As the president of the traveling exhibition company, American Exhibitions Inc., Marcus Corwin knows that creating the “blockbuster” exhibitions that the public wants to see involves creativity and ingenuity. But it also takes a lot of patience and upfront research.
“You don’t get Broadway successes overnight,” says Corwin, who joined the Boca Raton, Fla.-based exhibition company in 2006. “Most of them don’t make it. So how do you create something that people are going to want to see, that they’re going to be excited about, they’re going to be engaged?”
The company must develop new products all the time that it knows will resonate with customers. Corwin says that step one is figure out what fascinates and excites your potential audience — a million-dollar question for any business. This was the goal he had in mind when the organization developed its Mummies of the World exhibition, which focuses on a topic that has fascinated people for centuries.
“When Pepsi or Coca-Cola go to design a new soda, they’ve gone and done some focus groups, they’ve done some development, spent money on marketing,” he says. “And as good as they are, sometimes they get it wrong. So with regard to how do you find a product that you want to bring to market … sometimes we have it in our gut.”
Part of creating a hit with customers is having a sense for what the public wants by doing your homework and knowing who your customer is. By looking at similar exhibits that resonated with consumers, for example, Corwin was able to recognize trends toward subject matter such as human anatomy. The fact that these exhibits were extremely popular with consumers around the world evolved into the concept of mummies.
“Our thought process was what else would be people interested in seeing, because people are always interested in their history and the cultures that came before them,” Corwin says.
From there, it’s finding out how much they like it, what aspects resonate and most importantly whether they will pay and how much they will pay for it.
“We went and we had focus groups here in Florida,” Corwin says. “We had focus groups in Boston, Mass., and we had focus groups in Philadelphia — all which helped us identify the public’s perceptions of mummies and the public’s needs of why they choose an exhibition to come to, why they chose a museum to come to, how they spend their money and what are their trigger points in coming to see an exhibition like mummies.”
With focus groups, it’s important to examine a variety of feedback. Corwin specifically wanted to know which points of interest appealed to the majority of the audience, what price points could turn that interest into business, and which marketing materials were inviting versus frightening.
In the end, the company was able to put together the largest collection of mummies ever assembled in history from Egypt, South America, Asia and Oceania.
“We’ve had over 500,000 people see the exhibit already,” Corwin says. “Over 85 percent of them liked the exhibit a lot and would recommend the exhibit to their friends, family and relatives.”
Corwin says that when you have a product that’s successful, you need to then be asking yourself questions such as “What is our progression of additional product?” and “How do we continue to grow?” so you are always building on success.
Since the company opened the exhibit, it has done exit surveys at every location to determine what drove customers to attend and what they did and didn’t like so they can continue to improve the product. Now that it has built this brand and knows that people like mummies, Corwin says the next venture is to create sequels, such as Mummies II.
“From my company’s viewpoint, it’s almost like being at the helm of an ocean freighter,” Corwin says. “When you’re at the helm of an ocean freighter, you are looking way ahead, because it’s going to take you a period of time to shift the direction and speed of the ship. So I’m looking not one year out, but where am I going to be two, three, four, five years out with our company.”
How to reach: American Exhibitions Inc., (561) 482-2088 or www.americanexhibitions.com
In any kind of strategic planning, budgeting is very important. When you’re putting on a nationwide exhibition for thousands of people, it’s critical to map out your budget as clearly as possible so you can deliver for your partners and customers.
“The budget and forecasting is the premise of why you’re going forward with a project,” says Marcus Corwin, president of the exhibition company American Exhibitions Inc.
This was the greatest difficulty for Corwin and his team as they planned for “Mummies of the World,” especially because the economy is so uncertain.
“Sometimes we’re in a strong economy,” he says. “Sometimes we’re in a weaker economy. You can only make the best effort that you can do, but sometimes with the outcome, you are powerless.”
Once the budget and forecast make sense, being able to execute on that successfully involves a number of factors. One of the most important things to keep in mind is not getting carried away with ideas that haven’t been thoroughly vetted and can end up draining more resources or money than you have available. By making sure you are effectively planning and managing the costs, you can deliver your product at a better cost and profit.
“You have to deliver your product within those parameters,” Corwin says. “We found like typical in all worlds, designers have great ideas. And sometimes those ideas are pie in the sky and you have to be able to make sure that those ideas work, those ideas work within a budget and that the exhibit can be produced within that budget.”
