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Survival Tips from the Pandemic

Survival Tips from the Pandemic

A Business Owner’s Perspective

Running a business in 2020 presented challenges that many business owners and executives had never experienced. The pandemic impacted different industries differently. Some, like outdoor recreation, had record years that may never be repeated, while others, including commercial aerospace, have been devastated. As 2021 began, I interviewed the leaders of numerous businesses, some of which benefited from the pandemic and some of which were negatively impacted, about what steps they took in 2020 and what they plan for 2021 in order to survive this pandemic. Three common themes emerged from these interviews: diversification, internal efficiencies and leveraging the customer base.

Nearly every business leader I spoke to recognized that serving a wider range of industries or a wider customer base is key to surviving any economic downturn. Companies in oil and gas, automotive or aerospace have experienced significant economic downturns throughout this century. The difference is that this pandemic affected nearly every industry. The challenge this time was to either pivot to an area that wasn’t impacted, or expand their offerings within their primary industry in order to keep their employees working. Here are some approaches that have worked for successful companies:

  • Expand reach among existing customers. One concept that proved true during the pandemic is that customers aren’t thinking about suppliers. They are focused on their business and the best way to survive or thrive during the pandemic. However, the pandemic also created an opportunity to connect at a deeper level with customers, suppliers and others. Taking the time to reach out to those people in our professional network allowed businesses to develop a deeper relationship with those individuals. 
  • Calls like this also provide an opportunity to educate your customers on other products and services that you or your company might offer. Alex Goldfayn, author of Selling Boldly, urges his clients to pick up the phone and call their customers. Customers aren’t thinking about what products and services you provide. By calling and talking with them, you can offer to help them during this time. If that approach feels uncomfortable, think about the last time someone called you and offered to help. And how did you feel? Was that relationship weakened or strengthened? I personally know that this approach increased business for one of my clients by 15% in less than six months.
  • Expand offerings within the same industry. Regardless of what industry your business currently serves, there are always opportunities to provide additional products or services. During the shutdown, many of my clients spent their precious R&D efforts developing new products. In some cases, it was an idea that had been percolating in someone’s head, or an adjustment to meet a perceived need due to the new economic reality. The challenge with this approach is that once these new offerings are developed, you must take action to educate your customers about them. By reaching out to them as discussed above, you are proactively educating your customers on new ways you can help them.
  • Pivot to another industry. The pandemic required businesses in some industries to completely pivot to another industry. Nate Lindquist, owner of Pinnacle Metal Works, said he realized that as the aerospace industry was grounded (pun intended), he needed to do something to keep his employees employed. He made the decision to pivot to the home gym industry, which was booming during the lockdown. While he plans to maintain his foothold in aerospace, establishing a business in a new industry has allowed him to gain new experience and knowledge, including how to grow his online presence and how to adjust his manufacturing plant to meet the differing needs of his new customer base.

Internal Efficiencies
Over the past four years, the US economy has remained strong, which has resulted in growth across nearly every industry. As the saying goes, profit covers sin. So as the economy ground to a halt, most companies began to look at ways to cut costs. Beyond reducing headcount or across-the-board pay cuts, other strategies included cross-training employees, streamlining flow through the plant and bringing outsourced services in-house. Outsourcing included pre-fabrication in the shop versus in the field, while outside processing could include machining or nondestructive testing. In some companies, that meant acquisition of companies providing complementary or down-stream services. 

As companies began to rearrange their processes to allow for social distancing, equipment and processes could be redesigned to redeploy employees while reducing waste. For some manufacturing processes, that included having one employee operate multiple pieces of equipment or perform multiple operations in series. A number of companies also reduced WIP (work in process) and moved toward “Just In Time” manufacturing. 

Understanding that most businesses will go through these cycles, many companies took this time to strengthen their processes. Russ Gallagher, president of Bescast, an aerospace company, tasked his managers to begin strengthening processes and ensuring that when demand picked back up, they were able to handle increased throughput, smaller batches and more complex parts. These downturns are an opportunity to try new technology, develop creative approaches to resolve nagging issues and explore new products in order to reduce costs or find a competitive edge. 

Construction companies found that utilizing their resources and equipment in the shop reduced waste and costs in the field. To do that, they needed additional engineering to ensure the design accurately fit the footprint and met the needs of the customer. Most firms found they could redeploy existing resources in order to achieve this initiative. This meant faster completion of projects, resulting in higher profits and greater capacity.

