Industry Watch
It’s 10 a.m. on a Friday morning, and I’m moving a little slower than I normally do. I landed in Detroit at midnight last night, and from there it was a two-and-a-half hour drive home. It was a long three-day trip just to visit two plants and have dinner with one customer, but it was worth it.My most recent column focused on the topic of “seeding” and the importance of seeding consistently and with intentionality. This column is about “cultivating” and “harvesting” the opportunities that result from the seeding efforts.Most entrepreneurs I know are natural cultivators; they cultivate products, or ideas, or customers, or relationships, or simply just opportunities. No matter which one of these it is, it gets their full attention, without any need for an enforced discipline or routine or any need to be encouraged. They are often so naturally oriented to cultivation activities that it sometimes is to their, and their companies’, detriment; the importance of the seeding activities are overlooked and harvesting opportunities are missed or mis-timed. When we are doing what we love doing, “work” is easy. Products, projects and specific business opportunities become our “babies” and we steadfastly cling to them, pouring in all our available time, energy and imagination. The completion of a project, the maturing of a product or the closing of the big deal brings the cultivation period to an end, and it’s often not easy for the cultivator to let go. This is more true for technically-oriented people than it is for relationship-oriented people, but I have also seen some sales- and marketing-focused people completely miss the “ask for the order” opportunity or, nearly as bad, cling to their baby and try to retain control of it even after the deal is made. Trying to close a deal too soon, before the opportunity or relationship has been properly cultivated, is another costly mistake. Good negotiations require a level of trust and respect, and these things are developed in the cultivation process. Negotiating without having established trust and respect reduces the process to simply having to win on price, which lowers your profit margin potential. It also increases the chance that a competitor will win the deal because he or she cultivated the relationship or opportunity better than you did. My own strategy for cultivation is simple: “escalate the connection.” Turn a webpage inquiry or tradeshow lead (or any lead from your seeding activity) into a personal email reply as promptly as you can. Sign off with your first name and a simple salutation. Escalate the email connection by following up with a phone call; leave a voice mail if there’s no answer. Escalate the phone call with an offer to meet. If the opportunity warrants, establish a face-to-face meeting with them, and make the effort to get to know them, allowing them to get to know you too. Escalate each connection as far as you can effectively and deepen the relationships that hold promise and opportunity. Face-to-face meetings may seem expensive and unnecessary, but if it’s the escalation step that your competitor won’t make, it can become the differentiating advantage.Cultivation is key to closing more deals and making a better margin on each deal, and it’s a process that most entrepreneurs do naturally. The difference between success and failure, though, is often a matter of knowing how and when to harvest the cultivated opportunities.   A few months ago, at a trade show, I made a connection that turned into an exchange of email messages, that set up a couple of telephone conversations, that in turn became a series of face-to-face meetings. The most recent meeting was 3,000 miles and two time zones away. Now I’m preparing for yet another face-to-face meeting, but this will be a simple meeting—to sign the deal. It’s harvest time!And, still, it’s seeding time, because it’s always seeding time. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
It’s Sunday afternoon, cold and rainy, and as I wait for the first football game to start, I look through my “seeding list,” a little list that I keep in a notebook that is always with me. My “seeding list” is comprised of names of people, companies, or opportunities that I encounter over the course of the working week that I think are worth further investigation. In my previous column, I mentioned that growing a business is a lot like farming; it requires seeding, cultivating and harvesting. This column is specifically on seeding. For many companies, “seeding” is a responsibility of the marketing department, and the activities of choice are tradeshows, websites, advertising and email campaigns. Some very motivated salespeople sometimes get involved by making cold calls, but this is increasingly rare. Relegating seeding activity to a select few people involved in marketing roles is one of the three most common mistakes I see in many companies. Believing that marketing has to be a “big budget” undertaking to be effective is the second.   Companies that wish to grow need to be strategic with their seeding activities – even those that already have their order books full. When business starts to slow down, big deals are lost, or expected deals fail to materialize, that’s the time when new opportunities will need to be cultivated and harvested. The best way to keep the hopper full of opportunities is to consistently and intentionally spend time seeding, and the best way to do it cost effectively is to make sure you measure the pertinent results. Failing to measure accurately is the third most common mistake. The default measurement for many companies is often the total sales figure, but it’s important to measure with greater granularity if you want to improve the return on your specific marketing and seeding efforts. For instance, a contract email marketer that I once employed found that “person to person” emails yielded far more replies than bulk email campaigns did, and that there were specific times of the day and days of the week that yielded the best results. She observed that she often got instant replies to direct emails that she sent out on Saturday or Sunday evenings between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., but never got replies to bulk emails sent out during the business day. In her role as a “seeder,” she didn’t measure sales – she measured “replies,” “replies converted to phone conversations” and “phone conversations converted to appointments.” Converting opportunities to sales is a measurement for the cultivators and harvesters, not for the seeders.     The same is true for tradeshows. Many companies measure total sales attributed to the show, or total leads generated by the event, or perhaps only the cost of participating. But as any good accountant will tell you, to get better results requires better measurements. How many connections were made in advance of the show? How many connections were made at the show? How many opportunities were qualified from those connections? How many of the qualified opportunities were for what specific products?  How many of those opportunities were followed up promptly and personally? How many resulted in products being quoted? Many companies have concluded that they have to be in certain tradeshows, and that those events are very expensive. But by being more intentional with their pre-show, at-show and post-show activities, and by measuring those activities more granularly, they can derive far greater yields from this expensive seeding activity.   But as I said, not all seeding activity has to be expensive. Before the first kick off, I sent out a few specific emails following up on some items on my seeding list. By half time, I had received two interesting responses. By noon tomorrow, I’ll make two phone calls, and hopefully make at least one new appointment for the week. Every face-to-face appointment represents a new opportunity that can be cultivated—but that’s a topic for the next column.   This article originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
