On Sundays, many people feel a sense of revival or inspiration for life’s bigger purpose – the classic “Church High.” In Austin this past weekend, I spent 3 days being inspired by the great musical talents that converged in Austin for ACL Fest (Austin City Limits). I found myself having a similar high but around the power of music. My reflection brought me to a point that every individual has their “own song” and in this journey of life, our goal is to find this song and sing it with joy.
Ironically, I became inspired by something really weird…feet. Here I was sitting backstage with my family watching the lead singer (Wesley Schultz) of the Lumineers singing “Stubbon Love”… and I became fascinated with the music in his feet (weird, I know). But in this it dawned on me, “to create good music – you have to love what you are doing… and most importantly move your feet” (see the video at the bottom of the page).
As a promotional product professional we all have “a song.” My question for you – have you thought about “your song”? Have your thought about how much “movement” you have in your feet?
Everyday should be a blessing. Whether you’re selling promotional products or singing to some inspirational music, our goal should be to do it with passion that fills our heart.
Go make some music today!
Be Boundless – JB
PS… if you are interested in going to ACL next year, let me know I have access to tickets.
It was October 2008… the “other shoe” had fallen and the great US economy was officially in a recession. During these days it seemed like the market was losing 700 points a week and the national news was polluted with the economists, trading blows on how to fix the looming dip. Fast forward 4 years to 2012… we are still debating these same challenges.
I am writing this blog to encourage you to stop, look and listen… so that when (not if) the next recession happens, your business will be prepared to not only survive but thrive. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as we move forward:
Question #1 – What did we learn in recession of 2008?
Companies cut back on spending
The power shifted from marketing to procurement
Buyers were more price conscience
Question #2 – What type of professional was the most vulnerable in this recession?
Professionals that offer products found via Google
Distributors that were not properly funded
Distributors that did not invest in efficient solutions
Question #3 – What are customers looking for in a recession?
A technology solution to save money w/o sacrificing creativity
Progressive minded distributors that streamline the buying process (vs. product)
A high level of customer service, on demand
Question #4 – What should you do proactively to thrive in a recession?
Modify your business strategy to have more immediate market value
Refine your value proposition by offering technology and business process (think like a CEO)
Leverage your business relationships to win long-term contracts via Procurement
So my final question…
If you are not partnered with a distributor that can win in a difficult economy, why haven’t you checked out Boundless? Ask any of your supplier friends, Boundless is a solid company, and a great culture that is built for speed. Check out how we stack up here
Feel free to give me a call and we can talk about politics, recessions or the promotional industry. My office number is 512-879-4401.
I’ll leave you with this video of some of our customers talking about the Boundless platform for your viewing pleasure.
In the news this past year, we were introduced to the 99%ers and the 1%ers to describe people by their level of success. I found characterizing (and candidly villainizing) people by percentages somewhat comical because if you ask most people, they innately want to be the best they can be: raise the best family, be the best in their profession and maximize their income.
In the promotional industry, I think the same level of passion exist… professionals want to be the top in their trade… be the 1%. So in this blog, I want to outline two questions that will help you ponder unleashing your 1%!
1. Are you Eastman Kodak?
Eastman Kodak, founded 100 years ago, once owned 90% market share of the film industry. In the late 90’s when the digital printing entered the market, Kodak began to lose market share. By 2012, this once multi-billion dollar company was filing Chapter 11. They failed to evolve, failed to respond to the emerging trends within their industry.
The 99%ers in the promotional industry are continuing to sell based on creativity and personal relationship. Whereas the 1%ers recognize that the customer are requiring a more digital solution that compliments their creativity and personal relationships.
2. How deep is your rut?
Ruts are formed by wear on the ground that is being traveled. Severe ruts can make moving forward challenging because they are depressed below the ground… thus “stuck in a rut.”
Because we tend to be creatures of habit, I believe in the promotional industry it is easy to get into a rut… and ironically most of the times people won’t even know it. A question you can ask yourself to determine the “depth of your rut” is the following: are you doing business significantly different over the last 10 years and how much has your value to your customer changed?
The top 1% takes the road less traveled and tends to embrace change and taking different paths. Because the level of innovation in the promotional industry is relatively low – most people in the industry have sold the same way over their career in the industry.
If you are interested in learning how Boundless is supporting people unleash their 1%, I encourage you to give me a call. As professionals, we all have it in us, but it takes courage to go grab it.
Obviously winning means different things to different people… some might even argue it is a state of mind. In the promotional industry, I think you can delineate the winners from those that just participate. Vince Lombardi is an iconic professional football coach who knew a lot about winning. In his NFL coaching career, he never had a losing season and compiled an impressive regular season winning percentage of 74% and 90% in the postseason.