Focus on the Customer
The pandemic allowed the opportunity to deepen relationships with customers and suppliers. During periods of stress, it is often difficult to look beyond our immediate situation and focus on others, but this outward focus allowed many companies to grow and thrive during the pandemic. Eric Doering, founder of Vulcan DC, had to find other ways to generate sales when home shows, the company’s primary method for reaching new customers, were cancelled. He began calling former customers and asking for referrals, which turned out to be a great way to find new projects while strengthening relationship with his customer base.
Hank Jamerson, VP of Sales and Marketing at Kyanite Mining Company, tasked his team with reaching out to all his customers and checking in on how they were doing. He realized that during the past several years, he hadn’t been proactively calling his customers, but instead was only responding to incoming inquiries. As he and his team started calling his customers, he realized how much he’d missed talking with them and how much they had missed hearing from him.

Even more importantly, he realized that taking the time to truly connect with others was one of the bright spots in an otherwise difficult time.

As we move into 2021 and start the long journey towards a life that mirrors pre-pandemic times, I challenge you to take time to reflect on how you can enhance your relationships with those around you. While business may be the reason these relationships began, I do believe this pandemic provides an opportunity for us to deepen those relationships and carry them forward into a prosperous future. 

If you would need some assistance on the best approach to enhance your customer relations, send me an email. I’d be happy to share best practices and get you on your way.

P.S. I promise my chicken articles will be back next week.  I just needed a little time to grieve the loss of Caramel Corn.  


The Big Chicken Sale

The Big Chicken Sale

As you know, I am now a chicken mama. In the past three weeks, I have learned that my chickens are much more free-range than I expected or planned on. Yes, this is saving me money on food and effort in cleaning the coop, but I do have concerns for their safety, especially at night.

Two weeks ago, I began the campaign to bring them into the coop each night. Thanks to my neighbor, I have learned that running after them and trying to chase them into the coop isn’t effective.

What I really want to do is entice them to come into the coop willingly. And this requires understanding their wants and needs and providing a solution that meets those needs.

Chickens need food, water, and, to a certain extent, shelter. Within the run, I keep chicken crumbles, a flock block, and water available for them. And it appears that they have been partaking of the food. My chickens have been roosting in trees since the second night following their arrival. And with all the trees and cover around our property and the adjacent property, they seem to have the shelter angle covered (pun intended). However, when winter arrives, the cover will not be as thick, and the nights will be cold, wet, and long. 

What do chickens like? Well, fortunately, they like bugs, which is a win for me. But they also like snacks like watermelon rinds, pineapple, and mealworms. So, every morning, I put out some treats for them in their run. They seem to like these, but so do the squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits.

Chickens fear the dark and predators. And apparently me (and my dogs). The good news is that we haven’t found any predators lurking around yet, but I fear it is only a matter of time. Thanks to one of my readers, I now have a solar light over the coop. I’m hoping this will encourage the chickens to “come to the light” as they settle in for the night. 

My mission is to meet their needs and help them overcome their fears. And so far, I think it is starting to work. The Chicken-Cam has caught them lurking around the coop first thing in the morning. They clearly like the treats and food I leave for them. They haven’t committed to sleeping in the coop, but they definitely know where their meals come from.

Are you wondering how I’m planning on relating this to real life? Well, every one of us is a salesperson in one capacity or another. You may be a professional salesperson, but you could also be an owner, a manager, or a parent. Regardless of what you are trying to sell, you need a process. And that process can’t be simply scaring the target into buying what you are selling. You must frame your goods to be in the best interest of your target audience. What are their needs? What do they like? What are their fears?

Using fear alone to sell your solution may result in short-term gains, but it won’t result in a long-term relationship. If you take the time to understand the customer’s needs and deliver a solution that shows you understand, you will have much better luck.

During your next sale, decide if you want to chase your target around the field or throw out some tasty pineapple skin to lure them in. I’m confident that one of these options will result in the achievement of both parties’ goals. If you find that your sales process hasn’t adapted to the new Covid marketplace, please email me. I can help you and your sales team thrive in this new reality. 

Tying it All Together

Tying it All Together

A business needs a product and sales.

A thriving business needs a product, sales, leadership, and innovation.

