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Brush Up and Hush Up

December 7th, 2018 by

by Randy Stertmeyer, COO, Communicators International, Inc

Stert, Miami University, Ohio Baseball. captain… a few years ago.

If you are in business, and especially if you are in sales, it is always a good idea to “brush up” on your listening skills. And a big part of listening is to “hush up.”

I’ve heard it said, we have two ears and one mouth, and a wise man uses them proportionately.

Anyone who has taken a sales course has learned that there are two kinds of questions; closed-end questions which usually require a short, often one word, answer like “yes” or  “no”; and open-end questions, which require long, descriptive answers. We learn much more from the later. But to really learn from them, you need to shut up and listen.

Listening is an acquired art. We call our company Communicators International. We have learned that good communication springs more from when and how to listen than it does from how we use words.

It is generally agreed that the concept of listening as an art, was born in a seminar given in 1974 by Eric Fromm, a world-renowned social psychologist.  In speaking to a group of American students in Switzerland he related “the art” to his success as a psychoanalyst.

The best short primer on listening effectively I’ve seen comes from psycho-spiritual writer Aletheia Luna. She offers the following steps:

  1. Make Eye Contact. (Obvious, but frequently forgotten.  If you don’t look at the person while they’re speaking, you give them the impression that you don’t care).
  1. Don’t Interrupt. (Let the person speak uninterrupted. Allow the person to say everything they need to say. The goal is to shine the spotlight on them, not you).
  2. Practice “Active Listening”. (Clear your mind of your needs and of your mission, to assure that you fully understand what you are hearing).
  3. Show You Understand. (Provide positive reinforcement to show that you understand.  A simple nod or a quiet verbal response such as “yes”, “yeah”, “ah”, or “okay” will demonstrate interest and comprehension without interruption).
  4. Listen Without Judgment. (To effectively master the art of listening it’s extremely important to withhold any negative evaluations or judgments. If you understand your business, your needs and goals aren’t going anywhere. Once you fully hear the other person’s thoughts you will have a better roadmap for making your case).
  5. Listen To Non-Verbal Communication. (About 60 – 75% of our communication is non-verbal. Observing “body language” is a critical part of listening).
  6. Create A Suitable Environment. (It is impossible to listen to another person when your phone or theirs is buzzing. Remove all distractions and find a quiet place to sit down and listen).

Stert the handyman, 2018.

It is also critical in today’s hi-tech world to apply these same principles to the many forms of communication beyond face-to-face verbal encounters. Emails and text have replaced a great deal of the interpersonal dialog we used to see in business.

It makes it much easier to hide; to avoid unwanted discourse. Without body language available as a tool, we must learn to read between the lines. As with face-to-face meetings, we must slow down and fully digest the written exchanges we have every day.  This means reading more than once and analyzing in the context of the person and situation involved.

The tendency with emails and texts is to rip off a response and move on. These quick replies are often visceral and reactive. Wrong!!! Slow down. Think. Yes, time is precious, but being reactionary is very dangerous.

So brush up on your listening skills. I am reminded of an old Four Seasons song that was on the “B” side of their big hit Rag Doll in 1964. The first two lines of the chorus say it all:

Silence is golden
But my eyes still see 

The next time you are in an important meeting or on a critical sales call, give it a try… just hush up and listen.


Top 10 Thanksgiving Dishes for which you’ll become largely thankful!

November 19th, 2018 by

By Terri Sparks

Thanksgiving is America’s most traditional holiday meal, one with a national menu that every family follows in their own special way… year after year. For many of us, “traditional” means those famous, handed down recipes from Grandma. You may eat the same dishes every year—green bean casseroles, candied sweet potatoes or sausage stuffing (do you call it dressing?) Or, how about something wildly different, tasty beyond belief… and only allowed to be ingested just once annually…  to bring to this year’s table?