Lombardi characterized winning in his famous quote about what it takes to be #1 as “winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place.”
The Promotional Athlete
Within the promotional products industry, there are a consistent group of winners, which I refer to as the “Promotional Athletes.” These professionals regularly outperform the competition regardless of the economic conditions. They have a common thread: positive attitude, great relationships, strong work ethic, and a quest to continually take their game to the next level. Despite having all of the appropriate personal assets, an athlete may not be able to win without having the right foundation and the necessary partnerships to elevate their game.
The Athlete’s Conundrum
In today’s business environment, promotional athletes are facing the most daunting challenge in their sales career – how to compete with the massive monster that is technology.
The selling game is changing at a rapid rate and the sales strategies that made distributors/professionals successful in the 90’s and 2000’s will not hold up as we move forward. This puts promotional athletes in a predicament. The problem lies in the fact that the majority of the industry distributorships function as a bank, enabling cash-flow but not offering any sort of competitive advantage. This was a great strategy pre-Google, but in today’s age this type of value proposition will begin to negatively impact these athletes’ ability to stay at the top in the future.
To win consistently, not only do you need the personal assets as defined above, but you also have to bring a valuable solution to the customer. Otherwise, your business will not be repeatable or predictable.
If Vince Lombardi was in the promotional industry, I believe he would coach us to:
Surround ourselves with people of like mind that will challenge our “inners”
Identify partners that share common core values and vision
Not only out work our competition but outsmart them as well
The Boundless Difference
Winning is a top priority for Boundless. Our vision is to ensure our sales professionals have the strongest value proposition for their customers. In the last 4 months, the Company has won 8 of 9 RFPs. Equally impressive is that the professionals that have been with the company over the past 36 months have increased their business by 67%.
Furthermore, to ensure our partners continue to win, Boundless is investing in the next version of our technology platform which will be released in Q4/2012. By proactively investing in emerging technology, the Boundless platform will continue to resonate with evolving buyer needs.
The Last Challenge
If you are a promotional athlete and have a desire to take your game to another level, I challenge you to challenge Boundless. Evaluate if we have a shared vision with you, evaluate if we have the same core values… evaluate if our culture is something you buy into. We believe in winning and our top priority is to make our sales partners #1.
Culture for successful companies is the secret sauce that propels their business to greatness. My favorite company that I believe sets the tone for culture is Southwest Airlines. Herb Kelleher was awesome and says it like this:
“For those of us at Southwest Airlines, the link from Culture to financial health is apparent. When our Employees are happy, our Customers are happy. When our Customers are happy, our Shareholders are happy. It’s a philosophy we are dedicated to.”
Beyond SWA, the next generation of culture driven leaders are companies like Google, Facebook, and Zappos. Each has an emerging brand that celebrate people, innovation and continued education. They have adopted an entrepreneurial philosophy around a “work-hard, play-hard” mentality. And the results have been exceptional:
- Google – Ranked number 1 in Fortune Magazine’s 2012 “Best Companies to Work For”
- Zappos – Exceeded over $1 Billion in sales in less than a decade
- Facebook – over 800 million active users
At Boundless we have a “be boundless” culture that is the vital foundation for our success. Next week is Founder’s Circle, where our company comes to Austin to celebrate “Being Boundless.” Below is a video from last year’s event.. .and it was truly another cultural experience.
So my question, what is your business doing to enhance your culture? I’m interested in your feedback.
Honestly, what is your first reaction? Mine was “of course I don’t like Green Eggs and Ham that sounds repulsive.”
One of my kids’ books by Dr. Seuss taught me a powerful lesson that I would like to share with you. “Green Eggs and Ham” is a book about the impact of being close minded to new things. The story line of the book is about a main character trying to convince Sam to try green eggs and ham. Sam I Am, like many of us, continues to say no but the character, not satisfied with the answer, continues to persist in asking Sam because he has actually never tried green eggs and ham. So he might actually like them.
Many of us are just like Sam. We say “NO” emphatically without even knowing if we like something. The potential negative is that many of these new opportunities to learn something could turn out to be amazing and potentially change our lives.
For me, I believe that information is power. As it relates to the promotional product industry, I believe it is critical to be in continuous learning mode. Whether you’re educating yourself on a new product from an emerging supplier, evaluating your competitive advantages against your competition, or trying new technologies that may change the trajectory of your business (and improve your customer value), all of this is critical to your long term success.
So let me ask you in a different way: Would you consider trying Green Eggs and Ham?
