Wanted: A Harvard for Skilled Jobs

April 5, 2016

Today, we have a guest post from Jeff Selingo, author of “There Is Life After College,” which comes out on April 12th.

Nearly 40 percent of American workers hold a bachelor’s degree. College graduates are found in virtually every profession. Some 15 percent of mail carriers have a four-year credential, as do one in five clerical and sales workers, as well as, 83,000 bartenders.

Getting a bachelor’s degree is what going to college means to most Americans and is so ingrained in our culture that students who don’t march along are often admonished, questioned  and considered failures.

The decades-long march to college-for-everyone at 18 has actually closed off rather than opened up options for teenagers and twentysomethings.

As recently as the 1970s, a teenager had a number of options after graduating from high school: get a good-paying job right away, enlist in the military, find an apprenticeship in a trade or go to college.

A teenager today really has only two of those options still available: the military or college. Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military, so most go to college right after high school. In the early 1970s, less than half of high school graduates in the United States went on to college the following fall. Today, nearly 66 percent do.

The goal of universal college has actually done more harm than good because it banished anything that smacks of job training to second-class status.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not encouraging 18-year-olds to skip out on further education after high school. But not everyone is ready for a traditional American college experience at 18, nor does it align with the interests, skills, and mindsets of some teenagers.

We need more than just one pathway to good jobs in the U.S. What we need is a place like Harvard—both prestigious and rigorous—that will attract students who have talents and interests to pursue skilled jobs critical for the economy that don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree.

As I traveled the country the last two years talking to employers of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy for my forthcoming book, what I heard most is the worry they have about filling so-called middle-skill positions in advanced manufacturing, healthcare and information technology.

Nearly half of the American workforce has these jobs today, but many of them are filled by aging Baby Boomers who will soon be retiring. It’s expected that as many as 25 million of all new job openings in the next decade will be for middle-skills jobs.

Employers told me they have a healthy supply of talent for their white-collar office jobs that usually require at least a bachelor’s degree and sometimes a master’s or Ph.D. But if manufacturing has any hope of making a rebound in the U.S., there is a desperate need for younger workers with technical, hands-on skills that require training after high school.

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Today, only 52 percent of young people have either a two- or four-year degree or an industry certificate by the time they reach their mid-twenties. The goal of universal college has actually done more harm than good, because it diverted attention away from any real discussion of a robust apprenticeship program, and it has banished anything that smacks of job training to second-class status.

There is evidence attitudes are beginning to change. First, the number of apprenticeships is rising for the first time since the 2008 recession. Second, with college debt surpassing the trillion-dollar mark, students and parents are giving apprenticeships a second look as an alternative to paying sky-high tuition for a bachelor’s degree that might not lead to a job. Third, some apprenticeships are beginning to have an academic component that makes them nearly indistinguishable from traditional colleges.

The modern version of what an apprenticeship could look like for American students interested in alternatives to college is on display at the Apprentice School in Newport News, Virginia. Students who choose from one of more than 20 occupational areas are paid an annual salary of $54,000 by the final year of the program—$10,000 above that of the average bachelor’s degree recipient—and afterward they are guaranteed a job with the military contractor that operates Newport News Shipbuilding.

The school is just as selective as Harvard. It receives more than 4,000 applications each year for 230 spots, and significant numbers of its graduates go on to earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees. In many ways, it looks and feels like a typical American college, except in one important respect: its students graduate debt free.

We need more such schools and pathways post-high school that serve a greater array of industries as well as students who don’t want to travel down the one route we offer to them now.

About Jeff

Jeffrey Selingo is author of three books on higher education. He is a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s Grade Point” blog, a professor of practice at Arizona State University and a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities.

In There Is Life After College, Jeff Selingo explores why students struggle to launch into a career after college and how they can better navigate the route from high school through college and into the work world. It will be released by HarperCollins April 12


Learn My Name!

March 30, 2016

By Rachel Kerstetter, PR Architect, Sonnhalter

78_3294477-HelloThere’s a woman who I know from a local professional organization. We’ve been “formally” introduced multiple times. After the first time we met, I knew her name, her face, we traded cards and connected on LinkedIn.

The next time I saw her, I said “hello” and she introduced herself as if we’d never met. I wasn’t really offended because not everyone has a knack for names and faces. I let her know we’d met before and where.

Meanwhile, I’ve been getting emails and LinkedIn messages from her to support her nonprofit organization through monetary donations or volunteering. At least twice a month, I get a message from this woman asking me for something.

The third time we “met” I was a little annoyed at her re-introduction and didn’t spend much time after shaking her hand, because I felt like she would ask me for something again.

Then last week, I was at an event with a colleague and she entered the room and greeted my colleague, who then asked her, “Do you know Rachel?”

She said “No” and tried to introduce herself for a fourth time.

