November 28, 2020

You’re the Boss Blog: Why We Hired a Sales Consultant

Staying Alive

The struggles of a business trying to survive.

Editor’s note: This week, Paul Downs is writing a series of posts about his decision to hire a sales consultant.

A year ago I was in the middle of a collapse in sales, which caused me a great deal of anguish and led me to try a number of solutions. In the fall, I wrote about puzzling through the reasons for the slump and my putting a solution in place. At the time, I believed the problem resulted from a change I had made in my Google AdWords marketing and that the solution was to restructure my campaigns.

I still think that AdWords was an important contributor to the problem, but I am now convinced that the real solution came from another change I made, one I gave short shrift in my first look at the situation. In June of last year, I hired a sales consultant to provide a critical evaluation of our selling methods, to suggest changes and to work with us to carry out those recommendations. The contract for that work has just expired, and I’d like to share my thoughts on why we hired a consultant, what we learned about selling and whether I should renew the consultant’s contract.

I should start by pointing out the obvious: the solution to a shortfall in sales is — wait for it — more sales. And for me, it was not just about returning to the right number and type of inquiries but actually closing deals at an acceptable rate. Fixing my AdWords campaign did restore the number and type of customer calls we got. But to declare that that was the whole solution to our problem is to ignore what happens after an inquiry is received.

In our case, closing a deal involves a lot more than picking up the phone. We make an expensive custom product, conference tables. We need to inspire enough confidence in our customers that they will send us large amounts of money for a product before it even exists. And so we have a complex process that we use to convert a curious caller into a committed buyer. I ignored all of that when I wrote about AdWords — in part because I was still figuring out what we were doing wrong and how we could do it better.

Here’s a quick recap of our sales process at the time the trouble started. Inquiries were coming to us in two forms: as an e-mail or a phone call. In either case our response was the same. We would ask a series of technical questions meant to reveal the functional aspects of the potential client’s table needs. We wanted to learn the desired size, the anticipated number of users, the size of the room, the wiring requirements and whether we were matching any existing furniture. We would also ask about the budget.

If we received answers, we prepared a proposal. This was a pdf document that contained images of the options we recommended and information on wood choices, power/data options and pricing. These proposals were impressive. We saw them as a good way to demonstrate our engineering skills and craftsmanship, and they took advantage of all of the advances in software and communications that had become available to us. I had developed the format myself, and we had used it to good effect, with more than $16 million in sales since 2003.

I had also developed a game plan for the proposal that, in retrospect, was more a reflection of my own inclinations than a rationally thought out method. Keep in mind that I had started out at the bench, making furniture, and that making things is in my blood. I learned to sell only because it was a way to keep working. But I soon found that I had some talent for it — I’m a smooth talker, when I need to be. By 1992, I had stopped working at the bench and for the next 20 years I spent most of my time selling. I found that I enjoyed meeting new people, showing them what we could do for them and closing deals.

For many years the volume of incoming business was manageable, but in the period that has followed 2010, as we recovered from the recession, increasing call volume strained my capacity to keep up. So I developed an assembly-line method of writing proposals: ask questions, design like crazy and send them off. Next!

When I promoted one of my bench guys, Nathan Rossman, to sales representative, I taught him the same method. And when I added another sales rep, Don Wuest, a year later, he worked in the same manner. We were brilliant at responding to requests, but we did no follow-up. The funny thing is that it was working. At least it was until it wasn’t.

Tuesday: Our Sales Process Stops Working

Paul Downs founded Paul Downs Cabinetmakers in 1986. It is based outside Philadelphia.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/why-we-hired-a-sales-consultant/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Hess to Sell Refining Arm and Revamp Its Board

A Hess gas station in Brooklyn.Ángel Franco/The New York TimesA Hess gas station in Brooklyn.

The Hess Corporation said on Monday that it planned to sell its retail, refining and processing businesses and alter its board in a bid to shake up its operations and fend off activist investors.

Hess pitched its wide-ranging plans, which include raising its dividend and buying back up to $4 billion worth of stock, as the culmination of a multiyear campaign to improve its operations and refashion itself into a leaner oil exploration and production company.

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“It’s the logical endpoint of our five-year plan,” John B. Hess, the company’s chief executive and the son of its founder, said in an interview by phone on Monday. The company did not offer any estimates on how much it expected to raise from the sale proceeds.

The moves come after a public fight waged by Elliott Management, which owns a 4 percent stake in Hess and is mounting one of the biggest activist investor campaigns in recent years. Elliott nominated five candidates for Hess’s board last month, in what the firm said was an attempt to force Hess into becoming more disciplined about its operations and spending.

Elliott was later joined by Relational Investors, an activist hedge fund with deep roots in the oil industry.

But Mr. Hess argued that the new initiatives were not developed in response to Elliott’s charges. Instead, he said, the plans could be traced back to efforts he undertook upon becoming chief executive in 1995.

