Tim Doot | Becoming More Partner Than Vendor

Burr Oak Tool, a leading manufacturer in the HVAC industry, has long implemented lean practices in their operations. But when Tim Doot arrived as a corporate VP he made sure that philosophy carried into the sales department as well.

By examining data from every part of the sales process, the Burr Oak team was able to eliminate wasteful practices and identify the “best of the best” customers.

And while drastic change like this often doesn’t stick, they’re still going strong.

Tim tells us how they’ve sustained success, as well as…

  • A little-known cost of “bad customers”
  • The numbers behind your best prospects
  • Rethinking your sales relationships
  • Why you can’t neglect post-sale service
  • And more

Listen now…

Episode Transcript:

Michael Webb: Hello. This is Michael Webb. Some people focus on selling processes like internet marketing, or selling to senior level decision makers, other people focus on process tools, and measurement of data, and systems thinking. Not many people talk about how these can be brought together to motivate people, and to create wealth for everyone. That’s what we want to talk about in the Sales Process Excellence Podcast. My guest today is Tim Doot. Tim, is corporate vice president of Burr Oak Tool in Sturgis, Michigan. Thank you for being here, Tim. Could you tell our audience about your background?

Tim Doot: Sure. First of all, thanks for inviting me to participate. This is I think a great opportunity and a good way for many to learn a little bit more about some great ideas.

Michael Webb: Yeah. Thanks.

Tim Doot: Burr Oak Tool is a manufacturing company. We’ve been around for almost 75 years. We manufacture large machines, and machine tools, primarily for the HVAC industry. I’ve been at Burr Oak Tool for about 12 years. My background is actually quite different, I started out as a music student in college-

Michael Webb: I remember that.

Tim Doot: And went through a number of thinking, changes as I was in school, ended up getting a master’s degree in business, thinking I would put music and business together, which I did successful for a number of years. In that time, had some international opportunities to understand product distribution in some international markets, and then had my own consulting business for a number of years, and when this opportunity with Burr Oak Tool came up, and it was quite a shift in terms of the content of the business, but I would say the principles that you learn anywhere can be applied across very disparate industries, and even very different roles in companies.

Michael Webb: I tell you it’s so interesting. I remember you showing me, you thought you had a book in you, you were starting to write a book, and you had chapters, and it was about the lessons learned from music, or from composers, and you had collected all these quotes.

Tim Doot: Yes.

Michael Webb: Is that right?

Tim Doot: Yeah. Yes, that’s right.

Michael Webb: The whole idea of people, and the principles has interested you for a long time.

Tim Doot: It has. Actually, it started probably when I was introduced to the Seven Habits by Stephen Covey.

Michael Webb: Oh, yes.

Tim Doot: Long, long ago. I was with a company where we supplied some things to the Covey Group, and they wanted their primary vendors all to be well versed in the Seven Habits principles. I attended something there. I was especially taken by the personal mission statement, and learned a lot about what disciplines are required in order to apply those types of principles that do not change, it doesn’t matter what business you are in, what your role is, those principles remain the same, and I think that is what is key in what initially made me interested in some of the things that you presented in your book.

Michael Webb: Mm-hmm (affirmative). When you transitioned into Burr Oak, if I recall you were in marketing, is that right? Was that the first role?

Tim Doot: Actually, the first role was international development, but-

Michael Webb: That’s right.

Tim Doot: Quickly transitioned into both international development, and marketing. I did that for a couple of years, and ultimately I was asked to take on the role, also, of all of the sales functions at Burr Oak Tool.

Michael Webb: [crosstalk 00:04:52]-

Tim Doot: Sales, marketing, and business development.

Michael Webb: Right. I think that’s when we met, when that was starting to take place, and you were looking at this bullpen of sales engineers with all different kinds of personalities, and trying to say, “Now, how do I do this?”

Tim Doot: Yeah.

Michael Webb: Is that what was going through your head?

Tim Doot: Yeah. It was partly the different personalities, but it was also a huge and challenging complex of global customers. Burr Oak Tool does business in 75 countries, and so when you take the different personalities, and overlay it on customer experience in the US compared to one in India, compared to one in Brazil, compared to one in Europe, compared to one in China, that’s where it gets pretty complex.

Michael Webb: As I recall Burr Oak was already, I don’t know how you would put it, supportive of kind of the lean philosophy of process excellence, had made some progress-

Tim Doot: Yeah.

