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Jay Honsaker was very proud when his custom injection molding company met ISO 9000 standards for quality — and that the ISO auditor called Design Molded Plastics a benchmark company.

“If our people weren’t performing, we wouldn’t receive praise like that from our auditor and from our customers — it just wouldn’t happen,” says Honsaker, president and co-owner.

But the picture is even brighter. In 2011, the company had its best sales year in its 27-year history, tallying more than $20 million.

“We are 99.98 percent for on-time delivery, which in a lot of cases is unheard of,” he says. “From a quality standpoint, we’re at 5.8 Sigma overall, which is phenomenal. That comes from a lot of dedication, and that is a culture.”

Smart Business spoke with Honsaker on how building a culture of excellence is the key to such outstanding results.

Q: It sounds like you have groomed some great employees there. How was that achieved?

A: You mentioned a keyword — employees. It’s all about the employees. We’ve got four walls here and equipment inside, which is a great thing, but your employees will make you or break you. When we hire, we have stringent requirements, and we realize right away if an individual is going to maintain our culture when they start with us.

Most of our people are not here to play. We are here to work hard for our customers. We don’t carry a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other. We pay for two eyes and two hands and that’s what we expect. It really comes down to the individuals … You could tell somebody until you are blue in the face how you are and what your expectations are, but until they live it, they don’t realize how serious you are.

Once they come on board, they realize during the first week that we are pretty serious about what we proclaimed in our interview process. Then they make a decision: Do they want to live within the constraints of the organization or don’t they?

But if they feel that there is no way they could adapt to our method of doing business, then typically they exit the company. I don’t think we have to terminate; I think they realize that it’s just not a good fit for them.

Q. What advice would you give to engage employees and create a culture of excellence?

A: First off, you’ve got to have that discipline inside. If you don’t personally have it, then it’s not going to work. You actually have to demonstrate how you are and how you want things to be, and that comes from inside. You have to be driven from within to do your absolute best. If you can’t demonstrate that, then you’re not going to have followers believing in you.

Q. What are other key steps to a company culture of excellence?

A: It’s a very high level of commitment. One of the biggest challenges is to hire people that you could trust, that you could count on, that share your commitment because ultimately, who pays the bills? Your customer does. So without customers you have nothing. You could have a beautiful facility, beautiful equipment, great people, but if you’re not satisfying your customer, they’re not going to be there and you’re not going to have an income to make payroll.

So it really comes down to the fact that they have to share the commitment to the customer. That has huge value, because face it, as a president of the company I don’t hear every phone call. I don’t see every e-mail. I don’t feel customers’ responses when they are talking to one of our managers. Or even customer service, that has great value so those people have to fully appreciate the fact that your customers are paying the bills. They are the leader. They tell you what they want when they want it, and your level of discipline has to be to meet their expectations. If you don’t have that, then it can’t be trained.

How to reach: Design Molded Plastics, (330) 963-4400 or www.designmolded.com

Published in Akron/Canton

In my more than 30 years of guiding sales professionals, I find the ones who are the most successful are pleasantly persistent. It’s an approach that complements their sales techniques, enabling them to control their dealings with prospects and customers in a positive, professional manner. And the nice thing about being pleasantly persistently is that it can work in just about any industry, profession and not-for-profit institution that sells a product, offers a service or seeks financial support.

It applies directly to pursuing a sales prospect, setting up a sales visit, following up on a sales presentation and, finally, making a close.

Be assertive

Remember: Before someone sells something to someone, the chances are a buyer will have told a seller “no” a minimum of three to five times.

When someone begins a career in sales, there’s a natural tendency to avoid becoming pushy. After all, an aggressive salesperson fits a well-worn stereotype. For this reason, many young sales professionals are reluctant to actively reach out to a prospect or follow up a sales communication.

They often wait for a target to make a move, having made a “one and done” sales call. Fearing rejection is human nature.

Someone who is less assertive will give up after initial resistance and won’t get in front of as many prospects as necessary.

Problem is, these days salespeople face a formidable array of electronic “gatekeepers” – from voicemail to caller I.D.  These tend to work to a buyer’s, not a seller’s, advantage, since a buyer can pick and choose when to respond, if at all.

“I see so-and-so is calling me. Who is he? Why should I talk to him?” Or, “I recognize that name. What does she want now?”

In sales, a prospect can now avoid someone indefinitely. How simple it was not so many years ago when all a salesperson had to do was wait for a prospect, or someone in the prospect’s office, to answer the phone that kept ringing and ringing.

Don’t delay

Delay also works to a seller’s disadvantage. As I like to tell people, “Time kills the deal.” Delay is deadly.

So here’s where I believe the value of being pleasantly persistent can come into play: It has to do with avoiding that “one and done” trap of giving up on a sales call after one attempt or one rejection during a close.

