Although manufacturers can expect modest 2 percent growth through the remainder of 2013, the brief lull gives opportunistic executives a chance to prepare for an uptick in business next year.
Gus Faucher, senior economist for The PNC Financial Services Group, attributes his optimistic forecast to a rise in business investments, fueled by the resolution of murky tax and sequestration issues, and the continuation of record-low interest rates.
“I think the U.S. will maintain an edge in high value-add manufacturing because we have highly skilled, productive labor,” Faucher says. “Maintaining our competitive advantage requires ongoing development of our manufacturing workforce.”
As the economic recovery proceeds, in what areas will spending accelerate most? Manufacturers of home building products and materials, furnishings, appliances and so forth should have a strong 2014, thanks to the rebound in the residential real estate market. In turn, those manufacturers will purchase more production equipment, raw materials, parts and other items. The wealth effect in real estate will stimulate growth throughout the supply chain.
Will rising global demand for U.S. made products including semiconductors, medical devices and specialized materials manufacturing propel employment gains over the next few years? Post-recession hiring will wane next year as manufacturers look for productivity gains from workers added since employment levels bottomed out in early 2010. Although manufacturing is back up to 12 million workers, that’s still well below the 2006 peak of 14.2 million. The mantra continues to be: Do more with less.
How could the expansion of the shale oil industry affect manufacturing? Shale oil exploration and extraction will be a boon to ancillary industries and all U.S. manufacturers that rely on natural gas for production, since it will lower energy costs over the long-term. Moreover, it will give America a much-needed competitive advantage in today’s spirited global marketplace.
Augustine (Gus) Faucher is a senior economist for The PNC Financial Services Group. He is responsible for contributing to the preparation of PNC’s U.S. economic forecast and alternative economic scenarios.
The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley
Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt
Regenwald, 304 pages
What makes places like Silicon Valley tick? Can we replicate that magic in other places? How do you foster innovation in your own networks? Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt propose a radical new theory to explain the nature of innovation ecosystems: human networks that generate extraordinary creativity and output. They argue that free market thinking fails to consider the impact of human nature on the innovation process.
These ecosystems, or Rainforests, can only thrive when certain cultural behaviors unlock human potential. The authors provide practical tools for readers to design, build and sustain new innovation ecosystems. The Rainforest challenges the basic assumptions that economists have held for over a century and will transform the way you think about technology, business and leadership.
The Coming Jobs War
Gallup Press, 220 pages
Drawing on 75 years of Gallup studies and his own perspective as the company’s chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton explains why jobs are the new global currency for leaders. To win, leaders need to compete. The business community needs to double the psychological engagement of workers so that it can compete with cheaper labor. Perhaps most importantly, leaders need to recognize universities, mentors and especially cities as a supercollider for job creation. There’s not a moment to waste: the war has already begun.
Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back
Free Press, 320 pages
John Kao first offers a stunning, troubling portrait of the recent erosion of U.S. competitiveness in innovation, then he takes readers on a fascinating tour of the leading innovation centers, such as those in Singapore, Denmark and Finland, which are trumping us in their more focused and creative approaches to fueling innovation. He then lays out a groundbreaking plan for a national innovation strategy that would empower the U.S. to marshal its vast resources of talent and infrastructure in ways that will produce transformative results.
Back in 2005, Hamdi Ulukaya stumbled upon a classified ad for a yogurt plant recently closed down by Kraft. After initially ignoring the ad, Ulukaya had a gut feeling that he should at least visit the plant.
It’s a good thing he listened to his gut. Otherwise the story of his company, Chobani Inc., may be very different today. After seeing the plant Kraft had for sale, Ulukaya bought it on the spot and went to work perfecting the recipe for Chobani Greek yogurt based on his belief that everyone, regardless of income or location, deserved access to delicious, high-quality yogurt.
“I grew up with yogurt,” says Ulukaya, who is founder and CEO of the New Berlin, N.Y.-based company. “Being from Turkey, a big part of our diet was yogurt.”
It wasn’t just a gut feeling that made Ulukaya visit the plant, but it was also a gut feeling that Chobani would make it in the world of yogurt in retail.
“I didn’t analyze it too much,” he says. “It was nothing but a gut feeling. Everyone I knew that had a knowledge of business were looking at the category and at who was closing a plant, which was Kraft. Everyone who looked at the idea was against it.
