Oct 26th

Scariest Sales Calls Ever!

By Philip Krone
Trick or Treat . . . 
Scariest Sales Calls Ever!
Don't let them haunt your sales team's performance or become your nightmares.
By Phil Krone, President

"What is the worst sales call you have ever made, watched, or been subjected to?"

A cringe-worthy question, to be sure, even scary this time of year. But it's one worth spending a couple of uncomfortable minutes thinking about.

OK . . . .

Now, once you've zeroed in on the worst, or one of the worst, take a moment to answer two more questions:

Why was this call so "bad"? Be as specific as you can.
How could it have been fixed—that is, what could the seller have done differently?

We ask "the worst sales call ever" question in our consultative selling course, FOCIS®, after the participants have learned (and practiced) the elements of a successful sales call and how to assess their experiences. (We say "elements" instead of "steps" because sales calls rarely unfold in a precise 1-2-3 order.) As you can imagine, during the past 24 years we have heard some real horror stories. And they are still coming.

"I never lose. I either win or learn."
—Nelson Mandela (Attributed)
Just earlier this month, for example, I heard about one that is without question a contender for the first prize—or, maybe, I should say, the last prize. What made this call especially scary in my view was the context and the wider implications. The seller was not a rookie with little or no experience making even small sales. This salesperson represented a Fortune 500 company going after an opportunity worth tens of millions of dollars. Clearly a case of "You can't make this stuff up." 

Why so scary?

First, the rep opened the meeting by explaining why his company's product was "not as bad" as the prospect had probably heard. He was defensive from the beginning. At some point in his career, he was probably told to get objections out early and overcome them then and there. Not the best idea. What kind of relationships can you really build by being adversarial? Instead, we teach how to minimize objections as they come up in the natural give and take between seller and buyer.

Unfortunately, in this call there was no give and take, natural or otherwise. That's the second fear factor here. The key reason is that the sales rep asked virtually no questions of the buyer. His approach was what we call "seller centric." The conversation was one way (seller to buyer) and one topic ("me and my company"). Effective salespeople in business-to-business environments make the conversation a dialogue, not a lecture, so that it's "buyer centric."

Third, he concluded by saying that even though his company's product "might not be the best," it was "good enough" for what the buyer wanted. Let's assume, for a moment, that the buyer's problem could be solved with the seller's product, one that was just good enough. Even so, for millions of dollars, would the buyer—or the buyer's bosses—really want to accept a solution even the sales rep couldn't get enthusiastic about?

Finally, the rep missed a great opportunity to show why his product really was the "best" for the situation—why the value proposition made sense and served the buyer well. If the product were indeed "good enough" to solve the problem, then, all things considered, it might in fact be the "best" product to solve the problem, even if it weren't the highest performing across the board. Why not just say that? In our experience, this type of lost opportunity happens because the rep has no path to follow—no process—to lead the buyer to the right solution.

For me, hearing about that "worst sales call" was scary enough. Even scarier, though, is knowing that many, many sales reps make similar mistakes. Those reps might be doing "OK" or at least putting food on the table. But they, their managers, and their companies aren't doing nearly so well as the very best salespeople do—the 20 percent who consistently bring in 80 percent of the business. The top 20 percent actually behave differently than the other 80 percent. They apply superior consultative selling skills and a sales process customized to their markets and their company. They set their tables for a feast.

If you're a manager or executive, ask yourself these questions to see what ghosts and goblins may be haunting your sales organization. If you're a sales person, know that you can escape their clutches by building the right skills and developing a highly productive sales process.

1. Do you know what your team's sales calls look like? You might be surprised, even shocked.
2. Are your presentations "canned pitches" or planned presentations customized for each prospect?
3. Are your sales people communicating the true value of your offering? (If they simply share the value proposition and tout the company, the answer is "No.")
4. Do you have just a few sales people who bring in 70 to 80 percent of all new business?
5. Do some reps experience a year, or even years, without making a major sale?

Do the answers send shivers down your spine? You know who to call. Just get in touch with us. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss how to get on the "treat" side of these questions instead of the "trick" side. In fact, just by going on a few new-prospect calls with your reps, we can see why they are—or are not—doing well and offer our recommendations.

Our approach helps both experienced and inexperienced sales people represent their brand the way it deserves to be represented. Let us hear from you at 847-446-0008 Ext. 1 orpkrone@productivestrategies.com. We're not scary at all. 
Sep 26th

Disruptor or Disrupted: Which Will Your Business Be?

