Perspective — be willing to acknowledge that each person brings a different perspective. Companies that embrace varying perspectives and capitalize on them will be more creative, solutions-oriented and welcoming.
As part of my series about the “How to Take Your Company from Good to Great,”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chintan Shah, President of KNB Communications, a full-service marketing and PR firm that specializes in healthcare technology. KNB Communications has been in business since 1998. Chintan joined in 2016 with a new strategic direction for the agency. He grew the marketing arm to include cutting-edge digital tactics; put resources into internal marketing that decreased turnover and grew the Glassdoor rating to a 4.2; and ultimately grew the agency by 30–40% year over year. He took the business from good to great.
Prior to joining KNB, Chintan worked for IBM in New York City, focused on Power Systems sales, while working with clients in the healthcare, finance, and media markets. Chintan also previously managed Americas marketing and sales for Unfors Raysafe, a medical radiation management company headquartered in Bildall, Sweden. Chintan is passionate about applying technology and innovation to solving problems, especially in healthcare applications. He is excited about marketing new products and services that help people live better lives through disruptive, but easy-to-use technology. His Bachelor’s is in Communications and International Studies from University of Wisconsin; his MBA is from Babson College.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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 am a proud Wisconsinite, born and raised in a suburb of Milwaukee. My parents are immigrants from India and instilled in me that education is among the most important values in life. As a child, in addition to playing sports, I learned about business and healthcare. My father led marketing for Blue Cross Blue Shield and my mother was an x-ray technologist. I learned about HMOs and PPOs well before most kids my age. While other kids were on the playground, I read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography in the 4th grade. I was inspired by Iacocca’s dream; and my first business venture was selling homegrown alfalfa sprouts at a stand in our neighborhood! I wasn’t selling a brand-new car, but I had determination at a young age. Little did I know then that those business and healthcare lessons would serve me well later in my career and my life.
I attended the University of Wisconsin — Madison and always intended to pursue a career in business. As kids, my brother and I were taught to set goals — memorialize them in writing and they can become reality. So, we did. My goals after graduation included moving to New York City, working for a large company, and starting to build a successful career. Each one of those goals became reality.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
- With success comes obstacles — however, giving up was not an option. Earlier in my career I joined a mid-sized Swedish company and took on a marketing manager role tasked with bringing
- a new, paradigm-shifting product to the US market. My goal was to build a launch plan and commercialize the product to sell into US hospitals. I eagerly traveled around the country, demonstrating the product for physicians and department heads, believing that this new product would truly help reduce risks for physicians. After a couple of months, I had visited dozens of hospitals, many of which were in either urban centers with incredibly challenging infrastructures or rural areas with variable needs for new technology. About 3 months into this role it became apparent that commercializing this product would be much more challenging than I had initially anticipated — a feeling I clearly remember when I was a young boy selling homegrown alfalfa sprouts at the stand in my neighborhood. There were numerous meetings that were cancelled or cut short. I thought to myself, I must keep going. Finding time, especially enough time with physicians can be tough. While these experiences did challenge me, I never considered giving up. In fact, this challenge motivated me even more to make this product successful because of what I knew it would provide for those clinical staff members who used it. That’s important: believing in what you’re selling. I also knew that a successful launch would set me on a positive trajectory for my own career. I embraced the entrepreneurial nature of this business and ultimately made it a success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
My first job when I graduated from college was in sales with IBM. I was assigned a senior sales representative to shadow. After just a couple of weeks, I had learned enough about our product offering to be dangerous but hardly enough to speak to technical details. At the office one day, my mentor introduced me to another IBMer who took an interest in my role and started asking me questions. In my eagerness to show what I had learned, I started providing an in-depth overview of our product. That led to more questions and more specific technical details I was clearly unable to answer. It turns out that I had walked right into a little friendly newbie prank. The gentleman I had been introduced to was one of the most senior technical specialists for our product line. He had 35+ years of IBM engineering experience and he and my mentor were simply seeing how far I could talk before digging a big hole for myself!
I learned 3 key traits:
- Be humble — never assume you know more than someone else.
- Know to whom you are talking — always proactively ask who someone is, about their role and really listen so that you can know who they are.
- Do not take yourself too seriously — I could have been embarrassed and humiliated by that experience. Instead, I took it for what it was, a friendly prank and introduction to the team. I ended up building a great relationship with the senior engineer and he became a valuable resource for me who always made himself available.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes KNB Communications stand out is what comes from within. It starts with the who, not the what. The people of KNB are entrepreneurial, compassionate, collaborative, and dedicated employees. We all come from different backgrounds with different experiences to bring to the table.
When I first joined KNB Communications, I knew right off the bat that this company was different. Different in the sense that there was an inviting atmosphere of people. Having a great team truly reflects the work we produce. I’ve fostered and grown this collaborative environment by being very selective in who we add to the team and putting resources behind internal marketing. A lot of my philosophy stems from being a mentor and true advocate for each and every person at KNB. I have an open door (and open Google Meet/Zoom/WebEx in today’s pandemic world) policy. We value one another here — and because of that — we value one another’s time, work, and effort, and it shows.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Stay even keel — enjoy the highs, but don’t overdo it. Take the lows in stride.
- Spend time learning about the industry at large and enjoy getting to know trends and innovations. Too often, we spend our time going from crisis to crisis and do not spend enough time thinking strategically. Reading industry publications, connecting with industry leaders via LinkedIn and Zoom, and participating in events will help keep ideas fresh and connect your work with opportunities in the market.
