Have you read the ancient Indian story about the elephant and the six men? The story holds an important lesson for organizations.

In the story, six friends blindfold themselves and play a game where they try to identify objects they come across. As they venture out, they come across an elephant. As the story goes, none of them had seen an elephant before. Each one of them proceeds to feel different parts of the elephant.

After careful analysis, the first man declares the object is a large drum. He was touching the elephant’s stomach. The second man objects vociferously. It is a rope, he asserts as he feels the tail. The others vigorously forward their assessments: the trunk of a tree, a fan or a curved stick.

Finally, when they cannot agree on their assessments, they take off their blindfolds to discover that the object they were envisioning and the real object are starkly different. While their individual assessments were based on valid information gathering and analysis, they realize they could not have been more wrong.

Different points of view

The different teams and departments in a company more often than not act like the six blindfolded men. They view the company and the issues it faces from their distinct perspectives, which leads to different assessments of what is important or what is urgent and, unfortunately, sometimes a lack of respect for the viewpoints and capabilities of the other teams.

For instance, in many companies, sales and operations departments do not share a high opinion of each other. The operations team may feel the sales team makes unrealistic promises to customers. The sales team, on the other hand, may feel the operations team is unable to deliver the quality and timely performance necessary to thrive in the marketplace.

The issues exist at all touch points and involve all the teams. While teams have their heart in the right place and want to contribute, they are caught up in their way of thinking and fail to see the big picture. Their hard-nosed assessments do more harm than good.

Re-engineering and realigning perspectives

As a leader, you must recognize the severity of the problem and address the issue diligently. Ensuring that your teams develop a broader perspective and solve problems from a company perspective rather than a departmental perspective is a crucial component of your job.

Changing the perspectives of successful departmental leaders who have a good measure of self-esteem (read it as ego) is an excruciating task. To encourage a company perspective, invest heavily in cross-functional, companywide initiatives. For instance, develop, crystallize and propagate a detailed and meaningful mission to unite the teams. A strong mission would serve as a higher purpose than individual departmental interests and concerns.

Emphasize improvement and performance themes that are cross-functional in nature and scope. Hoping that the teams will just rally around companywide goals is not a good strategy. Generate a vigorous discussion with all the teams present so they can appreciate the goals and develop joint ways of achieving them.

For example, achieving revenue goals cannot be the sole responsibility of the sales department. If it is perceived that way, the probability of success is lower.

Similarly, efficiency cannot be a goal of the operations team alone. All the other teams, from sales to customer service, HR, IT and accounting have to understand and respect the value of operational efficiency and provide their full support, ideas and active cooperation and contribution.

Help your team members recognize and appreciate the elephant so they are not lost in their individual parts. ?

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and WorldNews, Ravi Kathuria is a recognized thought leader. Featured on the “BusinessMakers” show, CBS Radio, and “Nightly Business Report,” he is the author of the highly acclaimed book, “How Cohesive is Your Company?: A Leadership Parable.” Kathuria is the president of Cohegic Corporation, a management consulting, executive and sales coaching firm, and president of the Houston Strategy Forum. Reach him at (281) 403-0250 or feedback@cohegic.com.

Published in Houston
Saturday, 01 December 2012 14:42

How Experian found a place to grow in Allen

When Experian arrived in Allen, Texas in 1993, the city was “at the end of U.S. 75 and just starting as a community,” says Russell Tieman, vice president of facilities and administration.

The consumer credit services company has grown along with the city, and last year signed a lease extension to stay through 2025. That came on the heels of a 2010 agreement with the Allen Economic Development Corporation to invest $30 million in facilities in return for incentives totaling $1.5 million over 10 years. As part of the agreement, Experian plans to add 300 employees to boost its workforce in Allen to 1,000, with most being part of the national assistance call center or global technology services team.

“We have a great relationship with the city, and there’s a great, highly educated labor force here,” says Tieman.

Smart Business spoke with Tieman about Experian’s investment and what makes Allen a good location for its business.

What makes Allen a good location?

When Experian originally moved to Allen, there was nothing here. Since then, there’s been so much commercial and retail growth, as well as new housing. It’s been an up and growing suburban community, and Experian tends to be in locations outside of central business districts. For example, the company headquarters is in Costa Mesa, Calif., as opposed to a downtown area. Allen and the surrounding communities have good, safe neighborhoods and an excellent labor force. Quality of life is important and you want to limit commutes.

Did Experian consider other locations before renewing its lease?

Yes, but we conducted an analysis and it made more sense to stay. It was challenging to remodel an occupied space instead of building new. But, although we tested the local real estate market, we never considered looking outside of Allen. In the end, we chose to stay because of our long-standing relationship with the city of Allen and the deal we negotiated with our landlord.

