Pittsburgh (2550)

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:44

Presentation is nice, but...

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What is the secret to giving an effective presentation? My presentation skills are unmatched, but I have colleagues who close more business than I do. I don’t understand it.

Most people are very comfortable talking about their products and services because that is what they know the most about and because of childhood conditioning.

As a result, most salespeople are anxious to do demonstrations or give proposals. It’s the adult version of show and tell.

As children, we were always rewarded for making a good presentation, whether it was to our teachers or our parents. It makes us feel good to do a presentation that is well received, and in this way, we get our emotional needs met.

However, selling is not about making presentations or getting our emotional needs met. Selling is about gaining commitments and winning business. Too often, we walk away from a presentation with nothing more than applause.

Business is not won or lost at the presentation. It is won or lost based on how well you have diagnosed the prospects’ needs and problems and how you set up the presentation.

Before you submit proposals, always gain the prospects’ commitment to make a decision at the time you conduct your presentations or review your proposals with them. Done right, the proposal itself should be nothing more than the fulfillment of what has already been agreed to.

If you aren’t able to obtain this commitment from a prospect in advance of the proposal, consider it a red flag — the prospect is either looking for a free education or simply looking to validate a decision that has already been made in your competition’s favor. Another red flag is a prospect who won’t let you present your proposal in person.

Unless you are in construction, you should never submit a proposal in any fashion other than face to face. Sending a proposal via fax or mail is usually a waste of time.

Don’t rush into a proposal. Spend the bulk of your time uncovering the essential needs and concerns of your prospects and discussing the investments that they will have to make and the obstacles they will have to overcome before you do a demonstration or proposal.

The sale is usually won or lost in the diagnosis, not in the presentation.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or e-mail at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

Not sitting well

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When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration introduced new rules regarding ergonomic conditions in the workplace, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business wasn’t about to take the lengthy regulations, well, lying down.

U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond described the proposal as “a devastatingly broad and intrusive regulation” which lacks sufficient science to make it useful to employers of all sizes.

In comments submitted for the record on the proposal, Bond says, “This regulation is so fundamentally flawed that OSHA must withdraw this proposal ... Despite extensive input from small businesses throughout the panel convened under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, OSHA is pursuing a regulation that will create confusion, extreme burdens, disruptions, distortions and liability without any predictable success.

“Unfortunately, the agency has chosen an adversarial approach to the most complicated and difficult regulation ever pursued in the name of worker safety.”

To fight the regulation, Sen. Bond recently introduced Senate Bill 1070 (called the SENSE Act), which would halt the regulations until a study could be completed by the National Academy of Sciences to determine whether enough scientific evidence exists to support the new standards.

If the new regulations aren’t stopped, Sen. Bond contends, they will cost plenty as businesses across the country attempt to comply. While OSHA estimates a total cost to all businesses at roughly $4.2 billion, the American Health Care Association estimates the cost of compliance for nursing home facilities alone could be at least $5.6 billion. And the Employment Policy Foundation, Sen. Bond says, estimates that costs could reach as high as $80 billion for the entire economy.

Says Bond of the proposed rules: “Instead of providing employers with useful, scientifically sound and practical guidance, OSHA has chosen to impose a vague, open-ended regulatory trap that will only increase the amount of revenue and legal actions generated by citations and penalties.”

Help for the oil price-impaired

President Bill Clinton has offered some relief to small businesses feeling the crunch of skyrocketing oil prices.

Such businesses now have access through the U.S. Small Business Administration to government-backed loans to relieve the price pressure. President Clinton says his directive targets, for instance, heating oil dealers, who could use the funds to extend flexible payment terms to customers, or trucking companies.

The president has asked Congress to appropriate $1 million for the relief fund, which would provide enough backing for $86 million in loans, which would be made under existing 7(a) programs.

“SBA’s existing mix of loan products under the business loan guaranty program is flexible enough to deal with this situation,” says SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez in a prepared statement. “In fact, we have several short-term revolving loan programs, such as SBA Express and CAPLines, which are especially suitable for helping these small businesses get through this temporary crisis.” How to reach: SBA Answer Desk, (800) U-ASK-SBA, or visit www.sba.gov. for loan information.

Help on the North Shore

If you’re just starting or trying to grow a business, the Small Business Administration, in partnership with the North Side Civic Development Council, has opened a Business Information Center to help you.

The center, established to serve businesses in Western Pennsylvania’s 27 counties, is designed to provide one-stop assistance and advice for business owners, including a wide range of computer hardware and software, as well as a library of resources. And it’s all free.

Says Al Jones, district director of the SBA’s Pittsburgh district office: “We are proud to partner with the North Side Civic Development Council to bring this valuable resource to our region.”

