For today’s Beer & Blog, we spoke with Lisa Belodoff, vice president of business development at Rochester Precision Optics. Lisa has worked in sales and marketing throughout the optics and photonics industry, helping to build LightWorks Optics for successful exit, working in fiber infrastructure at CABLExpress and in medical devices at Masimo. She is a driver of change and growth, and we’re honored to collaborate with her.
Michele: When building a business development engine, where do you start?
Lisa: I think it’s important to start with the brand. How are we presenting ourselves to current customers, to people that don’t know us, and even within the company? I typically start with a quick internal survey. If we were a sports car, which one would we be? Some of those little questions, while they sound cheesy, can say a lot about what we think of ourselves. If we don’t believe our message, how can anyone else believe it? We’ll then employ a third party, such as a research firm or consultant, to get honest, outside feedback.
Having this baseline helps us determine who we want to be. Once we’ve developed some messages around this positioning statement, we have to think about all of our customer touch points. Everyone has a role in the customer experience, but if each department and each cross-functional team can’t see where they affect that experience, it’s really hard to move an organization forward.
It’s important to look at how you’re organized as well as how you’re perceived in the market. The way someone answers the phone, how quickly someone should expect a response, pricing—all of those things have to be in sync or the message will fall flat.
How do you get those teams on board and create alignment to a brand?
Visibility to the plan and how you gain input and consensus are important. People have to feel like they’ve been communicated to and that their input is heard. In the high tech areas I’ve worked, if I didn’t have engineering on board with our message, it didn’t go well. If everybody feels that they’ve had some part in the process, real change is much smoother.
Tactically, what does good internal communication look like?
I think it has to come in a lot of forms. Some people refer to their email; others prefer learning in an all-hands meeting. When I was in the fiber optics business, we had three different business units. How do you communicate to all of those people? Our intranet was the primary vehicle. It had a blog from the president, company events, what was new from marketing—everything was communicated there. That became a norm, and it worked well for us. A visual bulletin board by the coffee station or digital signage in the café can also be useful. You have to communicate frequently, and through multiple methods and media, because people remember things in different ways.
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You’re in a manufacturing environment now—what do internal communications look like?
Presenting the message in the all-hands meeting is helpful. Then following up—if a department has a weekly production meeting, I might ask for some face time there. A lot of our younger employees are following us on social media, so they know about trade shows and other activities we’re doing. We also share news about our customers and their products on social media, and I think that helps bring our work to life.
How about when you’re in a major culture shift?
Some people embrace it—you can see the spring in their step, you can feel the new energy in the building. And then there are others who I think fear it and don’t know what it’s going to mean for them. With change and culture shift often come different expectations, or a shift in direction of where the company is going, and people wonder, “Is my job going to be relevant anymore?” or “Is there going to be more pressure now that this is a focus area?” Much like when you’re launching new brands or trying to re-establish a brand, internal communication is something that has to be nurtured.
Where do companies miss the boat on sales and marketing?
There’s a common misconception among companies that buyers know what they do, and that “if they need what we have, they’ll find us.” People think their reputation will manage itself, and that’s not true. If you’re not managing your reputation, you’re letting someone else do it. I think that realization is something different that I’ve brought to the optics companies I’ve worked with.
Also, companies in high tech industries don’t want to be marketed or sold to. I did some focus group research on how people select their optics partners. It became clear that this is a very relationship-based business, and referrals are a big part of that. As a business leader, you should always be discovering places where you can create new relationships. If you can be at a technical conference presenting the right material to the right audience, that’s going to have a bigger impact than any full page ad. It’s that kind of approach that people sometimes don’t understand—you need to be present at every touch point.
As an industry, I don’t think we do a great job of managing customer expectations. The bane of the optics industry is transitioning from prototype to production. Everybody talks a big game, but the implementation of that—meeting timelines, budgets—is very tough. And we fall back on the idea that, “well, everybody’s got that problem,” rather than challenging ourselves to improve. Part of the business development challenge is figuring out how to break down those long-held beliefs and habits in order to better serve the customer.
Dane Hileman joined RPO last month as its new president. How does this type of leadership change affect companies?
When you are changing a culture, it has to be visible. Some companies change a logo, colors, or a tagline, but a lot of times you see a change in leadership. At RPO, our president retired, and we’ve also had some changes in operations and other areas, and that’s very visible. Dane comes from a long history as president of Optics1 and has a great background in both business and optics, so I think he’ll be a great addition.
These situations allow you not only to signal the change for the internal and external audience, but also to make change. With a new leader you expect there to be new expectations, goals, and ways that things are communicated. You have an opportunity to take a new look at things, get a fresh perspective, and that helps make believers out of people when you talk about change.
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Tasting Notes: Today we’re trying Brooklyn Summer Ale. It’s not too hoppy, not noteworthy, but a suitable summer cookout beer.