Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

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!

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On The Road Again…From Chicago to Raleigh to DC to perhaps Detroit and Kuala Lumpur

February 17, 2010

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. After some time back at the Chicago office, was back on the road again. It kind of made me feel a little like Willie Nelson, who made the song “On the Road Again” famous, talking about his travels around the world, and also because I had been so busy that I hadn’t had time to get a haircut I felt like I was starting to look a little like him!

So to start this trip it was off to Washington, DC to check on some opportunities there, then this week and next week, back to Raleigh to run our three SAM Groups, meet with two of our newer clients, and meet with 10 additional prospects. Then it is back to Chicago to develop a sales strategy for a new client in Alsip, IL. We are also working on potential projects in Detroit and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia…does anyone know the temperature in Malaysia this time of year? It sounds like a good opportunity with a client, but if I’m going to be on a flight that long, there better be some nice weather at the other end of the trip!

I have been so happy with the growth of the company. When we first started out (April will be our 7th anniversary) I had hoped that we could change the way salespeople were perceived and we could make an impact in many company’s top and bottom lines. I got excited when we got our first client outside of the city of Chicago…and that company was about 5 minutes outside of Chicago in Evanston! To think that we are able to help clients from coast to coast and internationally sometimes just blows my mind!

So yes, I am on the road again. Sometimes I feel a little like George Clooney’s character in the movie “Up In The Air,” Ryan Bingham, who spends most of his life traveling the country. Luckily, I get to help companies grow and hopefully add more salespeople while his role was to come in and fire them. Still, as a guy who really is a homebody and likes the routine and balance of a “regular” schedule—work, dinner, the gym, friends/family, softball in the spring and fall, basketball in the winter—travel is sometimes difficult.  It is not, however, something I feel I will be doing forever. Yes, I did receive my American Airlines Platinum Card in the mail a couple of months ago and do appreciate the perks of getting on the plane first, the exit row, occasionally a first class upgrade, and of course, the shortest line going through security at O’Hare Airport (and whatever additional perks American Airlines would like to bestow upon my by mentioning them here).  But I would love to use those extra miles to go away on a vacation someplace warm, away from the foot of snow in Chicago. I guess I will have to learn more about Malaysia…or maybe just my own back yard!

February Fury Hits the Midwest: What a Strange Day It Has Been!

February 10, 2010

Usually I try to keep my blog posts and articles as much about business as I can, but for this, I will take a little deviation and tell you about the last couple days or so in dealing with the February Fury Snowstorm, which hit Chicago.

Tuesday is basketball night in the winter, so I hoped that we would not be cancelled. It has been a stressful (in a good way) last few weeks, and I really needed to take a break and blow off some steam. I left Mt. Prospect, Illinois at about 3:30 to get to a meeting in Evanston at 4:30, figuring that the normal 30 minute drive would probably take a while longer. I was amazed by how great the streets were! The plow and salt trucks must have been out early because the roads were nothing more than a bit wet, which made for a pretty easy drive since most normal people were home.

I left my meeting in Evanston at about 5:30 and had a few minutes before basketball to go and get some gas. I’ll admit it, I’m usually I pretty fast driver but today I had plenty of time, the snow had been falling steadily all day, and apparently the snow and salt trucks I praised before had gone home for dinner, so I was moving very slow. I made a very slow and easy left turn after stopping at a light and the rear of my car decided it wanted to continue to go, so I ended up doing about a 90 degree spin.

Undaunted, I got to the gas station and then to the basketball court where 9 other crazy people were ready to play two hours of basketball. We had three great games, although the team I was on happened to lose all of them. After 3 long games and about 2 hours of basketball, it was time to head home. I figured I would take the highway as it was most likely better driving than side streets back to Mt. Prospect.

I drive an Acura…not too bad in the snow, but you would think an 18 wheel truck with a full load would have even better traction. We are driving about 30 mph on Chicago’s Kennedy expressway when the truck about 10 car lengths in front of me decides to drop down to 20. I tap on my breaks but yet again, my back end wants to go faster (in its defense, my car is usually not going that slow so it may have been confused) and I start to spin out! Luckily there were no cars near me and I was safely in the middle lane so no harm was done other than to my driving ego. I made it home, happy that I could stay in until the next morning when I would have to shovel out my driveway to get to client meetings.