By Philip Krone

Earlier this month I moderated a panel on market disruption for about 40 middle-market business owners, CEOs, and presidents. Information and insights came not only from the expert panel members (listed below) but also from the senior leadership audience.

The panel was part of a larger, day-long event attended by 125 C-suite leaders who networked, heard speakers, and shared experiences. The day was hosted by The Entrepreneurship Institute at the University of Chicago's Gleacher Center.

An important takeaway was that while many disruptions are caused by new technology products or processes, many are not. One by one traditional markets are being disrupted not only by technology but also by product design, channel re-configuration, and other factors. Take razors and razor blades, for instance.

Large legacy firms like Gillette and Schick have long sold shaving products via retail channel partners such as grocery stores and drugstores. Enter subscription shaving services. They jump over retail outlets and sell directly to consumers. (Harry's and Dollar Shave Club are two of the best known.)

Key Point: Disruption in this case comes not from technology but from the old-fashioned ways: channel, product, and pricing. 

These disruptor companies compete by forgoing mark-ups required for retail sales (hence, a lower price), claiming to provide a better product, and eliminating all the hassle. Gone are the days of remembering to get new razors and, for some of us, remembering which type or even which brand we're using. And, oh yes, you don't have to leave your home to make the purchase.

Legacy companies are now following suit. Why didn't they do so earlier? Several good reasons, no doubt, but were they worth it? The subscription services are not only siphoning off customers but also stealing a generation of consumers already inclined to buy online. In addition, the big guys probably scrambled to meet the threat, which is generally inefficient and entails both financial and opportunity costs.

Warning: Don't think something similar can't happen to you.

That's why a bigger-picture strategic approach makes sense, the panel concluded. Companies can use strategic direction tools such as risk assessment, scenario planning, and environmental scanning to get a firm understanding of their place in their industry and their industry's place in the business environment. Here's how to get started.

Think about disruption as an ongoing challenge and opportunity. Then get the information you need:

Understand the dissatisfactions and wishes of your customers. Receiving continual feedback is essential: advisory boards, online communities, direct surveys, and interactions are good sources.
Stay abreast of new technologies, inventions, and processes to apply to your products or services to improve your customers' experiences with your company.
Explore adjacent customer markets that might value similar or enhanced versions of your products and services.


Take action on different fronts and in different ways:

Align sales and marketing. They must learn how to complement each other with shared information from the field, shared planning, and shared evaluations. If they understand their role, for example, salespeople are a solid source of intelligence on trends, opportunities, and threats. Marketers must leverage that intelligence to boost sales.
Map market service flows. This approach can reveal opportunities to disintermediate or be disintermediated. Look at services in the supply chain provided by companies ahead, adjacent, or behind you. Could you provide those services better?
Conduct "war games." Internal leadership teams assume roles of your competitors and develop ways to take business from you. Front-line people can be valuable team members, too.


Even innovative industry leaders whose advances primarily meet performance needs of their high-end customers can be vulnerable. Disruptor companies (subscription shaving clubs, for example) may bring in less expensive, easier-to-use solutions at the low end of the market. Head them off by re-examining your product design and redesign routines with disruption in mind. Other sources of new ideas and ways of thinking include crowdsourcing, social media, and academic research. Clearly, you have to pick your battles. The big-picture review we mentioned earlier can help guide your efforts.

Looking for the Dream
One of our not-for-profit clients is disrupting the impacts of mental illness on individuals and families. Journey's Dream is hosting a fundraiser at Chicago's Soldier Field on November 4 to support its valuable programs and services:Learn More and Register.


Much disruptive changedoes, of course, originate in the technology world, and the panel addressed that fact. What are some disruptive technologies that might affect your business or industry?

You've no doubt heard about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, robotics and additive manufacturing, drones and self'driving cars. Others include:

1. Internet of Things (IoT): The interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. Think "smart house."
2. Hyperloop and Hyperloop One: A hyperloop is a developing mode of transportation that moves an electromagnetically levitated pod through a sealed tube without air resistance. It's silent at up to 670 miles per hour. Think "railroad trains on steroids" without the rails. Hyperloop One is a company developing hyperloop technology.
3. Blockchain: The blockchain is a "distributed database." It independently verifies the chain of ownership of all bitcoin amounts. More specifically, it's a continuously growing list of records, or "blocks," linked and secured using cryptography.  A digital payment system and cryptocurrency, bitcoin is generally known as the first decentralized digital currency because it has no single administrator or central repository.


