Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This article was originally published by Spiro’s CEO, Adam Honig, as a guest editorial on AudioXpress.
Spiro.AI combines automated CRM capabilities, sales enablement, analytics, and integrated voice-over-IP all into one powerful platform, driven by an AI Engine which makes proactive recommendations to decision makers in real-time.
I’ve always believed in differentiation and have been in tech for my entire career. I started in sales and then went on to be a consultant for different sales teams, finding ways to make them better. I went on to start three companies, one of them becoming one of the largest salesforce consultancies in the world focused on helping companies get the most out of customer relationship management (CRM). You know that terrible system that no one likes because of all of the manual work required to use it? However, even IT never “solved” the problem.
Before I started Spiro, I went to see the movie “Her” where Joaquin Phoenix, in the future, downloads a new version of his phone’s software, which is played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson. In the movie, Johansson is a computerized bot that gives the main character advice and helps him navigate the world more intelligently.
That movie changed my life. I thought to myself: salespeople don’t need CRM. Salespeople need Scarlett Johansson telling them what to do – through artificial intelligence!
Determined to make life better for sales teams, the Spiro.AI team got really excited at the idea of solving this problem of companies spending millions of dollars on CRM projects that were doomed. We built a broad platform from the ground up on AI, committed to the mission of killing CRM, and proactive relationship management was born. So many of our customers are experiencing the benefits of how Spiro.AI enables them to reach their differentiation, customer expectation, and personalization goals.
Spiro Fulfillment: Spiro helps teams go beyond sales and tracks the status of orders all the way through fulfillment. The power of Spiro’s platform is the proactive recommendations prompting users to take action, like alerting a customer to a fulfillment delay or reaching out about a missed order.
A great example of differentiation and personalization comes from our Spiro.AI customer, Pioneer Music, and its business model. Pioneer Music Company is a Midwest regional wholesaler that sells in Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska. The company has been in business for 150 years and prides itself in having products that have evolved, but a sales and service process that has not.
Pioneer Music sells high-end electronics from such companies as Samsung, Sony, and Yamaha as well as from QSC, LEA, Shure, Klipsch, Parasound, and Sonos. Their electronics are going into home theaters and in office buildings but are also used in commercial installations. Pioneer Music doesn’t supply the big box stores, but instead has an established network of custom integrators, who design and install the systems in a conference room or a house.
For Pioneer Music, local connections matter, and it proudly touts that face-to-face and handshakes is how it’s operated for six generations. Although it has some very long-standing relationships, it also has a number of new customers.
One way it is standing apart with its customers is by opening new locations. Pioneer Music was challenged by the Amazon effect, since as a retailer, Amazon has impacted its wholesale business. When Amazon offered two-day shipping, Pioneer realized it needed to be same day by opening pickup locations at its four warehouses as well as at all its major markets. By opening new locations – the most recent being in Minneapolis, MN, and Chicago, IL – it’s also seen an increase in its customer base.
Pioneer Music is the Midwest’s most recognized name in audio and video electronics.
Another way Pioneer Music is building customer confidence and personalizing their experiences is through its inventory portal on its website. Customers can buy online from its comprehensive website of more than 15,000 products but have grown to expect that when they need a person to assist with a purchase, the Pioneer Music team is there. Customers then can select their warehouse of choice and either pick up or have their equipment delivered.
Pioneer is also accepting orders through most other types of communication – it takes orders by phone, texting, and even fax! Pioneer jokes that if someone sent smoke signals, it would find a way to turn it into a sale too!
I know how important relationships are and so does Pioneer Music. The company knows its own customers better than anyone else and provides personalized service through its dedicated team of sales professionals who manage a fairly large territory, all thanks to Spiro’s AI-driven sales platform. Its team can place orders for customers on the spot without any long lead times and has an experienced support team on hand.
Pioneer Music has demonstrated that along with implementing technology and using a vast service knowledge to grow its business, it is able to set itself apart. By using Spiro, Pioneer adds value back to the people who are using it and ensure customer satisfaction.
The post How Pioneer Music Differentiates and Personalizes Customer Experiences appeared first on Spiro.
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/resources/case-study/how-pioneer-music-differentiates-and-personalizes-customer-experiences/
Adam Honig: Hello and welcome to Make it. Move it. Sell It. On this podcast, I talk with company leaders about how they’re modernizing the business of making, moving, and selling products, and of course, having fun along the way. I’m your host, Adam Honig, the CEO of Spiro.ai. We make amazing AI software for companies in the supply chain, but we’re not talking about that today. Instead, today we’re talking with Chris Piper, the president and CEO of Grandstand, likely the best provider of branding and product solutions for the craft beverage business and beyond. Welcome to the show, Chris.
Chris Piper: Thanks Adam, glad to be here.
Adam Honig: Yeah, exciting to have you here. Maybe we can start with the making part of things, tell us a little bit about what you guys make.
Chris Piper: We’re a printer actually. We print glassware apparel and then we sell a lot of promotional items as well. Started out as a screen printer in apparel and quickly moved into containers, which eventually led to glassware, which eventually led to the brewery industry. And it’s been a great market for us to focus and capitalize on, and we’ve been lucky with fantastic growth over the years in a great market. Of course, everybody knows what craft beer is now, back in the early nineties they didn’t. So we’ve been fortunate with that growth as well.
Adam Honig: And why do craft breweries need their own special things?
Chris Piper: It’s interesting, Adam, when you take a look at craft breweries, are they a restaurant or are they a brewery? And most of them kind of straddle the line for both. So branding is really important I think, for craft beer because branding of course, is important with a lot of companies, but restaurants don’t focus on it as much sometimes. We have some great restaurant accounts, don’t get me wrong, but there’s fewer restaurants that capitalize on branding than breweries. And breweries wanna drive that culture, they wanna drive that brand, they wanna drive people to understand that they exist and why they exist. A lot of catchy names and a great market for us because we did both apparel and glassware, and they need both. And so glassware was kind of an entry vehicle for us in the market because there’s not that much competition in glass. When it comes to screen printing, it’s a very specific type of decoration method. Whereas apparel, you probably know three or four people that do apparel, right? Or know somebody who knows somebody, or there’s a place down the block because apparel is a lot easier to do. So you really have to develop that relationship, I think, first, and that expertise. And that’s what we’ve tried to do with both the glassware and apparel side.
Adam Honig: Yeah, it’s interesting when you said you’re in the printing business, I don’t think of printing on glass. You know, I think that’s just something different. I don’t know.
Chris Piper: Well, most people think the printing business is paper stock, which it is, it’s another type of method. Glassware kind of straddles print stock, paper stock versus apparel because of the technologies. And the technology in glassware is all about how you get the item itself to the print method. Because apparel is flat on a board, screen printed glassware is round, it’s tapered, there’s different shapes, different sizes, and that’s a very difficult thing to do with screen-printing. And then you add the new component, which everybody obviously knows and talks about now, is digital. So no question, you do digital on paper, well digital’s just now coming to the point that it’s on apparel, and that’s because graininess of the fabric doesn’t hold the dots of digital as well. And then you throw in glassware and now the glass is able to hold the digital, but how do you get the print onto the glass because of the shape and the taper? So we were one of the first companies in the US that in our market, to focus on digital. And really, it’s a means of driving the glass to the decoration method, but the results are phenomenal. I mean, you can do anything in digital, anything that you can see in your mind, you can see on your computer screen, you’re gonna be able to do on digital glass. But there are still issues with how that adheres to the glass and things along that line. So more technology in it and more nuances than people think in screen printing. It’s not that tough of a world, but when you add all the variables up, it gets pretty exciting.
Adam Honig: Gotcha. Tell me what’s an example of something that’s digital on a glass that I wouldn’t expect? Like a picture, is that what we’re talking about?
Chris Piper: You could do a picture, I was just looking on my desk one year thinking about people sending in their Christmas cards and having it decorated on a glass. And I did that with a postcard of my kids, so you could do something like that. But when you start talking about digital to glass, you can’t just take a photograph and immediately go to the glass. You have to color-correct it. And so there becomes these scale issues when you deal with that. So we generally will run larger runs on digital because you do the color correction and now you have some capacity to run on it, but a big market in digital right now is retail. And retail glassware boomed during COVID because everybody’s home, they’re buying home decor, candles, things along that line. And so digital’s a great medium for that market because you can take anything, anything that you can draw and illustrations are kind of the best thing for digital because now you’re not dealing with the photography components of something, but you do an illustration and you can put that on a glass. One of our big customers is an artist who does different types of trout, the rainbow, brown, brookie, and they sell the glasses. She takes her artistic renderings, and then we transfer that to digital, put that on a glass, and she sells that to Orbis. You’re able to take an artistic component and be able to get it on digital and then get it on glass. Whereas if you had to do that spot color, you could never do it.
Adam Honig: So you started off in more of a traditional print business and sort of evolved over time to be different mediums, different technologies. What do you see coming up next?
Chris Piper: Good question. I think the push for digital will continue in the market because one of the toughest things about screen printing is the screen itself. What’s a big cost component in what you’re doing? You have to shoot a screen for each color. It’s very time-consuming. Then you have to make sure that all these colors are lined up. So digital, you bypass that, you don’t have to have film, you go straight to the press. You have this artwork stored on the press, so you don’t have all these other cost inputs in. And then scale doesn’t matter as much as digital because you can print one piece in the same amount of time as you could print 50 times that one piece, so you don’t have that setup. In our world, setup time is a big cost driver. Somebody orders 48 t-shirts, it takes the same amount of time to set up that 48 t-shirts as if I were to run at a hundred thousand pieces. So digital is something that will continue because digital right now in our business and apparel and glass is really at the infancy of how you get the decoration to the medium and how the medium holds it because of wash, wear, those types of things. So digital will be the driver for the next 15, 20 years in our market, I think, as far as what it can do now.
The exciting thing though, Adam, about that, is if we have a new machine coming, and again, it will be the first of its kind in the US, that will now add a third layer to it, which is a third dimension, which is height. So we’ll be able to digitally print on a glass and it can be raised. So let’s say you have a mountain scene and you want to have these mountains pop out on the glass, we could digitally enhance that so that there’s actually a texture on the glass. So think of an embossed glass where you go and you feel that texture on the glass, we could print that digitally. We could make it look embossed and clear, or we could print that with colors or rainbow of colors, whatever. So we think this is gonna be a huge driver that really adds that value to the glass, where you’ve got this texture on the glass that you feel. Which traditionally in the past has always been through a mold, which traditionally means hundreds of thousands of pieces, but now you can do it at 48 pieces, you can do it at 144 pieces. So we’re excited about that technology and it’ll be here 1st of January for us.
Adam Honig: It sounds really exciting. I’m kind of getting this idea in my mind that craft breweries, you know, competing with people like Budweiser or other big brewers, like they have to differentiate, they have to have a different strategy. And so this is all the ways of doing that. And by having lower requirements for the number of pieces that they need to order, it can just really explode the creativity for them.
Chris Piper: Absolutely. And if you’re a craft brew person, you know that creativity is at the forefront of what they do, right? I mean, who would’ve thought 15, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, that craft brew in America would supplant European beer? And it’s because the Europeans do it one way and one way always. They have this one way and Americans are out there throwing cucumbers in it, rutabaga, whatever, and making a beer out of it. So creativity is a huge aspect of this business. The craft brew market is fantastic for us. We’re excited as well, expanding our reach and coming outside of the craft brew as our company continues to grow. But craft brew will always be at the roots of who we are and what we’ve done.
Adam Honig: Well I know by talking to a lot of manufacturers, there’s often kind of unusual projects that sometimes get made at the request of customers or potentially new customers. Do you have any out-of-the-box applications that you guys have been asked for recently?
