Archive for the ‘North Carolina’ Category

Panera Fun

June 10, 2010

Everyone who know me, knows I am a huge fan of Panera. Those who are friends with me on Facebook also know that there has been much discussion recently about how crazy people always seem to find me, especially when I’m at places such as Panera, Corner Bakery, and various airports. Some of my friends suggested I compile my misadventures into a book. However, since work occupies much of my time, and my blogs, a second addition to Closing the Deal, and an idea I have for a book on improving one’s sales force are slightly higher writing-priorities for me right now, I thought I would put together a blog post containing this month’s highlights. (Also, please note I mean no offense to the businesses these events take place at. If it weren’t for them I’d have nowhere to stop while on the road for free Wi-Fi, some good coffee, breakfast, and a show).

May 4

I’m in a Panera Bread checking email—surprise, surprise–when I walk over to refill my iced tea. A guy is standing by the cups where there is a sign that says “Complimentary Water Cups.” He turns to me and says “They haven’t said a damn thing to me. They must be broken” Can’t make this stuff up!

Top of Form

May 6

Yesterday I had lunch at a Mexican place…not realizing it was Cinco de Mayo. The bartender was complaining…”Why do so many people come to Mexican restaurants on Cinco de Mayo. People don’t go to French restaurants on Bastille Day!”

May 10

Panera Bread is the greatest place to go for comedy. In today’s installment, I’m eating lunch and sitting at a table next to three women while I’m checking my email. One of them says to the other something about her brother “you know, the smart one. The one that’s in jail.” Um, the SMART one is in jail? Where, exactly is the dumb one?

May 14

Another “crazy people in coffee shops.” Breakfast at Corner Bakery. A woman was doing surveys on the French Toast I got, so I jokingly asked “so what do I get?” 10 minutes of who knows what she was saying and then she walked away…comes back a minute later and says “they wouldn’t let me give you a &^%$ing cookie. They won’t even give me a damn cup of coffee!” Trust me, you don’t need any more caffeine in your system!

May 23-26 (Airports)

While waiting to board my flight the other day the guy next to me cleared his throat every 45 seconds. Don’t think it’s annoying? Try it for 5 minutes!

Where has customer service gone? Last week the gate agent was mad at me because her machine couldn’t read my ticket. Sorry you had to key in my seat number, must have been a huge challenge.

More crazy people. Lady started in the aisle seat, moved to the window, then the middle—it’s only a two hour flight; you weren’t flying to Guam!

June 1

More Panera fun…lady on the phone while her pager keeps buzzing and she does nothing. An annoyed guy grabs it and says “Hey Galileo, I didn’t realize the universe revolved around YOU, not the sun!” After a good zinger, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was Copernicus who stated that the Earth revolved around the sun.

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Spring, Baseball, and Sales

May 23, 2010

It looks as though spring may have finally sprung in Chicago after a long wait. Of course, I was playing softball last Monday night and we were still factoring in a wind chill. At least it should be warmer in Raleigh, where daytime highs are already hitting 90. Thinking about our softball team (which hopefully any day now will start playing to its potential) always reminds me of how glad I am that I started playing baseball as a kid, as it has been a great help for a career in sales. Other than weatherman, professional ball player, and salesperson, what professions are there where you can you fail 70% of the time and be considered the best in the business? I certainly don’t want a brain surgeon who has those success rates…heck, I don’t want a chef with those success rates!  Every call you make, just like every at bat in a game, the law of averages shows will not be successful. In both the baseball and the sales profession, if you go in thinking this time will probably be one of the 70% that does not work out, I am pretty sure you will be correct.

So what is it that both of these professions have in common cause people to keep doing them, other than the potential to make a lot of money? First and foremost, it is a positive attitude, the belief that you will succeed. I was watching Bull Durham for probably the 100th time over the weekend. In one of the last scenes, young phenom “Nuke” LaLoosh has just gotten called up to the majors and he is in the locker room preparing to leave as his mentor “Crash” Davis walks in. (Now that I think about it, maybe that is what the sales industry needs, more nicknames!) Davis tells him that while he might not be successful when he first gets to “The Show,” the key to his success is “fear and arrogance.” What he means is that he has to know in his heart that he is good—better than his competition no matter if he just struck the last guy out or he hit a home run. It is the same thing in sales. The last guy may not have needed your product or service, heck, he may have even hung up on you, but the next call is a new opportunity to show what you have to the right person. Go get ‘em!

Chasing the Sun

March 24, 2010

I have learned to get used to my travel schedule, which usually entails leaving on a Thursday morning before the sun rises and leaving late in the day the following Tuesday or Wednesday to return back to the Chicago office. There is something about chasing the sunset home after a week on the road that just gives you a different perspective on things. It lets me be a poet, a little.

