Situation: A company has done very well providing goods and services to the local community. In the process they have made good money for the owners and employees. Still, they are aware that they only serve a portion of the community in which they operate. How can they reach out and benefit members of the community who do not necessarily require their services? How do you give back to the community?
Advice from the CEOs:
When employees have children or children of friends who are selling fundraising items, like Girl Scout Cookies, make a large purchase. Give the cookies away as gifts to clients and key contacts.
Conduct educational sessions to help the community become more versed in and aware of the products or services in which you specialize. These won’t be sales or marketing presentations but rather information sessions with no sales pitch attached. Talks can be given at schools, community organizations, or other venues that seek speakers.
Create a gift-matching program for employees. Make a gift to your favorite charity and the company will match your gift.
Try a fun variation on gift-matching: “Make Joe Pay!” Make a gift to a charity, and Joe, the CEO, will match it 3 to 1!
One company has a policy that employees are not to pressure other employees into supporting their or their kids’ fundraising. Instead, the company steps in and does this.
Work with the Angel Tree Foundation. Set up a Christmas or Holiday Tree prior to the holidays. Employees or others pick cards, and then buy a gift for someone in need within in the community.
Support national charities, e.g., the Heart Foundation or Cancer Society.
Create a formula-based program whereby based on company profitability or some other metric the company creates a donation pool. Have customers vote on the charities to be supported from this fund.
Encourage management and employee involvement on Boards of community organizations. Create guidelines and allow them paid time off to participate.
Create a mentor program. Contact the local school system and ask about clubs or classes at local schools that the company can sponsor or mentor.
Situation: A rapidly growing US software company has an office in Europe. Prospects for key positions have been flown from Europe to the US for interviews. Two or three good prospects have withdrawn their applications before the company could make an offer, citing cultural incompatibility as their reason. How do you hire foreign personnel?
Advice from the CEOs:
Cultural incompatibility can be an evasive non-response. It is important to dig deeper, perhaps with the assistance of a European-based consultant, to determine what the candidates perceived as the incompatibility. Do this with the candidates that have already rejected the company. Identifying the deeper reason will help to pre-screen future candidates before flying them to the US for interviews.
It is important to have a local leader. This appears to be the individual that the company is attempting to hire. The local leader will then do the hiring for the local office. Employees work for their managers and with their peers and will decide on whether to accept a position based on their feelings of compatibility with these individuals.
Given that the company is attempting to hire the leader of the European office, review and approval of the candidate by the CEO is important. Here are options to explore:
Spend some time studying the culture of the country in which the office is located (European countries vary according to local culture) and adapt the interview style so that it is more compatible with this culture.
Hire a European that the CEO trusts to do the recruiting, screening, interviewing and selection a final set of candidates. Ask this individual for their input on the best way of facilitating a meeting with the CEO. For example, instead of flying candidates to the US, once several candidates have been identified travel to Europe and instead of conducting formal interviews, have dinner with each of the candidates. This reduces the tension and makes the interview more congenial. Consider taking the head of HR with along and both of you having dinner with the candidates and their spouses. Again, this will reduce the tension in the meetings, and you will have two viewpoints on the candidates.
If, after trying the suggested alternatives, it continues to be difficult identifying a good European candidate, an alternative is hiring an American – someone with solid experience managing offices and operations in Europe – to oversee the European operation.
Situation: A company has an opportunity to use equipment supplied by a partner to create a demonstration project that will highlight their capabilities. They want to create the best buzz possible through this effort. One idea is to work with local service agencies to create a demonstration that will be highly appealing to news outlets. How do you create the best buzz?
Advice from the CEOs:
In addition to working with local agencies in your target localities to create publicity and awareness, work with the local newspaper reporters who write about the areas served by these agencies. City reporters are always looking for fresh stories, and will help you to generate instant news that may be picked up by other local and possibly national media. This form of building awareness virally is much more effective than traditional advertising campaigns.
Use industry trade shows of potential partners as demo venues by collaborating with the trade show organizers for a live demonstration that benefits the organizers. Let technical trade publications know about your demos. Stories that catch the attention of technical publications can also get the attention of national media and give you visibility far beyond the trade shows.
Use YouTube to highlight use and the impact of your service. Assure that your YouTube videos are interesting and attention gathering. This will help generate viral awareness.
Look at how Google helped to make Mountain View, CA a wireless city. They worked with the city and created great excitement both locally and nationally.
Consider using actors to stage demonstrations, followed by actual demonstrations.
Situation: A company performs service that is primarily locally-based. A competitor is establishing a new site less than two miles from the company’s location, offers a broader array of services and is larger than the company. How can the company protect its business by responding to this new competition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Your most important asset is understanding what you are doing right, and what is most important to your customers. Remember that business is more than just a product or service. It’s a relationship. Your customers depend upon your for more than just what you offer for sale. Reach out to your customers for these answers. Make sure that you respond to their needs. As a benefit you may also find new growth opportunities.
Ask current customers whether you need to expand your service offering, or whether your current offering and lead time is acceptable to them. Ask how their needs are changing and how you can better serve them.
Reestablish the connection to your customer and listen. Preempt new competition by contacting your customer base before the competitor gains a stronghold.
Study your options and avoid knee-jerk reactions. You may be in better shape that you think.
Major retailers and service companies have moved into many locations. Local businesses who survive their presence do so because they are focused on their customers’ needs and are better at serving the customers that the big companies are.
Invest in key components of your business relationships: services, payment terms, responsiveness, your facilities, and so forth.
Situation: A company’s major competitor is closing shop. When this happens the company will be the sole large local service provider. Municipal and many large projects require multiple bids. The CEO is concerned that out-of-area companies will underbid the company’s union scale operation. How do you maintain your position in a changing local market?
Advice from the CEOs:
If your municipality has union scale wage rules, find a way to monitor wage compliance of out-of-area operations. These companies may say that they pay union scale, but the municipalities and others won’t have the staff to monitor them. This will be up to you.
Talk to local elected authorities and impress upon them the importance of supporting local businesses. Remind them of wage compliance problems that localities have seen in the past. Suggest that they look at local content requirements to help keep business and business revenue funding in the local economy.
Emphasize the maintenance aspect of your jobs. If a local company both builds and later maintains the project, they will know the subtleties of the design and will be able to provide better and more cost-effecting ongoing maintenance.
Educate clients with monitoring, measurement and compliance checklists that highlight the benefits of using local contractors and maintenance service.
If the other company approaches you about buying his business focus on the ROI produced by the other company’s costs and profits, but under your pay-scale. If this looks promising, have a conversation with the owner and see what he wants. Prompt the owner to talk and listen carefully to what he has to say. If you don’t want to buy the full business, there are other options:
Hire his key employees on a $/hour plus commission basis on retained sales.
Purchase his customer list, or giving him something for any maintenance contracts that come over to you within a set time period.