Matt Eggemeyer’s grandfather used to meet potential customers at tradeshows, build relationships and later invite them to the shop before quoting their jobs.
Those days are long gone.
Even 50 years of tradeshow success couldn’t pad Keats Manufacturing Co. from the changing times that accompanied the recession.
“Traditional sales methods weren’t working anymore,” says Eggemeyer, vice president and chief operating officer at the family-owned manufacturer of metal stampings and wireforms. “We certainly live now in an impatient society where people, if they need something, they’re most likely going to Google. … That’s where we need to be.”
Eggemeyer looked online to recapture lost revenue, refill the prospect pipeline and uncover new business. His first website looked fine but failed because it focused more on processes than products.
That’s when Thomas Industrial Network approached the 170-employee company about improving its website’s performance to better connect Keats with industrial buyers. ThomasNet’s first lesson revealed what Keats’ target market of engineers was searching for.
“They want to know what you’re making, not how you’re making it,” a sales rep told Eggemeyer. “So we started all over again and lost some of the superfluous stuff that owners tend to put in their websites, like long ‘About Us’ and histories and ‘Meet the Management Team.’ Nobody cares about that.
“I spent most of my time talking about terminals, clips, wire forms, lead frames, things that I make. Then we enhanced it one step further by adding the specs that are involved in making those parts — how thick are they, what kind of plating do they get, all the different sizes and dimensions — which make my website that much more attractive, especially when it comes to the search engines.”
This was a crucial shift in Keats’ website strategy. Eggemeyer navigated it by understanding what target customers would type into Google or ThomasNet’s search engine.
“I don’t think they’re putting in ‘small family-run operation in Chicago,’” he says. “They’re looking for a tin-plated 006 automotive terminal, or something like that, and they’re going to find me.”
Keats developed a new site to better convey the company’s capabilities, including examples of prior custom work and details like plating specs. The new site is also easy to use — when visitors find sufficient information about materials and machines, they can click to submit a quote request and attach their custom design.
Eggemeyer tracks solutions to analyze traffic and reveal where Keats’ site is being effective. Based on where traffic lands and how long it stays, he makes small adjustments to the site.
“I can’t just drop this website and leave it alone and expect people to come year after year,” he says.
After Keats launched the site in April 2009, it didn’t take long to see return on investment. Sales are up 30 percent and quotes more than doubled in one year.
But the home run, if you ask Eggemeyer, is the military customer that found and vetted Keats online before placing a million-dollar order to develop a metal clip for a plastic bullet.
“Would I have been able to get that customer back with the traditional sales methods?” he asks. “No, because they wanted to see that I could do the zinc plating and that I could hold certain tolerances. And that isn’t on a brochure I’ve ever done, and they probably wouldn’t be asking that of me at tradeshow — and I don’t know if I could have given them that attention to sit down and talk engineer to engineer. But that stuff was on my website, and that gave them the warm fuzzy that, ‘Keats can do it; let’s give them a call.’”
How to reach: Keats Manufacturing Co., (800) 532-8763 or www.keatsmfg.com
Take sales online
You already know how to make your website more effective, if you ask Linda Rigano. You’re already doing it offline.
“A good Web strategy starts with … creating a Web experience that replicates the company’s sales process,” says the executive director of strategic services at Thomas Industrial Network, which connects buyers and sellers through offerings like the sourcing site ThomasNet.com and a Web solutions group that improves website performance.
ThomasNet’s VSET strategy breaks that down:
- Verify. “The first step in the process is that a buyer wants to verify that you make what they (want),” Rigano says. “(If) I’m looking for a container and I see a big picture of the facility, I see a mission statement, but I don’t see a lot about containers, am I going to spend time there? No.”
- Search and evaluate. “That might be questions they’re asking that customer service person on the phone; it’ll be questions that customer service person is asking back: How many, what’s the material, what’s the size, what’s the quantity?”
- Take action. “This is what you want to do when you get off of the phone with somebody. Is customer service preparing a quotation? Are they sending more information? Are they taking an order? … It’s all about making it easier for that buyer to do business with you.”
