Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:00

A time to reflect

All great sports executives know the dangers of spending too much time celebrating victories.

Unless the victory in question is the Super Bowl, the final game of the World Series or the last game of the NBA Finals, any celebration is short-lived so that the team’s focus shifts back to the next game and they don’t become complacent.

This month, through Cascade Capital Corp.’s Business Growth Awards, we honor 48 organizations from the greater Akron region for their ability to maintain sustained business growth during a five-year period that’s widely been considered a challenging — if not dismal — economic time.

By itself, this would be a good reason to spend more than a fleeting moment reflecting on how impressive the accomplishments really are, but there’s more to it than that.

One of the keys to business success is the ability to understand where your organization is at any given moment, develop a cohesive strategy that maps out a plan to move it forward and then to have the wherewithal to lead the organization to that goal. That leadership trait, call it “entrepreneurial spirit,” is exactly what the leaders of the organizations being honored this year embody.

Take for example this year’s FirstMerit Legacy Award winner.

Ellis Yan, founder and CEO of Technical Consumer Products Inc., has nearly tripled his employee base and more than quadrupled TCP’s revenue over the past five years. At the same time, he’s built an organization that today controls more than 70 percent of the U.S. CFL market.

Or consider Bargmann Management. Lisa Bargmann, the company’s founder, was its sole employee five years ago. Today, the medical billing and collection service firm employs more than 70 people and expects that number to reach 100 by year’s end.

Finally, there’s William Fink, president of Area Wide Protective Inc. In 1992, Fink bought a small contract security guard company but nearly lost it to bankruptcy three years later. But instead of giving up, Fink remade the company into a temporary traffic control service firm and supplied workers to a new market, the public utility industry. Now, AWP operates in 12 states and employs more than 650 people.

AWP achieved this milestone through Fink’s vision and leadership, and that’s one reason why, this year, we established the Entrepreneurial Spirit award and named him our inaugural honoree.

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at

Published in Akron/Canton
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

Culture club

Having a service vision for your company is only the first step of developing a top-flight, service-oriented business. Even the most visionary organizations can’t pull off top service if they don’t have a world-class internal culture. That is accomplished only by attracting, hiring and retaining only those people who have the all-important service DNA.

As business leaders, we need to have standards that require prospective employees to earn the right to be a part of our company. Having a set of non-negotiable hiring standards will turn your prospective employees either on or off.

People need to earn the right to work for you The main objective of any human resource person who conducts first interviews with prospective hires is to try to scare the applicant out of working for you. If the applicant doesn’t scare, chances are high that he or she is a good fit for your company. What “scare” really means is to help candidates recognize that a job at your company may be either a much bigger commitment than they wanted or exactly what they have been looking for. In order to do this, your company needs to have its own set of nonnegotiable hiring standards.

Very similar to creating the service vision, there are two distinct parts of creating your hiring standards: creating the values that truly embody what your company stands for and being able to articulate those values to potential, new and seasoned employees so clearly and passionately that, within minutes, you can tell if your are turning them on or off. Otherwise, it will just be another company slogan.

A world-class culture does not compromise values; rather, it remains faithful to values, even when remaining faithful means doing things differently from everyone else. A legendary culture is created in the head and the heart of the leader and passed from team member to team member.

Build the culture and the customers will come

If you truly want to be a world-class customer service organization, then you have to be the employer of choice. And to do that, you need to be known for four things:

  1. Being a great place to work

  2. Providing great training

  3. Having superior customer service

  4. Offering unlimited opportunity

If you can create that type of reputation, you will never have a shortage of applicants.

The employee career experience

The employee career experience encompasses the traditional stages an employee has during his or her career with your company. These stages are quite consistent from company to company — recruiting, screening and hiring, orientation and training, 90 days after hire, six months after hire, one year after hire, two years after hire, and five or more years of employment.

