Thursday, June 30, 2011

MENTOR ME - Part Two

There's an old Mexican proverb that says, "One must learn how to lose before learning how to play." If I hadn't met Neil Bennett, the founder of Shamrock Companies, this proverb might have been nothing more to me than meaningless words. Neil taught me that losing was the first step in learning how to win in the game of my business life: sales.

You may not believe this, but I was a raw, shy kid when I started working at Shamrock. Neil helped me learn and develop a winning sales style. But not before I had racked up my share of losses.

Mainly, I was poor at sales because I was uncomfortable making face-to-face calls with potential customers. I was losing more sales than I was winning -- maybe, less than a .250 batting average in my early years. But, Neil showed me how to learn from my errors, and develop an inner confidence that got better with each success.

Neil said that first, I should learn everything about the products we sell. He taught me to know each product backwards and forwards -- what it does and what it's capable of doing, before selling it to a customer. Neil said, "Once you have personal confidence that you understand the product, you will have the confidence to go out and meet with customers. And once you meet with customers, you have to learn about each customer and his or her and problems and requirements."

Neil was like a benevolent dictator. He made me work hard, but encouraged me along the way. I learned to make sacrifices and promises that were sometimes hard for a shy kid to keep. But, his mentoring paid off. Once I knew everything there was to know about the product, and once I understood the needs of my customers, I was able to find my confidence, and gain the confidence of customers. I became a partner to each customer. Not just a salesman interested in making a sale, but a trusted business associate who would help solve my partner's problem.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT... I learned from Neil that a good salesperson, or a good leader / entrepreneur / business person /spouse (you name it, because in one way or another, we're all "in sales") is someone who understands that negotiation is all about win/win, and that a win/win strategy will create an unbreakable bond between a salesperson and a customer. Even today, I continue to apply Neil's instructions to help me understand and lead Shamrock, our employees, and our customers.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

MENTOR ME - Part One

Zig Ziglar ( is one of the best salesmen our world has ever known. He's quoted often, but one of his quotes sticks with me as I go about each business day. Ziglar often said, "Rules are important, but example is the great stimulus."  I learned that observing by example is among the greatest teachers from my earliest mentors. My family.
My grandparents worked hard. My dad's father worked at two demanding jobs. During the day, he was an auto mechanic. In the evening he tended a working farm. My grandmother sold the fruits from the farm at a stand near their home. This grandfather taught me the discipline to work long and hard and enjoy the benefits of your labor.  My dad's parents benefited from their hard work by becoming world travelers throughout their lives. My grandfather was a strict disciplinarian, but a kind teacher.
My mom's dad was a true character. He so believed that work was salvation and reward that, if there were no chores to be done, he would create one. One day he mixed a huge can of roofing nails into his cinder driveway, and promised me a penny for each nail I found. I was 5 or 6 years old at the time, and with hard work, I earned a whopping dollar and 5 cents that day. This grandfather taught me that for every chore there must be a reward, or why bother?
The elders of my family were the first, and in some ways, most important mentors in my life. This  includes my dad. Dad was a very conservative, hard-working, blue collar factory man. He worked at Lincoln Electric. If you know anything about Lincoln Electric, you know the company was founded on hard work and was driven by profit as an incentive to perform. One summer, I worked with dad and got to see him in action on the company's production line. The line was solely dependent on teamwork. Your income was driven by the guy behind you and the guy in front of you. If they performed well,  you were paid well.  Needless to say, they all worked as a team to achieve a higher profit for the company, and for themselves. My dad taught me the importance of teamwork, productivity and managing with fewer, trusted employees for the long haul.  And making sure they're treated with respect and reward for a job done well.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT... A good mentor is generally a good leader. Good leadership starts with being willing to work hard yourself. That's a philosophy I learned from my early mentors, and something I believe I carry with me to Shamrock. No one will be asked to do something I wouldn't do myself. Including washing the dishes after a meeting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


There have been days when I've wanted to chuck everything, call in sick, and play a slow round of 18 holes with just a flock of fairway birds cheering me on. And I'll admit, sometimes I've given in to this wishful thinking, and it helped me recharge my workday batteries. But, if I did this too often, my work ethic and my personal goals would suffer. Here are a few simple alternatives that may help ease the pain of getting out of bed on a workday morning:

7. Have a ridiculously comfortable desk chair: The nicer your chair, the longer you can stand to sit in it before having to get up because you're antsy. And of course if you're antsy and walking around the office with a general aimlessness, you're not working.

6. Make a To-Do List: Lists are great because the simple act of making the list gives you something to do in those moments of lost energy when you don't actually want to be working,  but, you'll find yourself doing something remotely work related, and you may simply motivate yourself to tackle on task on the list.

5. Set up Google Reader or Technorati: You can tell yourself that you're just taking a brief time out to keep up to date with the latest industry news, but what you're really doing is reading a few industry (non-industry?) blogs. You may actually learn something, and the industry stuff may stick, so you'll be able to rattle off interesting relevant factoids in meetings.

4. Use Supplies as a Self-Motivator: If you're running out of paper clips and staples, get some. If a certain program would increase your productivity, ask for it. It's much easier to do the job when you have everything necessary. Once you get into a position where there's not much else for you to ask for you'll be able to apply all these tools to hone your skills and do a better job.

3. Monetized Incentives: Money is still the primary objective of work. Don't be afraid to ask for a raise every year if you've seriously been rockin' at work. But first, make sure you've really been above par.

2. Respect for the Team: If you have a vested interest in the people around you, that comes with a vested interest in how work goes for them. This act of supporting the team is as contagious as a virus, so it's likely your coworkers will reciprocate by making something easier for you and it will become a productive cycle that makes work more productive and fun for everyone.