Darryl Jones has watched each year as the number of convention attendees who travel to St. Louis drops a little bit more. Jones is managing partner at D&D Concessions LLC and is responsible for food service at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.
“Now that we don’t have the 20 million people coming in, we may have six or seven million people coming into St. Louis,” Jones says. “It’s a challenge. So in our business, what do we do? We have to look outside the box because we can’t get the big conventions here anymore.”
In short, Jones had to reinvent his business. It was either that, or close up shop for good, and he wasn’t prepared to do that for his 350 employees.
“You have to have the presence to always look at the landscape and see how it’s changing,” Jones says. “At one time, we depended on X amount of conventions to generate 80 percent of our revenue. Now that number is only generating 50 percent. So how do we make up this gap?”
The simple answer is you look for other means of generating revenue. But you take caution to not make every idea out to be the grand solution to all your problems.
“You try to win people over by saying, ‘OK, look. Let’s just try it like this. Let’s tweak it a little bit.’ You try to compromise,” Jones says. “If it doesn’t work or we don’t see any change, we can always go back. There’s nothing wrong with going back. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’”
You may not even have to trot out a new idea if one of your competitors has tried a new initiative to get their business going again.
“Instead of reinventing the wheel, you look to see what they’ve done and you try to tweak that,” Jones says. “Very rarely will you have that one person to jump out there. If that person has jumped out there, you look at it, analyze it and you say, ‘OK, we can tweak this just a little bit better. They may not have thought about this. They’ve changed the landscape a little bit, but let’s take it a little further.’”
The key is to take a measured approach to change. If your idea works, great. But if it doesn’t, your people will still be ready to follow you with the next option.
All this relies, of course, on your ability to get out there and get engaged with your people.
“If you’re the CEO that’s always behind closed doors and you’re always meeting with senior staff and you never engage the junior staff and the hourly folks, you may have a problem,” Jones says. “You’re going to become like an untouchable.”
Get to know your people and let them get to know you. Not the polished and controlled you that only engages in small talk. Be the leader who really gets to know what your people are all about and what they like about their work and what they find challenging about it.
“You have to know them,” Jones says. “Once you engage them, you have just as much passion about their families as they have. Once you buy them over, they will do it for you. It will be a place where they think, ‘Hey, I can go to the boss’s office anytime I want to.’”
You may be thinking to yourself, ‘I always talk about my open-door policy.’ But if you don’t have anyone coming through your open door to see you, maybe you’re putting other signs out there that convey the message that you really don’t want to hear from your people.
“If the hourly employees can see you get out there and you sit down and you put that pattern together and you say, ‘Hey, this is how you’re supposed to do it,’ they’re going to say, ‘Wow, this person really knows what they are talking about,’” Jones says. “They will do anything for you if they know you care.”
How to reach: D&D Concessions LLC, (314) 429-3400
If you’re feeling out of touch with your customers, Darryl Jones has a suggestion on how to reconnect that you may not have thought of before. But he insists it will produce results.
“You can probably incorporate any business you have when you start looking at fashion magazines,” says Jones, managing partner at D&D Concessions LLC. “Those guys are always on the cutting edge. The auto industry didn’t get to where it is by saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to go with the same old-style look. They started looking at those fashion magazines and saying, ‘Hey, you know what? These are the colors people are looking at.’
“They are looking at tech magazines and saying, ‘We need to incorporate these things. These young adults, they want this type of experience in a car.’”
Jones believes much can be gained from the younger generation that is establishing itself and setting the trends for the future.
“You’ll pick up a lot,” Jones says. “What do you like? What type of atmosphere are you looking for? What types of colors do you like? Talk to the younger generation because that’s your next source of revenue.”
And everyone should be taking part in that dialogue.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility,” Jones says. “From the guy sweeping the floor to the guy signing the checks, it’s everyone’s responsibility because everyone is traveling in different circles.”
Terry Cunningham knows that you need to have a compelling story for potential customers if you want their business. So when he joined EVault, A Seagate Co., around three years ago, his first objective was finding out how well the company’s story resonated with its customers and its 400 employees.
“We spent of time looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Well, would you buy it, and if not, why not?” says Cunningham, the president and general manager of EVault. “What’s not true about it? What is it that the customer would say, ‘I don’t really buy that story and here’s why’?”
