Tony Little: Marketing muscle

Tony Little, Founder, President and CEO, Health International Corp.

Tony Little, Founder, President and CEO, Health International Corp.

You’ve come up with a great idea for a product, gotten it trademarked and patented, finalized the design specifications and lined up financing and distribution. Everyone is clamoring for your gizmo. Now all you have to do is get the item manufactured and delivered to all those distributors and retailers who will be selling millions of units to eager consumers. Find the cheapest manufacturer and you’re all set, right? Well, not exactly.

As you begin your search, you’ll notice that most manufacturing these days is done outside of the United States. Typically, we’re talking about a faraway country where English is not the primary language, which can make communications difficult. When you factor in cultural differences, which can also be an issue, you’re dealing with a lot that can go wrong before the first shipment arrives at your loading dock.

In dealing with foreign-based manufacturers, I cannot overemphasize the importance of finding a liaison in the area that can be your “eyes on the ground” and function as a bridge between the company and you. You need to be able to trust this person and their organization, and that they understand your business, its goals and how you think, as they’ll be functioning in your place usually many time zones away.

As for the criteria in selecting a manufacturer, it’s really no different than choosing someone to look after your children. A great resume, recommendations from previous employers and personal references mean everything.

It is essential to think of your manufacturer as a partner in your venture, not just a vendor. This means you have to trust their opinions when it comes to their area of expertise. It’s a big mistake to just hand them specifications, walk away and expect your shipment of finished products to be perfect. I look at it as a team effort. If they make suggestions on how to execute my product, I always take the opportunity to listen. If it sounds reasonable, I almost always let them do it. Of course, take the time to see and test a final product sample before giving your final OK.

I had a shoe product a few years ago that was extremely successful — a sandal made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). In a rush to make an on-air sales date that was expected to generate huge sales, we decided to change manufacturers. Our existing vendor was great, but they weren’t equipped to handle that kind of volume, so we switched to a larger company that was very reputable. Despite claiming to be proficient in working with EVA, the new manufacturer had problems with the injection molding, resulting in a high degree of variability in the sandal’s arch supports. We wound up with a high return rate for the batch, which was a tremendous pain and let our brand customer down. It wound up costing us zillions of dollars, but fortunately we were able to make good on all the orders. Shortly afterward, we found a new company, but we learned a valuable lesson from the experience.

One of the biggest issues currently facing product-based companies is mounting manufacturing costs everywhere in the world. One solution for me has been to provide additional value to what I’m selling that compensates for the higher prices. For example, if I’m offering a piece of exercise equipment that has seen its price increase by say, $25 from last year because of higher manufacturing costs, it’s hard to pass that cost onto the consumer and still sell successfully. To offset that, I can include a fitness DVD, CD or computer memory stick that carries the equivalent retail value that makes up for the difference. My manufacturing costs will be relatively minimal for the additional item, but the consumer will receive more in return.

The current economy aside, there will always be challenges in manufacturing that call for a healthy balance of common sense, trust and out-of-the-box thinking, not to mention the ability to learn from one’s mistakes. Ultimately, it’s all about the golden rule of any brand: keep your customers loyal and loving you by treating them well.

There’s always a way.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp. Known as “America’s personal trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. Today, his company has sold more than $3 billion in products. Reach him at [email protected].

Read and react

Michael Pitcher, president and CEO, LeasePlan USA

LeasePlan USA’s dedication to customer service has propelled the company to success, with record-high client satisfaction as well as a 98.7 percent client retention rate. One of the main ingredients in its customer service formula is its service systems, which allow LeasePlan’s associates to quickly respond to customer needs, resolve issues and mitigate service gaps.

At LeasePlan USA, which is led by President and CEO Michael Pitcher, response to customer issues is contained in a closed-loop resolution system that captures expected responsiveness and allows employees to adhere to the parameters called “ResponsePlan.”

ResponsePlan’s mission is to enhance the level of service provided to clients by ensuring that the company’s resolution management system facilitates timely resolution of client-related issues.

The tool helps to facilitate capturing, tracking, trending and resolving client requests and utilizes a highly disciplined approach to measure employee responsiveness. Employee response time to each client-related request is measure against an operation-level agreement, which is an individual, pre-established time frame tied to each associated process. With the system, LeasePlan measures actual response time against optimal response time.

LeasePlan also utilizes a quality assurance program to remain a world-class customer service provider through evaluation and training. The goal of the program is to create a consistent-quality customer service experience throughout the organization by reviewing and scoring client interactions on a monthly basis. The interactions are recorded via telephone and computer during a business transaction, and the calls are then scored by a quality assurance analyst.

If a pattern of behavior continues to manifest itself in an employee’s quality score, the analyst will work with the employee and his or her manager to design a skill improvement progrtilizes a quality assurance program to remain a world-class customer service provider through evaluation and training.