Being pleasantly persistent is a sales game-changer. It enables a salesperson to stop assuming a prospect has no interest in a product or service. It encourages self-confidence. And it can turn a sales call into what it really should be: an invitation for a prospect to learn about a product or service’s direct benefit, and for a salesperson to find out if a prospect really has a need for what is being discussed.

Get in the door

For starters, it might require some creativity to get in position to make a sales call.

A bank I know, for example, mailed 50 large security deposit bags to 50 prospects. To claim an enclosed gift, the recipient had to call the bank’s branch manager. That enabled the manager to visit the caller with the key to unlock the bank. The bank was pleased with the response.

Another way to get around a “gatekeeper” could be a clue in a magazine, newspaper or blog. There, a story might publicize an event honoring a prospect. That venue could be an opportunity to introduce oneself.

Prepare for resistance

Being pleasantly persistent is crucial in making a sale, too.

In sales, I have found, six obstacles can block a successful close:

1)   It’s too expensive.

2)   For whatever reason, a buyer puts off making a decision.

3)   Perhaps there is an issue with the product or service under discussion.

4)   Some personality issue surfaces between both parties.

5)   The competition might be perceived to have something better or cheaper.

6)   Or the buyer has suddenly been replaced by someone else following the initial sales call.

Because of these dynamics, a salesperson must properly prepare and practice. His approach should be to find out a customer’s need and then to provide a solution.

After all, in sales a salesperson really is providing a solution – not just a product or service. And he should anticipate at least three to five rejections before successfully getting an order.

Maybe I’m different. But I consider rejection as a “buying signal,” another opportunity. In other words, if a salesperson, for whatever reason, cannot close the first time, it’s crucial he does so at the next opportunity. Invariably, a buyer will never say “no, just not now.”

That means being pleasantly persistent by setting a specific date to follow-up – either in person, by email or telephone – and getting specific email addresses and telephone numbers to “cut to the chase,” to “win fast or lose fast.”

Setting deadlines minimizes ambiguity and indecision, allowing the salesperson to control the timetable. Doing so in a pleasantly persistent manner can dramatically increase success, leading to what I call the three “R’s” – repeat business, referrals and requests for additional products or services.

So “don’t wait for your ship to come in; plunge into the water and swim out to it first!”

Marvin E. Montgomery, author of “Practice Makes Perfect, The Professional’s Guide to Sales Success,” is a nationally acclaimed sales trainer and speaker. For more than 30 years, his “Marvinizing” has benefited tens of thousands of sales and customer-service professionals across the country. Visit www.marvinmontgomery.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

Lisa Huntsman knows that the key to success in today’s economic climate isn’t just finding ways to do more with less but, in many cases, just doing more with the same.

“Those that can respond quicker with good information are the ones more than likely that will get awarded the business,” says Huntsman, the president of the New Philadelphia, Ohio-based manufacturer Lauren Manufacturing.

Huntsman has been focused on this task since the recession first impacted the manufacturing industry and Lauren’s 250 employees back in 2008.

“There is a whole crunch of everything has to be the same quality but just continue to push it on the lead-time standpoint,” says Huntsman. “I think we’re doing a good job of delivering on that.”

To keep up with increasingly shorter lead times, get the highest return for shareholders and meet the needs of new and potential customers, the company had to reevaluate its systems and staffing to make efficiency the top priority.

“If we just keep doing what we do then we’ll always get what we get,” Huntsman says.

“There’s a lot of revenue invested from the company’s standpoint to get new projects launched, and we’re really working closer with our sales teams and with our customers to make it quicker when possible and make sure we’re not dropping the ball anymore.”

The first step was looking for inefficiencies in staffing, including duplicate personnel or areas of waste in the administrative process.

“It’s not just saying, ‘OK, it’s just getting too busy over here,” Huntsman says. “It’s do we look at the job content? Are there some things our folks are doing that seem unnecessary?”

The organization has also been more conscious about adding new people, ensuring it builds its team with talented people, who have targeted roles and are capable of making informed decisions to drive results.

“We all make mistakes, but there are some people who are very conservative and are never willing to put themselves out there,” she says. “We’re looking for the people that are willing to take a very educated set of information and say, ‘Let’s go with this.’”

Empowering employees to make decisions enables a faster speed to market for products and services by elimination bottlenecks in decision-making that slow progress.

“We believe in driving the decision-making process to the front line as much as possible from customer service and engineering, giving them the tools so they can make those decisions and feel empowered to do that,” Huntsman says.

Part of that empowerment is also the result of coaching. Huntsman says she takes time to talk to employees regularly on an informal basis or after the big meetings in order to learn their challenges and figure out how the company can facilitate and empower their decision-making.

“I think knowing that they have our support that it’s OK,” she says.