Finally, companies that do come up with disruptive products or services don't always know how to communicate their value. While they can inform prospects about the products, they can't persuadethem to buy. Lack of consultative selling skills and a custom sales process can prove fatal, no matter strong the product or service. However, that's where our popular consultative sales training course, FOCIS® can help. No technology required.

To learn more please contact us at 847-446-0008 orpkrone@productivestrategies.com.

Jul 27th

How to Invest Your Sales and Marketing Dollars

By Philip Krone
Although different companies will make this decision differently, here's one proven approach that can work for any company.
By Phil Krone, President

A prospect once came to us saying he needed more leads—80, in fact. Naturally, we wondered about the reason for such a specific number. After we learned more about his business, especially his goals and challenges, he told us: Since he hadn't closed any of his last 80 leads, he wanted to get started on another 80.

This example, though perhaps extreme, clearly illustrates the importance of understanding how to allocate marketing and sales dollars efficiently. The prospect, who became a client, didn't need more leads just yet. First, he needed to learn how to close the ones he was already getting. The solution we suggested helped him do just that: Invest in consultative sales training to build skills and develop a customized sales process.

Talking about how to allocate sales and marketing dollars is a natural follow-up to our last column, Sales and Marketing: Shake Hands! In that column, we wrote about the importance of the sales and marketing functions being in alignment to help each other reach organizational goals. Managing in today's environment of rapid, even disruptive change, virtually requires it. Several readers responded that the age-old tension between sales and marketing too often begins with dividing up and optimizing the two budgets.

Clearly, no two companies have the same requirements for their "business development" budgets, which means allocations within their budget will be unique. The reasons of course have to do with buying motives, the market being sold into, differentiation from competition, and other factors.

Our experience has beenthat the following factors are key to building business-to-business sales—and to building sales and marketing budgets. As a result, we have developed a process that helps companies to increase the odds that they are optimizing how much they spend.

Most business leaders would agree on the importance of these factors and, of course, could contribute others based on their experiences:

Developing a productive lead generation process
Being top of mind
Influencing centers of influence and referral sources
Building your brand
Training salespeople in consultative selling skills
Training salespeople in product knowledge
Developing and using a custom sales process
Identifying and implementing specific ways to boost the number of visitors to your Website, both organically and with targeted advertising on social media platforms.

But while there is agreement on key factors, uncertainty about how to carve up budgets sparks disagreement—as it ought to. Why? To be productive, budget allocations must resolve pressing problems and make the most of opportunities—both of which are different in every company. No two companies will make the same decisions in those two areas. But they can approach the decision-making process with logic and efficiency based on data and, yes, on the dreams that created the companies in the first place.

We have created a question-based process that helps companies quickly zero in on the most productive areas in which to invest to achieve their business development objectives. (In our view, "business development" is a tent that brings marketing and sales together and enables them to work together.) Here are a few of the basic questions to give you an idea of our process and to help you think about your own company.

Does your company need to:

1. Identify more opportunities to close business or to have more success in closing the opportunities you're already getting?
2. Create more (or better) value for your markets or train your salespeople to communicate the value you already deliver more effectively?
3. Educate prospects about problems they don't know they have or persuade them that your products or services offer the best solutions?
4. Use traditional marketing channels like outbound calling and direct mail or balance those channels with more contemporary ones, such as social and other online media?
5. Find more hunters or account managers (farmers)?
6. Add more inside salespeople or more customer service reps?

The answers to such questions, along with a number of other questions and factors our process takes into account, go a long way to determining the best allocation of sales and marketing dollars within the business development budget. If that budget isn't already set, they can also contribute to building it into your corporate budget as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Our process also identifies and helps to resolve more complex challenges and opportunities in allocating funds. For example:

The customers of one of our clients in manufacturing rely on the company's longstanding delivery of virtually no "out-of-the-box" failures. The market's traditional decision-makers are highly risk averse and place great value on high quality and performance reliability. However, those decision-makers, long in power, are retiring. Younger—but no-less risk-averse decision-makers—are moving up. Each year our client reviews its marketing and sales "spend" with that trend in mind and adjusts it accordingly. In this case, the messages of quality and reliability don't change, but the ways of educating and persuading often do. Naturally, budget allocations change to support revised tactics, including channels of communication, processes, and alignment of sales and marketing.