How to reach: LeasePlan USA, (770) 933-9090 or www.us.leaseplan.com

No Languishing in Legal Lament: Turning Tables on the Traumatic

Kevin Daum

Shakespeare said, “First kill all the lawyers.”  At first glance this seems a tad aggressive but for most people the last thing you look forward to is someone showing up at your door with a subpoena.  Regardless of whether a lawsuit is business related or personal the thought of engaging an attorney for protracted litigation can drive fear into a person’s heart.

Not only is there emotion and argument to contend with, but the shear unknown of exorbitant fees being charged to you at hundreds of dollars per hour with no end in sight is enough to terrorize anyone.  Even most attorneys, particularly litigators will advise people to avoid litigation at all costs.

I have been involved in two lawsuits in my 46-year lifetime.  The first required me to do most of my own legal work.  It resulted in the other side dismissing with prejudice after I showed the plaintiff’s attorney his own ignorance by demonstrating his client had committed fraud, which he had missed, even though the signs were obvious.  That one cost me $29,000 in non-recoverable legal fees just to demonstrate what I (and everyone else) knew from the start.  The problem is that many attorneys such as this one believe they are right and often righteous even when they are not.

Last year I engaged in my second lawsuit.  This time it was my divorce after 24 years of marriage.  Although things started amicably, emotions were high and I soon found myself on the receiving end of a New York matrimonial attorney who happily made his living off the misery of others.  Now certainly there are plenty of situations where people need someone to represent them as an advocate, but more often than not, attorneys like this one will charge ahead to spend a retainer without fully reviewing the case.  I am pleased to say that this attorney stopped his useless crusade once he had used up twice my ex-wife’s retainer and realized he had a losing case that was not going to yield him any more money. However the emotional and financial damage he inflicted on his client was a shameful example of the challenge of dealing with lawyers and based on Shakespeare’s 400-year-old quote, is nothing new.

As one who recoils from the mere mention of lawsuits, I learned a few things from my bout with this divorce lawyer that are worthy of sharing.  Since I finished my divorce without hiring counsel to defend against him and ultimately came out with a settlement agreed to be fair by both sides once he was gone, these should be tips that will help to keep more money out of the pockets of lawyers who don’t have their client’s best interest at heart.

Don’t Be Bullied

Attorneys are trained to be aggressive.  Law school is a brutal and competitive atmosphere where only the strong survive.  Don’t let their aggressive tactics and blustering ramp up your emotions to the point where you lose sight of truth and fairness.  Lawyers are people too and you can stand up to them and take the high road.  Law is not rocket science.  You can do the basic research and work without spending thousands of dollars in many cases. Take an intelligent active role in your defense even if you have counsel representing you. (This saves you money by the way.) Once you learn the law you can attack on your own behalf.  I wrote many emails showing this attorney where he was wrong and negligent bordering on malpractice.

Tell the Truth

If you are in the wrong then settlement is probably your best approach, but if you are legitimately right then stand up for your defense and provide the facts as they occurred.  In both my cases, I stood by the truth and the law without any manipulation or legal shenanigans.  That allowed me to maintain consistency and moral superiority, which helped with my confidence in beating both attorneys.  My motivation was truth and their motivation was greed.  Truth is a better foundation for a sustainable battle.

Maintain Your Sense of Humor

This is how you take a traumatic experience like litigation and turn it into an Awesome Experience.  Trauma never actually seems as bad when you are in the middle of it.  Rather than letting my emotions get the best of me, I turned to humor.  In my many emails to the attorney spelling out the law and facts, I used a tone filled with irony and humor.  I even sent him lawyer jokes.  I found ways to catch him off guard and take him off his game.  Although it irritated my ex-wife, I focused my barbs and jabs at the attorney.  Ultimately I showed him that I was fully prepared to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of his actions and that in litigation I would be likeable and paint him as the nasty evil villain.  The emails I sent had some of my funniest writing to date. Writing them helped me keep my cool and express my anger in a productive way.  If you don’t take your opponent or yourself too seriously you have a better chance of keeping a clear head and seeing the opportunities for success.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself that will help keep the attorney’s away or at least prepare you for the day the subpoena shows up.

1. How can you have a basic understanding of the law related to your job and business?

2. How can you easily document facts that relate to potential legal issues at your company?

3. What are your first five steps should you receive a business or personal subpoena?

4. Where are you vulnerable in your dealings by not being truthful?

5. What are your top 3 favorite lawyer jokes?

I am happy to say that there are more and more attorneys building successful practices on litigation prevention and civil resolution.  Even in the contentious matrimonial world a young New York lawyer named Daniel Yaniv has built a fast growing practice based upon uncontested divorces for less than $1000.  Hopefully this is a trend and the remaining self-serving, greedy attorneys will be left to move on to join their colleagues in the other profession where they seem to thrive… politics.

KEVIN DAUM is the principal of TAE International and the author of the Amazon #1 Bestsellers “ROAR! Get Heard in the Sales and Marketing Jungle” and “Green$ense For the Home: Rating the Real Payoff on 50 Green Home Projects” both available at www.AwesomeRoar.com. He is a speaker and provides marketing consulting. Reach him at [email protected]