“Elliott got on the train after it left the station,” Mr. Hess said.

In a letter to investors, Hess said it planned to dispose of its so-called downstream assets, after having already announced plans to sell its network of oil terminals. The company also plans to sell its holdings in Indonesia and Thailand.

Some of the proceeds from those sales will go toward raising the company’s dividend to $1, from 40 cents, as well as committing to the share repurchase plan.

Hess will also consider ways to gain additional cash from its operations in the Bakken shale formation in the northern United States in 2015. Mr. Hess said one possible move could be placing the assets into a master limited partnership, which would yield tax advantages, but that the business needed further development before any such move could happen.

Perhaps most prominent, Hess named six new directors to its board, most of whom are former oil industry executives. They include John Krenicki Jr., a former head of GE Energy; William Schrader, a former chief operating officer of TNK-BP; and James H. Quigley, a former chief executive of Deloitte.

In naming its director candidates last month, Elliott criticized the company’s board as being largely a collection of cronies with ties to the Hess family. Mr. Hess defended the departing directors as having helped shape the company’s current strategy, but acknowledged that the board needed some new blood.

The directors who are leaving include Thomas Kean, a former governor of New Jersey; Samuel A. Nunn, a former United States senator from Georgia; and Gregory P. Hill, Hess’s president of worldwide exploration and production.

“While our board was substantive, we realized the optics were an issue,” he said. “With the new company that we’re becoming, we feel that we have the right people for the board.”

Hess also used its letter to rebut Elliott’s proposals for the company, including breaking up its operations into two companies – one focused on finding and producing oil from overseas sites, and one concentrating largely on the Bakken shale formation in the United States.

The company argued in its letter that what Elliott had called for would produce only a short-term bounce in its stock price and was “flawed” and unfeasible.

Mr. Hess said he had not heard from Elliott since the hedge fund went public last month with its complaints, and had not heard from Relational since last year, but said he would be willing to talk to the hedge fund if it approached him.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 4, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a new Hess board member. He is William Schrader, not Scrader.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/03/04/hess-to-sell-refining-arm-and-revamp-its-board/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Building the Team: Why We Never Use Professional Recruiters

Building the Team

Hiring, firing, and training in a new era.

This column is called “Building the Team.” It’s about leadership, which I’ve focused on in my first few posts and will return to later. It’s also about training, talent development, goal setting, culture and career development. But it starts with getting the right people on the team, and that’s the theme I will address in my next few posts.

The first step is recruiting, and my view is straightforward:

1. Always be recruiting.
2. Do it yourself. Don’t outsource to a professional.
3. The process is just like any other marketing or sales campaign.

The reason to always be recruiting is obvious. You just never know where and when you might meet extraordinary talent (I’ll write more about this in a coming post). The reasons to do it yourself may be less apparent. Isn’t that what professional recruiters are for?

According to the American Staffing Association, the industry for search and permanent replacement services generated $11.5 billion in revenue in 2011. Clearly, given the size of the market, many companies find value in hiring an external recruiter. But I would bet good money that this industry will shrink over the next five years because of one company: LinkedIn.

LinkedIn now has 202 million users, up 39 percent from last year, according to its most recent quarterly earnings announcement. It adds two new members every second. Why do so many people use LinkedIn? It is the place for employees to find a future employer and for employers to find their future team members.

Here’s how we use LinkedIn for recruiting campaigns to build our team:

Define the role. We can’t start recruiting until we know the position we are trying to fill. When a manager on our team requests budget for a new head count, we ask the following questions: What are the goals for this person? What are the day-to-day activities? To whom will he or she report? What is the expected compensation?

Develop the candidate profile. Before we begin a search, we have to know who we are looking for: Is there someone within H.Bloom who is the perfect profile for this position? If not, what are the attributes that we believe are most important for the role? These attributes will help us filter as we review hundreds of candidates online: years of experience, previous experience, specific skills, educational background, location, work at a particular type of company.

Build a list of potential candidates. LinkedIn makes this easy. Here’s the process:

First, upgrade to a premium account. The price varies based on how many LinkedIn e-mails (called InMail) you want to send to candidates you find on the site. The options start at $24.95 a month for the Business Edition, which allows for three e-mails per month, and go up to $499.95 per month for Talent Pro, which allows for 50 InMails per month. If someone doesn’t reply to your e-mail within seven days, that credit is put back into your InMail account. I subscribe to Talent Pro, and I have never found myself wanting for more InMails. At first, I thought this was expensive. But when I compared it with the approximately $20,000 that I would have had to spend for a recruiter for one new hire, I recognized the cost savings.

Once you have set up your account, click on Advanced to the right of the search box at the upper right of the home page. This brings you to the Advanced People Search page where you can enter the job attributes that you have already identified. There are spaces for name, location, company, school and then additional search criteria like industry, seniority level, company size and years of experience. Once you’ve finished entering the attributes you are searching for, click search to see the candidates who meet your specifications.

