Kevin Price, Host of the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston) recently interviewed Lou Altman.
About the interviewee
Lou Altman’s entrepreneurial spirit had him selling cold sodas to motorists on summer days during the 1974 gas shortages. That vision has helped Lou’s company GlobaFone become one of the top satellite Service Providers in the US.
Under Lou’s guidance GlobaFone develops SatCom programs that achieve results. GlobaFone’s client base is diverse, ranging from Federal, State and Local governments to enterprise organizations to individual users. GlobaFone serves industries such as consumer goods, finance, travel, aviation, energy and defense contractors. Dozens of Federal, State and Local government clients have benefited from Lou’s direct consultation and GlobaFone’s unique processes and exceptional client support. Lou is an invited international speaker and vocal advocate for the use of satellite communications to help heroes save lives and, he is a member of the NCC/NCS.
Lou has a BA in Psychology and Sociology and an MBA in Marketing. A Consultant to Guidepoint Global Advisors in the SatCom sector, Lou is also a member of Lions International and is active in other charitable endeavors including his Church, ASPCA, NH Special Olympics, Seacoast Family Promise and FIRST Robotics.
Tell me about your firm (number of employees, location, type of companies you work with, etc.).
GlobaFone is the small company with the big attitude. We challenge the industry to be its best and deliver the best solutions. We are currently at six employees in our Portsmouth, NH location, always looking for great people to help us grow on our success. Our client base is diverse, ranging from federal, state and local governments to corporate clients. Our corporate client base includes aerospace, defense airlines, consumer products, insurance, sports leagues and healthcare. One marker in which we revel is our client retention rate, well over 90%. We have clients that have been with us for 8, 10, 12 years and our longest running client joined us for Y2K – they are a Fortune 100, well-know consumer brands company.
Tell us about what you see as the challenge in client development today.
One major challenge in the SatCom sector is that our products and services are generally viewed as a pure commodity that prompts the ‘lowest price is best’ mentality. There is some merit to the commoditization view as all of the phones and service originate from one source: the networks. This ‘lowest price is best ‘ mentality creates the challenging environment because are so many factors that are not calculated into the lowest price.
The reality is that lowest price is just that; the lowest price. Unfortunately it is also the lowest value. The provider selling at the lowest margin is either simply moving boxes (we heard of a low-ball price where the provider didn’t even know what they were selling), or they cannot offer any support, because they cannot afford to do so.
For some buyers this is okay; they do not care about the end user experience. However, for the professional looking for a complete solution, they are more interested in working with providers that care about their results, not just moving boxes.
What mistake do businesses make when it comes to client development?
Easily the biggest mistake is considering the people who buy from you just as customers and not clients. A customer relationship is transaction-based. A client relationship is relationship based. Customers buy things from you; clients seek your advice and counsel and trust your recommendations. Remember our Y2K client? I’ve met the three successor points of contact as each retired or left the firm and the introduction has pretty much always been, ‘This is Lou Altman from GlobaFone, they are our satellite provider and are an outstanding partner. Don’t even consider using anyone else.” We have people specifically seek us out at trade shows to commend us and I receive notes and voicemails telling me how well we have performed. One of our contacts listed bringing GlobaFone on as a provider among his annual accomplishments for his review.
If you treat people as ‘customers’ I assure you, they will not make the effort to provide such praise. If you are taking exceptional care of your clients, they will stick with you. Price competitively and exceed expectations, and you have a recipe for genuine success.
Tell me how your approach is different.
We leverage things that make good business sense and in effect are free as they become ingrained into our corporate culture;
Education: Nothing beats helping buyers understand what they are buying and the subtle or not so subtle differences between the offered solutions. We find that once people understand the what, why and how of a satellite system, they are in a better position to make a good decision, one that will support their requirements.
Value-adds: If you buy a satellite phone and it shows up in the manufacturers box, you have to put it together; charge the phone, install the SIM card, install the battery, gather and account for the accessories. Not a big deal if you buy one phone. If you buy 30, 40, 100 phones, it becomes a monumental task. We price competitively and deliver ready to use kits; ‘turn on the phone and go’ solutions. No messing around on your part, just get down to what you need the satellite phone for in the first place.
GlobaFone was first with inclusive-minute plans, bundles and pooled airtime across the Iridium system.
Client support: 24/7/365. This is where we truly win. We have supported people who have admitted not being our clients, but they cannot get their provider to return their calls. Bring ‘em on. From personally flying next day to a client to hand deliver a replacement for a defective phone, to delivering 600 phones to FEMA in record time after Katrina, to delivering 250 phones in 48 hours after hurricane Ike (with all staff coming in on a Sunday to pack phones), GlobaFone is known as the company that – in the words of our former FEMA contact – ‘just gets it done’. This kind of support is not a burden but a welcome opportunity for us to shine, for the callers to understand what it means to be a GlobaFone client.
These three mantles of our business enable us to hit the ‘Thrilled, loyal clients’ bullet point in our mission statement. Clients do not leave us by choice: frequently there is a change in management and of course in order to earn stripes, the new team has to ‘shake things up a bit’. We are recommended internally and externally because of our reputation, garnered from our performances listed above.