Dean Friedman remembers one client in particular:
“It was a 35-store chain of restaurants that had a really difficult time building a database and creating an opportunity to have a rewards program,” says the CEO of Real Integrated, an advertising and marketing firm with $28 million in media billings last year. “One of our younger people came up with the idea for an opportunity in this space, and we grew a database from under 4,000 to approximately 27,000 Facebook friends, which is now driving that restaurant’s business through weekly offers.”
It’s not the traditional way that marketing and ad agencies have done business, but it’s example of the need to keep your eyes focused on the horizon when running a business. As technology has become more prevalent as a mass-marketing tool, Friedman and his staff have found it necessary to not only implement new technology, but find more creative ways to use it, constructing customized solutions to meet client needs.
“We’re a traditional agency, and had been for 50 years, the last 20 of which I’ve overseen,” Friedman says. “We’re really good at what we do, we have a fabulous product, and people perceive us as a great local agency. But what wasn’t being perceived was all the digital efforts we had been making. As the transformation has been occurring in the whole media marketing world, we have evolved.”
To build an organization that can take advantage of new opportunities, you need to build an open culture in which the employees that spot new opportunities are empowered to bring them to management for consideration. As it pertains to technology in particular, Friedman says that means you need to give a voice to your technology-savvy team members.
“One of the great things I’m learning throughout all of this is to take advantage of youth,” Friedman says. “I’m 59, and I don’t have all the answers. A lot of people in my organization have more answers than me, and are on the front lines more than I am. So my greatest advice is to keep an open mind and listen to everyone. As we’ve listened to our people, we’ve developed and refined our forward-thinking mindset.”
John Ozdych, the firm’s president and creative director, encourages dialogue throughout all levels of Real Integrated, helping to promote an atmosphere where there are no bad ideas and change is viewed as progression, as opposed to upsetting the apple cart.
“Everyone has to be agents for change, stewards of change and technology,” Ozdych says. “They have to be looking across the Web, combing through what is out there and bringing it back to the agency. If a new technology has been introduced out there, we’ll ask which of our clients could benefit from this solution, and we’ll also invite our clients to show other clients what we’ve been doing for their business. So it keeps going back to having that open dialogue throughout the business.”
Getting your employees to think ahead is critical, but clients and customers also need to look at what’s next. Your employees provide your services to customers, but the customers are the end users.
“What I believe is happening, and what is critical in all of this is that our clients are realizing that not every idea has to come from the CEO, or the president of the client company. Instead, ideas can come from anyone internally. The ideas bubble up now. I don’t care where the ideas come from and neither do our clients. We want to keep building a culture where everyone can have an idea or a suggestion.”
How to reach: Real Integrated, (248) 540-0660 or www.realintegrated.com
Forward-thinking companies don’t just look to the future for their own benefit. Sometimes, they’re able to bring a client along for the ride, and open the client’s eyes to new ideas.
Bill Eubanks is in charge of co-op services for Real Integrated, and has a marketing relationship with Kentucky Fried Chicken that goes back to 1979. KFC has historically been extremely old-school when it comes to marketing practices.
“If there is anything I know, it’s that KFC has a plan that is exceedingly traditional in its approach to the business,” Eubanks says. “But as an agency, what has given us added juice is the way we’ve structured things here, the partnerships we’ve created with vendors on the leading edge, to begin to offer a traditional client very nontraditional ideas.”
Real Integrated recently developed a website called MyLocalKFC.com, in which KFC store operators can promote their businesses in a manner specific to the locale. KFC operators weren’t used to it, but the new concept has started to gain traction as store owners have seen the value in it.
“That’s the kind of thing we weren’t doing recently, until we really started to emphasize the way we communicate internally and the partnerships we’ve created with leading-edge vendors,” Eubanks says.
If there was a way to generate time savings of 30 percent or grow 5 to 20 percent in a year, you would probably want to do it. But many leaders hesitate to do so even though there is a way.
It’s called open innovation.
“Open innovation is really about companies going outside their four walls to seek knowledge, technologies, and innovations from around the world,” says Andy Zynga, CEO of NineSigma Inc., a company that provides open innovation services to businesses.
The benefits of going to outside resources can be huge. Open innovation helps to eliminate waste and avoid reinventing the wheel.
“It helps to reduce risk because when companies have a portfolio of different development projects, they can really see what’s going on in the world and put it into a larger context,” he says. “There are a number of really good reasons that make it important for them, but probably the most important one is it accelerates growth for companies.
“You can cut development time by 30 percent, which means you’re on market 30 percent faster, so if you have a product that you say, ‘Within three years, I want to get it to $30 million,’ that means you’ve just captured another $5 million or so in the first year because you’re going to market faster.”