1. The 100/90 Rule: Give your job 100% effort 90% of the time. You'll do great. You'll feel good. About yourself, your job, and the people you work with. The other 10%? Take a break from the ordinary, and do something extraordinary; something that is really special to you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


When I took Psych 101 in college I was fascinated with the id, ego, and superego. Long story short: id doesn't care about reality and is there for our pleasure; the ego's job is to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation. 
So, why am I telling you this? When I see promotional products without a strategy to build brand, I always think, "That's just an id toy, it gives the user pleasure, but has no other purpose. It definitely doesn't position the company well."  This short video is an example of an id premium It's fun. It's an old school promotional item that will sit around and collect desk dust, and the owner will quickly forget where he got it or why he keeps it.
Rather than just find a fun promotional item, our promotional and premium products team delivers a brand strategy.  This strategy includes a unique promotional product solution, wrapped in a well-designed incentive program or campaign, packaged with a well-planned fulfillment service and our unique web development/ management program. In other words we integrate the fun with a solid strategy.
In fact, our integrated team of sales, marketing, promotional and premium strategists and IT delivers a Discovery Process for each customer, so we're right on the mark with your promotion. Our program can also store, stock and manage your promotional inventory, as well as document how much inventory you moved each month. And all the information's available for you, online. We've got this system down to a science, so we can actually show you how you are saving your company significant dollars. Which is actually great for your superego (that's the part of a developed personality that likes saving money!).  Here's a short case study about how we develop a promotion and premium strategy for a client:
...regarding promotional products. Shamrock works with a group of suppliers who recently formed a Quality Assurance Alliance to maintain the rights of workers overseas and environmental stewardship, with the aim to police their group and adhere to a code of social compliance.  If you're curious to know more, take your healthy ego to the phone and call Tim Berry at Shamrock, 440-250-4597. Tell him Troop sent you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


When I started my career, I worked for a very successful entrepreneur who always enjoyed the social side of the business. He would throw an office party to share success with the group and show his feelings of appreciation for his employees. One thing he said to me, though, struck me as a little off through my entire career. "Don't ever get too close to your employees," he warned me. "If you do,  it becomes harder to pull away if you have to." I presume he meant, it becomes harder to fire someone. Whatever his reason, that was one thing he and I didn't agree on. I believe, that in order to retain good people, you have to go beyond the paycheck.
A fairly recent survey on The Plain Dealer website asked respondents, What's the most important factor in your job satisfaction? Naturally, most (23.97%) said, "Pay that's fair for the work I do".  Well, sure... or as my kids will say, "well, duh"... the paycheck is what we all work for.

But, a close runner-up among respondents (20.79%)was "Knowing that I am appreciated by the people I work for."

So, my gut instinct was right, all along. Recognizing a good job and rewarding an employee with a that's the spirit congratulatory phone call, a stop by an employee's office for a personal chat, a one-on-one lunch, or, maybe, a surprise gift of a weekend getaway... goes a long way in retaining good people.  On a more personal level, if one among us is celebrating a special family anniversary, birthday, or a graduation, I like the idea of stopping by or calling to offer my personal congratulations.

We've all been through difficult times during the past few years. I've had to make some tough decisions that forced Shamrock to run hard and lean. But it helped us to remain healthy as an organization. These decisions affected my people; some more than others. But, these decisions also made us stronger as the Shamrock family, so that we're positioned to enjoy the days ahead.

Everyone of us, from clients to vendors to employees may, at some time, have problems at work or outside the workplace. Those who know me, know that my door is always open for a confidential discussion. I may not always have the right answer or solution for the problem, but I'll do everything I can to offer each of you honest advice and counsel.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Actually, we could substitute the word Business for Golf, and the same would hold true.
Others, more witty than I have been drawing comparisons between golf and business for years.  That's because golf is a unique sport with an almost mystical ability to let us observe a person's integrity, decision making abilities, mental fortitude, honesty, and general personality. Grantland Rice, a 20th century American sportswriter  who died in 1954, summed up the relationship between golf and business nicely when he said, "Eighteen holes of match play will teach you more about your foe than nineteen years of dealing with him across the desk."

As a fan of the sport, I learned early on that golf's a game that's as frustrating as all hell. Loaded with obstacles, challenges and hazards, it brings out the best and worst in friends, competitors and coworkers.

And, as a golfer, I've learned valuable lessons from playing the game. (One big lesson -- hard as it may be -- is to take the game seriously, but to also enjoy it, despite its obstacles.)  I also use the lessons of golf and apply them to running a business.

For example, in golf you may play 17 holes that make you want to throw the clubs, bag and all, into the ravine. But, you don't. You keep on playing with the same championship spirit you had at the first hole -- and you make a double eagle* at the 18th hole! I use this lesson in business by putting the bad part of the week behind me.  And that's what I try to instill in my people. Acknowledge what you did wrong and right it. Don't look back. Move on.  And remember to enjoy the game.

I've heard that 80 percent of business owners would like every one of their hires to be athletes.  I believe it. Athletes are taught at an early age to think like winners. They never walk on the field thinking they're going to lose. They learn everything about their competitors and use that information to plan their strategy. They think, eat and dream about winning. 

I like to keep that spirit alive in the workplace, because running a business is like excelling at sports. We work as a team. We bolster one another up when we've had a tough day. We find our competitive edge. We develop a game plan. We are fair and equitable. We embrace the team's culture. And we're always in it to win it.

*You can enjoy viewing an historic double eagle here: