Lou Parrague

The Need for Speed

May 10, 2006

Case categories include: Operations   Sales   

By Robert Sher
The need for speed isn’t always obvious, but it sure was this time.  Golden Gate Lumber’s phone call in search of surveillance cameras at all five of its locations left no doubt in the minds of the team at Capture Technologies, a reseller and installer of such equipment.  Knowing that Golden Gate Lumber was likely calling the competitors as well, they chose the tactic of speed to close the deal before anyone else even had a chance at it.

Within a day, they had fully understood the real needs of the client.  The next day they had identified the ideal equipment for the project, and moved to hook the client on it.  They arranged a special tour and review of the cameras at the manufacturer’s headquarters some 200 miles away.  A Capture Technologies sales exec stepped aboard Golden Gate Lumber’s corporate jet along with their key decision makers, and met the rest of his team at the manufacturer’s facility.   Just three days elapsed and the deal was locked up, lightning fast.

Yes, this is what the world is coming to.  As consumers and customers, we expect service faster and easier than last year.  Yet as businesses, we often whine about how unreasonable our customers are, and how difficult it is to serve them so quickly.  But take a lesson from Lou Parrague, President of Capture Technologies, who uses speed and agility as a competitive advantage.  He believes that his company and his team are often measured by their response time.

Where Speed Counts
Speed in communication is critical.  With more and more executives participating in the wireless world, there is a presumption that you get and read your messages very quickly.  If you don’t respond right away, they’ll believe that you are choosing not to respond because you are not important enough to them.  Essentially, a quick response says you care about them and respect their needs.  Short replies are fine.  The response can be a quick “I’m on it,” just to acknowledge the importance of their inquiry.  This is true not just of customer communications, but for an employee’s needs or anyone interacting with you.

Speed in situation analysis is often the next pressure point.  Getting the request into the hands of the person(s) who can understand the need and plan for the appropriate response has to happen quickly.  Too much time is often wasted when a mismatch occurs between the responder and the task, or worse yet, when a task sits in the wrong queue, wasting precious time, only to be discovered and shifted into the right queue.  Capture Technologies uses a “live body” telephone system to automatically channel inbound calls to the right person ideally, or if they are on the phone, to any live body so that the first level of situation analysis happens before the client hangs up the phone.  So high priority matters are identified immediately.  Naturally, having enough highly trained people available, even at peak times is essential.   The day of the “know nothing” receptionist is long gone.

Speed and agility also really count when bringing new products and services to market, and pulling them off the shelf when it’s over.  Customers and clients look to you to solve their problems, and increasingly in our fast changing world, that means delivering solutions new to your firm.

Speed in execution is where you earn your reputation and return business.  The mantra of project management – “On time and on budget” may become passé.  If you want to have speed and agility as your competitive advantage, shoot for “Ahead of schedule and on budget.”  Know that in many cases, they want it done faster, for no extra money.  But how is that going to work without giving away the bottom line?

The Path to Speed
1. A more knowledgeable team.  This applies at the executive level and the rank and file.  Lots of people need to know enough to make great decisions at their level.  The more the boss has to sign off on everything, the slower it will all go.   What’s more, a team that is cross-trained can shift quickly to help when one function gets overloaded.  For example, at Capture Technologies, 70% of the security team is cross-trained on access cards as well, and they are shifted up and back as needed.
2. Process Automation.  If you need to go fast on short notice, there is no time for doing anything the slow way.  Compressing the processes that are usually under pressure is paramount.  That may be computer programming, built in data feedback systems, redesigning standard operating procedures, or shortening decision making hierarchies.  Going even a step further, a competence in building and changing your systems quickly is important because everything is changing faster than ever – so systems built a few years ago are likely in need of adjustment.
3. A Sense of Urgency.  Being fast and agile needs to be a source of pride for everyone in the firm.  The mindset must go from, “We will go fast when we need to,” to, “We will be known as the fastest firm in the industry.”  Being a fast responder is an opportunity, not an obligation.

Speed can kill
Speed comes with risk, of course.  The first is that it gets done quickly, but with poor quality.  As a CEO pushes up the priority on speed, measures must also be in place to insure that quality is maintained.  Garbage delivered fast is still garbage.

Another issue, particularly with speed in communications and the increased 24/7 accessibility expected of most executives, is that we fill our days with interruptions, distractions, and high-urgency but low importance chatter.    Many of us get addicted to e-mail (I plead guilty) and can’t stand to not look when the Blackberry vibrates.  New levels of personal discipline are required to keep an appropriate balance, and blocks of time must be set aside when we are not connected, and can focus on thinking and planning.  Auto-responders, set often with up to date messages usually satisfy most callers, so long as you respond “live” when promised.

The big problem with delivering fast is that the cushion that was backlog is diminished.  In the past, as a firm saw the backlog grow, they could begin ramping up capacity, order in supplies and prepare to meet the deadlines.  But if no-one is willing to wait, then the firm must either staff for peak demands (wasting labor is slower periods) or turn down business during busy periods.  Luckily, it’s not that black and white.  More careful management of the backlog is called for, so that wait periods are minimized, and production flow is optimized based on individual customer needs.

Another concern that comes with agility and speed is that a firm can and may do many things – few of which really go to scale and help the company take big steps forward to its primary goals.  Always take the time to be sure the firm is doing the right thing before diving in.

Capture Technologies got Golden State Lumber what they asked for, and fast.  But you don’t need a corporate jet to display amazing speed in your business practices.  If your speed impresses those around you enough, you might just end up in the market for a corporate jet yourself!

Takeaways:
1. In this era of PDA’s and instant messaging, the expectation of quick response and quick action is more prevalent than ever.
2. Having a reputation for communicating quickly, and implementing faster than expected is a great strategy.
3. Some keys to speed are a highly educated, trained team and fine tuned processes.

Robert Sher is principal of CEO to CEO, specializing in assisting CEOs and business leaders as they navigate critical passages.  He is the author of The Feel of the Deal; How I Built a Business through Acquisitions.  He may be reached at Robert@ceotoceo.biz.

Company and Case Facts:

Company: Capture Technologies, Inc.
Person: Lou Parrague, President
Alliance Member since: 2004
Business Founded: 1948
Annual Sales Volume: $10 million in 2005
Head Count: 45
Product: ID systems, Digital recording technology, VOIP
Typical Customer: Emergency preparedness departments, public safety
Written: May, 2006
Address: Capture Technologies, Inc., 3575 Alameda Ave., Oakland, CA 94601
E-Mail: lparrague@capturet.com