During nearly 25 years of helping clients make their business development become more productive, we've found that companies can create tremendous value by allocating the sales and marketing budget much more efficiently.

A closing thought: We believe how you determine the size and allocation of your sales and marketing budget should be similar to how you determine the size and allocation of your capital budget. Historically, firms have invested as much capital as they could raise in capital purchases until the risk-adjusted rate of return came close to their cost of capital. With good planning and data analysis the same can be done with the sales and marketing budget. Testing of what is providing a return, and what is not, will help you make adjustments with the agility needed for changing conditions as well as the foresight needed for longer term success.
May 22nd

ROI: Hiding in Plain Sight?

By Philip Krone
ROI: Hiding in Plain Sight?
Yes, absolutely. But you're not alone if you don't see it or make the most of it. Begin to open your eyes—or, more to the point, better focus your eyes—on these hidden figures.
By Phil Krone, President

Is boosting your topline the first place you look to increase ROI? It is for most companies and rightly so. Not only are results easily seen, but closing sales is just plain fun. 

Other, less-travelled roads can also take you to improved ROI. If they're not as exciting as nailing a big sale or gaining a new customer, they can be just as satisfying and profitable—sometimes more so—and they are only slightly behind sales as a reason to celebrate. 

The roads less taken are the other components of ROI: margin, turnover of assets (efficiency), and leverage (risk). They're familiar travelling companions and have always been at your side. In our experience, too many businesses don't give them the opportunities they deserve as ROI boosters. Keep in mind that while we can help you with sales, marketing, and lead generation issues, we know other firms—ones we have worked with and trust—that you can consider in other areas. 

How can you help them contribute to the journey?

First, the basics. 

The bottom line is earnings divided by equity, and the bottom line is made up of your three longtime travelling companions—margin, turnover, and leverage. Improve any or all of these components and ROI will increase. But sometimes even experienced business people miss ways to improve the bottom line because they don't see the ways those three factors can be improved in their businesses.* Here's how it breaks down.

Doing the math by crossing out the common elements gets you to Income/Equity—ROI—quickly, maybe too quickly. The components of ROI disappear before your eyes and are, in effect, hidden in plain sight. You and your team are less likely to take advantage of smaller, but effective, opportunities to influence the bottom line. 

Here are some strategies to consider to improve the key ratios that lead to ROI. 

Margin: Income/Sales 

Reduce Expenses: Non-labor expenses can be reduced dramatically if specialists from each area of your supply chain are brought in. These specialists do more than competitively bid what is currently being purchased. They look for innovative ways to change what is being bought. We work with a partner who saves our clients so much money it significantly changes the ROI.
 
Increase Prices: Accurate costing models can help you to better know what it costs to produce a product—information that can in turn help you adjust pricing. In some cases prices can be lowered, leading to more sales; in other cases prices can be raised without hurting sales volume.
 
Eliminate the Risk of Un-Collectibles and Write-Offs. Easier said than done? Yes, but why not just do what you do to protect other assets: Insure your receivables. There are several benefits.

First you can eliminate bad debt because the insurer, not you, assumes risk of nonpayment. Insurers in this field have run the numbers and have the expertise to know whether extending credit to a particular account makes sense. Second, this step can help you increase sales because now you can accept business that you might have previously rejected due to poor credit worthiness. Third, insured receivables make you a better credit risk, which means you can borrow at lower rates. 

 
Segment and Rank Profitability Sources: Typically, 20 percent of customers and clients produce 80 percent of the sales. Similarly, 20 percent of the products and services produce 80 percent of the profits. Do you know who they are in your business? We work with partners who can help you develop the necessary data. Once the data is in place we can help you develop marketing and sales strategies.
 
Turnover: Sales/Assets

Turnover is the amount of production and sales you can achieve using amount of assets deployed. It's a measure of "efficiency," a term sometimes substituted for "turnover" in the ratio.

Improve Operations: Operations and quality specialists can develop more efficient ways of producing the service or product being produced. They also improve quality levels which can in turn increase output. 
 
Increase Sales Volume: OK, so this one isn't all that "hidden," even when it's crossed out in the ROI formula. Nonetheless, improved consultative selling skills and custom sales processes arm the existing sales people and other business developers with the tools to bring in more business with the same amount of time and energy.

Such a training and coaching combination can increase the number of opportunities and the associated success rate. Combining sales efficiency with credit insurance can increase the limits you place on credit with existing customers and enable you to take on new accounts you normally would decline. 