Often, the problem isn’t that you don’t have a compelling story, but that you’re not communicating it correctly. Cunningham realized this was the case at EVault, which provides online backup and disaster recovery using cloud-based systems.
“So they had the right idea — the previous generation of the company,” he says. “It just wasn’t told in a way that had a broader market appeal.”
At the time, the company was serving only a small niche of industries that were legally required to backup their data anyway. But Cunningham knew that there was an opportunity to communicate to more consumers and markets that the cloud was a better way to handle their data protection and disaster recovery.
So how do you go about broadening the appeal of your story? Cunningham says the first step is floating the idea with people who may not think that they need your product.
“You begin with getting to the prospect that isn’t compelled buyers or compelled markets,” he says. “Go beyond the regulated industries that are required to do it and get to somebody that doesn’t care.”
Even if they seem unenthused at first, if you can open up a dialogue you will probably be able to identify some pain points.
“So now we get to the prospect or customer that at first doesn’t care that much because he thinks everything is OK, but then in the conversation, you discover that there are some challenges that they’re facing,” Cunningham says. “So OK, what’s the first problem you’re trying to solve, … what’s the second problem you have to solve … and so on.”
As you find these pain points, you can walk the customer through what a new solution might looks like and how a new story could meet them.
“Then it’s the usual sort of discovery process,” Cunningham says. “Let’s say we did have all of this. How much would you pay for it? When would you do it? What are all the other issues?”
Using this feedback, the company has been able to retool its story with pricing, packaging and other specifications that reach a broader spectrum of consumers. Now, Cunningham says the key to growth is being able to tell that story in a way that is simple and memorable.
“The early stage of that is to get out and tell the story and tune that story in the simplest possible way so that people can retell it,” he says. “If I give you the pitch, can you turn around and give it to somebody else easily?”
To help employees communicate it effectively to others, Cunningham regularly travels around to the company’s different offices to talk about the new story and why it is significant.
“The ultimate goal here is to communicate a story that gets told and retold by others, and we don’t have to keep doing all the heavy lifting,” he says. “If this is a better way, then eventually the world adopts it as proof that is really is a better way. You need everyone in your company to be able to communicate the story passionately and with the same enthusiasm.”
How to reach: EVault, A Seagate Co., www.evault.com or (877) 382-8581
The next best thing
When Terry Cunningham goes out to dinner, he loves to eat at restaurants that have paper on the table. That’s because when the whiteboard is out of reach, he has a spot to sketch out the next great idea for his technology business.
“They used to deliver crayons for the kids, now they deliver crayons for people like me to draw pictures while we’re talking about something,” he says.
As you continuously recast the story of what your business means to customers, you always want to be asking yourself, “What’s the next step?” even if it means sketching out the plan in Midnight Blue.
“[It’s] what’s changing from our customer’s perspective and how does it affect us to make sure that we’re not becoming irrelevant without even knowing it,” Cunningham says.
“There isn’t a technology company on the planet that isn’t sort of assessing where they’re at because the world is changing very quickly. So they’ve got to sort of reassess and figure out what the customer, target or prospect is looking for today.”
The key to long-term growth is to consider what the customer or the market is saying today, but never stop looking forward and innovating.
“I see a lot of companies and people I’ve worked with just chase the current model or market and they basically end up saying ‘me too,’” Cunningham says.
Joe Phelps had built much of his life around his business, but that was all about to change.
In Southern California and beyond, Phelps is known as a pioneer in the PR and marketing industry. He and his wife, Sylvia, took great pride in the steps they had taken to abolish the old-school department structure and create an organization in The Phelps Group that asks every employee to be completely centered on client satisfaction.
The firm was on a roll, adding new clients and being recognized as one of the best places to work in Los Angeles. And then Phelps learned that his wife, Sylvia, had brain cancer.
“I said, ‘You guys have to take care of the company, and I’ll take care of Sylvie,’” says Phelps, the 70-employee firm’s founder and CEO.
Sylvia Phelps ultimately lost her battle with brain cancer in November 2008. And while it by no means made her passing any easier to deal with, the fact that Joe’s team stepped up and kept the firm going while he was away provided him with great satisfaction.