“I would be convinced for a day by the people I talked to and then the next day I’d change my mind. The only thing I knew was there was a big opportunity in yogurt.”
Here’s how Ulukaya built a yogurt empire that has gone head-to-head with category veterans Dannon and Yoplait.
Keep the faith
Chobani began with the hiring of five employees. However, the initial employees, including Ulukaya himself, lacked the experience in launching a yogurt company.
“I built the company based on people, not with experience from before, but willing to learn and try anything,” he says. “We had a bunch of people that had never done this before. None of us had run companies. None of us had worked in high levels of companies. None of us were from Fortune 500s.
“Whatever you look for in people to bring them into a company — none of us had it. Most of the people came in from an entry-level position and now they’re leading departments. Chobani not only became a business that grew, but Chobani was like a school to us, including myself.”
With that mentality Chobani’s first yogurt hit shelves 18 months after Ulukaya bought the Kraft plant, and has since grown to become America’s No. 1 yogurt.
“It was not easy, but what we found out was what is seen and what is reality are two different things,” Ulukaya says. “The category was owned by two major companies. Dannon and Yopliat owned about 70 percent of the market, and they had been there for years. As a startup, you go to the specialty stores first. That’s how you start and you grow and once you reach a certain level then you go to the big retailers.”
Ulukaya didn’t want to do that. He wanted to go to the big retailers first and be in the regular dairy isle.
“That was a crazy idea and nobody thought that would go, but at least we tried,” he says.
“When we tried, we convinced one retailer in New York, ShopRite. The result from that was we were able to expand to a couple of other retailers. After the second or third customer that we had success with for our yogurt I knew it wasn’t going to be about selling — it was about making enough. So from that moment on I lived in the plant.”
Chobani has grown from five employees to almost 2,000 today. The company started out with one truckload of milk a day and now uses more than 4 million pounds daily. Its products are now available nationwide as well as in Australia, the UK and Canada.
Build a culture that breeds passion
Chobani’s success has been driven by Ulukaya’s passion, which earned him the title of EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 U.S., and subsequently, the 2013 World Entrepreneur Of The Year. That success has also been a result of Chobani’s culture of delivering the highest quality.
“We have a reason for doing what we are doing,” Ulukaya says. “We want to make an awesome product for everybody. We want to make it nutritious, delicious and accessible. While we are making it, we want to build things around it. We want to be a part of the community. We want to be places where we can make a difference. That gives people reasons to get together and do something awesome.”
As Chobani has expanded and its core team has grown-up, it’s been important to transfer that culture and belief to everyone else.
“That passion was so strong, and I think we are so connected to our business. I am personally so involved in the business, especially in the plants, that having those one-on-one conversations and being an example, not just preaching and putting things on the wall, but by living it and putting in hard work, affects us more,” he says. “We built Chobani on those qualities.”
Chobani has gone from nothing to $1 billion in five years. That kind of growth can be stressful, but Ulukaya enjoys what he does and that’s what pushes him forward.
“It has its highs and lows, because let’s face it, it’s not easy,” he says. “They asked Steve Jobs what was the most important thing in business and he said, ‘Passion.’ If you don’t have passion you would give up when things get difficult. We have so much passion and love for what we do that it becomes a part of our life. I personally don’t separate my personal life from my business, because I’m doing something that I love.”
Ulukaya calls that passion “The Chobani Way.” He doesn’t expect any of his employees to have to pretend they enjoy what they’re doing or act differently than who they are.
“I have never become different depending on whether I was involved in business or in my personal life,” he says. “You don’t have to pretend to smile. You come as you are and you just try to learn it. That became ‘The Chobani Way.’”
How to reach: Chobani Inc., (877) 847-6181 or www.chobani.com
If you are an entrepreneur, and you see what you think is a growth opportunity, you may be tempted to take the advice that’s been offered many times: risk all you can and jump in head first.
But if you catch your breath, the proper decision at that time is not really what to do. Your analysis lies more with if you think the opportunity is one for growth.
With that in mind, Smart Business interviewed some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and the leadership at EY about growth opportunities. These business leaders come from the more than 60 countries at the recent EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year conference in Monte Carlo.
“We’re looking at China and other Asian countries. The key to that market is to have big internationals that are creating value for their communities where we can sell our products. These are the kind of countries, those that can generate big internationals, that we are looking at.”