Huntsman says the other key to increasing operational efficiency is setting clear priorities so that people don’t get distracted from the most important goals, for example, speed of service. By making sure that your company continues to partner with the right customers, work on the right projects and keep people focused in the right areas, you can continue to deliver at a competitive level.

“No. 1 is making sure that we don’t get distracted trying to be everything to everyone, and then nothing gets accomplished,” Huntsman says.

By being able to do more with its people, operations and systems, the company was able to achieve 12 percent sales growth in 2010.

“We have made positive strides,” Huntsman says. “Our business has continued to increase in sales, and I think everybody, not just Lauren, has to work harder with less people than we did prior to the recession. I don’t see that changing.”

How to reach: Lauren Manufacturing, (330) 339-3373 or www.lauren.com

Divide and conquer

One of the reasons Lauren Manufacturing has accomplished growth despite operating in a challenging industry is by continuing to be diversified in the business sectors that it serves.

“We have a couple targets that we’re always going after,” says President Lisa Huntsman. “It’s just trying to keep a balanced portfolio of customers in the industries that we’re in that has been the key to our success. That’s how it started and that’s how we continue to move forward.”

This diversity gives the company the advantage of increasing penetration in a range of industries, including transportation, solar and lighting. While many of these sectors haven’t grown on their own, the company has taken more of the market share from its competitors by targeting business opportunities and focusing its efforts where they are most needed.

“I always go back to say making sure that we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket keeps the company healthy,” Huntsman says. “We really try to make sure that no one customer has more than 10 percent of our business to make sure that we’re serving multiple sectors.”

Again, this is only achieved by having team of people who can effectively make good decisions based on their knowledge of customers and the business.

“In our business, from the time you quote to the time when you can turn it into production can be six to 12 months,” Huntsman says. “So you’ve got to make sure you’re making the right decisions upfront, because that’s going to have an impact down the road.”

Published in Akron/Canton

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

Stay hip

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.”

Published in St. Louis
Saturday, 31 March 2012 20:01

You’ve Got Leads. Now What?

Companies invest great amounts of time, effort and capital on building the right website to resonate with their target customers and convert those targets into leads for the business.  “Building and marketing a great website that generates volumes of leads often comes with the next-level challenge of efficiently managing those leads to quickly convert to sales,” advises says Kevin Hourigan, president and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to connect the right technologies to effectively manage your leads and close sales faster.

What are the critical elements I need to manage my lead to sale process?

Standing alone, a business website typically processes a new lead from a quote request or a contact form submission by sending an email alert to someone, and perhaps storing those form submissions in the administrative back end of the website. Unless a lot of detailed, accurate and disciplined manual documentation is maintained about each lead, the ability to track them through to the sale and see key metrics such as best performing lead sources, campaigns, etc. is lost. Critical business decisions could then be made based on faulty information and opinion. The technology exists today to eliminate this risk, at investment levels that accommodate most sizes of businesses.

In order to stay competitive in today’s business climate, intelligence needs to be exchanged between marketing and sales that streamlines the progress of leads through your sales funnel and enables more, better and faster closed sales.  The way to enable this is by integrating your website with a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system and a Marketing Automation platform.

What does CRM and marketing automation do?

A CRM system is your repository of collected, and real-time information on all leads, customers and contacts related to your business. It acts as your marketing and sales process database and can categorize and segment your contacts on a wide variety of items for use in reporting, and grouping for specific action. CRM Systems can be proprietary and stored within a business’s IT infrastructure, or accessed via the ‘Cloud’ through a variety of providers. CRM can focus only on sales process aspects, or expand to cover end to end (marketing and lead gen through invoicing and collections) functions.

Each business applies customization to a CRM to serve their unique needs and procedures. In addition to housing your valuable prospect and client information and serving it up as needed, data from your CRM gives you objective insights to your marketing, sales and business performance.

Marketing automation grew out of campaign and email marketing beginnings, and has become the current standard of best practices. Today, enlisting just an email sending tool without using the advanced features of marketing automation is like driving blindfolded on a busy interstate: Your chances of getting to your destination (customer acquisition) without wrecking your brand integrity are extremely slim. The missing piece that marketing automation provides is the live, real time ‘sight’ into the ongoing actions of the target audiences interacting with your business.

Marketing automation allows you to communicate, evaluate and accelerate your leads through your sales funnel. Email (and even print) communications to your audiences with customized, relevant information, triggered from their ongoing behaviors are efficiently managed using marketing automation. This integration enables specific and more effective lead nurturing without requiring large amounts of time and staff that a stand-alone tool would.