No, you will not see me writing poetry anytime soon. I have never gotten the true appreciation of poetry since an English literature class I took in college where I felt I did less interpreting the inner meaning of the poem and more trying to translate iambic pentameter into prose so I knew what the heck this guy was trying to say. I did, however, find an appreciation of the poet himself who took a completely different approach to telling a story. It is that view that I get to enjoy when I am spending an hour and a half watching the sunset from Raleigh, DC, New Jersey, or Atlanta over to Chicago.

Much of my day is spent running. I’m meeting with clients, usually 2 or 3 a day, where I am helping a plumbing company develop sales process one hour then driving to an accounting firm next to help them determine their own unique selling proposition. On the drive there, I am usually talking to our inside sales manager about the projects we are working on, with our SAM Group membership coordinator about our latest meeting, or listening to a book on CD to see if I can pick up some additional insight for a client. I love every minute of it, but sometimes it is nice to just look out the window and watch the sunset, letting my mind wander to endless possibilities.

Truth be known, after all of the reading and talking, it is usually the time I’m on the plane, taking the different perspective of the poet, that the new ideas come. Over the last few years, my role with the company has changed from being the guy who brought in all of the projects and did all of the work, to the person who “steers the ship” as we have grown from a small “one man band” to the company with procedures, infrastructure, and many people, even through the most difficult economic time in recent memory. With that change over the years, my ideas have become as valuable as my ability to delegate, and that time away from the phone, email, and clients has become the most valuable time of my week.

I still don’t know what Shakespeare was saying half of the time, though!

The Ketchup is Out of the Bottle: Our First SAM Peer Group Meeting!

January 27, 2010

We had our first SAM peer advisory group meetings this week in Raleigh. I had mentioned in my last article that the anticipation of getting these groups up and running is a lot like waiting for the Heinz ketchup to come out of the bottle. Now the ketchup is out…so how did it go?

I’d love for some of the BCA members who attended to post their thoughts about the meetings, but from where I sat, they were fantastic. Attendance was good and will continue to grow, but most importantly, the people who were there really got involved and contributed. They came with issues to discuss and opinions based on their experiences for the other members.

As facilitators of the group, neither me nor my colleague Angela King are exempt from being on either side of the advice, so we too gave it out as much as we took it. I walked away with some great ideas of how to do things a little bit differently, both with our sales team and with the business in general.

What always amazes me is how at the beginning of the meeting, someone will always say “I think we all have the same problem…finding more business,” however inevitably as we continue to move from person to person and issue to issue it becomes abundantly clear that things run deeper than simply how to find more clients. We end up defining ideal clients, which are not always the same for the different members of the group; looking at ways each company finds those prospects and makes them clients, which is also not only unique from company to company, but from person to person within the company (which opens up a whole new can of worms discussing sales process!) We also talked about issues in motivating salespeople and came to the unanimous decision that if you have to spend too much time motivating a salesperson, he or she is probably not the right person to help your company grow.

Every SAM group meeting is different because the meeting belongs to the members. It is their time to discuss their own issues, challenges, opportunities and goals. BCA members are a strong group so starting out with them as the base and adding members from there makes a lot of sense. I want to send a special thank you out to Penn Shore, market owner of BCA of the Triangle, for working with us to get these groups up and running. We hope as we continue to add more members to our SAM groups that we can also reciprocate by inviting them to other events that the BCA puts on every month.

Anticipation: Bringing SAM Peer Groups to the Triangle

January 26, 2010

Anticipation…remember the old Heinz ketchup commercials where they showed the ketchup slowly flowing out of the bottle and talked about the value of anticipation? That’s exactly how I feel as we start our new SAM Peer Advisory Groups.

The concept of our SAM groups is great. We provide an advisory board for salespeople and sales managers. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

It was an idea brought to me by a mentor of mine who works with business owners and salespeople. He noticed that much of their internal pain revolved around bringing in new business and sales in general. We further noticed that many of the salespeople craved an additional outlet beyond their sales manager to bounce around ideas. This was for several reasons, but mainly because they didn’t want their sales manager to know they were struggling or had questions. In a SAM group, they can talk with other people out on the same front lines they are, dealing with the same issues as they sell their own products and services.

So what’s the problem? This is where my Heinz ketchup analogy comes in. SAM groups are great. Starting SAM groups are not.

Why? Well, there’s a couple of issues. One is that for a sales manager, VP, or President to commit to taking his sales rep out of the field for a four hour meeting once a month, he wants to see a return on his investment of both time and money. Another is that when we start a SAM group we may find two competing companies or two reps from the same company that want to join. This means starting another group for the second rep or the competing company.

The value of the SAM group is in its people. The agenda admittedly doesn’t look all that impressive, which is by design. In looking at the agenda the first thought that comes up is “this is going to take 4 hours?”