Martin Migoya, CEO, Globant
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Argentina
“I have been tracking where I see money going. Where is the most foreign direct investment happening? Africa is clearly one. In South America, Colombia has been coming much more into its own, as have Indonesia and parts of Southeast Asia. Those are some of the markets you’ll start to see. Mexico is another one you have to watch because it’s close to the U.S. and its leaders have had change in their political landscape to be more pro-business.”
Herb Engert, Americas Strategic Growth Markets Leader, EY
“One of the ways that we encourage innovation is we partner with a lot of technology startup companies. We look for alliances and what’s next in technology that can drive improvements and enhancements in our industry.
When we see a technology that’s promising we’ll start working with them and provide them with real-world market feedback. That gives us the data and confidence to help them get to commercial deployment.
Our people are always looking for innovative ways to do things with the discipline of knowing that at Chevron we have to represent our brand and stand behind everything that we do and our customers expect us to keep them on that proven level of technology.”
Jim Davis, President, Chevron Energy Solutions
“I am in one of the newest economic blocs to emerge from Latin America, the Pacific Alliance, which seeks to create a Latin American gateway to Asian markets. Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru are members. The bloc hopes to make the commercial, economic and political forces among the members work more closely together.
The entrepreneurs representing Colombia chose me to be in that alliance two years after it was founded. What it is going to do is to join the market of those five countries — it is one market for everyone.”
Mario Hernandez, founder and president, Marroquinera
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Colombia
“There continue to be tremendous opportunities in Brazil; it’s a big country, a big market. It will be back on the world stage even more with the 2014 World Cup and ultimately the Summer Olympics in 2016.
But when you look at Spanish-speaking countries, certainly Mexico is attracting a lot of direct foreign investment. The new administration, the federal government there, has definitely got a strong commitment to entrepreneurship.
We are seeing that as being important to them, and we are working with them on a number of different initiatives as the U.S. State Department and others try to help foster more entrepreneurial startups and more entrepreneurial growth in Mexico, both big and small.”
Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year and Venture Capital Advisory Group, EY
“There are always things you can do to improve and grow your business. You should be rethinking and retooling it every chance you get. The key thing is making sure everybody in the organization understands the story, where you’re going, are you going to get there in the belief that you are doing the right thing. People want to know their purpose, so that’s for me the biggest area to keep the energy going — keep a sense of purpose very strong.”
Dr. Alan Ulsifer, CEO, president and chair, FYidoctors
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Canada
“Always be seeking new opportunity. Always be looking for new technologies, innovation and creativity within your people. The best ideas within our business have come from the people inside our company. You have to give opportunity to your people. Tell them it’s OK to be wrong and make mistakes. That’s important so people will learn from those mistakes and come up with better ideas.”
Lorenzo Barrera Segovia, founder and CEO, Banco BASE
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Mexico
“The growth driver in the world is coming from entrepreneurs. They are the ones driving economic growth and driving job growth. If you look at leading indices of companies, they churn much more rapidly than they ever did before.
“It used to take 20 years to have a half of a churn in some of these indices. Now it takes four or five years. It’s because the entrepreneurs are building businesses so quickly. We have to keep investing and keep recognizing their strengths.”
Jim Turley, retired global chairman and CEO, EY
“It’s important to understand where the trends are going. So communication and information is important. I fully support the free market system. It’s a great way to understand where the best new ideas are coming from and where the value lies. We keep an eye on our competitors on technology and on alternative learning aspects. So to the extent that the web provides a better way to educate more students more efficiently, we’ll be using that.”
J.C. Huizenga, founder, National Heritage Academies
“I built the company based on people, not with experience from before, but willing to learn and try anything. We had a bunch of people that had never done this before. None of us had run companies. None of us had worked in high levels of companies. None of us were from Fortune 500s.
“Whatever you look for in people to bring them into a company — none of us had it. Most of the people came in from an entry-level position and now they’re leading departments. Chobani not only became a business that grew, but Chobani was like a school to us, including myself.”
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO, Chobani Inc.
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 United States and 2013 World Entrepreneur Of The Year
“Companies attracted by the Latin American market have to decide where to establish the operations in Latin America. They have many opportunities: Sao Paulo; Buenos Aires; Santiago, Chile; or maybe in Peru. But in Uruguay, there is a very small market. You have to operate with a different concept, much like an offshore company, to operate in Latin America.”
Orlando Dovat, founder and CEO, Zonamerica
Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Uruguay
Another year of EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards has come and gone, but the stories told and the lessons learned are far from over. Each year EY’s entrepreneurial programs get bigger and better and the entrepreneurs involved are getting more creative and leading more impressive companies than in prior years.