Further, lead qualification and scoring is greatly enhanced with marketing automation’s ability to monitor your audiences’ ongoing interaction with your website. Specific characteristics and actions can be ‘scored’ to identify buying-stage and readiness for sales contact. Alerts and workflows can be triggered at any number of points in this progression. An immediate feedback stream of all this data to your CRM and to your marketing and sales team is a key benefit of marketing automation. They now know who is reading your messaging and can prioritize their responses based on the content you are sending that they are engaging with.

How does this integration help me sell better and faster?

In an integrated system, leads generated from your online properties are automatically fed into your CRM, with critical marketing data attached including: lead source, campaign info, keywords used, where the lead came from online, etc. Leads generated through outbound sales can also be entered directly into the CRM for a real-time and holistic view of your business’s sales pipeline. Live dashboards and reports on key performance indictors can be accessed immediately to assist sales management and communication.

The initially gathered data is augmented through your marketing automation platform with each lead’s specific ongoing engagement with your company including: web pages visited over time, emails received, opened and clicked on, articles and other content consumed, conversations and in-person touch points documented on the path of that lead becoming a customer. Post-sale relationship information is also kept including proposals presented, closed or lost – and why. This enables data-driven evaluation of sales initiatives, campaigns and tactics.

Consistent lead ‘scoring’ and tracking can trigger appropriate workflows and responses within your organization. Your sales reps can be alerted immediately of a lead’s sales conversation readiness in their specific area or product of interest. Sales can then intelligently focus on those ‘warmer’ leads, while marketing continues to nurture leads that are in earlier buy cycle stages and separate unqualified and non leads to maintain branding integrity, and save sales reps from activities that waste time and cause frustration.

An integrated lead management system of your website, CRM and marketing automation puts your sales team in position to connect with the right leads at the right time with the right information, thus closing sales faster, more easily and more often.

<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Published in Florida
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:30

Joy Gendusa: meet your market

Do you know who actually buys from you? I’m talking about the socioeconomic makeup of your best customers. Is it women 35 to 45 years old with an income of $60,000 that spend, on average, $200 on every purchase? Is it businesses with 10 employees or less? If you don’t know, it’s high time you found out. After all, you can’t clone your best customers until you know who they are.

Take the following steps to construct a model of your ideal customer:

1. Accumulate all the details of your sales for either the past six months or one year (it’s not necessary to exceed a year).

2. Add up the total gross income (GI) of each sale and divide that number by the total number of sales. This will give you your average ticket price. Example: 200 sales with total GI of $200,000 means your average ticket price is $1,000.

3. Take the top 10 percent of your invoices (based on sale price) and list all attributes you know about them. If you are targeting consumers, this should include gender, age, income, location and whether or not they have kids or own a home. If you are targeting businesses, this should include industry, number of employees, annual revenue and the title of the person at the company who worked with you.

Once you have the model of your ideal customer, you can begin to take steps to acquire more customers that are like them. If you don’t know some of the answers to the above, you can actually buy data and append it to your list.

I have found direct mail to be the most successful lead generation tool for my marketing, especially for acquiring specific customers. The reason is that you can get extremely specific with mailing lists and tailor your mail piece to that specific demographic for a higher response rate.

For example, at PostcardMania we mail to small business owners. We discovered from reviewing our invoices that dentists make up a whopping 20 percent of our revenue, so we pulled out all the data we could about our dental clients and by appending information, found that the bulk of them (not all of them) were the dentists with newer practices. So we targeted those newer practices and saw an increase in calls in, closes, and of course, overall revenue generated from that industry.

Say your target demographic, or ideal customer, is wealthy men in their 50s. You can simply get a mailing list of every man in your area whose age is between 50 and 59 with a household income of $300,000 or more. You could also further specify by home or car value, marital status, number of children and so on.

Not only does this list ensure you reach everyone in your potential ideal market, it also pulls great results. Since you know exactly who it is you are mailing to, you design a postcard (better than letters, no envelope to open) with copy and images sure to get their attention, rather than appealing to everyone. The more you hone in on the “button” that resonates with your audience, the higher your response rate (and conversion rate if your salespeople do their jobs) goes.

This is a simple strategy to target the customers you want to replicate by identifying your ideal customer, getting a mailing list of all the people that fit that model and mailing out marketing material that uses a message especially tailored message to them. For best results, continue to communicate this message over time. It takes an average of seven marketing touches for a prospect to respond to your message. So the more often they see it, the more likely they are to respond.

Joy Gendusa founded PostcardMania in 1998 with a phone, computer and no capital investment. Since then, she has grown the company into one of the nation’s most effective direct mail marketing firms, specializing in postcard marketing for small to large-sized businesses. Over the years, she expanded to offer mailing list acquisition, website development, email marketing ? all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice. She has been named Tampa Bay CEO of the Year, Business Woman of the Year in Tampa Bay and has been featured on MSNBC’s “Your Business.” PostcardMania is an Inc. 500 and 5000 company and has won awards for creativity, best business practices and leadership. Learn more at www.postcardmania.com.