Michael Webb: With that and because of your interest in principles you knew that some of that needed to transfer into sales, which was your interest in that book, right?

Tim Doot: Yes, exactly. When I first picked up your book, I immediately, of course, saw the connection, it was clear that there was a connection between lean thinking, and processed thinking, which actually to me seems very, very close to the principle related approach of the Covey Seven Habits. When I saw the principles that you outlined, I thought, oh, my goodness, principle based selling, principle based, or processed based, to apply this across an organization just made so much sense, and I was pretty excited about it.

Michael Webb: Then what happened?

Tim Doot: Then when I looked at the application’s anything like that there’s a couple of different ways that it has to be applied when you’re talking about principles, because one is to look at the external reach of that, and how does it impact our ability when customers and it’s not winning customers, it’s really a process of qualifying, and understanding, and making sure that we not only are providing a service, but it’s a good fit, because not every customer’s going to be a good fit for every company when it’s a business to business, a B2B, situation. That’s one part of the equation.

The other part of the equation is internal, when you think about the culture required to shift an entire process from the way we’ve always done it to something new and different that’s going to require quite a bit of effort. Whenever you have people in the equation, which in a normal business is always. There are things you have to do to win over the culture, and get everybody rowing in the same direction, and moving together. What I saw in your thoughts and the processes that you presented was a way to accomplish that.

Michael Webb: We did guided discovery with your senior sales marketing, and service team.

Tim Doot: Yes.

Michael Webb: And they did take to that pretty well. What were kind of the conversations that were going on when I wasn’t there?

Tim Doot: When you weren’t here we were, well, first of all it was [crosstalk 00:09:28]-.

Michael Webb: You were trying to get quotes out, every day. That’s what you were trying-

Tim Doot: Yes.

Michael Webb: It was huge.

Tim Doot: We had the battle that we were trying to fight while bringing in and attempting to overlay this brand new process. To say that we were trying, it’s never that we try, we have to implement. We have to implement to make change. We have to implement to succeed, so we knew that was important. We knew that this change was something that we had to make happen. I think we were realistic. We actually met with you several times. You first met with our senior team, more than once.

Then we had some presentations to the overall sales team in making sure that everybody was on board, and everybody understood the same thing from the same perspective. In order to make that happen I remember you provided us with some materials that we distributed. The good thing I think that we did is we had you come in and actually present not only to our internal team, but to our entire network of reps, so everybody got the same message. I’m sure you recall that we had reps from-

Michael Webb: Yep.

Tim Doot: I think nine different countries.

Michael Webb: Yep. That was the Oak Summit. Right?

Tim Doot: That was the Oak Summit, that’s correct, which by the way, this year was our eighth year of the Summit, so we’re still going. Still, every day utilizing those principles that we learned and applied, and I think they have led to some very, very good things in terms of results, because isn’t that what we want to find-

Michael Webb: Yeah.

Tim Doot: With anything that we do.

Michael Webb: Right. Tell us about some of that.

Tim Doot: Yeah. One thing I want to mention is because we were already in the realm of looking for process based solutions that could be implemented and endure. It’s easy to embrace something that just feels right, and passes our own initial sniff test in terms of yes, this is significant, it’s got some meat, it’s got some substance. The challenge is always going to be in applying it. What we saw in terms of making it work was we had to be very collaborative, we had to talk a lot and understand from each other’s perspective. We had to communicate well. This communication internally led to better communication externally.

Some of the results of this, we were a little more selective in terms of which customers, and specifically which projects we would undertake, utilizing some of the criteria that we gleaned from your presentations. We actually expanded what we were looking for in customers to include things not only, like are they in our industry, but what do we know about how well they pay? What do we know about their own desire to innovate? Would they want to partner with us in innovation?

Michael Webb: Yeah. I remember one of the questions was, how well do they train their staff? You know? Do we get service calls from them in the middle of the night, and they don’t even know-

Tim Doot: Right.

Michael Webb: [crosstalk 00:13:41] are, or do they invest in training and preventative maintenance for their crew, and their [crosstalk 00:13:47]-

Tim Doot: Yes. Exactly. Because we would provide for them always a manual for every machine that we sell, along with certain drawings, assembly drawings, so if somebody would call us up and ask a question that they already had the answer to, and if they’re will to embark on some additional training, wonderful, but if we’ve gone through this with them many times, that actually adds to our own cost for that particular incident, or example. That’s something that-

Michael Webb: What you’re referring to here is the approach of operationally defining, you guys called it the ideal prospect, or the ideal customer.

