by Richard J. Rohman, Centurion Systems Marketing and Sales Director
This article has been adapted from a talk given at Securex 2017, and edited for length
In tackling this assignment I have drawn upon our own experiences at Centurion Systems, asking for input from key members of our team. In addition I have referred to a number of business books which I have read over the years and whose lessons about business resonated with me.
So let me start with an absolute fundamental in business if you want to become and remain a preferred security supplier.
Honest and ethical
More than ever today, customers want to deal with suppliers that are honest and ethical. That means that if you have a problem with a product, admit to the problem. Don’t pretend you’ve never heard about it.
We find that our customers are far more understanding if one is transparent about a problem than if you try to hide it. When you do get caught out, you lose a lot of credibility with your customer.
|Centurion Systems Marketing and Sales Director, Richard J. Rohman
There have been occasions where you might feel that you are within your rights to challenge a customer over a warrantee dispute. From our experience, it is better to back off and give the customer the benefit of the doubt.
At the time one needs to ask the question “Mr Customer, what would make you happy?” and try and meet, if not exceed the customer’s expectations. You gain substantially more advantage than trying to challenge it.
Don’t overcharge a customer just because you can. There are so many Social media platforms e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., that provide customers with a ready means to air their grievances.
In the same breath, be cautious about charging too little for your services; you must watch your operating margin, but more about this later
Under promise and over deliver
Don’t be tempted to take on too much and then fail to deliver. This is a death knell for a business.
In the early stages of building a business, one takes on everything just to keep going. As the business grows one has to become more focussed. One can’t be all things to all people.
Bottom-line, when you take on something make sure you deliver on it to the best of your ability and you don’t fail.
Be ready to go that extra mile
This term has already become a cliché, meaning that in many instances going the extra mile won’t even cut it, it must become standard practice.
Service, service –service that delights!
The world of consumers is becoming more and more fussy, more critical and certainly more demanding.
So where, in the past, the supplier / service provider would pitch their offering at the price that they wanted and when it was convenient for them to deliver, today the consumer has all the power and is demanding from the supplier the product that they really want, at the price that they want to pay, and when they need it.
For many businesses to keep the products alive as they progress through their product life cycles and head towards the inevitable period of waning in growth of sales, they have to be supported with better service. This provides time to come out with the next compelling product.
In other words, the culture of giving service that truly delights has to be ingrained within your organisation.
Where, the operative word is delight, being that feeling you get, if you have a sweet tooth, of biting into your favourite pudding.
Listen to the needs of your customers
When pitching to a prospective customer, it is critical that you clearly understand what they are looking for.
Too often we provide our customers with what we ‘believe’ they require, or what we are able to
provide them with as a result of the limitations imposed on us by cost, technology, financial, production or other similar constraints. The problem is that our product is often not what the customer is truly looking for. So, instead of focusing on providing the customer with what he needs, we spend inordinate time and money marketing and selling our product in a vain effort to “convince” the customer that our product actually is what they require.
Lack of marketing success and loss of market-share tend to make one think that price is the “real” problem, and the slow spiral towards reduced profitability kicks in.
We have to keep asking ourselves the ‘relevance question’: Is what we are making or selling still relevant, and will it be five or ten years from now?”
We need to ask it every year, because if a company loses relevance we no longer add value to customers. We are vulnerable if we rest on our laurels.
Always maintain excellent communication with your customer
The easiest way to listen to your customer is to be in constant communication.
A business is built on interpersonal relationships, by keeping close to your customers, keeping them informed of what you are doing which is relevant to their business and understanding the path they are taking – it helps to ensure a solid business relationship going forward
Be flexible and adaptable
A company that is flexible and can execute decisions quickly and effectively will experience success. The sales environment in any industry is volatile and uncertain. With the constant threat of new entrants to the market and new products pushing the limits of technology we need to act quickly and be flexible to change.
There is no substitution for hard work
When trying to make a success of your business, there is no substitute for hard work. If it was easy and required little effort more and more people would be running their own businesses out there, but they aren’t.
As your customers become more and more demanding and the landscape that we operate in forever changing, it takes hard work to stay in play.
But working SMART is also key to success as there are only so many hours in the day and only so many people that we can afford in our businesses, so we have to make sure we optimise our use of time and our resources. I am a great believer that as one grows one has to have the right processes in place so that one only adds heads when it is absolutely necessary
Strive to deliver world class products and service
What is world class?
Well, products and services that are ranked by customers and industry experts to be amongst the best of the best. But you have to make it relevant for your market. So don’t just copy what a company working in the US would do, make sure the products and service you deliver are relevant to the market you are serving.
This doesn’t mean that products and services mustn’t be excellent, they must be excellent but to the extent that it suits your market.
You can take an average product and sell it hard to get it into the market and make it work. Or, you take a compelling product and the market will come to you.
It is not always that easy to find or develop a compelling product or service, which doesn’t mean that you mustn’t start in the first place. But as you grow your business and take on more products or add more services, strive to make them compelling. Your marketing and selling of the product will be that much easier.
Differentiate yourself from your competition
I can never forget the time I was shopping for food in a Malawi food-market, walking along the endless lines of tomato stalls – each offering a similar pile of bright red tomatoes. One asks oneself, why choose one stall in preference to another?
To the stall owner, it is no longer the tomatoes that are going to attract their customer, it has to be other vegetables they have to offer, a more inviting smile to beckon you or a tidier, cleaner looking stall.
That is a very simplistic view of differentiation. In the business world if one can’t clearly communicate one’s differentiators to a prospective customer, how can one expect them to take their business from their current service provider and give it to you?
