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SOCIETY OF ENTREPRENEURS ELECTS NEW BOARD OF DIRECTORS

The Society of Entrepreneurs has elected three new members and officers of the Board of Directors. The new officers are: President, Duncan Williams; President Elect, Bill Courtney; Secretary/Treasurer, Andy Taylor and Membership Chairman, Carolyn Hardy. The two new members of the Board of Directors are Hilliard Crews, Jay Myers and Susan Stephenson.

The Society of Entrepreneurs was founded in 1991 to foster the development of the entrepreneurial spirit and to recognize the contribution of entrepreneurs to business and the community.

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Robert Wang is Recipient of 2019 Master Entrepreneur Award

The Society of Entrepreneurs, in partnership with Junior Achievement of Memphis, is pleased to announce that the 2019 recipient of the Master Entrepreneur Award is Robert Wang. The Master Entrepreneur Award will be presented to Robert Wang, Founder of Creative Co-op and Founder of The Regent Group, on Saturday, April 6, 2019 at the 27th Annual Dinner and Awards Banquet.

This esteemed honor is given to the member of the Society who best exemplifies the full range of characteristics: self direction, determination, creativity, leadership, and integrity that are necessary for membership in the Society. This person is, in other words, a perfect example of the capacities, accomplishments, and breadth that result from the fullest development of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Robert Wang is living proof of the true spirit of entrepreneurship, starting small and working to realize his dream of business success. Founded in 1976 in the back of a van, Wang’s International, was dedicated to selling crafts merchandise to wholesalers and retail stores, and grew to become a powerhouse with annual revenues globally of more than $250 million. In 2001, Wang’s International experienced a crippling business downturn. Robert Wang then founded Creative Co-Op from ground zero to focus on life style accessories, designing and distributing to a broad spectrum of retailers in the U.S. In 2008, as Creative Co-Op continued to grow by leaps and bounds, a Tornado hit Memphis and made touchdown in the center of the 380,000 sq. ft. distribution warehouse destroying 87% of the inventory. Wang led the team on the road to recovery in just three months by encouraging his employees that “We must choose to look at catastrophes as challenges, and we will convert sorrow to strength”. Today, Creative Co-Op has grown to a world-wide Home accessories supply house in Europe, Asia, and North America. The ‘Creative’ part of their name revolves around imagination, design, and collaboration with artists. ‘Co-Op’ speaks to the union of their customers, their suppliers, and their people. The combination results in their unique ability to bring extraordinary products to their valued customers.

Creative Co-Op is fiercely committed to customer success, no matter the sales channel. They understand that the retail environment is constantly evolving, and embrace this change as an opportunity to further elevate themselves and the value they can bring to the customers.

The entrepreneurial spirit that the Wangs embody is something that they are constantly working to recognize and ignite in others. In 1989, they established the Robert Wang Center for International Business at the University of Memphis. The center serves as a catalyst and a forum for ongoing analysis, training and discourse on the global economy and the challenges of global competition for American business and higher education.

In addition to a 1995 induction into The Society of Entrepreneurs, the Wangs have enjoyed many accolades throughout their career. Mr. Wang received the Memphis Business Journal’s first ever Executive of the Year Award. In 1992, he was awarded the Master of Free Enterprise Award by Junior Achievement of Greater Memphis. Since 2001, Creative Co-Op has received many industry awards and recognitions for its achievements.

On behalf of The Society of Entrepreneurs and Junior Achievement of Memphis, congratulations to Robert Wang, recipient of the 2019 Master Entrepreneur Award.

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By Mary C. McDonald
Published: The Daily Memphian, February 28, 2019

This is Memphis, a city of renowned entrepreneurs, dreamers who act, creative people whose ideas have changed the world. It’s exciting to think about the next big thing that will come out of Memphis.

Actually, there is already a new wave of innovators whose next great things are gaining momentum now. Six of them pitched their new ideas at the first Next Big Thing, hosted by The Society of Entrepreneurs and Epicenter.

The event was held on Feb. 19, at the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis, the perfect backdrop for the encouragement of entrepreneurs. For some competitors, it was their first big idea; others were pitching a new twist on their established business. For all six, the competition was a risk they were willing to take to launch their new idea.

The mission of The Society of Entrepreneurs, and Epicenter, is to educate and encourage entrepreneurs. What better way to encourage entrepreneurs than a competition, and an award with a cash prize to help in the launch.

