September 30th, 2011
I believe in building meaningful relationships in business. As a leader, I’ve found that strong relationships help in getting things done. Whether it’s with your employees or customers, relationships are about trust, being credible and creating common shared experiences. The problem begins when every company says that they are relationship based. Just saying it certainly does not make it so — and most organizations say it. Who is responsible for these business relationships anyway?
A salesperson needs and wants to sell things and companies want a sales force that is consultative, likeable, capable of speaking a prospects language, and focused on building relationships. Oh, and they’d like them to be on plan too. So what really matters here? Is it production and results or style and the intangibles? Pressure from sales managers, bills, ego and family often gang up on a sales person, which means selling the right way becomes secondary. The long term takes a back seat to right now. And “relationship building” becomes just another bad sales stereotype. I don’t think it has to be that way.
Lets start with building trust. You must earn trust. Perhaps from following up when you said you would. But there is more to it. Is your company trustworthy? Do you have a solid story to tell? Is your boss trustworthy? Would you bring them along to meet your prospect? I bet many of you know exactly why I would ask that. You can attempt to build trust, however, it is your company’s responsibility to be trustworthy everyday with its stakeholders, or your sales role will be extra difficult.
Next up, are you credible? Can you speak in technical terms with your prospect? Do you understand the technical folks in your business? Do they understand you? If not, you have some gaps to close. Credibility comes when we can speak our customers language in a sincere and respectful way. If you can’t? Many won’t. And this stereotypical sales person is the worst. They don’t even know what they are selling, and they don’t try to learn. Relationships matter, but not enough if you don’t learn the lingo.
And finally, common, shared experiences rarely come without credibility and trust in your sales world. The answer requires involvement and time. People want to buy from folks with common interests from people that are like them. Your prospects have to see you as part of the community. This is more than being on local boards and active in not for profit activities. People buy from you when it just seems logical. And that logic is a series of common shared experiences with you, your employees and your business.
I know we are going to serve a new client when they say, “It seems natural to do business with CBI Group, lately everywhere I turn I meet someone who works there or who has worked with you.”
There is so much more to relational based sales, drop me a line or read more from a real friend of ours, Ed Wallace in Business Relationships that Last.
September 22nd, 2011
Please indulge me this week as I celebrate the entrepreneurial achievements of my family. This week my father, Alan Burkhard, has been inducted into the Delaware Business Leaders Hall of Fame by fellow Delaware Business Leaders. This is a prestigious award, often given to the titans of business and doesn’t traditionally recognize true small business entrepreneurs for their contributions. I share this news as his son and as an evangelist of his philosophies. I am proud that I grew up in his house and his business.
I frequently blog about leadership topics and much of my original thought and inspiration comes from my experiences in my father’s companies. How many people do you know that have started more than one company? That launched their first company on a small business loan and sold to an international industry giant for tens of millions? That have been successful across five+ different industries? I feel like the kid whose dad has the fastest car in the neighborhood. Yep, that’s my dad!
He won the award because of the macro stuff. He had many, many successful businesses with employees numbering in the thousands. His first business was Placers, a staffing company, which I am proud to shepherd forward today and build on the forty years of focus on the customer. Later he had success in the waste disposal business, building one of the largest Independent firms in the Delaware market with his partner. His restaurants, including Klondike Kate’s in Newark, are model businesses that reflect his core business philosophies of knowing your customer and empowering and teaching employees to create a terrific customer experience. There are others, but I think you get the point.
Alan is a serial entrepreneur and he loves to help others bring their business ideas to life and to show them how to do it. But to know Alan is to know that success was not because of size or numbers. Alan is successful because of the core philosophies that he possesses and instills into each of his business endeavors. Leadership is what distinguishes Alan from so many. Or is it his leadership one liners? You decide.
Here are some of my favorite leadership mottos that I try to live each and everyday. All of these start with the basic leadership premise that in an Outside-In company your “job” is to lead, train, and serve. And in doing so that you don’t think of your self as having mastered the topic of leadership — it is helpful to think about being an entry level leader because there is always more to learn on the topic.
• We plan to do a lot of things, but most leaders don’t plan to lead.
• Knowledge is key. Appreciate that an hour of learning is equal to an hour of productivity.
• Place an extremely high emphasis on ethics and values.
• Foster an environment where you are accessible, your employees will follow.
• Don’t appear overwhelmed. Don’t be overwhelmed.
• Replace the power at the top with power on the front lines.
• Be prepared to abandon what’s not working and drive change.
• If employees feel you share less than you should, then all the sharing you do is worthless.
• Set goals for knowledge, change, risk and results. Not activities.
• Employees should be able to know everything in your business. No layers or hierarchy.
• Compromise where you can, so you don’t have to compromise where you can’t.
• Use your common sense, gather knowledge, be a visionary.
• Take the blame, give the credit. Be humble.
My pop has lived his business and personal life by being direct. By being truthful. By getting to the point and by being honest. By letting employees and others know that he cares. He creates the perception that he is there for you if you work for him. And this instills confidence. And this confidence gives his employees the belief system and some say in the business. And customers notice. Where else do you know where bartenders learn to read a profit and loss statement? Where employees bring their values home and teach their kids?
Finally I can’t resist one more Burkhard-ism. The greatest leader in the world is simply one that lives it every moment every day. Here’s to the best leader I know. Congrats Dad!