How to reach: For information on the new center, contact Donald Nemchick at the SBA at (412) 395-6560, ext. 117.

Compiled by Daniel Bates.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:43

e-tail details

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If you’re not yet convinced that e-commerce has a future, perhaps a recent report by Ernst & Young will change your mind.

The study, “Global Online Retailing,” predicts that U.S. online sales will reach $45 billion to $50 billion this year, nearly double 1999’s total. By 2002, consumers will spend about 36 percent of their “shopping money” on purchases over the Internet, up from the current 15 percent.

In the United States, the clear world leader in online consumer shopping, 39 million people shopped online in 1999, more than double the 17 million who did so in 1998. The report also says that in 1999, U.S. consumers made an average of 13 purchases online, more than double the number they made in 1998.

They spent an average $1,205 online, up from $230 in 1997.

Five other countries surveyed — Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France posted large gains in online shopping as well.

“Retailers must take a holistic approach to their business by examining every channel of distribution and have aggressive growth strategies in places,” says Stephanie Shern, global director of retail and consumer products for Ernst & Young. “Companies must also be willing to evaluate and evolve those strategies as well.”

Full survey findings are available at Ernst & Young’s Web site, www.ey.com.

Ray Marano

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Young Entrepreneur

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Andi Reiber and Carolla Zap are avid horseback riders and motorcyclists—and good examples of the kinds of transplants that the Pittsburgh business community wants to keep in the region.

The young partners in Blue Rider Design Studio, founded by them in 1995 in a home office with a single computer, are native New Yorkers and high school friends who came to Pittsburgh in 1989 to study at Carnegie Mellon University. Both had job offers in New York after graduation, but decided instead to stay here to practice their craft in their own business.

“We’ve always known that we were going to do something that was art- and design-oriented,” says Zap, who concentrates on Web site design and construction, as well as multimedia projects.

Reiber and Zap say their approach is to combine design and technology in a way that describes precisely what the client does. Rather than overlay their own style on their clients’ image, they say they work with the client to understand what the business involves.

“Our style becomes the way we work with clients,” says Reiber, who focuses on marketing, concept development and print work for the firm.

Adds Zap: “What we don’t do is impose a Blue Rider design on the project.”

Ray Marano

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Welfare to work

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The path to entrepreneurship can be a strange one for some business builders, but Eugene Ritter’s journey may rank among the most unusual.

Ritter’s path has included alcoholism, divorce, unemployment and an ongoing spiritual search — a quest that once had him considering the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Ritter, a man with a self-acknowledged gift of gab, nonetheless has managed to build a business virtually from scratch over the past five years. And he gives his wife of five years, Faye, and God the credit for his success.

“I think the key is the relationship with God,” says Ritter.

Ritter realized early financial success as an encyclopedia salesman, and later, as a district manager for the same company. But drinking cost him his job, and he sank deeper into alcoholism. Eventually, he sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous and has remained sober since 1972. He continues to work with recovering alcoholics.

Ritter worked as a group home counselor after he gained sobriety but entered another extended period of unemployment from 1982 to 1992. He spent most of that time surviving on public assistance and help from friends and family.

Still, Ritter is anything but bitter about the 10 years he spent on welfare. That period, he is convinced, was a necessary part of his journey.

“It showed me how insignificant I am,” he says. “It showed me how much I needed God.”

In 1992, Ritter met his wife in church. Faye, says Ritter, is the one who encouraged him to start his own business.

“I laughed, because here I was, on welfare,” Ritter says.

Despite his lack of capital, no credit and a checkered work history, Ritter scraped together about $7,000 to buy a computer company in 1992. The company, DMR Inc., now distributes industrial and medical supplies to hospitals, including a major university hospital, nursing homes and local government agencies. And he has four full-time and several casual employees.

Ray Marano

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

The team: a hefty half-dozen

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The six founding partners of Laurel Networks form a powerhouse of technical expertise and experience.

Although they are all 30-somethings, combined, they have more than a lifetime of coveted professional experience. Their expertise runs the gamut, from software to hardware to switching systems and routing technology, as well as the organizational and strategic savvy to get and keep a company on the move.

All worked for Pittsburgh’s most successful high-tech company to date, Fore Systems (now Marconi plc), most holding key positions in the development of major products and systems. Two are Carnegie Mellon alumni, and all have attended prestigious institutions of higher learning. Four of the six hold advanced degrees. Two worked for Transarc Corp., another successful Pittsburgh technology company.

Here are the founders of Laurel Networks at a glance:

Atul Bansal, president and CEO, has more than 14 years of experience in the data communications industry. His most recent position was product group director of Fore Systems’ multilayer ethernet switching product division, a unit with $100 million-plus in annual revenue. He’s also held numerous positions with Digital Equipment Corp.

