In his latest blog, Mr. Loadlink sets LiftEx 2017 a challenge and shares a slice of Halloween pumpkin pie.
It’s Halloween morning at the time of writing here in the UK. This evening, children (and some adults) across the land will be dressing up in all manner of costumes to call upon friends, family and neighbours to yell, “Trick or treat?” as they answer their front doors.
It’s innocent fun, yet not everyone participates. Some decorate their houses with carved pumpkins, cobwebs and creepy-crawlies, and equip themselves with treats to give out to their spooky guests. Others, meanwhile, turn off the lights and barricade themselves into a back room, waiting for the frightening frivolities to end.
It’s much the same with social media, particularly in the lifting equipment industry, as proved by the ongoing trade show season. There are companies, like Straightpoint (SP), that embrace social platforms, especially when it comes to networking before, during and after trade events at related hashtags. On the other hand, there are those who hardly keep a website up to date and rely on more traditional methods to engage their target audiences.
Interestingly, when hashtags came knocking for Twitter, it was widely reported that it said, “Trick”, in response. Former Google employee Chris Messina posted on 23 August 2007:
‘how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?’
Twitter apparently slammed the door shut. Thus, despite millions of hashtags now being used every hour across Twitter and other social media, I don’t think the lifting industry, indeed any niche sector, should hold its head in shame. It can be scary stuff. I just suggest they might be missing a trick. To me, hashtags are a ripe, juicy, succulent, forever giving treat. Kind of like pumpkins, only tastier.
One dictionary definition of the word ‘hash’ resonates with me: ‘come to agreement on something after lengthy and vigorous discussion.’ Add ‘tag’ on the end and a picture starts to emerge of what hashtags are; they’re effectively content labels. People make statements about a topic, product area, trade show or sports team, for example, and include a hashtag, which becomes clickable and part of a library of Tweets or posts alongside others who’ve done the same.
SP has participated in a number of shows over the past couple of months, all provoking varying levels of social media uptake.
Last week, we were at the latest Associated Wire Rope Fabricators (AWRF) meeting and charmingly named PIE (or Product Information Exhibition), which was a case in point. I didn’t attend the event in person this time but actually that meant I was even better placed to assess the social media participation. The good, bad and monstrously ugly were there for all to see. Some joined us in posting quality content to the #AWRFpie17 hashtag, others less so and the majority of participants chose to abstain.
I have a huge amount of respect for AWRF and their 18-monthly product fair is outstanding. That said, I’d like to have seen them do a bit more to promote the #AWRFpie17 hashtag in the months leading up to the event so people could start using it. Greater prominence would also have meant folks would have been less inclined to make up their own tags—#AWRF and #AWRFpie2017 were just two I saw—because the official one would have been more deeply engrained.
Many of our fellow exhibitors could have also done more to post quality content before, during and after the show. Imagine if every vendor had posted even one Tweet or one post to every social media platform they operate with an educational message related to the event or their equipment. Put oneself in the position of an attendee and consider how valuable that #AWRFpie17 hashtag would have become. They could have found out about all the product suppliers relevant to their work and probably discovered a solution or thought leader or two they didn’t know existed.
I counted about 50 relevant Tweets at #AWRFpie17 but, as an industry, that’s not really much to shout (or Tweet) about. SP and like-minded businesses that are well versed in harnessing the power of hashtags largely posted that content. Witches’ hats off to all of them. The comments that really stood out from afar were the ones that went deeper than merely sharing a photo of an exhibit or reference to a product. The selfies were great and I thought Tweets that promoted other related hashtags added tremendous value. We included #loadcell and #belowthehook in posts, for example, allowing the curious to explore a deeper drill into our marketplace.
AWRF and the organisers of next month’s (November) LiftEx trade show, the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), have much in common. However, I’m backing the latter to generate more content at its event hashtag, #LiftEx17. The marketing team have done a good job of promoting the tag; it’s been prominent on the website and literature for months. Many, ourselves included, are already posting content across a variety of social platforms.
The LEEA community can take it as a challenge if they want, but I think #LiftEx17 posts will quadruple those at #AWRFpie17, even during the two days of the Telford show alone.
I’d encourage everyone who’s exhibiting or attending to join the online network. This blog isn’t about which platform is more relevant or effective so whether it’s a fun post for Facebook, a photo for Instagram, a thought-provoking Tweet, or business-themed comment on LinkedIn, share content and include #LiftEx17. While it takes time and an element of know-how to get mileage out of social media, it’s essentially free and worth the effort.
Yes, the lifting sector is traditional and mechanical but hashtags are a place for niche geeks like us to hang out. Twitter wasn’t wrong to point that out to Messina but it did initially misread the opportunity. We’re proud of the content we’ve posted to #AWRFpie17, #LiftEx17, #loadcell, #belowthehook, #oilandgas, and many more.
“See you at Stand B5 for a selfie!”
First, we’ll be posting to social media from this week’s Speedy Expo and KHL’s World Crane and Transport Summit, which takes place 7-8 November in Amsterdam.
The Pumpkin Plan
I’m an avid reader of business-themed literature and it’s a fitting time of year to have recently finished The Pumpkin Plan, by Mike Michalowicz. The book explores the theory that as entrepreneurs, there is nothing harder than getting rid of ideas, businesses, or customers that don’t work. It calls on the theory that pumpkin farmers are obsessed with nurturing their healthy, fat, prize-winning assets, rather than wasting time and effort feeding and watering a bed of small vegetables that aren’t going to ever be bigger than one’s hand—and will leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
(I’ve also just read They Ask You Answer, by Marcus Sheridan, about a revolutionary approach to inbound sales, content marketing and today’s digital consumer. It served as great inspiration too but a Halloween reference was less forthcoming [the best I had was that it was spookily good] hence the lead on The Pumpkin Plan.)
As is the case with any business text I read, I made frequent references to my own firm and effectively challenged the author to apply his theories and sciences to a manufacturer of load cells. It led me to thinking about our Melbourne, Australia-based dealer Hoisting Equipment Specialist (Vic) Pty Ltd (HES). If Dean Nelson’s company were a pumpkin, there’d be comparisons with James and the Giant Peach. It’d win prizes in the county fair and would feature on the front cover of the local newspaper.
As we challenge our existing dealer network (there are many prize pumpkins among them) and look to introduce new partners in certain markets, it’s tempting to look at the shape, size and type of success stories like HES. However, what has become increasingly apparent, and was further stressed by Michalowicz and Sheridan, is the DNA profile we need to seek is based more on a business’s people and less on its characteristics.
Home away from home
HES hasn’t soared into our top 10 global distributors in just 11 months because of bricks, mortar, the marketplace and nutrients in the soil; it’s on the way to status among our Big 5 because of Dean and his team. The office couldn’t be further from SP’s Havant headquarters, but walking into HES feels like being at home; there is a positive vibe, people enjoy coming to work, they use hashtags(!), and the company’s sales team and leaders bang the drum with passion. They’re an SP clone; we’re like two pumpkins in a patch.
That’s not to say every partner has to be identical to us—that would be too Stepford Wives—but there are hallmarks to look for. Rigmarine, Van Gool and others share these commonalities. When the phone rings and it’s Mike Duncan (Rigmarine) or Pieter van Duijn (Van Gool), we don’t look around to see who draws the short straw, we all rush to the handset to exchange pleasantries and hear the latest positivity. We follow the fortunes of our key partners’ sports teams and ask how their kids got on in their latest college matches.
With all that in mind, we recently updated our call for distributors on the SP website – goo.gl/YqEvfY – as we look to make some strategic appointments early in 2018. It’s arguable that, as the profile we’re looking for isn’t so easily researched, this quest is harder than it once was. There’s some truth in that but once we get such partners on board, the rewards and longevity make it worthwhile. And we’re getting good at reading the signals. While it’s important to observe formalities at the outset, when a new partner starts to include friendly emojis in messages, we get a better feeling than if all correspondence ends with a formal email signature.
Thank you for reading 🙂
Happy Halloween 😉
Use today’s technologies and tools to enhance, not replace, good old-fashioned business relationships. And feel free to send your contacts a text, says Mr. Loadlink.
I commented on a LinkedIn discussion a couple of days ago in response to a post about email versus text message.
A gentleman had started the thread by writing a post, saying he’d been chastised for communicating with clients and contacts via text message on his smart devices. He said many had even called him ‘unprofessional’ and suggested he should stick to email.
I disagreed with those arguments, explaining that I frequently use the short message service (SMS) to contact those I have a good relationship with, largely because it is more personal and a text typically doesn’t have to battle through so much spam and noise that is commonplace in everyone’s email inbox.
Who punches the air when they get an email?
Nobody. When I receive a text message, however, I’m always interested to look who it’s from (as long as it’s safe to check) as I know it’s likely to be someone I have a solid relationship with. It might even be a friend or family member, offering me the chance to escape from the trials and tribulations of another busy day for as long as it takes to read the message and thumb a reply. If it’s a business contact, that’s fine too.
While SMS is in itself a relatively new technology—I think the first text message was sent in the early 90s—it’s based on good old fashioned values; we share our mobile, cell or handy number with someone and people generally accept the relationship has to develop to a certain point before we start sharing texts. We at least have to like each other. I also embrace WhatsApp, the instant messaging service for smartphones, whereby messages, photos or data can be sent to individuals or groups.
People aren’t robots
I wonder if the LinkedIn conversation referenced is indicative of a business world that is losing sight of the importance of relationships.
The argument that one should only deal via email is tantamount to suggesting a barrier should always exist or that people shouldn’t get too close in the working environment. If we like and respect someone, and enjoy their company at networking events, why should we over-formalise the relationship by ending every communication with ‘Best regards, David Ayling’ and our email signature?
Many companies seem obsessed with their image and identity to the point that it has a detrimental effect. Why make a policy that nobody should use WhatsApp or SMS when common sense should prevail and a professional should be encouraged to make a judgement?
Of course it wouldn’t be prudent to get someone’s details from a colleague, email them for the first time and immediately follow-up with, ‘did you get my email? When can I expect a reply?’ But that behaviour isn’t a flaw with the messaging vehicle, it’s the numb-nut using it.
The mindset isn’t reserved exclusively to messages; it’s an epidemic. The digital world has created ‘virtual’ businesses that operate behind their websites, social media accounts and emails. I’m a big supporter of modern technologies; I use LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and so on. Further, Straightpoint (SP) has a vibrant digital identity that the marketing team takes very seriously. But none of this is a substitute for relationships and face-to-face interaction.
It alarms me when I hear stories of businesses cutting back on their tradeshow appearances to revamp their website. Or they slash the travel budget to buy data in an attempt to penetrate a marketplace via direct mail.
I went to Aberdeen, Australia and Abu Dhabi last month (September) alone. (Perhaps everywhere I visit this month will begin with a B.) While I had fun along the way, I didn’t clock up these air miles for the sake of it. It simply wouldn’t be possible to understand a market and develop relationships without making the trip in person. The best website in the world can’t replace such interaction.
Take the Seatrade Offshore Marine & Workboats show in the Middle East, for instance.
I’d never before met Jamie Kirkbride, business development manager at distributor Rigmarine, which was displaying some of our equipment. We’ve spun lots of emails in the past but only in spending time with him on the stand and in the evenings, was I able to get to know him better (it was great to catch up with Gie Maclan, sales executive, too).
Since the show, Jamie and I have sent each other lots of text messages about the show, following up leads and comparing notes. I’ll send an angry emoji to anyone who suggests this is unprofessional. Far worse would have been to not attend the show and send him another email.
Jamie won’t be the only person I’ll interact with from Abu Dhabi, Aberdeen or Australia over the coming weeks. I always connect with people I meet on LinkedIn, but I do so with a view to continuing a relationship that started with a handshake. I bet every reader of this blog has received a connection request from someone they’ve never met, thinking they can cut corners by acquiring a list or searching an industry sector. Granted, there’s a purpose for building a network of like-minded professionals, but foul play is too prevalent.
One company we don’t have to worry about losing their head in cyberspace is fellow below-the-hook equipment manufacturer Modulift. We strategically co-located at Offshore Europe (OE) in Aberdeen and gave visitors a greater breadth of product offering. Those who came looking for a load cell could see a complementary spreader beam and vice versa.
In fact, so successful was the initiative that we’re meeting formally this week to plan the 2018 trade events where we might be able to enhance our productivity in such a way again. It helps that both logos are blue and yellow; the exhibit graphics go great together.
OE was an altogether positive experience. While the local oil and gas community is resigned to the fact that oil isn’t going to rocket back to $90 a barrel any time soon, there’s a determination to thrive regardless. We had lots of conversations with professionals keen to kit themselves out with state-of-the-art force measurement equipment as projects get off the ground and they look to convert plenty of hot prospects. Again, this level of intelligence is impossible to gather by not exhibiting at the show in favour of updating the oil and gas tab on a company website.
If the LinkedIn keyboard warriors are going to turn their attention anywhere, it might be better directed at those who waste opportunities at trade fairs.
It’s a great thing when any company invests in an exhibit, but only by standing at the front of a stand, engaging with visitors can return on that investment be realised. I once saw someone walk off their exhibit to take a photo of a colleague sitting with their back to the aisle on a laptop. Surely they weren’t going to post it to their social media accounts, I thought. Equally calamitous are the early breakdown merchants who start boxing up with two hours of the show to go. I’ve heard too many stories about people taking 11th-hour orders to join them.
RUD Lifting Japan Co. Ltd. gets it too. The team was over for a visit the week after OE for product training. The delegation also spent a day with the calibration team, getting to know the equipment. RUD understands that the greater the knowledge of a product range, the more effective they will be to customers and the larger the volume of load cells they will supply.
The SP way isn’t the only way, but it works. We’re on schedule to report a record Q3 on the back of a blockbuster opening two quarters to the year. To reward everyone for a great H1 2017, we took the whole SP UK family for a deserved day out at Goodwood Racecourse.
Somewhat fittingly, I was at the races again when I heard that Zoe Silk, sales and hire here at SP, had bagged a record order. Not that I was surprised, but for one of the newest members of the team—she joined as an apprentice in 2015—to make such a sizeable contribution is an outstanding effort. Well done, Zoe!
The SP community was collectively saddened to learn of the passing of the fathers of both Mike Neal, product sales engineer; and Wayne Wille, US-based technical sales manager. Our thoughts have been, and will continue to be, with Mike, Wayne and their families during these moments of grief and remembrance.