September 14th, 2011
President Obama outlined a $447 billion American Jobs Act this week that would cut payroll taxes paid by businesses and offer tax incentives for firms to hire new workers. But is this simply stimulus #2? Can our government really spend our way out of the iffy economy? Can building bridges and other infrastructure projects build long-term sustaining jobs? I am not so sure.
Government is a partner in a successful economic environment. Government’s role is to create an environment that encourages business. If we look to history we can see periods when government was not involved enough — times of monopolies and Robber Barrons. Currently, government’s position on business is uncertain at best. This uncertainty does not bolster confidence. And without confidence, there is no demand.
We cannot legislate our way out of this one. Nor can we spend our way out. Confidence from business leaders will come when they feel government is a willing and equal partner. The Jobs Act reduces employer costs for hiring. Sure, less payroll taxes help, but they do not create demand. If we feel that a reduction in taxes and a change tax code will help the economy then why not change the tax for the long run? The temporary nature of the Act does not instill the long term confidence necessary for leaders to make long term investments in their business. Lack of confidence = less demand.
Speaking of demand, a large percentage of our economy is driven by consumer confidence — as much as 70% of it. Without the commitment from businesses, new jobs will come slower than we need. Which means the real spark that can be ignited by the consumer will be slow to come.
I am just an entrepreneur. I don’t have all of the answers. But it is my sole job to know what my customers want and need to run my business accordingly. I either react and respond, or I don’t. That is really every leader’s job — to know their customers, their employees, their stakeholders. All Leaders have constituents. If business leaders fail to listen, their business fails over time. Government leaders? They get voted out of office.
All of this is about creating confidence as a leader. Demand will follow. Trust me. I live this every day.
For those of you that want some of the factoids on the “Act”, I outlined some key points below from an industry report for the staffing industry. The American Jobs Act would:
• Cut the 6.2% employers’ portion of the Social Security payroll tax in half on the first $5 million in wages
• Eliminate the 6.2% payroll taxes for any growth in payroll — whether through new hires, increased wages or both, up to $50 million above the previous year.
• Provide a $4,000 tax credit to employers that hire workers who have been looking for a job for more than six months
• Provide tax credits to encourage the hiring of unemployed veterans, both a “Returning Heroes Tax Credit” up to $5,600 and a “Wounded Warriors Tax Credit” of up to $9,600
• Prohibit employers from discriminating against unemployed workers when hiring
• Expand a payroll tax cut for workers. The tax cut would equal $1,500 to the typical family earning $50,000 a year.
• Fund infrastructure projects and other stimulus programs as well as provide for unemployment insurance reform.
September 7th, 2011
Sometimes seeing and acknowledging workforce and workplace change happens very slowly. For the past fifteen years there have been predictions that almost 50% of our total workforce will be contingent workers. To be specific, contingent means temporary, contractual labor, even seasonal and part-time workers.
We are not close to 50% yet, however, it seems with each economic business cycle the numbers edge upward. And you know what? I am beginning to wonder what ‘temporary’ means when it comes to jobs. But I will get back to that premise in a minute. First, let’s talk about the business side of the workforce.
Smart businesses have learned to manage their labor costs. Much attention and press has been given to our slow moving economy and the minimal job growth. Companies survived through the recession by trimming their “core” jobs and by reducing their contingent workers. In fact, from 2007 through mid-2009, the temporary workforce dove by 33.7% while the total private workforce dropped by just 5.8%, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data in The Atlantic.
For years the staffing industry has been espousing the benefits of a “contingent workforce strategy.” The numbers from 2007-2009 are evidence that businesses could reduce their costs and were able to do so quickly. In other words, the plan worked. Typically cost comes into play, simply put, there are less employee benefit costs. And for most, cost is a driver for using “temps.” However, the real benefit has been flexibility. The flexibility to lower labor costs quickly. The flexibility to change your workforce overnight. The ability to NOT have to build a permanent Human Resources department to screen, qualify, hire and fire. And finally, the ability and flexibility to add skills and competencies for project work.
And the numbers support that. In 2010, employment in temporary help services rose by about 300,000 to 2.21 million, according to the BLS. “By 2012, contingent employment will have returned to 2008 levels,” says Dana Shaw, senior vice president for strategy and solutions at Staffing Industry Analysts in Mountain View, Calif.
Growth and decline and temporary jobs will happen as a part of smart business. But isn’t every job temporary anyway? Have you ever looked at the average tenure of leaders of public companies? Some studies support that they average a little over year. I know some contract work that is longer than that! Besides, think about your job. Yes, the one you are in right now. Think about how much project work there is with a beginning and an end. Think about how frequently you are challenged to do things that aren’t written in your job description. Businesses demand both productivity and a growth in skills from its workers.
Burkhard theory suggests that most people are congruent or right for their jobs just a few times a year. Companies change fast. Jobs evolve. We grow in interest and in skill, and our job might not. Or the job changes around us and we might not be capable or even interested in how it evolves. If you’re in a fast-growing company, skills and work experience will change faster than people can settle in. If your business is shrinking? Many employees become too experienced for their role.
It seems like just yesterday that we all wanted was to work for parental companies and retire with the gold watch after thirty years. Many of us lived through the “age of free agency” in the workforce and perhaps scoffed at it for our own careers. Change comes slowly. However, change does come. And perhaps we are beginning to realize that every job is in fact “temporary.”