Planning for Growth & Succession

Planning for Growth & Succession

Planning for Growth & Succession

If you’re an executive or manager, you’re busy. It’s likely your hard work got you to your current position and hard work is the only way you’re going to keep it. Hard work is great, but if all you do is work hard, you’re going to fail at growth and succession planning. Ensuring the future of the firm isn’t about working hard, but working smart.

It’s the responsibility of every executive or manager to have a plan for the future of your firm, your division, or your department. This plan is built around talent. The end goal is to ensure that your firm has the right number, type, and quality of people in the right roles, at the right time, to execute its strategy.

Most managers understand that there’s a connection between business strategy and talent. However, very few managers create plans or processes to leverage this connection for the benefit of their firm. Below is an action-based outline for talent development and succession planning that supports your firm’s business strategy and goals.

  • Create an ideal candidate profile based on your firm’s strategy. Begin this process well in advance of your expected need. Consider both short and long-term business goals. What experiences, traits, competencies, and skills will this person need for success?
  • Get an accurate of assessment of current candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. This is best done utilizing 360 performance feedback from the candidate’s supervisor, co-workers, and direct reports.
  • Think ahead. Don’t just plan how to replace the incumbent, plan 1-3 moves ahead. Succession planning is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Dig deep and learn who the potential candidates are in the mid-level and junior positions within your firm.
  • Develop the skills needed for future roles with on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring, and education. Your executive team should make recommendations on how to prepare their successors, spend time mentoring these employees, and advise them on the unique challenges they may face down the road. Leaders should include their successors in routine projects to help them understand their decision-making process.
  • Stay up to date on candidates’ career goals. Have a quarterly discussion with employees about their career aspirations. What are his or her goals? What does he or she want to do? If their goals have changed, your succession plan may have to as well.
  • Put succession planning on the agenda for meetings of your senior leadership team. Succession is an ongoing process. As potential leaders emerge from within your firm, the senior leadership team should be updated on plans so they know how to meets the future needs of the organization.
  • Link your talent management and development planning to your longer-term business strategy. The future is unpredictable. As your business strategy shifts, so must your talent development process.

At the mid-level of your firm, proactive succession planning leaves your organization well prepared for all contingencies and ensures a strong talent pool for your firm. At the leadership-level, the results are even more significant. It allows your firm to continually strengthen the leadership team that will support your firm’s strategy and goals well into the future.

Contact our team today at to formalize your staffing and succession plans. There’s no time to wait. The future of your firm is too important!

6 Traits of Highly Profitable Distributors

6 Traits of Highly Profitable Distributors

Throughout the promotional product industry, there are highly profitable distributors that are rock solid year after year.  These companies consistently buck downward economic trends and outperform other firms.

6 Traits of Highly Profitable Distributors

What secrets drive their outstanding performance?  Actually, there’s no secret at all.

Ownership Matters

  • Many profitable distributors are owned by successful former sales reps  
  • A focus on sales carries throughout the organization and creates an environment of success
  • The owner’s industry sales success gives him or her instant credibility with the sales team

Value of Customer Service

  • Management and sales efforts must be focused on providing outstanding customer service and value

Out in The Field

  • Owners and management look for chances to assist in providing leads, making joint sales calls, and closing deals for the benefit of the sales team

Not Afraid to Make Money

  • Top companies thrive on making margin when a great value benefits their clients and sales reps alike


  • They don’t keep secrets from their team
  • Too many owners blow years of credibility trying to grab a small piece of extra revenue 

Clients Come First

  • The focus of every department is supporting the work of the sales team and over-delivering for clients

Is your business highly profitable? If not, what are you going to do in the short, medium, and long-term to change that?

Top Sales Rep Manager?

Why Are Good Managers So Hard to Find?

It seems simple enough to hire a good manager for a promotional product distributorship.  You screen candidates with related experience, interview them, pick the best choice, and train them in the specifics of your business.  Simple, right?  Well, no.  It is anything but simple!

Top Sales Rep Manager?

Source of Candidates

Many distributors look to their to top sales reps to step into a managerial role within their company.  This is rarely a good choice.  First, the skill set needed to be a great sales rep is not the same skill set needed to be a great manager.  Second, top sales reps like the open-ended income available on the sales side of the business.  Owners aren’t likely to provide open-ended compensation in a managerial position.  Additionally, the owner ends up distracting one of his top sales producers with a managerial role they may not be suited for.  Also, what’s the plan for that rep’s book of business?  Third, sales reps are trained to focus on their clients and often avoid political interactions with other reps and the distributorship owner.  Accepting a managerial position places the top rep in the middle of conflict between sales reps, owners, and suppliers.  It’s not a comfortable position for them.

Respect Comes With Sales Experience

Respect Comes with Experience

A sales force will respect a successful sales rep who takes on a management role because they understand the sales side of the business and will work on behalf of the sales team.  A manager from outside the industry or one from the industry who has never sold will struggle to achieve that level of respect.  They don’t have the credibility needed to address real-life sales challenges that are unique to the promo industry.  “They’ve never sold anything.  What could they possibly know about what I’m doing?”

The Three Masters

Three Masters

Some owners agree to let a top sales rep become a manager and keep their client accounts.  This might sound good to the manager, but it is the worst possible solution.  A selling manager is viewed as competition to the sales reps.  After all, they can choose which clients they serve and which clients they pass along to other reps.  Owners want managers who are focused on company profitability.  That doesn’t always mesh with the sales team’s desire for a rep oriented manager.  Only a highly capable and talented manager can satisfy owner’s goals, maintain and grow a client base, and gain the trust of sales reps looking for support and more sales.

Management Training Program

Think Long Term

The time to hire and begin grooming a manager comes long before the day you actually need a manager. Advance planning allows you the time to slowly choose the right person for your managerial training program.  A strong training program should last 3-5 years.  It should consist of job rotations through every department in the business, with a heavy focus on sales and vendor relations.  After each department rotation, the managerial trainee is evaluated and rated on performance in their most recent role.  If performance in a particular department is satisfactory, they move on to the next one.  A trend of poor performance during the training period likely means that your candidate isn’t a good fit.  Keep in mind that success in sales is a must before the candidate can proceed to any other department.

By creating a long-term managerial training program you can avoid many challenges of picking a candidate from your sales team or from outside the company.  Sales reps respect sales experience, so sales is a critical building block for management training.  The training period gives you a chance to round out a candidate’s skills and evaluate the cultural fit they have with your team.

With full awareness of the pitfalls of hiring a manager and a carefully outlined training program, you can make hiring for this critical position a positive point in your company’s history, and not a negative blip in your path to success.

Planning for Promo Success in 2015

Planning for Promo Success in the New Year

Planning for 2015As you come out of your holiday daze it’s time to realize that the new year is already here. If your sales plan is in place and backed with the tactics and strategy to achieve your goal, I applaud you!  You are in the very small minority who understands that behind every “lucky” sale you make is lots of work and preparation. You also understand that every “overnight success” comes only after years of experience in the trenches.

If your plan is still a dream waiting to be written down, it’s time to pull yourself and your scraps of ideas together. No success is sustainable without a plan and no plan comes together without focus and hard work.

There are many excuses to not plan for the coming year. I think I heard everyone in my career. There is one compelling reason to plan your year. You must succeed to make the money you and your family need to live.

How do you start? You will need information about last years’ sales and top accounts. You also want to look at your margins, top prospects, and your marketing plan.

Start by reviewing your top 20 clients from last year. Do you expect them to increase, hold, or decline in sales this year?  Be realistic here. Your plan cannot be based on hope. Go through this process client by client, adding or subtracting as needed. What does the total tell you about the coming year? Do you need new clients or is the business outlook pretty good?

How about those margins? A 5% increase can have a big impact on your income. You can pick up this increase if you buy better and/or develop a greater confidence in your pricing strategy. Either way, a bump in margins helps you and your company, and it is pretty easy to do.

Referrals and account development are two similar sales-building techniques that are very effective. If you currently work with an HR buyer, it’s very easy to ask HR who else in the business buys promotional products. Ask your buyer to make the introduction and you’re in! Account development involves a plan to move from a handful of buyers to a national network of buyers. It’s easier to build within clients like than it is to get into an unknown client. By using email, social media, mail, phone and referrals, a large network of buyers can be won over in a very short period.

If you have a sales manager or mentor who will help this process, be sure to utilize their support. If not, team up with another account executive so you can work on this project together. It’s going to take three to four hours, but worth every minute you spend.

Ultimately you are accountable to yourself and your family to make this year the best year yet! Plan your activities, work the plan, and check on your progress every week. Remember this is your plan to change and improve to achieve the best results possible in the new year!

Effective Time Management

Top 5 Tips of Effective Time Management

What if I told you that how you use your time dramatically affects your income and the level of success you achieve in your career?

Well, that is exactly what I am telling you! You must take control of your time to take control of your income and career. Only then will you have the focus you need for success. Here’s how you get started.

To-Do Lists

End each day with the 5 actions items you must accomplish the following day. 4 out of 5 of these actions must be revenue generating.  If they are not revenue generating, rewrite your list.

Controlling In-Bound Communication

I know, you are very social and love to catch up with suppliers and CSRs at your office, and it’s great to chat with the occasional customer who might call.  Are these conversations on your daily list? Probably not. This is about taking control to build a business, not about instant responsiveness.

  • Forward your land line to voicemail.  Check it 3 times each day and respond only if urgent.
  • Silence your cell phone ringer and text notification. Check it 3 times each day and respond only if urgent.
  • Review incoming mail over a trash can, pitch what is irrelevant and save what you need to review for Friday afternoon when the pace is slower.

Allocate time for the following activities each week

  • Client research and prospecting
  • Order follow-up and “thank you’s”
  • Product research/quotes
  • Social media interaction
  • Brief check-ins with your team—CSRs, graphics, AR, referral sources
  • Face-to-face with 1-2 clients

Managing your time involves changing your clients expectations.  You can do this easily with a holiday “thank you” note.

“Hi Jane, Thank you so much for your business and friendship this year!  You are the reason I love my job so much.  In 2015, I have set aside Thursday afternoons to focus exclusively on helping you with your promotional calendar. I really look forward to kicking this off on 1/8/15, and know it will make your life easier….”

Fire time wasting clients.  You know who they are and it’s time you set them free to get better service elsewhere.

“Hi Steve—starting in 2015, I have changed the focus of my business and no longer embroider the 6 fishing team shirts you buy at Costco once a year.  ABC Embroidery is happy to help with that—here is their number.”

Most promotional product sales reps will tell you that time management is a major weakness of theirs. Most will tell you that they want to improve their time management skills. They will listen to a talk on the subject and read the handout material. It is rare for a sales rep to improve their time management skills. Why?  They can’t keep up, they don’t have the time, they can’t get organized, not enough hours in the day, they’re working on it.

You can be the one who improves their time management skills, increases their income and achieves greater career success. Just get started now and stick with it!