Future Vision: Efficiency

Since I’ve discussed the ways software can improve account managers’ service and provide them a competitive advantage, let’s talk about the ways software can improve efficiency (the other competitive advantage) and turn production supervisors into A+ performers.

When it comes to efficiency, your production supervisors are your key asset. The decisions they make can save you money every day. They are essential because they manage your biggest variable costs. What the production supervisor does and how they do it affects not only payroll and margins, but customer satisfaction – which as we know translates into renewals, upsells and customer calls.

Let’s look at what makes an A+ production supervisor so effective. There are four things at which I believe they excel: planning, training, reviewing and economics.

 

  • Planning – There is no substitute for preparation and lead-time management – time is money. Too often, because they lack EASY visibility into the future (a forecast) and are overwhelmed with details, production supervisors wing it, hoping that the schedule they pull out of thin air will somehow marry the right people, equipment and materials for the job.

The A+ production supervisors seem to understand that even a little preparation and lead-time mapping will minimize load, drive and warranty time. Consider that a 5% reduction in monthly hours for a three-man crew saves $8,000 of cost that produced NO revenue dollars – all from planning ahead.

  • Training – A production supervisor buried in paperwork can’t be in the field. This invites inefficiency, because real management and training doesn’t happen in an office. Field training not only develops crew skills, but reinforces the leadership dynamic essential to the respect the production supervisor needs to be successful: “I have the answers because of my experience.” “I am your safety net and always have your back.”

Would it not be more efficient to streamline and reduce paperwork in the field, freeing up time for more training? With electronic drag/drop schedule boards, dynamic real time job updates, electronic time card approval, GPS tracking, and purchasing and inventory management on a smart device, the production supervisor can work from the field and still get all of the paperwork done.

  • Reviewing – The A+ production supervisors end the day they way they started it – still planning, and more importantly, “buttoning up” the day’s events. They need to compile and communicate all of the hours, materials and equipment for every active job.

Not only does this make the people in the office deliriously happy, it provides real-time job costing and work-in-progress reporting that anyone can see and use to make decisions regarding labor, material and equipment. These account for 70% of the average contractor’s P&L costs. Again – all from planning ahead.

  • Economics – The A+ production supervisors take enormous pride in “making the numbers.” They are intensely competitive. Why not leverage this by providing real-time reports for them every day to keep the competitive fire burning?

Sure, it’s nice for a A+ production supervisor to know they did a good job at the end of the week or month – but how about knowing every day? And even better, how about having the boss in front of their peers? I will say it again: You cannot manage what you cannot see … and you cannot build the culture you want unless you are able to manage and lead every day.

 

The key to efficiency is information. Production supervisors need it in all of its various component pieces to better manage people and purchases. Accurate, complete and timely information is central not only to daily operations and job cost, but also to the production supervisor’s performance, productivity and morale. Today, for too many production supervisors, the pieces of information they need are literally in pieces across systems, spreadsheets and papers instead of all in one place.

The vision

How do you improve upon this situation? Easy: standard best practices integrated into a single, centralized operating system (workflow) that is available to supervisors with a few clicks or touches. Here’s what I mean by workflow:

Efficiency is more than a numbers game, it’s a mentality.

It’s what people do and how they do it. To develop this mentality and turn it into accountability requires an operating system that first provides visibility, because when you can’t see it you can’t manage it or hold someone accountable for it.

Accountability promotes traction. Traction is that state where people apply their talents the way you want them to – day in and day out. Here is the way I think about this:

Culture creates traction. It cannot happen without an SOS that optimizes visibility and drives accountability. The result is culture – one that can deliver those core goods of service and efficiency measured in growth and profits.

Future Vision: Service

Let’s look into the future and envision how software will improve customer service. This is important because customer service, not software, provides a competitive advantage. But, the right software can provide the platform you need to out-compete the other guy by delivering better service.

When it comes to service, your account managers are your most valuable assets. They are customer service personified. What the account managers do, how they do it and when they do it accounts for your clients’ experiences. Superior service produces results measured in dollars: renewals, referrals, upsells… not to mention goodwill and satisfaction.

Of course, we all want A+ account managers. The challenge is that there are only so many A+ account managers out there. There is a far larger pool of solid B+ account managers who, with the right tools, might perform like A+ account managers.

Is this possible? It is.

Breaking Down an A+ Account Manager

Let’s start with what makes an A+ account manager so valuable. In my experience observing them, there are five things at which they excel: time management, salesmanship, anticipation, responsiveness and economics.

  • Time management – This is the most critical skill because it provides the structure for the other four. Account managers are the busiest people in the company … and often the least productive. This is bad for you and worse for the customer because service suffers. Clients end up waiting for everything.
  • Salesmanship – This ability is the key to communication. What retains customers is their relationship with the people in the company – that relationship is built and maintained by account managers. The ability to listen and recommend increases the service value an account manager provides.
  • Anticipation – Providing communication and information that anticipates needs and prevents issues increases the service value your account manager provides. Remember the last time you sat on a delayed flight waiting for some news from the pilot? That’s how customers feel when timely communication is missing.
  • Responsiveness – Providing speedy feedback with fact-based solutions and multiple options increases the service value they provide.
  • Economics – Providing guidance on money decisions by demonstrating where and how the customer can best invest and spend their landscape dollars increases service value.

The key to increasing service is communication. The key to communication is information. Customers require it. They want to know when services and proposals will be delivered, when problems will be resolved, how their property should best be managed and how much it will cost. A+ account managers always seem to have the answers and an intuitive feel for communicating those answers when they are needed. B+ account managers can do that, too, with assistance from your software systems.

Providing accurate and timely information is central to both your customers’ experience and the AM’s performance, productivity and morale. Today – for too many account managers – the information the customer needs is not easily available … at least not without making the client wait while looking in several places for files, emails, documents and spreadsheets.

The Vision

How do you change this inefficient situation, which is frustrating for both customer and account manager, and make information available in one place all the time? Systems. Systems that today’s cloud-based integrated mobile technology can provide when you marry them with process and your culture. Let’s look at what I mean using an example of essential information in a single system:

All the essentials need to be on a smart device the AM uses in the field. This is just like the technology major package/delivery companies use to manage routes and tracking every day – except the platform above is designed for landscape AMs.

I could add more on that here – and will in future posts – but looking back to my prior posts, I described Millennials and Dinosaurs:

  • Millennials want function instead of formality
  • Dinosaurs want decisions instead of excuses

Today’s software systems are at the intersection of these two wants and needs. They promote the marriage of technology and decision-making that can raise your customer service game and develop your B+ AMs into A+ AMs. That’s the power of visibility and accountability that integrated systems can deliver.

This is the future. This is now. More on this next week.


THIS JUST IN: Aspire is proud to be included in an article on “Next Level Software Solutions” in Landscape Management magazine. Click HERE to take a look on LM’s website.

What do Companies Want in Landscape Management Software?

In the face of new inventions and old challenges, what do landscape companies want in a software product?

From day one at the Aspire Software Company, we have designed our systems around what we know. Based on our team’s firsthand experience in the Green/Snow industries, we created the software to ease pain points for landscape/snow management companies so they can focus on what they do best.

But just as our products evolve over time, our industry is also evolving. New technology allows one person to do the work of three. Smartphones and tablets are everywhere. And mobile apps manage everything from route optimization to inventory management to drone scheduling. Yes, you read that correctly: drone scheduling. While we were popping wheelies on our zero-turn mowers, robots were quietly being taught how to mow grass, mulch leaves and spread salt.

Follow the Research

To gain insight on what landscape companies need from their software in these changing times, we turn to organizations like Software Advice. They provide research and user reviews on software applications, allowing readers to pinpoint the best software for their needs out of the seemingly endless sea of options. Aspire, in turn, uses their in-depth research to ensure our products surpass our clients’ needs.

Software Advice researcher Andrew Friedenthal surveyed hundreds of landscape business workers to see how they use software.

The results highlight the industry’s ongoing transformation:

  • Almost three quarters of respondents use specific landscape industry software to manage their companies.
  • Of those, almost half use it only sporadically, relying on other software programs to handle accounting, scheduling, CRM, human resources, etc.
  • Of the respondents who use industry-specific landscape software frequently, they most appreciate programs that already integrate billing/invoicing, landscape design, CRM, team management, work tracking, payment collection and scheduling/dispatch.
  • In addition, they wish their programs were better equipped to handle payment collection, proposal generation and accounting integration.

Long-Story-Short

This means that landscaping workers and managers are looking for an all-in-one program that seamlessly integrates billing, design, team management and overhead details such as maintenance, supply and HR.

In the words of Mr. Friedenthal himself: “To stay ahead of the competition, landscaping companies should try to find an industry-specific landscape management software which can also provide capabilities that are not as industry-specific.”

While we’re waiting for someone to invent a better lawnmower robot, this is good advice to follow.

Dinosaurs and Technology: The Future Part 2

Can dinosaurs thrive in today’s changing technology environment, or are they doomed to extinction (to be replaced by Millennials)?

Make no mistake about it – dinosaurs (the real ones) were perhaps the most successful species in the history of the planet. Today’s “dinosaurs” – all of us born between roughly 1950 and 1970 – are also pretty successful. But we are not as natural or adaptable to new technologies as Millennials are. That is a fact.

Many dinosaurs can recall a time before copiers (B.C.) – we used mimeograph machines (I loved the smell of those things). Millennials cannot conceive that this “technology” existed until relatively recently –  or that there was a time when a person was able to exist without a smart phone.

Smart Phones as a Case Study

We dinosaurs actually know a life before smart phones, and it worked – up to a point. So, are dinosaurs reluctant to adapt new technologies? Yes – my observations suggest this is true. Are they stuck and unchangeable? No. They can adapt and change, but only when they want to.

Until four years ago, I used a flip phone. I actually took pride in resisting the purchase of a smart phone because, “It’s just a phone, and I only need it to make calls.” We don’t need no steenkin’ iPhone!

Hullo?! Yes … yes we did. And today, I cannot comprehend functioning as efficiently and effectively without it.

What happened? I realized that I had completely missed the point of adapting to technology. The adaptation wasn’t to serve me. It was necessary to serve everyone else around me who needed to work with me. Using the technology made everyone else around me more effective and efficient. There were fewer miscommunications, fewer dropped balls, and more tasks completed in a day – by everyone.

Masters of the Universe

So consider this, fellow dinosaurs: if you are like me, you like nothing better than getting more things done in day (and/or having people running around doing those things with complete transparency as to what they are doing, so you can make sure they get done). Get it? That’s the purpose of this new technology, and it can help you be a master of the universe! Well… that may be over doing it a bit, but you get the point.

The technology can’t impart wisdom – that is earned through experience. But it can leverage that wisdom by giving you the tools and the reach to direct, monitor, coach and decide in real time. That way, everyone wastes less of everything, gets more done, and most importantly, gets more of what they need from you – leadership.

Yes… It’s a brave new world… but there’s no school like the old school, either.

Millennials and Technology: The Future

Allow me to change gears with this first in a series of posts discussing where technology might take us in the future in the Landscape/Snow-Ice industries.

The Future is in…Provo?

Last week, the Aspire Software team was in Provo, Utah, as a sponsor of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) National Collegiate Student Competition. If you have not been to this annual event, you need to go. These kids are our future. We witnessed talent and passion. They are future salespeople, account managers and operation supervisors. And you need to know what they want in an employer.

We also observed just how unique they are. They are, in a word, Millennials. For more information on this, watch Simon Sinek on “Hiring Millennials.”

Technology Makes the Job

Why does this matter to you? Simple: their advanced relationship with technology is totally alien to many of us, but central to their career choices. In short, the technology and software you use can make all the difference in recruiting the best.

Don’t believe me? The Aspire Software Company has made an investment in the Brigham Young University (BYU) landscape management program. We donated our software and expertise to the faculty to use as a teaching tool in the business management curriculum. The results, judged by student and faculty feedback, are exceptional.

The faculty loves the teaching tool and the students love the technology. It looks and feels modern to them. They are naturals with mobile devices and learn it easily (unlike many older employees in landscape companies, but more on that in my next post).

Ditch the Desk

Think about it: one big reason they choose our industry is the opportunity to work “outside.” And like most of us on the business end, they despise administration and paperwork. So if your systems chain them to indoor work spaces and paperwork, they are out. They said as much to their faculty and to us this week.

It was eye-opening. Maybe we should all get out more often. So, if you are serious about having more student job candidates from whom to choose*, and having the best and brightest choose you, you must consider your technology investment and strategy as at least as important as your equipment investment and strategy.

Bottom line: Millennials want to work for companies with technologies that make business management quick, fun, real to them and functional. They don’t want to waste time searching for information they believe should be right in front of them.

It’s a brave new world.

 

* We learned that many landscape management programs at the community college and university levels are in danger of shutting down for lack of student enrollment. Why? Many of the other programs appear “sexier” in terms of technology to the students. They want mobile-compatible technology to use everyday and everywhere.  It’s pretty simple, folks. Which means, it should be a simple fix.

Do you want a software vendor or partner for your company? Part 2

Partners provide value to each other. When it comes to business management software, that is essential. You get service and the software partner gets feedback that can enhance your business.

So, what’s a partner?

The definition of partner is an association sharing a common goal.

Let’s use QuickBooks (QB) as an example. QB is not landscape business management software. It is an accounting system. I like it – it’s a fine product. But QB sells you a product, not a service. You pay a fixed price and you have to make it work the way you want it to work. That’s OK, but it’s not a partnership.  

The reason business management software costs what it does is the cost of service. In fact, the cost of the software, itself, is less than half the cost to your software partner. The majority of the cost is in the services, support and management they deliver to you. That is why price is only one consideration.  

What should you expect from your partner?

At a minimum:  

  • Industry knowledge and experience starting at the top of the company
  • Staffing levels to support you
  • Re-investment in the product to stay ahead of the technology and user curve
  • A dedicated professional to direct your deployment
  • On-going training
  • A support center
  • A help desk
  • User and peer groups

What services should your partner deliver for all-in pricing? You will want at least the following:

  • Help with data conversion and set-up of your work-flow*
  • Training and train-the-trainer for your team
  • Full integration of the software and ability to link it to other products
  • Easy to use mobile interface from anywhere
  • An actual person to talk to at a help desk
  • Documentation and videos
  • Data management**
  • All new versions and upgrades

Consider buying these lists of overlapping services a la carte. It’s not easy.

Here’s the value from just two of these services:

*Set-up of the workflow: Think about the way you estimate work now – your takeoffs, pricing markups and margins, assemblies and production rates, service and item catalog (labor, materials and equipment), contract language, etc. Now think about translating that yourself into a new system.

**Data management: Business management software is, in essence, a massively large database of transactions you create every day. A $3m company may create more than a million of these in a year… one million or more. Try managing that yourself on your servers. Since today’s systems drive so much data and the risk of crash and loss is too awful to contemplate, you want your partner to do this for you. This alone saves you money in hardware, people and consultants.

There is significant value delivered by the right partner. So do your homework. Make certain you understand what you get for the investment you make. This is more than a purchase – it’s more like a marriage.

RALLY CAP UPDATE:  I posted Spring is Sprung last time. True to form, it snowed this past week. Please subscribe and post comments in the space below.

Resolve To Build A Better Landscape Business

How Do You Get Through A Tough Situation?

I like to think I know something about life and business, and then God throws a curve ball…  and I am a fast ball hitter.  I am referring to my cancer diagnosis two years ago and my continuing battle to beat it.  Yes the treatment seems worse than the cure.  Physically I am worn down.  So it comes down to mental resolve.  What are you willing to do and what do you resolve to do to win…  especially when the outcome is unclear and not guaranteed.

What To Do When The Cure Is As Bad As The Problem?

Sounds a bit like business.  The economy, your people, your customers and the government throw you a curve ball.  You have to change.  The cure for what ails you is as painful as the problem itself.  You get tired of the fight.  So…  the solution comes to mental resolve.  What are you willing to do, sacrifice and risk…  without a clear view of the outcome to win?  When you think about it this way –  running business or saving your life, it makes the decision to go forward with resolve simple…  doesn’t it?

Your Better Landscape Business Resolutions

Now is as good as any time to resolve to build a better landscape business…  if only because it is the right thing to do. Of course, you want increased profits.  But, profits are the result of resolutions made and resolutions kept…  and this all  begins with the right culture or attitude.  Culture is the manifestation of beliefs, values and behaviors directed in the pursuit of a goal.  

Building a culture requires both leadership and management.  Leadership provides the passion and purpose… management provides the tactics and execution.

What the heck does that mean?  Simple…  it means that profitable companies provide people with the inspiration and the means to deliver a better customer experience.  

This past October I presented best business benchmarks and practices at the GIE in Louisville. Perhaps some of these ideas may help your resolve to build a better landscape business:  

  1. Resolve first to win hearts.  

    Start with yours.  Why do you do what you do?  If you cannot answer this and communicate the answer with passion to your people, they will never act with purpose.  Direction without purpose is compliance, not initiative.  Initiative is what you need.  You’ve heard the cliché a million times, “Get the right people on the bus.”  It starts with you.

  2. Resolve to rid your company of those who aren’t on the bus.

    Opting out of your culture is not a choice for your people.  For those who refuse to “get with the vision”, ask them to make a decision – are you in or out?  If you can’t or won’t do this all the resolutions that follow will only produce partial results.

  3. Resolve to respond more effectively to customer requests and complaints.

    Your Account Managers are overwhelmed.  This is not good for you or your customers.   The problem is lack of request and complaint management systems that tie together the Office, the Crew and the Account Manager in “real time”.  Web-based apps that do this are available and affordable.  Handling and resolving issues faster buys you customer loyalty.

  4. Resolve to anticipate customer requests and complaints.

    Remember… your Account Managers are overwhelmed.  If they had the time, the systems and the skills they could do a better job of reporting and managing quality and selling enhancements.   Provide them with client budget and quick bids tools…  and expect them to use them.  Anticipating needs buys you more than loyalty… it makes you indispensable to your customers.

  5. Resolve to increase prices.

    You can do this only if you commit to the first four resolutions.  Yes, labor is more expensive.  But your customer pays you for value not for your labor cost inflation.  Look at your pricing model and update it.  Make a serious overhead budget.  Then revise your mark-ups and margins using a MORS system like Frank Ross and Jeff Harkness teach to get your prices right.  If this weeds out some customers…  so be it.  See the next resolution to replace them.

  6. Resolve to improve your sales process.

    Get a sales pitch that matters to the customer.  Better landscape and low pricing is not it.  How you make their lives better is way more meaningful… sell that.  At the same time set sales goals higher and track them like a hawk.  And for heaven’s sakes insert a little chutzpah into your sales calls.  Like they say, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”  Sell with a meaningful pitch and with confidence…  and replace those customers that won’t pay for the value you deliver.

  7. Resolve to put quality on equal footing with budgeted hours.

    Too many owners have lost touch with the way the work actually gets done in the field.  Provide your crews with hours, then get out in the field and review and audit your jobs.  Remember, you get that which you expect and inspect.  Consistent quality is driven by pride.  You need to lead this charge personally.

  8. Resolve to “level-up” your Account Managers

    They need mentoring in “the business side” of the job…  specifically time management.  Let’s face it, AM’s are hard to find and harder to lose.  You need to give them reasons to stay.  They – like everyone else – want to work for a company where they can grow and increase their earnings.  As I stated earlier that they are overwhelmed…  get them help.

    They need computer applications to do their jobs more efficiently…  as well as training to build confidence in the way they handle customers.  Confident Account Managers with more time are less stressed, happier, and loyal to you…  and they will make you money.

What Are Your Resolutions?

These are my simple thoughts on resolutions.   You get thrown a curve ball?  So what…  everyone gets one.  Clear your head, steel your will and make some resolutions.  It is the right thing to do for (1) you, (2) your people, and (3) your customers.  Have a prosperous and successful 2016.

Best, Mr. Kehoe

Better, Best! Is Your Landscape Business Profitable?

Are you making money?  Is your landscape business profitable? Good questions! Unless you marry your transactional processes (what your people do everyday – estimate, schedule, keep time, purchase and invoice) to your profit center financial reporting, you will never be able to answer that basic question. You will forever be flying blind.

How Do You Make Your Landscape Business More Profitable?

The answer involves more than just software. It involves focusing on work flow discipline and the business tactics that drive money making…

  1. Culture: People are the problem and the answer. Hire and fire for it… until you get it.
  2. Speed: Service response is good. Anticipation is best.
  3. Information in “real time”: You can’t manage what HAS happened… you can manage what WILL.
  4. Salesmanship: Yes… nice landscape matters, but value sells… the guy with the best mousetrap DOES NOT always win!

Come see us Friday afternoon at the GIC at the Convention Center as we present “Am I Making Money”.