The award was named the Mustang Award. Mustangs are independent, hearty and tenacious, able to withstand adversity and survive an oppressive environment. Mustang is also a term used by the military to refer to someone who starts at the lowest rank and through hard work, courage, and leadership, achieves the highest rank. We could easily exchange the word “mustang” with the word “entrepreneur,” and we would be describing the people who presented at The Next Big Thing

Fourteen members of The Society of Entrepreneurs served as judges as six businesses – three start-ups and three scale-ups – presented their business plans in the Memphis version of “Shark Tank.”

Those who pitched their ideas for a new business or an expansion were Phillip Ashley, CEO of Phillip Ashley Chocolates; Denise Higdon, CEO of WorkSite Consultants; Parker Pell of QuikFix; Aayush Thakur, CEO of Truckish, Maureen Yarborough, president of Sign Matters; and Marterrious McClain, co-founder of SecondKeys.

The group represented the brightest and best in innovative ideas, and each was chosen from among the many entrepreneurs who applied for the opportunity to compete. They were a group diverse in age, gender, race, type of business, and business model. They pitch their innovative and creative solutions so as to appeal not only to the judges, but to the large number of attendees at the competition. It was an opportunity for each entrepreneur to get the word out about a problem, their solution, and why their business is a good investment.

The judges had a tough job, but in the end Ashley was announced the winner. Ashley’s chocolates have been gifts at award shows including the Grammys, the Emmys, the Oscars, and most recently, the Tony Awards. He plans to use his Mustang Award prize money to purchase equipment needed for expansion.

Memphis is truly a city of entrepreneurs who are preparing for the next great thing.

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After careful consideration by the membership committee and the Board of Directors, The Society of Entrepreneurs is pleased to announce the selection of three (3) new members to the organization; the new members are: Chris Bird, Dillard Door & Security, Inc.; Steve Charles, M.D., Charles Retina Institute and Carl Ring, Ring Container Technologies.

The new members will be inducted at the 27th Annual Dinner and Awards Banquet which will be held on Saturday, April 6, 2019 at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis.

Chris Bird
Dillard Door & Security, Inc.

From his earliest recollections Chris Bird was always interested in business, commerce and sales-from operating drink stands by the neighborhood tennis court to advertising his lawn mowing business on white match book cases with a rubber stamp with his contact information. In college, Chris even started 1520 Enterprises Unlimited to loan money to friends who were short on funds pending payday or mom and dad’s deposit. Although unincorporated and unlicensed that business was very similar to today’s payday and title loan businesses.

After college, at this grandfather’s urging, Chris studied for and passed the life insurance licensing exam. With the desire to be his own boss driving him, he left that business and started a series of businesses-Microcomputer Consulting Associates, consulting and custom software design; Lido Development, LLC-buying, improving, developing and selling real property and Spec-Tech architectural consulting. (Notable local projects included Peabody Place, Target House and FedExForum)

In 1999, Chris was asked to consider purchasing Delta Door and Hardware Co. by its owners and spent a year inside the company working towards that goal. In 2000, at a meeting of Memphis Rotary, John Dillard told Chris he wanted to retire. Chris formed an agreement with John Dillard, Jr that he would form a new corporation that in two years would purchase the assets of the existing Dillard Door & Specialty Co. Chris took $75K in savings and a personal note from JD to capitalize the new corporation Dillard Door & Security, Inc. At the time of purchase, the company had 12 employees and was doing about 2 million in revenue. In 5 years the company had grown to about 50 employees and 6 million in revenue. In 2008, the security portion of the business had become large enough that they started a separate company Dillard Security Services, LLC to better handle the needs of the security business.
While the recession years took its toll on new construction related businesses, the security and service sector of our business continued to thrive and produce more than 8mil in revenue and both are climbing.

In 2013, due to the increased amount of business done with law enforcement entities, a Federal Firearms License was procured to offer firearms, as well as other security services, to law enforcement contacts. DSS Firearms, LLC is now almost a stand-alone business.
In 2018, Dillard Door acquired Tri-State Glass, a 60 year old, family owned business that had a large portion of its revenue from Dillard. This is coming full circle because when John Dillard, Sr. started his business in 1947 it was called Southern Glass and evolved from just glass to what Dillard Door & Security, Inc. is today.