How to reach: Thomas Industrial Network, (866) 585-1191 or www.thomasnet.com
Rob Meck likes to push people to see how they respond. When he arrived at Premiere Credit of North America LLC, that’s exactly what he set out to do.
“I came on board in July 2009 and was cast with the challenge of transitioning a mature, but small entrepreneurial accounts receivable management firm into a leading national accounts receivable management firm with the ability to grow both immediately and rapidly,” Meck says.
He began meeting with company leaders to gauge who could work well under the pressure of pursuing growth.
“Too many managers, especially during the turmoil we were going through, and it’s such a huge transition, automatically retreated and didn’t want to take a lot of risk,” says Meck, the 400-employee company’s president and CEO.
He wanted people who could step out of their comfort zone and grow with the business. So he engaged them in strategic projects that contained a certain element of risk and working side by side and made an assessment of their abilities.
“I try to be a mentor with all of them and one of the things I do with them is try to roll up my sleeves with them and work on projects,” Meck says. “I really had to pick who the keepers were, and we had a lot of people we wanted to maintain. We put those people in specific areas that we really wanted to build on, strong people that had loyalty to the company and adherence to our values. We also recognized there were a lot of people who weren’t going to stay.”
Testing people doesn’t have to be throwing them in the deep end to see if they can swim. Work with them closely to discover their talents and abilities. Make it clear that mistakes are OK, as long they are made in the pursuit of progress.
“Reaffirm with them that the failure of you trying something and taking that risk isn’t career ending,” Meck says. “You can learn from that mistake. You’re not going to get punished for trying something that was an educated risk. … In a competitive world, if you don’t take some risk, you’re never going to be the top-ranked performer in your industry.”
The fear of taking risks is what holds back many entrepreneurial businesses.
“A lot of them struggle with the fact that building the infrastructure is a fairly significant expense of non-revenue generating, nonprofit making individuals,” Meck says. “If you’re going to invest into it and do it right, it costs money and it could affect earnings.”
Meck was willing to take some of those risks and he found other leaders who also thrived under pressure. But there were some who didn’t fit his mold and that led to his move to bring more than 30 new managers from 20 competing companies to Premiere Credit.
“Bad turnover is when you lose one of your top performing, most compliant, loyal and dedicated employees,” Meck says. “Good turnover is when you lose some of your lower performing people who don’t buy into your values. We knew that if we did not adhere tightly to our core values and have everyone buy into them, the company would not be as strong as it could be.”
The ability to make those tough decisions and take a few chances along the way is often the difference between a company that grows and one that plateaus.
“A lot of entrepreneurs really have loyalty to the people who made them successful,” Meck says. “It’s hard to keep them on the payroll and hire someone else who has that higher skill set and still maintain your financial business model.”
Meck is confident the steps taken thus far have Premiere on a path to growth.
“Our performance on every one of our clients has improved dramatically in the last year with people buying in to our new cultural values,” Meck says.
Catch your breath
Rob Meck moved quickly to make changes at Premiere Credit of North America LLC. So quickly, in fact, that he had to institute daily wrap-up meetings to keep track of it all.
“I was afraid we were losing track of all that we were doing,” says Meck, president and CEO at the 400-employee accounts receivable management firm. “So I set up executive debriefs at 5:30 every night for the top four executives for what was hopefully 15 or 30 minutes max. It was just a brain dump of everything that happened today.”
Maybe you don’t need a meeting every day. But Meck says it’s crucial that you make sure everybody is running forward at the same pace.
“As fast as we were moving, within a day, we could have had two executives taking different projects that were in opposition to each other,” Meck says. “It also served as a team-building exercise. It was a great way to end the day so that we all knew we were on each other’s team.”
Even though the pace has slowed a bit, the meetings continue.
“It helps communication,” Meck says. “It’s such an important part of the communication every day with our senior management team.”
HOW TO REACH: Premiere Credit of North America LLC, (888) 403-1637 or www.premierecredit.com
Bob Grote knew what the next morning was going to bring and it was eating him up inside. The recession had taken a toll on business at J.E. Grote Co. Inc. and now he had no choice but to lay off employees.
Or so he thought.