What impact did the Allen Economic Development Corporation have on that decision?

They assisted as much with their customer service as the incentives that they offered. It’s very competitive among local economic development groups in Texas, and Allen works hard to keep and attract companies. They are really great to work with — the whole city, not just the economic development team.

What was involved in the $30 million investment made by Experian?

About $20 million has been put into remodeling in the past few years, with at least $10 million more going toward equipment and other assets. The space was originally built in 1993 with cubicles that had very high walls, and it was very dark and chopped up. The work plan is more colorful and energetic, and builds collaboration. There is a lot of meeting space, video conferencing, game rooms, TV rooms, quiet rooms and amenities that would not have been thought of in 1993. We had been working in a space based on 1993 technology and it was time to invest in the property.

There was surplus space, and the space that was being used is far more efficient with the remodel. The final phase of the second floor was recently finished and received all sorts of accolades. Employees who had worked in the old design have been saying, ‘This is fantastic.’

Would you recommend Allen to companies looking to relocate?

Absolutely, it’s a great community. The Allen Economic Development Corporation is a great group to work with and very helpful. That help would probably be even more beneficial to a company that didn’t already have experience in Allen. Any company should look at the North Dallas metroplex area, particularly Allen.

Russell Tieman is a vice president of facilities and administration at Experian. Reach him at (714) 612-0597 or russell.tieman@experian.com.

Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Allen Economic Development Corporation

 

 

Published in Los Angeles
Thursday, 28 February 2013 19:41

Jerry McLaughlin: Live outside the box

Most business leaders want to greatly improve customer loyalty, and I am no different.

To drive loyalty to my promotional products business, we have tried all the usual means — low prices, free shipping, membership club benefits, discounts and exclusive product offers.

Once, we even tried sending a vase of fresh flowers after each order. None of these initiatives resulted in the dramatic improvement that we sought. Over the years, we have engaged a series of expert consultants to find even more ideas to try. But in our business, customer loyalty remains a tough nut to crack.

The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. struggled with similar obstacles when it came to problem-solving in their business. Many were scientific, and — even though Eli Lilly’s substantial R&D group is staffed with talented technical experts — some problems resisted a solution for years. However, the company did invent a way to solve some of its problems quickly and cheaply.

Use expert advice — of others

Here is the gist of it: Eli Lilly discovered that it could solve a lot of the most intractable problems by giving them to experts from other fields. Simple? Yes. Counterintuitive? Yes. The surprise is that it seems to work.

The company put together an online network of thousands of scientists from other disciplines and “broadcast” their brain-stumping challenges to these experts from other fields. In many cases, the experts solved the problems by simply drawing on knowledge common in their own areas and applying it to Eli Lilly’s dilemma.

Eli Lilly’s scientists, we may presume, know just about all there is to know in their respective fields of expertise. Likewise, in my company, our experts know just about all there is to know about the industry, our products, our customers, competitors and so on. When the subject-matter experts can’t solve a problem, you need to cast a much wider net. If the specialists are stumped, then a solution, if found at all, will come from people outside the field.

Modify your individual process, if needed

Today, our company is using a version of Eli Lilly’s method in our business, which other organizations might also use to address their toughest problems. I didn’t have the time or means to put together a large team of experts from outside disciplines to work on my company’s challenges. So we use a modified Eli Lilly approach: We deliberately, routinely expose our in-house experts to nontraditional experiences and knowledge.

The idea is to see whether we can find our own answers by investing to acquire experiences outside those we normally encounter. In recent months, this new approach has involved my participation in a variety of eye-opening situations, including a meeting with the Cavalia producers, lots of museum visits, a guided tour of London graffiti and a design school workshop at Stanford University. On a personal level, I’m trying much harder to add new concepts and idea possibilities to my thinking.

I don’t know whether we’ll crack the customer loyalty problem in this way, but I can tell you that the ideas we discuss now are fresher than those we used to generate. That’s why my prescription for increasing the likelihood of solving the toughest problems is this: Live outside the box.

Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company. McLaughlin can be reached at JerryMcLaughlin@branders.com.

 

 

Published in Northern California

If you own or operate a business, you have probably experienced slow periods where revenue was declining and you didn’t have enough leads coming in. But there is actually a way to market yourself so that you are not at the mercy of the season or economy again.

There are two things that you need to control your revenue year-round: an integrated marketing approach and an organized marketing plan.

Here’s how to do it.

Integration

Integration means that each piece of your marketing works together in a coordinated way. For example, an integrated approach might look like this: You have a direct mail postcard campaign that drives traffic to your website. Your website is optimized to convert that traffic into leads by getting them to fill out a form.