Chris Bird is actively involved in various church and community organizations including the Memphis Rotary Club Board, Regional One Health Foundation Board of Directors, Calvary Episcopal Church Vestry, Door and Hardware Institute, the Construction Specifications Institute, Morrison Architectural Scholarship Fund at UofM, Memphis Heritage Board, NFIB State Leadership Council and Crime Stoppers.

Steve Charles, M.D.
Charles Retina Institute

Steve Charles, MD is the world’s leading vitreoretinal surgeons and has developed many of the techniques and devices used by vitreoretinal surgeons worldwide. He has performed over 36,000 vitreoretinal surgeries, lectured in 50 countries and operated in 25, delivered 17 named lectures, and over 1000 speaking trips. He authored a leading textbook in the field which is now in the 5th edition and in 6 languages and authored over 174 articles in the medical literature and over 50 book chapters. He is a Fellow in the American College of Surgeons and International College of Surgeons and a member of the Retina Society, Macular Society, American Society of Retinal Specialists, Club Jules Gonin, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American-European College of Ophthalmic Surgery, Euro-Lam, and the Dowling Society. He is on the Board of Governors of the ARVO Foundation for Eye Research He is on the editorial board of Retina and a reviewer for Ophthalmology, Archives of Ophthalmology, American Journal of Ophthalmology, and British Journal of Ophthalmology, writes a column for Retina Physician and is an editor for eMedicine. He has received the Wacker Medal from the Club Jules Gonin, the first Founders Medal from the Vitreous Society, was inducted into the University of Miami School of Medicine Medical Alumni Association Hall of Fame, and was named by Ocular Surgery News as one of the top ten innovators in the past 25 years. He is consistently listed in Best Doctors in America and Becker’s Top 34 Ophthalmologists in America. He is a Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Tennessee.

He is a mechanical and electrical engineer and has well over 100 issued or pending patents. He is a consultant for Alcon Laboratories and the principal architect of the Alcon Accurus and Alcon Constellation Vision System. Alcon also acquired InnoVision, a company started by Dr Charles, the Alcon Accurus and Constellation product lines are derivatives of InnoVision technology invented by Dr Charles.
He is the Founder of MicroDexterity Systems, which developed robots for dexterity enhancement for minimally invasive knee and hip replacement, spine surgery, and skull base neurosurgery. Investors included Medtronic, Baxter, and Allegiance V.Mueller. Stryker, Inc. acquired MicroDexterity Systems, in December 2009.

He is a cofounder, systems engineer, largest investor & stockholder, and Chairman of CamPlex Inc, developing advanced visualization technology for MIS spine, neurosurgery and trans-oral approaches to head and neck cancer.

He is on the board of Zeroto510, a medical device seed capital firm based in Memphis. Dr. Charles is volunteer with Orbis, the Flying Eye Hospital is the world’s only mobile ophthalmic teaching hospital.

Steve Charles is an Airline Transport Pilot, Multi-Engine, Instrument rated pilot with Type Ratings in Citation 500, 560, 650, Falcon 50and Sabre 65 jets and currently owns and flies a Sabre 65.

Carl Ring
Ring Container Technologies

Carl Ring is the retired Chairman of Ring Container Technologies. Ring Container is one of the largest plastic container manufacturers in North America. They are headquartered in Oakland TN and have grown from one factory in 1980 when Carl joined, to eighteen manufacturing locations, employing over 700 people, across the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Many Memphians know Ring Container by its previous name, Ring Can Corporation, which was founded by Carl’s father, Bob Ring, in 1968.

Ring Container’s success is deeply rooted in its culture where its people are valued, challenged, and encouraged to have fun. Ring also has a “focused plant” philosophy whereby highly engineered and automated “clean-room” plants are geographically located near major customers to best serve their daily needs. To accomplish this Ring has an extensive engineering department, many of whom were recruited locally from the University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University.

In 2017 Ring Container was sold to Michael Dell’s MSD Partners. MSD supports the people and culture at Ring and continues to grow the company.
Carl and his wife, Dr. Trish Ring still reside in Memphis, but now spend their summers at Blue Star Ranch which they built in the Blue Ridge Mountains of N.C. in 2014. Blue Star Ranch is a 160 acre ranch which hosts private events for leaders, teachers, groups, or individuals of various disciplines to retreat and collaborate. The cornerstone program at the ranch is Ring Leader Equine Coaching overseen by Dr. Trish Ring. Carl spends his time in his machine shop, with his horses, or dreaming up new projects to start. Together, Trish and Carl have 4 children and one grandchild.
Carl earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 1978 and currently sits on the President’s Advisory Board

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Transcription of Entrepreneurs Roundtable Meeting held at Napa Cafe on Thursday, October 11, 2018
Courtesy of  Jon W. Sparks
Editor, Inside Memphis Business
Contemporary Media, Inc.
Memphis magazine | Memphis Flyer

We are a technology company, founded in 1996. Twenty-two years later, I can say that 22 years in technology business is like dog years. I feel like I’m 150 years old. We’ve learned a lot since those startup days. You discover things about yourself and your business when you go through adversity. That’s part of the backdrop of this whole millennial thing.