For instance, Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and CEO of Chobani Inc., was named Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 U.S. He went on to win 2013 World Entrepreneur Of The Year, making him only the second entrepreneur from the U.S. to win the world award.
This summer Smart Business caught up with a few of EY’s leaders, Herb Engert, Americas Strategic Growth Markets Leader, and Bryan Pearce, Americas Director of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Program, to discuss how these programs have evolved and talk about some new ones that are being developed.
It should be noted that EY itself is going through a leadership transition with the retirement of Jim Turley, global chairman and CEO. Smart Business spoke with him as well to understand the future direction of the company.
Here’s what we learned.
How are you effectively developing a seamless global leadership transition?
Turley: We announced Mark Weinberger was going to be my successor well over a year ago, probably 14 or 15 months ago. It was interesting because unlike many of our competitors who do this very quickly, we realize this is a really important transition.
The reason we gave ourselves 15 months of transition is because we’ve got 170,000-plus people around the world. So we take our time; we do this well.
How do you see your legacy?
Turley: If there is a legacy it’s our people culture. We’re a special place. More experienced folks join EY from our competitors than ever leave us to join the competitors. They come and they say it’s because of the culture we have.
What is one of the greatest marketing challenges moving forward?
Turley: Everybody has realized now, much later than we realized some 34 years ago, that the growth driver in the world is coming from entrepreneurs. They are the ones driving economic growth. They are the ones driving job growth.
I think we have to keep investing in and keep recognizing their strengths. But we don’t do this for our own marketing. We do this because of the impact entrepreneurs are having in the communities where they live, and they weren’t getting the attention in the press when we started the program some 27 years ago. Increasingly they are getting the visibility they need.
How did the issues discussed at the WEOY program relate to what’s going on in the U.S.?
Engert: They’re directly correlated. Everybody is talking around the issues and challenges in the world economy, which is growth, jobs, investment and innovation.
When I think about innovators and some of the companies that have come through the EY programs, they are companies that are disrupting, or said in another way, addressing a need, demand or service. In some cases in emerging markets they are replicating what might have already been met in another developed market.
That whole concept of replication and foreign direct investment, at the root of it, is what entrepreneurs are all about and it’s going to bring parody to the global world. A stage like WEOY puts it in perspective and how it’s all tied together.
Pearce: The companies that are here have been successful in growing their companies perhaps in their domestic or regional markets and this gives them a great opportunity to meet counterparts that are operating in other parts of the world. At a minimum, they may learn a little bit more about those markets. Ideally, they may meet people who are potential partners, strategic relationship candidates or people who could help them in some way to expand their own business into expanding foreign markets.
How do you plan to apply the information gained in the WEOY program into the Strategic Growth Forum this fall?
Pearce: The WEOY and the series of strategic growth forums that we do around the world are definitely part of getting knowledge to entrepreneurs as well as networks to entrepreneurs. When you bring those two things together, they learn more about how they can grow their business, run a better business, access capital and develop their people.
It’s a focus on the five important pillars around customers and growth: people, operating effectively, capital and managing risk. You get insights into that here and you’ll get insights into them at strategic growth forums.
How has the program content developed with WEOY?
Pearce: We have added a lot of content to what has historically been a program only focused on awards. That knowledge and greater focus on networking with each other obviously has been well received by the entrepreneurs. They came to WEOY to meet their colleagues, but also to learn and so we had people coming in as keynote speakers and panelists.
We have also created a series we are calling E exchanges, which are groups of 10 to 15 people sitting around the table with common issues. These E exchanges will be very helpful for people to get to know each other and to really get into some of the down and dirty, nitty-gritty of what they are doing to tackle problems in their own business.
Are there any particular countries where you see big opportunity?
Engert: I have been tracking where I see money going. Where is the most foreign direct investment happening? Africa is clearly one. In South America, Colombia has been coming much more into its own, as have Indonesia and parts of Southeast Asia. Those are some of the markets you’ll start to see. Mexico is another one you have to watch because it’s close to the U.S. and its leaders have had change in their political landscape to be more pro-business. It’s the No. 7 GDP nation in the world.
What does the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program mean to EY and how is it developing?