Then, that form populates your email database and your leads receive pre-determined emails from you for the next six months. During that time, your sales team follows up with the prospects over the phone.

Of course, the specific strategies that make up an integrated campaign vary by industry, but what follows is a good general outline.

In order to fully integrate your marketing approach, you will need the following systems in place:

  • Lead generation. For this, I suggest direct-mail postcards. There are other options such as television, radio, billboards, letters and more. But I have found postcards to be the most cost-effective.
  • Lead reception. Receptionists should have a predetermined way to handle callers and gather their contact information. Your website needs to be optimized to gather prospects’ contact information, which is easily done by offering free downloads where the prospect is prompted to fill out a simple form.
  • Follow-up. You’ll want to go with an email service for this, because email is the most affordable follow-up option available and usually yields great results when used in this capacity. Postcards and phone calls are also great for follow-up, too.

The Internet is also a great resource to learn more about each of these elements.

Organization

It is one thing to have an integrated marketing approach, and it is another thing to have an organized, fully integrated marketing plan.

It may sound obvious, but you need to be intentional and organized about exactly how the pieces of your marketing plan will integrate. For example, how many days will go by before an online prospect receives the first email from you? How many days will you wait until you call your prospects? Does the design on your postcard match the design of your website?

The best way to handle this is to sit down with your marketing staff — or by yourself if you don’t have a marketing staff — and evaluate the process, beginning with lead generation and continuing all the way to the sale. You’ll also need to answer the questions that come up along the way.

Some of these questions you’ll want to ask and answer include the following:

  • How am I going to generate leads?
  • How am I going to receive these leads?
  • Is the method of reception going to immediately let the prospect know they are in the right place?
  • How am I going to get prospects’ contact information?
  • How am I going to follow up with leads?
  • How are my different follow-up methods going to work together?
  • How often should I contact my leads?

Once you have built a solid structure for your marketing campaign, you can get to work implementing it. As you do, you will notice that your revenue numbers follow a pattern that correlates to your marketing output. And when that happens, you’ll have confidence that, even in your off seasons, you can get the leads you need by simply increasing your marketing output.

Joy Gendusa is the owner and CEO of direct mail marketing firm, PostcardMania. Joy began PostcardMania in 1998, with nothing but a phone and a computer, never taking a dime of investment capital. Since then, PostcardMania has expanded to offer its clients more services including website and landing page design and development, email marketing and full marketing evaluations — all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. In 2011, PostcardMania reached almost $45 million in annual revenue and the company now employs more than 195 people, prints 4 million and mails 2 million postcards each week, and has more than 53,000 customers in over 350 industries.

Please visit www.postcardmania.com for more information. Find Joy on Google+.

Published in Florida

A few weeks ago, I met with a member of our new business development team who had been on the job for a week or so. A few days before the meeting, I started jotting down notes about the message I wanted to convey and the points I wanted to make. These notes are the basis for my column this month.

There were seven points I wanted to stress to help the new team member be successful in our organization. Since my notes were a little cryptic, I will not only list them but expand on what they mean.

1. 900. My belief is that everyone has 15 minutes, or 900 seconds, of extra time during the day. Nine-hundred seconds where they have nothing to do; 900 seconds of basically free time.

For me, you need to take advantage of those 900 seconds and get better at something every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s gaining better computer skills or becoming a better presenter, just as long as you get better at something every day.

2. A new best friend. This was not only easy for me, but it’s essential. You need to make LinkedIn your new best friend. Since LinkedIn will be your new best friend, you need to spend time with it and get to know it. You need to understand the value of the tool and the power it has.

I truly believe if you aren’t using LinkedIn every day as a business tool, you are not as successful, efficient or smart as you could be.

3. Uncover hidden jewels. No, this isn’t about “Storage Wars.” (Even though I love that show, it isn’t what I’m referring to.) Every company has hidden jewels.

The question is: Where are they located? Where is that great proposal hiding? Who can fill you in on the company history, and who has the best value proposition that will help me sell our products and services and turn prospects into clients?

4. Get off to a quick start. I truly believe that if you get off to a quick start in the morning, you’ll accomplish more during the day. If you get off to a quick start prior to 8:30 a.m., this will be a springboard for a successful day.

People tend to feel good about themselves if they make things happen as soon as their day starts.

5. Each “no” gets you closer to a “yes.” Sales is a numbers game. Every time you get a no, even though it might hurt or upset you, it will get you that much closer to a yes and a new client.

6. Be a creature of habit. Without question, I am a creature of habit. I get in to the office and leave at the same time almost every day. I eat oatmeal at the same time, and I check the revenue of the company as soon as I arrive. The quicker you get into a routine, the better off you will be.