Over the years, my friends and family have been coming up with a “twist on traditional” dishes that might have the boring old Pilgrims sailing the Mayflower back to England. Check these out…

Here are my top ten Thanksgiving food recommendations. (Warning, you may have to start taking Lipitor immediately afterwards…! But remember, these are decadent recipes for just ONE feast.And,they are worth it!

  1. White Castle Stuffing – a TAS favorite! My best friend, Lorraine used to make this all the time. I thought she was bonkers, until I actually tried it. Just make sure you remember to state when ordering, “no pickles and no cheese.” Smash ‘em up and stuff ‘em or bake ‘em! Yes, this is stuffing consisting of full-sized White Castle hamburgers! (4+ million calories per serving)
  2. The TAS famous Hankie Pankies for appetizers. Speaking of “stuffing”. This one drives my mother-in-law crazy, because everyone stuffs themselves with these before the big meal. Ground beef, spicy breakfast sausage, Mexican Cheese all melted together and topped on those little Pepperidge Party Rye Slices; toasted just a bit. My father-in-law would disown me if I didn’t bring them! (6+ million calories)
  3. Turkey Dinner Pierogi – A hand-rolled apple sage turkey kielbasa placed on a generous bed of billowy apple and sausage stuffing pierogis, and then doused in traditional Thanksgiving gravy. (Caloric content beyond the threshold of measurement)
  4. Thanksgiving Leftovers Pizza – With store-bought pizza dough, use the gravy as the sauce, mashed potatoes and turkey as the toppings, and mozzarella cheese to pull it all together. Feel free to throw in whatever leftovers you have, too. The guys may want to wear their Sansa-belt pants before attempting to eat this. Sooo good! (A billion+ calories)
  5. Apple and Sausage Macaroni & Cheese – Fresh apples and some hard cider give this basic mac and cheese a double dose of fall flavor. (My kids love it!)
  6. Three-Cheese Corn Pudding – What’s better than one cheese? Three, especially when those cheeses are white cheddar, yellow cheddar… and, Parmesan. (Say “Cheese! Jabba the Hutt endorsed!)
  7. Leftover turkey casserole – Shredded turkey, celery, water chestnuts mixed with cream of chicken soup and some mayonnaise, and then topped with a crunchy, salty abundance of crushed potato chips- DONE! Years ago, the favorite of Sidney Greenstreet. (Famous wild food food forwager, Euell Gibbons,would be spinning in his grave nonstop upon reading this recipe.His loss, as it is amazingly tasty. Seriously!)
  8. Pumpkin Chocolate Tiramisu – I found this one last year on Marthastewart.com. The “old” Tiramisu dressed up with pumpkin puree, replacing the espresso syrup with almond liqueur. (If you can still move by the time this is being offered, you won’t want to miss it!)
  9. Cranberry Jell-O Shots – Need I say more?
  10. Pecan Pie Martini – Again, no words needed.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year because it reminds us all to give thanks and count our blessings. After this top ten list, we probably should also start the Atkins diet!

Gobble Gobble!


THE IDEAL AGENCY-MEDIA RELATIONSHIP

September 18th, 2018 by

In Spring of 1997, when our firm was young and had relocated only six or seven months beforehand from Chicago to Portland, Maine, we had a visit from a media rep. David Corson called on me. He worked for a publication called “Retail Operations & Construction.”

I didn’t know who he was, what he wanted from us or our clients… or, anything about his magazine. But those were the days when we weren’t so busy, and probably, were a lot more hospitable. So I agreed to meet him for breakfast.

Immediately upon meeting, we found out we had some commonalities. Both had athletic backgrounds, were workout fanatics… and the pièce de résistance , both of us were members of the same national college fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). From the get-go, I liked this guy.

I liked him even more when at the end of our initial meeting, he said, “I think I know an account which would love your services.” Within one week, we added a new name to our growing client roster.