“I wanted to have something that lives beyond me,” Phelps says. “When I was gone, they realized, ‘Hey, we’ve been doing it without Joe.’ People saw that this model actually does work. The key is to push the decision-making down to the front lines.”
When you choose to be more than the face of your company and become a magnet for every decision that needs to be made, you take away any sense of ownership and empowerment from your people. It’s why Phelps worked so hard to not be that and to make sure everyone at The Phelps Group understood how important their role was in the success of the business.
“They will relish the responsibility,” Phelps says. “They like to show how smart they are and how much they care. Like so many things in life, it comes down to trust. The more you trust them, the more they tend to trust you and the harder they want to work and care about the company. That trust has to permeate. You have to let people be as great as they can be. ”
Before you can do this, of course, you have to make sure you have people who can thrive in this kind of working environment. If Phelps had not initially identified and hired the right people to work for him, his time away from the firm could have produced much different results.
“I spend most of my time looking for good people,” Phelps says. “It’s staying out of situations where you have to hire someone right now. That means focusing on longer term planning where you’re finding people and putting them on the bench and slowly grooming them. Make it so you’re not starting at ground zero, because it takes a while to get to know someone.”
When you take a more methodical approach to hiring, you can take opportunities to see how compatible the job candidate would be with the people they would be working with. This is important at the hiring stage, but also down the road when you’ll be asking this person to then mentor a new crop of rookies.
“They have to demonstrate that they can trust other people and be responsible for the work and demonstrate that they can coach and help other people,” Phelps says. “It’s about putting other peoples’ needs before their own. If someone is really on fire to make the agency successful, it’s people that take themselves off the throne and are willing to help others, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Phelps feels fortunate that he’s been able to find those people and create a very successful firm.
“Once you find good people and you give them a good environment, then you have to get out of their way,” Phelps says. “You have to pry your fingers off the handle bars and let go.”
How to reach: The Phelps Group, (310) 752-4400 or www.thephelpsgroup.com
Share the spotlight
Joe Phelps does not have department meetings at The Phelps Group, because there aren’t any departments.
“If you have departments, you’re going to have department directors who feel threatened by some of their people,” says Phelps, founder and CEO at the 70-employee marketing agency. “You need to always be thinking about what the client needs.”
Phelps believes that when you take departments out of the equation and instead have your people center their efforts on the client, your activity is focused exactly where it needs to be.
One of the most effective things employees at The Phelps Group do to center on their clients is ‘The BrainBangers’ Ball.’ Employees meet once a week to talk about things ranging from new advertising campaigns to a new website design or a promotional concept for a new product or service.
Phelps is happiest when victories are celebrated throughout the firm and everybody feels like they played a part in helping a client.
“In most ad agencies, someone comes up with a big idea and they want to make sure everybody knows it was their idea,” Phelps says. “The norm here is for people to share the praise and give people credit for shining light on the idea.”
Technology is a term often associated with advancement. In the realm of customer service, it has cultivated an expectation of increasingly innovative and customized service.
Michael Brunner, however, says that the opposite holds true for many companies.
“You’ve got this expanding gap there that the more technology advances, the greater the disappointment there is with the consumer as to what their expectation is and what they receive as it relates to their own experiences,” says Brunner, CEO and chairman of M.J. Brunner Inc. based in Pittsburgh.
As a full-service advertising agency, understanding customer wants and needs is paramount to creating and delivering effective campaigns for M.J. Brunner’s clients.
“The more we know about the mindset of the consumer — the way they think, the way they deal with technology, they way they use technology, the way they put technology into their purchasing patterns today — the more valuable we become to our clients,” Brunner says.
The 200-plus-employee agency uses a number of techniques to evaluate its clients’ customers, including shopper marketing to define consumer behaviors. Once a campaign has been created, the company implements a measurement analytics tool called Cricket to then review campaign metrics in real time to make decisions and changes based on ROI.
“We’re hired by our clients because they expect us to get results for them,” Brunner says.
“If we were to deliver that I think that’s all fine and good, but I don’t think that’s enough. I would define that as creating work or developing a campaign or a program that absolutely catapults a client to the top of their category — one that achieves dramatic results, one that fires up or rallies the organization, one that is built around a big or a game-changing business idea.”