If you are in new business development, set aside the same time in the morning and afternoon to call prospects. Call your friends back at lunchtime when it might not be the most productive time.

7. You’re only alone if you want to be. This point is very important — especially if, like our new team member, you work at home. It’s very easy to bury yourself in your job and try to figure everything out yourself. Don’t do that. Stay connected to your office.

When your technology isn’t working perfectly, don’t try to fix it yourself. Call your IT department. When you’re responding to a proposal, if you have writer’s block, call a team member. Don’t struggle for hours. Remember, time is money.

Incidentally, the reason I had seven points was not that I couldn’t think of another few. My belief is that there are too many top 10 lists, and a top seven list would have a better chance to resonate with our new team member.

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, located in Dallas. The company is one of the top 25 market research companies in the U.S. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. He can be reached at merrill.dubrow@marcresearch.com or at (972) 983-0416.

Published in Dallas

Businesses have been able to keep their heads above water during the recession — and the agonizingly slow recovery — by increasing efficiency and reducing expenses. However, many find sales growth more elusive.

“Their focus has been belt tightening, cutting expenses and doing more with less, but that’s not going to carry them through the next five years,” says Larry Goddard, CTP, managing director at SS&G Parkland. “The challenge is to focus on growth in a slow-growing economy, and everyone is going to have to be better at sales strategy and execution.”

Sales strategy, however, often gets less attention than lowering costs, as you’re dealing with an uncontrolled environment of customers and competitors, he says.

Smart Business spoke with Goddard about the questions business owners should ask themselves when sales are stagnating.

Are you operating in markets that are conducive to success?

Business success is always tough, but it is even tougher when operating in markets that make success harder to attain. Markets that are shrinking, low margin, or dominated by formidable and powerful competitors invariably make sales growth harder to achieve. Businesses that do not operate in markets that are conducive to success are likely to be consistently disappointed with their sales performance — unless they have strong ways to counteract unattractive markets.

You can make markets more attractive by changing markets, finding growing niches within markets, or changing or adding distribution channels. You might differentiate your product or form a marketplace alliance to gain a competitive edge. For example, a company made cameras that could be attached to news helicopters, a shrinking market, so it modified the product to work in the military, where cameras give tank drivers a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. This small switch increased sales from $4 million to $100 million per year in six months.

Do you have compelling value propositions?

Businesses that don’t differentiate themselves in a way that customers can clearly see the value provided put themselves at a major disadvantage. Value propositions are the customer’s perception of differentiation — not the company’s. Too many businesses, when asked about their differentiation, will say their service — without having compelling facts to support this claim. This response frequently comes from the top three or four competitors in the same market, but they can’t all have the best service. To make this claim, a business should be able to document that its on-time delivery or its resolution of customer complaints or some other important aspects of service are superior.

Even the best salespeople have trouble selling without compelling value propositions. How successful do you think Zig Ziglar would be selling encyclopedias, typewriters or pay phones today? Conversely, how good does the salesperson have to be to sell an iPhone? The iPhone value proposition is so strong that the product virtually sells itself.

Generally, at the macro level, there are two types of value propositions — product and nonproduct. It’s important to know the difference because it changes your sales strategy. Product value propositions are usually more tangible and easier to sell.

Are you using the best people for the job?

Just like most quarterbacks don’t make good linemen and seldom are pitchers good hitters, not all salespeople are good at generating new business. Being comfortable meeting new people, dealing with rejection and persisting in the face of defeat are traits that only a small percentage of salespeople enjoy. These traits are usually essential for success in new business development. Frequently referred to as ‘hunter’ salespeople, most businesses are fortunate if one in four of their salespeople fits this description.

Salespeople who don’t fit this description are known as ‘farmers.’ Farmers are vitally important salespeople, but they should play a different role — their jobs should be to work with, service and grow relationships with existing customers.

Most businesses don’t differentiate between hunters and farmers and expect both types of salespeople to generate new business and service existing customers. This is a mistake because hunters are generally not good at customer service and farmers, while trying valiantly to succeed, are usually poor at new business development.

Do you provide salespeople with the tools and support to be successful?

Here are some important resources and tools you need to equip your sales force with.

  • Training — Salespeople need training in selling skills and product knowledge.

  • Collateral materials — Effective brochures, websites, business cards, etc., are essential.

  • Lead generation and qualification — Because hunters are so hard to find, the good ones should not be bogged down looking for and qualifying leads. Companies should conduct market analysis, identify and prequalify leads. The best leads should then be given to hunter salespeople to pursue.

  • Plans and goals — Salespeople need to know the sales plan, strategy and goals. It is harder for the sales team to be effective without this information.

  • Accountability — Just like other employees, salespeople will generally be more effective if they are held accountable for achieving their goals.