Jeffrey Prem, director of system services hardware, has more than 12 years of experience as a software architect and developer. At Fore, he was principal software development engineer, leading the company’s software development for its entire line of asynchronous transfer mode switches.

Robert Rennison, director of signaling and routing software, has more than 14 years of experience in the data communications and networking industries. A six-year veteran at Fore Systems, Rennison led a team of engineers in the development of several key projects there.

Dimitris Varotsis, chief technology officer, is a Carnegie Mellon graduate and a former principle engineer with Fore Systems. With more than a decade of experience in data communications, including a stint with Transarc Corp., Varotsis is responsible for the overall software architecture of all Laurel Networks products.

Steve Vogelsang, vice president of marketing, was senior director of strategic and technical marketing at Fore Systems. As its senior director of strategic and technical marketing, he was responsible for defining and communicating Fore’s technology and solution strategy.

Robert Warden, director of hardware engineering, has eight years of experience in the design of high-speed switching systems. He was Fore Systems’ manager of ATM switching systems before breaking out as a co-founder of Laurel Networks.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Step into my office ...

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I was driving my rental car in Dallas and had three hours before my flight home. As I turned a corner, there in front of me was a building with a sign, “DALLAS FINE CARS ... Luxury Automobiles at Their Best.”

I have never stopped to look at these high-priced indulgences, but I hear this mid-life crisis thing is coming, so my wife tells me it’s OK to look at sports cars ... as long as that’s all I do.

I pulled into the lot, got out of my car and peered through the showroom window. In the middle of the floor, was the biggest, reddest, most beautiful Mercedes Benz I have ever seen. All I wanted to do was sit behind the wheel of that car and fantasize that I owned it.

But there’s that issue of the stereotypical car salesperson. You may have had a great experience with one, but overall, we still have a stereotype of a car salesperson. Adjectives such as sleazy, slick, dishonest, aggressive, pushy and Herb Tarlick still roll off of most peoples’ tongues. And I admit, I had the same stereotype as I pushed open the door of that dealership. But before I even got through the door, my stereotype was completely shattered.

A woman approached me. Now, I would venture to guess that you wouldn’t have thought of a woman when I asked you to stereotype a car salesperson. But then she asked me what most people ask in any retail situation: “Can I help you?”

It’s a pet peeve of mine, so I responded defensively, “No thanks. Just looking.”

Without another word, the woman looked me in the eye and ordered, “Step into my office!”

I thought I was hearing things. I could have sworn she had just ordered me into her office. Then, without hesitation, she repeated, “Step into my office,” as she turned her back and walked away. After the shock wore off, I decided it was time to hightail it out of there. But as I turned to leave, she had walked swiftly to the back door of that red Mercedes, opened the back door and slid into the back seat. With a smile, she yelled at me once more.

“Step into my office!”

Before I knew it, I found myself sitting in the back seat of the car with this salesperson, when she barked another order. “Shut the door.” I complied.

My new friend told me to smell.

“Shouldn’t we introduce ourselves first?” I tried to stall. “Just smell.” She was getting impatient.

I did, and I found myself overwhelmed with the smell of leather. “That’s what your kids are going to smell when they are sitting in these seats,” she explained.

All I could say was a very profound, “Wow.”

She asked me to look around the front seat. I observed a leather-bound steering wheel and wood paneling

“That’s what your kids are going to see when you are driving this car,” she said. Again, all I could utter was, “Wow.”

“Sir, do you like to go fast?” she teased. “Yeah, really fast,” I mumbled.

“This car is the fastest car on the lot,” she boasted. Another, “Wow.” Next came an invitation.

“Imagine your hand on that stick shift; shifting from fourth into fifth at 80 to 85 miles per hour.”

“Wow.”

Then came the kicker. “Do you have the money?”

I replied honestly, “No.” “Bye,” is the last word I remember.

Do your clients have a stereotype of the experience they are going to have with you? Whether it’s an internal client or an external one, we must constantly figure out ways to shatter the stereotypes our clients have of us or our product or service, or of doing business with us.

Perhaps it’s physically changing the environment or surroundings. Maybe it means holding that weekly meeting in a different venue. You could simply change your voice-mail message.

Do whatever it takes to understand the stereotypes that exist in your business — and then shatter them ... creatively.

Jeff Tobe, a certified speaking professional, thrives on helping businesses develop an outside-the-lines marketing approach to set them apart from the competition and build brand awareness. Reach him at (412) 373-6592 or visit www.jefftobe.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Reach out and e-touch

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We want to stay closer to you throughout the month, so the editorial staff at SBN is initiating an e-mail project that will allow us to contact you, our readers, a few times a month with brief updates, an occasional survey question or two or a tip that might help you understand a current news event.