One tool the company uses to think up big ideas is BHiveLab, an incubator focused on creating new ways to engage people on the go. By connecting to consumers through mobile devices and other emerging technologies, M.J. Brunner’s campaigns can influence consumer decision making during the actual shopping process in store.
“Almost every percent of purchase decisions are made in store. So that walk down aisle seven making a decision as you’re looking at cereals is not necessarily something that’s already decided before you get there.”
“We are able to connect the technology and the marketing and reach the consumer, give them a reason to purchase our client’s product rather than the competitor’s product.”
Brunner also uses technology to track and respond to consumer feedback through social media outlets.
“That negative experience that a customer felt or experienced today can be delivered to thousands of people (using social media) and creates an entire swell, if you will, of ill will or bad feeling or creates a bandwagon, which allows others to jump on and say the same thing,” Brunner says.
Responding to negative feedback quickly can prevent its rapid spread. Conversely, responding quickly to positive feedback can promote rapid spread.
“Perhaps you could use that as a platform and build a program or a campaign off that,” Brunner says. “It maybe becomes a starting point for future communications.”
HOW TO REACH: M.J. Brunner Inc., (412) 995-9500 or www.brunnerworks.com
Curt Moody was finding it tough in a down economy to find construction projects for his architectural firm to design. And the competition was like none he had ever seen before.
“One of the difficulties in this market is the small firms are doing everything they can just to survive ? and the large firms are doing the same,” says Moody, president and CEO of Moody-Nolan Inc. “The large firms are coming after the smaller work. A lot of times, clients are looking to say, well, they would prefer the personal touch of a small firm on a certain project type.”
So to address this challenge, you need to set up your firm to respond to both ends of the spectrum.
“We build our practice around being able to service and give the personal touch by having our project teams small enough to be able to respond in that way,” he says.
“But there’s the understanding that, let’s say, when a schedule gets pinched, you need to be able to add personnel quickly, so you need an approach that allows you to augment your core teams with other staff members when necessary.”
It was even more of a challenge since he built his company over the last 30 years, and to his credit, it is now the largest African-American owned and operated architecture firm in the country ? 162 employees work at the $26 million organization.
You’ll find that restructuring is not magic in itself, and it will still take you some solid selling efforts to overcome what might be assumptions about a larger company.
“When you reach over 100 employees, clients just look at you as a very large company and impersonal,” Moody says. “So work very hard to show that with your past clients, what you committed to them you fulfilled.”
You will need to explain to prospective clients that you will do that for them as well. Make sure you focus on how well past clients of similar size were satisfied.
“You will have good client references if the new clients want to dig into that,” Moody says.
The composition of the project team is important. To maintain the small company feel, you should have the team that presents the initial sales pitch be the same one that carries out the project. If your company is divided into specialty areas, you can make the head of the particular division the point person to serve as the project’s executive. He or she would name a project manager who would choose a team of very experienced people in that project type.
“They are all going to have the skills that any of your competitors will also propose ? but you’ll have them,” Moody says. “The team is built around those skills but the responsibility is to service the client. Therefore, they have the responsibility of getting to know the client more than just as a project, so you can address their overall needs, not just the specific needs of a one-time project opportunity.”
When you discuss the client’s needs and budget during the sales pitch, again use a small business approach.
“What you should try to say is that you can fulfill those base needs, making sure you give them the full program, that you meet their budget, meet their schedule, and by the way, you are going to be as innovative as they desire,” Moody says. “So it’s basically the client’s determination how far you go, not your own, because you can go from one extreme to another.”
In other words, you should show a client what the client has asked you to do, and then show what you can do that expands on what they asked for.
“Try to show them that you can meet their basic criteria ? here it is ? but they have an opportunity to go beyond that and here’s how you can still meet their criteria and go beyond what they might have been thinking,” he says. “And by doing that, you are giving your clients more choices than some of your competitors. That gives you an edge. You have to have a strategy that is going to work to help you be successful no matter whom the competition is.”
How to reach: Moody-Nolan Inc., (877) 530-4984 or www.moodynolan.com
Getting that next project
When Moody Nolan Inc. opened a new office in Dallas, Curt Moody knew one of the first orders of business would be to impress upon his staff the challenge of getting the next project.
“You can be very solid for the present,” says Moody, president and CEO. “But when you finish that work, what is next?”