  • Leadership and coaching — Most salespeople need effective mentoring, guidance, encouragement and appreciation.

It is easy to blame the sales team for poor sales results. Incompetent, unmotivated or disorganized salespeople could be part of the problem. However, unattractive markets, the lack of compelling value propositions, expecting farmers to be successful in new business development and not supporting the sales team are more likely to be the root cause of slow sales growth.

Larry Goddard, CTP, is a managing director at SS&G Parkland. Reach him at (440) 394-6150 or LGoddard@SSandG.com.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by SS&G

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 06 September 2012 11:51

Driving global sales for manufacturers

When Andrew Dorn, Industry Leader, Information Intensive Business, Acxiom Corporation, was recently researching the top manufacturers in the United States, one topic kept coming up — the strong growth expectations focused on the world's emerging markets. With the economies of the U.S. and Europe in flux, Dorn felt that, now more than ever, manufacturers need to be attentive to those emerging markets.

"The world is now flat," says Dorn. "Competition comes from everywhere, so manufacturers need to be everywhere."

Because of that, Acxiom has partnered with Smart Business to present a special one-hour webinar: "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever."

During the webinar — on Wednesday, September 19 at 1:00pm EST — we will discuss why global sales for manufacturers is critical, what factors should be considered in developing or refining the  international strategy, and, finally, present a roadmap that can be employed to optimize chances for success.

Featured panelists will be Zia Daniell Wigder, Vice President and Research Director, Forrester Research; Jennifer Barrett Glasgow, Global Privacy and Public Policy Executive, Acxiom; and Michael Biwer, Managing Director, Acxiom.

"As you enter the global market, it is imperative you understand the privacy laws in each country as they are quite complex and some are very stringent, for example, having criminal penalties for some violations," says Barrett Glasgow.

Other topics to be discussed include:

  • How to determine which countries to enter and what data to gather to understand regional customer requirements
  • Recommended approaches to building country-specific strategies that can help facilitate smooth transitions, lowest possible cost-of-entry, and consistent performance
  • Considerations for navigating the complex web of country-specific data protection and privacy laws companies must adhere to in their efforts to connect with customers and prospects
  • Best practices used by leading companies that have successfully entered new markets

"The U.S. and European economies are still recovering and the balance of growth is constantly shifting," says Dorn. "For example, China and Brazil have been experiencing strong growth. They are encountering a maturity curve, but that doesn't lessen the importance of the issue — manufacturers need to be diversified and have a presence in all major world markets."

The webinar, "Driving Global Sales for Manufacturers: Why global growth for manufacturers is more important than ever" will be held at 1:00 pm EST on Wednesday, September 19.

Click here to register for this free event!

Published in Akron/Canton

Ten-year old Billy Johnson gets home from school and has been thinking about an ice cream bar all day. He wants one badly. Unfortunately, the only people home at the Johnson house are Billy’s teenage siblings, Susie and Jake. Billy’s only shot is Susie. She is a less difficult sale than Jake, a constant wielder of oldest sibling authority. As Billy approaches Susie, she quickly anticipates his motive and cuts him off.

“Billy, you can’t have an ice cream bar. It’s too close to dinner and it will ruin your appetite.”

It’s over. Billy’s cooked without a chance to negotiate or be heard? Why? He didn’t reach the ultimate decision-maker. But wait, who’s that walking in the house in good spirits and with a bounce in his step? It’s Dad!

Billy rushes the big guy with a gushing hug and says, “Hey Dad, can I have an ice cream bar?”

Dad’s golden response: “Sure, sport, and I tell you what, get me one too.”

Yee haw, sale closed!

Think of all the time in business you have put in and the energy you’ve exhausted on attempts to cajole client contacts who love to say no but can’t really say yes. It can be a frustrating, morale-beating process. It’s also a less-than-efficient business practice.

Making a connection with the buyer isn’t always easy, but the first question I challenge you with is, “From whom are you requesting an ice cream truck?” (Let’s think big here).

As you peruse the following steps to find the buyer who will say yes, extract what may help you streamline greater results in less time — because time is an entity you never get back.

See yourself as a peer

Are you confident enough to dialogue on equal ground with the big wheels that run the show? You would be shocked at the number of experienced professionals who will say no to themselves in insidious, unconscious ways. To view yourself as a peer, use positive self-talk and manage that internal cynic. How you see yourself, then present yourself, is every bit as important as the service or product you offer.

Do your homework

Feeling like a confident peer versus a hopeful vendor requires preparing accordingly. When it comes to connecting with buyers, you must know:

  • Their company
  • Their competition
  • Your product and service

You’d be surprised at how many service providers don’t know when a company when was founded, what their mission statement says, who their biggest clients are or who they compete against. As far as knowing your own product and service, read on.

