No Act of Kindness, However Small, Is Ever Wasted

The holiday season for giving thanks and spreading joy officially began for us on Saturday morning—with Pittsburgh’s first snowfall!  I woke up Saturday morning to a sky filled with fluffy white flakes (immediate translation= it’s almost Christmas).

Every year, Butler Gas Products hosts a holiday party to celebrate our associates and their families, thanking them for their passion in our company’s vision.  This year, however, we wanted to add a new philanthropic element to the mix, giving back to not only our associates and their families but to their communities as well.  Butler Gas Products has been rooted in the Pittsburgh area communities since 1948, and it is never too late to start a tradition of giving during the holidays.  This year, we are hosting a Holiday Toy Drive! All new, unwrapped toys will go directly to a local association who partners with over 500 Pittsburgh families in need. The children in these families, infants to twelve-year-olds, will be the direct recipients of our Toy Drive.  Our hope is to work together as a team to spread smiles and joy this holiday season, because no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted (Aesop Fable, “The Lion and the Mouse”).

My Future In Professional Ping Ponging

I am now thoroughly convinced:  ‘business vacation’ tops the oxymoron charts.  Better fitted to be called business-longest-days-you’ll-ever-work-trips are amazing opportunities to network, exchange ideas, and absorb the latest industry trends.  Business is a marathon, not a sprint; business conventions however, especially those in one of the fastest moving cities in the world, are full-fledged dashes from one event to the next (all in heels).  And although exhausted by the end, I absolutely love it!

The GAWDA Annual Convention in New York City was a fabulous success!  GAWDA President Lloyd Robinson and team put together an amazing event filled with enlightening speakers, entertaining networking events and enjoyable opportunities to explore the city’s best.  One of this year’s networking highlights was the Young Professionals event.  Concealed in an underground ping pong bar, GAWDA’s Young Professionals gathered to catch up, meet new friends, and play some surprisingly competitive pong (the new kind for most).  Needless to say, ping pong is not my new calling but it definitely was a lot of fun.  The event was tremendous and I really enjoyed meeting so many new people!

Young people getting together to play some pong now has a whole new meaning—once again GAWDA, you’ve opened my eyes to something new.  Thank you for a fantastic event in New York City!

New York, New York

Good news! I am indeed alive and well.

It has been quite some time since my last blog post, and I’m happy to be back posting. I plan on posting regularly again once we get into the fall as the craziness of life slows down a bit. I hope all my fellow bloggers and our illustrious readers have had a great summer.

I am thrilled to be leaving for GAWDA in two days in New York. I’m excited to reconnect with many of the people who will be there that I have had the pleasure to meet over the past year. It really is a great opportunity to stay connected with people in the industry and meet new faces. Although social networking is prevalent in the business world too in the form of Linkedin, nothing beats face time with another human being, and I consider it vital to our industry. I will always choose meeting in person or talking over the phone in lieu of email or texting in an effort to prolong the world from losing all personality in general. That in a round-about way of a nutshell, is part of why I am excited for GAWDA.

Duties call however, and I must return to work. Expect more posts from me in the coming weeks, and I will see everyone at GAWDA NYC!

The Value of ‘Ownership Thinking’

I had the pleasure today of attending a webinar sponsored by the GAWDA HR Committee on ‘Ownership Thinking.’ First of all, I think it is absolutely fabulous that this committee is taking an active approach in enriching GAWDA membership by providing such programs. Most noteworthy is the fact that this presentation offered tremendous internal marketing content and was well worth its hour timeslot.

“The purpose of an incentive plan is to shape employees’ behaviors toward improving the company’s financial position.” These words, now permanently etched into the September page of my desk calendar and highlighted ever so flamboyantly, will stick with me long after the conclusion of the ‘Ownership Thinking’ webinar.

Every presenter who is worth the minutes of your life he monopolizes aims to provide “take-home value.” Take-home value is of interesting significance because it is completely subjective and dependent on each individual listener. As with most things in life, take-home value is about timing. Thankfully, this tidbit from today’s presenter, Brad Hams, came at just the right moment.

As we finalize our Strategic Planning for the year, we explore new and improved ways to incentivize our valuable associates. Prior to today, in my mind, incentivize was synonymous with reward. According to Hams, however, incentivize implies shaping behavior, not simply rewarding or ignoring. Incentive programs should be designed to form and help funnel its participants toward desired outcomes—in business, an improved financial position for the company. Yet how many so-called incentive plans have we seen where an individual’s reward is paid out based on individual performance? No wonder we may find ourselves in me-centric environments. This mentality of configuring incentive plans to shape behavior toward bettering the company’s financial position may not be rocket science, but then again, rocket science would be of no take-home value to me.

The Power of “Yes”

A concept that I learned this week is truly understanding the Power of Yes. We all know what it feels like when someone says yes to a question we pose. It is a wonderful feeling regardless if it is to a small question like “Can I borrow your notes?” or bigger questions such as “Can I lead this team meeting?” or “Can I place your first order for you?”

All these situations leave us feeling great and empowered. The question is, how can we still leave a conversation when the answer is no and still feel empowered and positive. The answer is the “yes sandwich.”

The yes sandwich enables you to say how you are feeling about something but still be in a positive frame of mind. This leaves everyone being upbeat. For example, if an employee suggests having a holiday party in Las Vegas you could say, “I love your enthusiasm and effort to make our holiday party memorable and different than previous years—however, I think it might be too expensive. Let’s try and come up with an idea that is fun, different, but more within our budget.” Although the person who suggested Vegas could possibly be upset that his/her idea was not approved, they are walking away knowing they are appreciated.

The next time you feel like you are not agreeing with a client or an employee—try the yes sandwich. It works!

Firing Customers…Unfortunately It Happens

In an era of business where profitability and efficiency are king, and buzzwords/terms like continuous improvement, social media and going green zip around like that annoying fly at the dinner table, we often talk about “firing bad customers”, but let’s be honest…that’s much easier said than done in a recovering economy. In our company’s efforts to improve on our accounts receivable practices, many meetings have produced talk about getting rid of customers who effectively cost us more money than we make on them. In this case, cost would include the cost of product sold to them as well as the overall cost of doing business with them (time and energy spent, shipping costs, safety issues involved etc.). Thankfully it hardly ever happens.

The old cliché “people do business with people they like” usually can be interpreted as “people usually buy things from people that they appreciate and respect.” But what about the other way around? Do we, the distributor, usually sell only to those who we appreciate and respect? I think we’d be lying if we said yes. The truth is most of us probably “appreciate” every penny of business we get, but don’t have the luxury of knowing a lot of our customers well enough to form a balanced opinion of them. Sure we all have customers that we genuinely like doing business with, but what about those customers that…well just aren’t a “good customer”? (And we all have them, don’t lie!) Maybe they are very difficult to work with for some reason, or maybe your companies’ values and business ethics just don’t line up.

Last week one of our customer service reps received a call from a customer of ours who claimed that we had sold him an empty tank. After looking into it, we found it odd that this customer had done this on 3 other occasions and seemed to be the only customer experiencing a problem with that particular product, one that happens to have strict quality manufacturing standards associated with it. In addition to the shaky claim, the language and utter disrespect this customer showed a number of our employees involved in the situation was absolutely unacceptable. I think only R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket could have been proud of that kind of dialogue.

Therefore, due to our suspicions of the customer’s dishonesty and our lack of tolerance for such ridiculous disrespect of IOC employees, we kindly told this fine gentleman that we would not be his gas supplier in the future. We’ve not heard back from him since that last phone conversation and, to be honest, I hope we don’t. We take a great deal of pride in making our customers happy and offering a level of customer service that we can genuinely be proud of, but contrary to the old cliché “the customer is always right”, it’s not true. Don’t get me wrong, every now and then a customer may just not be very nice. That’s not a crime and certainly not a reason to just refuse their business. We’ve got to have thicker skin than that. The level of dishonesty shown in this instance, though, led us to believe that continuing the business relationship with this customer could lead to bigger problems down the road.

The Image of Welding Today

The image of welding today is definitely not what I would call top notch. Welding is the backbone of this country and has been a huge industry since it arrived. Many “average” Americans do not think about how things are built. They get up in the morning, proceed to drive to the gym in their car, then head to work where they sit at their desk. Since they woke up they may have come across welding or welding products numerous times. The bed they were sleeping on, their car, the workout equipment, the machine shop or collision center they passed on their way to work and even their desk could all be included in the welding industry.