Chris Piper: Other than the digital, really nothing that’s crazy right now. We have a technology that our partner in Germany enhanced, rastal glassware as a provider out of Europe, that we have a German line of glassware. It’s called Smart Glass. And what it is, if you’ve seen the wine bottle that you can run your phone over, right? And I think it’s the three criminals or something like that, I can’t remember. Anyway, this has a chip embedded in the decoration and what that can do is it can take you immediately to a website. You don’t have to click on anything, you just hover over it and it pops it up. And the smart technology, we think is something that we’ve gotta continue to refine how it gets on onto a glass. But what it can do is enhance loyalty programs, and it can enhance automatic feedback. And they have technology where they have it in coasters where it will measure the weight of your glass and tell the barkeep that hey, you need another refill. Or in my case, three or four more refills.
Adam Honig: Well, can it say if you’ve had too many? Like Chris, I’m sorry, we’re gonna have to cut you off here.
Chris Piper: Your phone shows a stop sign is what happens, but that’s an exciting technology that we’re interested in. But the biggest driver for us right now, Adam, is really our website and our technology. We spend quite a bit of time on enhancing our website, really driving it to what we think is the forefront specifically for glass. Glass is a very tough item, with all the different variables, but our website can handle all that, and can tell the customer all the different things that they can do. We tied that with a proprietary software system in-house as far as our manufacturing. And then utilizing the Spiro CRM connected with that as well. We’re really excited about the possibilities that we have to be able to scale to our customer, stay in contact with the customer, get immediate feedback from the customer by tying all those technologies together. So we’re excited about the customer experience that we can provide.
Adam Honig: So when you think about the website project that you just went through, was the goal to make it easier to place orders or to provide a bigger selection? Or what was the big goal that you were trying to achieve?
Chris Piper: Yes, yes and yes. Taking an order, number one, and bringing it into the system and being able to massage it. Because it’s not like you’re calling up your order in a pair of black shoes, you’re ordering a pair of shoes that could be two or three different colors, how you decorate it, all these different variables that go into it. So yes, providing our customer with all the possibilities that they could do was number one. Because it’s 1500 different SKUs, embellishment types across the board, we do nucleation on glassware, which is a laser engraving in the bottom of the glass, which releases the CO2 and the beer basically keeps it fresh. And you can do different designs and types of things like that in the bottom of the glass. All those things that we can add to the customer, the finishing services, the add-ons, the rolling banding on a t-shirt. So the shirt comes to them and it’s in the position that they can put it on the shelf and they don’t have to fold it or anything like that. All these different types of things. Providing that information to the customer was first and foremost in our mind. We’ve gotta be able to tell them what we can do because you don’t wanna have a customer you’ve been working with for eight years and they say oh, you do t-shirts too, you want them to know that within the first five minutes. So that’s been a big part of what our website is able to do.
Then to open up other channels for us, other markets as well. Distillery market is something that we’ve moved into pretty heavy. Craft beverage is kind of what we group it under. Your coffee houses, your local artisanal situations in the coffee, soda, kombucha, distillery, those are primary markets that we’re focused on as well as corporate. But you’ve gotta be able to show the customer what they can buy. But more specifically, you have to give them a journey. I can’t go into a store and buy something without my wife picking it out for me because there are too many selections, right? I don’t know what looks good and she has style, I don’t, that’s the reason. But we want our website to be able to give a customer a journey of you come into your startup brewery, you have delivered items that we know that startups love. You come back six months later, now you’re moving on, here’s some other items that we can do. So in different markets we wanna show the distiller different products in the brewer. So that’s a big part of the technology on our website as well.
Adam Honig: So I know a lot of people feel like they’re competing indirectly with Amazon all the time, right? Because they’re out there with so many products and they set expectations about the way that e-commerce should be, but it seems like in your market, you need to take in a lot more detail than what they’re doing at Amazon. Because you’ve got all these different options, different finishes, different digital files people can upload, I mean it’s an order of degree more complicated than what I think that they’re dealing with.
Chris Piper: Yeah, very. And I had friends of mine, they’d ask me what I’m doing and each year I’d say working on our website and they’re like, how can it take that long? And it’s because of all the variables that went into it. You’re right, every item that we have can take different types of decoration depending on what your decoration is, depending on the number of colors, depending on the locations on the glass, the apparel, the promotional items, all those things. There’s so many things that go into that, that it’s tough for us to be able to tell the customer everything they need to know because we don’t want somebody to give us something and we say oh, that looks terrible. And then when the customer gets it, they say oh, that looks terrible. We wanna say hey, here’s what we like to do to help this look better. So the problem with that, is that everybody has these expectations delivered by Amazon who says oh, you don’t like it, send it back. Well you can’t send back something that’s custom. What am I gonna do with it?
Adam Honig: What am I gonna do with all these glasses that say Honig’s Brewery, right?
Chris Piper: And they don’t want me to sell them because they’re not selling them, right? So something we battle with daily is the expectations. And I love having high expectations. We have high expectations for ourselves, but trying to help the customer get exactly what they want without taking up too much of their time. Because the other side of it is the customer doesn’t wanna talk to you, with Amazon you can just do it all digitally, right? A lot of what we do though requires some kind of conversation and there’s a real trick and a fine line there trying to walk that expectation that you’re able to deliver it to them in an efficient manner that you didn’t have to charge them so much because of all your time involved as well, because they don’t wanna pay that either. They’re used to paying the lowest price on Amazon. So yeah, there’s a lot of battles there, we meet weekly on it. Okay, what happened here? What can we change here? How’s the process we can do differently here? What kind of information can we provide to the customer so they can make a better-qualified decision?
Adam Honig: I think this is a really important point, Chris. I think that a lot of people, when they look at how do we set up our go-to-market, whether it’s the website or through a sales team or what have you, they tend to look at it as sort of a static thing. And I like hearing that you guys are constantly kind of thinking about that and refining it, especially as things change.
Chris Piper: We utilize a program as well on the site to watch journeys. And if we see somebody getting hung up in a specific spot, we’ll spend some time and try to analyze what was it that caused that issue. One of the things we found out right out of the gates once we launched our site, we called our digital print full color because that’s full color. And the customer thought that they could click full color and then select the colors that they wanted. And so we’ve had to change that terminology to digital, hoping that the customer understands that digital means that it’s all the colors in the spectrum. So watching those journeys, and you know, a lot of times it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other, right? And you just gotta find what fits the best. But I could drive myself crazy on the weekends sitting there drinking a glass of scotch, watching customer journeys and just go like man, I could be here for another six hours. So I try to limit myself to a few hours on the weekend for that.
Adam Honig: Just between like three and four o’clock in the afternoon maybe, let’s say. But grabbing or understanding what the customer really wants is a challenge that almost everybody deals with, right? And in your instance, you are now generating good data about that because you can literally see how they’re approaching the problem. You also have an account management team too, so it’s not all just e-commerce. How does that fit together with the website?
Chris Piper: We wanna speak to the customer. In the early stages of building our website, I found out a few months in that the developer thought that we didn’t want to speak to the website, they’re like how do we make it so you never have to talk? I said, no, we wanna talk to our customer, we wanna build that relationship. And some customers don’t wanna do that, they wanna have a digital only, but we want to have that relationship with the customer so that we can help them. Because there are so many items that we sell and rarely do we run into somebody who’s a merchandiser that has that experience to know what to look for. So we wanna be able to talk to the customer, have that relationship, identify opportunities that maybe we’re not gonna deal with now, but we know that they’re down the road. And utilize the CRM tools to be able to give ourselves those reminders to be able to give ourselves those drip campaigns to provide that customer further information along that line.
So the relationship side of it is critical, we think. We do not want to be just a digital house, we wanna be somebody who’s speaking to our customer, having conversations, understanding their business, understanding what their weak points are so that we can find a way to help them through that. Our mission statement here is driving success through people and innovation. And we didn’t say our success, we wanna drive customer success as well as our success because we know for us to succeed, the customer has to succeed. So we don’t wanna just keep feeding them something that’s not profitable for them. We wanna be able to make sure that they’re getting value out of it because then they’re gonna stay with us and then we’re gonna be successful as well. So that relationship side of it’s a huge thing for us.
Adam Honig: Right. And if they were just only digitally interacting with the firm, then it would be a lot harder to maintain that and establish the value that you put.
Chris Piper: Right, they have no loyalty. If you’re just a digital customer, you’re gonna bounce around. Why do you go to Amazon if you can buy it directly from the other supplier’s site? Well usually because now Amazon’s made it so darn easy to do that. And look, on the apparel side, anybody’s gonna sell a t-shirt for whatever you’ll buy it for. I mean, most of the apparel industry doesn’t understand their cost, so they’ll undercut you all the time. So we have to do it through relationships, we have to do it through value, we have to do it through trust and at the end of the day hope that those are the things that keep somebody coming back to us.
Adam Honig: Just listening to the way you’re talking about it, you know, having that relationship, I mean the customers really value it as well. I mean they’re essentially in business because of their mission. If you’re supporting their mission, that comes through to them.
Chris Piper: One of the interesting things, the feedback that I get from our salespeople talking to the customers is how important it is for the customer to know who their account manager is. And that gets a little tough when you have 10,000 customers, you don’t have 10,000 account salespeople, but they wanna know that one person that they can go and talk to. So that tells me on one side of it that we’re succeeding by driving that relationship. Then what comes to us is how do you manage that? How do you manage that from a scale standpoint and how do you make sure that the customer is getting that interaction that they want? They don’t want just a faceless, nameless, they want to know who they’re talking to. So that’s a tough aspect of our business and one quite frankly that we’re still trying to work our way through.
Adam Honig: Yeah, well from my casual observation, it sounds like you guys are definitely making progress and certainly compared to the organizations that I deal with, you have a much better relationship with your customers than most.
Chris Piper: It’s always an ongoing thing.
Adam Honig: Can’t get too happy about it. Let’s shift gears for a minute though because we’re coming into the beginning of a planning cycle for next year. Actually, where we are in the year it’s a little bit into the planning cycle. A lot of companies I’ve been talking to have really been challenged to figure out how to make a plan for next year given everything that’s been going on in the supply chain, whether it’s been disruptions or interest rates or inflation. What do you think about that kind of challenge?
Chris Piper: Interestingly enough, my COO and I were just having lunch talking about the same thing. How do you plan? For us, the first quarter is always a down quarter anyway, just because of the nature of the craft beer business and then other markets that we’re involved in as well. And so how do you plan for it? And then you take a look at the economic pressures that are going on as well right now, the energy issues we’ll be having in the winter, inflationary dollars, all those things. It’s quite frankly something that we have been talking about for months now, trying to get ready for the first quarter and we really haven’t figured out exactly where we have to be. I mean, you literally have no idea what it’s gonna look like. Now the problem for us too, Adam, is coming out of COVID, the whole world’s been turned upside down anyway. There’s no way at the beginning of 21 that I would’ve thought that the latter half of 21 would’ve been our busiest time in five years. Then in October of 21 told you that January through March of 22 would’ve been almost a 50% drop in business. And how much of that’s related to the omicron variant and how much of that’s related to everybody coming back and buying everything they could because there was no supply and because they were shut down. And so where do you go right now?
I think that our overall theme is to try to be as prudent as possible. Make sure our people are in the position to be taken care of in the best manner possible. And if we get in a situation where we’re under capacity or over capacity, I mean we don’t have enough ability to produce so be it. Because I think we’re gonna take a pretty non gambling approach to 23 and really focus on our core and focus on our technology. It doesn’t come at a terrible time for us right now because we’re starting a whole lot of new programs based on the new website and the customer journey and all that. But I’ve been in business for 34 years, I’ve never had a time period where I just couldn’t tell you, I just cannot tell you what 2023 is gonna be like.