“I went into a restaurant, a little watering hole where I sometimes have a bite to eat,” says Grote, president at the 170-employee food slicing equipment manufacturer. “A guy I kind of half know came up to me and said, ‘Man, you look depressed.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am. I think I’m going to have to lay some people off.’ He poked me in the chest and said, ‘Come on Bob, you can do better than that. You don’t have to do what everybody else does. Be creative.’”
Grote began to ponder what this casual acquaintance had just said to him and the wheels began to turn in his head.
“A good portion of our staff, be it engineering or in the shop itself, is really dedicated to the manufacturing of new equipment,” Grote says. “So when your equipment dries up, you have nothing for a lot of people to do. I came in and said, ‘What if I force vacation and go down to a four-day workweek for everybody in new equipment?’ You’re going to take vacation in the first half of the year until you run out of vacation. It doesn’t help my cash flow, but it reallocates my resources to later in the year.”
The response from his management team was shock.
“They all kind of looked at me like, ‘What?’” Grote says. “I got challenged by them saying, ‘Are we just wimping out? Are we just afraid to make the right decision because we’re fortunate to have the cash flow to support doing this? Are we just delaying the inevitable?’”
Grote had pondered those same questions. He decided it was worth the risk to try something a little different.
“Leaders truly underestimate the cost of retraining,” Grote says. “In an environment of unemployment, you can hire really quick and you can hire really good people. But at least in my business, because this is very customized work, it’s hard for a guy to contribute in some of these areas for a minimum of six months, sometimes up to a year. As I look at it, I’ve got to hang on to that core muscle.”
One of the land mines Grote had to navigate around was, “How do you do something that only inflicts pain on one segment of your work force?”
“I went to the departments that were going to be affected and spent a lot of time talking to them and trying to get them to complain and be OK with complaining to me,” Grote says. “I was constantly focusing on the future and reminding them that this is what it is. What’s paying our bills right now, guys, is all these parts and all this stuff that these other guys are doing. You want us to pay our bills so we can keep you around, too.”
Grote also spent time with those who weren’t being forced into February vacations.
“I reminded people that you better look busy,” Grote says. “I know you’re busy, but you better look that way.”
So the vacations were taken, and while there were a few nervous moments, business did begin to pick up in the summer, and Grote’s plan ended up working out.
“There was fear every day,” Grote says. “I ultimately have to answer to the shareholders of the company. I look foolish and wasteful if it doesn’t work out. But if you’re truly a leader at that point and you’re in that position to make that decision, if you think about what’s going to happen to you at that point, maybe you shouldn’t be the leader.”
Take time to listen
Bob Grote could have shoved his idea to avoid layoffs at J.E. Grote Co. Inc. down everyone’s throat and ignored the concerns of his management team. But he knew that wouldn’t do much for his stock as their leader.
“If you have a past experience of going back and changing your mind because they have a logical reason why you shouldn’t do your idea and you’re not just being stubborn, they will talk to you and explain their reasoning,” says Grote, president at the food slicing equipment manufacturer.
He wanted to hear their feedback because he himself had fear that maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do.
“I’ll either say, ‘Maybe you’re right, let’s go back and explore this,’ or, ‘I still think I want to do it this way, and I’m going to do it, but I see where you’re coming from,’” Grote says.
Either way, you show yourself to be open-minded when you make the effort to listen.
Unfortunately for Grote, he faced the same dilemma again in early 2010.
“My mantra was, ‘If this keeps up, I can’t do that again guys,’” Grote says. “Fortunately, it turned a lot quicker.”
Grote adds that his confidence in foreseeing the future in today’s world is pretty much gone.
“I don’t believe anything until I’ve got the contract with dripping ink on it and the smell of money in my office before I believe an order is here,” Grote says.
HOW TO REACH: J.E. Grote Co. Inc., (888) 534-7683 or www.grotecompany.com
Chris Ryan, president of Geo-Solutions Inc. has been experiencing a problem all businesses would like to have. His soil and groundwater construction solutions company has been experiencing rapid growth. Growth is what every business wants to achieve, but with growth comes a lot of added responsibilities.
“We have experienced some very rapid growth,” says Ryan whose company saw revenue of $18 million in 2010. “The biggest [challenge] has been trying to manage growth and get personnel into the company.”
The company’s rapid expansion over the past few years has kept Ryan looking for ways to continue the success.