In 2003 we discovered an embezzlement and dealt with it. (Just for everybody’s edification — this is really kind of cool — our accounting manager who stole the money went to federal prison for nine years. Very proud of that.) You know what’s interesting when you run a business is that things are not perfect all the time, are they? Raise your hand if you’ve got a business that just hums along. I need to meet you. I want to take a picture with you because I don’t know how that works.

The backdrop of this millennial discussion is approximately four years after our embezzlement crisis. Four years and it was the weirdest thing — I had this feeling that things weren’t really right with my business. It just felt like there was uneasy restlessness amongst my employees. I want you to get this locked in your head: In 30 days in the summer of 2007, we had one, two, three, four top sales performers in my company — 80 percent of my revenue for the prior year — walk out the door. Hold that thought. Then one of my technicians, one of my best people goes in the hospital for a liver transplant and never comes out. Another friend of ours goes on vacation to Gulf Shores, never came back. Saturday-Saturday funerals.

You haven’t lived until you go to funerals trying to console your employees when your own heart is breaking. On top of that, my wife got diagnosed with a potentially serious health problem. I thought I was losing my mind at that point, I really did. I was so traumatized by those events of that summer, I remember being afraid to turn the lights out in my bedroom. You’re looking at me like “Is he crazy?” Yeah, a little bit. Why would I do that? Because I was afraid of what the next day was going to look like.

What’s interesting in running a business, particularly a small business, is that you can take things very personally, and I did at that point. I was mad at those guys. I understand turnover. Turnover is part of business, but did it have to happen in these 30 days? All these guys at once? You’re probably thinking, “Why did all those guys leave? Because he’s a jerk?” I may be that, but one of the guys started his own business. He said, “You inspired me. I want to start my own business.” Great! Another guy went to work for a supplier. Another guy went to work for a customer. I forgot what the fourth one did. It wasn’t malicious. It wasn’t anything like that.

But we had this problem. The thing we had to do was take it away from being personal with me, all about me, I, I, I — to we. We got jacked around, so as a company, what are we going to do about it? (I’m getting to the point on millennials, I swear to it. I really am.) With that backdrop of a business in so much distress, we had to figure out a strategy.

I gathered a team, and I said, “What do you guys want to do? Do we want to go out and get some industry veterans come in? Rebuild the business, quick fix?” How many people have done that maybe in your business?

We decided not to do that. We wanted to wipe the slate clean and look at the world in a different way and change the way we had done business. You’re going to like this part, millennials, guess what we did? Here it is: We decided rather than hire industry veterans, let’s go build a farm system (I’m a big baseball nut). Get the young talent in there that we can train for the long haul. When I was recruiting I got dramatic sometimes. I set these people down and I said, “You need to understand what’s going on here. This is a business in great distress. I’ll make a deal with you. You help me get this back on track, this will be a story you can tell your grandchildren.”

What did those millennials do? This is the part you’re really going to like. We hired them in the summer of 2007. Are you ready for this? Four years later, in 2011, we took the company from $11 million to $25 million in sales amidst the worst economy in 80 years. Can I just say I believe in millennials?

Some things to consider: The millennials are different from past generations. Obviously social media plays a big part of that, doesn’t it? You know as baby boomers, we look at y’all, and we’re wondering what is up? “You have no communication skills. All you do is screw around with social media all the time. You make statements and form opinions because you’re engaged with social media.” Understand this, baby boomers, social media didn’t exist when we were their age. It’s a different world. That’s the first thing I had to figure out with our folks is it is a different world.

What doesn’t work with millennials? Baby boomers, do you remember when we were all getting out of college and everything, your first job or whatever it was? Second, third maybe. How did you get motivated? How were you managed, particularly in sales? How that worked? In the ’70s, I know for me it was all about intimidation, threats, cussing. You don’t make your numbers, you’re out of here. No conversation. Do or die. Here’s a news flash. That won’t work with millennials. I can assure you of that. That’s the first thing I would suggest to you. Get over the strategies of the ’70s in trying to manage these folks, because it won’t work.

Some other things to consider too: Millennials — who did such a great job of bringing us back and growing it and everything — don’t want you to limit the opportunities for them to work in your business. They want to grow their careers. Baby boomers, is that much different from us all those years ago? It’s the same thing. They really want the same thing. Once you consider that, when you’re recruiting millennials, I want you to think about the opportunities for them.

Now, here’s a big one. Millennials do not like to obsess about work 24/7. They don’t want to be labeled by their job. I’ll give you an example. My oldest sister, God bless her I love her, spent 38 years with IBM. Never did I have a conversation with her that didn’t include IBM. She wasn’t Delores. She was IBM, Big Blue. When she walked in the door, I could see the blue. Millennials don’t want that at all. They don’t want to be labeled by their job. Even though we have some really good millennials that are still with me from the old days, they’re proud to be with the company but they don’t want to be labeled. That’s them.

Here’s something else, and this is a big deal. I wrote about it in the book and all. You need to treat millennials with respect. Now I’m sure every baby boomer has been frustrated one time or the other with millennial children and whatever. Is that a fair statement? That’s why you came out today. I don’t know that I have the secret. I could just tell you though that you need to consider the respect issue. What do I mean by respect? We talk about the old days, walking to school ten miles in the snow. Was it easy when we were growing up? Probably not.

But consider this. My son, a millennial, started Christian Brothers High School in the fall of 2001, one week before 9/11. Think he was a little traumatized like we all were? And then seven years later he sees his parents’ portfolio shrink more than half. He sees fear in his parents’ eyes for this market and the economy and everything. My point is, life has not been perfect for them either. You want respect from them? Give it to them.

All right, here’s one other thing and I’m going to be careful here. Millennials do not like to called the entitlement generation. They do not want to be the participation trophy generation. You need to get over those labels. That’s what’s worked for us. Now, do I occasionally harass my millennials? Yeah. All day every day, but it’s not without respect and having fun with them. That’s different.

What else works? Meet them on their terms. Here’s what really worked for us. I’d like y’all to consider this for your businesses and wherever you are. Millennials, this is the most tech savvy generation in the history of mankind. What does that mean when you’re hiring and trying to recruit and everything? You need to be able to challenge them to be able to do more. There’s plenty of energy. There’s plenty of IQ, technical IQ in particular. Challenge them. Don’t limit to what is expected, but demand more. You’ll be surprised with the results.

Then here’s something that’s really a big deal, and I do it all day every day, and so do my millennial employees. Give back to the community. Again, millennials don’t like the 24/7 obsession about work. When they’re not working, they want to do something good for the community, a lot of them. Feed that. Get them involved. Put the energy to use for the non-profit or whatever you’re doing. That has worked very well for us. Giving back to the community. More than just a job; it’s got to be more than that for them.

Let’s look at this and hold everything. There’s a practical side in business for millennials. I mean, they are the future of the business. Newsflash, baby boomers, we’re not going to live forever. If you want your business to have the future, recruiting millennials is not an option. Working with them is not an option. Managing, you’ve got to do it because when you have them and you recruit them, you have young people, they can go on many many years beyond you, and your business can live for a lot longer.

What I would suggest to you all, business owners in here in particular, is to start right now to develop an employee farm system. Target and recruit the millennials. They’re the key to your future. You need to have a healthy amount of young people in your business. The other part of it too is it’s a great balancing act, with having the young talent, energetic and everything, with the experienced folks. That’s already worked for us.

Also, it’s a great image for your customers in many cases. In my case in particular, our customers look more like my son than they do me. Our suppliers look more like my son than they do me. Our customers relate to him, honestly, more than me. Just consider that.

What else? All right, this is a hard part baby boomers. Be patient with millennials. Don’t look for a quick fix. Repeat after me: Patience. It’s hard though, y’all. I understand because we did come from different worlds and everything. What’s worked for us is acknowledging that we are from different worlds. My son harasses me about things about the old days of ISI, and I harass him about the current days of ISI. You can have some fun with this, but I tell you if you’re a church-goer, pray for this. You’ve got to have patience. Nothing happens overnight.

With us, yeah, we had that wonderful moment there, moments from 2007 to 2011 that those millennials mowed it down. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. This is why I wrote my second book. They had no experience in the industry, pulled them out of nowhere, trained them up and inspired them, and then they set record sales. I believe in millennials because I know it works. It has for us. Recruit those millennials for your longterm sustainability and your business will be able to project the future. You’ve got to absorb that whole line of thinking, and you have to execute.

By the way, let me tell you the epitome of belief in millennials. In January next year, I am turning my business over to my 31-year-old son. Do you like that? I’m doing what I feel like is best for the business and not me. I’ll leave you with this — I need three words for you to think about: Pray for me. Thanks a lot, gang. I appreciate it.

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Integrity-Based Communications: Using Truth to Get What You Really Want  (Baur, 2004)Integrity-Based Communications: Using Truth to Build High-Trust Relationships (Baur, 2013)

There’s Something in the Water (Contemporary Media, Inc., 2017)

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Bradberry, Greaves, 2009)

Conversational Intelligence (Glaser, 2014)

Emotional Intelligence (Goleman, 1995)

 The Question Book  (Biehl and Arterburn, 1993)

The 29% Solution (Misner, Donovan, 2008)

 The Business of Consulting (Beich, 1999)

When God Winks (Rushnell, 2001)

 Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Palmer, 2000)

www.rezscore.com upload resume, get grade A-F, make changes to improve

On second thought, here are a few more of my favorites:

 Crucial Conversations: tools for talking when the stakes are high (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler, 2002)

How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: seven languages for transformation (Kegan, Lahey, 2001)

The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Know to Handle Conflicts at Work,, Home, and Life (Pachter, Magee, 2000)

How to Talk So People Will Listen (Brown, 1993, 2014)

QBQ! The Question Behind the Question® (Miller, 2004)

Added by text from SOE audience members May 3, 2018:

Start With Why (Sinek), recommended by by Jana Cardona

The Big Leap (Hendricks) “life changing” says Stacey Ferguson

Today Matters recommender unknown

 Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane (Brett King), recommended by Andy Campora

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(This is the final part of an 8-part series on Don Hutson’s 7 Types of Differentiation.)

Product Differentiation represents both opportunities and challenges.

One challenge is how to overcome a defeatist mindset when you are selling anything…especially a commodity. Many in this area subscribe to the philosophy that a commodity is what it is and we (and our competitors) are selling the same thing to the same market. So, we had better be the cheapest or we are not going to get any orders!

One opportunity is to get creative and figure a way to go to market with offers that outshine those of your competitors.

So how can we go to market selling a commodity without a directly comparable offer? The “Offer” encompasses more than the commoditized product itself, so get your smartest folks together to brainstorm how you can make your offer different.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Six Months Same as Cash – If you can fine-tune your offer to include a more favorable payment plan, you will have a market advantage;

  1. Buy One Ton or More and get 20 Widgets Free! – This is the “Comp Add-on”.  Buy your add-on (that they want!) at a modest price and gain a market advantage.

  1. Appropriate Gifting – Come up with a series of promotional products your buyers like and need that features your company logo.  Then, make certain that they get these utilitarian sales support items on at least a quarterly basis. Be innovative! Discover things no one else has thought of. This can help cement awareness of you and your company in the minds of your customers. Years ago I bought 500 small but heavy pop-up noteholders with my name and contact info on it. It was handy and useful, and I actually had a few clients tell me they think of me daily! …Still used them after 15 or 20 years!

  1. Usurp the Commodity Label – Is there a way your company can tweak or improve your product in a manner that de-commoditizes it? For example, producing it with one unique component that weighs less than the normal one, thus decreasing shipping costs. I have clients whose “thought pioneers” have made things like this happen! This is true product differentiation. Hopefully, you have some “hot brains” in your company who can create such unique products and market them aggressively. But, time is of the essence because, when your competitors see how well your unique product approaches are working, they may very well try to reverse engineer them to enhance their position before you know it!

  1. Special Events – Invite the top 20% of your customers (who are probably responsible for 80% of your business) to a special fundraising event your company has staged to raise money for a worthwhile charity. Events of this type are often attended by VIPs who everyone wants to associate with.  When your company makes this kind of an event part of an ongoing effort, your offer can be better received by the marketplace.

Will all of these work in your case? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s where your creativity comes into play. Take these examples to your marketing team and use them as “thought starters” as you implement outstanding ways to stay relevant in the minds of the decision-makers in your universe.

In conclusion, be prepared to step up to the challenges that confront professionals in commodity sales. Be resourceful! Seize the opportunities you discover that can be the key to making product differentiation work well for you!

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This is part 6 in an 8-part series on Don Hutson’s 7 Types of Differentiation.

Have you ever noticed that The Rolls Royce Motor Car Company never offers you $10,000 cash back when you buy a new Rolls Royce? Or a zero interest loan? They have no interest in presenting a low budget, cost-saving image. To the contrary, they want you to know that they only make a modest number of their fine Motor Cars per year and that if you want one you had better get your deposit in as soon as possible to get on the list! The exclusivity justifies the price of these unique automobiles in the minds of the consumer.

How we go to market is critical in terms of the messages we send to our targeted buyers. This entire series on differentiation in the Don Hutson Reports to date has been about the choices we must make to differentiate our offering from our competitors. We must either creatively structure our offering in such a way that our price becomes secondary in our negotiations, based upon our customers’ perception of value, or choose a way to project that we are the lowest priced alternative out there! I recommend the former option, not the latter. If you gain business on price, you can lose it on price. Anybody can give their stuff away!

So, the question becomes: How we can craft a value proposition that is more compelling than those of our competitors? And, it can get tricky here, because we need to go to market with a strong, broad-based appeal to our targeted clientele/prospects while at the same time maintaining the capability of revealing specific “value points” to individual prospects whose major buying motives have been identified.

At U. S. Learning, we define the Value Proposition as the perceived value and benefits embedded within an organization’s deliverables in the context of the investment required for their acquisition. Here are five ideas to keep in mind regarding possible approaches:

  1. Keep the conversation with prospective buyers oriented around benefits to them, not financial or numerical discussions.
  2. Focus on your best quality points to demonstrate that the ultimate cost over time will be less than the apparent price today, especially when compared to your competition.
  3. Offer more convenience and greater accessibility than your competition does to keep your customers constantly impressed with how connected you and your company are when they need you most.
  4. When talking benefits, accentuate the value points you captured from them regarding their priorities and preferences when you performed your needs analysis.
  5. Constantly educate them and their people about effective usage, creative applications, and maximum benefits of the products and services you offer.
  6. Get on their side of the table and problem-solve with dedication and expertise, considering things from their point of view. Maximum collaboration pays off “big-time” in the present and will pave the way for long-term relationships.

Listen carefully to your customers’ comments and use these
“price +performance” tools to differentiate your unique value proposition. This will ensure that they will concur that your price is fair and justified.

This article is Part 6 of an eight-article series on the subject of “Differentiation”. 

 

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From The Don Hutson Report
(This is part five in an 8-part series on Don Hutson’s 7 Types of Differentiation.)

When everything you and your competitors offer customers is basically equal, a superior marketing approach can win the business for you. So, what does a superior marketing approach look like in today’s ever-changing marketplace?

For starters, your company’s traditional marketing approach should be empowered by first-rate sales, advertising, public relations, and promotional methods and materials that truly generate an aura of value for your products and services from your customers’ perspectives.

The other prime component of a modern marketing approach is the integration of web-based initiatives into the implementation of the plan. Anyone who does not include Internet marketing and social media in the marketing mix today is short-sighted, since effective command of this incredible resource will be a difference-maker – now and from now on!

Two issues come into play on each differentiating factor: your uniqueness and your offering’s relevance to each customer. And the appeal of each can vary widely from customer to customer based largely on five elements. Let’s cover them individually.

Advertising – Is your company building a solid brand and reputation with advertising that is positively impacting, creative, and appealing to your customer base? If the sales and marketing team at your company can ascertain what the top five “value points” are that cause people to buy from you, they will have a strong basis for ad development that will capture the attention of your prospective buyers and cause them to take action – in your favor. William Wrigley of chewing gum fame, was known to have said “Half of my advertising spend is useless; I just don’t know which half!” Today we have the ability to measure key metrics in a more viable manner to appropriately target the right people with the right approach.

Promotional – Does your company periodically offer special promotions, coupons, or “sales” that compel your customers to buy more or try new or updated items? If not, you may want to give it a try to gain new revenues and more of a following from people who have not been compelled to buy these items from you previously. It can be a tool for increased market penetration. But, be careful not to sabotage previously top-selling items in your line in the process. I advise my customers to form marketing committees who can get together to brainstorm options. The collective intellect of those from multiple disciplines within any company can come together to formulate solid, creative promotional approaches.