Because the employee’s mentality is different at each stage, managers need to be trained how to coach, emphasize and avoid certain factors at each stage. By creating this, you are designing a blueprint on how to create a positive working environment. This blueprint teaches new managers — and reminds experienced managers — how to create a great culture throughout an employee’s career in a way that continually reinforces his or her emotional capital in the company.

There are three components of each stage: service defects, standards and above-and-beyond opportunities.

Service defects are the things that the company and management need to avoid at each stage because those things can cause the employee’s morale to take a nosedive.

Standards are actions we want the company and management to deliver at each stage because those are the things that will differentiate the company from any other company for which the employee has ever worked.

And finally, above-and-beyond opportunities allow management to demonstrate a culture of going out of their way to care about the individual employee, leaving a reoccurring impression that this company is unlike any other for which they have worked.

I have never come across a world-class customer service organization that wasn’t a world-class company to work for — not only vertically (management to employee) but horizontally (employee to employee), as well.

JOHN R. DIJULIUS III, John is the best-selling author of “What’s The Secret? To Providing a World-Class Customer Experience” (Wiley May 2008). He is also president of The DiJulius Group, a firm specializing in giving companies a superior competitive advantage by helping them differentiate on delivering an experience and making price irrelevant. He can be reached at

Published in Cleveland
Wednesday, 23 February 2005 19:00

Batteries not included

When I started my sales career at Xerox Corp., I was taught a few things that have stayed with me for 27 years. These basic principles allowed me to be the No. 1 salesperson at Xerox out of a national sales force of 11,000, and have continued to bring me success in the businesses I have owned during the past two decades.

True salespeople -- of which there are very few -- follow six rules of selling that mirror the basic themes of every notable sales book. These principles have not changed in more than 75 years, and probably will not change in the next 75.

I learned the first three in 1976 at our Xerox training facility. I picked up the second three over the next 20 years. If your sales team isn't following these rules, it's time to change your sales playbook to include them.

* Know your product. At Xerox, we knew our copiers inside and out. We dreamed about them. We were responsible for having all of the product knowledge possible. We showed our customers that we knew it, portraying a strong sense of confidence. When you go shopping, how often do you find salespeople who take pride in their products or memorize information about what they are selling?

* Know your competition. You have strengths over your competitors and you also have weaknesses. So do they. Learn them. Then you can sell against your competitors without knocking them. Don't give a customer the chance to say something nice about a competitor.

* Work harder. Our quota at Xerox was simple: 10 new business contacts per day, whether a cold call in person or over the phone. I said to myself, "Hey I can do more than that." So I set a new plan: 20 calls per day. The key was that I made those calls every day. I doubled everyone else's effort at more than 100 calls per week, 400 calls per month, 4,800 calls per year. A simple but effective consistent plan that worked.

* Be organized. Use your planner. And I mean really use it, so if you lost it, you would freak out. Stay in touch with all prospects and existing clients. If you're not doing so, your competition probably is.

* Be aggressive, not is the sense of being pushy or closing hard but in terms of being on top of the game plan. The more you do each day, the bigger the payoff. Remember that the sales game is made up of customers you know and customers you haven't yet met.

* Be honest. All you have is your reputation. There is not a single sale you will ever make that will change your life. Oh, it might ensure a better month or even a better year, but it will not change your life. Everybody says they are honest, but how many people are really, truly honest? People buy from people and, in most cases, from people they like and especially trust. Those are the people we want to mention to others.

There are no better sales than referral sales, where all you do is check your voice mail and find messages from people who want to buy from you. To close the sale, all you have to do is call them back.

Go back to the basics, work on the fundamentals and stay with them. While it may sound simple, Sales 101 is what we discussed in this article. But more important, Sales 202 is going back to Sales 101 and practicing.

Your company can't afford your sales team not to be doing it.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, "Can I have 5 Minutes of Your Time?" and "Lip Service". Reach him at

Published in Cleveland
Monday, 30 August 2004 20:00

Is your marketing broken?

Stephen Covey wrote, "A paradigm is the way we look at the world. When it shifts, everyone goes to zero, and the first one to figure out the new paradigm becomes the giant."

