Dawn Gentry, President of CSG, had been working for GTE in their internal marketing and communications group, decided that being a part of the family business would be a rewarding way to augment her marketing career. As time went on, her involvement in her father´s company grew, and with it grew her commitment to being a part of the company her father, Carl Way, had started thirteen years earlier.
"There´s always a loyalty to your family, and I was doing more work on the side for my dad than I was during the day on my own job. So when I decided it was time for something else, I told my dad that he could either hire me, or I´d have to go find a new job. He decided it was time to bring me on board."
CSG´s client base is broad. Dawn describes them as "people and companies who either sell packaging equipment, supplies, engineering services, systems integration services."
"Our client can be anyone who is selling to the disposable finished goods world. The packaging industry is a wonderful, close-knit family of companies, many of which are multi-generational companies, but not every company we do business with is a family-owned company. Our clients are the people who support the Lever brothers, the Proctor and Gambles, and the Tyson Foods so that they can get their product to the consumer."
For example, if your company makes deodorant, CSG can search their client database to provide you with a company that makes temperature control and flow systems to deliver the deodorant product, or a company who can provide the injection-molded containers which hold the deodorant, all the way down to the company that creates the case packer to hold the finished, boxed product.
"A lot of our training is done at the grocery store, where we just go and look at the products and ask ourselves how it gets there, and what is the process it has to go through, from the capping, to the labeling, to the cartons, to the case packing."
When the company was started 13 years ago, it sought to provide marketing development to the packaging industry. The key to success for them meant structure and organization. As their customer base—and the industry itself-- grew, a wider variety of very specific needs evolved. The only way to successfully manage these needs was to create a state-of-the art database that could control and organize vast amount of detailed information with ease.
Successful companies have to engage in "good practice." They don´t have to be on the bleeding edge of technology. Sometimes it is more practical to let others blaze the trail while you learn from their mistakes. On the other hand, selling technology-based services requires a dedicated effort to stay aware of what is state of the art at any given time. Individual family businesses have to decide if it makes more sense to have someone inside take responsibility for staying on top of developments or if you need to outsource such an effort.
"Everything is managed through contact management systems. The life of our company is having very organized database structures, but having so many years of experience in the industry, and with all the things my dad has done in the past, we had a very qualified database to start with. We´ve built on that base over 13 years, making sure we can service our clients with the right end-users who are looking for what they sell, and doing some very strategic database marketing in the process."
Implicit in Dawn´s comments is the message that whether they come from bricks and mortar or virtual resources, how a company acts on its strategic intent is vital. Often, this means taking the time to ensure that all employees understand how they have to act to deliver on their piece of the equation under different conditions.
"The value that we can bring to the table, and the reason that our clients do business with us is the contact databases that we have available to communicate their message."
With the growth of Internet technology, CSG soon saw the value of putting all of these incredibly complex services online. We asked Dawn how she felt this decision had changed the face of the business.
"I think it has changed things for the better. Now that we are able to store our clients´ online database, including the people who have actually come to the site and registered their own products, you´re no longer in that fuzzy area where you´re wondering if a market rep has possibly falsified or embellished information, because you can see the actual remarks of the end user. There´s no longer a question in their mind, because now the end users are coming to the site and we´re merely validating their information."
"Everything we do is an intangible service. We´ve always been a proactive company, a lead-generation resource. The parent company comes to us as a resource to support their field reps and find them more opportunities within their niche areas, and then an end user can come to our site and look for local representation in their territory.
"But it´s really up to the OEM to decide whether they´re going to list them or not. As the OEM company comes to us for support, we have a team of market researchers who can tap into this very targeted marketing database that we´ve built over the course of many years. The database helps us find the right decision makers who represent and buy those products, and they can let our clients in on that information via fax or email."
Again, Dawn´s comment implies there is the expectation that CSG´s people need to be involved in an on-going conversation with their clients. The staff cannot afford to sit back and assume they have the answers in today´s rapidly changing environment:
They have to understand the clients´ strategies
They have to listen to the perceived needs of the client for this engagement
They have to be able to translate CSG´s capabilities within the client´s context
In short, the Internet has provided a way to reach out better, faster, cheaper, and more accurately. It´s helping them to do what they´ve always done—but with greater efficiency.