Smart Business spoke to Ryan about how he manages to keep up with the growth his company has seen.
How do you plan for growth?
You have to take stock of your resources in every level that you need to achieve the types of work that you’re planning to do. You have to determine where your weaknesses are and fill those weaknesses before you try and do the work.
You have to have good communication within your company and with your senior people. You have to determine what your needs are and plan ahead before you’re in a crunch of having to do something.
How do you grow within a niche market?
We’ve set our vision in a certain niche market, which is the treatment of soil and groundwater. Anything that’s in that niche, we will take on.
Your niche has to match the expertise of the key people in your company. Anybody who is looking to get into a business or grow a business needs to determine what it is that distinguishes them from the majority of the competition. That will improve your chances of making a dent in the marketplace.
The businesses that do well in our market are the ones that identify what they’re good at and perform it well and gain reputations to get people to come back over and over again.
Do you hire before you grow in anticipation of it or after growth?
The first scenario is obviously preferable that you’ve planned properly and you’re prepared. We have done a certain amount of that and I have certainly experienced the second scenario where you’re completely out of people, and it’s really not a good situation. Everybody becomes busy, that’s for sure.
We had that situation a few years ago and what really scared me was if anybody had any major issue like an illness to themselves or their family or anything that would put somebody out of the mix for an extended period of time, it would have been a disaster for us.
How do you prepare yourself or guard against that?
You have to try and foresee what is happening in your marketplace. You have to make some kind of judgment as to what the level of business will be.
What do you look for when you’re hiring people?
You have to find what’s important in terms of skills and education for the person you’re trying to hire. Then you have to try and find a person that matches those requirements. With companies like ours and others that are in a niche market, all those similar companies are competing for the same people.
How do you attract those people and beat the competition?
The best way is to be the leader in your business or to be the market leader. If you do that, you become the place that people want to work, because they want to work for the best company. That would be number one, but obviously competitive pay and opportunity to participate in ownership and all those benefits are very important to attracting people to a job as well.
What are some other struggles of rapid growth?
As you grow rapidly you’re constantly changing your profile with your lending institution. You have to maintain good relationships with your bank and keep them well advised of what’s going on. It’s really about maintaining good communication.
HOW TO REACH: Geo-Solutions Inc., (724) 335-7273 or www.geo-solutions.com
Since Sushil Jain, founder, president and CEO of Empyrean Services LLC, started his engineering management and technical consulting business in 2000, he has had a very collaborative and consultative leadership style. Using that style to build trust and respect with his employees and clients, Jain has developed a culture that puts people first.
“The more participative culture with focus on teamwork makes people feel more involved, more empowered and they feel more a part of the company versus just being an employee,” Jain says. “That quality is very important particularly in a small business.”
That culture has helped Jain grow Empyrean Services LLC to annual revenue of $20 million in 2010.
Smart Business spoke with Jain about how he focuses on people to grow his business.
What have been key factors behind your company’s growth?
Fifty to 60 percent of growth in the business over the last several years is attributed to the people that have worked for me. We go out of our way to treat them with respect. Whatever their needs are, we fulfill them. You have to work with people and work for people. Be firm and fair. Lay out the cards the way they are and people will understand that you are treating them with respect.
How can someone make their culture people-oriented?
If people are working together, it makes for a very cost-effective and efficient organization. You should have an open-door policy and make sure people feel comfortable that they can come and talk to you about anything. You have to build the level of respect and trust in the organization so that people trust not only you as a leader but also trust each other. You have to really take the time to listen to the employees. Everybody talks about having an open-door policy, but people have to really see that in action. You have to take the time to walk the floors and sit down at people’s cubicles and start to talk to them. Talk to them about what’s going well and what’s not going well.
How do you get employees to come to you?
When people come and talk to you and they have an issue, you listen and you do something about it. In a majority of cases, you’re able to do something about it, but in some cases, you’re not. You have to go back to them and say, “I know you had told me this or you had talked about this or you requested this, but this is the reason I cannot do it or this is where I am with this and it may or may not happen because of this or that.” People really appreciate that. You have to explain the reason for your decision.