Growing your business is a lot like farming. The three critical activities are seeding, cultivating and harvesting. Most of the remaining ingredients required for success are up to forces outside of your control. In the farmers’ case, it’s the market price for their crops, their input costs (seed, feed, fertilizer) and the biggest variable of them all, the weather. In the manufacturing industry, it’s raw material costs, labour costs, and the “economic climate,” which includes the market demand for your product and the availability of similar products from lower cost competitors. Just like farmers, entrepreneurs and business leaders like to talk about the factors outside of their control, hoping that a superior force hears their pleas and somehow takes care of all those things. But, that seldom happens, and after all the wishful talking and complaining, the actual work still has to be done - and that work is the seeding, cultivating, and harvesting.Seeding: To most, “seeding” is a responsibility delegated to “marketing.” Typical seeding activities include tradeshows, email campaigns, advertising, websites, etc. These are in fact “seeding” activities, but in most business cases I’ve observed, the seeds that are scattered fail to take root for one of the following reasons: the activities are not strategic, intentional, measured, or properly connected to the company’s cultivation activities. Seeding has to be intentional and ongoing, and it has to be measured to know what is working and what is not. When some seeds do take root, those seedlings need to be properly placed in the care of someone that knows how to take care of them, and the seeding activity has to continue.Cultivating: This is the area where most of the entrepreneurs I encounter dwell. Gravity seems to pull them here. They are either relational by nature (directing most of their attention towards culturing relationships), or technical by nature (directing most of their attention towards their technical or product passions). This results in a very common mistake - the seeding activity ceases as soon as something takes root. Technically oriented entrepreneurs often keep raising the bar on the technology they are developing, convincing themselves that they won’t release a product that is less than the best it can be. Relationally oriented entrepreneurs often miss the opportunity to close the deal or make the sale because they have focused entirely on their customers’ best interests, and forgotten about their own. Cultivating a product, a relationship or an opportunity, is perhaps the most valuable and effective activity for most entrepreneurs to focus on, but failing to connect those activities properly with the seeding and harvesting activities will limit the company’s growth.       Harvesting: A product cannot stay in development forever, and all the time invested in cultivating a relationship has to eventually bear fruit too. It’s the harvest that continues to put food on the table for the farmer every season, and the only way a company can stay in business year after year too. A company that doesn’t live from what it harvests is either living off of investment capital (which is a short term thing), or a company that will eventually starve. In the next few columns, I will be writing in more detail on all three of these activities, drawing from my own experiences (successes and failures), and from what I have learned working with other successful business leaders and entrepreneurs. This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
"Sustainability” is the new big buzzword in industry and, indeed, society. All too often though, the topic is only thought of as an environmental issue, or even more specifically, as a green energy issue. But it’s far more than that; it’s best thought of as a three-legged stool.Many years ago, when I was a kid spending a summer at my uncle’s farm, my uncle pointed out the engineering brilliance of the three-legged stool he used in the barn. One less leg and the stool would always fall over. One more leg and the stool would always wobble if the floor was even slightly uneven. Three legs made it perfect for the job.And so it is with “sustainability.” The first leg is “environmental,” the second “economic,” and the third “ethical.” Each one is as important as the other two. None should be longer or shorter than the others, and none should be considered more or less important. Every decision being considered by a company, a government, or indeed by each of us as individuals needs to consider the environmental impact of that decision. But, there are two other legs of equal importance.For industrial, organizational and even societal sustainability, economics must be considered when choosing a course of action. As companies, countries, or even as individuals, we do not accomplish much when we are bankrupt. For us to harness the collective contribution of our human minds, efforts and toils, we need to do so in a way that sustains us economically. Ethics is a word that is linked closely to social responsibility and also to corporate and organizational behaviour. When a factory is moved from one country to another to escape tough environmental laws, it’s a step backwards for the whole planet environmentally.I once saw an illustration of the relationship of these three factors, and a series of equations quickly formed in my engineering mind:Environmental + Economical = ViableEconomical + Ethical = EquitableEthical + Environmental = BearableEnvironmental + Economical + Ethical = SustainableEvery major question we are facing requires addressing the same three issues. If a company and a union are only considering economics and ethics, they are only looking for an equitable deal. If a government and a strong lobby organization are only considering environmental and ethical issues, they are only looking for a bearable solution. If a company is considering a plant relocation for purely economic reasons, and perhaps to escape some burdensome local environmental regulation, it is only looking for a viable solution.