If this all sounds a little indefinite, well, it is. We’re doing a little experimenting and we’re asking you to help us out. At most, you’ll hear from us two or three times a month. But we vow not to bombard you with worthless junk e-mail or sell or otherwise share your address with pestering salespeople.

And we absolutely promise to take you off the list if we get annoying. So if you’re feeling a little daring, simply send a short message to rmarano@sbnnet.com and we’ll put you on the list.

Thanks for your help.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:42

Making manufacturing muscle

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At Superbolt, a Carnegie producer of mechanical stud and bolt tensioners, plant manager William Myers has often found it frustrating to find and keep entry-level machinists to maintain his 85-employee work force at full capacity.

Glenn Skena, manager, methods engineering at Hamill Manufacturing in Trafford, has had similar problems. So has Bob Kettering, manufacturing manager at DuraMetal Products Corp. in Irwin.

“The last five years it’s been particularly noticeable,” says Kettering.

Myers says he’s had trouble getting applicants to even turn out for interviews. And he’s offered jobs to people, only to have them quit a few months later.

That may come as a surprise, especially when jobs like these pay an average of $8 to $10 an hour to start, plus benefits in many cases — and they’re available to individuals at a high school graduate level, in some cases earlier.

Manufacturing 2000, a training program that graduated its first class of machinists in 1998, has eased the situation for all three companies, bringing them better-trained and more motivated candidates than they’ve been able to draw in recent years from the vo-tech schools and the general work force.

That same model is being expanded to come to the aid of other manufacturing segments experiencing the same kinds of shortages.

A labor legacy

The region’s industrial past has left at least one significant legacy: high-wage jobs for the remaining workers in manufacturing, which still accounts for about 16 percent of private sector jobs in a 13-county area of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

According to figures provided by Manufacturing 2000, manufacturing in Allegheny County leads all categories in annual wages, with $2.8 billion wages paid. The annual salary for manufacturing segment employees is more than $40,000 annually, while the average salary for all other sectors is about $28,600.

Despite the relatively high wages paid for entry-level jobs in manufacturing, however, employers are finding it difficult to find qualified applicants. Companies point to several factors that have created a dearth of available and reliable labor. The educational system, parents and society in general are steering students toward the academic track, they say, encouraging college as a first choice.

“I don’t see a whole lot of push in the schools toward machining,” says Myers.

Moreover, the companies say, a lot of vo-tech schools have not kept up with technology, and students often perceive the machinist and tool-and-die trades as dirty work, not as a field dominated by modern CNC equipment that requires more sophisticated training to operate. And, say the business operators, vo-tech schools are too often a repository for poor academic achievers or students with disciplinary problems.

Skena points out that vocational schools, from which he used to get nearly all of his entry-level machinists, once provided a rich pool of potential employees. A local vocational school that Hamill Manufacturing works with, for instance, has a co-op program that allows students to work part-time while they go to school to prepare for a position as an entry-level machinist. This year, the school could recommend only one student out of a class of 20 to Skena for the program, a far cry from a decade ago.

“I would have had 10 kids 10 years ago,” says Skena.

As heavy industry in the region wound down, it displaced many low-skill workers. The new manufacturing economy, in contrast, requires employees who are better trained, with more exacting skills than were once required in heavy industry.

For the new skilled laborer, the emphasis is much more on skill than on labor. The pool of available workers, however, has shrunk.

New Century approach

The success of Manufacturing 2000 has led to the creation of New Century Careers, a nonprofit umbrella organization that will include the machinist training program and training to qualify individuals in welding and in electronics assembly.

“Manufacturing 2000 embodies the employment goals of businesses and public officials — to attract skilled workers and keep them in the region,” says Paul Anselmo, executive director of the program.

The manufacturers see a different kind of candidate coming out of Manufacturing 2000.

“The group you are dealing with is post-high school,” says Skena.

Most are a bit more mature, many have tried college and found it wasn’t for them or need to get a full-time job that offers a stable future. The screening process culls those with the most aptitude and places them in the appropriate training program at no cost to the applicant.

The hiring companies pay the program $1,250 for each employee they hire permanently, a fee the manufacturers say is well worth it if they get an effective employee.

One strength of Manufacturing 2000, says Kettering, is that it creates a stronger, more direct link between training and employment. The process identifies, screens and trains applicants, then places and develops skill-based talent in partnership with academic and vocational institutions. DuraMetal Products has hired two of the program’s graduates and expects to hire a third.

But while the model has worked well for the machinist trade, what are its prospects for success in the other fields?

The employers appear to have high hopes.

“Given a little bit of time, I think they’re going to be pushing out some quality entry-level people,” says Myers.

And that’s from someone who’s been there.

How to reach: New Century Careers, (412) 258-6620

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN magazine.