As you grow up in management as you become a CEO, you are faced with making a lot of decisions on a daily basis. Some of those decisions are going to be unpopular. You have to communicate to the affected department or individuals why you are deciding it that way. Some folks may not fully agree or endorse that decision, but they respect the fact that you took the time to explain why you came to that decision. You have to take full ownership and accountability in your decision. That goes a long way toward building trust and respect in the organization.
How do you align culture with who you look to hire?
I think chemistry is very important. You don’t want to bring in a person who has a very different management style than what the organizational culture is because that can be very disruptive. The person may have the best work ethics, the person may have the best intelligence and knowledge, but they do not fit with the team and it could be like a bull in a china shop. That can create a lot of disruption with the team and their contributions could actually be negative rather than positive. The fit with the organizational culture is very important.
How to reach: Empyrean Services LLC, (412) 528-1573 or www.empyreanonline.com
Bryan Ward, founder and CEO of Giant Ideas, knows there are many important aspects of developing a business. An often overlooked, yet vitally important aspect is the branding of your business. The full-service advertising agency helps develop and drive brand awareness for its clients.
“It’s about creating a connection between a product or service and a brand and creating that connection in people’s minds so it’s something they can remember easily,” Ward says.
With a corporate identity focused around Easter Island iconography, Giant Ideas has a name and logo people don’t forget. Ward’s branding tactics have made his agency one of the best in the area at what they do and led to 2009 revenue just shy of $10 million.
Smart Business spoke to Ward about how to develop a brand and why it is an important business aspect.
Define your brand. One thing that people often don’t seem to realize about a brand and it’s often a misunderstood word and misused many times … is that they already have one, there’s no creation of a brand. You can push it in a different direction, but you already have one. We all have a brand. It’s how people see us. It’s the way we dress, the type of car we drive, the way we speak. Everything that we do goes into building our own personal brand and the same thing is true for a company or a product or service. The way that the phones are answered, the way the employees treat people, the way employees dress. All of that is part of a brand.
You have to ask yourself, ‘Is that brand doing anything to help my company excel its product and services, or is the brand helping my product reach new customers? Am I utilizing it in the best way possible or not?’ If not, then something needs to be done to fix that.
From a CEO’s perspective, where do you want your company to be … two years from now, five years from now? You then backtrack from that goal. CEOs spend a tremendous amount of effort and time on supply chain logistics and all these other business processes that are important to get there and often overlooked is the brand marketing execution communication side of things. It’s part of that stream of business and is just as important as the others. Getting products from point A to point Z is important but also how is your brand working for you and how best can it do that job. Maximizing the amount of added benefit and added value that brand is bringing to that chain is just as important as the others.
Establish brand awareness. You have to clearly establish why you are who you are and why that matters to the consumer or the customer and why they should pay attention to you. We all have competition and you have to stand out from the crowd because it is a very competitive market.
A new brand has nothing. There’s zero name recognition, zero brand recognition, zero information in the consumer’s or customer’s mind about that. It’s a great time, too, because you have an opportunity to drive that story, to be in control of that story for a long time. The sooner and better that you can do that and establish what that story is going to be and drive that conversation yourself, the better off you’re going to be.
Drive your brand. You have to talk to customers, talk to employees and really get a sense of what is going on. You need to also have an understanding of the market. What are the other competitors in the space doing? How are they branding themselves? What tools are they using? All of that goes into building a picture of where your brand needs to be and where its optimal space is going to be. Once you start down this path you start to see common threads. It almost becomes self-evident at a point where your brand is going to live and what tools it needs to survive and flourish.
I can’t tell you the number of clients, the number of businesses that I talk to who had bad experiences in the past with branding. It is just as important as any other aspect of your business and it needs to be given the same attention and care and expertise that you would give to any other part of your business. If you don’t do due diligence when you have the opportunity it won’t serve you well in years to come and you will regret having gone in that direction.
HOW TO REACH: Giant Ideas, (412) 566-5756, or www.giantideas.com
After losing his job as an airplane pilot following the Sept. 11 attacks, Jerry Lasco turned to his hobby of food and wine for answers. With a desire to start his own business, Lasco brainstormed for a business idea that solved a problem people were experiencing.