So you’re interested, but how does the process actually work? First, look inside your company.
“Look at the existing product development funnel to say, ‘What are the different things that I feel very passionately about being possible candidates generating major revenues for me in, say, the next three to five years,’” Zynga says. “Within that, say, ‘What of those projects could benefit from an accelerated development cycle where external help would be very helpful?’”
From there, you can go to an organization that specializes in open innovation to talk about probabilities of success with different projects. Once you and the experts agree that a project would be beneficial by using open innovation, then you would write a two-page brief that explains what you’re looking for in a vague and generic manner.
For example, P&G wanted a solution to avoid shirts coming out of the dryer wrinkled. They knew there had to be some element of a polymer that had to relax the cotton fibers.
“We wrote this in a way that brings it down to the most basic science: ‘Our client is looking for a material that will relax the surface tension of an organic material while using polymers,’” Zynga says.
Then that request is put out to the network of experts. If someone needs more information, they can request it, but if they think they have a solution, they write a solution proposal for you, also in a vague and generic manner. In the example with P&G, they found a professor at a university in Indiana who was able to create a solution.
“Answers come from industries that you would never have expected to have an answer for the particular client,” Zynga says.
This is a huge advantage of open innovation and one you may not get by trying to find a solution provider yourself because you’d likely limit yourself to Google and use search terms for your industry.
“It rules out the unobvious connections,” Zynga says.
Typically the whole process from pitching to completion of the product can take three or four months, and the cost varies based on what you’re looking for and how complicated it is. One thing that doesn’t vary is that by taking this approach, it will also help your organization internally.
“Once you start going outside your own four walls, it’s a catalyst to collaborate more internally because they learn how to do that,” he says. “They learn how to engage with outsiders, to trust, to have relationships, to understand their technology position, and it helps to collaborate much better internally.”
How to reach: NineSigma Inc., (216) 295-4800 or www.ninesigma.com
Changing innovation expectations
Andy Zynga recognizes the need in business for open innovation. His business, NineSigma Inc. specializes in matching clients with solutions and he sees how the demand is growing as more companies realize how critical the concept is to growth.
“We think that open innovation will become more and more imbedded in more companies, including mid-size ones,” he says. “Right now it’s a discipline within innovation, but we think it will become a discipline that goes without saying in all companies.”
He compares the open innovation movement to that of the quality control movement.
“Everyone used to do quality control, and then Six Sigma came in, and there’s total quality management, and for a while it was quite novel,” he says. “Then it became more and more weaved into the whole company setup. Innovation is not something that rests in one area of the company. It comes from many areas inside the company and outside the company. It’s going to become an embedded part of companies.”
He also says that open innovation is for everyone — not just the hyper-creative organizations of the world.
“There really is no industry that shouldn’t do open innovation — it’s quite suitable for everyone,” he says.
Simon Crookall knows more than a wee bit about chemistry. But the native of Scotland is especially interested in the kind that pertains to relationships, rather than mixing baking soda and vinegar in a test tube and watching it bubble over.
Crookall, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, has chemistry on his agenda as the orchestra this fall officially welcomes its new music director Krzysztof Urbanski ? who at age 28 is one of the youngest conductors of a large U.S. city orchestra.
One of only 17 full-time, yearround major orchestras in North America, the organization, with annual revenue of $28 million, has to find the answer to this question: Can a new leader and his charges make beautiful music together?
Crookall points to the careful work of a search committee as the crucial stage in developing the potential chemical success. To seek and identify potential candidates, a team should be composed of staff, board members and other representatives who can work together well ? and not like oil and water. The next steps include, as is often done traditionally, interviewing candidates, holding tryouts, narrowing down the choices and then making the final choice.
During the decision-making process, comparing the skill sets of candidates may be an easy job for the search committee, but getting below the surface to the inner person takes an ability to see intangible qualities that will come into play.
“Some of it is totally inexplicable,” Crookall says. “I've seen it many, many times for instance when you’ve had guest conductors that have been very successful at other places coming in and it just doesn't work. It's just not a good mix.”
Intangibles such as the strength of a handshake or the time length of eye contact add to the fundamentals that leave lasting impressions.
The empirical formula for good chemistry has to be a good fit for the culture. You look for talent and innate leadership factors. For example, some of the most successful communicators use their hands and facial expressions and don’t need to talk.
“But there are obviously times when you need to explain what is wanted and convey it in words so that it can be easily understood,” he says.
While he is not about to abandon the role verbal communication has in establishing the chemistry between a leader and his team, Crookall recommends you remember that each person is unique, that human relationships are different from person to person.