Public Relations – What kinds of messages are you sending through press releases and special notices, and in the case of larger companies, your annual report letter, that might positively impact your sales? What kind of grade do you give your company on finding excellent ways to inform the marketplace of your latest and most advanced products, services, and customer support technologies? In most industries, customers are becoming more discerning and competition is getting keener than ever, so go after every market advantage you can through well thought out P. R.

Sales – Do your sales team members’ skills exceed those of your top competitors? You will either be at an advantage or disadvantage in this regard, so management’s inclination to provide the sales team with the best, up to date, quality sales training is key for gaining – and maintaining – the advantage. Are you being encouraged to use outdated sales techniques and approaches that evoke resistance rather than acceptance?  “Always be closing” is a concept that should be eliminated from your company’s play book! Whenever possible, a win-win, collaborative approach is preferred. That way, you are more likely to get the order today and build a bridge to future business.

Social Media – If you are like most professionals today, you visit the web sites and Social Media platforms that offer information of vendors seeking to do business with you. Odds are that prospective buyers of your products and services perform the same kinds of immediate due diligence. Don’t fall behind your competition on this front. Your digital footprint is critical today! So, be certain that the appropriate people in your company are busy making positive electronic impressions and guarding your corporate reputation with insight. Social Media can easily be your light at the end of the tunnel and not a train…. unless you ignore it. In that case, it very easily could be a train in the form of your competitor whose digital footprint overshadows yours!

Recognize that light as a beacon of opportunity! Seize it, and get on the cutting edge of Social Media and the other elements that make up Marketing Differentiation. Then, capitalize on all of the traditional and contemporary advantages currently available to you rather than becoming a victim of them!

Written by Society of Entrepreneurs member, Don Hutson, a #1 NY Times and Wall Street Journal Best-selling author and a Hall of Fame speaker. He also serves a CEO of U. S. Learning based in Memphis, TN

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From The Don Hutson Report
(This is part four in an 8-part series on Don Hutson’s 7 Types of Differentiation.)

Experiential Differentiation is the unique way you perform services for your clients. Think about it for a minute. Do you and your team members give them an experience to remember as opposed to just good service? If Just good service is what most everybody else provides (only enough to get by), experiential differentiation can be your secret sales weapon. The “Bar of Excellence” in terms of customer satisfaction is higher today than ever before. We need to determine that we are going to remain at the top in comparison to similar product and service providers by truly differentiating ourselves from the competition.

Since our goal is to make clients happy with the way we work – and to keep them that way – let’s explore the tactical side of service delivery. To demonstrate exceptional interpersonal skills, we need to display the following 8 behaviors when one-on-one with customers:

• Greet them with a sincere smile – in person and on the phone
• Maintain good eye contact coupled with exceptional listening
• Exhibit a can-do spirit
• Provide efficient responses
• Make apologies when appropriate
• Ask what else you can do to enhance their satisfaction
• Use their name
• Thank them and invite them to reconnect the next time they need your brand of service

What if one of your top ten biggest customers used the A-F grade scale to rate you and your top 4 competitors in multiple service areas like:
a. Creative solutions to problems
b. Prompt response to inquiries
c. On-time order delivery and price accuracy
d. No-hassle relationship skills
e. Exceptional telephone skills

How would you and your colleagues stack up? If you do a deep dive to see how you could achieve exceptional performance in these areas, you will have a good idea about your level of experiential differentiation. You will also have a very useful report card you can use as a guide to adding any improvements required to maintain – and expand – your competitive advantage.
In their excellent book, The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore elaborate on the power and potential of creating exceptional service experiences to impress customers and gain loyalty and allegiance. This merits out-of-the-box thinking on your part and uncompromising support from your management team! This can also serve as an additional boost to your goal of dominance in a competitive market. The edge you gain can make a ton of difference.

If you want to benefit from the Graduate Course in providing exceptional experiences, you must position yourself to perform periodic “customer service miracles”. This can happen when you make client service excellence your primary goal. You have to be looking for the opportunities. When one presents itself, seize it! A client service miracle is something that, when performed, makes clients say “WOW!” If you are not looking for these opportunities, they will be whizzing by your head all week long. People love great service and exceptional experiences where they do business.

Written by Society of Entrepreneurs member, Don Hutson, a #1 NY Times and Wall Street Journal Best-selling author and a Hall of Fame speaker. He also serves a CEO of U. S. Learning based in Memphis, TN

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