The Internet has caused changes in reorienting and redefining sales channels. The weak economy put undue strain upon marketing organizations at all levels. The China factor is causing manufacturers to reinvent themselves.

Accordingly, successful marketing must lead the way in discovering this new paradigm before competitors get there first. Tactics that produced dependable, predictable results just a few years ago are no longer as effective as they once were.

Recently, our agency asked electronics companies to identify their biggest barrier to growth. It wasn't technology, they said. Not cheap imports. Not even meager budget dollars.

The single biggest growth obstacle these companies are struggling to overcome are "sales channel challenges," reflecting legitimate questions about how to best go to market -- distribution, direct sales force, just Internet? That lack of clarity wasn't present several years ago.

So how can you fix it in your company? Consider these three steps.


Dedicate yourself to the sweet spot
Every company must be able to describe those customers to whom its product or service is simply irresistible, where sales close the fastest, where profits are greatest and where the potential for growth is highest. Identify this group, describe it, locate it and cultivate it.


Squeeze out "me-too" messaging
Most companies stop short of where they need to go when describing their products or services. Don't just say what you do; say what you do better.

This lack of comparative messaging, where you're truly defining what makes you distinguishable and important to customers, leads to ads, Web sites, brochures and sales pitches that are dull, unpersuasive and identical to those of your competitors.


Encircle your sweet spot
Once you've identified your most profitable customers and the messages those people care most about, build a program that encircles those prospects in a way that is regular, consistent, sustained and efficient. Effective marketing in a noisy, dispersed world requires programs that are measured and balanced, and that don't lurch from campaign to campaign.

Far too many companies begin marketing planning by writing an ad before they know whether they need one, or even know what the ad should say. Tie your marketing to sound research, and the impact tactics will be far easier to identify.
JOEL GOLDSTEIN ( is president of Goldstein Group Communications Inc., which provides marketing strategy, public relations, e-mail and Internet marketing, advertising and direct marketing programs. Goldstein is a past president of Public Relations Society of America, Akron, and served as a member of the executive committee of PRSA's National Section on Technology. Reach him at (216) 573-2300.

Published in Cleveland
I hate sending literature. Whenever a prospect asks me to send literature, it seems I never get the appointment. What is the best way to respond to a request for literature?

I would avoid sending literature unless it's absolutely necessary. Nobody buys a product or service based on the literature alone. Oftentimes, a request for literature is really just a put-off. Unfortunately, many sales representatives mistake this for genuine interest.

The first step in dealing with a request for literature is to ascertain whether the prospect is for real or just trying to get rid of your rep. I do this by making the following statement: "I'd be happy to send you literature, but I have to tell you-most of the time when people ask me for literature, they're really not interested in what we do. The last thing you need is one more piece of literature to clutter up your office. If you're not really interested, I'm OK with that."

If the prospect is genuinely interested, your sales rep still shouldn't send it. Instead, your sales rep should use your literature as a pretense for uncovering his or her true needs and concerns. The best way I've seen this handled is what one of my clients does.

In response to a request for literature, my client says, "I'd love to, but I'm not sure what to send you. I have four different sets of literature-one for clients who have problem A, another for problem B, a different set for problem C and yet another for problem D. Which one should I send you?"

If the prospect selects problem B, my client simply responds, "That's interesting. Why did you pick that one?" Now your sales representative is off and running with questions that will lead you to getting an appointment.

I have several sales representatives who consistently fail to reach their sales targets. As a manager, what should I be doing?

Whenever managing sales representatives, you should focus on their behavior instead of their results. Behavior is the controllable activity that your sales reps should be performing on a consistent basis. Break the larger goal into quarterly segments, outline the behavior needed to achieve each of those smaller goals or benchmarks, and begin monitoring this activity.

