Monday, February 25, 2008

Shameless Plugs

A short 5 or 6 years ago, if you had asked me to what end the education and training of my adult life had led me, I would have told you that I was equipped to do nothing more than command a Marine Air-Ground Task Force or Joint Task Force into battle against an enemy of my great nation. My political science and history undergraduate work grounded me with an understanding of the tides of human history under the influence of the natural forces of political ambition and resource need. As a Marine infantry officer I was taught to survey the battlefield for enemy weaknesses and use my forces and supporting arms to exploit those weaknesses in order to achieve tactical, operational, and even strategic effects. An assignment with the airpower zealots of the US Air Force taught me to look for critical nodes against which to apply relatively small, but highly accurate, packages of combat power in order to achieve strategic effects. While on assignments with the Marine Corps Recruiting Command at two different points in my career, I learned the recruiting tactic of "need satisfaction selling." Post graduate work leading to masters degrees in human resource management and strategic planning seemed to cap a life of preparation for moving a large amount of people and things against the will of an enemy. When I finally hung up my active duty spurs, I had an inkling that, although I had not had the opportunity to participate in the destruction of enemy of my nation, I might be able to apply a combination of two or more of the above and scratch out enough of a living to keep gas in my boat and bait in the live well.

When an acquaintance from my Marine Corps recruiting and marketing days asked me to help him form a company to provide consulting services to a major US truck and engine corporation, I wasn't sure I had the private sector savvy to make it work. Turns out combat is combat is combat, whether with the aim to crush an armed enemy, a political opponent, or an economic competitor. The planning, communication, and execution templates are remarkably interchangeable.

We called our company Performance Military Group, (shameless plug #1: and my partner told me to go find a few of my "retired colonel buddies" to fill out the field positions. After a quick survey of the battlefield, I told him that he was going to get just one colonel--me--and that the rest of the team would be made up of tough, savvy, fearless folks who knew how to take colonels' bright ideas and translate them into effective action on the battlefield. I started calling senior Marine NCOs. And not just any NCO. The ones I called were arguably the best salesmen in the world--Marines trained in the fine art of recruiting. As I often tell clients, anyone who can convince 17 year-old Johnny, and his momma, that it is in Johnny's best interest not to go immediately to college, but to join the United States Marine Corps, in time of war, and, oh, by the way, take his graduation trip to Baghdad--that's a great salesman.

When we presented our market research findings to our first client and outlined what we thought the opportunities were, they wanted us to immediately launch a national program to service their 700 dealership locations. I told them no, we would phase this operation, prove concept and develop procedures in a pilot program, and then roll a mature program out to what I was sure was going to be very skeptical dealership management teams. No genius--just doing what I was trained to do. Three years later we have a very viable national program that is guiding a major corporation back into a military market that it abandoned, for reasons lost to anyone still in the organization, four decades ago.

I was taught, by men who know, that the first successful engagement on the battlefield will be your last successful engagement if you stop and smell the roses of success. They taught me to never stop looking for the next opportunity to exploit an enemy weakness. Not long after we started linking our client's dealerships up with military customers in their AORs, we discovered that those dealerships were all hurting for technicians/mechanics. And not just a little bit--nationally our client had a need for thousands. I started asking if they had ever looked at hiring transitioning military personnel. Enough negative replies and "deer in the headlights" looks convinced me that there was a huge gap open on the battlefield through which to drive our organization. We were already on the bases and in the motor pools helping our client sell repair parts and maintenance consumables--it was an easy next step to start asking young warriors what they were going to do once they slung their shields over their shoulders and headed for home. Most had no idea, and the military transition assistance bureaucracy was failing them badly. Long story short, recruiting and placement was a natural core competency, given the military recruiting backgrounds of the majority of our team, and we expanded our offerings and organization to help young enlisted men and women leaving the service of their nation to find jobs.

When our client's dealerships could not, or would not, provide a repair part solution to a military customer, our aggressive field team members started sourcing those needs on their own in order to make a sale that would cement the new relationship with the customer. It didn't take long for some of the smart guys in our group to start recommending that we get into the business ourselves. We formed Force Ready Military (Shameless Plug #2: ) to source and sell "hard to find," legacy system parts and vehicle maintenance kits. In the short time that division has been active, we have sold everything from tank wheel sprockets to concertina wire to military customers in need. And we do it at low margins--I'm a tax payer, too.

The moral of this story is two fold. First, never underestimate the ability of a Marine to brag on his team's successes. Second, some combination of two or more of every thing you have ever learned will be useful in the future.
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