“You might find somebody very interesting and enjoyable to be with and your friends may say they don’t like him,” Crookall says.
Then on the other hand, don’t forget to consider the chemistry a new leader should develop for the organization if success is to be achieved.
“One of the things that attracted Urbanski to this orchestra was the players’ willingness and ability to adapt to his interpretations and his styles,” Crookall says. “He found them incredibly responsive.”
Employees who are receptive to trying new ideas will make you feel comfortable that your ideas will be taken seriously. In short, this type of chemistry opens the door to a collaborative relationship. Gaining respect quickly from an experienced workforce is a tribute to the leadership skills of the new executive and the workforce’s ability to be open to new ideas and suggestions.
“That's another part of the relationship ? it's having a willing and responsive partner in the arrangement,” he says. “If you do want to change something, if you do want to do something differently, their reaction of course should matter if they are to accept and embrace your ideas.”
How to contact: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, (317) 639-4300 or www.indianapolissymphony.org
Simon Crookall offers a new leader two tips about crossing hurdles with his or her new staff: Set expectations accordingly, but if those expectations aren’t being met, move on.
CEO and president of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for the past six years, Crookall puts it succinctly:
“Either build bridges and try to assimilate their ideas or just give it up and be done with it.”
A crucial factor is the time available. If you have the luxury of a liberal deadline, you can grow the relationship between management and employee.
“I think if you have an ongoing relationship and you come across some issues, obviously there are ways to start to work with them and start to explain your ideas more fully,” he says.
“But when pushed for time, like any manager, you have to assess what is achievable in the time available and eventually you set your expectations accordingly.”
When it’s a short deadline situation, you have to deliver quickly and adeptly.
“Go in there. Don't waste any time. Get on with the music. Make sure you get to know everybody very quickly.
“That's a very important part of management, not setting your expectations too high, but also not giving people too low expectations. Make them reachable goals,” Crookall says.
How to contact: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, (317) 639-4300 or www.indianapolissymphony.org
Sue Horn and her brothers Michael and David Held knew for some time that their company’s logo had an old-fashioned look to it. But updating the logo for Old Trail Printing Co. brought up the question: If you design the logo, why not go for a total rebranding strategy, as well?
Founded in 1928 in Columbus when Main Street was also known as the Old Trail, the company was purchased by Horn’s father Bernie Held in 1964. He designed the logo to include a stagecoach as a symbol of the company’s early beginnings.
Old Trail Printing had become a $25 million commercial printer, and it was time to enter the 21st Century with a new look and new strategies.
Horn, co-owner and principal, and her brothers started the rebranding project with the familiar business planning method of a SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
“One of our weaknesses was not enough exposure with our logo and our brand,” she says. “The logo was definitely a weakness, and we wanted people to see that we are a more forward-looking company than we were back in 1928.”
Horn felt it was important to take a fresh approach to how the company was being marketed to current and prospective customers. The company hired an experienced marketing director as an effective way to ensure the campaign got a good start.
“The first thing that our marketing director did when he came on board was to put together the strategy we were going to have to move forward, and part of that strategy was changing our logo,” Horn says.
While the 92-employee company was approached by customers who offered to redesign the logo, the marketing team that was assembled to shepherd the project chose to use internal talent to develop a modern logo better reflecting what printers do.
“We were fortunate to have some people in-house that were very creative,” Horn says. “But I don’t think every company in America has that talent in-house. That’s where they would want to reach out to an agency that specializes in branding.”
While doing the SWOT analysis, Horn incorporated the company’s strengths into the campaign. For example, in addition to promoting the company’s services, she promoted the fact that Old Trail Printing had the latest technology, used green manufacturing processes and was the largest woman-owned commercial printer in the Midwest.
Another aspect Horn felt was important to advance was the company’s commitment to continuous improvement.
“In today’s business environment, being successful is to be constantly looking for ways to be more efficient,” Horn says. “Sometimes it can be difficult to create an atmosphere to encourage employees to think outside the box, but through leadership, you’ve got to encourage them to find how they can do their job the most efficient way and to be continually thinking about that.”
Old Trail’s website got a facelift and an added bonus — a social network link with Twitter. The company hired an individual familiar with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to help it move forward. The new animated logo is prominently featured on the website home page and adorns promotional materials that help generate enthusiasm about the company.
“Make this an exciting time at your company,” Horn says. “Show your solid base of customers that you are committed to bringing more value to them.
“Listen carefully to what they are telling your and respond with a solution that exceeds their expectations.
“Exhibit your company at events like business expos as one more component of your marketing strategy,” Horn says. “You have a great story to tell while meeting new businesses and having a conversation about how you can contribute to their own success.”
