As an advocate for continuous improvement, I love the snow and ice management industry’s pre-season. The late summer and fall months bring tradeshows, conferences, symposiums, and articles like the one you’re reading right now to the industry’s business leaders, managers, and sales professionals. The preseason promises a look at the latest and greatest equipment, technology, trends, ideas, education, and exciting networking opportunities.
However, as snow and ice management professionals need to be incredibly careful what information we allow into our heads. We need to be careful what we listen to. Truth is, there’s some pretty bad advice and some damaging thought sharing out there. Most of this is not malicious in intention, but instead folks are simply reluctant to change and think differently.
Capitalizing On The Wrong Differentiator
This won’t earn me a spot on the Christmas card list of vehicle and equipment manufacturers, or software and technology providers, but that’s okay. Most of these folks wouldn’t take the time to handwrite or personalize the card anyway, but I digress. Look, I’m not discounting the importance of having the right equipment, tools, and technology for the job. And anti-icing and deicing alternatives to bulk rock salt are worth a snow pro’s attention. But, if you’re taking any of this to the market as your big differentiator, your prospects, clients, and marketspace is going to be only mildly and temporarily impressed.
An organization is nothing more than the sum of its people. Period. The team with the best people wins. If business leaders spent as much time focusing on their team members as they do their vehicles, equipment, software, and deicing products, their boost in measurable results would be astounding. If business leaders spent as much time shopping for and obtaining their next set of hires as they do that GPS system or new salt spreader, they could positively transform their businesses at an unbelievable scale. Despite all the iron involved, you should really be in the people business.
Misunderstanding The Labor Shortage
Be careful getting sucked into complaining (excuse making) sessions about the unavailability of labor. I say it all the time, the greatest challenge facing business leaders today is the challenging labor market; however, it’s a challenge, not a preordained reality that’s totally out of our control. With great challenges, especially those impacting entire industries, comes opportunities to make those challenges unfair competitive advantages. If everyone is being devastated by something that you can overcome and utilize to your benefit, you’ll enjoy a significant competitive advantage that can bring huge gains in market share and increase the worth of your business.
There’s not a labor shortage as much as there’s a shortage of good employers and a shortage of jobs people actually want to do. It’s not the labor market’s fault business leaders want people to shovel snow for fifteen hours at a time in the most unpleasant conditions imaginable. It’s not the labor market’s fault that business leaders expect their people to sit by the phone on-call, not knowing when they’ll work and earn again. If you allow there to be better options out there for your employees, that’s your fault, not the labor markets.
Years ago, it was much more viable and realistic to have a high-volume of seasonal workers. Companies could staff up in the winter to accommodate snow programs that required greater resources than their summertime operations. There are unfortunately a lot of business leaders in the snow and ice management industry who are insisting on doing what they’ve always done – to their detriment. Think about it. What level of talent are you expecting to find that’s willing to forego 52 paychecks a year and benefits, to be on-call and only work when it snows? It’s business leaders’ responsibility to adapt and change. It’s not job seekers’ responsibility to sacrifice and compromise unnecessarily.
Trying To Convince Everyone To Raise Prices
I’m going to talk out of both sides of my mouth a little on this one. The fact that your competitors – or even the industry as a whole – doesn’t charge enough, is not to blame for any of your financial suffering. And you’re probably not charging enough. If you can’t sell enough business in your market without being similarly priced to your competitors, that’s the problem. If this is the case, you might be bidding instead of qualifying and selling. If you give your prospects and clients little else beyond price to compare, then of course you won’t win business by being the expensive option. Way too many business leaders and sales professionals are bidding instead of qualifying and selling.
One of the hardest things to get business leaders and sales professionals to believe – and it’s absolutely true – is that it’s not about the price. It starts with really knowing your numbers, believing in your value, and having a well-defined target market. Doing commercial work, for example, is not a well-defined target market. A geographic circle on a map is not a well-defined target market. A well-defined target market is being able to identify those prospects and clients who want the unique offerings you can provide and having the discipline to remain focused on that group of opportunities. If your prospects and clients can’t easily tell the difference between your company and your competitors, that’s the problem, not your competitors or your industry’s prices.
Being in the middle is the worst place you can possibly find yourself on the price scale. Walmart works for a reason, and so does Nordstrom. Ford Motor Company and Mercedes aren’t trying to bring the other around to their way of pricing. Rolex isn’t complaining about not being able to sell watches in Timex’s marketspace. Do you see where I’m going with this? Walmart, Nordstrom, Ford, Mercedes, Rolex, and Timex are all remarkably successful brands.
The pre-season is a strategic time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not. Just make sure your mind is in the right place. Be careful what talk and thoughts you let in. Not everyone’s perspective is beneficial for you to embrace. There’s some great advice out there and some conversations definitely worth having this pre-season, and some that you should take with a grain of… rock salt.