the classroom than inside of it.   

You also don’t need a semester to gain great inspiration and new knowledge, 10 minutes can do the trick. 

Here are 2 Great Talents:  Ryan Seacrest and Pitbull.  A 7 minute interview, and great lessons.

Para-phrasing (Of Course)

  • “Where does the energy come from?”  It’s all about motivation!
  • My mom raised me off Anthony Robins.  I would sit in the car and listen to his lessons.
  • There’s no success without failure.  No success without losing.
  • Does your Hustle and your ability to outwork help?  ABSOLUTELY.  It’s 90% business, 10% talent.
  • On Jennifer Lopez:  She’s a pro.  She show’s up on time, gets the job done and moves on to the next thing.
  • Who makes your suits?  It doesn’t matter what you wear, it’s how you wear it!
  • The only real thing in my life, is real people, so I’m very protective of them.
  • Ryan:  I like to meet friends, greet friends and KEEP friends!
  • What are your other priorities?  Vodka, schools, slam (sports, leadership, management), branding the city with Pit Bull, finding a way to grow and put the puzzle together!
  • I love the Hustle.  Fall.  Get right back up.   

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The Talent Hunt: Where’s the Will To Win?

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There are some painful and common things I’m seeing lately on the hunt for talent, interviewing countless people for various positions.

In the past I’ve posted on this topic:

Where Job Candidates Fail:  Articulating GBE

The Market for Talent & The Missing Element

The job market from my vantage point continues to be a “buyers” market in sheer numbers, where you post on the boards and get overwhelmed with tons of qualified credentials quickly for any given pay rate.  That’s where the buyers market ends however, as people make fundamental mistakes in great numbers.

Here’s a few common one’s I’ve seen.

  • Basic research seems to be a skill that 50% fail to do:

  • If you don’t know the company’s website and publicly available information, why show up?

  • If you know the names of the people you are meeting with, wouldn’t it make sense to do the SAME research on the people you will meet with that will render an opinion on you coming on board or not?

  • If you HAVE spent time doing basic research, why not work it into the conversation?  That will put you in the other half of the pile that DID do their homework.

  • Don’t ask about benefits on the first interview, unless the company initiates that discussion.

  • Vacation policy?  Same as #3.

  • Follow up is painfully lacking.  Not responding to an interview within 24 hours with a simple email thank you puts you in a pile (mentally) you don’t want to be in.

  • GENERIC follow up may be worse than no follow up.  Cutting and pasting the same thank you note to the 4 people you meet with is crazy.  They WILL compare notes, and when they see this the people will assume you are either lazy or not listening to individuals.

How do I sum this up?

Simple.  A job interview is a golden opportunity.  It is the equivalent of getting a meeting with a dream prospective customer in sales.  If you are not preparing a half a day or more for the interview, or sales call, don’t be surprised if you don’t get the result you want.  The people that DO get the results do not simply show up with their good looks and clean resumes.  They come ready to play, and ready to win.  Being ready to go starts long before the big meeting.      

preparing to win

 

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In a Rut? Go on a Field Trip!

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“Get out in the field!”

It’s an expression in business that could mean a few things:

  • Visiting customers
  • Looking at the competitive marketplace
  • Working in the factory/front lines
  • In the Stores

The field is really anything that gets closer to the core of where the action is.  Anyplace but the desk. And usually around people.

A recent market visit brought us to the Bronx Fish Market.  A place few know exists and it’s not for the feint of heart!

bronx fish market

After the fish market we hit a couple of local businesses in our space.  And then my Italian roots took over.  The calling of Arthur Avenue in Bronx NY.  Some call it, “NY’s REAL Little Italy.”  No argument here.

arthur ave bronx ny

 

We found a gem of a small business, Tino’s Deli.

Hustle comes in many shapes and sizes.  

Why was it a gem?

  • Food was fresher than fresh.  Rare finds, no common name brands.  But all the staples you’d expect in an Italian Deli.
  • It was spotless.  Stainless steel garbage cans.
  • All the staff was happy we were there.  How did we know?  They smiled early, often and looked us in the eye.
  • The food met my expectations, and in this kind of store they are always sky high.

The owner Giancarlo Paciullo was a throw-back to an era where personal service was the norm.  He brings a tear to the eye of a blog writer where the subtitle is “Where Old School Meets New School.”

I asked to take a picture with him after we were done with breakfast.  Little did I know our server called him at home (he lives a couple blocks away) and he walked back to his place just to take a picture.  I felt bad for inconveniencing him.  But I really wanted to remember him.  And he gave us a nice little bag for the road.

tino's deli bronx ny

After looking at his website, I almost gasped at the little < 2 minute video, set to the awesome Guns & Roses “Patience.”  There’s that Old School Meeting New School thing again…..

Small little businesses like Tino’s Deli do not spend millions on advertising.  They earn loyalty one customer interaction at a time.  They dazzle people with service from the heart.

Then their loyal customers take over and tell everyone that will listen about their experience.