On a personal level, it’s extremely frustrating to seem so forgettable. These four introductions and constant digital “asks” left me screaming internally, “LEARN MY NAME!”

It says a lot about you as a communicator if you can’t actually build a relationship with your audience. If you want something from me, I’m more likely to give it to you if I feel like you know me, you get me and you might have something to offer me in return.

Before you inundate your audience with promotional messages, make sure you know them. Who are they? What problems do they deal with? Can you be a help to them as well or do you just want their dollars? You can’t have a one-sided relationship with anyone. This woman is no longer a part of my professional network because clearly she doesn’t want to be a connection… unless I’m giving her something.

How do you engage with your audiences in a way that builds a relationship rather than tears it down?


Manufacturers – What is your Biggest Concern?

March 29, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

I guess it would be getting new customers and keeping existing ones.

An effective customer experience starts with understanding your customer and then delivering good, meaningful content to them. The more positive the experience, the better the sales or so it would seem. This could be a challenge in today’s market where sales have turned from relationship-based to transactional-type sales.

So let’s look at two areas – marketing and customer service.

It’s not surprising then that a recent survey of CMO’s by eMarketer showed that their biggest concern was the customer relationship followed by ROI on marketing activities.

But what about once you have them as customers? Usually it’s easier and less costly to keep an existing customer than try to find a new one.

I ran across a study recently in emarketer.com “How to Win at Customer Service,” that claimed most people just want their questions answered.

Attitudes Toward Customer Service Among Internet Users Worldwide, Aug 2015 (% of respondents)

Here are some highlights:

  • 81% of those surveyed just wanted their questions answered
  • 89% feel more positive about brands that give good customer service
  • 46% tell their friends and family about a quick response time

So what does all this mean to the manufacturing sector? Well the bar isn’t raised too high and we certainly don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Here are some tips on how to serve the professional tradesman:

  • Keep your customer service department open on business days from 7 AM to 5 PM EST. If the contractors are having issues, you need to be available when they are working.
  • Staff your customer service department with experienced people who can answer questions, troubleshoot a problem or forward them on to someone who can.

A post you may want to read, Customer Service: How are you Handling Unhappy People, may be a good read. A good customer service department can help increase future sales by giving them a positive experience.


Super Bowl 50 Commercial Review

March 23, 2016

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent, Sonnhalter

It’s not late, I promise.

Yes, I know the Super Bowl was well over a month ago. So what’s the point of reviewing the commercials now? Well that’s pretty much my point.

Advertisers at this year’s “Big Game” (as the nonsponsoring like to call it) spent more on commercials during the broadcast that was spent on Super Bowl ads in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s COMBINED. So quick, how many do you remember like the 1984 Apple commercial? How many have become the new brand for a company like Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit”?

Not one. And that’s because for most major brands (or at least the ones that can afford Super Bowl ads) that’s no longer the point. These ads are now focused more on creating “buzz” by being as interruptive as possible. It’s about how many tweets it can spark when it airs, how many shares it can get on Facebook, and how many best/worst listicles it can make it onto the next day. And then it’s on to the next thing, or back to the standard messaging.

A perfect example? PuppyMonkeyBaby. Outrageous by design, its general air of “too cool for you” hits you harder than the overly caffeinated drink it’s selling. It’s all buzz and very little brand (other than the 3 dudes on the couch representing their target demo).

The antithesis? Death Wish Coffee. Sure it’s a CGI-filled 30 seconds, but it sets up the niche this coffee wants to serve, and doesn’t lose its message in the effects.

Of course it was also done for them for free as part of an Intuit campaign. But that makes it an even smarter move for them as they show that they truly are willing to help small businesses, while also poking fun at the bloated advertising/pop culture spectacle that the Super Bowl has become.

So what’s the takeaway for B2T Marketing?

Don’t believe the hype. Set your brand and create collateral that builds on it, not on a fad or trend. Be a thought leader, not another voice in the crowd. And know you market well enough not to launch a broadside at everyone, but a targeted message where you need it to be.


What’s the Future of the Independent Distributor?

March 22, 2016

By John Sonnhalter, Rainmaker Journeyman, Sonnhalter

I’ve addressed this issue in the past, and as time goes on, but I’m afraid the independent distributor may be following the way of the corner hardware store. Distributors need to step it up a notch!

Long before Grainger, Fastenal, Home Depot and the thing they call the Internet, the local industrial distributor was the backbone to local manufacturers and businesses. My, how things have changed over the past several decades.

I believe the small guy still has a chance to compete on a local level, but they need to change the way they do things. They need to know what their value proposition is, and most importantly, know their customers and what they want.