 
Leverage: Assets/Equality

   1) Insuring your receivables can increase your ability to borrow
   against existing assets.
   2) Raising equity becomes easier when you're working on all
   factors to improve the bottom line 

We can help you address all of those strategies, and others, so please call 847-446-0008 or e-mail pkrone@productivestrategies.com if you would like to hear more about how.
Mar 2nd

Do Your Salespeople 'Live the Brand'?

By Philip Krone

A brand can be broadly defined as the "face a company shows to the world." But it's much more than that—or, at least, it can be. The question is how do you build and support a company brand to get the most out of it? 

There are many ways to build, adjust, and sustain a company's brand. But they can be summed up in four stages:

1. Strategy: Creating and evolving your brand's differentiated positioning.
 
2. Expression: Exploring essential creative expressions of your brand, including identity and voice.
 
3. Activation: Using internal culture and multifaceted external campaigns to bring your brand to life in the marketplace.
 
4. Equity: Calculating and leveraging the power of brands in your operations and on your bottom line.
 
(Source: Preview, American Marketing Association Chicago, Brand Smart, Conference, April 27, Gleacher Center.)


We believe a fifth stage called "living the brand" is also essential. It's an offshoot or extension of Stage 3—"activation"—and in fact applies to people throughout an organization. Here, though, we're focusing on the power of salespeople and other customer-facing stakeholders to communicate the meaning of the brand in tangible and powerful ways.

An Inconvenient Question
How do you think the PricewaterhouseCoopers brand will fare after the Best Picture Award mix-up at the Oscars?
Let us know your thoughts at
pkrone@productivestrategies.com.


"The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart," Starbucks founder Howard Schultz once wrote. "Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic."

Over the years we've found that "authenticity" by anyone associated with your company is essential to building trust and, as the readers of this column know, building trust is essential to making sales. More important, we've found that consultative selling is a powerful tool for building trust by enabling prospects to experience your company's authenticity. Why? Because effectively trained salespeople ask questions that show they sincerely want to help prospects, not just "sell" them. Asking the right questions in the right way at the right time builds the trust so necessary to making the complex, business-to-business sale. It's how you learn a prospect's goals and problems and their impact on that specific business. It's also how you persuade prospects that your product or service is the best solution to their problems.

Even more to the point, an entire sales force using consultative selling techniques is a highly effective way to build the corporatebrand. Salespeople are living, breathing proof that the brand "walks the talk" of its marketing—or, that it doesn't. "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," said sales great Zig Ziglar. In sales, the best way to communicate that you care—and the best way to make a sale—is to ask prospects questions, not trumpet the glories of your company or product. Don't just tell prospects your brand promise, show them.

Branding is of great interest to us here at Productive Strategies because we witness a lot of business-to-business sellers whose sales process and inside culture don't reinforce or even reflect their desired brand values. We also see that it limits sales. Here are two examples:

Once, at lunch with an executive whose company's messaging proclaimed its ability to "listen," I asked how listening translated into results in the field. What was the company doing to train and coach its salespeople to gain competitive advantage by listening more productively and reflecting the brand promise? I was floored when he said, "Nothing." Commercials on Chicago AM radio, he apparently believed, were all his troops needed to know about the company's brand promise.

Some time ago, one of our clients had invented a device that reduced the evaporation of gasoline at service stations by 1,500 gallons per station per month. In a meeting with a major oil company, our client and I learned that company executives were indeed impressed with the financial implications of his invention. The company's advertising—on nationwide TV, mind you—emphasized the company's commitment to protecting the environment. Naturally, we asked what the "green" value of the device would be to their business. To our surprise, they dismissed the "environmental impact" as inconsequential and of no interest—a complete contradiction of the company's branding, its "face to the world."

So, how can salespeople increase sales by making the most of the substantial investments many companies make in building their brands? The short answer is to communicate the values behind your brand to prospects so that they see how your brand benefits its customers day to day. Use discovery to help them understand that you as a salesperson representing that brand live those values day to day. In business-to-business selling, prospects not only buy your product or service, but they also buy you, someone they trust to deliver on the brand promise.

In our popular consultative sales training course, FOCIS® Selling, we train salespeople to do just that. They develop or improve consultative selling techniques and build a sales process tailored to their company, their industry, their products, and their specific needs.

Finally, to learn more about how to build your company's brand—and make it work for you—consider registering for the American Marketing Association Chicago Chapter's 15th annual day-long Brand Smart conference on April 27 at the Gleacher Center in Chicago. It's the largest such event in the Midwest, offering four learning tracks to some 300 participants that include not only marketers but also CEOs and other senior executives.