The years passed, our business grew as did David’s. He ultimately left the publishing company he was with and started his own firm. In what seemed to be no time at all, he was owner/publisher of Retail Construction, Hospitality Construction and Healthcare Building Ideas magazine & Commercial Kitchens. He developed and managed a number of tradeshows, summits, retreats and other networking events. He did well… and from our vantage point, never forgot us. As a matter of fact, he even hired us! For a number of years, Communicators International, Inc., was full-service advertising and public relations agency for David’s company. We had a blast together. But more importantly, we helped each other grow.

Like so many others in this industry, his firm and ours were hit by the recession. In July of 2008, Communicators had a client roster consisting of many overseas accounts that focused on America. Bam! All at once, we lost 60% of our annual revenue due to non-domestic firms cancelling annual contracts. David really got clobbered, and ultimately re-tooled his firm, winding down his tradeshows and bringing the three aforementioned magazine titles under one new masthead, which he still owns and runs: Commercial Construction & Renovation. In spite of his business hits, David was 100% honorable to us. Whatever he owed, he paid us in full.

Since that time, slowly and surely, both of our companies have come back. We moved to Florida in 2012; David’s firm continued to build up the magazine, added some addenda publishing titles and more. Over the years we’ve signed on a number of new accounts due to his recommendations. We’ve never forgotten the services we get from his firm over and beyond running our clients’ advertising. Bottom line, after 21 years, this publisher still cares about us… and, we still care about him.

In retrospect, looking back to 1997, all of our businesses have changed. 21 years ago, we were all becoming quasi-geeks, getting stoked about all the conveniences and digital tricks we were bringing into our respective companies. David’s firm was doing this, as were we. Like all small businesses, ours were changing with the times. But one thing never changed in the relationship between this media company and Communicators International, Inc. We were interested in each others’ success; we listened to each other; we helped each other… and both firms continually benefitted due to this ongoing, beautiful relationship.

In this blog, I want to publicly thank David Corson for being a great partner.

Phi Alpha, Bro!


Building your business within the commercial construction sector for 2017

February 15th, 2017 by



If you’re a business owner/manager and work within the commercial construction arena, chances are at times you’ve felt like the mythological King Sisyphus.

Remember him? He was punished by the Greek gods. He was forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity. Not ironically, ever since those ancient times, tasks that are both laborious and futile have been described as “Sisyphean.”

Quite honestly, it’s not always good to be King.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t build your business. After all, if you’re the king or a top-ranking officer, it’s paramount that if you fall down, the best thing to do is get up and keep moving toward your goals.

I know that sounds a bit cliché-ish. But if you have a program from which to work off, a strategically posed business growth plan, I don’t think you need a magic wand to build your business. Just some patience, a strong dose of optimism and, a firm commitment that once your plan is crafted, you’ll stick to it.

From a discipline standpoint, having and sticking to a business plan really is no different than committing to get your tired old body back in shape. You put together (or have someone put together for you) a workout program, and then stick to it religiously. No pain, no gain, and after you get used to the routine, you see results. Your business-building plan can work just as easily.

 

To begin, you must:

  • Know what you strengths (and weaknesses) are. Be honest.
  • Ask yourself, “What is a reasonable sales growth goal for my firm?”
  • Step out of your ego. Just because you don’t like your competition, don’t be in denial if they’re beating you in certain areas.
  • Never hate your competition. Be civil regarding them, especially if you ever rub elbows. You might even be able to find out more than you’d ever realize. Remember what Don Corleone said? “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • Include your management team in the development of this plan. Their input will prove to be invaluable.
  • Make sure once your plan is in place that you share it with your people. Get them excited about being part of it, especially your sales team.
  • There’s no reason not to keep using old school tools to promote your business, especially if they’ve successfully worked over the years. But to be afraid to learn about/implement the newer online promotional tools is insane. If you’re over 55 and set in your ways, be smart enough to bring in younger employees who aren’t. It’s even smarter if you jump into the 21st Century and learn/understand these disciplines.
  • It is imperative to have personnel with a strong understanding of today’s social media and how it can be used to positively build your image, reach prospects and educate your targets regarding why they need you.