You cannot manage anything that you cannot control. Your salespeople cannot control whether a particular prospect needs, wants or can afford the product or service they are selling, or whether a customer needs to reorder at any given time. What they can control is whether they call on the prospects and customers. If you manage the activity, the results will take care of themselves, provided that the sales reps are using a system for selling.

To ensure that your sales reps are using a system and not simply making social visits when calling on prospects, use a checklist of informational items that need to be covered at each step in the selling process-and the small agreements that must be made along the way to achieve a successful outcome.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm. Send your comments and questions to Larry Lewis via fax at (724) 933-9112 or e-mail to He can be reached by phone at (724) 933-9110.

Published in Pittsburgh
Sunday, 26 December 2010 19:00

Innovation 101

There are few people who rank as my business heroes, so I was honored to hear one speak recently at Ernst & Young’s Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Desert, Calif.

During his decade-long tenure as chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, A.G. Lafley engineered one of the most dramatic transformations in business history. Under his leadership, sales more than doubled, profits quadrupled, P&G’s market value exceeded its starting point by $100 billion, and he moved the business into every corner of the globe.

Even more impressive is that when Lafley assumed the top spot in 2000, P&G had 10 billion-dollar brands, and when he retired in 2010, the company had 23.

Lafley recognized that innovation wasn’t just developing new products; it was also improving upon existing products and brands as untapped opportunities. He listened to the customer, engaged partners through a system of “open innovation” and focused on delivering value.

About six years ago, I ran across a small piece in a national financial publication titled “Eight things I wish I’d known when I started my career.” The brief caught my eye because it cited Lafley as its source. The short list struck me as both simplistic and powerful, so I cut out the small piece and taped it to the wall next to my desk, where it remains today. And, when I need a quick shot of inspiration, I often refer to Lafley’s wisdom.

Among the eight items on the list are “know yourself,” “change is inevitable” and “see things as they are, not as you would like them to be.”

Taking Lafley’s advice, I am seeing things “as they are.”

As you may have noticed from the cover of this month’s publication, our big story is coverage of the 2010 Weatherhead 100, presented each year by COSE and Case Western Reserve University. Our supplement profiles the winners and their amazing stories of growth.

The class of 2010 is composed of a strong group of leaders who understand what it takes to build sustainable growth. These honorees see their industries as they are, not as they would like them to be, and they have adapted accordingly.

Beyond the stories contained in this magazine, Smart Business reached out to all of the honorees and asked for their views on leadership, innovation and growth. More than 50 responded, and their answers are online at our special Weatherhead 100 microsite, which you can access at

Published in Akron/Canton
Saturday, 25 September 2010 20:00

Getting along

Over the past few years, leadership has been changing. It has become more inclusive and “emotionally intelligent.” Emotionally intelligent leaders have the ability to inspire people to listen to them and to follow them. When people are willing to follow their leader by listening, improving communication and building teams, it helps the company to stay ahead of its competition — something that is extremely important in this economic climate.

Women are succeeding in male-dominated businesses because the qualities they bring are absolutely essential nowadays. One key area where women excel is relationship-building. Relationships are increasingly important for just about every company. The ability to help direct reports learn and grow not only increases productivity but also increases the likelihood that talented people will stay with the company. Forging strong relationships with external stakeholders — suppliers and customers — has also become a much-desired skill.

In his book, “Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman notes that women’s ability to read feelings from nonverbal cues helps them adjust better emotionally to different situations and ultimately become more successful than those who can’t adjust.

All of these qualities serve women well in business. For instance, women in leadership positions often ask for feedback from direct reports. Asking for feedback is actually pretty rare, but it accomplishes a lot. When direct reports feel valued and that their ideas and thoughts are important, they become more motivated and results-oriented.

What makes a woman stand out as an emotionally intelligent leader? Here are six standards that all emotionally intelligent leaders follow:

Emotionally intelligent leaders are team builders. Women often possess the ability to bring people together to achieve group goals. They understand how to manage the inevitable conflicts that arise in pursuit of these goals. They know how to encourage a diverse group of people to work in concert to achieve ambitious objectives. Men are often excellent individual performers, but they are not always adept at getting the same high-level performance out of a group.