The summer holidays are over and things are kicking back into gear. Hopefully you had some time to take a bit of a break and recharge your batteries. Vacation and recreation are very important ingredients to your success – they are the times you reflect on your past efforts and engage your imagination for future success; they are the times you spend reviewing and, hopefully, renewing your motivation for doing what you are doing. A vacation is often a time best spent as a quest for inspiration. This past summer, I rode my motorcycle out to Canada’s east coast, exploring three of the Atlantic provinces. I picked up my wife up Moncton, and from there we toured the beautiful coastline, lapping up the scenery and absorbing the honest, gentle and resolved attitude that permeates its people. The slow pace, the ever-changing scenery, the friendly people and especially the history, all seemed to conspire to inspire me. And it did. On one foggy day, we went inland a bit and visited the Alexander Graham Bell museum. I had always been familiar with his major inventions and ground-breaking work (the phone, hydrofoils and aeronautics), but wasn’t at all familiar with his personal story, his motivation, or his inclusion of others in his work and his desire to help them, and others, succeed. In 1907, Bell set up the Aerial Experimentation Association, in his words, as a “co-operative scientific association, not for gain but for the love of the art and doing what we can to help one another.” After observing the passion with which her husband had engaged in conversation with a couple of young engineering graduates, Mabel suggested the formation an association for that purpose, and then she proceeded to fund it from her own personal wealth. The museum is filled with displays and quotes, revealing more than just Bell’s accomplishments, but his motivations as well. On the way out, I encountered this quote: “The Inventor… looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world; he is haunted by an idea. The spirit of invention possesses him, seeking materialization.” At his estate home in Cape Breton, Bell hosted Helen Keller, invited Marconi and corresponded with inventors, presidents, politicians and explorers alike, and in 1888, he was one of the founders of the National Geographic Society. This man was not motivated by “what was,” but by “what could be.”This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
I’m not a person that will often spend a Sunday afternoon watching golf on TV, but I must admit that every spring, I look forward to watching the last round of the Masters. Golf is a sport that rewards practice, consistency, strategy and courage, and the Masters is the event that illustrates this best. It attracts the best golfers in the world, and sets a stage that motivates them to the limits of their game, often resulting in tremendous drama.Even though it’s a sporting event, there is much that we as manufacturers and company leaders can learn from it. Business, after all, is a competition, just like a golf tournament. The players are all competitors, in business and in sports; they all strive to be the best overall, and to try to win the day.Bubba Watson won the event on this day, in a very dramatic fashion. Many people are going to point to his shot out of the trees on the first playoff hole as the reason he won and, indeed, it was a difference maker. The reason he could make that shot is where the lessons lay. In an interview, he described the thoughts leading up to that shot, saying he “saw the shot in his mind and then just hit it,” completely confident that he could bend it 40 yards left to right, around the trees, and land it on the green.  But simply “seeing it” doesn’t tell the whole story. These athletes can only make these incredible shots that they see in their minds because they practice relentlessly just to beready for that particular time. Every shot that they may need to make in the course of a tournament has been practised repeatedly and regularly — tee shots, fairway shots, approach shots, sand shots and, yes, even 40-yard benders out of the trees.Earlier in the day, Louis Oosthuizen hit his own perfect shot when he double-eagled the second hole — the first ever on the second hole and only the fourth in Masters history, setting up the drama for the finish. And before that, Bo Van Pelt hit a perfect shot when he aced the par three 16th hole. But as incredible as some of these shots were, individual shots don’t win the day. When you only win by a single shot, making every other shot is equally as important to the outcome. The difference for many of the top competitors that day was not the shots they made, but the shots that they failed to make.As riveting as the final holes and playoffs were, I found the interviews with the new champion equally compelling. Bubba Watson plays the game a little different than anyone else, choosing to rely on his own approach to the game, and each shot, never having taken a lesson to learn someone else’s techniques. Does he think everyone else is doing it wrong? No, not all; he just understands that it’s not right for him. He knows his own game, and he plays the game that he knows.There are many life and business lessons that can be learned from sports, and the 2012 Masters tournament is no exception. It’s June now — perfect golfing weather. It’s time to get in a few rounds. Just think of it as working on your business while you are working on your game.This column originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