Adam Honig: Yeah, it’s really gonna be interesting on one sense and complicated on the other. I remember in 2008, the business I was running at the time, we took a similar strategy. We said well, we’re not gonna maximize the upside, but we’re gonna minimize the downside. That was the strategy that we took.
Chris Piper: And I think that you have to right now because there’s so many variables in play that you don’t have control over. And that’s why I got into business for myself because I wanted to be in control, you know, I wanted to have my destiny a little bit. And right now it’s like you have no idea what’s gonna happen. But we want to take care of our people, we want to take care of our customers, we want to be in a position where we can do it and not be in a high-risk situation. I think that’s how we’ll move forward.
Adam Honig: Yeah, you remind me of something that my friends always say to me. They were like, well you’re the CEO, you can do whatever you want. And I’m like no, that’s not at all the way this works. We got customers, we got employees, we’ve got Cheryl, like other people.
Chris Piper: Well you can take off, Adam. If you want to leave from three to five, you can do that just as long as you’re willing to work from 12 to three in the morning and make that up. That’s how that deal works. You got all the control in the world you want.
Adam Honig: I can get whatever kind of coffee I want. There’s no question about that, yes.
Chris Piper: Exactly.
Adam Honig: Well Chris, this has been super interesting. I really appreciate your coming on the podcast. It’s really interesting to hear about going from printing to these more technologically advanced areas, glassware, the different ways that you’re approaching that, and getting your perspective on this website. I mean you call it a website project, but it’s really like a customer engagement process, right? And how you guys are kind of battling the Amazon effect, if you will, by really allowing people to get specific with what they need. I don’t recommend it at home, but for other leaders who are willing to dive into the data and understand the journey of the customer, that can be so powerful. We do that all the time in our product, but it’s great to hear you’re doing that as well. Yeah, I really wish the best for you in the new year. I think we’re all kind of watching and waiting a little bit, so hopefully everything will come together for us this year. But I really appreciate you joining us, Chris. And for those of you who are at home thinking where can I find more episodes of the Make it. Move it. Sell it. podcast, well you can find them at Spiro.ai/podcast, of course on Spotify or Amazon podcast or wherever you get your podcast. And why don’t you subscribe and if you think the conversation that Chris and I was having maybe was pretty good, give us a like or a thumbs up or something like that. I don’t know, Chris, you think they should do that?
Chris Piper: Absolutely, that was a lot of fun. I appreciate you having me on, Adam.
Adam Honig: It’s been great, really appreciate it. And thanks to everybody for listening, we look forward to talking to you at the next episode!
The post Episode 17: How Digital Solutions Transform Operations and Customer Experience with Chris Piper of Grandstand appeared first on Spiro.
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/podcast/episode-17-how-digital-solutions-transform-operations-and-customer-experience-with-chris-piper-of-grandstand/
Adam Honig: Hello and welcome to Make it. Move it. Sell it. On this podcast, I talk with company leaders about how they’re modernizing the business of making, moving, and selling products, and of course, having fun along the way. I’m your host, Adam Honig, the CEO of Spiro.ai. We make amazing AI software for companies in the supply chain, but we are not talking about that today. Instead, today we’re talking with Steve Kingeter, the CEO of VC999, probably the best manufacturer of vacuum packaging machines in the world. Welcome to the show, Steve.
Steve Kingeter: Thank you for having me, and thank you for the generous introduction.
Adam Honig: Of course. Let’s just kind of jump into VC999. There are not many companies that have three numbers like that in their name. Why three nines?
Steve Kingeter: Well, this goes back to the beginning of the company. We are a Swiss-owned company, and the founders were looking for a unique name at the time, and VC stands for vacuum compression, 99.9%. So there is a reason behind the sometimes confusing name, but it’s something we’re very proud of and it’s something that we still adhere to to this day.
Adam Honig: So it’s all about being able to achieve that level of perfection and packaging, I guess.
Steve Kingeter: Yes, absolutely. 51 years ago when the company was founded, that was quite an achievement. And to this day, it’s still something that we live to do every day and all machines can achieve that number so we’re very proud of that.
Adam Honig: And so when I think about getting to 99.9% vacuum suction in packaging, this application is really for food and things that can go bad with air. Is that correct?
Steve Kingeter: That’s correct. Our primary applications are center of the plate proteins. And by that I mean meats, fishes and cheeses are very common, although this type of technology has a very wide spectrum of applications. There’s medical applications, there’s industrial applications, and so we have customers in a wide range of fields that rely on our machines every day. And so we’re quite proud of the diversity that we bring to the marketplace.
Adam Honig: Now tell us a little bit about these machines, are they desktop size, are they room size? How big are they?
Steve Kingeter: No, all of our machines are industrial capacity. We have machines that are entry-level machines where customers transition from one type of packaging to our type of packaging. They’re bringing a new product to market, and they wanna get into their grocery stores and their distribution outlets. And they want a package that mirrors what the competitors are doing. And so we can provide that to them at a reasonable entry point. Those machines tend to be anywhere between 10 and 13 feet long. And then we have the other side of the spectrum where we’re doing industrial applications for large beef applications and also sandwich applications that are putting out 55 million sandwiches a year on three of our machines so that it can be a vast number. A lot of the machines are operated a few hours a day depending on their needs and some of the machines are operated 24 hours a day every day.
Adam Honig: So is this like when I’m at the airport and I don’t have time to get a custom-made sandwich, I can just get one off the shelf and it’s all kind of wrapped up in plastic? Is that the kind of output?
Steve Kingeter: Absolutely, it can be. Ready-to-eat applications is one of our fastest-growing segments because more and more consumers demand convenience. Their lifestyle isn’t such where they’re cooking at home and time is of the essence. So we have a lot of customers that are using our machines to make ready-to-eat on-the-go packages for their customers. Think of it in the old days when you would go and get the bologna off the shelf and you take it home and open up, make a sandwich. Our machines make that package. And all of our machines, no matter what size, no matter what applications, are custom made and custom designed to that particular customer’s needs. So there is no off-the-shelf product for us, we have a pretty extensive engineering team where we can design the machine to fit the exact specifications of our customers, and there are no two machines that are alike. And so we thrive on that diversity and our ability to adapt to our ever-changing customers’ expectations.
Adam Honig: Gotcha, that’s awesome. Now I’m kind of hearing a little bit of something in the background. Is your office here based right next to the factory and stuff like that?
Steve Kingeter: Our headquarter is in Kansas City where we build our machines. And literally about five feet outside of this door is a lot of activity with forklifts, C&Cs, lathes and cutting metal and so there’s a lot going on. So as long as nobody crashes through the door, it shouldn’t be too bad, but you may hear some background noise and for that, I apologize.
Adam Honig: Well, that would be a really exciting podcast, I think if we actually did have somebody crashing through the door. So maybe we’ll see if we could kind of get that on later.
Steve Kingeter: Yeah, we could probably arrange that or it might just happen organically. You never know.
Adam Honig: You know, if we did that, then people would accuse us of layering those sounds later in post-production. I’m sure they’d be like oh, that’s a fake forklift sound, you know?
Steve Kingeter: Yeah, I think the authenticity would probably be determined by the volume of my screen if something came running through the door.
Adam Honig: I hear you on that. So you mentioned the business has been around for 50 plus years, what would you ascribe to the success? What’s the secret of that?
Steve Kingeter: I think the long-term secret is a willingness to adapt to an understanding that change is the only constant and it doesn’t really matter what you did yesterday, it only matters what you can do tomorrow. I think at VC999, we don’t rest on our laurels and our past successes. We’re always looking for the next turn of events that will make sure that we continue that position with our customers of relevancy. We strive to be relevant as the market changes, as our customers change, and as their expectations change. So that through relevancy, we know that we have a forward-looking angle that we’re gonna maintain in business, continue our financial strength, and still look for ways to grow our top line and our bottom line.
Adam Honig: That makes a lot of sense. So what I’m hearing is that really understanding the customer and trying to see when things are changing for them and how you can continue to support them, is that a big part of it?
Steve Kingeter: It’s both being current with the customer, understanding their expectations, but also looking at the market ourselves and kind of forecasting our product development needs and what our machine abilities are, and what’s coming in the future. So it’s a balance of information because we have vendors and suppliers that come to us and say hey, we have these innovations that we can incorporate into your machines. And then understanding where those incorporations of new and cutting-edge technology can be beneficial to our customers. Will they see a value and will they in turn be willing to pay for that value? It’s one thing to have that value, but unless you can convince them to pay for that value, it’s just nothing but a talking point. And so that’s the balance we always try to maintain because these machines continue to be able to do more and more and more, but they also continue to cost more and more and more. And you need to make sure that they return the investment that our customers expect over a reasonable timeframe. And we always try to understand their perspective and make sure we’re maximizing the value that our customers are paying for and the technology that we offer them.
Adam Honig: Now do you have a standard process for trying to collect that insight from customers? Like we do a lot of face-to-face meetings, we do a lot of surveying of customers, so what approach do you take to stay current with that?
Steve Kingeter: The process is constant, and by that I mean everybody throughout the organization, all the way from myself, our sales team, our engineering people, our service technicians, we try to be in front of the customer as much as possible. And so from that we get to understand the problems from their perspective, the challenges that they face every day. And then you incorporate that by going out to trade shows, discussing with suppliers, vendors, and having an open eye and an open mind to what is developing out there. And then trying to mesh the two. You know, we have a lot of suppliers that come up with new ideas, and some of them are relevant and some are not. And we try to look at those openly and understand, does it help the machine’s performance? Does it help the machine’s durability? What other ways can it provide value to the customer? Is it speed? Is it uptime? So that we can then craft an argument that does a couple things. One, it keeps us a step ahead of our competition because we have a lot of respect for the other people in this world that do what we do. And then also so we can articulate and evaluate these benefits and features in front of our customers so that we can really make it pertinent to what they do every day and make sure they understand that.
Adam Honig: Yeah, that makes perfect sense to me. I mean, it’s super interesting the idea of also taking feedback from your suppliers, right? When we think about manufacturing, often we think about well we’re gonna get a bunch of metal and we’re gonna just form it all the way through to the end product or whatever. But in your case, of course, there’s many different components that go into the machine, so you’ll get ideas from the suppliers. Is there something that comes to mind, or a good idea that came up?
Steve Kingeter: Well, there’s literally thousands of parts on our machines, which means we deal with, in many cases, dozens of different suppliers. So all those suppliers have their own internal product development apparatus that they’re going through. So they’re introducing new innovations to their products, and then those innovations come to us, and then we pick and choose which one we wanna incorporate. And sometimes they ask us for feedback just like we ask our customers. And of course, as usual, we have different strengths and weaknesses with our suppliers, and we wanna make sure that we incorporate them and really give them accurate feedback on what works and what doesn’t. And so they understand what our needs are. And so that type of dialogue is not just price driven, it’s an entire package holistic that they bring to the table so that we can pick and choose what’s best for us, put it into our machines, and then we go and have that same type of dialogue with our customers farther down the line. And so it’s very similar, it’s just on a smaller scale. And for us, it’s about making sure that the thousands of components that go into our machines work in harmony so that we can produce the end package that the customer wants at the end of the day.
Adam Honig: Gotcha. You know, just from my own casual observation of packaging as a consumer, I feel like the marketing aspect of it has really become a lot bigger. So are you seeing a lot of innovations and sort of the printing and branding that goes along with this?