"We´ve always stayed with the core competency of our business in that we are a sales support, business development, lead generation company. The website is merely a newer, faster, more efficient mechanism to get information to our clients and to marry up the two parties that buy."
Dawn has answered a critical question that companies have to answer when moving into new technologies. What do we want to accomplish with this change? It sounds so simple as to be silly, but a considered answer is required if we are to create a strategy for going forward rather than treating it as a one time purchase. There are several considerations here:
Is the technology simply and only a way to enhance our efficiencies in doing what we already do?
Does the new technology allow us to conceive our business idea differently? Can we and should we now do something different, not just the same thing faster?
How does this decision help us to tie our clients to us?
How do our decisions here enable us to be waiting with services that our customers will require in the future, or are we gearing up to be at a place our clients will soon be leaving?
Dawn feels their understanding of the company´s core competencies is one of its biggest strengths: They are aware of their limitations, and chooses to stay focused, rather than attempting to grow too quickly, or spread their resources too thin.
"Even though we can do a lot of things for a lot of people, we´ve always gone with the mindset that we have to stay niched in the markets we know extremely well."
Dawn knows that in a dynamic industry like packaging, it is important to create a dynamic environment. But just how does one do that? And how can you get the best performances out of your people in a competitive and constantly evolving market? The key is to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry, to learn how to reposition yourself for different clients, and, most importantly, to work as a team.
"We´re a small company- we´ve only got about 20 people here. There´s no room for politics. It´s very much a team environment. We train people, and give them the knowledge and the tools to do their job, but we also expect them to take responsibility to make a mental commitment to being part of the team. We´ve always had an open-door policy and we encourage new ideas. When you expect your people to be knowledge workers – workers who are expected to think about the work and add value based on the decisions they make about how they deliver their work – you can´t order them about and expect that you´ll get their best.
What Dawn is describing is a culture where people are engaged in an on-going conversation about the work. It assumes that people, once they think about the work will have ideas for improvement. It also assumes that the staff will, at times, have information that an executive may lack, or consider differently. She describes a culture that recognizes that "no one is as smart as everyone."
"You´ve got to let the market drive you, but you can drive your customers to the areas where people are spending money. We have to constantly change, because you´ll fall behind the competition and you won´t be able to serve your clients."
"To get the gross sales you need to stay in business, we can´t do it by the old traditional methods. We just won´t get there."
CSG has recently finished a five-year marketing plan. They have historically run their sales out of their home office, but are now looking to disperse their sales across the country. Although critics feared and pundits promised that the Internet was going to render face-to-face transactions a thing of the past, personal relationships are more important than ever for companies like CSG, even with their cutting edge technology.
Moving forward, there are too many developments, too many discoveries and too many improvements for one person or one company to master on their own. We can leverage or capabilities and our savvy by maintaining personal, close relationships with both our suppliers and our customers. Think of it as "watching each other´s backs." The reality is, that true partnerships require a familiarity with the partners.
This familiarity extends to understanding each other´s plans, conditions and capabilities. The root word of familiarity is family – knowing them like we know family. You will never achieve all of the collaborative benefits of partnering with an arms length distance or an e-mail only relationship. There is a cost benefit ratio between efficiency and intimacy. It will behoove your company to ensure that your people manage that ratio wisely.
By moving their rep groups and direct sales team throughout the country, they will be able to maximize face-to-face relationships while relying on the web technology to stay fast, accurate, and in constant communication with the home office.
When we asked Dawn to provide us with a bit of advice to growing companies, she gave us these thoughts:
"Trying to stick to your company´s core competencies, and outsourcing those things that might fall outside that realm is always a good philosophy. Sometimes, it´s a hard philosophy to sell, but it really helps to stick with what you know. And that´s why we´ve been successful for the last 13 years. We don´t try to spread ourselves too thin, or to be everything to everyone. Stay where you know you can compete well, where you can do it at a profit, and make sure you have the right message to keep your clients returning."
Business profile courtesy of Family Business Strategies.
Dawn Gentry can be reached via email or at http://www.Csgincorp.com.