Emotionally intelligent leaders use empathy to solve conflict. Rather than engaging in long, drawn-out debates with an unhappy employee, emotionally intelligent leaders use their ability to put themselves in another’s shoes. They listen patiently to concerns and try to get to the root of what is really bothering that individual. By giving people permission to express feelings and by helping them to communicate what is bothering them, women often resolve disputes more effectively than men.

Emotionally intelligent leaders create inclusion. They understand that bringing diversity of voices into the decision-making process, as well as creating bonds of trust and fellowship among employees, can only serve to advance the company. Leaders who seem to “get” what is important to people are usually more effective at accomplishing their goals.

Emotionally intelligent leaders build both external and internal relationships. Increasingly, companies are moving to a model where numerous alliances between various groups are the norm. There is a growing need for leaders who can forge alliances with competitors, community groups and companies in foreign countries. Women are good at building relationships, not only with people who think like they do but across many types of traditional boundaries.

Emotionally intelligent leaders trust their gut. The ability to walk into a room and sense tension, anger, warmth or whatever quality exists is an extremely important quality that women possess. Some women feel that they should not trust their gut instincts and should be more analytical like their male counterparts. Analysis is fine, but many situations these days are complex and ambiguous, and they don’t yield to analysis. Emotionally intelligent leaders listen to that little voice in their heads. And it usually serves them well.

Emotionally intelligent leaders can multitask. Women’s ability to multitask can benefit companies where people are myopically focused on the most crucial task. This skill may not seem like a big deal, but it often helps a woman stand out in an organization of men.

Emotional intelligence will serve you well in any business. Tap into your own to solve problems, seize opportunities and become a better leader.

Roxanne Rivera is the author of “There’s No Crying in Business: How Women Can Succeed in Male-Dominated Industries” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). She is also the president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Mexico and serves as New Mexico’s liaison to the National Associated Builders and Contractors in Washington, D.C.

Published in National
Saturday, 25 September 2010 20:00

Standards of excellence

There’s an ironic truth that most media companies have in common — they’re great at sharing news about others with their readers or viewers, but when it comes to sharing happy tidings about themselves, they often drop the ball.

We at Smart Business are no different. That’s why, this month, I’ve decided to break the trend and devote my column to sharing some good news about our team here at Smart Business.

It was a good year for journalism awards for our team of writers, editors and contributors. We garnered seven prestigious awards in three different competitions.

Later this month, we’ll be heading to Columbus to attend the 2010 Society of Professional Journalists statewide awards banquet, where we’ll receive four awards — two first place and two second place.

Senior Assistant Editor Kristy O’Hara was awarded first place for her cover story on Bill Jarvis of Revol in the “Best Personality Profile” category.

Associate Editor Brooke Bates received first place for her story on how to build a relationship with a private equity firm, featuring Bill Fink of Area Wide Protective, in the “Best Trade Report” category.

Former columnist Jim Huling’s “Business of Life” column was honored with a second place award in the category of “Best Trade Columnist in Ohio.”

Smart Business Cleveland received second place as the “Best Trade Publication in Ohio.”

During the summer, we picked up two multistate journalism awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for the Central-Southeast region of the United States (a 10-state region).

Columnist Michael Feuer received Gold (first place) as “Best Contributed Column,” and Huling received Silver (second place) in the same category.

More impressive is that this marks the fourth straight year that both men have been honored in this category, and for Feuer, this is the second Gold award he’s received.

O’Hara’s Revol story was honored with a second award this year, picking up a second place nod in the Press Club’s all-Ohio Excellence in Journalism program.

And finally, Feuer penned a book (along with myself as co-author) that was picked up by New York publisher John H. Wiley & Sons. “The Benevolent Dictator: Engage your employees, build your business and outwit the competition” is slated for an early 2011 nationwide release.