Here are 3 reasons why I believe you should:
1. Life is short…”nothing ventured nothing gained”
More often than not, we let the fear of trying something new cripple our ability to take action. As a result, we “play it safe” worried about what “might happen” (but very seldom does). I would bet some of the greatest breakthroughs for people happen when they transition their mindset from being worried to one that thrives on the possibilities of new and better things. And just a reminder, carpe diem! Life is short.
2. Become an innovator vs. a follower and stretch your comfort zone
The leaders of tomorrow will come from the individuals that are comfortable with stretching their comfort zone (love innovation and consistently adopting new things). These individuals are in a continuous quest to seek out improvements that will impact their business within their respective market places. In our careers we will be presented with all types of new ideas, if we take the opportunity to learn these new ideas we will be more prepared to capitalize on the future. Contrarily, staying in our comfort zone over time will yield negative results. You’re either building your business or losing business… but not staying the same.
3. Expand your knowledge
Worst case – you will learn something new. If you find out it is not right for you, you can always stay “close to home” and play it safe. You’re an entrepreneur, thriving on new challenges is part of your DNA. If we wanted a safe career path, we would have worked for the government.
At the end of “Green Eggs and Ham” Sam tries it and realizes what he was missing out on – a truly unique and enriched experience. Boundless is the modern day “Green Eggs and Ham.” I encourage you to take a look and see what our offering holds for you, could be something worthwhile.
As a professional in the promotional products industry, your two greatest assets are your time and customer relationships. You make money from your customer relationships and your ability to effectively leverage your time determines the amount of money that you will make.
The Big Challenge:
The vast majority of all sales professionals eventually hit the proverbial “glass ceiling” – where they have run out of time and cannot take on any new clients. The productive professional may be able to make it to $1MM in sales (while running at mock speed)… but most hit the ceiling at around $500,000. The big challenge – how do your double your business without having to double your time (I refer to this as “Growing your Wedge”).
Meet Sam – Sam is a distributor with El Big Promo Company. He has been in the industry 10+ years and has some amazing customer relationships. Over the last 2 years, Sam has experienced some challenges within his business and recognizes that he needs to change his business model to evolve with his customers’ changing needs. The great thing about Sam is his relationships are at an executive level… they trust Sam with their brand. Currently Sam is selling $100K a year to his top customer but knows they buy a total of $700K from the pesky competition. Unfortunately, Sam’s distributor partner is just a “bank” … so Sam is left to his own resources to take his business to the next level and no competitive advantage.
In the promotional industry, we hear “Sam stories” every day, where a professional has the perfect relationship (a wedge) but does not have the business leverage to capitalize on both their time and customer opportunity (expand their wedge). If Sam is looking to grow and increase his sales without having to double his time, it will only happen by creating business leverage.
Our industry is in a state of flux. As a sales professional, the quicker you adapt to the shift the better you will be positioned to capitalize on this change vs. being a casualty of the change. Your customers are evaluating alternative strategies to buy promotional products… some will go online, others will seek an integrated platform… while some will continue to buy in a traditional manner. The real question is – Are you getting the most leverage from your business partners?
At Boundless, we love Sam!
Our commitment to Sam and our partners is our ongoing technology investment to ensure they remain competitively positioned for servicing their customer relationships. If you’re like Sam, looking to leverage technology and position yourself competitively with your customers, I encourage you to demo our patented technology platform. Click here – in 20 minutes, you may find the solutions that will expand the wedge in your business.
Carpe Diem! JB
Nothing materially new has changed… other than the velocity of change. This time the majority of change is from the buyer’s side of the supply-chain, your end customers.
Today’s buyers enjoy their flexibility and access to information. In the old days, if they wanted some pens, they would call their promotional guy “Bob”. Bob would bring over his catalogs and the buyer would place the order. The shift happening now is much different. Instead of calling Bob, they first go online to a search engine like Google or Bing and type in “pens”. Shazam – instant chaos.
Betty the buyer is amazed at her online search results; there are over 250,000 websites that carry all different types of pens. At the top of the list, she opens the links of Discount Pens, Quality Pens, Fast and Easy Pens where she sees 1,000’s of different options… Betty is smiling. After 30 minutes of clicking, Betty narrows her selection to 3 different options from Quality Pens.
Rather than buying the pens from Quality Pens, Betty copies the links to the web pages and forwards this to Bob for him to order these for her. The email reads something like the one below.
Bob – We need to order 2,500 pens. I found these online. Can you please send me a price? We need these in 2 weeks. Thanks Betty
You know how the story plays out. Bob does the order for 15% margin and is a little perturbed that he lost his entire margin to an online site that adds no value, has no creativity and blah blah blah. Being professional, Bob refrains from telling Betty to stick it and call Quality Pens as he has had a great working relationship for over 5 years.