Steve Kingeter: Absolutely, that’s an ever changing landscape, and customers are trying to figure out more and more ways to put their brand and put their mark on the package. And that trickles all the way down to us as well. How do we label the package, the film that we use with the package? Can we basically mold their logo into the plastic so that every time the customer sees it, they can feel it, the tactile of their logo and see how colors blend together. And some of those things we bring to the customer and they didn’t understand that we could do that, and then other times we’re being challenged by the customer. He says hey, I wanna do this, can you help me figure it out? And in most cases, we can if the customer’s willing to pay for that solution. But it depends on what the customer’s selling, their ability to differentiate their product and the value that they’re willing to invest in that package to give them that differentiation in front of the consumer. We help them do that and some of the times we lead them and some of the times they lead us and so we’re comfortable in either role. We want that envelope to be pushed, and also we wanna be that kind of mentor to our customers saying hey, do you realize that you could do this and it’ll look this way? It’s a great dialogue that we continue to have and it really strengthens our bond with our customers and gives us a leg up on our competition because we have that type of relationship with them.
Adam Honig: So part of what I’m hearing, I know we veered off of the secret of the 50 year success a little bit, but part of that secret is also about really being more than just a supplier to the customer, is really being a partner to them and helping them achieving their goal with what they need.
Steve Kingeter: You know, it’s funny, we try. I just met with a customer this morning and we were joking about using the term partner because it’s so overused these days. But from our perspective, I think the simplest way to explain it is that our first instinct is to listen and then talk rather than talk and then listen. And I think that helps us because it gives us a better understanding of what the customer really wants. And since all these solutions are customized, we’re not trying to put them into any type of box. We’re trying to build a box around what they want to do. And so that’s what we bring to the market and we are a little less risk-averse than all of our customers, but we’re willing to take that risk and try to do something completely different and make sure we can mechanically do it. And be able to repeat it over and over and over thousands of times like our customers expect us to.
Adam Honig: Gotcha. And so if your solutions are sort of tailored to the customer, does that make the sourcing part of your business more complicated because you have to go find all these different things. Or they’re custom to customers, but they’re more made of standard components?
Steve Kingeter: So what we try and do, we have a very large modern machine shop here, and so we’re able to do a lot of the customization on our own. We have a big and extensive and quite gifted engineering staff that helps fuel our creativity and our ability to present that creativity to our customers. So sometimes we require special components but we try to stay at least on the component side as standardized as possible. And then we offer the customization ourselves through our own creative craftsmanship that we bring to the party. And in combination with our quite cutting edge abilities to machine metal and to form metal the way we wanna do that. We’re very vertically integrated. We don’t outsource a lot of that.
Adam Honig: Right and I know you said that they’re excellent and expensive, so maybe we’ll just focus on the first part of that when we talk to them at some point here.
Steve Kingeter: Yeah, we do take pride in our end user product that we present and this creative solutions that we present, but we are not bashful about charging the appropriate market value for our machines.
Adam Honig: That’s awesome. Yeah, I’ve always come from the philosophy of providing high quality and charging high prices for it, and if it’s not worth it to somebody, hey, that’s okay. You know?
Steve Kingeter: The hardest word that we teach our salespeople is the word no. And there are things as risky as we’re willing to go, and one of the things that separates us from our competition is our willingness to try new things where they don’t wanna do that. But there are situations where we hate to do it, but we actually have to say no to a customer.
Adam Honig: So you mentioned was it center plate protein? What was the term that you used? I love that term, I just can’t come up with it.
Steve Kingeter: It’s the center of the plate protein, basically when you’re served a meal, the center of the plate is the protein, whether it’s beef or chicken or pork or fish or cheese. And that’s kind of the core of what our customers package. We do a lot of nonfood applications as well, but food is still the driving force behind our growth.
Adam Honig: Gotcha, so center of the plate protein. So just thinking from an experimental perspective, what’s the most kind of left-field application that you guys have been doing then? Is it medical stuff then?
Steve Kingeter: No medical actually isn’t that out of the norm. I would say we’ve had some crazy applications that we do. If anybody ever goes to high school or college and has to dissect an animal in biology. We have customers that ship dead animals to high schools and colleges, and they’re done in our machine. So they’re put in a pocket, they’re vacuumed for preservation, and they’re shipped to the end destination. That’s kind of a strange one. We have had applications where a gentleman wanted to send live fish, like aquarium fish, very expensive aquarium fish across the country in our package that was injected with a high level of oxygen, so the fish would continue to live for an extended period of time. You just never know the applications that you’re gonna come up against and we’re open minded for all of them because you never know when the next big thing’s gonna be. And if they have parameters that we believe that we can meet, we will strive to meet them because those are the fun ones as well. I mean, those are the out-of-the-box creative things that everyone enjoys. And the customer’s just thrilled at the end of the day when he had an idea and you’re able to see that idea all the way through to its success point. And those are what we really like to do, we take a lot of value out of that.
Adam Honig: Yeah, that’s amazing, I can just see the frogs rolling off the assembly line, sealed up in the packaging, ready to go to squeamish high school seniors, taking those things apart.
Steve Kingeter: And it’s a lot more diverse than frogs, trust me. It’s pigs and all kinda cats and dogs and you name it, they get packaged.
Adam Honig: Wow, that’s amazing. That’s something I would’ve never thought of. Now you’ve worked a lot of your career in the food industry, servicing the food industry, helping people in the space. Is that correct?
Steve Kingeter: Right, so I’ve been in this space of packaging of different items and also a little bit on the processing side of this industry since 1997. So I’ve seen a lot of changes come and go. I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have the ability to work here at VC999. I was previously the CEO of another company that I had some outstanding experiences with as well. So it’s been a nice run, I’m not signaling that I’m at the end of the run, but I’m not getting any younger. And it’s been fun to see some of the innovations that have happened to this industry and some of the innovations that are happening here at VC999, which we’re quite proud of.
Adam Honig: Now are you guys working with…I’m not quite sure what to call it, but the Impossible Burger and people who are making synthetic meat kind of products as well?
Steve Kingeter: Yeah, absolutely. So synthetic meat, as you’ll call it, or the Impossible Meat, Impossible is a brand name that has been going on for some time. I mean, the iterations have been countless and it’s gone mainstream now because not only have they perfected the taste, they’ve also perfected the texture. So when you get an Impossible Burger or an Impossible Sausage, and whatever the different products they come up with are, it really does simulate the real thing. And it’s been just a fantastic evolution for those people. And that requires the same level of packaging as your standard center of the plate proteins that we already discussed. So yes, we have been fortunate enough to work with some of those customers, and we think that’s gonna continue to grow and expand.
Adam Honig: Do you feel over the next 20 years, it’s just gonna be a bigger and bigger part of your business then as people move away from traditional protein?
Steve Kingeter: Well, we benefit whether customers move away from traditional proteins or not. I do believe that type of product will continue to evolve and there’ll be a lot more applications for that. I think they’re just scratching the surface of where they’re gonna go and how they present that to customers. But whether meat consumption goes up or down, we still benefit because what other substitute consumers are using, it still needs to be packaged. And so we’re in that lucky position where anything the consumer puts in his mouth and eats, at some point either needs some type of packaging protection, it needs some kind of shelf life enhancement, or it needs to maintain some level of sterility. And we can provide that in whatever form necessary for them. So we’re very lucky in the sense that, I don’t wanna say that our business is recession proof, but as long as people are eating, it tends to be recession resistant. And no matter how that evolves, we get to evolve with that. Sometimes we’re being pushed to evolve to it, and sometimes we’re leading the evolution of it, depending on the application.
Adam Honig: Well, I would say if people aren’t eating, we probably have a whole other problem going on.
Steve Kingeter: That fixes itself, right? And we want that to continue.
Adam Honig: Yeah. So let’s pivot a little bit and think about planning. This has been something that’s been on the minds of a lot of the guests on the podcast recently. And the world that we live in today is a little bit different than it was four years ago, probably different than the way it’ll be in the future, but a lot of people are kind of struggling to plan for the next year at this point. How do you think about planning? Do you feel like from your business perspective, it’s steady as she goes? Or are you seeing changes in the market that you guys are trying to figure out what they mean?
Steve Kingeter: Well we’re paid to solve problems, right? And so it works for our customers as well as ourselves. And I think the key is you have to be adaptive and you have to understand that the conditions both internally and externally, force you to adapt in different ways. You know, there’s been supply chain issues that all of us have had to deal with. There’s issues with tariffs, depending on the different countries that we do business in. There’s political strife, there’s strikes on labor forces, there’s logistical issues, there’s supply chain issues. And yet, through all that, thank goodness for the adaptability and the creativity of our employees. VC999 has continued to maintain its position where one of our competitive advantages is the speed of which we can bring products to market, and the consistency of which we can hit the deadlines that we promise our customers. That’s kind of become a lost art of saying hey, we’ll have that machine for you in 12 weeks or 14 weeks, or whatever it is and then we actually hit that mark. Because right now the tendency is oh, I promised it to you in 12, but it’s really gonna take 18. And a lot of our customers base the purchase of this machine around construction, they base it around integration into an entire packaging line and so it’s critical for us that we maintain our credibility and be able to meet the commitments that we give our customers. And fortunately, we’ve been able to do that, and that brings more and more customers to us. And those customers that understand that value are less price sensitive and much more demanding on our ability to execute what we tell them and that’s really a strength for us.
Adam Honig: Oh, right, I mean if they can’t get those frogs off the line to send to the high school seniors in time, they might lose the whole order because they missed the class. But some of the people we’ve been talking to have been taking different strategies to help with that. For example, we spoke with a large maker of fabric who’s been basically buying up a bigger inventory position to try to make sure that they’re always able to satisfy demand. We have other people we’ve been speaking to who’ve been trying to go even more just in time to make sure that they’re not carrying a lot of additional costs. Has there been an approach that you’ve been using to manage that?
Steve Kingeter: Well, we’re always looking for a better way. We have given the long lead time of our machines and the backlog that we carry, we tend to be very forward-looking. And so in order to maintain that, we have strengthened in a lot of key areas, in particular, like electronic components of that nature, our inventory. We’ve had to be very flexible in our design criteria in that this model of product is unavailable, so we’ll have to shift to this model of product. It can be from the same manufacturer or even a different manufacturer, and that’s tied up an unusual amount of engineering resources for us. And so we’ve had to be flexible there and add additional resources so that we can continue to meet that gain. And of course, the logistical challenge is never ending. I mean you get a proposed delivery date from a supplier on a particular component, and then the day of delivery they send you an email and they say by the way, we’re four weeks late on that. And so it’s been a huge challenge. Fortunately, our procurement people have been probably well overworked, unfortunately, trying to make sure they’re juggling all the balls at the same time so that we hit our manufacturing and delivery commitments, which are the core of our business. And so we take it very seriously and it strains our supplier relationships in some instances, but those that do business with us understand that we pay like clockwork, but we expect the same type of clockwork when it comes to delivery and meeting their schedules.
Adam Honig: Gotcha. So it’s sort of like what we were talking about earlier with the relationship that you try to have with your customers, you try to do the same thing with your suppliers to kind of make that whole value chain work.
Steve Kingeter: Right, and I think that’s a great point. And over the last 12 to 18 months, that supplier relationship, especially regarding this component shortage of supply chain, has been as challenging as I can remember it. And so we spent a lot of time trying to understand our suppliers’ problems and trying to figure out changes we can make so that we can bypass their problems. And so I saw the type of investment in an intellectual effort we wanna make, but it’s a necessary evil in order to try and maintain our delivery commitments.