Congratulations to our award-winning writers and editors, as well as the entire team at Smart Business, for the bevy of honors and a job well done.

Published in Akron/Canton
Sunday, 25 April 2010 20:00

What’s in a name?

The Bard famously wrote in Act II, Scene II of Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

In his play, Shakespeare shrewdly pointed out that Romeo and Juliet’s love wasn’t in itself a crime. Rather, it was Romeo’s family name, Montague, which constituted the perceived crime of his and Juliet’s passion. Thus, the play’s tragedy was built on the foundation of Romeo having the wrong name.

In the corporate world, names, in the form of brands, hold similar power. A strong brand can emit a positive reputation, while having the wrong name can be detrimental to your company’s health.

Nowhere has this played itself out more dramatically or publicly than with Toyota, which for decades had a platinum-level brand name. Before its litany of troubles, the name Toyota conjured up two words — quality and reliability. Not so much anymore.

Conversely, Apple enjoys a hugely positive brand name. When you think of Apple, you think about innovation and being on the cutting edge. If Apple suddenly entered the consumer appliance market, people would no doubt be doing their laundry in Apple-branded washing machines and dryers.

One key to having a strong brand name is consistency, which in part means providing products and services that do exactly what a company claims they will do. Nike has done a tremendous job of creating consistency through its tagline “Just Do It.” Images associated with winning and success come to mind.

Finally, consider how PNC gradually eliminated the name National City a year-and-a-half after acquiring the venerable Cleveland-based bank holding company instead of dropping the National City name the moment federal regulators approved the final pieces of PNC’s acquisition.

By simply adding a “now part of PNC” to “National City” during the transition period, the Pittsburgh-based financial institution quietly recognized the power of National City’s brand while at the same time incorporating its own equally powerful brand into the equation.

Through this method, PNC used a systematic integration to establish a strong brand in the marketplaces where it had not previously been.

As you think about your own brand, keep this in mind: The power of consistency is very often underrated but remains absolutely critical to building and maintaining a successful brand.

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Consistency advocates

I don’t typically go inside fast-food restaurants, opting instead for the drive-through window, but I made an exception while on vacation recently so that I could get out of my car and stretch.

So there I was, standing at the counter in a McDonald’s, waiting for my children’s order to arrive, when the journalist in me suddenly took over. I started watching the organized chaos that is fast food unfold and etched the goings-on into my mental notebook.

The drink station was completely computerized. As orders were punched in drinks were automatically filled. There were miniature digital timers on every piece of machinery, each ticking down toward the completion of some sandwich or order of french fries. And there were posters with precise instructions hung at every workstation.

I knew McDonald’s — like Starbuck’s — employed a sophisticated system that ensured consistent products and services no matter which restaurant you were in worldwide, but it was still impressive to see it in action.

Thinking about it, there is clearly a competitive advantage to doing what these two juggernauts do, and perhaps that’s why this month’s cover story subject, Kevin McMullen, set out to do the same at Fairlawn-based OMNOVA Solutions Inc.

McMullen recognized that much of what made OMNOVA great was stuck in silos that prevented a true open culture of innovation and information from taking root and making it possible to create consistency companywide.

He launched the One OMNOVA concept, which was designed to crack open those silos and transform the organization. This month’s behind-the-scenes look at how new company mission was developed and implemented is truly eye-opening.

One of the results of One OMNOVA is having a customer in Bangkok, Thailand, receive the same experience as one in London, England. Speaking of experiences, by now you’ve probably noticed our new columnist, Kevin Daum, and his column, “The Awesome Experience.”

Daum is a New York City-based entrepreneur, author and business coach, who has owned a former Inc. 500 company and worked with Gazelle’s founder and CEO, Verne Harnish.

His new book, “Roar: Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle,” hits the shelves of bookstores nationwide this month. Daum’s answer to consistency is for CEOs to embrace the idea of offering every customer, employee and vendor an awesome experience every time there is a touch point. You can read a preview of “Roar” at

Published in Akron/Canton