How to reach: Old Trail Printing Co., (614) 433-4852 or www.oldtrailprinting.com
Networking for business
While a company’s new marketing initiatives often focus on ways account executives can generate more sales, the plans shouldn’t leave out the contributions other employees may be able to make.
“My line of thinking has always been that everyone in a company is a sales representative to a certain degree,” says Sue Horn, co-owner and principal of Old Trail Printing Co.
The company recently went through a rebranding effort that featured the first new logo in 47 years and new marketing efforts focused on creating brand awareness and generating solid leads for its sales team.
One initiative to involve more employees in the sales process is through an employee referral program for new business.
Basically, it involves a networking approach. Employees may have friends, relatives and other contacts who may be potential customers. They can use their connections to create a win-win situation for themselves and the company.
“If they bring us a new account opportunity and if we land that account, we actually pay the employee part of the salesman’s commission for the first year,” Horn says. “We’ve had employees step up and bring us some opportunities, which has been pretty exciting.”
Employees can also contribute to sales efforts in an indirect manner.
“Everybody’s a sales representative, and everybody needs to have a positive attitude because when customers visit and prospects tour the facility, they can tell whether you have a happy work force or not,” Horn says.
It is often said that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and if a potential customer sees contented workers, if often leave a favorable memory and creates a better chance to make a sale.
“We’ve had a number of people visit and comment about our plant, and I think it goes back to the pride that the employees have in this company,” Horn says.
How to reach: Old Trail Printing Co., (614) 433-4852 or www.oldtrailprinting.com
Jim Camp has seen his share of mergers and acquisitions. The general manager and partner of Cutler Real Estate, Camp has guided 12 mergers or acquisitions involving smaller companies over the last 15 years. However, it’s not the number alone that he sees as a success indicator but the way company cultures have been merged successfully.
“Our mergers fortunately have gone pretty well because we have experience and know how to do it and try to minimize concerns and issues,” Camp says about the firm, which has 300 Realtors and a support staff of 60.
The biggest issues with M&As often tend to be in terms of processes. Employees from the acquired company are anxious to find out the procedures of the new company and want answers to questions such as “Who will be my boss?” and “How will I be evaluated?” Their concerns have to be answered. If they are not, there is a chance that key employees could decide to bail out and take a job with a competitor.
“When combining two offices, probably the biggest thing is the issue of ‘We never used to do it that way’ or ‘You’re favoring your people instead of our people,’” Camp says.
If you reassure the incoming employees throughout the transition by listening and communicating with them, it will show your willingness to resolve company culture issues.
“You have to be very careful, pay attention and listen,” Camp says. “You may learn that there is a new way to do something that isn’t necessarily your way but may be a better way to do it.”
Keeping an open mind is one of the fundamentals when going into a merger. Take the attitude of nothing should be cast in stone, and everything is on the table for discussion.
“Look at it from an open view of not being close-minded to think, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it so we are always going to do it that way,’” he says.
You may be gaining some valuable employees that can benefit your company who may bring some good ideas with them.
“One of the biggest benefits from some of our mergers and acquisitions has been some of the folks who have come along and the talent they brought to the company,” Camp says.
On the other hand, realize that you can’t accept all the ideas presented by the company acquired.
“But also don’t reject them out of hand,” he says. “Work very hard at saying, ‘Yes, we will consider that,” and actually consider it. Don’t just blow them off.”
In the end, it is a high level of communication that can best lead to a successful merger or acquisition.
“Don’t jump to conclusions about what people want,” Camp says. “Encourage your managers to sit down with new staff and ask, ‘What are your goals; what are you looking to do?’”
More can be accomplished when you try to listen as you talk to new employees than when you try to guess or assume what they are looking for. Get to know the people and listen to them.
“It’s important that they know you care about them,” he says. “They aren’t just a number and that kind of thing.”
A final piece of advice is that there are always some surprises in mergers and acquisitions. By doing your homework, you may be able to find trouble spots before they become problems.
“Try to do your due diligence but you have to continue that due diligence after the merger happens because there are some things that you may not know until you actually are working more closely with folks,” Camp says.
How to reach, Cutler Real Estate, (800) 423-2004 or www.cutlerhomes.com
Jump on the ‘brandwagon’
When Cutler Real Estate left the franchise world in 2005 and became an independent company, General Manager Jim Camp saw it as an opportunity to jump on the “brandwagon.” Instead of having to use the franchise’s marketing guidelines, a whole new world opened up.
“We had the opportunity to decide who we wanted to be,” Camp says. “We chose the very strong colors of orange and blue and maintained them all the way through the company signage and collateral.”