Adam Honig: Yeah, I hear you on that. Well Steve, this has been a great conversation, I really appreciate your joining us. My takeaways from this conversation, I guess it’s not a secret, but like listening well to your customers, working closely with your suppliers, the basic things, of course, that everybody needs to do in this world. Just doing them well can help you move forward; so important. I really love hearing about the applications of the technology, the frogs. I don’t think I’m gonna get that outta my mind today, actually I’m gonna be thinking about those frogs. So I really appreciate having you on the show. You know, for those of you who are listening, just as a reminder, you can find every episode of the Make it. Move it. Sell it. Podcast at spiro.ai/podcast. Feel free to subscribe and you know, hey, if you thought Steve and I had a good conversation today, why not give us a review or a star or a like, or whatever they’ve got going on over there on your podcast player. Steve, do you think people should do that for us?
Steve Kingeter: Sure, absolutely. And by the way, thank you for the invitation. It’s been an honor to be on here with you, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. And let me know if I can ever help you in any way again.
Adam Honig: Right on Steve, likewise. All right, well that’s it for me. Thanks to everybody for tuning in, and we look forward to speaking to you on the next episode!
The post Episode 16: The Secret of Maintaining a Lasting Business with Steve Kingeter of VC99 appeared first on Spiro.
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/podcast/episode-16-the-secret-of-maintaining-a-lasting-business-with-steve-kingeter-of-vc99/
Adam Honig: Hello and welcome to Make it. Move it. Sell it. On this podcast, I usually talk with company leaders about how they’re modernizing the business of making, moving, and selling products, and of course, having fun along the way. I’m your host, Adam Honig, the CEO of S Spiro.ai. We make amazing AI software for companies in the supply chain. And you know what, usually we wouldn’t be talking about Spiro, but we are today because today I’m happy to welcome my friend and co-founder, Justin Kao, Spiro.ai’s Chief Operating Officer, who’s also one of our supply chain experts onto the podcast to help me kick off our second season. Welcome to the show Justin!
Justin Kao: I am so excited to be here, big fan. First time, long time you know, big fan of yours, so I’m honored that you invited me to join you.
Adam Honig: Of course. So just for our listeners out there, Justin, maybe just give us a little bit about your background.
Justin Kao: Sure, so besides Spiro, which we started about eight years ago, I’ve almost worked for Adam my entire career. Before starting Spiro, I actually used to be a CRM implementation consultant, so I would go around to generally bigger enterprise companies, and that kind of led to us learning a lot about CRM, learning a lot about different companies, and different processes and that eventually led to us starting Spiro.
Adam Honig: Right, and what did you find when you were doing all of these CRM projects? I mean, what was that like?
Justin Kao: I mean salespeople love CRM. I’m sure you talk about that all the time on these podcasts, so it was interesting. I feel like when we were doing a lot of implementation projects, it was kind of one of those things where it’d be great to build something, and it would be great to deliver what your customers are asking for. But it’s one of those things where when you’re working with the actual people who end up using that software, they always hated it, you know? So it was kind of fulfilling if you could finish a project, but then at the same time, we had a bunch of customers when we were doing CRM implementation that would always have issues adopting. Or they would always come back a year later and be like hey, what’s going on with this or we need you to fix that. And it became like a long thing where we’d always be going on and on and going back and forth and fixing. And obviously you know, but for the folks who are listening, that’s one of the main reasons why we started Spiro, it’s because that experience in general is just terrible for folks.
Adam Honig: I know. I think that you worked on a large project for an insurance company, right? After we finished the project, I remember having a meeting with their sales team and talking with them about how much they loved CRM and some guy threw something at me. That’s how much they really liked it, it was terrible.
Justin Kao: How many times have you told that joke on this podcast, by the way?
Adam Honig: I don’t think I’ve ever told that joke.
Justin Kao: Oh okay, all right. So once you get to know Adam, he’s got like five jokes that he likes to go through, so I’m shocked that you haven’t already dropped that one.
Adam Honig: Well it hasn’t come up, but I’m glad that we had an opportunity to bring it into the conversation. But I remember being at this client and after somebody threw something at me, of course, and trying to really understand what was happening. And it’s just the typical experience for salespeople with CRM is that they feel like it turns them into data entry clerks, and people really hate that. And so yes, you’re right, that’s a major motivator for us to want to start Spiro. The other motivator which I’d like you to just shed a little light on, is why we chose to focus on companies in the supply chain. Why manufacturers, wholesale distribution companies need this really different type of technology.
Justin Kao: Yeah, it’s interesting. We’re supply chain experts by accident, I would say, right? Like coming into Spiro, we’ve done customer implementations in the manufacturing space, but these were one of many projects. And then before starting Spiro, I would consider myself more of a generalist. I kind of know a little bit about a lot of different types of processes and a lot of different types of companies, but not really specifically about supply chain and manufacturing. But we just kind of saw an interesting trend within our customers as we were starting Spiro. Obviously we didn’t start Spiro just to target the manufacturing industry but what we saw a lot of was that our customers in the manufacturing space didn’t churn as much. They grew and they were really good customers and they needed a lot of help specifically. And they were looking for companies who they could partner with, who would provide them that help, provide them that support, provide them that level of service. And once we did that, and they were fully bought into being Spiro, being their partner, we saw them really flourish.
When was it, like 2019/20 20 when we made that switch, when we decided hey listen, we are seeing this kind of trend with customers. You know, we don’t see it as much with the software companies, we don’t see it as much with the insurance companies, but we’re really noticing an uptick, and there’s really something out there. And when we looked at the competition, there wasn’t really much out there for specifically manufacturing-focused sales software. Traditionally, I would say an overlooked industry. And so kind of taking all the parts that we were really good at, which was the service, the implementation, the product itself, it was just a natural fit, and we kind of went all in the beginning of 2020.
Adam Honig: Yeah, and my role at Spiro is to be very focused on the product. And I feel like the fact that there’s a lot of artificial intelligence being used in the product to make things easier for people is much more important for companies in the supply chain than other industries. You know, the supply chain companies typically have a less tech-savvy sales team, and they just need the software to do things for them instead of waiting around to log in at an internet location and take care of business.
Justin Kao: Yeah, you say that it’s like, it’s kind of weird to think about a low-tech adopting group of folks like manufacturing and say they need AI in their sales process, because it’s like, what is AI to these folks. But you’re totally right because the AI aspect of it is what makes it necessary for that group. Like these guys need something that will go in the background and automatically log data for them. They need little points of recommendations or proactive push notifications to figure out what’s going on. They need AI to look at trends in their data and push them along the right path. And that’s really where we’ve seen that fit there so well. It’s that these companies need that help, and they’re not getting that kind of help from any other sales-supporting software.
Adam Honig: No, I remember a big light bulb went off for me. I remember we visited a customer who’s in the electrical conduit business, and these guys were telling us that they had tens of thousands of customers placing orders every month, every quarter. And it was physically impossible for them to see the trends in all of this, to notice when somebody didn’t order without the AI solution kind of pointing it out.
Justin Kao: Yeah, that’s exactly it. When I think about the sales process of our customers, it’s actually not a sales process, it’s really customer care that is the biggest focus. And this has kind of got emphasized post-COVID, I would say, but the most important thing for our customers is not necessarily building a pipeline anymore. It’s gathering all of the data, whether it’s from your ERP or from your marketing, and having it all in one spot. And then how do I take this profile of my customer and make sure I can service them in the best way possible? I feel like when we see the way Amazon impacts customer service and Amazon impacts the way that people expect you to interact with yourself or with your returns or kind of order service, they expect that level of service and you can’t get that level of service if your information isn’t right. And so I think one of the biggest things that I’ve seen, especially after COVID, is that people have made this huge digitization push, right? And they really want to focus on how do I get all this information into one cohesive customer profile. And that’s really, I would say, when I think about our customers, all of their goals are the same. It’s how do we serve our customers better and leveraging Spiro, leveraging tools like that, and getting information all integrated is a big part of that.
Adam Honig: Right, I know we have a customer who’s in the beer truck creation business. Which is a great business to be in getting to deal with Budweiser and all kinds of other breweries all around the country. But I remember I was talking with them recently and they were saying how just being able to provide very accurate updates to their customers about what’s going on. Separated them from all of their competition, and it really built a loyal customer base, even at a time where they were delivering their products months late due to supply chain issues.
Justin Kao: Right. I think what’s happening with supply chain issues is people expect product to be held up. So it’s not even necessarily about execution, it’s like kind of going back to the customer care thing, it’s really about the relationship that you can build. We’ve got a lot of customers who kind of shifted their approach of Spiro to be pipeline-focused, to be activity-focused in a sense that it’s really around how am I making sure that I’m building a relationship with my customers. Am I making sure I’m taking these people out to lunch, or am I making sure that I am saying hello when it’s their birthday or sending them a gift, something like that. So it’s using Spiro to generate these opportunities for interaction, but also leveraging the data from their financials from their ERP to understand hey, maybe I should reach out since they haven’t ordered in a while, or I should see what’s going on. So it’s really important for folks to just have all that information in one spot.
Adam Honig: It’s interesting because I feel like from visiting so many factories of our customers, I feel like I’ve learned so much about the production side of things and how much technology investment. We went to one customer who had done 3D printing of dental inserts and all this kind of crazy stuff.
Justin Kao: Yeah. I went to the dentist the other day, and they’re like hey, do you guys want a retainer? And I’m like wow, I know how those are made. Which is interesting because we got to see them actually 3D print retainers from customer images, which is insane.
Adam Honig: Yeah, it’s fabulous. So I guess my point was that people are investing all of this technology on the floor in production to make products better. For some reason, it’s been a little bit of a struggle to get them to do the same thing in the front office, but I definitely see the tide turning on that now.
Justin Kao: Totally. I think people are realizing with a lot of the folks being more remote and it’s almost like a data supply chain that’s happening inside organizations, right? You have the supply chain of getting your product in front of a customer. You gotta go build it, you gotta distribute it, you gotta sell it somehow. But there’s like an internal data supply chain, right? So at some point you’re generating data when you are building a product, you know what you’re building. You’re generating data when you send someone an invoice for an order. You’re generating data when you send them a quote. And there hasn’t been much of a focus internally to really bridge that together. When you think about the supply chain and how it’s really intricate and there’s a lot of steps involved and moving a piece from here to here. And making sure this gets distributed and implemented the right way, that same attention hasn’t been turned internally. And I think Spiro is a big part of that. And kind of what we’ve learned a lot about our customers is how do we bridge that gap to make that kind of connected internal data supply chain.
Adam Honig: Definitely. You know, when I think about data supply chain when you mentioned, the first thing that also came to my mind is artificial intelligence. Which of course, in order to be successful with AI, you need to have large amounts of data. And I think we’re starting to see with our customers that they’re really ever able to leverage that AI approach successfully.
Justin Kao: Yeah. I’m curious, what are your thoughts on how manufacturers are supposed to be leveraging AI and kind of going into 2023 and beyond?
Adam Honig: So I think 2023 is gonna be a year of explosion of AI technology. I feel like we’re right at the beginning of wide-scale adoption of this type of approach. And so I’m looking for improvements kind of across the board in things that Spiro deals with and in things Spiro doesn’t deal with. We were talking on the podcast recently with a manufacturer who’s using machine vision to make their products better. We’ve been talking with companies that have products that are on the shop floor to do a quality assurance analysis of products coming down the line based on AI technology as well. So I’m very optimistic that we’re just at the point of commercializing a lot of these technologies. For me, I very excited about what’s called generative AI which is the ability to make very good-sounding text generated from small amounts of data. And so the ability for our customers to be using that in terms of communicating with their customers to making sure that product descriptions are super accurate to automating. We released a great feature that what it does, is it drafts an email for a salesperson based upon a conversation that they had. And just the number of applications of this type of technology is truly limitless. I’m super excited about it.