Source: Industrial Distribution magazine

Source: Industrial Distribution magazine

If they can’t add value, then what’s the point? At the 2015 ISA Convention in Cleveland, one of the breakout sessions, “Looking Ahead at Distribution: The Future Impact of Size and Value Content 2015,” revealed some interesting issues. Mike Hockett, Associate Editor of Industrial Distribution magazine, did a good job summarizing both the results of the study, as well as the subsequent panel discussion.

Here are some highlights:

  • Service sales represented only 5% of their total sales.
  • Buying groups represented the best support.
  • Manufacturers relied on small local distributors for customer loyalty and technical expertise.

It’s no surprise that cutting tools and abrasives remain the top two product categories that industrial distributors sell. Both require technical knowledge to support and troubleshoot problems. The question is, are the distributors going to charge for this expertise and are their customers going to be willing to pay for it?

So what do smaller industrial distributors need to do to stay in the game? Here are some thoughts:

  • Embrace Technology – get an online sell site, integrated supply services and electronic billing for customers to order easily.
  • Value Proposition – need to define so they can focus on the things that matter most and where they make their money.
  • Buying Groups – need to get in one or more so you can stay competitive and make more money.
  • Technical/Engineering Expertise – set yourself apart from the pack.

What others can you add to the list?

If you like this post, you might want to read:

Are Independent Distributors Helping Amazon Succeed?

Manufacturers: Tips on Getting More of Your Distributors Time.


How to Help Your Sales Team Quote with Clear Guidelines

March 16, 2016

This post originally appeared on INSIGHT2PROFIT.com

Does this sound familiar? A new customer promised they would place a $30,000 order, but only at an average price per unit of $0.16. The sales rep ran the requested price through their internal process, and because $0.16 was above the required 20 percent margin, the sales rep approved the discount. End of consideration.

But here’s where the story gets interesting. After looking at the average price points for the top 20 customers of this product, the pricing manager determined that significantly bigger customers – with purchase volumes in excess of $100,000 – were paying $0.18 to $0.22 per unit on average. In fact, the third largest customer, at $468,000 in volume, was paying a $0.22 average sale price.

What was the justification for the lower price for the smaller customer – other than the fact that the customer simply asked for it?

For many companies, pricing decisions are largely made in a vacuum, without regard to pricing data, market circumstances, product value or customer differentiation. The situation is usually exacerbated by a compensation structure that rewards revenue and volume over margins and profitability.

The solution, therefore, typically requires a completely new mindset for the sales team and organization—one focused on margins over top-line revenue.

It All Begins with Pricing Data Visibility

The beauty of the role of data in pricing decisions is that it lends an important clarity to difficult choices. A sales rep is naturally inclined to want to make the customer happy. But if you are armed with the right data, you can not only rationalize why a price discount might be a poor decision, you can also provide informed alternatives the sales rep can present to the customer – providing an opportunity for the sales rep to save face, the customer to get a great price and your organization to get the margin it needs.

In our story above, for example, you can start by showing the sales rep the list of average price points. This puts the requested price discount in an important context – that the discount amounts to asking the organization to offer better treatment to a relatively small customer than it offers to its third largest customer.

The Power of Informed Pricing Options

You can also take this reasoning a step further. Rather than saying “No” outright, you can provide alternatives. For instance, the sales rep could tell the customer that $0.16 is possible, but only with a certain volume of purchases. If the customer is willing to increase the size of its order, you’ll be happy to provide the more favorable price. Or, if the customer is unable to purchase more than the anticipated $30,000, the sales rep can offer a price in the range of $0.18 to $0.19 – still a significant discount, but more in line with the organization’s average selling prices.

Always Look at the Big Picture

When it comes to pricing, you should never make decisions without looking at the big picture. Think it through. Take the time to look at similar customer segments so you can see the prices and margins other customers are paying. And always make sure the volume justifies the price.

After all, the goal in business is not to just gain market share. It’s to gain profitable market share. Consistently offering a low-ball price eventually hurts everyone in the industry; ultimately, you’re creating pressure to make prices so low no one will be able to compete profitably – and everyone will lose. But with the right data, you can make more informed decisions and provide the options that will help your team win the sale without giving away the house.

Learn more about how top executives approach pricing decisions in our eBook: B2B Pricing without Fear.


If Your Company Could Speak, What Would It Say?

March 15, 2016

Today, we have a guest post from Jeff Guritza on the importance of brand identity.

The market wants to know: who are you and what does your business stand for? Said differently, what is your brand promise, and how is your business perceived in the marketplace?

Go ahead and think for a minute about your organization. Take a moment and really ask yourself:

  • “Who the heck are we?!”
  • “How different is our company than the competition?”
  • “What makes working with us unique and compelling?”

All strong brands take a well-defined position, one cemented in a foundation of consistency and sincerity. It is from this position that market alliances are formed, customer relationships are fortified and market share is defended or expanded.