Making those types of decisions should involve professionals, even though you may be tempted to have your own marketing department run the show. Working with a professional can be an eye-opening experience.
“The difference in terms of working with a professional is significant,” he says. “The first decision to make is to interview companies to find somebody to work with, and go in with an open mind.”
Cutler Real Estate chose Innis Maggiore Group Inc. for its rebranding.
Once you have hired an agency, you will need to abandon any preconceived notions of what you want your brand to look like ? what you want it to be. Invite the agency to generate a variety of options.
“Just ask the marketing folks to do their vision,” Camp says. “You obviously have some thoughts but you should also be open to ideas.”
You will need to have some patience as well. The time frame may run from 12 to 18 months from concept to rollout, but it can be definitely worth the time and expense.
“I wouldn’t do it any other way, knowing now what we were going to face in the next four or five years,” he says. “We might have cut our budget in some areas, but frankly, we had a very successful rollout ? our competitors were hoping that we would stumble in terms of the conversion of our brand.”
How to reach, Cutler Real Estate, (800) 423-2004 or www.cutlerhomes.com
Deborah Sweeney was just about at her breaking point. She had a group of employees at MyCorporation that she loved, but the tight bonds that she had built with them was making it really tough to be an effective leader for the business.
“I want them to be connected to me, to feel a connection to the business and to me as the owner and I want to be open with them,” says Sweeney, president and CEO at the 40-employee company that provides online document filing services for clients who wish to form corporations or limited liability companies.
“But sometimes that can end up taking every single waking minute of your day. They all have their ideas and their personal initiatives and motivations and goals. It’s balancing that against the focus on the broader strategic goals of the business.”
Unfortunately, Sweeney was not doing a good job balancing these two tasks.
“I felt this drastic pull of, ‘Wait, I have to grow this business and really focus on the larger business initiatives. I just cannot do both.’”
She needed to find a way to stay close to her people and enable them to still feel close to her but, at the time, separate a bit so she could work on bigger picture tasks like strategic development and growth.
“I didn’t want to shock them,” Sweeney says. “I’ve been running it this way for a year. How do I make this message?”
She began by meeting with key leaders to get their buy-in on her idea to step back a bit from day-to-day responsibilities at her company and focus more on growth.
“I empowered them to work directly with their direct reports instead of having to come to me for all the questions,” Sweeney says.
She scheduled an all-hands meeting which she touted as a celebration to let everyone know about the changes she was making.
“I didn’t position it like, ‘I’m exhausted and I can’t handle you guys anymore,’” Sweeney says. “I positioned it like, ‘Hey, I really think we have an opportunity to grow the business. In order to do that, I need to spend time on those things that are growing the business. So I have a couple people who are going to be taking on more leadership roles and are going to be answering your day-to-day questions.’”
She then handed out charts that explained how things would work going forward and moved her office to the back of the building.
“I felt I needed to give the people to whom I was giving the responsibility that kind of center space for them to be more in front of the employees,” Sweeney says.
At the same time, when you decide to step back from the inner workings of your business and focus more on external issues, you need to make it clear that you’re not abandoning your employees.
“You don’t want to be perceived as disengaging from the business,” Sweeney says. “I almost try to overcommunicate with where I’m going and what I’m doing. You build a trust and respect.”
You also make sure you create systems for people to bring up concerns with you since you are still the CEO.
“I have them every week tell me the five things they accomplished this week,” Sweeney says. “They give it to me every Friday and then they tell me their top three initiatives for the following week. I don’t do it with all employees, so I ask them to ask for the same thing from their team members. So we all consistently flow that information upward.”
The result of all this is that Sweeney has found more time to help her business grow without reducing the workplace culture at MyCorporation to a detached and impersonal environment.
“I’ve seen so many CEOs fall into that thing where they can’t let go, and then they lose the respect of their team because they are so busy trying to manage the minor nuances of who sits where and who is hired when and all these little things that they lose the perspective,” Sweeney says. “I think this is my opportunity to get that back into perspective.”
How to reach: MyCorporation, (877) 692-6772 or www.mycorporation.com.
Just do it
Deborah Sweeney had tried many times to get other people in on the hiring process at MyCorporation. And every time, it was met with very little response.
“Every time I used to do interviews, I would offer, ‘OK, who would like to be involved in the interview process? I want to engage the team,’” Sweeney says. “One or two people, always the same people, would volunteer.”