Published in Florida
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:01

Tom Nies: Winners sell value, losers sell price

Some time ago, I accompanied one of Cincom’s sales reps on a lunch meeting with a customer. When the conversation turned to our products, I smiled as I reminded the sales rep that he should be sure to focus on all of the value that the customer would be receiving.

Surprisingly, the customer laughed and jokingly put up a fight.

“We know all about value selling, that’s the way we sell everything we offer,” he said. “But, when we buy, we want to talk price.

The conversation continued for some time, focusing on how selling value was an important decision for a business to make. This customer recognized the great advantage of selling value as a feature because doing so helped them be successful at what they do. But, the customer put the mindset in even further relief when he told us, “Losers sell on price. We want to do business with winners.”

Value sellers may not win all the business, but they win all of the nicely profitable business.

Price sellers are bottom fishers. They only catch those that will jump at anything as long as it’s the cheapest option.

Unless a company is extremely large, or has some highly unusual low-cost capability, low-price sellers simply cannot be viable. Their profits, if any, are simply too slim to stay in the game.

Price sellers try to provide as many features, functions, quality and potential benefits as possible, but they also believe that price is considered to be a feature. Because of this, they price their products as low as possible to be advantageous for the customer and for the seller.

Price sellers focus entirely on themselves and their offerings and do not attempt to enter into the value discovery and value delivery process. They leave all of that to a buyer’s discernment and realization and lessen their opportunity to share in the economic value their offerings provide.

In one sense, price sellers underappreciates and undervalues themselves.

That’s why price sellers usually do poorly in the long term while value sellers continue to grow their large profits. The value sellers may not have any better offerings than the price sellers but the value seller gets intimately involved with the potential buyer, and in this way helps the buyer to discover, discern and realize a great deal of additional economic value and utility that might otherwise never be gained or achieved.

When our customer said that he wanted to “talk price” he explained that he didn’t mean he wanted to buy from price sellers. Instead, he meant that he wanted to maximize every possible aspect of the value they would receive from the product.

Value sellers are also better buyers because they are able to recognize the value they will receive from products can far exceed the price they may pay. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t make that buying decision.

Price should never be considered a feature. Low price should not be a favorable feature or an advantage when we try to sell. Instead, we should all commit ourselves to focusing on the value and the very great gains that we can deliver that can dwarf the costs.

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. http://tomnies.cincom.com/about/

Published in Cincinnati

There are better ways to grow sales than to merely throw money at the problem, whether that means more money spent on advertising, a bigger sales force or beefed-up expenditures in other business areas. A close look at your pricing policies, your customer relationships and your sales team’s needs and capabilities can reveal ways to grow revenues even when times are tough.

Look at pricing first

Start with pricing and get over the belief that you can’t raise prices without dampening sales. By keeping prices flat or using price discounts to try to keep demand or close sales, you create two problems. First, you destroy the value of your brand and the integrity of your pricing. Second, you train customers to negotiate harder to get every last penny, which ultimately destroys your customer relationships by undermining customers’ trust in your company. 

Instead, look at pricing as a strategic tool that must be managed and based on value, market demand, product lifecycle and cost structure. An important first step is to review your pricing policies with a sharp eye, including looking at any flexibility the sales force has to set price. If your sales team has authority over pricing decisions, put an end to that authority quickly.

After this review, you’ll hopefully feel better prepared to bite the bullet and raise prices — especially if it’s been more than a year since you last took a price increase. After all, your customers are seeing increases at the gas tank and the grocery store almost on a weekly basis. They won’t be overly surprised that you’re raising your prices as well. And customers usually aren’t as price-sensitive as a pure economic analysis would suggest. At the end of the day, your customers expect you to take increases from time to time to cover your own cost increases.

And while you’re focusing on price, review the pricing discounts you offer and evaluate their effect on revenue; modifications may add to your bottom line without driving away customers.

Boost customer focus and service

By letting your customers know about your plans to enhance customer focus at the same time you implement a pricing increase, you’ll dampen any complaints about the price hike. As you consider ways to boost customer focus and service, consider all customer touch points. By scheduling a tour of customers’ facilities, for example, you’ll communicate that you care about your customer’s business as much as your own.

Other ways to enhance customer service include the following:

  • Improve product and service delivery processes so it’s easy to do business with you.
  • Provide value-added services that are hard for competitors to duplicate.
  • Review order fulfillment and delivery statistics and improve the metrics. Even if you’re at 97 percent on time and complete, you’re leaving 3 percent on the table. 
  • Evaluate customer complaints and identify ways to eliminate concerns and problem areas.

Enhanced customer service will earn your company not just more loyal customers but also a larger customer base as these highly satisfied customers refer contacts to your company.