This scenario above is playing out throughout distributorships around the country. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your model, this is a bit of the new norm. This is how you as a consumer buy airline tickets…however you no longer call your travel agent, you purchase everything online.
There is only one distributorship that can provide you with a business model to provide your buyer relationships with a “low cost/high touch solution” and I will let you guess which one it is.
To win, you have to be able to be both Wal-Mart when customers want to use technology and Nordstrom when they need creativity and thoughtful campaigns. The art is packaging this into one customer experience that maximizes your earnings.
Starting a promotional products distributorship is a huge rush—the creative products, the endless number of customer opportunities, the substantial earnings opportunity and the fun of building a rewarding business. In my more than 10 years as an entrepreneur, I’ve had my share of ups and downs. Some of what I’ve learned I share here to help guide you toward building a more sustainable, long-term business.
1. Build To Last
The key to the introductory phase is more about what you don’t do versus what you do. For the first 12 months, you are in full learning mode. Dive in and close as much business as humanly possible knowing that these will likely only be your clients for a short period of time because, ultimately, they are net-net. This type of business will quickly leave you frustrated and chasing your tail. Rule: Don’t do favors, even for your mother.
2. Build To Scale
Creating scale is a function of growing your business at an increasing rate over time. Without investment resources to either increase productivity or expand the customer base, scale becomes an ongoing challenge. You have two options:
Option 1—Position your business as a “Product Expert.”
As a product expert, your overall value proposition will continue to be commoditized as buyers move more online.
Option 2—Position your business as a “Marketing Expert.” Rather than being “most creative” or having great customer service, becoming a marketing expert is a valuable asset you can bring to the table; one the competition cannot compete against. Rule: Your vision, plan and strategy will determine your success.
3. Build To Profit
Building a profitable and rewarding business is a function of being passionate, knowing where you make the most money and knowing where and how to best leverage your skills and talents. Rule: Know your Hedgehog (identify what drives your passion, what drives your economic engine and where you can be No. 1.)
4. Build For Success
Like a child who is easily distracted by different shiny objects, many business owners run their business by reacting to their clients. Their efforts end up being highly diluted because they are managing multiple areas that are unprofitable or could be better serviced through outsourcing. Rule: Don’t go chasing the shiny objects.
The biggest challenge companies face in the Growth Phase of the business model is dealing with the constant range of issues that require more time and money. During this phase, get your running shoes on because it’s fast paced; you will learn a lot by trial and error, there will be many distractions; and your ability to execute (and stay focused) will define your level of long-term success.
1. Build To Last
So, you have a base of customers, which is a good thing. But in my opinion, this is also the easy part. The hard part is having the right customers. The 80/20 rule is nothing new to business; 80 percent of your business should come from 20 percent of your customers. ,i>Rule: Know your 80/20 rule (and stick to it).
Step 1— Define how many customers you want to service
Step 2 — Define the annual spend from each customer
Step 3 — Define the time and execution strategy to capture the spend
2. Build To Scale
To turn a 100-unit order to a 1,000-unit order, or better yet, a 10,000-unit order, you must have two assets in your arsenal:
1. The right type of customers (where purchasing power exists)
2. The right type of technology (where you can move beyond sweat equity)
We live in a technologically advanced world; take advantage of service providers and partners either in the industry or outside the industry to assist your business. Rule: Add another zero to each order.
3. Build To Profit
For starters, you have to know in grave detail how you make money on an hourly basis. Once you have this number, this should impact your decision-making process to increase the profitability of your business. I see more professionals dilute their time by not focusing on tasks that deliver the highest profit for their business. Rule: Pay yourself like a doctor, not a construction worker.
4. Build For Success
To establish long-term success in the promotional products industry, you have to build a business (with customers) that provides repeatable, predictable levels of spend allowing you to grow with a base from prior-year sales.
Here are four strategies to build a predictable, repeatable business:
1. Expand your offering to the executive level
2. Focus on business process vs. promotional products
3. Have a technology platform to “get sticky” with your customer
4. Report your ROI on a regular basis
The keys for surviving and thriving in the Mature phase revolve around extending your product lifecycle by adding more products and services that meet the needs of your customers. You do this by throwing out the old playbook and embracing the new.
1. Build To Last
Surviving the Mature phase requires company innovation at the customer level. You must add significant value to the end customer or you will lose to the competition. With more and more customer options (direct players) and younger buyers (20-somethings) entering the game, you have to adapt by leveraging technology to speak to these new consumers. Rule: Continue to innovate or risk extinction.