Does your company speak to the market in a clear, consistent manner?

This isn’t just about messaging. This isn’t about a value proposition or pithy mission statement. This is about being real. Proper branding is about having a long-standing, consistent, predictable and definable presence in the market.

“This Is How We Do Things Here”

I believe branding matters today more than ever. Your brand identity will exist whether you’re actively participating in its development or not. You’ve got to clearly define what you stand for, or you will end up standing for nothing at all.

No brand, yours included, will ever hold universal appeal, but that’s the beauty of it. As a successful business selling similar solutions as your competitors, it’s valuable to be able to say to a customer, “If you want to do business this way, then do business with us.” It’s up to you and your brand to define what this way means.

A strong brand opens doors to new customers while protecting the customers you already have. There’s an opportunity for brand building each and every time you engage a customer or potential customer.

It’s human nature to find comfort in the known. If both your brand and your behavior are consistent and predictable, you’re on to something. If you hire or fire with no process, randomly price products in a vacuum or acquire new lines or businesses without a clearly defined assimilation strategy, it’s a recipe for brand insignificance. The devil’s in the details of a finely crafted plan.

The Power Online

Today, customers can be more fickle as they have more options, more opinions and more channels from which to arrive at their buying decision. Years ago, you took someone’s word as to who was the best source for the products needed. Today, everything can be validated or refuted via an immediate, online search.

Buying a new car? Jump online and you’ll instantly compare makes, models, trim levels, dealerships, reliability reports, reviews, recall notices and prices. After an hour’s effort, you’ll become a quasi-expert on virtually every aspect of the planned purchase: what you need, where to buy and what to pay.

When was the last time you talked to an Amazon representative or outside sales person? How about never? Amazon’s face-to-the-customer is devoid of humanity: no names, emails, etc. When you think about it, their “brand” is basically a logo, web address and your online account.

The information superhighway has forced leaders to reassess how they go to market (externally) and how they run their business (internally.) The transparency today leaves little place to hide; employees and customers alike have phones with broadband connections to instantly share their opinions with the planet. Your best defense? A strong brand that’s clearly defined and omnipresent.

Brand Building Isn’t For Sissies

Brand building isn’t like building a house. When building a house, you can delegate some of the work. And as needed, you can make quick executive decisions that cut costs or save time.

Brand building is more like training for a marathon. With true brand building, there are no shortcuts or steps to skip. Either you commit to it fully, or you don’t. Everything matters.

Like marathon running, brand building requires relentless and sustainable dedication, focus, vision and patience. Skipping a few runs and eating poorly has a negative impact on your training. Similarly, neglecting your brand via undisciplined communications, mediocre account management, and misaligned strategies produces poor results.

Here’s a five-step exercise to help get you more refined in your branding discipline:

1. Assess your brand situation/status. Take time to understand the current state of your brand. Are you as committed to your organization’s brand as you can be? Remember: you must always behave/operate in accordance with your brand’s promise. If you’re known for speedy service, you can’t slow-pay vendors.

2. Latch on to a story, and tell it. Every company has a history and a story. This story is the foundation of your brand. Be sure you have that story established, mastered, and shared by every customer-facing associate. Be direct and avoid ambiguity.

3. Think broadly. A brand’s impact and influence is far-reaching. Do not limit your thinking to any existing, narrow-cast set of parameters. Expand your vision beyond the present and explore unchartered markets, pricing models, corporate structures, and product groups.

4. Think digitally. In this era of online everything, at a bare minimum you can’t forget the digital user interface (UI) and the overall digital user experience (UX.) Know that e-mail footers, web sites, invoice templates, etc. are all branding opportunities. Social media has us all interconnected; your brand must tap into this.

5. Be consistently present in the marketplace. Attend industry events. Walk around at trade shows. Hire new associates with fresh ideas.  Blog about your vision for your business or industry. Sponsor community events.  Bottom line: make sure you become a master of brand continuity in the minds of your customers.

Branding Is The W-H-Y

Which leads me to my point: why do customers do business with you? Why do folks choose you over your competition? Why do people pay the prices you charge?

It’s because of your brand. It’s having your people, your processes and your products all strategically wrapped into a compelling, original and authentic package. Proper branding gives an organization its soul. Without a soul, companies tend to behave in awkward and uninspired ways. And this ultimately leads to irrelevance.

Branding requires relentless customer centricity, unwavering internal controls, leadership accountability, laser-focus on corporate metrics and a steady, positive attitude. Your brand is why you matter to your customers. Therefore your brand matters.

Don’t become irrelevant.

Now with The M. K. Morse Company, Jeff Guritza has successfully led sales, marketing and product management initiatives within global organizations and markets for more than 20 years. His work involves creative branding strategies tied to product launches, channel development, structured training programs, corporate acquisitions, and executive long-range planning.


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