Finding Employees Who Fit Your Corporate Culture
Twenty percent annual growth forced SSE Technologies to revamp several key business areas. Here's how the $5 million company did it.
After taking an angry phone call from one of his company's oldest customers, Dave Murray knew it wasn't going to be a good day. Murray is the vice president president of sales for SSE Technologies, an automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) VAR. SSE installs systems that allow users to track assets and inventory.
The day prior, the customer had called SSE's service technician because it was having a problem with the system that SSE had installed. On this day, the customer wanted Murray to explain why he had to wait four hours for a call back from the technician.
"At that time, we only had one service technician," Murray explains. "And when the call came in, the tech was in the field helping a different customer. I knew something had to be done, because we were running the risk of upsetting other customers."
That problem exemplified larger issues that SSE had to address. For example, the company had grown 20% annually each of the last four years. In 1997, gross sales reached $4.8 million.
However, growth was beginning to tax the existing staff. As a result, in the last several months, SSE has focused on filling holes in several key areas. "With the recent growth, the company really had reached a critical point," Murray adds. "We knew that unless we made some changes, growth would bury us."
Specifically, SSE has hired an additional service technician who is responsible for helping customers with hardware and system problems.
In addition, SSE recently brought on a dedicated software developer to design software for the company's inventory and asset tracking systems. And lastly, SSE is in the process of hiring two additional sales reps. In the following pages, Murray discusses how SSE went about revamping its service/support, software development and sales.
Moving From Hardware To System Sales
Murray deemed it unacceptable for customers to have to wait a half day – or longer – to get a return call from SSE's lone service technician. "When we had just one tech, we were sending mixed messages," Murray says. "We tried to sell prospects on the fact that we would provide quality, responsive service for our products and systems. Yet, in reality, we were often slow to respond to customers who were having hardware problems. So we wanted to make sure we were delivering on our promises. That's why we hired a second technical support person."
Moving From Hardware To System Sales
SSE has made other significant changes, including the hiring of a dedicated software developer for the first time. A software developer was needed once SSE decided to focus on providing complete, turnkey systems.
"We used to just sell and install AIDC hardware for applications like inventory and asset tracking," Murray explains. "However, we concluded, for several reasons, that we wouldn't be able to survive if we only sold hardware."
"For one, customers now want total solutions," Murray continues. "In addition, many of the various hardware products, like bar-code printers and scanners, have become commodities. The profit margins on those products have diminished significantly."
SSE (Elmont, NY) also is hiring two additional salespeople. One of these reps will help support the company's existing salespeople. The other will specifically target accounts in nearby New Jersey. "It made sense for us to focus more heavily on accounts in New Jersey," Murray adds. "We haven't ignored that territory in the past. Rather, the salespeople were so busy with accounts in New York City that they didn't have much time to focus on prospects in New Jersey."
The Keys To Finding Good Employees
SSE's search for a second technical support person lasted more than six months. During that time, Murray estimates the company received more than 50 applications. However, only 10 of those applicants were selected for an interview.
"We've always tried to be meticulous about hiring, because finding quality people isn't easy," Murray says. Murray says SSE uses several approaches to ensure that it finds quality employees:
- Adopting a "committee" approach – Applicants who receive serious consideration interview with four or five of SSE's employees. "It is difficult to judge whether applicants tell you what they think you want to hear," Murray admits. "However, with five people conducting interviews, there's a good chance one of us can tell whether an applicant is being genuine."
- Testing prospective employees – SSE also administers personality tests to applicants. "The tests give us an indication of how people will react in certain situations," Murray says.
- Relying on referrals whenever possible – Occasionally, acquaintances refer Murray to people who want to change jobs. SSE has hired several employees this way. "Some applicants will misrepresent their past experience and qualifications to land a job," he says. "However, when a friend recommends an applicant to us, we will generally have a clearer understanding of the applicant's qualifications. That's why we like to rely on referrals."
Making your expectations clear to applicants – Murray makes it a point to tell applicants that if they are hired, their responsibilities will extend beyond that what they were hired for. Because SSE is a small company (21 employees), its existing staff have to "wear different hats" – out of necessity.
"In most big companies, people are hired for specific jobs. But that isn't true in most small companies. So, during the interview process, we tell applicants that our corporate culture is one of helping each other," Murray says.
"We want to see if an applicant will fit into our culture," he continues. "So for example, we'll ask prospective sales reps if they'd be willing to help out in the warehouse if the shipping manager were out."
"Some people say they wouldn't mind those types of additional tasks, because they know what it's like to work in a small company. But other applicants say they only want to do what they're hired for. Those types of people generally won't work out in a small company like ours."