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?
- My parents
Business acumen runs deep in my family. My grandfather was an accountant and ran a small business in India and taught my father the values of the free market and importance of economic trends. My father came from Bombay to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on a harrowing journey in the mid-1960s. He earned his MBA and worked for several large companies before achieving his dream of owning his own health care consulting small business. When I was born, my dad even tried very hard to get my first word to be “entrepreneur.” Turned out to be “Mama…,” but the die was cast for me to love business and marketing in my life and my career. My parents certainly influenced me strongly in very positive ways. I intimately appreciated the strategic nature of business in helping my dad build his company and I enjoyed the challenges and triumphs associated with sales. Ultimately, he taught me that customer service was helping clients to solve puzzles together. I have made that the hallmark of my work throughout my career.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A good company is profitable. They are successful because they have a clearly stated mission, and they have set a strategy to accomplish that mission. A good company attracts good people with competitive compensation packages and generous benefits. It checks all the boxes.
A great company puts passion first. They have a vision and values. They attract other passionate people who understand and identify with the mission. They offer their employees competitive compensation packages and generous benefits because they value them, and their employees are loyal in return. Employees are drawn to and stay with the company because they believe in the mission and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Great companies also attract and, more importantly, retain customers far more easily. They are profitable as a result.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Perspective — be willing to acknowledge that each person brings a different perspective. Companies that embrace varying perspectives and capitalize on them will be more creative, solutions-oriented and welcoming.
- Expertise — chart the course of the business based on a foundation of the expertise you bring.
- Excitement — always be excited about what you are doing. If you find that your work no longer excites you, change course and locate that motivation. If you cannot, it may be time to make a change. Life is too short to do something you do not enjoy.
- Effectiveness — great companies produce strong results. Measuring those results and reaching stretch goals separates the good from the great.
- Engagement — identify ways to make your customers into your advocates. The more you build a brand, the more your customers will help sell on your behalf.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
- Purpose gives your staff, your employees and your customers a meaning to coalesce behind. When that concept resonates, the brand becomes about more than the revenues and profits the business generates. It drives behavior, creates loyalty and often a satisfaction of providing to the greater good of the community. Our business is within the healthcare industry. Our team is passionate about improving how healthcare is delivered and the role technology plays in patient outcomes because we are all patients at some point in our lives. That is our purpose.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
- Go back and review what got you to where you are. With growth, there is often a desire to expand beyond the core values of a company or the niche that made it successful in the first place. Recalling what made your company desirable and reestablishing that brand identity can help reorient a business. It also provides an opportunity to evaluate what is working and what can be cast off or adopted into other lines.
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?
- Challenging economic times can often stress a company and certainly its teams and its leaders. However, some of the best ideas and opportunities for creativity arise from challenging periods. My father used to have a set of pictures hanging on the wall in his office. One of them showed a golfer in a sand trap with the headline “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
- It is always the people. Finding a strong team. Cultivating leaders. Retaining them. Motivating individuals at various levels and helping them find passion that is reflected in their work.
- Growing from a small startup to a larger, established organization. The initial success of a company creates excitement and pride. Once that plateaus, the next challenge is figuring out how to take larger leaps to grow at a faster pace.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
- Your customers and your prospects are savvy. Provide them value and they will be loyal. Offer information, a tip, a free service or better way of growing their business. Give them a taste of how you can help them.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
- Trust, at its core, is about reliability. If a brand delivers exactly what its messaging promises, or works quickly to correct any instances where it falls short, a trusted reputation ensues.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
- To wow someone, you must exceed their expectations. That means not only knowing what a customer wants but truly understanding their motivations. Often business metrics are lagging indicators for success. Showing a customer that you understand what is important to them makes the difference.
- To exceed expectations, you must first understand what their expectations are. Conduct a competitive analysis to determine the status quo in your industry. Then, think of creative ways to outperform it. For example, many agencies only provide the data that is specifically requested by a client. At my agency, we provide weekly updates and written monthly reports with all the KPI’s and client requests as well as those we consider helpful or important. We also offer insights and recommendations. We pay close attention to the data and offer proactive advice if we see an area where a campaign may be optimized. Several clients have commented on how this level of transparency is unexpected but truly appreciated.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
- Social media is only a risk when it is handled poorly. Social media is not one entity and is certainly not an optional channel for communication. Individuals, companies and organizations need to determine how to get the most out of the various channels that social media offers. There is risk in every channel of communication from traditional media interviews, email and broadcast. The key is identifying the channels that will be most valuable, building a strategy of content and mitigating risk by anticipating how to respond when negativity arises. Avoidance is not a strategy. Instead, a proactive approach with thoughtful consideration for the risk will enable both individuals and organizations to get the most from these digital channels of communication.
What ar the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
- Build a strong team. Select individuals who are both individual contributors and team players.
- Emphasize quality services/products and new business growth. Both current clients and potential new clients bring value to your business.
- Keep a close eye on operations — do not assume it will all work out on its own. Optimization, cost analysis and resource allocation are dynamic and ever changing.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
- Education is very important to me as I stated earlier. I would champion a movement that helps bring improved education to children and offer opportunities for career development. I have participated in formal and informal mentorship programs and find these to be incredibly valuable to both the mentee and the mentor.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!