Here is how each of these contribute to the success of a business:

  • The product is the cornerstone of the business.
  • Sales provides cash flow to continue producing the product and to fund the business.
  • Leadership sets the vision and focuses your resources in the right direction.
  • Innovation creates new products, improves the way things are done, and helps implement the details behind the vision.

My consulting practice focuses on improving my clients’ profitability by focusing on these areas for any thriving business: Leadership, Innovation, and Sales.

Let me give you an example. A mid-sized manufacturing company was selling product in the highly competitive automotive industry. Their production line was struggling, resulting in $80,000 in scrap every month. This was crippling their company and damaging relationships with their key customers, because they couldn’t deliver their product on time.

I was able to quickly identify what was causing their scrap issues.  Together, we put processes in place to address the gaps and strengthen existing systems.  Once this was complete, I trained the engineers, supervisors, and operators on the new processes. Within six months, the cost of scrap fell to just $1,200 per month and throughput increased.

With additional capacity, stronger processes, and greater technical depth, the company was poised to pivot to a higher-margin, less-competitive industry. But in order to do that, they needed to develop a strategy for their sales and marketing team. Using my background in sales, understanding of the company’s plant capabilities, and the needs of the target industry, I led the sales team through the transition. Within a year, they had gained the recognition of the industry as a supplier who delivered on time with excellent quality. The company has been able to grow sales in their target market at a 20% increase year over year with a gross margin more than triple their automotive margin.

If your company wants to strengthen its internal processes in order to transition into a new market, I can lead you through the process, providing guidance and expertise along the way. Email me today to start on your journey tomorrow.

Are you Playing the Right Role?

Are you Playing the Right Role?

I met with a prospect this week and we were discussing her perception that she isn’t a good salesperson.  I asked her what she thinks a salesperson’s role is, and she said, “To come into a meeting and tell people what they should buy.”

Well, I had news for her: The days of this kind of selling are long gone (or they should be).  A good salesperson takes time to understand her customers, their goals and how to help them reach those goals. Today’s sales professionals are focused on helping customers solve problems.

Most of my clients don’t have sales teams that tell the customer what to buy.  But I have found that many of them are reluctant to ask the probing questions that will uncover the customer’s true needs.  Those needs could be around reducing total cost of manufacturing, or developing an innovative product, or increasing internal efficiencies.  But if you don’t ask the questions, you won’t know, and then you are reduced to selling a product, not selling a solution.

If you modified the approach of your sales process to be solution-focused, would that improve your close ratio?  If your goal every time you called a prospect was to provide some value, would that result in increased sales?

If you want to increase your sales, and develop customers who want to share their problems with you because you are a solution-focused supplier, send me an email.  My proven sales process has resulted in close ratios that increased by 30% in just three months.

A Bright Light in the Midst of Chaos

A Bright Light in the Midst of Chaos

If you are paying attention to the news, you know there is a lot of economic uncertainty right now.  Yes, our economy has been doing well over the past 3+ years, but several current factors may have an impact, including the upcoming election, Boeing’s 737 Max, the European economy including Brexit, and the coronavirus.  Each of these factors could or will affect our customers, our suppliers and ultimately our businesses.  If you are concerned about a decrease in sales, it is probably safe to assume that your customers have the same concern.

But here is the good news.  We can take steps now that will either prevent or minimize the effect of these factors on your businesses and your customers’ businesses. The following are 5 tips that will keep you on track to increased sales:

  1. Understand your value proposition to your customers. Do you know why your customers are buying from you?  Many assume it is because of your prices.  But that assumption is wrong probably 90% of the time. Customers are buying from you because you are helping them add value to their product or service.  But you won’t know the real reason unless you ask them.
  2. Ask your customers what other projects they are working on.  You may have other products that could help them achieve their desired results.  But don’t lead with your product benefits.  You need to understand what they are working on first.
  3. Offer ideas that could help them reduce their Total Cost of Operation.  This is different from lowering your price.  It could mean offering a more expensive product with a longer life, a different method of packaging or shipping, or an innovative approach to the current process.
  4. Bring positivity and energy to the conversation.  Don’t be afraid to talk about what you are doing internally to overcome current challenges.  This may spark some ideas for your customers to apply.
  5. Call your customers.  You won’t get the information you need through an email, no matter how diligently you ask all the above questions.  Even in this day and age, phone calls are better than emails or texts.

If you aren’t sure how to how these five tips can increase your sales, send me an email, and I’ll call you to demonstrate how I can quickly help increase your sales with my proven process.