Agenda:

8:00    Welcome and Opening Announcements

8:15    Significant Sales and Marketing Events

8:45    2nd Half Annual Goals and Tracking of Quarterly Goals

9:45    Host Presentation

10:30  Sales and Marketing Issues–“Today’s Issues,” other issues

11:30  Guest Presentation on Topic of Interest for Entire Group

12:00  Adjourn Meeting

You see, the content of the meeting is determined by the needs of the people in the group, not by the group facilitator. When you start a group with 2 or 3 people, it does not look that impressive to management when the members get back to the office (although in reality, they probably got a lot out of the meeting because we were able to dig deeper into the issue they brought up).

We figured that the best way to build up even stronger SAM Groups was to partner with another association where what we do can benefit their members. The easy choice was to work with Penn Shore and Business Clubs of America (BCA). So I met with Penn, and after months of negotiations, starting this month…this week actually…we are offering SAM Group membership as an added benefit to the membership of BCA.

Anticipation…it’s making me wait, as the old Heinz slogan goes.

So here we are, on the precipice of our first BCA/SAM meeting and I wonder what I wonder every time we start a group: How many people will show up? Will they be good fits for the group? Do they understand the concept (the hardest part for us salespeople is trying to truly understand the problem before going right to trying to solve it?)

…it’s almost here, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

What’s Best About North Carolina

September 30, 2009

In a recent post I shared some of the reason why I felt The Triangle would be the perfect home for Randolph Sterling’s newest branch, and thought I’d give you the opportunity to tell me what you like best about NC!

Where Have You Gone, Customer Service? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You.

September 30, 2009

Paraphrasing a famous Simon and Garfunkel tune aside, I really would like to know where good customer service has gone?

We spend so much time trying to find new and innovative ways to find new customers, from coupons to rewards programs to tweeting on Twitter (which still makes me feel like a fell into a cartoon and somehow am going to have a puddy tat chasing me!) to updating websites to yes, even blogs like this one here, but it seems that we are losing the basic fundamentals that show us it is easier to keep a loyal customer than to find a new one. I had a few occurrences of this a recent week’s trip to our Raleigh, NC office.

I am a frequent flier on American Airlines. Not because they have the best customer service in the world (they are OK; personally what I think is wrong with the airline industry is a story among itself) but because they fly to most of the places I do so I can at least rack up enough frequent flier miles to be able to insure my bag makes it on the same plane I do and I have a shot at an exit row seat. On this particular occasion, my travel agent waited too long to book my trip, so they put me on a United flight instead because they could no longer get me the agreed upon price on American. That was strike one.

Strike two came when I started to deal with the wonderful customer service at United. First, it was the cattle call they call boarding the plane. I was in group 3 so I am somewhat patiently waiting as they start to board the flight. They call for first class passengers first followed by group 1. Half of the people at the gate get up and start storming the doorway to get in. Person after person walking past me with big 4’s and 5’s stamped on their tickets, however the gate agent is just checking in one after the other. What happened to following the rules? Wouldn’t a gate agent following the rules have made this a more efficient boarding process?

Next, I actually get on the flight. Because of the tardiness in which my travel agent booked the flight, I have the very enviable middle seat. No really, if you want a really good workout, sit in the middle seat between two people who think it is their right to own the arm rests. It is especially fun when you use this time to write blog articles, I can assure you. I did notice, however, that while we are all packed like sardines back here, there are several seats open in the exit rows and forward. I’m thinking—great, if they are open, I will just move up there and give these rejects from the old Stallone movie “Over The Top” all the room they need. A gentleman sitting behind me who was in the same situation thought the same thing, so he asked the flight attendant if it was OK to move. Her response? “No sir, you may not move there. Those are economy plus seats and are reserved for our customers who are willing to pay more for comfort.”

Are you kidding me? First of all, way to insult us by implying that we are too cheap to fork over an additional $35 to not have the guy in front of us sitting in our lap, but why wouldn’t you want to move someone into that seat? The door was closed so he wouldn’t have been taking anyone else’s seat and maybe he would have enjoyed the additional legroom and would have asked for economy plus in the future. What would it have hurt?

Sadly, however, that was not the most ridiculous part of my trip. That came as I attempted to rent a car. I am a corporate customer and a Blue Chip member with Thrifty Car Rental, however the last three times I have tried to rent from Thrifty they did not have any cars. A rental car company that has no cars? At the airport no less? That is like going to a beach, walking into a seafood restaurant and them telling you that they don’t have any seafood left. Each time this happened I tried to talk to someone in customer service and each time I was simply told there was nothing they could do to help me. Too bad buddy, you are out of luck, we just don’t have cars. I guess you had better walk.

My Raleigh office is not too far from the airport, nor is the Chicago office too far from O’Hare, but not exactly walking distance. Maybe I should take up running. If I get really good, I can run from Chicago to Raleigh and won’t have to deal with the airlines or the car rental guys again.

Please feel free to share your own travel  nightmares below or take our poll on the worst parts of traveling.

Randolph Sterling Inc. Expands to North Carolina!

September 27, 2009

In my previous post I mentioned Randolph Sterling’s expansion to North Carolina . Now, some people might ask “Why NC?” Well, there are several reasons. First, I’m an east coast guy. I was born and raised in New Jersey. Next, as I mentioned in my previous post, we found we were receiving an increasing number of business inquiries from the east coast, and it made sense to open a branch there.

And, in no particular order, I like to be outdoors, I feel better when I am out in the fresh air, I am the poster boy for the winter blues, and I just don’t enjoy leaving for and returning from work in the dark, thus missing an entire day of sunlight. After years of walking from Union Station to Clark and Washington in 5 degree weather on winter days with the wind blowing off the lake and up the street, I felt I was ready for some warm weather.  

If you’ve never visited the Raleigh/Durham area, I urge you to do so and then you will understand why we picked it as the location for the newest Randolph Sterling, Inc. office. It is a growing area filled with a great mix of those born and raised there along with those who relocated, generally from a warmer climate. They both do a wonderful job of balancing each other out, which makes for a great place to live, work, and for me, one day raise a family.

You also have some of the greatest minds coming out of this area, known as The Triangle . It is bordered by the University of North Carolina, NC State University, and Duke University, forming a triangle of great businesses and great people.

So what about my adopted home of Chicago, which has served us so well over the years? We have certainly not forgotten you. While I continue to make my weekly trek from Chicago to Raleigh and back, Randolph Sterling World Headquarters still remains in Mt. Prospect and Lisa Pickens supervises the inside sales teams in Raleigh and the Chicagoland area from the inside sales center in the northwest suburbs. We are close to hiring another Chicagoland area sales rep and another sales management consultant. Things are definitely hopping.

We thank all of you who have helped and continue to make our growth possible, both in Chicago, Raleigh and in all of the places where we have clients but don’t necessarily have a local office. We have been lucky enough to be able to grow in a difficult economic time and look forward to even greater horizons while never forgetting where we came from. The core of our business is, was, and always will be to help growth companies continue to grow the right way and to develop the best salespeople possible.

Randolph Sterling Inc: Sometimes Growth Can Be a Great Thing!

September 26, 2009

Since starting Randolph Sterling, Inc. back in 2002, it has always been my goal to grow the business beyond our home base in the Chicagoland area. Back then, with no experience running a business–unless you count the lemonade stand I had when I was 7 (not the best business plan since I lived on a relatively quiet street) or the landscaping business I started one summer when I was 18—I had no idea how we were going to do it. Franchising sounded like a good way to grow.  It worked for Ray Kroc with his little hamburger venture, so why not for a sales management and inside sales company?

The problem was I didn’t know how to start a franchise. At that point, I wasn’t even sure I knew what we brought to the table for clients, so how could I duplicate it like a Big Mac and McDonald’s fries? I decided it wasn’t the time for franchising, however, keeping it in the back of my head has certainly helped me to continue to help the company grow.

When I started Randolph Sterling, we were a sales management firm. This is only part of what we do today. I had enjoyed my work as a sales manager prior to that, but realized there was an opportunity for me to help several companies, not just one. I figured that for companies who did not have a sales manager on staff, where the sales team was being supervised by the president, I could come in and offer additional sales insight. It would also give me an opportunity to broaden my scope of knowledge and be a better resource to my clients. This has changed over the years since we work mainly with companies who are growing quickly and don’t have the structure in place to handle the growth. But, the same ideas remain from those early days.

The part I hadn’t realized was that as only one person, your time is limited. When you figure in your hourly rate, then multiply it by 40 hours in a week, then by the 50 weeks a year you would work, the numbers looked good even if you did take two weeks vacation. Just one problem: there is no way you can provide this service for 40 hours a week, or at least not while billing clients, collecting payments, running the business in general, looking for more clients…you get the picture.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we also are constantly looking for ways to expand the services we can provide to our clients. It would have been very difficult to do that while building a franchise. It would have blocked the creativity we implement within the business that allows us to continually adjust what we bring to the table to help our clients. I doubt we would be providing some of the other services we provide today if we had been building a franchise from the beginning.   

We decided it was best to grow the same way you make good barbecue…low and slow. We wanted to be smart and meticulous in our growth so that the company always maintained the same ideals it was founded on: providing our clients with the best that the sales profession has to offer in everything that we do. Plus, we realized that we could serve clients coast to coast from our Chicago office.

However, as time went by and we continued to grow, we were receiving an increasing number of inquiries from Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh, Washington DC, Philly, and New York. I found myself constantly on planes visiting these clients and prospects and it was getting quite costly. Finding an office in one of these locations would certainly help reduce those expenses. And, when it was time to pick a location, NC was where I wanted us to be.