Tim Doot: Yes.

Michael Webb: [crosstalk 00:14:43]-

Tim Doot: The ideal customer.

Michael Webb: [inaudible 00:14:45] things, and you’re able to assign a number to it, and that sort of is like-

Tim Doot: Yeah.

Michael Webb: Your unified field theory. Right? That everybody is-

Tim Doot: Yeah.

Michael Webb: Evaluating the prospect using the same standard and converting their sort of subjective observations into a more objective observation, and using numbers.

Tim Doot: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Yes. We have systemized that even more in terms of our quoting, and our expectation of how we would possibly win some of these large opportunities. In our business, a typical quote for a typical machine we’re looking at a time often from the customers where they will take two to three months to make a decision and the delivery time is going to be anywhere from four to six, or seven months on the particular machine as its finished. We’re always working ahead. Always looking at the future. We want to qualify and quantify these lead opportunities, and we assigned a probability, and again you remember when we first started this we signed a probability of the customers, first of all, we ranked them according to who we would want to go after, who we’d want to partner with, and [crosstalk 00:16:26]-

Michael Webb: By using this method, those observable qualifications, that’s what [crosstalk 00:16:29]-

Tim Doot: The observable-

Michael Webb: Right.

Tim Doot: Yes. Exactly. We knew who we would want to put on our front burner, so to speak. The results have been a greater number of wins, and part of that is because of both the customer and the type of business that we’re going after. We began to win a greater percentage of those quotes that we put out. Another is we saw an increase because we were paying closer attention to everything a cross this wide spectrum of information. We saw an increase in our overall margins on those machines.

Michael Webb: That’s fabulous.

Tim Doot: And the last thing, which is not the last, but the beginning is we had seen with certain relationships that we have, I think I mentioned this a little bit sooner, earlier, that we are becoming involved and engaged with the customer much earlier in the process. We are seen more as a partner than as a vendor. That is so important, because we know ahead of time what they’re thinking, and they’re actually coming to us for advice, for guidance. One of the branding issues that we had, and you may recall this, is we wanted to be seen as the expert in our industry. We wanted to be the person, the company, that if anybody is thinking about making a heat exchange coil, and making fins for that coil, and producing that, who would they come to? They would come to Burr Oak Tool. We wanted to be the thought leader within this. In many cases, I think it is happening.

Michael Webb: Just in the short time that I was working with you I was so amazed. Here’s a mature industry, and here’s a company whose genius is just overflowing because you came up with the Triumph bender. Right? This machine-

Tim Doot: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Webb: That stretches the copper tube beam to straighten it. What a radical departure from traditional ways of doing that mechanical process. Then you came up with, I forget the name of the machine, but instead of pulling a dye through the copper tube to expand it, sort of weld it to the fin in a heat exchanger it uses compressed air.

Tim Doot: Yeah.

Michael Webb: There was another machine [inaudible 00:19:35]. I mean, these radical improvements in this very mature industry, you guys were just overflowing with that stuff, and it created all sorts of new value propositions for your customer. Tell us about some of those.

Tim Doot: Yeah. Interesting you mention that, because I actually have pulled out some information about that just in terms of the longevity of the company we are close to having produced and distributed 3,000 dyes, which is a significant number.

Michael Webb: These are the

Tim Doot: [crosstalk 00:20:13]-

Michael Webb: The dyes that make the fins for the heat exchange.

Tim Doot: The dyes that make the fins. Yeah.

Michael Webb: [crosstalk 00:20:16].

Tim Doot: Yes.

Michael Webb: Okay.

Tim Doot: Yes. The hairpin bender, which we call the Triumph. The Triumph Hairpin Bender. When that came out, it really turned the industry on its head, so to speak, because it was so different from any other approach that anybody used. We used stretch straightening as you mentioned, but the way we cut was completely opposite from any other competitor out there. Any other company. It’s been out I think about six or seven years, and we are at about our 175th machine, so we’re inching up on 200 machines, now.

Michael Webb: I remember a story here. Let me recount what I recall, and then you correct me, because as I saw it there were three very difficult problems happening at the same time, and in one I thought it was a brilliant move, it sort of solved them all at the same time.

Tim Doot: Yes.