Go Arthur Avenue.  Go Tino’s Deli!  Bravo.

We all get in ruts in while running our businesses. Simple solution. Get to the Field.  

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Business Mandate: Turn Air into Money.

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I get a EUPHORIC thrill out of turning air into money.  

It also creates some strange looks when I tell a story or two.

When you own property in business, every square inch is a potential asset.  Even if you don’t own your land and building, utilization of space and the costs that are tied up in space should be scrutinized.

AIR.

  • It’s invisible.  Odorless.
  • And it can cost you money.  That is money that can be re-invested in growth.

Want some examples?

  • Shipping.  Everyone in CPG knows that the cost of shipping a truck rarely changes if you can get 39k lbs on it vs. 42k lbs.  But if that shaves a couple pennies off your shipping rate that can be the difference between making 20% and 23% margins.  That matters.

How about garbage costs.  What do you see when you look at this image?

Garbage dumpster

 

A mess of course!  And litter, which is awful.

But what you also see is that the garbage is thrown in there, not compacted.  I bet if it were organized and crunched, you can free up 1/3 of the airspace.  That means fewer pickups.  Less Cost.  You know what else is there?

  • PLASTIC.
  • CARDBOARD.

Both of those should be recycled.  And sold on the open market.  That’s a revenue stream for someone, why not you?

Recycling further reduces the amount of true garbage, further reducing your cost.

I bet businesses across the country could cut there garbage expenses by 50% if they just attack it with recycling and compacting, and of course knowing what drives their cost to begin with.

So lets say you spend $400 per month without these methods.  What can you do with $2,400 in savings?  Do you need to invest some money on a compactor?  Seems like there could be a payback there.  There are countless examples in business very similar to the garbage example.

Freeing up money by turning Air into money is the low hanging fruit in a business.  It requires minimal risk.  But it does require a dose of Hustle to go after it.

When businesses turn air into money they begin to fuel the engine of growth:  INVESTMENT.

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Spring Cleaning For Business

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You know it’s been long winter when your 7 year old rips off his jacket and yells “it’s spring!” when the temperature breaks 40!

The march OUT of winter and towards Spring reminds me of 2 things:

1)  Opening Day.  Yes I may be old school, but it’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.

2)  Spring Cleaning.  This I’m NOT a fan of, but it too has it’s purpose.  Pruning, de-cluttering, freshening up tends to lift the spirits.

What should spring cleaning look like for a business?

Go through some key areas and ask some fundamental house keeping (pardon the pun) questions.

People

  • Everybody have tight, meaningful goals that will make a visible difference?

  • Training programs in place?

  • “Culture” celebration investments planned for?

  • Plans in place for non-performers?  What about your TOP performers?

  • What have you done to get your PEOPLE involved with looking forward, improving your business?

Aesthetics:  Work-spaces

  • How about a fresh coat of paint?  If it works in selling a house, it works for your work-space too.

  • Are people invested in improving their areas?

Image/Branding

  • When is the last time you looked at your collateral?  Website, business cards, presentations, etc.

  • Does it portray both who you are and what you want to be?

  • Are you proud of it or do you find yourself making excuses for it’s dated look or stale content?

Product

  • Same as branding:  New and fresh, or dated and stale?

  • What NEW ideas are in your pipeline?

  • Enough or too many?

Cost Structure

  • When is the last time you went line by line through every expense item?

  • Have you “zero based” a budget or do you just tack on x% over last year’s number?

  • What if you INCREASED a line item, what would be the impact?  Which expenses are you considering investments vs “costs of doing business?”

There’s something about spring cleaning that usually holds true:  It’s difficult to start.  But when you finish you FEEL better, you look better, and you actually ARE better.  

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The Dangerous Games People Play: Price Negotiations

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Price is one of the most deadly weapons in the marketing mix.

One of  the “4 P’s” of marketing, and one that creates some of  the most pressure packed situations in business.

  • It determines 50% of a company’s profit margin.

  • Depending on your market share and/or industry, it is also the most controllable decision someone can make to influence their outcome of profit/loss.

  • It is the most easily compared element of the marketing mix against a competitor.  Evaluating $499 vs. $549 is easier than comparing product reviews, technical features or “quality” (perceived or real)

  • Could be the most “emotional” element in business.

Why?

Let’s say you are quoting on a business, and it’s somewhat of a “bid” process, meaning you are quoting against different competitors selling products that have SOME differentiation, but generally viewed as a commodity.  So Price is a MAJOR factor, but like all competitive situations, everything influences the outcome:

  • Quality and service track record

  • Terms, flexibility

  • Relationship:  How will your bid affect the relationship?  Does that matter?

  • Risk of loss:  If you lose, how does your business look?  Better or worse?

All situations have a different ranking.  If I were bidding, here’s what I’d be looking at:

*  How many different factors influence a buying decision?
*  Rank them from high to low.
*  Know where you score at all times with your customer.  How?  ASK THEM!

Also?[Continue Reading…]

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