Challenge your sales team

There’s a lot you can do to strengthen your sales force and increase the business it generates. Start by setting stretch goals. For example, if you normally set 2 to 3 percent as the target for increased sales, up the target to 4 to 5 percent — or whatever figure you have at least a 50 percent chance of meeting. Your people will rise to the occasion.

And don’t underestimate the impact of training on qualifying and closing, time management and sales management. Your sales team will not just appreciate their new skills. The team will become a loyal, well-tuned engine driving your company’s growth.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage start-up and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Arnold can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Published in St. Louis
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 19:43

Mark Stiving: the price is right

Inflation is coming. It drives your costs up and results in lower profit margins unless you raise prices. But customers hate price increases and they hate having to pay more.

How can your company increase prices and upset your customers the least? Here are six methods to explore.

1. Cut variable costs.

Is there a way to reduce the costs of your product without significantly affecting your customers’ perception of the product? This is extremely common in the packaged food industry. What used to be 28 ounces of Prego spaghetti sauce is now 26 ounces. A package of Rolos used to have 11 chocolate caramel chews. Now there are 10. What looks like a half-gallon (64 oz.) of Breyer’s ice cream is now 48 ounces. Customers quickly recognize price increases, but they are slower to recognize reductions in product quantity, especially when the size of the packaging remains the same.

2. De-bundle.

Look for something that costs you money that you can de-bundle from the purchase. Customers who want the de-bundled feature will pay extra for it, and it allows you to maintain or lower prices for customers who don’t use the de-bundled feature. At the worst, you’ve only raised prices on some of your customers.

A recent example is how some airlines have de-bundled checked luggage so they now charge customers for checking bags. Although many people saw this as a price increase, it would have been more readily accepted by their customers had they announced they were simultaneously lowering the prices of their flights for people who don’t check bags.

3. Introduce new products.

It’s possible to create a new but similar product with a slightly different feature set. Charge more for the new product and attempt to move as many customers as possible to the new product. Of course, this also means you need to build some added value into the new product.

4. Raise fees.

When gas prices hit $4 per gallon, many companies added a fuel surcharge to their bill. This extra fee isn’t looked at as a price increase, but rather just a way of passing some cost increases through. Now, four years later, some vendors have not removed this fuel surcharge even through fuel prices are back to normal. Many customers do not consider fees when making purchase decisions, so raising fees is preferable to simply raising prices.

5. Raise prices on select segments.

You’ve considered the first four options and they don’t completely solve your pricing issue, so you have to raise prices. Consider only raising prices on select customers. First, look to raise prices on your least preferred customers, those you wouldn’t be too upset to lose. These could be the ones who are expensive to service or are just a pain to deal with. They could also be the ones who negotiated the best deals, so they may not even be profitable after your costs increase. Then look to increase prices on new customers. The advantage here is that new customers don’t recognize price increases. They only see the new price. Do your best to hold prices level for your best existing customers.

6. Raise prices with a purpose.

If you’ve come to the conclusion that you have no choice but to actually increase prices, at least blame inflation. Customers may become very angry if they believe you’re raising prices to increase your profit at their expense; however, they are more accepting if they believe you are simply passing on costs. Apologize to your customers for your price increase, but explain how your costs are going up and that you have no choice. Look and act contrite. Do something nice for them, such as giving them a limited time coupon for a discount to the old price.

Mark Stiving is a pricing expert with a Ph.D. in marketing from U.C. Berkeley and more than 15 years of experience helping companies implement value-based pricing strategies to increase profits. A speaker, coach and consultant, Stiving has worked with esteemed companies such as Cisco, Procter & Gamble, Grimes Aerospace, Rogers Corp., as well as many small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures. Read more from Stiving on his blog at www.PragmaticPricing.com, and learn more at www.markstiving.com.

Published in Northern California

If you frequently watch the Home Shopping Network, then you probably recognize Tony Little. He’s that energetic fitness guy with a ponytail and baseball cap, standing next to some healthy product, talking to you about changing your life and saying, “You can do it!”

Maybe you were convinced, and maybe not. But for Little, “you can do it” is much more than another sales tagline used to sell exercise equipment. It’s a personal philosophy for success.

“I’ve just always felt that whenever you hit that roadblock, there are a zillion other ways around it,” says Little, founder, president and CEO of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Health International Corp., which sells Tony Little-branded consumer lifestyle and fitness products. “I think that too many people quit too soon.”

Little’s own roadblocks have included everything from a handful of near fatal car accidents, to going completely broke, to last year, having an employee steal more than $600,000 from his company.

“That was probably one of the toughest areas for me, because I still had to carry on business,” he says. “I still had to make up the money that was gone.”

At the time, Little’s newborn twins, born prematurely, had also been hospitalized for medical reasons. With his children in a life-or-death situation and the business he’d built facing catastrophe, Little says he only got through it by believing in himself.