Now you can’t be different for the sake of being different, you have to think in terms of the value you add to your prospective customer. Do this right, maximise this for your customer and you will better guarantee that you will get their business.
A rather overused term these days, but nevertheless critical in our VUCA world.
The winds of change are blowing and change happens faster and faster. If businesses don’t adapt they will be left behind.
Innovation has to be encouraged. It doesn’t have to be radical and totally disruptive (like Uber; although if that occurs, so much the better), but continuous improvement in products, service, business processes, techniques, etc., all ensure that the company is able to weather the storm.
Keep up to date with the latest technologies
The security industry we work in is probably second to the telecommunications and computer industry in terms of the pace at which it is changing. As a service provider you have to ensure that your business and its offering are keeping up with the new developments, the new technologies so that you keep relevant in the market and don’t get left behind.
Not only are the products and services you offer changing rapidly, so too, the way in which you communicate with the market when making use of the ever growing and ever changing landscape of digital marketing.
You have to run a sustainable business
Fundamental to being a successful service provider in this industry is to make sure you run a sustainable business. It doesn’t matter how wonderful and relevant you might be to your customers today – it doesn’t help that you are not around for them tomorrow.
Using the term sustainable means that your business rides through both good and bad times, for some there might be growth, for others they remain fairly constant but maintain themselves as a business in a healthy state all the time
How do we do this?
Focus on where you want the business to be
Have a clear picture of where you want to go. Steve Jobs always had a crystal clear vision of where he wanted to go.
Look beyond just short-term profits. To be sustainable it is critical to forego short-terms gains, re-investing continually to ensure that the company has reserves to fall back on when an idea doesn’t turn out quite as well as was planned.
In setting the right strategy for your business think about whether what you are planning really matters to your customer and secondly, as I have mentioned before, does it differentiate you from your competition.
Get the right people
It is rare to see any business stay with the original proprietor alone – it will grow and require people to come on-board.
Don’t ever be too quick to bring on new people unless they are the right people. To steal from the renowned business author Jim Collins – you have to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off.
In many instances don’t look for a person with the commensurate skills or knowledge to take on a particular post, get the person that has the right fundamentals, energy, attitude and temperament, aligned with the culture of your business. Then you train them to do the job.
Think about it – it is a whole lot easier to train somebody to develop a skill than it is to change the attitude or behaviour of somebody who already has the skill, but is negative, lazy, etc.
Engender the right business culture and values within the team
You have to start by making sure you have in place the right vision, mission and values. These become the bedrock of the company’s culture and the guidebook for how things are done, how people behave without you having to constantly monitor this.
Every entrepreneur will have a vision for their business. But it pays to get this written down for everyone in the team to see and understand.
The next stage will be to put down your mission statements. Some business gurus prefer to use the word “purpose” and when appealing to the new millennials that are filtering into every organisation, they want to understand the purpose of the business they are joining, how it is going to be relevant to them and their environment.
Finally you have to bed down the company’s values, the guiding principles that link to almost everything that gets done in the business.
Get your values right and get them ingrained within the organisation.
Your people are an extension of you – empower them to act on their own but with knowledge and values that mirror your business.
If you as an individual can run a successful single man show – treating you customers with respect, going that extra mile etc, then as you grow and bring more people into the fold, they have to mirror your behaviour. You can’t be looking over their shoulder all the time to check up on how things are being done. Train your staff properly and communicate clearly what is expected of them.
So keep pushing the values of the business. If done effectively these values guide all the relationship decisions and systems in the company without the need for rules.
Staff, the greatest asset
Put your staff first, then they will look after your customers as kings
The adage that employees are a company’s greatest asset remains relevant today. Without good staff a business will never thrive and become truly successful.
However, business is a two-way street and therefore good staff don’t exist in a vacuum. Employees of choice tend to exist when there is an Employer of choice. Being an employer of choice means that the top management of an organisation has to:
o Set the example.
o Constantly discuss the vision, mission and values of the company.
o Remunerate people fairly.
o Train, develop and mentor people.
o Show staff that they care for their overall well-being.
o Make their staff realise that they ‘belong’ to an extended family and that their input matters.
Measure the performance of your team and keep giving them feed-back
While you are small, managing performance is really managing yourself and if you are self-starter then this is no problem. Your first team members will hopefully also be swept up by your energy whirlwind and the things like performance management will happen on its own. Understandably you are in constant communication with this first group of staff members.
But things change as the organisation grows and you move further and further away from the coal-face. You have to make sure that people know what is expected of them, whether they are meeting these expectations and be given guidance on how to improve and move to the next level. In a nutshell performance management.
Don’t try and develop the perfect system from the outset – it’s all down to rhythm, those regular informal and formal communiques between you and your managers and they, in turn with their subordinates.
Bottom-line, the majority of us like strokes or recognition and to grow and move on in life. We are not on this planet to remain stagnant. So the business environment has to support this and the better it is at it, the greater the chance that key-people will stay and help the business grow.
Fundamental to running a successful business and keeping relevant in the market is to have great leadership. I would like to share some insights provided by a business author called Bob Rosen in his book Grounded. He is a stern advocate that healthy leadership stems not from what one does, but who one is as a human being.
Leaders who are truly healthy in all senses of the word are evolved human beings and extremely effective leaders”
He has established three factors / truths
– Who you are drives what you do
– Who you are is grounded in your healthy roots
– Healthy Leaders build teams and organisations that outperform
Richard Rohman is CENTURION’s marketing and sales director. An engineer by trade, Richard is known for his incredible work ethic and keen business acumen, honed over 30 years of playing an integral role in CENTURION’s development as a world-class brand.