Speak in sound bites

Most elevator speeches make the listener want to take the stairs.

When you speak to the buyer, get to the point and remember that less is more. Too many sales professionals ramble on aimlessly about what they’re selling, leaving the buyer confused or annoyed. Decision makers want you to be brief. So, prepare only information that demonstrates how they will benefit and what their return on investment will be. If you don’t have this ready to roll in 15 seconds or less, practice and get feedback.

Ask great questions

Conventional sales jargon used to say “ABC” which stood for “Always Be Closing.” Buyers are more perceptive than ever and most know when it’s really about your benefits, not theirs. Today’s world of collaborative relationship selling, especially with high-level buyers, should be labeled “ABO” for “Always Be Opening.” The questions you ask are the golden nuggets that lead you down the path to “yes.” Be sure your questions are open-ended and tie directly into the objectives the buyer has and how they will know when successful results are realized.

“I can’t change the direction of the world, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

- Jimmy Dean

Now go find that buyer!

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based executive and organizational development firm. He advises clients on leadership strategies and has helped executives prepare for $3 billion worth of sales presentations. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales meetings and management conferences and has appeared in numerous media outlets. Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com.

Published in Chicago
Monday, 30 April 2012 20:39

Joy Gendusa: Gain a following

Believe it or not, one of the most overlooked characteristics of leadership is the ability to draw and motivate followers. But without followers, you aren’t really “leading” are you? In business leadership, this skill translates into the ability to get your employees to “buy in” to the mission and goal of your company or department.

Outside of the workplace, your employees are all very different individuals, each with their own set of life goals and often goals of other organizations with which they are affiliated. So how do you motivate them to concentrate on your company’s goal for the time that they are at work?

You could demand that they do so, but this kind of top-down brute force only goes so far — and usually results in employees faking devotion to the company’s cause for fear of losing their jobs.

The better option is to genuinely love and appreciate your staff. That sincerity will shine through, and in return, your employees will want to help you achieve your goals.

So if you are interested in real ways to motivate employees to buy in to your vision, implement the following actions.

1. Go heavy on the accolades.

A simple “well done” goes so much further than you would think. Deep down, everybody wants to be recognized for their hard work. If you don’t take the time to give voice to your appreciation, it can rot away at your employees’ motivation and overall happiness at work.

Make recognition of a job well done part of your company’s culture. At staff meetings, open up the floor to team members so they can brag about other members of the team or inform the team about an action that another member took that would normally go unnoticed. Even if you think you are good about this, look to improve. Don’t be afraid to lay it on thick!

2. Be an open book.

You would probably be shocked to hear what your employees think your schedule looks like. If they don’t know what you are up to, they are more likely to assume you are on the golf course than off at a three-day conference trying to soak up all the information you need to lead the company to success. That’s just the way it is.

Take pains to avoid being closed off from your employees. Be open. Be available. Be friendly. Let them know what you are working on. The more your employees know you, and like you, the more likely they are to invest in your vision and actually desire to see it come to fruition.

3. Offer perks.

Perks are not the same as rewards. Rewards are prizes that your employees can receive for a job well done. These are important, and you should have them available in the form of company-wide and department-wide games, etc. But perks are something that employees get simply for being a part of your team, and they are that much more effective at building motivation and loyalty.

When somebody is rewarded for effort, they feel accomplished and acknowledged. But when someone is offered a reward simply for being a part of the team, they feel gratitude and team spirit. I offer my employees free exercise classes and recently installed a cafe in our company headquarters. These are perks that my employees can enjoy just for being part of the team, and it helps build overall happiness and motivation to achieve company goals.

Give this a whirl in your company and watch as the culture surrounding your company’s vision shifts in a very positive direction.

Joy Gendusa is the owner and CEO of direct mail marketing firm PostcardMania. Joy began PostcardMania in 1998, with nothing but a phone and a computer, never taking a dime of investment capital. Since then, PostcardMania has expanded to offer its clients more services including website and landing page design and development, e-mail marketing and full marketing evaluations — all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. Contact her at www.postcardmania.com.

Published in Florida

In the United States, workers’ compensation insurance is the second biggest cost for employers, representing a $50 billion marketplace nationwide. So when Steve Mariano built a company focused on sales of workers’ comp insurance, he knew that there was opportunity for long-term growth.

“Workers’ comp insurance — it’s not a really sexy area, but it’s been around for a long time,” says Mariano, founder, chairman, president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Patriot National Insurance Group. “It’s kind of like this small brother compared to health insurance.”

But since the credit crisis, it has also become more difficult to compete in this type of insurance business. In the last three years, declining payrolls and cost cutting at many companies has inevitably affected sales for Patriot and other workers’ comp insurance providers.