“You’ve got to come out fighting,” he says.

Today, Little’s twins are doing fine with occupational and physical therapy, and he has already made up much of the lost business. In fact, his company generated $100 million in revenue last year.

By overcoming personal and professional challenges time and again, Tony Little has become one of the most successful television sales people of all time, selling more than $3 billion worth of products to date. Here’s how he builds, grows and preserves his successful brand.

Pick the right opportunities

Little’s incredible sales track record stems first from his ability to identify profitable market and product opportunities that grow his brand.

“I have well over 45 million people that have brought Tony Little products, which I never really thought that would happen in my life,” he says. “I’ve been successful in the fact that the percentage of projects that I do have been winners.”

He says the first step in building a brand is clearly articulating your niche and purpose.

“You identify that there’s problem out there,” Little says. “You identify the fact that you know the solution.”

Growing your brand is then a matter of finding ways for that solution to extend to other products under your brand name. By focusing on the lifestyle market, for example, he has been able to expand his company to sell everything from shoes to food to pillows and even a personal care line.

“My brother calls me a living oxymoron,” Little says. “He says, ‘You started in fitness. You exercise people. You get them all jazzed up about fitness. Now you’re feeding them, putting them to sleep and they’re wearing your shoes the next day.’

“If you’ve been successful with the direction you’re going, then you just need to keep complementing that direction with other extensions.”

When you see an opportunity that fits within your brand’s niche, you want to make sure it’s something that you and your company can grasp and understand before you pursue it.

“The most important thing about selling a brand is not being overly technical with something and bringing it home so that everybody understands it,” Little says.

You have to be able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. So do your research and make sure that the opportunity is within your knowledge comfort zone. If it is too complex, you may have trouble communicating it to customers or getting enthusiastic about it yourself. Little finds that the best sales results come from choosing opportunities that you can connect to and inspire your passion.

“Everything in your life is selling,” Little says. “It just comes back to the belief factor that you have in what you’re selling.

“I think I motivate a lot of people to feel better, look better, take charge of their lives and do things because I’m such a strong believer in what I do.”

While having enthusiasm alone doesn’t guarantee that every customer will jump on board, when you are selling something that you truly believe is positive versus negative or middle of the road, it’s infinitely easier to transfer that enthusiasm to customers.

“The more ammunition you go into war with, the better off you are,” Little says.

“I still believe that people love to get excited about something. So I have a large excitability about something if I truly believe in it. And it just translates. And that’s why I always say passion sells. Enthusiasm sells.”

Have a winning mindset

From the time he started in the sales world selling his own vitamin regimen, and later, helping grow a chain of pet food stores, Little has seen the power positivity and perseverance has in selling anything.

“No matter how much money you make, no matter what kind of education you have, no matter who you are in this world, you are always excited about someone who shows up in your office who has enthusiasm, passion and confidence,” Little says. “And so many people lack it.

“I’d never done television. I’d never sold pet supplies. I’d never sold vitamins. I never did infomercials. I just had the attitude.”

Little says that he’s no different than any other CEO when it comes to stressing about bills or an order not coming in on time. Yet he’s found that turning around any tough business situation often just starts with having a winning mindset.

“If you look at our economy now and how tough it is and how people get so beaten up and depressed so quickly, I think that it has to do with your mindset,” Little says.

He says that today’s business environment favors those who are prepared to think proactively and take the initiative to find something, figure out something or do something another way.

“If you’re sitting there waiting for people to bring you something, that’s a mistake,” Little says. “If you have an idea, follow it.

“You hear it every day with different people you work with. You ask them to do something, and they ask, ‘How do you do that?’ You just want them to go, ‘I’ll figure it out. Go ahead, Tony. Go away.’”

A winning mindset starts with eliminating attitudes such as fear and negativity that can inhibit your ability to make decisions and chase opportunities.

“The key to a successful company really is the person who is a decision-maker above anything else, because even if they are wrong with their decisions, their opportunities are at bat that much more,” Little says. “They are bound to get a home run.”

But understanding what good ideas and opportunities are out there isn’t enough if you don’t have the attitude to run with them.

“There are so many people that are going to say no, and it becomes a bit of a numbers game,” Little says. “If you take 99 no’s and you get one yes, the yes could make you a fortune or make your whole life.”

When Little first pitched his idea of selling a low-impact exercise video on HSN, the network had never sold an exercise video in its history. But after much persistence, he was able to track down the company’s owner, Bud Paxson, and convince him to try the idea.

“Bud looks at me and says, ‘So you are the guy that calls my company all the time,’” Little says. “I said ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, ‘Well, videos don’t sell.’ I made a bet that my videos would sell if they were presented a certain way.”

