Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"HOW'M I DOING?" This week's post is one Bob developed in 2011. In this post Bob discusses why it's critically important to get client feedback regarding the work you're doing for them. Because what you don't know can actually hurt you... and your business.

During his three terms as New York's mayor, Ed Koch was known for asking just about everyone, "How am I doing?" Koch tackled a problem head-on, asking that dreaded question, and expecting an honest answer. He was known to immediately address an issue before it became a major problem. Koch was one of the most popular mayors New York has ever had.

I always admired Koch for his fortitude at facing his "customers" in a very public way, and in my early years as a sales manager I learned, like Mayor Koch, if you ignore a problem, it escalates. No. It doesn't go away; it just grows bigger and bigger until it explodes in your face like a rogue firecracker.

Still young, and green, I was assigned to work with an important customer. We had printed a huge number of brochures for this customer. One problem -- it was on the wrong paper stock. There was very little difference between the paper stock we printed on and the paper stock the customer had requested. Chances are, the customer would never have known. But I told him. Why? If he discovered the difference without me telling him, I'd certainly lose his respect, and maybe even his business. Better to get it out in the open and face his disappointment than face dread for days and weeks, thinking that he will eventually discover the mistake. I made the right decision. Today, his company continues to be one of our best customers.

This honesty with customers has become the backbone of how Shamrock chooses to do business. I encourage everyone who meets with customers to ask, "Tell, me how are we doing?" and wait through the dreaded pause, until the customer answers. That pause, which may only be 60 seconds, can seem like an hour spent sitting in the rain on the topmost part of a roller coaster looking at the steepest decline you've ever seen.

The best outcome to your question is that your customer will actually tell you the truth. If something's wrong, you can clear the air. When I ask, I like to watch my customer's expression when he or she responds. Is it evasive? Warm? Hostile? Submissive? The worst is a customer who's submissive. That tells me he's not invested in the project and really doesn't value our relationship enough to care about the outcome. The best is a customer who tells me exactly what she thinks of how and where the project is headed -- even if it hurts my ego to its core. I can finally exhale and, if necessary, say, "We can fix that."

ONE FINAL THOUGHT...Without asking "how am I doing?" I'd never know if the project's going well or not. And not knowing how I'm perceived by a customer is worse than not knowing where my next project will be coming from. And, if you don't ask, and you don't know, you may never again have the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief to an answer from that particular customer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 Was a Very Good Year. This week Bob looks back on 2012, considers some memorable moments from the past and looks forward to 2013.

I like January because it is the beginning of a new year, and even though it's cold, dark and snowy in northeast Ohio, it's also a time to look back on the past year and begin a new one with a clean slate and new ideas.

Looking back on 2012, I was gifted with a memory that will be with me for the rest of my life. Shamrock celebrated its 30th anniversary as a company filled with promise and growth. In 1982, when Shamrock expanded in Cleveland, I had a concrete plan and an idea of where I wanted the company to be, but honestly, I had no idea where it would be in 2012. But I stuck to my plan, I hired wonderful, brilliant people and Shamrock took off and went well beyond my most strategic plans.

The memory of 2012 that will stay with me is the surprise party and recognition I received for 30 years of building a great company with great people. Friends, employees and family plotted for months behind the scenes to prepare a tribute that included videos and a book highlighting those 30 wonderful years. These people made a grown man cry!

The aftermath of this celebration got me thinking beyond 2012 and into the new year. In the back of my mind there's been a plan brewing for several years. To accomplish this plan I've put together a strong, smart executive team and a company president who is a great leader. These people are prepared to step into the future. I've also initiated the process of forming an advisory board made up of some of the most notable corporate CEOs and senior partners in this region, and I plan to head this advisory board to help transition Shamrock into a vision I've had for the company's long-term growth.

With Shamrock's 30th anniversary and a party to honor those 30 years, in 2012 my family, my friends and the entire Shamrock family made me feel like a rock star, so to quote a real rock star, Joe Walsh, I can only say that "'s been good to me so far...," and it can only get better from here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

BLAME IT ON THE BIG APPLE. This week Bob looks at the state of the print industry, from newspapers to Newsweek to what's in your mailbox.

On April 3, 2010 Apple changed the way we consume media with the introduction of the iPad. Before that, maybe 30 years ago, I was a salesman calling on Progressive Insurance, providing them with most of their business forms. Thirty years ago, Progressive kindly told me they had bought five Xerox 9700 page printers, and would now be printing their own forms. I saw my future 30 years ago, and knew it was bound to change. And I knew I would have to change.

Today, print media is kicking and screaming its way into the future. For example, since 2008 more than 200 newspapers stopped publishing print editions (note: this change started before the introduction of iPad). Newsweek, a published magazine since 1933, stopped its weekly print edition on December 31, 2011. Seriously, print media, this is your future! With an Apple iPad, a smartphone, laptop, or desktop, we can access news from a multitude of online sources; blogs, electronic versions of daily newspapers and magazines, search engines... you name it, it's online.

But is the Big Apple iPad the reason for print media's demise? Or is it the fault of print media, unable or unwilling to change with the rising tide of technology?

The consumer (and your customer) is always changing, seeking new ways to do things cheaper, quicker, and with better results. So, in the case of print media, readers now have the ability to quickly access particular writers, blogs or sources of information through targeted and free search engines, making newspapers increasingly irrelevant.

In order to remain relevant, we must change. Shamrock is a different company today than it was just a few years ago. We rely more on technology and continually monitor what works for our customers and discard what is irrelevant to their needs. Interestingly, we've discovered that, despite the theory that print is dead, most of our clients still find that direct mail is an effective way to reach their customers. Direct mail has always been successful and, I believe it will remain a relevant part of the marketing mix. (Despite what we believe, there are lots of people who still don't have computers, and enjoy reading a catalog.)