Now it gets really strange…I woke up ready to shovel my driveway only to see that someone—I have no idea who–plowed my driveway for me. I still had to shovel out my walkways and the snow that was up against my garage (we got around a foot of snow here in Chicagoland, most of which was now packed up against my garage door!) so I grabbed my snow shovel and started shoveling.

A few things you need to know about this next part. (1) It is 7:00 AM so I’m not completely awake yet. (2) I usually leave my snow shovels by the front and back doors so if it snows overnight, I don’t have to trudge in the snow to get the shovel out of the garage. (3) Last year, toward the end of the snow season, someone took my shovel from beside my front door, so this year I bought myself a new one.

As I was shoveling, I’m noticing something is different. Then it hit me. I realized that this was not my new shovel (which is red) but it is my old shovel (which is gray and black!) Now the new one is gone but the old one is back…what the hell? Apparently somebody plowed my driveway and then returned my old snow shovel (and yes, I am 99% certain that it is my old shovel) but then took the new one I bought this past fall.

While I am very grateful to whomever plowed my driveway, I am still completely confused about the whole shovel situation. Is the cost of getting your snow plowed that you get entered into this game of musical shovels? Where is my new shovel now? If I take the old shovel that is by my back door and move it to the front, can I trade it in for the new one?

The real question is…can someone just buy my house—I’ll even throw in whatever shovel I currently have–so I can move to the North Carolina office so I don’t have these issues anymore?

Thanks to the Niles Chamber of Commerce for a Nice Christmas Party

December 29, 2009

This December the Niles Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual holiday party, which is a great opportunity to not only network but to catch up with friends. This year, I invited Art and Daniel to join me at the festivities. Never too much holiday cheer for Randolph Sterling, Inc., especially when there are clients and prospects to catch up with. It is a great way to enjoy each other’s company and just get to know each other in a “less business” setting. People will buy form people they know, like, and trust, you have heard me say many times.

I had an opportunity to spend time with three of my favorite people at the chamber: past president Bob Ryan form Express Employment Professionals, Executive Director Katie Schneider, and newly installed president, Joe Walsh from Access Benefit Solutions.

Bob Ryan and I got to become friends simply as a result of getting to know each other at chamber meetings. As president, Bob attended every event, a very difficult task if it was all you had to do, but Bob and wife Sheila also have to run their own business.  As chairman of the Niles Marketing Committee and stints as Second VP and first VP on the chamber board, I sat next to Bob a lot. Bob is a class act. He is “Mr. Niles” and what you see is what you get with him. What makes him successful is that he is very down to earth. I don’t get to see Bob as much as I would like, but every time is a joy.

Katie Schneider is the Executive Director at the chamber. Without her, along with her team at the chamber office, nothing would ever get done. Katie teases me because she can guess my age simply by the CDs in my car when I take her out for lunch to discuss chamber business (apparently, if you have a Van Halen CD, you are probably in your late 30’s. She was right on target so I guess it is true!) She and husband Andrew are just wonderful, kind people and she has done so much for me personally to help Randolph Sterling, Inc. grow over the years. She has become a good friend.

Watching Joe Walsh get “installed” as the chamber president this year was a little bittersweet. Joe is absolutely the right man for the job and will do a great job in taking the chamber to new levels in membership and services. I look forward to seeing what he will bring to the chamber in 2010. The bittersweet part comes in that originally 2010 was going to be the year I was Niles Chamber president.

I had been on the chamber board and moved up the ranks, however after chairing the Niles Night of Roses Committee and co-hosting the event, I realized that there was no way I would be able to be chamber president with my work schedule the way it has been. With Raleigh booming and me still the main person there, it was tough to get back for chamber events and give it the time and energy necessary. Randolph Sterling, Inc. and my clients always come first.

Thanks again to the Niles Chamber for a great event and for helping Randolph Sterling, Inc. to continue to grow. We look forward to great things in 2010.

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.