Sweeney decided that needed to change. This time, they weren’t being asked to help. They were being asked to do it.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to do the interviews this time. I want your team to make the decision to hire this person. If they end up being not that great, you’ll have to deal with the consequences,” Sweeney says. “They did more reviewing of resumes than I’ve ever seen. They had more people on the team interview the people, more engagement once we decided to hire this person and then of course a welcome party and all of this other stuff. They set up it so much better than if I or one of the leaders had made a unilateral decision.”
The key was the empowerment of not being asked to help, but being asked to take on the responsibility themselves.
“They really took ownership,” Sweeney says.
Technology and social media has made it a whole lot easier to gather feedback on new products and services that your company may be looking to launch. But if you don’t take a thoughtful approach in how you analyze that feedback, Irv Shapiro says you could get yourself into a big mess.
“The risk you have is the phenomenon of the vocal minority,” says Shapiro, CEO at Ifbyphone. “You get an individual or a couple potential customers that say, ‘This feature is critical. Without this feature, I would never buy your product.’ Yet in essence, they do not represent the majority of the product space. So you have to be very careful to make sure you reach some critical mass.”
The lesson is that openly soliciting feedback from random sources is often not the best approach to see if you’ve got a winner with the product you want to bring to market. A more strategic approach in which you seek out potential partners who also have a product or service that is valued can be a more effective and lucrative way to go.
“In doing partnering, you’re not making a sales call or trying to sell something,” Shapiro says. “What you’re trying to do is communicate opportunity. That’s very different than making a sale. In communicating opportunity, you must be able to do it while sitting in the seat of your potential partner. It’s not, ‘Why is this good for Ifbyphone?’ Why is this good in this particular case for Zendesk?”
Zendesk is a software provider that helps companies engage with their customers. Ifbyphone is a 50-employee voice-based marketing automation platform. Over a period of six to nine months, the companies worked together to see if they could come up with a plan to drive revenue for both organizations.
One of the keys to forming solid partnerships is looking beyond your own wants and needs.
“You have to make sure you have an aligned sense of urgency and that there is a win on both sides of the equation,” Shapiro says. “When we started these discussions, we didn’t have an integration between Ifbyphone and Zendesk. Partnering is about building a shared strategic direction that may involve some engineering on both company’s parts in order to gain access to a larger market to improve the economics of your company.”
The Ifbyphone/Zendesk partnership puts technologies from both companies together to help provide better service to the clients of the two companies.
“Step No. 1 is classic business development,” Shapiro says. “You have your marketing organization look for potential partners. You reach out to those partners and you begin to discuss the dynamics of what the benefits would be for each company.”
Your role is to make sure everyone understands what you’re looking for and what your goals are as the potential partnership is explored.
“You want your partners to have the same goals,” Shapiro says. “Zendesk is growing as fast or faster than Ifbyphone. So you have two high-growth companies that are mutually aligned. If we went to do a partnership with IBM or Microsoft, it would be much harder to find shared mutual interests.”
In searching for a partner, you have to find someone that is not just looking for a quick shot in the arm. You don’t want someone who is eager to open and close business with you and then move on to something else.
“The opportunity has to be bigger than a particular single-point solution,” Shapiro says. “It has to be an opportunity that is strategic to the company. Make sure that you find value and large opportunity for your partner and talk about your partner’s opportunity and not your’s.”
How to reach: Ifbyphone, (877) 334-8301 or public.ifbyphone.com
Don’t say no
Irv Shapiro tries very hard not to reject the ideas of his employees at Ifbyphone about how to grow the business.
“I believe it’s best to avoid ever saying no,” says Shapiro, CEO at the 50-employee voice-based marketing automation platform. “It’s better to ask lots of questions. There’s a famous book called ‘The HP Way.’ I believe Mr. Hewlett used to call it the Three Hat Rule.
“He would walk through a factory and a guy in the machine shop would come up to him and say, ‘Mr. Hewlett, I’m so glad to see you today, I have a fantastic idea.’ He would describe that idea to Mr. Hewlett, and Mr. Hewlett would say, ‘Interesting, very interesting. Let me think about it and get back to you tomorrow.’
“The second day he would come back and Mr. Hewlett would say, ‘John, did you think about this and this and this and this and this? Why don’t you think about it and I’ll stop by tomorrow.’ On the third day when Mr. Hewlett stopped by, the guy might say, ‘I thought about it and it doesn’t fit. Mr. Hewlett would say, ‘Well, that’s all right. Let me know next time you have an idea. I want to talk about your idea.’ That epitomizes ideal CEO behavior.”
Kim Shoemaker had a major dilemma in 2009.
Not only was her company, Acloché Staffing, trying to pull out of an economic recession, but its longtime CEO had died unexpectedly at the age of 56. Grief was high, morale was low, and employees needed to be reassured and inspired that the company was going to go forward.