“The problem that we wanted to solve was fear,” says Lasco, CEO of Lasco Enterprises LLC, the management company of The Tasting Room, Max’s Wine Dive and The Black Door. “The fear of not knowing how to navigate a wine store and not knowing how to navigate a wine list was a big fear that we wanted to solve.”
Helping average consumers understand a vast wine selection and taste the wine before they buy proved to be a good solution to the problem. Today, Lasco operates seven wine locations in three cities and had revenue of $12.5 million in 2010.
Smart Business spoke to Lasco about what it takes to get an entrepreneurial company off the ground.
Solve a problem. The question that I think is important for entrepreneurs is, ‘What’s the void in the market or what problem can you solve?’ Whether it’s starting a new company or a business initiative, what problem is it solving? You need to ask yourself a lot of questions and you need to do a very thorough analysis. Everybody has to go through some sort of due diligence process and gain a confidence level that their idea has legs. Then you take a leap of faith and put everything on the line to test whether or not you’re right. Due diligence is critical, and it’s specific to whatever industry or idea you have.
Prepare for growth. You don’t want to grow before you’ve got everything taken care of in your own backyard on your first business. You’ve got to have that down pat and you have to feel very confident in your initial business because that becomes your backbone. Secondly, the skill set that made you a successful entrepreneur — the risk taking, the idea, the strategic thinking — isn’t necessarily the skill set you need to be a growth company, which has a lot more to do with strong management abilities, organizational abilities, systems abilities, and visionary and motivational leadership. I think of entrepreneurs as inventors, but that doesn’t mean you can manage a complex organization and a complex system. You have to look in the mirror and figure out whether or not you personally have those skill sets or you need to bring those skill sets into your company. You have to make sure that you’ve got a complementary skill set or tool kit.
Manage your cash flow. There is a mindset that you have to have if growth is your goal. That means you’re going to have to reinvest and you’re going to have to hire more brainpower and manpower to allow you to grow. You have to have really good cash flow management. Running out of capital or running into financial troubles can devastate everything. There are countless stories about businesses that have had great ideas and probably would have succeeded except for a small mismanagement of cash flow. You never know when something unforeseen could come about. It’s challenging for small businesses because you don’t want to invest in accounting, a controller or a CFO because most small businesses can’t afford that. Whatever you do you have to know what’s going on in your books and in your cash flow situation, even if that means you’re staying up at night and doing it yourself.
Hire the right people. As you grow, it becomes much less about the entrepreneur and much more about the leader of the company. I think a great leader’s strongest asset is having the wherewithal to bring great people into the company. Get people that you can trust that have complementary skills. The greatest variable that is going to affect your growth positively or negatively is that you have the wrong people on board, a bunch of yes-people or people that aren’t contributing or aren’t complementary in strengths. If you put the right group together and you have a good idea, you have an excellent opportunity to get to where you are going. To be a good leader you really have to understand yourself and know what your motivations are and know what your strengths are. You have to hire people that have strengths in areas that you don’t have strengths in. Once you decide to grow, that’s when you have to specialize. You have to bring people in that are really good in those specialty areas.
How to reach: Lasco Enterprises LLC, www.lascoenterprises.com
Mark Seremet, president and CEO of Zoo Entertainment Inc., understands that, in the ever-changing world of technology, you must innovate to stay on top. Since being founded in the spring of 2007, Zoo Entertainment Inc., a developer, publisher and distributor of interactive entertainment software, has been recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in the region because of its ability to generate new ideas.
“As an organization, not just externally but internally, we are very open,” Seremet says. “You have to encourage communication and you have to encourage ideas from everyone regardless of what their position within the company is.”
That openness and ability to have free-flowing ideas within the organization has led to revenue of $45 million through September 2010.
Smart Business spoke with Seremet about how he motivates Zoo Entertainment Inc. to innovate.
Identify your company direction. The most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with your organization is communication. Everybody needs to understand where this company is going, how can I help us to get there and understand what the metrics are that the company is measured on to know if you’re successful or not. If you’re not communicating and telling people what’s going on, what’s important to the organization, you’re unlikely to get innovation around the areas that you need it. You may get some innovation and some innovative ideas, but they may not fit with where you’re going with the company.
