As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Calise — Director of Marketing, Government and National Accounts.
Erica is dedicated to ensuring that the needs of government offices and schools are served through contracts offering competitive pricing and the latest and greatest technology. She is passionate about protecting the environment and spearheaded the development of Sharp’s zero waste toner recycling program. She is constantly looking for innovative ways to use melted down toner cartridges.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve always had an interest in the inner workings of the U.S. government and politics. After studying political science and economics at Brown, I went to work for Merrill Lynch on the government fixed-income trading floor. As a liaison between Merrill U.S. and the Japan trading desks, I recapped global market activity and expectations, helping prep traders for what was on the investment horizon. This global awareness, combined with my interest in the U.S. government, prepared me well as I stepped into an entry-level position as a government marketing manager at Sharp three decades ago. Today, I oversee a team that manages major bid response initiatives, contract marketing, and contract management for all of Sharp’s government and national account clients.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first started, I was responsible for creating State contract price catalogs. We always included contact information on the last page of the brochure. I transposed the numbers for our corporate “800” number and soon learned via a phone call from a State purchasing agent that the number belonged to a “late night gentlemen’s hotline!” I quickly issued an apology note and reprinted the catalog. Greatest takeaway…always have multiple people review marketing materials before going out to print!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
One of my first managers at Sharp reinforced the value of listening and observing. Knowledge is powerful and in order to become one of the smartest people in a room, you have to amass as much knowledge as possible. And the best way to do that is to listen and learn from people you respect. He also told me to never dismiss anyone’s suggestions, or input, especially in public and in front of their peers. Finally, respect opinions of others even though you may not agree.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I have been with Sharp for thirty years and our stated corporate vision has never changed. As our corporate site states, “Sharp is dedicated to improving people’s lives through the use of advanced technology and a commitment to innovation, quality, value, and design.” Truly the company has remained true to that goal. I have seen numerous products and solutions launched over the years, and the true intent of these products and solutions has been the betterment of our customers’ experience. Our engineers work closely with our channel partners to design and develop equipment specifically with the needs of our customers in mind.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
My team is responsible for responding to nationwide or large opportunity solicitations (e.g., State contracts, cooperative contracts, healthcare GPOs, etc.) and the maintenance and marketing associated with all awarded contracts. Over the past four years the team has been reduced by 40%, but we still have 50 states in the US, hence the workload has not diminished! In fact, the proliferation of cooperative purchasing and contract adoption has increased over the last ten years; thus the workload has actually grown. First, I started as a Government Marketing Manager with Sharp, therefore, I know what is required to do the job and the demands of the job. Because I’ve “walked in the shoes” of my team members, I can relate to the many challenges associated with the job. As a result of my experience, I provide guidance navigating challenges and assist my team in prioritizing the workload. I believe this experience and knowledge has had a very positive effect on the team members and is reflected in their handling their “normal” workload, while also rallying beautifully and stepping up to additional required tasks.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I never thought giving up was an option. It is really all about figuring out a way to take on a challenge and persevere. I find the easiest way to do this is to divide and conquer. A large RFP response can be a daunting challenge, but if you break down the pieces and assign tasks, the individual requirements do not seem as debilitating. The feeling of accomplishment can be invigorating. Knowing that our hard work paid off and that Sharp can provide a solution to a customer that will ultimately save money and improve processes can be very fulfilling. This truly relates back to the concept of purpose driven business.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
During challenging times, it is critical that a leader be at their very best. This means to be calm, think things through on critical issues, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and suggestions, and demonstrate commitment. Also, a leader should show a willingness to roll up their sleeves and work alongside the team. The message that “we’re all in this together” can go a long way and reinforces teamwork and commitment to a group.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
In these uncertain times it is even more important to demonstrate a positive outlook. Never give anyone a reason to doubt what you and the group are trying to achieve no matter how great the challenges you are facing.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The best way to communicate difficult news is to personally reach out and to be honest. Relaying negative information is never easy, but it is best to explain the situation and that you are sensitive to the situation. Assure the team or customer that you are committed to addressing the issue and will do everything possible to rectify the situation. If possible, try to provide the positive out of a bad situation.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
A good leader is knowledgeable and theoretically prepared for all that might come her way. Devising a plan is great, however, a good leader should also know the value of pivoting and embracing unpredictability. Also, a good leader should recognize the value of the people on her team and the people within the organization and feel comfortable with calling upon that expertise.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Stay true to your customer.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
When making a change in policy, product, or philosophy you MUST communicate this to the customer with enough time for them to react. Reach out to them and provide them with whatever information they require to make a choice or decision which best fits their needs.
When a customer asks a question, respond in a reasonable amount of time and provide an answer. People don’t like to be left in the dark and they appreciate getting an answer, even it isn’t the one they are looking for.
Be consistent. If a solution and price are offered to a customer at one point in time and then modified later, be prepared to have an explanation.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Recognizing the needs of our customers is critical to our success. Sharp supports two different types of customers: (1) our dealer channel and (2) end user customers, such as school districts, state agencies, etc.
In response to the needs of our dealer channel, Sharp provided a series of webinars aimed at educating and improving the skill set of our sales partners. This included how to pivot and conduct business under unusual circumstances, as well as some of new products that Sharp launched in response to the “new way” of business.
Most recently and in response to workforce shifts, Sharp offered a “work from home” bundle which included a desktop printer, monitor and laptop. As well, we introduced a product that was engineered and designed to deliver a fast, safe, and reliable temperature screening and check inexperience that doesn’t involve any touchpoints or another person.
By maintaining an awareness of the needs and demands of our customers, Sharp has been able to maintain a market presence and demonstrate our commitment to providing products and programs dedicated to improving people’s lives through the use of advanced technology and a commitment to innovation, quality, value, and design.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five most important things that a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times are simple and basic.
Listen. Hear what your customers are asking for and develop a solution that addresses their needs. Also, know when it’s best not to speak. A manager once told me that the best way to go into a meeting was with a water bottle. Stop, take a sip and ruminate on what is being said, and then respond.
Be honest. It is important to be honest with both your customers and your co-workers. Let them know what the company is facing, and how you plan to continue to move forward. Layout the best plan, with a timetable and communicate that to everyone.
Know that you don’t know it all. Rely on your team members for advice and suggestions. It’s important to have multiple perspectives when discussing a project. By engaging others, it allows them to feel as though they are a part of the process and that their voice and opinion counts.
Communicate. After leaving a management meeting, I make it a point to meet with my team to relay what I’ve learned — sales numbers, new product launches, strategic actions, etc. In order to truly feel engaged and committed to a company, employees should be informed of what is critical to the organization.
Say Thank You. Acknowledgement of a person or team’s accomplishments can go a long way. As well, saying thank you to a customer for their business and continued confidence in you and the company can be extremely powerful.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I actually have two favorite quotes…
1) “I can do anything with the right shoes.”
This quote fits well with my unending love for shoes, but also is extremely pertinent when it comes to my position at Sharp. Our team is extremely efficient and accomplishes a great deal with limited resources and staff. I am proud of the work we produce.
2) “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
I have always strived to treat people with respect regardless of their position or role in the organization. The janitor gets the same morning greeting as the CEO.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Corporate Site: https://business.sharpusa.com