And, if you are interested in being a sponsor, please contact us at847-446-0008 or pkrone@productivestrategies.com.* Sponsors receive multiple scheduled times to present their brands to attendees.

Jan 7th

Visionary Business Transitions, LLC Annoucement

By Steve Gustafson

We are pleased to announce that our principals have closed another business sale. All of our clients' customers are not yet aware of the sale. Consequently, confidentiality is still a key to successfully transitioning the business to the new owner.

 

However, we can tell you that: 

  • Because of our marketing efforts, more than 60 prospective strategic and financial buyers signed Non-Disclosure Agreements
  • Serious negotiations were conducted with more than 10 prospective buyers
  • Our marketing and negotiating strategies resulted in a final sale price that was more than double the original offers

 

Selling Businesses is Our Business!

Nov 29th

Growth Questions for a New Year

By Philip Krone

For many of us, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day is often one of reflecting on the year about to close and planning for the one about to open. Here are some thought-provoking questions our clients and prospective clients find helpful to make the most of their reflections. We hope you will, too. As always, we are here to help you facilitate discussions about these questions, or to help you implement the answers. 

  1. Which would have the greatest impact on new business development in the coming year:

    1. More first meetings, opportunities, inquiries to quote . . . or
    2. A higher success rate with the opportunities you are already enjoying?
  2. Do you need to find additional ways to obtain competitive advantage that creates value for customers and clients . . . or an increase in the skill of communicating the value of that differentiation while reducing the focus on prices/fees?

  3. People often focus on what will change in their markets in the coming years. For this exercise think about what will be unchanged and consider how well you are prepared to focus on those and have your brand be consistent with those.

  4. If you were a startup business entering your marketplace what would you do different than what you are doing today? Should you do those things now?

  5. How would all of your services and product offerings being connected– that is, being digital–transform your business?

  6. Assuming that all products and services will soon be connected, and that all of the companies behind those services are collecting data, which data would you like to rent, license, or buy to provide you with a competitive advantage?

If you would like to discuss these issues with us, please give us a call at at 847-446-0008, or write to pkrone@productivestrategies.com.

Nov 9th

Rebranding Strategies: Building Your Brand Relaunch Plan After an Acquisition

By Jonathan Fisher

Rebranding Strategies: Building Your Brand Relaunch Plan After an Acquisition

by Bo Bothe and Caitlin Devereaux

 

Even highly capable leaders make the mistake of vaulting straight into market strategy without first considering brand. The most effective window to develop a brand, however, often arises when you first launch your company, acquire a new private equity venture or embark in a new direction after reaching a business turning point. 

Especially at the start of these new ventures, leaders are faced with difficult decisions about how they will launch the company or initiative:

  • Do I brand my product or services from the start? Or revisit branding after I gain some initial traction?
  • How much money should I invest in my brand up-front?
  • Will it be worth the time if it means postponing my launch?

brand launch illustration

Since we've helped many clients navigate the decision-making process for new branding initiatives, we want to share these experiences with you. To make sure the advice is actionable, we'll be discussing examples from our client, American Disposal Services (ADS), now Milestone Environmental Services. Their journey mirrors many of the challenges entrepreneurs and business owners face as they embark on a new business venture or significant strategy shift.

We're excited to share advice and insights from both our CEO, Bo Bothe, and the President of Milestone Environmental Services, Gabriel Rio. Gabriel discusses how his company made the decision to rebrand after its acquistion, with the goal of a strategic relaunch and expansion into new markets. Gain strategies to lead your company through a brand launch or rebrand at a critical business turning point, including how to determine the right timing and appropriate investment. 

The Turning Point: Identify the Initiating Force

Intervale Capital had acquired ADS and placed Gabriel Rio as President and CEO. Gabriel aims to transform the regional, formerly family-owned business into a large-scale company with greater national presence. But the company’s existing brand identity felt limiting; it was too kitschy to reach the scale he envisioned for ADS’s future. Rio discusses his experience partnering with BrandExtract as he prepared to re-launch and rename the ADS brand for a new era of company growth.

The Decision to Rebrand


Gabriel Rio:
 I have not always been a believer in the power of branding. At a previous company, I was convinced that brand would not make a difference in the oilfield waste management space – however, other company leaders felt our regional brand and its logo were failing to attract talent or gain traction with our customers to earn national work.