Engert: The Winning Women Program is a recognition program, but it is so much more. It really is a development program. We really focus on recognizing the women and giving them an award, but we’re putting them into an EY incubator where we give them the opportunity to participate in a lot of different aspects of thinking about the strategy of their business, their financial plans, how they approach media, branding, PR and investors.
We’ve learned a lot in the last five years of this program, and I’m proud to say we are expanding that around the globe.
Pearce: One of the recognitions that we had was that women are 48 percent of business owners in the world. They’re starting up businesses at a rate more rapid than men right now. But part of the challenge is scaling. You don’t tend to see the women-led businesses scaling as rapidly as others do.
What I think has really been the strength of the program is that there is more than just an award. There is ongoing education. They are recognized through the awards program, but also get mentoring and other skills to help them build better businesses. And then we bring them to events like WEOY.
We will have virtually all of them at the Palm Springs event in November. So they have that opportunity to get integrated in with our EOY award winners and other great entrepreneurs and find partnerships and boards of advisors and directors and various other things that can help them to scale their business.
So we began that in the U.S. We are now rolling that out to Canada and Brazil this year and looking at more rapid rollout into other countries because it is certainly a great opportunity to help support these women as they grow these businesses around the world.
What about the addition of a family business component?
Engert: The Family Business Award was put in place because family businesses are the bedrock of communities. They’re the unsung heroes.
Most private companies are family-owned businesses and a lot of public companies are actually family-owned businesses as well. A significant amount of them are multi-generation family businesses and it creates a focus on that market segment.
It’s a totally different class of business with different needs and attentions. So we are trying to celebrate family business, which will provide a lot of great learning and perspective for us.
Pearce: Our definition is that families are those at least in the second generation or beyond. Not only do you have all the same challenges that another company, private or public, would have in growing the business, but now you have this added dimension wrapped around it of family dynamics.
We try to bring them together with each other so they can learn from other families how they are handling those same kinds of challenges around family integration, succession, fundraising, liquidity, and all of those kinds of things, and then we are able to provide services to them as we look at managing through those same issues.
Across the 25 programs regionally in the U.S. we had more than 200 nominees this year that want to be considered for the family business award, which was a great start.
Can you explain a little bit about Endeavor?
Engert: We have a partnership with Endeavor. They are focused on building a better working world themselves and investing in and promoting entrepreneurs in emerging markets around the globe. The Endeavor model is wonderful because it’s entrepreneurs who are opening a local chapter, but have strong ties to the global connections of Endeavor that help bring entrepreneurs and perspectives to bear.
Endeavor is a great program and we’re proud to be partners with them. I look forward to Endeavor expanding further around the globe because they are a key difference in some of those emerging markets.
Pearce: In many of the countries that they operate in, particularly in the Americas and in Latin America, we’ve got strong relationships with our EOY program.
For example, this year is the first year that we’ve had EOY in Uruguay, and that really began as a partnership between Endeavor Uruguay and one of our former partners who is on the board. We were able to team together and the initial EOY gala was combined with the Endeavor gala. We had more than 800 people attend in year one. So it shows you the power of entrepreneurship and certainly the power of the partnership between Endeavor and EY.
Nothing is more frustrating than missed opportunities — except when those missed opportunities were completely avoidable. For example, you and your organization put in the time and effort to drive prospects through the marketing funnel toward conversion. And then, when the prospect is engaged and reaches out to you, you’re not equipped to provide a timely follow-up response.
This happens entirely too often. But basic prep work on the front-end can help you avoid becoming one of those organizations whose well-planned marketing strategy is wasted.
Conversion means different things to different people. In retail, it may mean going to find a product — either online or in person. But in a different industry, it may mean that someone just wants to talk to you about helping to solve a specific problem.
Regardless of your conversion definition, the singular commonality is your ability to immediately follow up and act on the potential conversion. This is because when someone reaches out to buy a product or for help with a service, it is an emotional decision. He or she is claiming that they either need something (a product) or help with an area they do not have the expertise in.
The importance of this step in the marketing funnel is critical. Like it or not, we live in a world of instant gratification — both personally and professionally — and you must tailor your marketing efforts to accommodate it. When someone winds their way through that funnel by becoming aware of your services, having interest, and then being willing to engage and dig deeper to learn who you are, nothing kills those marketing efforts faster than failure to respond to that person.
Too often, we see conversion points that consist of a basic “email us” link on a website. It sends a note to a general email address that nobody regularly checks. Or, the company lists a phone number that reaches a general voice mail account that is rarely checked. In both scenarios, all the work required to lead a prospect to conversion is rendered moot.