Shoemaker, who previously held leadership roles in the company, had been named the new CEO and set out to overcome the heavy challenges.
“My first charge was to increase morale, to show appreciation and to really build on the staff,” Shoemaker says. “I think that’s extremely important to make your team feel appreciated, improve on that and lift their spirits up. There was a lot of uncertainty among our staff and the business community regarding the future of our company.”
As a first step, she found it effective to have one-on-one conversations with staff members to determine what they were feeling, what they needed and what they thought they were lacking professionally.
“Then, you need to deal with those individually to help them grow, to be stronger individuals and to be stronger team players,” Shoemaker says.
“We looked at our processes first and went through how we did things and redesigned them ? we streamlined them, made them more efficient,” she says. “We tried to help people with their day-to-day productivity.”
While proposing what to do to improve morale, Shoemaker hit upon the idea to redefine the company to reassure the market that Acloché was alive and well, ready to assist.
“We had been in business since 1968, and there had to be something that we could be doing to market ourselves better ? to let people know that we were here and that we were here to help the business community,” she says.
She brought in an outside consultant to work with the sales and marketing team to reinvent the company’s image, keeping the same branding but introducing the company again to its clients and embedding itself in each of the communities where its 10 offices are located.
When employees are encouraged to participate in the decision-making process when new ideas are formulated, successful results occur.
“Present the processes or procedures that you are going to consider to your sales and management team, get their thoughts, opinions and feedback; then take that information and fine tune it,” Shoemaker says.
When the final tweaks have been made, let the operations team review the proposal.
“This is very successful because staff members see that their managers are excited about this innovation or this new process and they’re getting their team members’ input before decisions are made that affect the entire team.”
As with many changes, there may be those a little hesitant to get on board. However, if they give their input regarding the change factor, it makes it a lot easier to accept and implement the change.
“They have a voice and an opinion in the entire process,” Shoemaker says. “I think people feel more at home with it. They feel more involved with it and part of the entire process.”
For Acloché , the approaches Shoemaker took to step in as the leader, improve morale and redefine the company continue to pay off. The next year saw $33 million in revenue, and the company is ranked among the 100 largest privately held companies in Central Ohio.
“Any time that you’re doing anything new, get the buy-in from your internal staff because it’s important for them,” Shoemaker says. “It’s important in order for the entire process to go well if they have buy-in on the decision-making end.”
Turning over a new leaf
Some say if you don’t make innovation a priority for your success, you’re bound to fail, and Kim Shoemaker, CEO of Acloché Staffing, can testify to that.
“Innovation is critical in any business,” she says. “In order to compete, you need to regularly redefine your strategies and reposition yourselves in order to continue to grow.
“The only way to stand out is by constantly offering new services and presenting new ideas.”
Client feedback is worth its weight in gold when it comes to innovation.
“Go in, listen to what their needs are, to what their challenges may be and what their successes may be, and redefine yourself to that specific client to help them so they can focus on their core business needs,” Shoemaker says.
Failing to keep fresh may lead to a loss of your place in the market.
“You would stagnate,” she says. “Employees would not grow to their potential to be able to service their clients.
“I think it’s an ever-evolving business community, and if you do not keep up with it and evolve and even try to stay a step ahead of it, you’re going to be losing market share,” she says. “You will not be the partner that people would need you to be.”
How to reach: Acloché Staffing, (614) 416-5600 or www.acloche.com
As Royce Pulliam walked out of the gym he exercised at more than a decade ago, he was disgusted at its poor condition and told his wife he could do it better. He wasn’t just talking – he bought and opened his first gym in Lexington, Ky., just six months later.
“When I said that to myself and to my wife 17 years ago, I didn’t know what I meant. But I knew I could have a facility that was clean, had good equipment and offered a good service,” Pulliam says.
While those were good starting points, he is now the owner and CEO of Urban Active, a brand consisting of 38 clubs in seven states. Years of subsequent growth have given him greater insight into the needs of a larger company encompassing multiple locations.
The most important component for growth is choosing a successful location. Establish criteria you deem essential and evaluate potential sites against them.
“We look at competition, we look at the education of the demographic in a three-mile ring, we look at population density in that market and we look at income,” Pulliam says.
“Once those four things match up, if the lay of the land changes at all or the design changes, we’re nimble enough that we can work with the model and tweak it. But if it doesn’t fit with the main criteria, we won’t pass it.”
While expanding, maintain strong investment in existing company locations to ensure a solid foundation, and choose new locations with traveling distance in mind.
“We were definitely going to continue to develop out our existing territories, but also to geographically try to expand into neighboring states that were an hour, hour and a half flight time away and easy for our people to get to,” Pulliam says of his initial growth plan.