If you don’t have something following quickly, you’re either going to have a large payroll expense during a time when you are not generating sufficient revenue for it or you are going to have to reduce expenses.
“A lot of firms are going to cut positions,” he says. “The problem is that you have gained some experience on that project and now you are letting it step away because you are waiting on another opportunity.”
You need to try to stay away from that and be in environments where you don’t vary your staff levels. Build upon the skills that you retained, keep the skills of that environment, and you can do better by maintaining a healthy workflow.
“You have to know when somebody has a dream,” Moody says. “You have to know when somebody says, ‘We are growing, we have a need. Should we consider building or expanding?’ You’ve got to hear about those things; follow it wherever you can find it, then follow up: ‘You know you are thinking about this ? can we help you? Can we do an analysis or some planning to see what might be in your best interests?”‘
How to reach: Moody-Nolan Inc., (877) 530-4984 or www.moodynolan.com
President Lisa Faller sees client loyalty as a direct reflection of her company’s commitment to going above and beyond for clients. Today, FKQ Advertising + Marketing’s client list includes numerous relationships that span decades.
“That speaks volumes about our focus on generating the client’s desired result,” says Faller, whose family founded the Clearwater-based firm in 1961. “You can do a really good job and you can deliver and please a lot of people, but at the end of the day, if you are not year over year making that happen, then your tenure is probably short lived.”
FKQ’s self-defining philosophy of “whatever it takes” is splashed all over the company’s website, and there’s a reason. On the client side, Faller says the company’s associates are relentless in pursuing and achieving every client’s success goals, which she adds are often fairly aggressive. The continuing challenge is not just recruiting candidates that have this drive, but maintaining a company culture where its 82 employees can pursue ambitious ideas and new ways of thinking.
“For our people, it’s about empowering everyone at FKQ to really control their own destinies by creating an environment where the best ideas always flourish,” she says.
One way is by using both large and small group environments to draw out people’s insights and opinions.
“When you are in a large group setting, some people may not feel as comfortable offering up what are no question great ideas to put into play and have everyone benefit from,” Faller says.
Offering a mix of communication channels for people to discuss ideas gives them the opportunity to share in either setting, encouraging more contributions and collaborations. This, on top of daily positive reinforcement of good work is what gives employees the confidence to deliver their top performance.
“That leads to facilitating the best thinking, because then people are confident and positive in terms of what they are able to do,” Faller says. “That helps them in being able to facilitate greater, bigger thinking on a consistent basis.”
Another way to further a results-oriented culture is by getting people to focus on positive outcomes. So as a mentor and motivator, Faller is always acting as the cheerleader for optimism and enthusiasm.
“You have to keep people feeling very good about not only what they are delivering to the client, but just being happy in general,” she says.
“It’s really a lot about a consistent focus on thinking positive, seeing the glass half full and never dwelling on uncontrollable negative influences.”
While clients provide the inspiration in keeping employees motivated about new opportunities and challenges to think through, Faller says a leader needs to provide the context in the vision to motivate the culture as whole.
“You’re identifying what the overall goals are, and then you have to make sure that you articulate that to all of your respective team members so that you have that unified commitment, and that focus and everybody collectively achieving those desired goals,” she says.
Faller also uses employee motivation efforts such as having FKQ-sponsored events or serving up special food offerings. The more mass appeal it has, the more effective it is.
“You need to be open to be making sure that whatever continues to please the masses is something that we focus on,” Faller says. “That keeps people in a charged up fashion to deliver for our brands.”
By solidifying this strong team spirit and unity, she supports a culture where people believe they can make anything happen. An example is when FKQ completed a billboard for McDonald’s McCafe espresso products in downtown Tampa, which had three-dimensional coffee cups and real steam coming off the board. The groundbreaking advertisement not only drove customers to McDonald’s, but was hailed in the industry as a best practice because of its environmentally friendly construction.
“We’re always about how can we resolve this or make this better,” Faller says.
“You have to have that universal spirit. If everybody understands that and every action is guided by that, it’s incredible what that total unity can make happen on behalf of the clients that we serve.”
How to reach: FKQ Advertising + Marketing, (727) 539-8800 or www.fkq.com
Finding rock stars
For companies with a long track record of exceeding clients’ expectations, the biggest challenge is often just finding more rock star talent to feed the growing machine. Lisa Faller, president of FKQ Advertising + Marketing, continues to use a twofold approach to recruit people who fit with the company’s brand character.