When we introduced a new, aspirational brand, the energy of the whole company changed. It was not just about a new name or logo; it became a way for us to engage with our customers and employees about what made the company strong.

When I arrived at American Disposal Services, I discovered a similar situation. While the company has great processes and technologies, they were unsure of how to take the business further. The ADS brand did not speak to the full value of the company we want to build, nor does it possess the infrastructure to scale in a meaningful way. To support our growth objectives, it was crucial to invest in strengthening our brand.

Bo Bothe: Great point, Gabriel. We find many executives have initial reservations about how branding can revive a struggling company. There are plenty of misconceptions about what “brand” means or how it fits alongside your business strategy.

Branding should always be purposeful. A new logo or color palette is just a single, tactical element of your entire brand experience. Sometimes business owners establish these basic identity elements and mistakenly believe they have finished “branding” their company. 

We believe brand influences and reflects everything from operations to sales to internal company culture. It’s the ultimate power tool that supports multiple areas of your business from marketing to management to hiring and recruiting.

Especially if your ultimate business goal includes selling your company for a profit, we find time and again that our clients get better and more offers after engaging in a concerted branding effort. This has held true across every industry for a variety of clients, including Ascende (human capital consulting), Techcess Group (IT support services), Varel International (drill bit manufacturing) and Lone Star Medical Products, to name a few.

"Especially if your ultimate business goal includes selling your company for a profit, we find time and again that our clients get better and more offers after engaging in a concerted branding effort."

Determine the Right Timing

GR: Timing was a difficult decision, especially during the oil downturn. As a company, we are trying to be very conservative with our spending. I knew the investment in branding would also require the changeover of marketing materials and quite possibly modifications to our overall operations as we strive to support our brand promise.

It came down to growth. We’re in the process of moving from serving one oil basin to three. As we’re expanding, it made sense to put money behind the right brand that we want to support long-term.

Instead of putting up billboards or running advertisements in each market, we viewed this as an opportunity to understand customer needs and how these relate to the services we provide. Our brand became a core piece of our market strategy. 

BB: Exactly, that's the right approach. When you are presented with a natural point of change - in Gabriel's case: an acquisition situation, leadership transition and significant market expansion - you have a prime opportunity to set the tone for the brand going forward. 

Gabriel recognized that launching his company in two new geographical markets, and then switching out the brand soon after, would undermine the hard work done to establish equity in those regions.

Make these decisions in a very intentional way that works alongside your overall corporate strategy. The pay-off for investing upfront can be huge, as the right brand becomes a decision-making tool that can help guide your company through formative years. 

GR: The downturn actually turned out to be great timing for our rebrand. With customers focusing so heavily on price, they were less sensitive to a name and brand change, so we were able to avoid potential turbulence. 

Understand the Process

BB:  In a downturn especially, rebranding serves as a powerful, regenerative force. It's an opportunity to transform and improve the overall health of the company. When we started working with ADS, we engaged every possible stakeholder, from investors to customers to internal groups, to figure out what their audience wants and to learn what they perceive as its strengths and weaknesses. These insights informed the direction we took with Milestone’s new brand position and promise. 

Once you define this promise and invest in the structure and processes to support it, you often end up with a re-energized workforce and better relationships with customers.

"In a downturn especially, rebranding serves as a powerful, regenerative force. It's an opportunity to transform and improve the overall health of the company."

GR: Risk-free environmental protection turned out to be the baseline of what customers expect from us, not our key promise. During the rebrand, we discovered that the priority at the top of our pyramid was actually reliability. Our customers need us to be there for them and care about what ultimately happens with the disposal of their waste. Our new brand speaks to our commitment to reliability through out every stage of the disposal process.

Using BrandExtract to conduct third party research and interviews removed any agenda from the process. Our employees were not worried about saying what they thought the boss wanted to hear, and our customers felt open to speak freely because their feedback would be anonymous.

Weigh Time and Cost Considerations

GR: We felt strongly that it would be most cost effective to invest in establishing our brand upfront, before rolling it out to new markets, even if it meant delaying our expansion by a few months. The opportunity to develop our brand before launching a significant new venture saved us the cost and hassle of entering these regions, only to double back later to reinvest and reestablish our presence with a new identity.

BB: To build on Gabriel's point about investing in brand upfront, we often find that the depth and quality of a rebrand is proportionate to how much time or money an organization is willing to commit to the effort. Even if you partner with a third party, expect to be engaged throughout the process. The brand should reflect the authentic spirit of the company, which means providing your team with access to company leadership as well as the vital “boots on the ground” stewards of your brand. 

