Let the Good Times Roll: Take Advantage of the Recovery TodayBy David Rhoads
I recently attended the National Equipment Finance Association (NEFA) conference in Scottsdale and was really impressed by the scope and value of the knowledge shared. One of my biggest takeaways is that through this recession most of the leasing companies that were bad for our business are now gone. So those of us who have weathered it will be able to get back to a more normal business level faster, and we are the companies that provide best value to our partners and lenders.
I’m confident it’s time to position ourselves to take advantage of the somewhat gradual but fairly steady recovery.
One of the financial experts I follow is Alan Beaulieu, president of the Institute for Trend Research (ITR). He recently marked his 20th successful year consulting with companies throughout the US, Europe and Japan on how to forecast, plan and increase profits based on business cycle trend analysis.
One problem many businesses will face, Beaulieu said recently, is being unprepared for the year-over-year growth that we’ll experience through at least the middle of 2013, when he thinks we may see a period of slower growth (but no recession). Many businesses, he noted, are reluctant to commit to actions they need to take now to prepare for growth. Sounds like a good problem to have!
Anyhow, Beaulieu suggests a number of smart things biz owners should do right now, but three struck me as very wise and require little or no money to carry out.
Focus on building a great company culture:
Our culture is by no means perfect and evolves every day. However, it is something I truly believe is the only competitive advantage that cannot be replicated. I don’t think any two company cultures could – or should – be exactly alike. It’s telling to me that all but a few of the employees we’ve had at Blue Street Capital who didn’t work out were not good fits for our culture.
We focus on how we can bring value to our vendors on each call, each meeting and each transaction. Our top priority is to find out how we can help, rather than how much we can charge. Here are some good work culture tips I see in our industry:
- Attitude. We hire for a positive attitude – we can train the rest. You can’t train someone with a poor attitude to have a good one. Life’s too short and business should be fun. If someone at our company has a poor attitude or negative outlook we believe they should go play on another team.
- Success leaves clues. We study industry leaders and determine the qualities that define their success. One of our primary partners has taught us over the years how to take a true consultative approach and dig deep to find the true needs of their vendor partners.
- Have fun. I recently heard of wiffle ball games a new partner of ours does every week. They are in Detroit, where it was 35 degrees. I’m in California at a balmy 72. We now have great weekly wiffle ball.
- We’ve used some outside consulting to help train individuals, and have been especially happy with Scott Wheeler of Wheeler Business Consulting LLC; he’s consistently done an excellent job, providing value and wisdom beyond more average trainers.
- The boss isn’t always right. I recently had a conflict with two of our top producers because I didn’t think they were working up to their full potential. Both suggested I was focused on what might be wrong and not seeing what they were doing right. Frankly, 95% of what they did was right and I was focusing on the 5%. They had some good points and we worked together on ways to further increase their success. They also reminded me of two of the most common sense practices in good business – always look for what’s right, and listen to your people. (BTW guys, you can work a little harder AND smarter!)
Use solid points, numbers when possible, to market your company:
Have you ever read copy for a leasing company that said they are slow and provide poor or mediocre service? If aliens (I like the “Men in Black” kind) tuned into our Leasing Planet they would definitely be under the impression that every leasing company on the globe provides top quality customer service and results from the flowery language many use. We make our business value case much more effectively with numbers, clearly demonstrating we merit bragging rights and ace the competition. Use quantifiable statements whenever possible, such as:
- A total number of leases funded in the industry or vertical you target. Our gross margin number would mean nothing to a reseller whose sales exceed $100 million. However, if we financed $100 million over the last five years it would add clout.
- Since we are in a recovery, comparing month over month or quarter over quarter from last year tends to produce positive numbers. Year over year or month over month may still be far from where we want to go, but the numbers are going up rather than down.
- Business satisfaction rates. If you aren’t doing some regular surveys regarding business partner feedback, it’s time to start. Sites like Survey Monkey make them so easy and inexpensive that there’s no excuse for not having feedback. They’re helpful not only with positive numbers to advertise, but also to alert you to possible problems and let you jump right on fixing any that pop up. Our relationships with vendors and funders are the basis of our success.
- Your response time to lease proposals, vendor program agreements and other vendor questions can’t be matched by the bigger players. Can you ensure that a deal will be done with one person, rather than several faceless departments? Use these kinds of points to show the value you add, and then drive them home with your work. I’m often shocked at how pleased a vendor is when we turn around a quote within a few minutes.
Hire and maintain a sales team and arm them with all the knowledge they can handle:
- Everyone in our business is part of our sales team! Make use of their talents.
- Much of what people need to learn in training doesn’t take place in a vacuum, which is what the first days on the job really are. We teach new employees a few basics and then let them accompany or observe their job being done so information makes sense to them when they get it. The good ones will retain that information. Those who don’t will move on.
- I agree with Beaulieu in saying “all the knowledge they can handle.” I know I often overwhelm myself. It’s easy to overwhelm new employees, or even seasoned veterans, with too much new information all at once. I try to break knowledge out into manageable segments.
- Most of our sales knowledge comes from our sales team. We’ve recently had each sales person bring a real issue (aka opportunity!) to each meeting. Each person has a chance to present, then we have questions and work on ideas and solutions if any are needed. Our staff members say they get a lot of value from this real-life approach. They bring more to the table for each other than I could ever give them.
As our business comes back to life, I wish all of our competitors “20 years of success” as one of mentor companies has painted up on their wall. Please feel free to contact me anytime. As I’ve learned throughout my business career and once again solidified at the NEFA Conference, transparency and sharing of knowledge at all levels in our business brings value everyone.