“Growing up in the business, I just saw how we had done it successfully for so long,” Faller says. “We just continued to evolve and grow upon what has worked well for this company and been able to infuse even new, younger viewpoints.”
First, the company uses its longtime referral program as a targeted means of recruiting.
“Who better to advocate our brand than those people who actually embody and live it each and every day?” she says.
“That often leads to greater retention because when birds of a feather flock together, not only do you get better candidates in the door, those are the people who typically have the long-term tenure, which is a trademark of FKQ.”
Secondly, the company works with the best HR professionals that it has come in contact with over the decades. These people specialize in the disciplines FKQ offers for employees, which creates a pipeline of new talent.
“We’re bringing in the best talent that keeps our FKQ fire burning, the juices flowing and that spark that fuels the energy that keeps this agency bursting at the seams throughout our 50-year tenure,” Faller says.
Thom Stork was walking through The Florida Aquarium one day when he passed by the shark exhibits. As he watched the divers swimming in the tanks, his curiosity led him to begin posing questions to a nearby employee: ‘How many people go in the tank? How often? Has anyone ever been bitten?’ And before long, he asked the kicker: ‘Can we put our guest in there?’
“He looked at me like I was crazy, ran away and came back a few days later,” says Stork, who became president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium Inc. in 2002. “Then he said, ‘OK. Listen, we can do this.’”
Before heading up Tampa’s not-for profit aquarium, Stork worked as a marketing executive for Busch Entertainment Corp. for nearly three decades. When he retired, he was approached by the aquarium’s chairman with a proposal to bring his marketing expertise to running the organization.
“I said, ‘I’m not a scientist. I’m not a biologist. I’m not an oceanographer. I’m a marketing, business guy,’” Stork says. “And he said, ‘That’s what we need.’”
Since the aquarium implemented its “Dive with the sharks” program, the exhibit has been extremely profitable and remains sold out. It’s these kinds of unique and memorable experiences that connect people to the organization Stork aims to create every day. To accomplish that, he encourages his people to run with their ideas, even when they seem a bit nuts.
“They come to my office,” Stork says. “They grab me in the hallway or they grab me over in the restaurant and say, ‘Have you ever thought about doing this?’ Every time you hear that you go ‘Yeah! Let’s think about that.’”
In addition to offering encouragement, when you ask people to be proactive in trying new things you’ve also got to be able to demonstrate follow through and constructive feedback once they do. Otherwise, people may get discouraged.
“They have got to understand that it failed,” Stork says. “It failed. This did not work, and here is the reason why. Or ask them, ‘Why did it fail?’ Just have that dialogue.
“They know they are not going to be criticized for wacky-ass ideas.”
When a dive master presented his idea for a “Biologist for the day” program to the senior management team, Stork gave him kudos but also asked him to think bigger picture than the proposed $300 annual profit. The employee was able to rework the program, which today brings the organization thousands in revenue.
“I went, ‘Michael, you did an incredible piece of work here, but here is my challenge for you,’” he says. “‘I want you to go back and I want you to figure out how we can make $30,000.’ He was thinking in a not-for-profit mindset.”
Whether it’s creating new education programs or adding unique events and exhibits — the aquarium recently developed a one-of-a-kind penguin attraction — Stork challenges his 159 employees to explore the boundless possibilities for growth while staying committed to the mission of the organization.
“I believe strongly in the adage that there is not an original idea,” he says. “So I constantly look at what other facilities of our type are doing. I read extensively about new products that are out there for zoos and aquariums and theme parks, trying to determine what works in terms of bringing people through the front door. But then I also do put on my mission hat and say is it good for our business, does it further our mission, does it further our culture?
“So today I say, when I do retire, my legacy will be that I was able to take a bunch of scientists, biologists, teachers and environmentalists and turn them into entrepreneurs, to think about how to make the business work.”
How to reach: The Florida Aquarium Inc., (813) 273-4000 or www.flaquarium.org
Thom Stork, president and CEO of The Florida Aquarium Inc., is always asking guests what they want to see at the aquarium, whether it’s dolphins, sea lions or what he and his team affectionately call “big-ass sharks.” Yet now that the organization is in a position to look comfortably into its financial future, prioritizing what people want versus what the business needs has become more important.