2. Build To Scale
Social marketing, social commerce and social networking are all new terms within the last five to 10 years. These innovations are completely revolutionizing the way business is done. Mature companies that face the highest risk of extinction tend to have a lack of resources or unwillingness to change. Rule: Redefine your customer offering.
3. Build To Profit
A top priority for any business is to drive a healthy profit. During the Mature phase, the profitability of the business will continue to be challenged as companies lower their selling margins as a defense strategy to maintain market share. There are opportunities for innovative companies to streamline poor processes and/or partner with companies to outsource processes that other entities can do more efficiently. Rule: Maximize business leverage across the entire supply chain.
4. Build For Success
At the Mature phase of a business model, it is even more important to get out and listen to what your customers and suppliers are saying about you, your industry and the competition. Have a goal to identify the market leaders, the new trends in the industry and the changes of the buying practices. Rule: The best ideas could be outside of your office.
The Decline phase of the business happens when management becomes complacent and fails to adapt to changes in the industry. Getting your business back in shape takes a good amount of effort, but more importantly, it takes a good amount of strategy.
1. Build To Last
By this stage in the promotional products game, you should have a clear understanding of what services earn you the most profit and which ones are actually costing you money. Rule: Rid yourself of all unprofitable business behavior.
2. Build To Scale
Almost every successful company has built its empire based on a flagship product or service—that one differentiator that launches the business and helps maintain brand loyalty throughout the life of the business. Having this kind of value allows you to stay in the mature phase longer, avoiding decline. Rule: Find your niche (and don’t go off the game board).
3. Build To Profit
In the Decline phase, it’s time to get tough and this means making tough decisions. Consider reducing costs by reducing marketing support and the number of services you offer while continuing to promote your existing, more proven services. Rule: Eliminate all services that don’t provide immediate revenue.
4. Build For Success
One strategy that could be implemented in the Decline stage is to increase the price of your best- selling service, but only if there is little to no competition. Your best bet is to find new uses and ways to reposition your service and reinvent your business. Rule: Add some new features, products and services to extend your value.
As you evaluate your business, take each of these four phases into consideration. How will you adapt to your environment and strategically gear up for the future? Listen to your customers and find ways to engage with them for the long term. If you do, you will be highly rewarded.
In life and in business there are several factors that separate those that win vs. “get by” vs. lose. In the promotional products industry, you can boil the list of reasons into a single word with three different scenarios.
The vast majority of people selling in the promotional products industry are not selling to their full potential. This article is meant not to criticize, but to inspire sales professionals to be authentic and inspect the strategic foundation to take their business to the next level. In a perfect world, a sales professional would be selling big orders on a high margin with great customers that are extremely loyal. This book of business would grow annually by 30-50% (regardless of the economy).
This is a great goal but for most it is completely unrealistic. In my opinion, very few professionals in the promotional products industry ever achieve this high-level of sales nirvana. The reason is simple; they have very little to no leverage within their business and take a reactive approach to managing their business.
Let’s look at 3 different points that all sales professionals should incorporate into their business:
1. Customer Leverage – If you are servicing a high diversity of clients with a broad subset of needs – you may still be writing business, but you’re creating very little leverage across your customers. To gain customer leverage, you must find an industry vertical where you can be the top in that space and be considered an expert in the field driving repeatable business that maximizes your domain expertise.
2. Selling Leverage – My skin crawls when I hear of a professional doing collections or calling on suppliers to check order status. As a sales professional you make the most money in front of customers, selling your products and services. Anytime spent on back office or administrative duties is negatively impacting your earnings. A simple formula to measure your selling leverage is identifying what your earnings/hour. Then go a step deeper and what you make per hour when you are selling. Start outsourcing everything lower than you get paid per hour.
“If you spend your time, worth $20-$25 per hour, doing something that someone else will do for $10 per hour, it’s simply a poor use of resources.” – Tim Ferriss, Author of The Four Hour Work Week.
3. Technology Leverage – In today’s economy the majority of professionals do not have any technology leverage. By technology leverage, I am specifically speaking about technology that gives you the ability service 3X the number of buyers, market to 10X the number of prospects and build a business that is more sustainable with the technology-savvy buyer demographics. My fear for most industry professionals, they position themselves to lose relevancy if they don’t incorporate technology leverage into their business. (Need proof – see the travel agent industry).
“In this new wave of technology, you can’t do it all yourself, you have to form alliances.” – Carlos Slim Helu, Wealthiest man in the world in – 2010
So my formula to grow by 300% over the next 24 months:
A professional should be seeking leverage in three areas of their business. Only embracing 1 or 2 will leave money on the table.
Happy selling… let me know your thoughts on other solutions you have found to create leverage within your business.