“It was always a tough business, but it’s gotten a lot tougher these days,” Mariano says.

To grow, Mariano has stayed true to many of the same principles that the company was founded on in 2003, specifically a commitment to finding and developing a team of unparalleled talent.

“That’s probably been the biggest reason why we’ve been successful,” he says. “We’ve been able to attract the talented people and their skill sets and we’ve been able to train the people to do the business, follow the procedures and protocols and leverage technology the way that we at Patriot do it, different than other companies.”

As a result, the organization has had some of its best sales years despite the recession. Here’s how Mariano develops Patriot’s team of 425 employees to excel in the workers’ comp business.

Grow talent in stages

Prior to launching Patriot, Steve Mariano founded two other companies. From experience, he knew that it would be difficult to attract many strong employees with the skills they needed to grow before they got a foothold and developed a reputation in the business. To create a deep bench of talent from the beginning, it’s important to be patient about growth and not bring on people that you don’t truly need yet.

First, develop a core team of people local to your business and who you can trust to get your business off the ground.

“You’ve got to get your business plan up and running with a couple of core people in your management team that you know and have experienced working with them,” Mariano says.

Once you see growth in your business plan after a couple of years, then you have a story to use to attract corporate talent from around the country and from other fields. Bring on a strong core group and grow initial sales and then bring on a strong secondary senior team to continue to grow them.

“With each cycle that the company grows and evolves, you have to balance your ability to sell your product along with your costs,” Mariano says. “This may not be perfectly in tandem — but you can’t have one or two major years of losses coming from the expansion without balancing it out.”

By growing in stages, you can build the infrastructure to support a larger and larger team. That way, you ensure that as you go through hiring cycles that people will see you as a stable employer with a track record of growth. In addition to bringing people from out of town with certain skill sets to the corporate office, the organization has also hired hundreds of employees locally, including about 300 people in the Fort Lauderdale area.

“Once you get to a certain size, it becomes easier to attract talent because, number one, talent starts looking for you,” Mariano says.

By 2006 and 2007, the company’s sales growth put it in the position to hire the senior talent it needed to pull from outside of South Florida. As you add new talent, finding people who are fair and also have good ethics is equally important to finding the right skill sets. You want to hire people who are talented but also people who are ethical and going to fit within the company’s culture, much like a professional sports team.

“You can have the best talent, but if they don’t work together in the same culture, they’re not going to win,” he says. “You’ve got to find the right people that fit within the organization. It’s not just asking who is the best talent, but who is the best talent for our company.”

Mariano says that growing responsibly sometimes means taking it little bit slower than you’d like to make sure that you bring everybody with you. That’s not just in expenses but also growing the culture in a way to make sure it permeates the entire company as you add more and more people.

“Sometimes that just means taking a step back, whether it’s three months, a quarter or two quarters, and focusing back internally on the company and having internal parts of the company like accounting and legal really catch up to the growth of the company,” he says.

But while he tries to be deliberate about growing in stages, Mariano doesn’t place limits on how big the company can become as it continues to scale.

“If you pigeonhole yourself into not thinking of things as big as they can be, you’ll never get there,” he says. “You’ve got to really think about the potential and not sell yourself or your ideas short.”

Invest in training

Employee training is an area that not all business leaders invest in equally, especially in the insurance industry.

“In the insurance business, there is very little training that goes on these days, and I think it’s because of cost overhead and other things,” Mariano says. “Insurance companies don’t have the same type of training programs for young people as they used to.”

Yet training talent is an area that Mariano cites as one of the most critical elements in facilitating Patriot’s sales growth. Fundamentally, the company has had certain departments training on an informal basis for years. An example is the company’s claims management program that started in 2008.

“That type of training and that type of culture that’s been built around our business has allowed us to be successful,” Mariano says.

When you don’t invest in growing people’s skills, they could feel undervalued or feel that they don’t have a long-term future with your company. This can result in higher employee turnover, which in the end, sucks up more time and resources as you hire and train new people.

Retention is a major factor in why Mariano readily invests in employee training that others might find an unnecessary expense. Investing in your people helps your emloyees be more successful, which in turn helps your company be successful by developing and retaining talented employees.

Last year, Mariano introduced Patriot University, the company’s first formal, full-time training program to provide employees with cross-training enhance their core competencies and develop their skills. The company also collaborates with South Florida colleges to put together training opportunities for people who are interested in working for the company and want to learn some skills in advance. This creates a local pipeline of talent so that when the company hires in the future, it has a pool of candidates who already have some key skills.

“We’re proactive now in making sure that we have more than enough talent and with these training programs, making sure that we’ve got the talent and the internal operations ahead of time ready for the next big expansion,” Mariano says.

“There’s no question that we’re going to continue to grow and hire most of our people locally moving forward. That’s only gotten a lot easier.”

Because of its efforts to nurture people up through the ranks of the company, the organization now has one of the best retention rates in its industry.

“If you don’t train people, then you’re not going to keep them,” Mariano says.

“We know if you churn employees, you hire and then fire, hire and fire, it really increases your costs as a company. It’s cheaper to retain them by training them in their job functions and cross-training them in other department skills, so that as one department grows maybe faster than another, we can use their skill sets in different departments.”

Encourage innovation

In an industry with a lot of big players, Patriot’s entrepreneurial culture is one of the reasons many job seekers are drawn to work there. When you have a culture that allows people to have a more direct impact on your business, you can attract the kind of innovative thinkers that can help you grow.

“We have procedures and protocols too, but we’re always looking for our employees to find a better way to do something and to innovate within their organization and within their departments,” Mariano says.

Having an innovative culture that embraces new ways of doing things tends to attract those with the desire to succeed.

“Talent is looking for a way to put a fingerprint on the company they’re working for,” Mariano says. “If you come to work for a company like us, you can really put a fingerprint in your area and be able to look five, ten years from now and say, ‘I really had something to do with this part of the business plan and help with the building of the company.’”

By not having just standard ways of doing things, Mariano says you make it harder for employees to just come in, check a box or work a 9-to-5 just to pull a paycheck.

“We’re looking for ideas of how to better our company in all areas, from the mail room all the way up to the top financial parts of the company,” Mariano says. “If there is a better procedure and protocol or a way to innovate it to service our customers better or make us a better profit, then I ask for those types of things and very much support that type of thought process.”

As a result, the company has been a leading innovator in its field, specifically when it comes to technology. It was among the first to spearhead the use of iPhones, iPads and mobile technology to video stream information for surveillance. Being able to use the mobile devices and video streaming tools nationwide gives insurance adjusters, investigators and legal teams the ability to help employers evaluate compensation or compensability issues and make faster decisions in fraud cases.

Because fraud makes up about 20 percent of the workers’ comp cost in the United States, these advances make a big difference in helping the company differentiate itself for growth.

“Very few workers’ comp competitors really use that kind of Apple innovation on the front end to be able to be out in the field getting this information,” Mariano says.

“It’s billions of dollars being wasted each year in fraud. If you can just stop a small piece of that going on in your own companies, then that is a big thing.”

As a result, Mariano says that the company is planning its biggest expansion in the last three years. Investing in a culture and training to engage employees has helped it attract new talent as well as capture market share from its larger, but less nimble, competitors. It recently opened up offices in the Los Angeles area as well as major cities including Sacramento and St. Louis, and in 2011, the company added 85 new jobs to downtown Fort Lauderdale.

“So we’ve been an innovator,” Mariano says. “We’ve been able to come in, leverage new technologies and really come into the marketplace with a fresh set of ideas and reduce costs for the employers.”

How to reach: Patriot National Insurance Group, (954) 670-2900 or www.pnigroup.com

Takeaways

1. Be patient in your talent search.

2. Create formal training for employee development.

3. Nurture employees’ engagement in innovation.

The Mariano File

Steve Mariano

Chairman, founder, president and CEO

Patriot National Insurance Group

Born: New Jersey

Education: Georgia Tech and Ursinus College — graduated with a degree in economics.

What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

Most people don't know I read a new book just about every week. There is so much information out there, so many experiences to benefit from.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn't change?

My morning workout. Mental and physical shape are linked, and the time I spend every morning at the gym helps me clear my head, set my priorities for the day, and build the energy I need to take on the day's challenges.

What’s the toughest business decision you’ve ever had to make?

At our prior company right after 9/11, the marketplace for insurance really shrank, and I was in a situation where I had to eliminate about 85 to 100 employees just because the business model wasn’t supporting it. To me, any time you have to eliminate a position or you have to fire someone, from a leadership position, you haven’t succeeded. Any time you have to let someone go, that means you either didn’t train them correctly or they weren’t able to deliver what you thought they would be able to deliver. Or in the case when you just have a bad event like 9/11 — you just have no control over it – it’s even harder because as a CEO you have great people sometimes and there’s just nothing you can do about it.

What do you see for future growth in Florida?

I think South Florida and Florida will do a lot better over the next couple of years. I know it’s been very tough for the state in a lot of areas … and I think just given the amount of business that we’re doing with Latin and South America, and just how wonderful a state this is — no state income tax and all of that — there’s a good balance for its growth. We’re really bullish that there’s going to be better times ahead, and we look forward to being part of the community here.

Published in Florida
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