“In the analysis of everything, you have to look at the things you need to do to further round out this facility and this business,” Stork says. “So we’ve spent a lot of time over the last 18 months looking at what we need to do.”
This year, Stork spearheaded a $15 million capital campaign to address the needs of the organization’s 700,000 annual visitors and 100,000 school kids who visit for its education programs. The project, which broke ground in September, will incorporate lobby renovations, expand classrooms — there are currently two — and add much-needed event and exhibit space, including a ballroom to seat 500 people.
“The priority is ‘What do we need?’” Stork says. “All of those things have a return on investment. They will produce revenues for the aquarium which will further grow the aquarium.”
“As a sales rep, you can sort of get into a rut or the same routine and get to your wit’s end, in some cases, in trying to reach people,” says Michael Pace, vice president of Americas direct sales for Infor Global Solutions, a $1.8 billion business software and services provider.
Because of this, Infor is always looking for ways to improve. Enter Vorsight, a Virginia-based company that specializes in sales training and meeting scheduling. Some members of the Vorsight team came in and worked with Infor about utilizing different sales techniques.
Pace says one of the first keys for your sales force to improve their approach is to use Web tools, such as Hoover’s, LinkedIn and the prospective company’s website, to do more research and understand that organization better. It sounds simple, but it goes far.
One of the other keys Infor learned about was learning how to leave better voice mails that would generate interest on the recipient’s end in returning the call. About half the calls Infor’s team makes end up in voicemail, so this is critical.
“When you leave a message, make sure they understand you know who they are and what their business is,” says Tim Young, regional vice president, distribution sales for Infor. “Try to relate something that might be of benefit.”
For example, your salesperson could say something like, “X company is a customer, and they’ve really benefited from our product. I see that you’re similar to X company, so this might also really help your company, and I’d like to set up a meeting to talk about it.” This approach shows a genuine care for the prospective company.
Additionally, Chris Huard, regional vice president, channels distribution sales for Infor, says your sales team has to be very strategic in how they leave their messages.
“Each time you’re leaving it, don’t overload them,” Huard says. “Make it short and sweet. Leave our number once at the beginning, and leave it again at the end. Speak clearly and slowly. Each time we leave a message, leave a piece of value with that customer to make them want to call back.”
Another key is to make sure your team doesn’t stop at just leaving a voice mail. Take it a step further.
“A lot of people leave voice messages, and some people leave e-mails, but statistically, they’ve proven that a combination of e-mail and a voice mail are three times more effective in getting a response,” Young says.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get people who are set on their approach to try new techniques, so part of the training consisted of Vorsight and Infor people making calls right there in the training to put these techniques in action. Huard says seeing the training team making these calls using these techniques and having success — right there in front of everyone was a huge buy-in booster. That buy-in is critical, so showing people how it can help them will help them personalize what it will mean for their success.
“If you have sales people who are motivated by money, and if they use a successful sales technique, they’re going to get more at-bats and be more successful at bat and hopefully hit more homeruns,” Young says.
As a result of the training and trying new sales techniques, Pace sees a clear difference.
“At a high level, we’re much more efficient in reaching the people that we want to reach,” Pace says. … “We’re more efficient at doing that, we’re more creative, and I think our pipelines are more accurate and cleaner because we are able to deal at the executive levels, at the decision-maker levels because we’re having conversations with the team, and the deals we’re working are more real.”
Infor used Virginia-based Vorsight, a meeting scheduling and sales training company, to help it improve its approach to sales. Steve Richard is the co-founder of Vorsight, and he says one of the biggest tools you can have your sales team use is the switch-board operators at the companies you’re calling on.
“Most people approach the switchboard the wrong way,” he says. “When they call the switchboard, they either identify themselves, or they start trying to get transferred through to the right person instead of getting the information from the switchboard first.”
For example, in some cases, you may be trying to reach the CFO, and you may know who the CFO is, but perhaps you don’t know who the CFO’s assistant is or what his or her e-mail address or direct phone number is.
“Getting that simple information first, and then by calling into that direct dial number, you have a much higher probability of getting that person on the phone,” he says.
He says that clients tend to see better results when taking this approach.
“They were finding that the connection rates were much higher, and they were able to engage these people in discussions that were qualified appointments, and, in turn, qualified opportunities,” Richard says.
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