We have monthly meetings to communicate the direction of the company. You have to communicate how the company is doing, where we’re going, new initiatives that are being driven. At the end of the meeting, we have a period where anybody can bring up comments, ideas, thoughts, criticism whatever it may be. … We encourage anybody’s views there. You have to continually reinforce it, because it’s a message that people get every month. A lot of times, when you’re working in an organization, you don’t want to just feel like it’s a job or you’re stuck and you don’t really know how you fit into the whole thing. So we talk about how all of those pieces work. You just have to keep communicating that message and what’s important to the company every month.
Create an innovative culture. It’s interesting to look at other businesses that are innovative or maybe models that are working that may be similar to your industry but not necessarily in your industry. Then learn all you can about what that company is doing and what some of the drivers are in their success and then try to employ those same drivers into your business. That’s a good way to explore innovation and culture around that innovation. When you think innovation, you often think of technology, but you don’t necessarily just innovate around tech. You could innovate in customer communications, manufacturing, whatever it is. There is a lot you can do just by looking at these other organizations and applying that knowledge to your own company.
That culture comes from the leader, the CEO. I think it’s important that CEOs manage by walking around. It’s important that CEOs personally communicate with as many employees as they possibly can. They will learn a lot about the organization, and at the same time, they are encouraging people to bring things up. You’ve got to have a culture where employees know that we want to hear these ideas, we want to pick some up and move with them, and we also want to reward people for having created an innovative idea.
Be open-minded. If you’re open-minded, you will see a lot of ideas that larger companies don’t get an opportunity to look at because they have a very regimented and bureaucratic structure. To be innovative, you have to listen to people. If you’re myopic, then you won’t see what’s happening around you both within your organization and externally.
A lot of innovation can be customer-driven. If a customer sees improvements or sees potential ways to improve your product or recommends a new product to you, you’ve got to be listening to that. A lot of innovation is driven by being open-minded and having a reasonably flat structure where people can communicate effectively.
We foster the idea internally with people externally that we are looking for new games and ideas and anybody can propose them and they can communicate with the executives about it. Your idea might get shot down … but the environment and the culture is such that we want to hear those ideas. I think the biggest driver behind innovation is solving real problems. You’re creating a better product or experience for consumers.
HOW TO REACH: Zoo Entertainment Inc., (513) 824-8297 or www.zoogamesinc.com
David LaBonte came up with the concept of his book, “Shiny Objects Marketing,” several years ago while listening to a speaker drone on about a complex marketing theory.
“I thought, ‘Come on! It’s simpler than that,” says LaBonte, president of AdMatrix, an Orange County-based marketing firm. “Make your brand a shiny object, and you’ll sell truckloads.”
In the book, LaBonte explains how to make any product, service or brand irresistible and how to generate the urge for customers to grab it and not let go.
LaBonte gave Smart Business a peek at his five secrets for attracting customers by making your brand a shiny object.
1. Grab their attention. Catching the eye of your customer is the most obvious of the shiny object facets. But we are not merely concerned about creating a casual distraction. The operative question for this facet is: What will cause your customers to stop dead in their tracks and take notice of what you are selling?
To accomplish this facet, you must present the shiny object in its best light. This requires excellent design, constant attention, appearances where your customers will see it and a clear, concise message.
2. Create a driving curiosity. The second facet is to hold a person’s attention long enough to deliver the rest of the shiny object. The overriding question is: What will make your prospects want to invest their time and efforts to take a closer look?
Some time-proven techniques to accomplish this are to ask a probing question, make an alluring promise, give a brief peek into your product, make a provocative statement, issue a dare or challenge, use humor, display some forbidden fruit, or tap in to a fear factor.
3. Stimulate an irrepressible urge to touch. The third shiny object facet should inspire the customer to take action in order to draw them deeper. The driving question for this facet is: How do you get your prospects to reach out and try your product?
Some ways to make this happen include: making an offer, distributing samples, providing a demo, holding a seminar or giving a free trial.
4. Activate emotion. The fourth shiny object facet is all about getting people to experience your brand, product or service — not just to try it. The driving question is: Which emotions, evoked by interaction with my product, will lead to a sale?