You will receive a list of profiles. Click on a name to see that person’s entire online résumé. You can also see if the person is connected to anyone you know personally. When you find someone who meets your requirements, send him or her a message by clicking on Send InMail.

Develop your pitch. LinkedIn makes it easy to find the right candidates to target. But it’s up to you to create a persuasive pitch that will grab the attention of someone who is content in a current job. Here’s what we think about when developing an initial pitch:

• What our company does. It is important to convey this up front.

• Why our company is different. We describe our growth (to show real traction), investors (to demonstrate a stamp of approval from someone else) and press (to convey that we are unique within our industry).

• What we are looking for. We define the role, its potential impact and why we think the candidate might be a fit.

• Suggest a simple goal for the e-mail, a next step like setting up a call or a coffee meeting.

• Try to create urgency by saying something like, “I’ll be in town next week.”

• Keep it short. Your e-mail will be received out of the blue. You want to provide enough information to pique the person’s interest.

• Work on a catchy subject line. Think about the profile you are targeting. What is the best one-liner to grab this person’s attention?

It is a numbers game. Dan Portillo, a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners (which was an early investor in LinkedIn) published a presentation recently where he described what he called the 100 Rule: To find one person worthy of an offer, you need to contact 10 to 15 candidates. To find 10 to 15 people worthy of offers, you need to contact 100 potential candidates. In other words, the conversion rate is from 10 to 15 percent.

Always respond. If someone takes the time to write back to your unsolicited e-mail, take the time to send a thank you e-mail, even if the person is not interested at this time.

We have used this recruiting process to grow to 80 employees without ever using a professional recruiter. Next, I’ll provide a specific example with the details of how we used LinkedIn for a recent recruiting campaign.

Have you tried recruiting through LinkedIn? How did it work for you?

Bryan Burkhart is a founder of H.Bloom. You can follow him on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/why-we-never-use-professional-recruiters/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks: Report Your Bribes Via a Smartphone App

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Can a smartphone app help fight corruption?

That’s the idea behind Bribespot, a nascent Web site and smartphone app designed to let people shed light on, well, bribes. (A hat-tip to Urbandaddy for bringing this intriguing idea to our attention).

The Web site Bribespot uses the same sort of mobile “check in” technology that services like Foursquare use.Bribespot.com

The Web site says the app employs the same sort of mobile “check in” technology that services like Foursquare use. But instead of letting everyone know that you’re enjoying a fabulous latte at Starbucks, you let them know that you just were forced to pay a bribe to the subway inspector because you were caught riding (in Hungary) without a ticket. “The more check-ins are made at a certain location, the more visible are corruption hotspots on the map,” the site says, and the more likely those in charge of a particular institution are to take heed. “That is where the real change starts,” the site adds, hopefully.

The site, which just went live, was hammered into existence at a recent Garage48 gathering in Estonia, where tech geeks gather with the goal of putting their ideas into action in just 48 hours. The app is available for Android phones; the developers are working on an iPhone version. The site says it guards against malicious or fraudulent campaigns in various ways, like limiting the number of check-ins daily from the same phone.

The Web site Bribespot uses the same sort of mobile “check in” technology that services like Foursquare use.Bribespot.comThe Web site Bribespot uses the same sort of mobile “check in” technology that services like Foursquare use.

The posts are anonymous, which is a good thing. But is reporting corruption using a location-based device a smart idea? In an e-mail, Artas Bartas, Bribespot’s managing director, said it’s theoretically possible to link a specific report to a specific phone, but that doing so would “require some considerable resources,” like access to a mobile phone company’s user database. “The question is, who would be ready to invest such resources for the sake of going after the person reporting the petty act of bribery?” he said.

That said, Bribespot is going to “great lengths” not to collect any directly identifiable information about users of its app; user identifiers saved in its database, he said, are “random generated strings which — even if somebody gets a hold of them — will not tell you much about whose phone it was.”

A quick perusal of posts on Bribespot reveals many items from Romania (bribing exam officials seems popular) and other European countries. But there are a smattering from the United States, like someone paying $100 to get their fake I.D. back from a bouncer at a Miami restaurant or paying almost $50 to cut the line to get into a popular bar in lower Manhattan.

We at Bucks certainly aren’t suggesting that readers do anything illegal. But does, say, slipping a few tens to the hostess to secure a reservation at a swank new restaurant qualify? I once lived in a city where, I was told by a long-time resident, you couldn’t officially put large bulky items out on trash day, but you could maybe get that old couch to disappear if you slipped a few bills to the sanitation crew.

Have you ever paid extra for a service? When does that sort of behavior cross the line?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=89cbda09e1b7aeb21684bc0f1fa15f0e