Another component of growth is the challenge to maintain effective communication with clients.
“We expected all the club-level people to get the information up the ladder, and as we grew, we found that that became more challenging,” he says.
“It was just taking too long and there were too many middle people, and that’s what happens with companies until you go straight out and put yourself out there.”
To improve communication, empower customers to contact senior executives directly through email. Back up the gesture by making sure each concern is addressed.
“(Another CEO told me) ‘It’s a gutsy thing to do but it’s the right thing to do, because everybody needs to have access and you need to know.’”
Although management must strive to be directly informed, growth challenges the ability of executives to control all areas of business. This makes investing in employees instrumental to success, as they will be working directly with customers.
“You’ve got to trust your people. You can train them, you can spend endless hours, but they’ve got to execute,” Pulliam says.
Hire friendly, energetic employees who can set customers at ease. Instruct employees to smile and wear name badges to make them seem more accessible.
“I want our members to be able to walk up to someone and know their name – not have to ask what their names are. We have a lot of members in our facilities and I want them to feel comfortable.”
How to reach: Urban Active, (877) 824-3571 or www.urbanactive.com
There’s no finish line in technology, and Brian Deagan loves it.
“Nothing’s ever done; something new is always being created and that just intrinsically creates opportunities to build companies,” says Deagan, co-founder and CEO of digital marketing services and software developer Knotice Ltd.
But along with that comes some growing pains. The company over the past five years has exceeded 500 percent growth in employees and annual revenue; however, the need to hire at a quick pace is not the only concern Deagan has.
“Keeping up with some of the basic changes and things that are going on in the market can be disruptive organizationally, but at the same time, you need to be able to stay ahead of everything, stay on top of it and stay at the pace you are at,” he says.
One of the keys is not just a business plan, but one that is derived from an operational model that is used and leveraged on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis.
“That is one of the key things to keep the business headed in the right direction and on track,” Deagan says.
The model should drive the plan, but it tends to be more operationally oriented than, for example, a 40-page business plan, which is used more as a communication tool.
“Don’t confuse something that is a communication tool versus an operational tool,” he says. “Have them related and driven by the operational plan but don’t try to have one be both.”
The business plan is important to be able to communicate the plan of the business to external and internal constituencies. The operational plan’s role is to be effective in defining growth targets, meeting those targets, and then modeling out what is needed to support that growth.
The operational model in synch with the business plan gives a one-two punch to fight threats to derail growth.
“That is one of the key things to keep the business headed in the right direction and on track,” Deagan says.
The term “on track” for Knotice means a five-year goal of going from $10 million in revenue to $100 million.
“The primary way to do that is just sort of keep your eye on the ball and build the company brick by brick,” Deagan says. “So often, when you are growing and you are building something, if you are not really focused on the here and now, you have to have an idea where you’re going.”
If you spend too much time worrying about the future and not just building the business the way it needs to be done today, you’re not going to go anywhere.
“There is a point when you are supposed to climb up to the top of the trees, get a good lay of the forest and understand where you need to create that path through the forest,” he says. “But at some point, you just need to get back down on the ground and start chopping down trees.”
Hire a complementary management team in terms of personal and skill sets, and it will serve you well over the years.
“It’s much different when you’re in a room with six people banging something out to take the company to the next level versus when you are closing in on 100 people and you need to take the company to that level,” Deagan says. “I think it’s important that as the company evolves, you are tapping the characteristics and qualities that are most important to company growth. I’m a firm believer that everybody can do that to some extent. You just need to be conscious and aware of it.”
How to reach: Knotice Ltd., (800) 801-4194 or www.knotice.com
Consumer trends rise and fall daily, and a company needs to be aware of huge shifts that may influence its long-term direction.
By evaluating customer feedback, it can help you sort out consumer behavior to see if it is a trend or just a fad.
“There may be a consumer behavior or a new technology that you need to address in the short term, and you work with your customers to understand how to help versus just reacting to a trend in a manner that might not be prudent or well-thought-out,” says Brian Deagan, CEO of Knotice.
Categorizing customers may involve some judgment decisions, but it is necessary.
“It’s critical to get feedback and engage customers that are both early adopters, as well as customers who aren’t, to make sure the things you are going to do have a broader appeal and don’t just focus on a specific niche,” he says.
Getting perspective from both is a key step.
“You may not necessarily want to do something for an early adopter ? and it could be indicative of the future, but it could also be indicative potentially of a niche segment,” he says. “Get feedback from different segments of early adopters and the majority users and balance accordingly.”
How to reach: Knotice Ltd., (800) 801-4194 or www.knotice.com