Justin Kao: Oh yeah, I showed that to someone recently, well I showed them that, and I also showed them we have a feature where we transcribe every phone call made through Spiro and we write a summary of that phone call that you’ve had through Spiro.
Adam Honig: And it’s not Justin and I writing it, it’s the AI writing it, just to be clear.
Justin Kao: Maybe eight years ago it was us writing it in the background, but now we’ve got the technology behind the scenes to actually do it for us. But they were blown away because we do demos at Spiro and usually we set up a fake demo phone call to ring out to, and it’s usually Adam on our pre-recorded line saying, Hey, how’s it going? I’d love to order more. Someone changed the phone number of our test contact and I actually called someone and I think the conversation went like, oh crap, this is a real person, sorry about that and I hung up. But then what had happened in real time actually was that the phone call got transcribed very accurately. Because I guess when I was going off on this tangent, I spoke very clearly, which is not common for me and we actually summarized it and it said, Justin called by mistake and he didn’t mean to, something to that effect. And they were going crazy over that. And it’s come a long way. I don’t know, were you ever on AIM instant messenger, Adam? I don’t know if that was your time.
Adam Honig: The AOL Instant Messenger? Yeah.
Justin Kao: AOL Instant Messenger, yeah. I remember when I was in high school, this might date me a little bit, but I was IMing something called Smarter Child. You ever interacted with SmarterChild?
Adam Honig: I don’t think I know that one.
Justin Kao: That was like the bot at the time. It was a bot and it was really just a database of like 10 responses that you would just type at. Me and my friends would just chat at Smarter Child all the time and we would say dumb things, but it would always respond in some canned response. But that was artificial intelligence at the time. It was like a few canned responses and that was really it. But now we’ve got artificial intelligence able to really intelligently articulate what you’re trying to say, give a next step and suggest the future’s next steps, right? So it’s amazing how far it’s come.
Adam Honig: For sure. I mean I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine sometime in the next, you know, three, five years if you are a salesperson and you’re on vacation, instead of having an out-of-office reply, have an AI out-of-office reply. Where if a customer emails you and says hey, what about this order, the AI can be like well, I’m just an AI, but I looked it up and here’s what I think is going on with it. That is not at all crazy from where we are today. Already, if you are using Spiro, you can just email what we call the Spiro assistant and say hey, what’s going on with this company? And we’ll give you the update, right? And since we are often very hooked into order information, we have that data. So I think that might be the kind of thing that people start seeing over time and it’s gonna just be like small little improvements, but they’ll just start showing up in everybody’s workflow.
Justin Kao: You know, sometimes I talk to prospects who are scared of AI, scared of automation, scared of all these little things that seem a little bit big brothery, a little bit terminatory because I think that’s how it starts in Terminator with the AI rising up. But the exact use case that you talked about right there, that’s exactly what it’s gonna be used for, right? It’s how do I take the stuff that I might have missed or stuff that I’m not available to attend to, and how do I automate that? And so I think that’s a perfect example of where this is going and kind of the future I also see for it and it’s really exciting.
Adam Honig: And a lot of the AI work that we’ve been doing to date has been really predictive analysis, right? Based upon certain ordering patterns, here’s what we’re seeing or based upon a gap in an order history. Hey, how can we get the right person to follow up to make sure that there isn’t something going on? But I think the generative content takes it up to the next level where Spiro or other platforms can send you an email and instead of just saying hey, here’s company, here’s the low order alert. It can actually write the narrative about it that’ll make it easier for you to take action on that. So I think there’s a lot of good stuff coming.
Justin Kao: You can tell that narrative, do I wanna write it in a positive spin or a negative spin? You can get really granular with it.
Adam Honig: Hopefully nobody will want a haiku written out of it because the AI is just not that great at poems, I have to say. So if there’s any listener out there who’s really wanting to test something to see whether it’s an AI or real person, try to get them to write a poem for you. AI is terrible at poems.
Justin Kao: Yeah, it’s developing, I would say, it’s learning. So I feel like maybe in a year or two, you’ll be blown away by the haiku it’s writing.
Adam Honig: So let’s shift topics for a minute. Justin, you’ve been traveling and meeting with a lot of customers and seeing everything in their operations, what do you feel like you’ve seen as sort of a trend from visiting all of these manufacturing, wholesale distribution customers that we have?
Justin Kao: So I kind of talked about this a little bit before, but the trend I’m seeing the most is a shift from pipeline to customer focus. And so really, people obviously care about tracking their sales and their potential sales in Spiro, but the problem that people are coming to me the most with, the thing that they wanna make sure they address is how do we serve our customers the best? And like I mentioned before, it starts with getting all the information in one spot. So I’m seeing a bigger trend of folks who want to make sure that their team, or anyone who’s customer-facing has all their data in one application. So traditionally in the past you’ve had your ERP, which is where your financials, maybe your manufacturing backend, you’ve had marketing, maybe your quoting tool that you’re using to send out quotes to customers. But really, they want everything in one spot so that when you look at a customer record, you can make a pinpoint decision on what you should be doing, and you have full visibility, full history, the full story.
So it’s really a shift to getting data optimized and how do I act in a way that’s the best for my customer? Because a lot of our customers, they’re so busy, right? They don’t really necessarily care as much about closing new business. They are so backed up for the next year, two years that it’s really about how do I serve the best customers? How do I know who my best customers are and how do I make sure that they have a certain level of service that they continue to be my best customers? And that’s the thing I’m seeing, it’s really a shift away from pipeline management to customer care.
Adam Honig: I totally agree with you. Everybody is of course interested in developing new customers, but it’s everybody’s first goal to maintain and strengthen the relationship with their existing customers. And I think that’s something that’s very different in the supply chain today than it was like three, four years ago. Everybody knows that the economy can be good, it can be bad, but if you love your customers, you’re always gonna do well.
Justin Kao: Exactly.
Adam Honig: Cool. Well Justin, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast. I hope this isn’t the first podcast you’ve been on.
Justin Kao: No, I’ve been on a couple others, but this is the first one I’m being video recorded, so I actually wore a shirt today. So hopefully people will appreciate that. And I took a shower which is not always a guarantee in a post-COVID world every morning.
Adam Honig: Well, I really appreciate you coming on. I think we talked about some really important things. I mean, obviously AI is a big topic that people are gonna be hearing a lot about. But how it applies specifically to companies in the supply chain is super important. And then this trend that, you know, I know we’ve talked about, with other guests as well about how strengthening and deepening customer relationships is really the big thing that companies are focusing on and really should focus on today. So I appreciate you coming on and spending a little bit of time with us. I also just really appreciate your starting Spiro with me. So I wanna say it’s been a great partnership, so I really, really appreciate that.
Justin Kao: Yeah, I can’t wait for the next one.
Adam Honig: As a reminder to our subscribers, you can find every episode of the Make it. Move it. Sell it podcast at spiro.ai/podcast. I don’t know, Justin, do you think people should subscribe or maybe give us a good rating or what do you think?
Justin Kao: Yeah, I think they should subscribe. Give us five stars, unsubscribe, subscribe again, give us five stars again and do that as many times as you want. I don’t know if that’s how the rating system works, but I feel like it should.
Adam Honig: Well thanks everybody for tuning in. We wish you the best in 2023 and we’re looking forward to speaking to you at the next episode.
The post Episode 15: <strong>AI Predictions and Trends for 2023: The Spiro Co-Founder’s Episode</strong> appeared first on Spiro.
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/podcast/episode-15-ai-predictions-and-trends-for-2023-the-spiro-co-founders-episode/
A salesperson’s role is a public-facing one. As representatives of their organization, salespeople must put their best foot forward to make sure they’re projecting a proper image, in addition to being effective communicators of their company’s value.
But there are many hours in the day. When the calls and meetings are over and salespeople are left to their own devices, they can do things without the watchful eye of their prospects, customers, coworkers, and importantly, sales managers. Here are 10 of the things salespeople really do when no one is watching:
1. Blast music to get pumped up on the way to work
“Here I go, again on my own! Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known!”
2. Get nervous every time they get a phone call from a deal in progress
“Hi Margaret. Is… everything alright?”
3. Calculate their future commission check
“If I close the McCarthy deal, then I hit the double multiplier and…”
4. Rationalize why it’s taking the prospect so long to call back
“Maybe his doctor’s appointment ran long. Sometimes they run long.”
5. Grudgingly eat that granola bar they hate from the vending machine
It’s gross, but it’s better than nothing
6. Look at their own LinkedIn profile, especially the photo
Why do my eyebrows look like that?
7. Open up a secret browser window that no one else can see
ESPN.com, the news, or social media.
8. Get into pointless debates with their coworkers
“Of course there should only be one Dakota. You don’t need two states.”
9. Ignore the lunch they brought with them and get takeout instead
A tuna salad sandwich or Pad Thai? Tough decision…
10. Dream about their deals
Some people count sheep. Salespeople count calls and clients
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/blog/10-things-salespeople-do-when-no-one-is-watching-2/
The post The Trendless Trend: Supply Chain Planning In The Era Of Uncertainty appeared first on Spiro.
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/news/the-trendless-trend-supply-chain-planning-in-the-era-of-uncertainty/
The post Countering the Amazon Effect: <strong>How Pioneer Music Differentiates and Personalizes</strong> appeared first on Spiro.
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/news/countering-the-amazon-effect-how-pioneer-music-differentiates-and-personalizes/
The world is changing quickly. Information is beamed into our brains every time we check our phones or laptops. And each time we look, it seems like there’s some new trend on the horizon.
The sales community isn’t immune from these rapid changes that come with contemporary life, even if many of the fundamentals of the profession have remained the same for decades. But this doesn’t mean that every trend is good, or that it’ll last. In fact, there have been plenty of promising developments and predictions over the last 20 years that have either fizzled or turned out to be completely off the mark.
Some trends and predictions might sound attractive, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stand the test of reality. The following four seem to have caught fire over the last few years, but you’d be best served to avoid them if you want to make the most of your sales career.
1. Salary-only sales positions
As frustrating as the rollercoaster ride of sales is, it’s a mistake to abandon the unlimited potential of commission income for the safe haven of a flat salary. From an employee’s perspective, it might sound good to know exactly how much money you’re going to make every month. But unless you’re not meant to be in sales to begin with, when you compare a pre-set salary to what you could have made in commissions or a combination base-plus-commission plan, it’s unlikely the salary would be better. And, from an employer’s perspective, offering a straight salary virtually eliminates any incentive for salespeople to push to close more business. It’s a lose-lose.
2. No more outbound prospecting
The death of outbound prospecting has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, there are companies whose products are designed to eliminate outbound prospecting even though they have dedicated outbound sales teams! Not many people enjoy the grind out outbounding, but it’s still one of the most reliable ways to build a pipeline and close deals. Aggressive prospecting can (and should) be complimented by a comprehensive inbound lead generation strategy, but to say that it can be eliminated by the latter is wishful thinking. Like most things in life, there are no shortcuts.
3. Personal branding as a substitute for relationship building
Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and smartphones came along and proved him mostly right. There’s a segment of the sales community that preaches thought-leadership and personal branding as the ticket to massive sales success. To be sure, if you do it properly, it can’t hurt. But time spent trying to break through the noise and become the next Gary Vee is time not spent picking up the phone and reaching out to potential prospects. Maybe one out of a thousand salespeople can become the go-to leaders in their space, but the rest of us are better off focusing on building our pipelines, not our collection of headshots.