Every purchase, no matter how technical or rational it may seem, has an emotional factor. I have successfully marketed semiconductors, electronic test equipment, property management services, title insurance and a host of other products that might seem to have no bearing on emotions. Yet, these companies were all successful in their marketing efforts because they discovered the right emotional button that connected their prospects’ view of a shiny object to their product.
5. Demand ownership. The fifth shiny object facet is not just to sell your product but also to create such a strong relationship between your product and your customer that the customer literally demands ownership. The driving question here is: What will make your prospects want to grab your product and not let go?
Some time-proven methods to engender this demand for ownership include the following:
- Consistently meet or exceed the promise of your product or service
- Create a sense of immediacy
- Instill comfortable familiarity — make it emotionally difficult to leave your product
- Provide uncommon courtesy
- Sweat the small stuff
David LaBonte is a seasoned marketing professional with more than 30 years of experience. President of AdMatrix, an Orange-based marketing/advertising agency, LaBonte teaches marketing techniques to clients nationally. LaBonte conducts “Shiny Objects Marketing” workshops to help companies implement the concept of his book. Learn more at www.shinyobjectsmarketing.com.
Sometimes, in the pursuit of success, you begin to fail your company.
That’s the position that Mike Gauthier found himself in at his $24 million company, Save on Everything, the brand name of Mike’s Market Share Coupons Inc.
Gauthier, the company’s founder and president, answered a period of rapid growth by altering the structure of his company and constructing a leadership team of outside hires. But in the process, he allowed his company to get away from the culture that had made it a success in the first place.
So Gauthier had to bring his company full circle, bringing it back to a culture that valued internal growth and promoting the ideas of its people.
Smart Business spoke with Gauthier about how to bring your company back to what it does best.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve recently faced in your role?
One of our biggest challenges was a culture change we went through a few years back. We grew substantially, and that brought in a bunch of smart people with their own policies and procedural habits. Although those things are a necessity, one of the things we lost was the essence of who we are as a company, what I like to term our ‘saga’ — what are we about, why are we here. We forgot about that and started making policies and procedures more important than who we are.
So I’ve had to do a huge shift back to what our company was about. We had lost really good people during that time, and I had to end up replacing the management to have more my style and my feel of how a company should run. So we really had to reinvent ourselves, change our products, add new products, and we’ve done that pretty successfully.
What does a business need to have in order to not be bogged down in procedures?
Culture has to be a shared environment. People have to know what is going on within the company. If you’re keeping them in the dark, you’re not going to build a very good culture. I try to bring in more of a family-type culture here, even though it’s tougher to do that as you get into being a larger company. Right now, we’re at about 120 employees, so it’s manageable. But it’s having that daily involvement of your people. We have daily updates so that people know what is going on in the company, what is going on in sales, how we’re doing against our measurements and so forth.
Cultures also tend to flourish when people have a reason more than a job. They have to know that their ideas are valued and viewed as critical to success. They have to see changes will be made if they come up with good ideas. And you have to not punish them for making mistakes. You have to let them try things.
How do you allow your people to try new things, but still stay on goal?
It takes good ideas. You have to ask for them. With our sales staff, we’ll come up with new products from one of the sales members. They’ll see something, and they’ll tell us whether they think it can work in our organization. Instead of blowing it off, we’ll take the idea and see if it actually could work for us. We try to take ideas and work with them. We allow people on the production side to come up with new looks, new covers for the magazines we do. We tell them ‘Here is what we’re looking for; you come up with the product. You design it and come up with the idea.’ That gives them ownership. They take ownership and pride in what the product is going to look like. Then it starts to become more than a job.
How do you find people who are a good cultural match?
That is a tough part of the job. We went through all the scientific methodology and all of the other aptitude programs that are out there. They give you some idea, but in reality it’s all about who wants to step up to the plate. The trouble is, I’ve found that when you bring someone in from the outside, a lot of them are anesthetized from the neck up. They haven’t been cultured to think for themselves. So if you’re running a culture like ours, it takes a while to change that. Ultimately, it’s up to them. If they feel like it’s important, that they want to change and work hard, they’ll do it.
HOW TO REACH: Save on Everything, (248) 362-9119 or www.saveoneverything.com