Benefits of Branding for Entrepreneurs

BB: The branding process helps align the organization around your values. Active engagement with and participation from internal groups leads to a more authentic expression of your identity. And because you cared enough to ask your customers questions about your service and their expectations, you have formed stronger bonds with clients.

GR: Now we’re beginning to introduce the new brand to our team. If our sales people go out after this and continue to sell in the same way they did before, then we have not done our job properly. The rebrand means so much more than that. When customers ask “why did you change your name,” that is an opportunity for a field sales person to engage in a conversation about our company values that they do not normally get to have. And the whole idea is that these conversations matter to the growth our business.

Nov 8th

The True Spirit Of Networking

By Frank Agin

 

Green beans get a bad rap (at least from those under 10). While they may not taste like candy, they are really great for you. They are loaded with nutrients, vitamins and lots of other words the spell-checker would not recognize.

 

Attorneys get a bad rap (at least from non-attorneys). Yes, a small few literally chase ambulances. There are, however, many, many more who defend the innocent, protect the environment and work to preserve the free enterprise system.

 

Networking gets a bad rap (at least from those who do not truly understand it). Certainly, there are those who deploy abusive “networking” tactics. This conjures up images of loud-mouthed, glad-handing people looking to either sell you more than you want or con you into buying something that you do not really need.

 

Networking has nothing to do with salesmanship. In fact, it is the polar opposite. It is about two or more people working towards their mutual benefit. And, while the word itself is a verb, it is more than just an action. The true spirit of networking is really a state of mind.

 

This, then, raises the question, “What is the true spirit of networking?” In a nutshell, it is about focusing your habits and attitudes on finding deficiencies in the lives of others and then trying to fill them.

 

Those deficiencies vary from person to person and even situation to situation. It may be a lack of quality business referrals. It may be a lack of information. It may be a need for additional contacts. Whatever the case, the true spirit of networking is about eagerly seeking to help others.

 

 With that, some of you may be sitting up in your chair and thinking, “Hey, that’s me. I love what I do. I am eager about doing it. And what I do helps other people. Thus, I embrace the true spirit of networking.”

 

Do not be confused. A great enthusiasm toward what you do is a powerful thing. It ensures that you serve your customers or clients at an exceptionally high level. However, that is not really altruistic.

 

Eagerly servicing a client or customer is a wonderful thing but no matter how much passion someone injects into the process, at its core it is nothing more than a business transaction – compensation for services rendered or products sold. That is a far cry from the true spirit of networking.

 

The true spirit of networking is not limited to what you have to sell.  Selling is simply providing pleasure or alleviating pain through the goods or service you have to offer. The true spirit of networking, on the other hand, is looking to help another – providing them pleasure or alleviating pain – through any means available to you.

 

The true spirit of networking is about giving of your resources, time and talent, completely absent of keeping score or maintaining a tally of what so-and-so has done for you. It is about helping and not looking back with wonder or expectation of “what’s in it for me.” It is about helping simply because it is the right thing to do.

 

Certainly you cannot help but believe that the goodness you have heaped onto the world will make it back to you somehow. Nevertheless, you know that the only thing that you are guaranteed for sure is that warm feeling inside that is best described as a curious mix of pride and satisfaction.

 

The true spirit of networking is about helping others wherever you can, whenever you can and never worrying about what it means for you. After all, in the true spirit of networking, it is not how you help someone that matters most. What matters most is the spirit that moves you.

 

__________

Frank Agin is the president and founder of AmSpirit Business Connections, a business whose purpose is to help others become more successful through networking. He is also the author of Foundational Networking: Building Know, Like and Trust To Create A Lifetime Of Extraordinary Success as well as several networking related books and programs. For more information on AmSpirit® Business Connections, go to www.amspirit.com or contact Frank at frankagin@amspirit.com.

Oct 10th

Interested vs. Interesting

By Frank Agin

 

As you network, remember that 99.9% of your energy should be focused on being genuinely interested in other people.

Learn their name. Find out where they are from. Listen to what they have to say and use it to lead into other questions. Be completely fascinated in what they do and how they do it.

As strange as it sounds, if you devote yourself to being interested in them, they will find you incredibly interesting.

If you are interested in learning about the AmSpirit Business Connections franchise opportunity, contact me frankagin@amspirit.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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