4. Sales roles at companies that claim to not have salespeople
In an attempt to endear themselves to customers who have a distaste for salespeople, some companies have renamed their sales teams and present themselves as “no-pressure” organizations who refuse to capitulate to the traditional way of doing things. Without getting into the approach itself, it makes little sense for a salesperson to join one of these companies. They are broadcasting that their culture doesn’t value sales, not only to the general public, but to you, a potential employee, as well. Sales is difficult enough when you do have support, but when you don’t, it becomes almost impossible. Choose a position where you and your profession will be treated with the respect you deserve, otherwise, what’s the point?
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/blog/4-sales-trends-to-avoid-even-if-they-sound-great-2/
Adam Honig: Hello and welcome to Make it. Move it. Sell it. On this podcast, I talk with company leaders about how they’re modernizing the business of making, moving, and selling products, and of course, having fun along the way. I’m your host, Adam Honig, the CEO of Spiro.ai. We make amazing AI software for companies in the supply chain, but we’re not talking about that today. Instead today, we’re talking to Anna Christensen, the marketing director for Ashton Sawing and Drilling, which is, if you ask me, probably the best commercial concrete services company in the whole United States. That’s what I think. Anna, welcome to the show.
Anna Christensen: Thanks for having me, I’m glad to be here. And I definitely agree with your statement, I think we are the best in the country.
Adam Honig: Oh yeah, I can’t even think of another company that comes close to what you guys are doing. But just for the listeners out there who might not be familiar with Ashton, maybe you could give us a little bit of an overview of what you guys are up to.
Anna Christensen: Sure. So as you said, we work in concrete, we got our start over 20 years ago, cutting concrete. So that includes anything from slab sawing, diesel sawing, core drilling, and doing demolition, we do a lot of robotic demolition, so we can take it all down and cut it out. We also put concrete back, we’re in the placement business as well, so that’s pouring foundations, putting up tilt walls, and filling trenches. And also we polish and coat concrete, that’s anywhere from epoxies to polishing and staining.
Adam Honig: Wow, that’s a pretty wide range of things, but I’m really interested in the robotic demolition. What can you tell us about that? What have you demolished recently?
Anna Christensen: Well, those are really cool. A fun project I saw last summer, we actually took down a building in the medical center in Houston. It’s a really eco-friendly safe way to demolish a building when there are a lot of other buildings around where you can’t swing the ball. You know, that image of taking a building down? Not safe to do in cities anymore. So we can be on the top floor and we have robotic cameras that we can operate from anywhere, we don’t have to be close to them and they just knock those buildings down floor by floor.
Adam Honig: Wow, I’ve always wondered how they do that. But when you said robotic demolition, I was kind of picturing like C3PO walking into a building strapped with explosives. And as soon as he got in the middle of it, he went up. This sounds much more high-tech than that.
Anna Christensen: Yeah, those robotic cameras look really cool, they look almost as cool as CP30 but they’re operated by a specialist who’s kind of hanging out in the wings.
Adam Honig: So what happens is the building kind of collapses one level at a time.
Anna Christensen: One level at a time, absolutely. I wanna say that that building was about 13 stories.
Adam Honig: Wow, that’s amazing. And can you reuse those robots or do they kind of get crushed in the process?
Anna Christensen: Absolutely. You can imagine they’re pretty sturdy pieces of machinery. At Ashton, we have one of the few guys who can operate on those, and so he’s pretty much an expert in making sure they stay running and tip-top shape.
Adam Honig: I remember when I had the chance to visit with you in person, we saw a saw blade that would cut through concrete that was bigger than my six-foot partner, Justin. That was the highlight of our visit, seeing that tremendous blade.
Anna Christensen: Yeah, I think 76 inches is the largest one.
Adam Honig: Wow. And what do you do with those kinds of plates? What do you guys cut down?
Anna Christensen: Concrete.
Adam Honig: So like overpasses, dams, anything like that?
Anna Christensen: Yep, we can pretty much cut through anything if it gets much larger than that, or if it’s something like a column we need to cut through, we would use a wire saw. If we’re cutting vertically, we’d use a wall saw. There are all kinds of different ways to cut concrete and the different size saw blades go with that.
Adam Honig: Wow. Well, it’s a really exciting business to think about. I’m sure it’s less exciting when you see it every day. You’re like oh, we’re knocking down another building, or a home, whatever.
Anna Christensen: It’s funny, as a marketing person, I don’t get to see it every day, so I still find it very exciting when I get to hit a job site.
Adam Honig: Well let’s talk about that a little bit. So if you think about construction and many of the industries in the supply chain, it can be very male-dominated. And we were talking a little bit about what it’s like to be a woman working in this industry. What is that like?
Anna Christensen: There are definitely a lot of times when you’re the only girl on the job site, you’re the only girl in the room. I think you definitely have to have a level of confidence and sometimes a thick skin to be that girl in the room, but there are a lot of organizations and groups for women in construction. We’re definitely all working in any way that we can to make sure we recruit more women, especially when it comes to going to universities and getting women into those degree programs for construction. But I have to say in my three years now in the industry, it’s great. I mean the guys in the industry are all really nice as well, and I think they’re happy to have us here. And we bring a new perspective to a lot of things as well.
Adam Honig: Right, that’s great. And if you were counseling college graduates, what would you be telling young women college graduates about your industry and why they should join?
Anna Christensen: Oh the opportunity is incredible. It really is. There’s a ton of opportunity just for growth and for new perspectives. I think construction is one of those industries that when you look at some of the innovations and the new technologies and building efficiencies into how you work, I think construction can be a little bit behind at times. It’s just a great place to come if you’re a trailblazer and you like to work hard. And also that you like to see your impact, you literally are seeing things that you’re building or changing. You’re literally changing the face of the planet.
Adam Honig: Yeah, that totally makes sense. I picture that it’s gotta be a growth industry with all the spending that everybody’s gonna be doing on infrastructure over the next number of years. It should be a good time to get in on the ground floor.
Anna Christensen: Absolutely. And even during COVID, we all could talk for hours about what those couple years were like, but we were an essential industry and so our world kept turning just like it always had in a lot of ways. And we kept working because it’s one of those things that’s needed all the time. It’s almost, I’m not gonna say recession-proof, but it’s definitely a place for an opportunity no matter what, it seems.
Adam Honig: Yeah. Now, are you in your company experiencing any sort of supply issues? We’ve been talking with a lot of people who’ve been dealing with supply issues, right, has this been impacting your business?
Anna Christensen: Yes, it absolutely has. We rely on so many different products. I mean, we have to have concrete when we are pouring concrete, right? We need concrete. I know our polishing and coatings team, they use a ton of products, and some of those lead times are pretty serious. Rebar, it all has a much longer lead time than it used to, so we have to get creative, we have to have those strong partnerships with our clients, just so we all kind of understand what we’re up against together.
Adam Honig: It’s super interesting. I was talking with a company that is a large fabric distributor, and they believe that the reason why they’ve succeeded in the past couple of years is because they’ve built up this warehouse basically of all the fabric that anybody could ever want. And that enabled them to take market share away from their competitors basically.
Anna Christensen: That’s awesome. And it’s not only the supply issue, it’s the rising cost. And so many construction companies get on these projects that are going to last six months to a year. By the time you get into month four and into month eight, things are more expensive than they were when you started. So that’s certainly a challenge as well.
Adam Honig: Yeah, I have the misfortune of needing to fix my deck off the side of my house and I’ve been just doing it pieces at a time kind of thing because I don’t have time to do it all in one go. And I’ve noticed that the lumber prices fluctuate wildly from week to week, it’s gotta be hard to manage.
Anna Christensen: Yeah, that is crazy. I know you definitely do not wanna be replacing a deck or a fence or anything like that right now.
Adam Honig: So tell me a little bit about some of the business initiatives that you guys are undertaking that you feel are making a big impact on the business.
Anna Christensen: Sure. We, just in the last year or so, started pushing a strategy of kind of not repositioning our company, but just bundling our services in that we’ve had these three divisions for so long. And it’s like hey, if we offer this together, if we kind of position ourselves as this one-stop subcontractor where a lot of our clients have to work with multiple subcontractors on every project. So if we can be that one for you instead of three or four, that’s where we can differentiate ourselves in the market. So we’ve been doing a lot of meetings and some lunch and learns and just a lot of marketing around the projects where we are all working together.
Adam Honig: Is it hard for the sales team to wrap their brain around that? Because if they’re used to selling coating projects or something like that, they’re suddenly having to sell other things too, is that a challenge?
Anna Christensen: Yes and no, they are kind of working together. So behind the curtain, there’ll be three sales guys on a project, but to the client, it’s just the one, so they’re pretty good. It’s such a specialized industry that when you know polishing and coating, you’re not gonna necessarily know the sawing and drilling side. So they do still have to work together behind the scenes.
Adam Honig: They are working well because I’ve heard, and I don’t know this firsthand, sometimes salespeople don’t always get along with each other, but not the case for you guys.
Anna Christensen: I don’t think so. They may be keeping that for me, but it seems like it’s going pretty well and it’s been a way just for us to differentiate ourselves and build some of those partnerships with clients.
Adam Honig: Gotcha. I know the challenge that a lot of companies are having today is in hiring and retaining staff, especially on the sales side. Has this been a challenge for your business at all?
Anna Christensen: I would say it’s been more of a challenge to keep our field staff. It’s one of those things where the industry is just so crazy and just to keep some of those positions staffed, especially with the hours and it’s not the easiest work in the whole world. And then just keeping up, right? I mean salaries are going up like crazy and just making sure we can retain those positions has probably been the toughest that I’ve seen.
Adam Honig: Is there anything that you’re doing in particular that you feel like oh wow, this is starting to work really well for us, or is it just like staying in touch with the employees? What do you think works the best?
Anna Christensen: You know, it’s funny, as we sit here I’m like oh, I should pull in my HR person and the manager of that team. But I know this has been a focus for Ashton even prior to me being a part of the team, but there is such a strong focus on culture. And such a strong focus on like you said, staying in touch with the guys, making sure they’re happy and we’ve been looking at making sure everyone understands what the opportunities are. Yes, you’re here today, but there are plenty of guys here who have climbed that corporate ladder and have these great positions as project managers or estimators now even though they started in the field a few years ago.
Adam Honig: Right, that makes sense. And I know that Ashton is a family business started by Mr. Spencer Ashton. Do you feel like having that kind of familial approach to things helps with that?
Anna Christensen: Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the struggles because Ashton is growing so rapidly and the company has grown so rapidly in the last five to 10 years that I think it’s hard when you get into that day-to-day and everyone’s so busy to keep that as your focus. But I do definitely feel like that’s an effort that’s made here a lot just to keep things more personal and on that family level.
Adam Honig: Totally. Well I know when we were talking earlier, you were saying that Mr. Ashton himself was involved in cutting concrete, so kind of started the business at the very initial part. And so he’s gotta have a lot of ways of connecting with the people in the field because of that experience.
Anna Christensen: Absolutely. And he has been on job sites cutting concrete here and there just when he is needed, even in the last year. So I know that guys out there really appreciate that and it’s fun to have them out there.
Adam Honig: Cool. So speaking about working in a family business, I know you’ve worked in non-family businesses before, and now in a family business, how does it feel different to you?
Anna Christensen: I feel like when you’re in a smaller business, when you’re in a family business and you can just walk two feet that way, and you’re talking to the CFO and two feet that way, and you’re talking to the CEO. And the executive team is smaller and very close, we’re really agile, and so we can make business decisions pretty quickly. And we can try things I think, there’s not as much risk to try something new as there would be if you were a much larger corporation and there was a ton of red tape and a lot of titles above you to have to go through and get approvals. So just like when we started Spiro, it’s like hey, let’s try this out. We had to go through a few phases to get it just right, but it wasn’t the end of the world because we were agile enough and small enough that we could make it work, and it’s been a huge payoff for us.