Before I entered into this industry, I myself didn’t think too much of the welding industry. When I started to work in the industry, I was “enlightened” one might say. When you walk around in massive shops and see “behind the curtain,” your perspective on life sort of changes. Instead of seeing a truck load of pipe going down the road and thinking nothing of it, now many thoughts flood my mind. Where was it built? I wonder what kind of wire they used or what gas! Just so many questions that I start to ask myself. After being in the industry only a short time, I have come to discover that the Welding Industry will always be needed. The technology may change, but the need will always exist.

After experiencing this first hand, I decided the best way to change that view is to promote our welding schools in the area. Whether it is high school classes or the new program at the local college, we offer student discounts and try our best to promote welding to our youth. The only way to change an image you don’t like is to create another one.

Engage Or Break Up (Not A Blog About Dating)…

The phenomenon of internal marketing:  the management philosophy that coordinates internal exchanges between the organization and its employees to achieve successful external exchanges between the firm and its customers (Thank you, Clemson University’s Foundations of Marketing course).  The basic idea behind this trend is that achieving satisfaction among your external customers is much easier when there is a high level of satisfaction among your internal customers (aka the employees).  Simply stated, happiness is infectious.

Following this theory, a company’s efforts to create a better quality of life internally will produce positive outcomes externally.  Although in its extreme form this viewpoint suggests that building a company fitness facility is the fast track to increasing sales, the concept of internal marketing is more suitably directed toward better attracting, retaining and engaging internal customers.  Hosting fun company outings, creating beneficial profit sharing plans, giving back to the community and implementing improved vacation plans are all easy ways to get started.

So often we view our competitive advantage from the outside perspective; we aim to identify why prospects become customers, the aspects of our core competency, and we ask ourselves at what area are we best in the world?  These are all crucial questions in strategic planning.  Often overlooked, however, is viewing these questions through the internal lens.  Why should someone want to join our team?  What do our employees perceive as being the greatest advantage of employment with the organization?  Asking your current employees these questions is crucial, but they’re already partial believers.  What about the people who decide to leave?  Employees who resign—that was our untapped internal market segment for constructive feedback.

Sam Walton, according to the case studies, targeted the shoppers who never became buyers; he asked people leaving WalMart without purchases, not those with, the various ‘why’ questions of customer service.  Why didn’t you buy anything? We have found inspiration in this strategy and have applied it to our internal customers through exit interviews.  What could we have done to better engage you as an associate?  How did (or didn’t) BGP help to fulfill your career goals?  If you have already signed on for a new job, what does this new position offer that we failed to offer?  These are some of the questions we ask.  I believe you learn more from defeat than you do from success, which in the long run, transforms this temporary defeat into an opportunity for the future.

All About The Customer

I recently was able to persuade one of my customers to make a change in their fuel gas. Due to the acetylene problems we have been incurring, I decided to demo an alternative fuel. After some hesitation, they decided to give it a try. Even with their increased work load, their fuel gas usage since the change has decreased. It makes me feel better as a distributor to know that I can help my customers save money and time with simple suggestions. Some might call it a naïve move, because I am selling that customer less gas. I look at it differently. I might not sell that customer more gas volume in the short run, but I believe the suggestion helps to create customer loyalty and in the long run, that’s what counts. That’s what we push, customer service and our relationship with our customers. So, instead of worrying how I can make more money, I find it more beneficial to go outside the box and think, how can I strengthen my relationship with my customers.

Regional Meeting Fever

That is right! I have caught GAWDA’s Regional Meeting Fever and, this week, we are heading to Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut. Not only am I going to be in attendance, but we have decided to enlist our director of operations to come. Being relatively new to the industry I am personally excited for this meeting in particular because one of the panel speakers is going to discuss new specialty gas applications and regulatory compliance. I started out in the industry as a specialty gas salesperson, so to hear of all the in applications in the industry definitely intrigues me. Hopefully I will see some of you at the meeting this week.

This will also be my last blog before I start my orientation for my master’s degree, so wish me luck! See you all next week.