Take steps to ensure conversion
So what can you do to reverse the trend and build systems that allow for more immediate conversion? Among the easiest to implement are
■ A phone number that connects with somebody who is dedicated to following up.
■ Online chat capabilities in real time
■ Marketing, through a website or other sales materials, that guarantee a 15-minute response time.
■ A well-designed form on your website that asks for four components: name, email, phone number and reason for the inquiry (any more information than that may cause prospects not to convert).
Keep it simple and swift
Many organizations simply fail to take the direct route, and as a result, they swing and miss.
Initiatives such as putting a map that points to your location as your prominent website “contact us” looks great, but how many people will actually get in their vehicle and drive over to see you?
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of offering multiple ways for people to reach you for a swift response. When it comes to today’s marketing funnel, there is no effective one-size-fits-all approach.
For example, let’s say you’re looking to refinance your house or buy a new one. This is an emotional decision. You do your research and find a company that you believe will offer the best possible rates. You reach out to them. And then, you don’t hear back for days. What happens? You lose interest.
But now, consider the result when you reach out to a company and get a return response within 10 to 15 minutes.
First, you get the information you need to make a decision. More importantly, though, that company has forged an emotional connection with you because they were responsive to your needs.
It is this emotional connection that can be highly effective in closing the final piece of the marketing funnel — conversion. And, if your organization’s marketing strategy includes optimizing your marketing spend, why would you ever overtly waste money by failing to have an effective — and immediate — follow-up process in place?
David Fazekas is vice president of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7056.
Calm down … those two letters in the headline are not what you might be thinking. However, it got your attention, for this leads to an important subject.
When you, or those with whom you work, don’t follow the principles of these two letters, problems occur. Not doing what these initials represent can be the difference between success and failure, cost big money, create disappointment and actually ruin relationships.
Hopefully by now you’ve figured out that F.U. stands for Follow Up. This skill is central to achieving objectives, supporting your people or customers, and maintaining your credibility. Too many people just don’t get it and consistently fail to make F.U. a part of their business regimen.
Words are cheap, but it’s action that makes the difference. Many promises are made every day such as: “I’ll get the answer and return your call soon,” or “My person will call your person so that we can get together.” Good intentions aside, if one does not make note of it, the call just might never happen.
Fortunately, only a relatively few get hit by locomotives because trains are big and people see them coming, but many are stung by bees. That’s the same with following up. Virtually no one would forget to pick up the big order, or neglect to attend a huge meeting, but too many let the smaller, yet important, matters slip through the cracks. This not only affects the person who didn’t receive what was promised, but also could significantly impede productivity.
As an example, an associate is to provide needed information first thing in the morning. Breakfast comes and goes and as the lunch hour approaches people along the line are sitting on their hands waiting. Do the math; count up what that could cost your business day in and day out. Frantically, and with a high degree of disgust, you track down the tardy offender and are appalled by the response, “Oh, sorry, it just slipped my mind. I forgot to write it down.” Sure, this can happen once but by the second or third time it becomes a pattern and the credibility of the perpetrator can be lost.
Following up is a reflection of respect. When people don’t have the courtesy of doing what they say, you begin to wonder if they can ever do it. In my companies, all those with whom I work quickly become aware of my sacrosanct F.U. policy.
Essentially after every meeting, whether a one-on-one or with a group, I assign a date for my own purposes of when what was discussed is to take place. If it was a task of significance, the date would be agreed upon with those who had to do the work.
When new employees receive a memo from me, with the unexpected “F.U.” initials in the bottom left-hand corner, many are initially stunned, thinking I’m giving them a crude ultimatum or don’t think much of their work. Fortunately, those with a modicum of common sense quickly realize that these two letters are not a pejorative as they are always followed by a numeric string that even a newbie can figure out represents a date.
I remind my team that I do not want to be their father or their baby sitter. Instead, when I ask that something be done by a certain date, and everyone involved agrees, it must happen.
Alternatively, the person assigned the task could always come back and say he or she can’t meet the deadline, don’t know how to do what was being asked, need help with the issue, or had figured out a better alternative. What could not happen is for the person assigned the task to pretend that no follow-up was required, or worse, that the covenant was never agreed upon.