Adam Honig: Yeah, so what I hear from a lot of people at family-owned businesses is that they’re able to take a longer view of things. That it’s not like there’s a private equity fund that’s breathing down everybody’s neck trying to get results or external stockholders. The family knows that we’re gonna grow this business, we’re gonna make it successful, we need to kind of take a path, and it sounds like that’s what the Ashton family does.
Anna Christensen: Absolutely. And one of the reasons I was really attracted to working at Ashton is the level of opportunity that was there just for marketing and for sales and for starting a CRM. You know, it is fun, it’s like okay, we can come in and do what I think will make an impact. And the Ashtons get to work on what they think will make an impact which is a fun way to work.
Adam Honig: Totally. But let’s talk about marketing, which I know is your thing more than HR and some of the other topics maybe we were talking about, but what’s exciting in the world of marketing for you these days?
Anna Christensen: For me, this year we’ve just kicked off email marketing. So when I came in, we were doing online marketing, but that was it. And so just being able to build the brand and build up the awareness. Construction’s really fun because it’s still very much a relationship handshake business, so we’re doing a lot. I actually have half of my sales team out at a clay shoot today.
Adam Honig: They’re at a clay shoot? Tell me what that is. I’m in New England, I don’t know if they have clay shoots.
Anna Christensen: Okay, well they shoot clays, so it’s like a sporting clay.
Adam Honig: Like a disc? So somebody fires off a gun, yeah, I’ve seen that in the movies, I think.
Anna Christensen: Yep, absolutely. So that’s the fun thing about construction. There’s a lot of clay shoots, there’s a lot of fishing tournaments, there are barbecue cook-offs, there are all of those fun things that we get to go to and just shake hands and meet. And there’s a lot of business still done face-to-face.
Adam Honig: And so how does marketing support that, do you provide them with materials to give people or tell them the right people to talk to?
Anna Christensen: Yeah, a lot of times I’m out there with them selling right along beside them, building those relationships and making those contacts. We have all the marketing collateral, the tents, the tablecloths, and all of the fun outdoor stuff.
Adam Honig: And from an email perspective, I’m assuming that a lot of your email marketing is targeted to mobile because I’m just kind of picturing people getting emails on job sites and stuff like that. Am I thinking about that properly?
Anna Christensen: Yep, it’s really interesting. So we’ve been using MailChimp and the statistics is about 50/50, desktop and mobile. The way construction is set up, the project manager isn’t always in the field. So we work with a project manager and then they have their superintendents in the field, and so both will be our clients. So it’s about a 50/50 split on mobile and desktop.
Adam Honig: Gotcha. Are you doing any SMS marketing as well?
Anna Christensen: We are not.
Adam Honig: Okay. It’s very controversial these days. I can tell you that I get cold SMS pitches and I’m like dude, so inappropriate, right?
Anna Christensen: Yeah, it’s one of those things that we’ve talked about and we’ve talked about it in a way of being that customer support. So we’ve been talking a lot lately on how do we improve our operations? Again, how do we differentiate ourselves and just make working with Ashton easier than the competition because as a subcontractor, we think that could be a leg up for us. And so we’ve talked about doing things like text messages to our customers when our operators are on the way or when we’ve finished a job and those sorts of things, but not quite marketing, not just yet.
Adam Honig: Yeah, I know a lot of people that I’ve been talking to have been saying things like they wanna be like Amazon. They wanna be always letting the customer know where things are, where stuff is in progress or how to track the order or things like that. That’s a very popular theme right now. So it sounds like a little bit in that vein is what I’m hearing.
Anna Christensen: It definitely is. I mean we’ve used the word Amazon and it’s what everyone’s used to. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s an expectation, but I think it will be at some point for every company to operate that way.
Adam Honig: Yeah. The problem is of course, that Amazon does such a good job with it. How could you possibly do as good a job as they do? It’s so hard.
Anna Christensen: You know what’s funny, I have a little insider tip. So we’ve just hired a new associate in our Dallas office, I was meeting her via phone last week and she worked in an Amazon warehouse. I was like, you have to tell me what it’s like, is it the most amazing, most efficient, most high-tech thing ever? And she said absolutely not, it’s the complete opposite. So I don’t know how they pull it off and make us all think that it’s perfect, but maybe it’s not, which gives me more hope.
Adam Honig: Yeah, I think that’s the perfect takeaway from that. What they’ve done is they’ve done a great job of creating the perception and everything else, well we’ll get it figured out. So what I’m hearing for listeners is if you’re feeling like oh, we can never do that. Yeah, maybe your customers think that you’re doing fine.
Anna Christensen: That was absolutely my takeaway because I’m a huge Amazon fan and I will be probably forever, but it was fun to hear that insider perspective from a warehouse. No, it’s pretty crazy hair on fire back there.
Adam Honig: No, I’ve heard some stories. I’ve heard some stories about people not being able to take bathroom breaks because everything’s too busy and all kinds of craziness going on there. So thinking about customer perception and that being the gauge, do you do any sort of formal customer survey at this point?
Anna Christensen: We do not, but I have a pretty strong background in market research, so it’s something I’ve talked about since we’ve been here. And any company that I’ve worked in there’s that fear, right? Like if we ask, they might tell us something we don’t wanna hear, but my comeback to that is it’s better to know than to have them not tell you and go work with someone else. Because if you know what the problem is, you have that opportunity to fix it, and a lot of times that makes that partnership even stronger. So it’s definitely something that I know I’ve talked about and now Jed’s talking about it. I’m sure it won’t be long that Spencer will be talking about it and I can see it in our near future for sure.
Adam Honig: Yeah, we use the net promoter score approach, which is that thing that says how likely are you to refer Spiro to a friend.
Anna Christensen: I love net promoters.
Adam Honig: So we do that continually and it’s really eye-opening I think, to get that view of the customer. And it is scary because if somebody doesn’t like something, it hurts, but that’s the only way to know, right?
Anna Christensen: Yeah, I just had my first conversation last week with some of my sales guys about guys, we need to collect Google reviews. So I wanna put it on your email signature, just the link there, make it super easy for our customer. They’re all like no way are we doing that. Because it’s only the angry customers that are going to leave a review.
Adam Honig: I don’t know.
Anna Christensen: I don’t think so either.
Adam Honig: No, I think there might be some good reviews coming through. Of course if you survey them yourself, you can always then reach out to the good ones that give you good survey responses and be like oh, Mr. So and So, here’s a nice little Google review you can write of us or something. Maybe prime the pump a little bit that way.
Anna Christensen: Absolutely. And we have a lot of happy customers, honestly, and sometimes in construction, things just don’t go the way they’re supposed to and there’s not a lot any of us can do about it.
Adam Honig: I mean sometimes, in my experience with construction, if things do go the way they were supposed to, you’re super fortunate. Just so many unknowns.
Anna Christensen: I know, and can you imagine cutting concrete and then doing some of the things these guys do? It’s pretty crazy.
Adam Honig: Yeah, super crazy. Well Anna, this has been great, such a great chance to speak with you and learn a little bit more about some of the crazy projects that you guys are working on and to get your perspective on what it’s like to be a woman in sort of a male-dominated industry. And then get some very practical tips about some of the marketing things that you guys are doing, which I think a lot of people can take advantage of. So this has been really super, so thank you for joining me.
Anna Christensen: Oh, it’s no problem. Thanks for having me.
Adam Honig: And as a reminder to our listeners, you can find every episode of the Make it. Move it. Sell it. podcast at spiro.ai/podcast. Feel free to subscribe, maybe like the podcast or write us a nice review. Anna, don’t you think people should definitely do that?
Anna Christensen: Absolutely.
Adam Honig: Absolutely. And hey, thanks everybody for tuning in, and we look forward to speaking to you at the next episode.
The post Episode 14: <strong>Agile Decision Making in the Construction Industry with Ashton Sawing and Drilling</strong> appeared first on Spiro.
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/podcast/episode-14-agile-decision-making-in-the-construction-industry-with-ashton-sawing-and-drilling/
Sales has a notoriously high turnover rate. Anyone who has ever worked on a sales floor knows that you meet plenty of people who will move on to another gig, or just leave sales entirely. Of course, turnover rates vary depending on the job and industry. But some companies are able to avoid many of the mistakes that drive salespeople away.
So what are these mistakes that cause salespeople to quit? Here are the eight most common reasons why salespeople quit:
1. Problems with management
They say that people don’t really leave jobs, they leave managers. While not always true, a poor relationship with a manager (or management team) is enough of a reason for people to leave. Everybody wants to be respected and appreciated, and treating people that way should be non-negotiable.
2. Not enough support
While many salespeople value autonomy, a lack of structure and guidance can be just as bad. Support from management is critical, whether it’s actual help through the sales process, or encouragement and training. Employees want their contributions to be valued and to feel like they’re being given the tools they need to become successful. So, if a salesforce is simply expected to show up and pull a rabbit out of a hat without any ongoing support, you’re not likely to keep them showing up for long.
3. Uncompetitive pay structure
Not all comp plans are created equal. And this doesn’t just mean from industry to industry, although that is certainly true. Some companies are simply not offering their salespeople a commission structure that’s competitive enough to get them to stay. If you can make more money for doing the same amount of work, all things being equal, leaving is a no-brainer. Employers need to make sure they’re paying their salespeople fairly or find a way to make up for it elsewhere.
4. Prefer more certainty
Some people decide that sales simply isn’t for them. Whether it’s the stress of the job or the uncertainty that comes with it, there are always those who prefer a non-commission-based salary. In many cases, the people who leave sales to go into a different position will have to take a pay cut. Still, many are fine with that, and have made the decision for themselves.
5. Product or market forces
Turnover can increase when it becomes clear that a product is no longer competitive in the marketplace. If you’re selling typewriters but the personal computer has just gained massive popularity, there’s little you’ll be able to do to break through, no matter how talented you are or how hard you work. Industries change and companies need to adapt to stay competitive. The same is true for salespeople, but that often involves moving on and selling a more relevant or in-demand product (which is exactly why Spiro created the first proactive relationship management platform)
6. No opportunities for career advancement
There are some salespeople who would love nothing more than to sell until they retire. But this isn’t true for everybody. If there aren’t opportunities for salespeople to move up within an organization, they’ll find a place to work where these opportunities do exist. Not only should salespeople have something to strive for when they come to work everyday, they should also be reminded that there’s something better waiting for them if they put in the work.
Salespeople work very hard and deal with a lot of daily stress and pressure. Unless you’re a freak of nature, dealing with this type of pressure constantly will get to you. If you don’t take time to recharge every now and then, you’ll burn out and either start to fail, or quit. Burnout is very real, so make sure that you as an employee are aware of your health and well-being. Similarly, if you’re an employer, understand that you need to provide your salespeople with the opportunity to take time off so that they can come back as healthier and stronger employees.
8. Company culture
This is may be one of the biggest reasons salespeople quit. It is also one of the hardest to fix. The culture a company fosters for its employees, both salespeople and non-salespeople alike, can make the biggest difference when it comes to retention. This is true even when you consider all other factors, including compensation. If people like going to work every single day, then they’re probably not going to quit. A good culture is often employee-centric, and takes every single other factor in this list into account. But it all starts with making an effort to make employees feel valued, heard, and respected. If you can do that, then you won’t have to worry about your salespeople abandoning ship.
from Spiro – Spiro is the first and only proactive relationship management platform. Our mission is to help sales teams close more deals. https://spiro.ai/blog/the-8-biggest-reasons-why-salespeople-quit/