In the first airing, Little’s tapes sold out in four minutes. When Paxson called to order 1,000 more of the tapes, those sold out too.

“Certain people will get right up to a goal line and fail, whereas you really need to be the person who is going to bring it over the line,” Little says.

“There are actually a lot more opportunities out there. So many people are not realizing that the person who is going to get the job right now or the person that is going to be able to innovate on a product is someone who has an energy level and enthusiasm and a belief.”

Protect your reputation

Lastly, the strength of your brand is based on more than just your ability to choose the right products or get people to buy them. Because your brand name is synonymous with all aspects of your customer’s experience, everything from manufacturing quality, to shipping time, to how you handle a return affects how your customers feel about you and whether they’ll continue to buy your products.

“You must keep the customer’s experience great and never lose sight that it’s the customer who made you a brand,” Little says.

Once Little did a show to sell a shoe product, but it turned out that some customers who bought the shoes had high insteps so the strap would not fit them. Instead of just accepting that there would be more returns, he called the manufacturer and asked them to create a Velcro extender so that customers could extend the shoes to fit. He shipped the extenders out immediately, and the result was twofold.

“One, it reduces returns and it helps the customer have something that they originally bought,” Little says. “So I was able to make these extenders for the shoes and get them off to the people who had an issue and then they were all happy. Then what was a problem became an asset for my company. I was able figure out that that’s a really good thing to be able to adjust shoes. Now all of my shoes are adjustable.”

Whenever he discovers a customer issue, Little takes swift action to let people know that he cares and is going to make the issue a priority.

“What I do is try to cut the product off immediately, try to revamp everything,” Little says. “Let your consumers know that you understand their concerns and you are working on it. That’s how you preserve your brand.”

If something gets screwed up, he knows that it’s still his name that the customer associates with the problem and subsequently, his brand’s reputation.

“It’s a lot more work for me because people are buying Tony Little in the respect of, ‘I believe that he’s already checked this out,’” Little says.

“If I have a consumer that’s not happy with something, the type of e-mail you’ll get from that consumer is basically, ‘This has to have been somebody else. Tony Little would never let me down like this.’”

That’s why Little uses a range of media channels to connect with customers and talk to them about their feedback.

“The common mistakes are usually in the way people market a product, not understanding their demographics and not understanding the people they are selling to,” Little says.

He still writes in all of his online guest books, answers customer e-mails and always responds to anyone who reaches out to him personally about a product.

Transparency with customers also gives you a more accurate picture of your customer satisfaction, so you can gain insights from the positive feedback as well as the negative.

“The majority of people that send in a review on the Internet on something normally are always going to skew to the negatives,” Little says.

“People we find who love a product or are satisfied with a product aren’t just all of a sudden sending you stuff. They don’t have the same emotion.”

Being responsive, approachable and showing consumers that you’re really thinking about how they use your products builds trust with them as well as with your own business partners. When your brand faces challenges and you need to make up lost ground, having that trust is an invaluable asset.

“Obviously there will be certain times that you just don’t agree…but in the long run no matter how negative a person is or what their experience has been ? as a person who built their business off of their brand – you try to always respect your customer,” Little says. “I don’t think I would be in business if it wasn’t for taking care of my customers.”

How to reach: Health International Corp., (727) 556-2959


1. Build your brand with products you understand and believe in

2. Develop a can-do mindset in decision-making

3. Be accountable for your customer’s experience

The Little File

Tony Little

founder and CEO

Health International Corp.

Born: Fremont, Ohio

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

That I’m a very quiet person, and that I love reading books — as many as I can get my hands on.

How do you regroup on a tough day?

I’ll give myself a self-motivational talk and put myself through a challenging workout. It never fails to energize me.

What is your favorite part of your job?

It’s important that I have fun when I work; I don’t like to get too serious. Even when I’m selling or presenting new opportunities, I like to be myself and have a good time. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing for a living, you should find another line of work.

What is your favorite Tony Little product?

The Gazelle. The Gazelle was an exercise machine that has been used in more motion pictures than any other infomercial. I also used it on the Geico commercial, which was fun. It was over a billion in sales for just that one product. It was just fun and the amount of mail, the amount of letters and before and after pictures and stories — even to this day I probably get two or three a week. People just still love the product.

Whom do you admire in the business world?

I have great respect and admiration for people who are self-made. I’ve always looked up to Donald Trump as someone who is willing to speak his mind and create victories from adversity. I would also include Cornelius Vanderbilt. I just finished reading his biography, ‘The First Tycoon,’ and he really was an amazing man. He wasn’t particularly well-educated, but he wound up being one of the wealthiest people in American history. Then there’s Steve Jobs. So much has been said and written about him since his death, but I admired him most for never giving in to a challenge, no matter how tough it got. He never gave up on himself, and that’s a lesson for all of us.

Published in Florida
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