 

Let’s talk about focus. What kind of growth are you looking for? The easiest is to stay where you are, work hard to maintain all your existing customers, and then just raise your prices across the board by a certain percentage. Now, that sounds pretty basic, and it can make sense. But would your incumbent regular customer base stay with you, were you to announce a 10 percent price increase, especially for the upcoming New Year?

From a realistic standpoint, growth sometimes can be gauged based upon internal need. For example, if you’re maxed out, if all of your team members are working more hours than ever to accommodate your clientele, then obviously, you need more bodies.

But don’t just bring in new hires as a Band-Aid due to having more work than workers. Rather, bring in people who not only can help you meet the demands of your everyday business – ones who will free up fellow workers. Allow them the time to focus on bringing in new business, rather than just slaving to maintain what you already have. After all, it will soon be 2017. Everybody wears more than one business hat these days.

Do you want to grow what you already have and branch out in other directions? Or, maybe you are thinking about growth by acquisition? Maybe you just want to grow your business, so that it can go on the sales block? In other words, build it to sell it.

 

On your mark, get set, grow…

Once you decide the direction to grow your business, go online and look for some of the commercial construction economic reports, which often readily are available. I’ve read many.

Perhaps the best annual commercial construction preview in my estimation comes from the Gilbane Company. It’s professionally done, unselfish and very much on target. Obviously, knowing your marketplace well is a necessity.

To structure your plan, there are many basic protocols.

 

Here’s an outline of one.

  • Start out with your company’s mission statement.
  • Every construction firm has a certain company culture. State yours here.
  • If you’re big enough and want to project your organizational structure, possibly via a flow chart showing hierarchy of positions/roles, do it.
  • Go into detail regarding company goals and the financial projections needed to attain these. It’s best to be conservative.
  • In great detail, outline your product/service offerings. With your staff, go over each component that you “sell” to your customers. Be open and honest. Are each of these offerings as good as they could be? If not, how can they be improved.
  • Make sure you have an ironclad HR program in place for existing personnel and those to be added. If your firm is large enough to have a dedicated HR person/department, look at that as a great insurance policy for your firm.
  • Make a listing of all the challenges you envision in the upcoming year. Of course, this will change, but by realistically forecasting what you very well may confront, eye-opening business surprises during the year will be dealt with more effectively.
  • Clearly, know all the laws to which your firm must abide. As business owners and managers, you’ve all been hit once or twice by some regulation (taxes, zoning, etc.)
  • Embark on a cogent marketing program. And to do so, think about working with a professional marketing firm offering a strong track record within the industries you target. Even though so many firms want to go “in-house,” which in many cases makes sense economically, determine if you’ll get the best talent that way. Or, should your company partner with an outside firm? This marketing program should be put together in great detail. It can and should include participation in networking events, utilizing social media, ongoing content development, advertising, public relations, community outreach services, an ongoing protocol for targeting potential customers… and, so much more. Included also should be a review how to best support your sales team with the best marketing tools and customer services.
  • Make a strong effort to make your plan flexible, so you may adjust to the many business variables to be encountered.

 

Let’s face it – 2017 will be upon us in a few months. Some people believe an “election year” is a guarantee of business increases. Whether or not that is valid, I cannot answer. I can state, however, that if a company puts together a convincing business plan, remains patient and optimistic, good things will happen. The best indicator I’ve seen these last few months is the amount of cranes at construction sites in larger cities. If you do it the right way, business can and will grow.

Unlike King Sisyphus, you indeed can be King of your own domain. 


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Communicators International, Inc.

Headquartered in Jupiter, FL with satellite offices throughout the nation

Call: 561 203 2981

E-mail: info@communicatorsintl.com

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