For me, the spring symbolizes the perfect time to challenge oneself to bigger and brighter futures. As I’ve said before, if you lead your company, it can become what you dream it will become. If you manage your company, it will become only what it happens to become.I know there is more to building a successful business than just dreaming about it. Business success takes planning and effort and strategy; it takes teamwork and finances and support; it takes opportunity and customers; and it also takes a bit of good luck. With a healthy dose of all of these ingredients, success often occurs.When I was younger, barely more than just an eager entrepreneur, I would often be embarrassed overhearing my mother describe the company I was building to friends. She wasn’t really describing the way the company was at that particular moment; she was describing the way I was dreaming it would be in two years, or perhaps five years. She saw the company only through my eyes, and when I was discussing the fledgling business with her, my eyes were usually focused on some distant point on the horizon — a point down the road, well past whatever challenges stood in the way at that time; a point that I was confident that we would arrive at some time in the future.Now I recognize the importance of those types of dreams. Our desires dictate our thoughts, and our thoughts precede and dictate our actions. Effective management starts at the thought level. Building a new business, or taking one in a new direction, starts at the dream level.Later in my career, I had the privilege of mentoring young entrepreneurs in the same fashion that I was fortunate to be mentored by others earlier in my career. I learned that having a vision for the company was a matter of having a clear picture of what the company could, and should, look like in two years, five years and 20 years. Articulating that picture, and then engaging enough individuals to develop the roadmap to get there, are of equal importance. But the size of the dream dictates the scope of the plans, and the scope of the plans set the parameters for the investment of energy, finances and time.I don’t think there is a formula for success when it comes to building a business based on something as non-tactile as a dream. We can all read the books on Steve Jobs and Apple, but doing everything exactly the way he did would not guarantee any form of success, much less even a glimmer of a chance of the type of success he achieved. When reading excerpts from his story, it seems clear that he didn’t just know what his company was capable of that particular day; he also had a clear picture of what his company would be in the future.Company leaders have to keep dreaming. Striving to be the best, and succeeding at it, can result in incremental gains when compared to the competition. But if you are aiming for exponential gains, or breaking entirely new ground, it means setting yourself out on a course where you are following no one else, and nothing else, other than your dreams. That doesn’t mean that due diligence and prudent management are abandoned. Good management is always needed in concert with good leadership. Setting the right course is good leadership, and following it is good management.This column originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
In recent years, our governments have invested billions of dollars into stimulation projects and bailout packages designed to keep our economies buoyant and our workforces employed. A strong argument is made by some that this spending spree kept us from going into a deeper recession, while others argue that it has gotten in the way of a full economic recovery.
These are indeed interesting times, but they are not much different, or more difficult, than any other time in the last century.
Meet Sam. He's not my son-in-law, but he's certainly more than my daughter's boyfriend; he's the father of my grandson - "baby Paul," named after yours truly. I don't know what the heck to call him most of the time, except Sam, the hardest working 30-year-old I know. He has his own company installing and servicing garage doors, and for kicks (while on my sabbatical), I decided to help him out and learn his trade.
There's nothing wrong with being "different," or so we say. As parents, we try to teach our kids to be tolerant and accepting of other kids, regardless of their appearance or nationality. And when one of our own kids is feeling unconnected in their peer group, we encourage them that it's okay to be different because we all have different strengths and talents.
There is a little greasy spoon in a small port town on the Georgian Bay, a block from the town dock. It's a great place for breakfast, especially after a night spent on the boat.
Here's a column that's been brewing for, oh, let's say 25 years. Leadership is lonely. And even if you are surrounded by a great team, you should never be too surprised when you find that you are alone.
These are funny times in the manufacturing world. Though unemployment is still pretty high and many displaced manufacturing workers are unable to find work, it is still difficult to find people to fill critical manufacturing jobs. The toughest to fill are those that involve programming and industrial software.
In the last few months, I have done an extensive amount of travel to the different industrial regions in North America, including the Southeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, the "Rust Belt," Ontario and Michigan, for the purpose of building up my own company. Through my role in the London Region Manufacturing Council, I have participated in numerous roundtable discussions and have listened to industry and government leaders speak of their plans, or opinions, on rebuilding or re-igniting industries in their regions. And through it all, I see hope, sense optimism and hear about "the light at the end of the tunnel."
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