Which, I guess, brings us back to the end of print media. Of course, I read newspapers and blogs online. But there are times I still like to read a newspaper. When I travel, I enjoy the idea of relaxing and reading a newspaper that I can hold in my hands. But the reality is that the majority of print newspapers will likely be gone in the next decade. A few international print versions, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times may remain, but local newspapers will go away. They're too costly and too expensive to maintain. (And an iPad is much more functional than a newspaper.)

What troubles me, and others whose opinion I value, is that the reliability and accountability of newspapers is being replaced by a vast number of anonymous bloggers, many with uncertain credentials and points of view. Where once the reader of a daily newspaper might read a story by a well-known and respected reporter for a major newspaper, today that same reader might be directed by a search engine to an anonymous blogger with limited (or no) training or ability in journalism. Carving out our choices for credible news will take time.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

LET'S CALL IT A LESSON. This week we asked Bob about Shamrock's memorable mistakes in 2012. He chose to call it Lessons Learned.

Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I'll take that one step further and say it's really insane if you make a mistake and turn around to make the same mistake, again and again. A mistake is only an irreversible error if you don't learn a valuable lesson from it.

In business, as in life, we all make mistakes. How we correct our errors is what makes us stronger in the long run. For example, I've noticed that some medium and large size companies make a critical mistake when they lose a sales person who served a client's account and go on to presume that, because of their size and a good (I say "good" not "great") relationship with the client, the relationship will continue as before, and even grow, despite the loss of that sales person. The mistake companies make is in not taking the time to personally notify the client's senior executives of the sales person's departure. Worse: they put off making any contact and just let things coast along.

We learned this lesson well several years ago. When we lost some key sales people we heard that their accounts had felt underserved. At that time, our key executives didn't have an ear to what was being said about Shamrock among the clients' C-Suite executives.

It's inevitable to lose employees, including significant sales staff. But now, when we lose a sales person we take one of our general managers and put him or her immediately in touch with each decision-maker on the salesperson's client roster. We let nothing fall through the cracks. We arrange to meet with each client's key executives within 24 hours of a sales person's departure and discuss their needs and our assurance to invest in their business.

In fact, in 2013 we have dedicated a commitment to know just as much as our sales people do about each of our clients. We have pledged, as a company, to hold everyone -- especially our key executives -- responsible to be involved with our clients. We come to them with innovative ideas we believe may help their bottom line. We continually ask our clients self-challenging questions like, "How are we doing with the management of your business?" "Is there something we should be doing that we're not?"

In the 20th Century this commitment to present and potential clients was called networking. Today we call it survival. The lesson learned here is that having your key executives accountable for being actively involved and making a significant investment to build relationships with clients is the means to growing your business in the new economy.

Business owners and their executives must be as invested in their clients as the sales team is. Fully invested... financially, personally and philosophically! This investment must be communicated to our clients as well as our sales team. Such a commitment will ensure a long term relationship for the company, the sales team and our clients. These are values to share, and to keep.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

REFLECTIONS ON CHANGE. Reflecting on the past and seeking change is common in the New Year. Bob reflects on changes at Shamrock.

Change is inevitable, in business and in life. Actually, change in business is good since it's a reflection on growth and movement, which, I believe, are two things that keep a business vital and poised for sustainability.

Since 2010 we at Shamrock have seen lots of change. First, spurred on by a lagging economy, Shamrock, like many companies in the past five years, was forced to take a cold, hard look at our bottom line and find ways to survive. Not only did we survive, we grew healthier in the process. Since 2010, Shamrock has become a leaner company. It was painful, but the end result was worth the distress. We suffered through layoffs, furloughs and attrition by employees impatient with the process. Today, we are stronger, more profitable, more efficient, and we have a better understanding of where to put greater emphasis for long-term growth.

We've determined what will help us drive our business to continue to achieve growth and, in 2013 we plan to dedicate our business to technology in order to become more connected with our clients, and help serve their future needs with a vision suitable to the electronic age.

Among the technological advancements to encourage our clients’ growth and time-saving efficiency is Resource, an online, secure procurement system that allows our customers to order various products and services that are essential to their business. Here's a brief overview of Resource: I like to think of it as a simple retail store application on steroids. It's robust and allows clients to purchase and design their products online. It can store several thousand client images that maintain the integrity of the client's brand. And Resource is designed to enhance purchasing efficiency so that procurement officers can utilize their time more effectively (a great time and money saving benefit). Plus, it's a simple-to-use multi-tasker with applications for direct mail, managing data and design, and ordering specialty items.

Another technology we've added to serve clients' needs is TDMS. This application allows clients to archive print material from as far back as 10 to 15 years. TDMS archives changes in logo design and branding, and provides the history of a marketing piece or business form, which may be useful for many things, including an historical documentation of a company's progress. We've designed it so that TDMS and Resource can work in unison to help clients maintain the integrity of their brand and easily purchase all marketing items on an as-needed basis, with little hassle and great speed.

Finally, since 2010 we enhanced efforts to build stronger client relationships. By simply getting our executive team more involved with our clients' senior executives in order to exhibit how we're focused on preserving their bottom line, we have developed stronger and more resilient relationships among the companies we serve. We're fully invested in taking a team approach in order to understand every facet of our clients' business, including marketing, IT, and sales, in order to  provide each client with the best possible tools to ensure their success, as well as ours.

This team approach has been quite effective. It's not only made Shamrock a more unified company that offers every person with a role in assuring our clients' success; it has also helped our clients identify greater opportunities for success this past year.

My very best wishes to all of you for another successful year on 2013!