Find your niche.
In the student niche, we are the big guy. We go to the supplier and say, ‘Look, this is a market that you don’t have the time to serve and you don’t have the time to focus on. American Airlines, United Airlines .... we have access to all of these students. Give us great discounts and give us great products that we can sell to them. And, oh by the way, the biggest item is, don’t worry about it being a person who is now going to use it for a business trip.’ If we don’t focus on a niche, we get run over by the big trucks.
It is so easy to relax and let your guard down and start selling to anybody. As you start to see other opportunities, it’s easy to lull yourself into thinking some things may be easier than selling to students. The reality of it is that’s all short-term.
We can certainly go and sell in some market regular leisure travel, but the reality of it is that is going to be short-lived and, over time, there are going to be competitors who that demand will migrate to. Therefore, we’ll be taking our eye off the ball and what our core focus is.
We can wind up damaging supplier relationships if we’re not focused on selling to the right market. We can wind up losing our brand focus. It’s actually an issue we’re dealing with every day.
Be a good communicator
Communication is critical. We have several ways that we communicate, some of which are regular meetings with the management of all of those people. On our intranet, we have a chat room where I host specific discussions around the strategy of the company. There’s a little bit of a community amongst the managers that are spread throughout the company that are sharing with one another the ways to stay focused on our business. I issue a monthly update on the business that always is talking about focusing on the core.
It’s difficult when you’re a dispersed company. It’s a combination of getting in front of people as often as you can and using the technology that we have at our disposal to make sure that people are continuing to hear the message.
Develop the right incentives.
One of the other ways you communicate a vision when you have salespeople is through their compensation plan. Salespeople know exactly how they make money in what products they sell and what’s best for them. As long as that is tied to what’s best for the company, everything’s perfect.
Look for new ideas.
People have great ideas. They’re not out there just complaining. People have had ideas that for whatever reason just didn’t get prioritized high enough.
The way I started to formulate some ideas is getting out and watching how we deal with customers, talking with customers and sitting in some of our branches and seeing some of the things that we face. You can’t develop a strategy with all 500 people in the company.
Know your limitations.
I like people to question me. I like people to question what we’re doing. I don’t have all the answers. I’m not the smartest guy on the planet.
I can’t see every part of the organization on any given day. I need people to be telling me where I’m making a mistake. I need people to be giving me honest feedback. I welcome a questioning attitude from folks.
It’s in the actions. When you hear something you don’t want to hear, it’s, how do you react? Do you give the signal in either body language or in what you say that ‘I really didn’t want you to tell me that, so shut up and go in the corner,’ or do you actually take it and do something with it?
Find people to complement you.
What is leadership? I surround myself with people who are very different than me. The easiest way to make sure that you’re getting diverse thought and that you have people around you that will question you is, don’t have five other people just like you.
I mean diversity in thought. If I’m not the most creative person, I need to have a person working for me who is extraordinarily creative. If I’m not a detail-oriented person, I need to have someone reporting to me who is very detail-oriented. You have to develop a team that has a different flavor amongst all the different folks that you’re actually hearing and seeing the different ways that we can run the business.
The most important thing I do every day where businesses sink or swim is prioritization. If we put money and time and people on anything, we can get it done. People are smart. There’s a lot of access to good technology in the world these days.
You can do anything. You can’t do everything. That’s the problem businesses tend to have. You have a lot of different people. They see the company from their perspective. They see what’s important to them.
They’re all trying to do what’s best for the company, but what winds up happening, as you get closer to the top, is you are faced with many different things that all sound and smell and look great for the company. But you can’t do them all.
Sometimes with dated information and sometimes with gut feeling, you have to be able to decide, here are the things we’re going to work on.
Know when to make decisions.
There are times to build a consensus, and there are times to make the decision. It depends on the specific issue; it depends on the urgency. You can’t change the culture by an edict. People say they like to make decisions by consensus; it really depends.
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