Because so few follow up as promised, this presents your business with an outstanding opportunity to rise above others and create a rock-solid reputation for saying what you’ll do and then doing what you say. All it takes is a little discipline and respect for those with whom you work. It’s better to carry around a little string for your finger than run the risk of finding the proverbial rope around your neck as a result of errors of omission.
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
Thinkers solve problems.
Mark Zuckerberg found a better way to connect people with friends and family through Facebook. Larry Page and Sergey Brin invented a better way to search the Internet by creating Google. Steve Jobs showed us a better way to obtain and listen to music through the invention of the iPod.
None of these examples happened by luck. Each of these great thinkers spent a lot of time working to perfect their ideas. Great thinkers are not born, they are made.
To create great products and services, you have to develop the habit of expanding your thought processes and critical thinking skills. Why? Because the human mind tends to be lazy. It tends to repeat the same thoughts unless it’s trained to explore new ideas. Great thinkers put in the effort to analyze things in new ways and not accept the norm.
We live in a negative society where bad news trumps good news and the potential downsides of an idea outshine the potential rewards. It takes a lot of effort to retrain our minds to focus on the positives and the solutions rather than the ramifications of a failed idea.
Becoming a great thinker requires an investment of time; there are no shortcuts. You have to be organized and plan for it. Take time to think about the problems unique to your business or industry. Work through the pros and cons of any idea, looking for a way to make it work. Study competing companies and leaders and gain an understanding of how they think. It’s also helpful if you always do your heavy thinking in the same location, and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Some people do their best thinking in the shower or over a cup of coffee at a cafe.
But there is one major pitfall to avoid: Don’t equate change with new thinking. Just because you are changing something does not mean you are being a creative thinker. There might be several “accepted” ways of doing something within your industry, and changing from one of the accepted ways to the other isn’t doing anything different. The goal is to identify new ways of thinking and as a result, find a new solution to a problem that no one has thought of before.
Finding these unique solutions won’t be easy, but success never is.
There are many Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers out there, some large and some small. In the case of telecommunications, bigger is not necessarily better. Small providers tend to be more nimble and are able to customize and innovate in order to help their clients grow.
Also, independent VoIP providers can lend a personal touch, says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net.
“Most small and medium-sized businesses want to work with a local company. Companies don’t want offshore support,” he says. “They want someone who is in their backyard. Someone who is in the same time zone and easy to relate to.”
Smart Business spoke with Desberg about changes in the VoIP landscape, the differences between providers, and the importance of customer service and support.
How has the VoIP landscape changed in recent years?
In recent years, the marketplace has changed. AT&T and some of the other big players are now offering VoIP services. While the corporate giants have marketing dollars behind them to push their products, it is the smaller, more flexible companies who are pioneering new technologies.
Companies looking for an apples-to-apples replacement for traditional phone systems might be satisfied with a traditional provider.
However, business leaders that want to make a change to VoIP typically prefer working with agile companies that are trailblazers and provide service at the local level.
What are some of the differences between VoIP providers?
Companies interested in VoIP services have two options: They can either choose a big provider with pre-set packages or work with a small, innovative company that is willing to invent solutions from scratch.
For example, many organizations want to integrate their customer relationship management system with their phone system. Unless you work with a provider willing to break the mold and try new technology, it’s likely that you’ll receive a one-size-fits-all model that might or might not be a good fit.
How important is customer service and support?
The service standpoint is what truly makes VoIP providers stand out. Either they are readily available, hands-on and willing to help navigate technological challenges, or they take the stance of expecting a business to be the one that makes accommodations, fitting the company’s telecommunications needs into inflexible packages.
The majority of small and midsize businesses have a telephone system that they set up years ago and haven’t made any changes to since. Such a system might work fine and it serves their purposes — they don’t need anything special.
However, there are other organizations that want to streamline their data and communications in order to be more efficient. That’s when it’s important to have a more dynamic provider that is pushing the envelope and striving to offer new services.
How should a business go about evaluating its telecommunication needs?
Businesses tend to have an IT manager or communications director put together an annual plan for servers, software, licensing, etc., but telecommunications companies will often wait until the contract is set to expire or there are budget cuts.
Under this scenario there is not enough time to investigate what services are out there that might be beneficial. Businesses tend to shoehorn themselves into what they find at the last minute within the budget, rather than figuring out what makes the most sense from an operational perspective, which may not be the best way to approach your telecommunication needs.
Alex Desberg is sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about Ohio.net’s VoIP solutions, visit www.ohio.net.
Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Ohio.net