Michael Webb: Burr Oak had been attempting to transition from a custom manufacturer, you know, early in its history to having more standardized products. Difficult transition to make, lots of architecture decisions about how these machines are designed, and the new Triumph machine not only presented an opportunity to revolutionize the market, but also to take a step forward, and standardizing the potential designs. Right? That’s one issue. Right?

Tim Doot: [crosstalk 00:21:54].

Michael Webb: True. Right? Okay. Another issue-

Tim Doot: That is true.

Michael Webb: The sales force-

Tim Doot: Yeah.

Michael Webb: Is breaking its back, because all these quotes take a week of engineering-

Tim Doot: Yeah.

Michael Webb: Time to assemble them. Right?

Tim Doot: That’s correct.

Michael Webb: To have a way of doing an estimate quote, a budgetary quote. Right? Without requiring all that sales time, was something you didn’t have, really wanted, and this machine provided an opportunity to attempt that.

Tim Doot: Correct.

Michael Webb: Third-

Tim Doot: No, you’re absolutely right.

Michael Webb: Third, the sales force because of all this time doing quotations, and then re-quotations, and then modifying the quotations, and then doing them again, the sales force didn’t have a lot of time to go out and do prospecting, and build relationships, and much less find new accounts. I believe Jason may have been behind it, but Jason and Brett, both, they came up with a sort of a spreadsheet that contained these new estimating standards, and combined it with a landing page, an offer on your website that would offer a perspective customer engineer to compare this new radical technology with the competitors, not divulging the cost of the machine, or anything, but in terms of cost per part, because it could process more parts per shift, and you could tell it how many changeovers you have to do per shift, and stuff like that.

Tim Doot: [crosstalk 00:23:31]-

Michael Webb: You released this webpage, the spreadsheet that did the calculations was behind the scenes, the customer got something they wanted. Right? And the sales person was prevented from having to spend a couple of days or more doing a budgetary quote, and I think within, as I recall, within a month of releasing that the sales force had three qualified new account prospects that they never would have had otherwise. Is that pretty close to what happened there?

Tim Doot: Yeah. You’re remembering that well. That is accurate. We still utilize that-

Michael Webb: Yeah.

Tim Doot: That same document. Yes, because it is a good indicator of exactly what the Triumph Bender can save them in their own manufacturing process.

Michael Webb: Before you had brought the team together to develop a sure common understanding of what’s value, what’s waste, who do we know that? I mean, you when you were in the head of the marketing department if you had this bright idea to put a webpage up there that would do that, back in the day, what kind of roadblocks would you have run into attempting to get that through?

Tim Doot: I think it would have been difficult because in order to make all of this work, it fails us, not an island in any company-

Michael Webb: Right.

Tim Doot: At least they shouldn’t be.

Michael Webb: Right.

Tim Doot: That’s where when we were instituting all of these changes we also were keeping other groups well aware of what we were implementing, so including accounting, including engineering, so it’s so critical to involve everyone, and before that I probably didn’t see the roadblocks that would have been encountered from some of those other internal areas in order to make this happen. That work then however was done, we included everybody in the goals, at least awareness of what we were accomplishing in implementing these new processes. You’re right. I would have hit roadblocks in many ways prior to this, but-

Michael Webb: Yeah.

Tim Doot: When we did it, it was only help.

Michael Webb: Yeah. If someone in the sales department thought of an improvement, they would have run into roadblocks, because they would have needed help from engineering to come up with this new way of doing quoting, or they would need help with the marketing department, or something, and all those departments-

Tim Doot: Sure.

Michael Webb: If you’re not thoroughly immersed in the concept of systems thinking, all those things, it’s hard to coordinate them, it’s hard to have harmony.

Tim Doot: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Webb: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Super. Yeah. Tell us more. Where are you guys going from here? What are the things that you’re moving forward on that these principles and approaches have enabled you to do?

Tim Doot: Okay. The plan moving forward is to identify and focus, which we’re doing, additional partners, we’ve actually taken this approach and applied it into other areas outside of capital sales, we’ve also applied it into our service area, and our parts, I mean, of course both of those are still sales, into our parts area a very process based approach. With all three of those running in harmony you can see the synergy that is possible, because a capital sale for whatever machine, of course, generally it’s a significant investment for any of our customers.

We always want them to understand the value proposition of this particular piece of machinery for their company over the life of the machine, but we also want to make sure that they understand that through our process we will also support them in terms of service, and parts. I don’t think our industry is different from other industries, generally. We hear that if there are companies, for example, working in the US that are based in Asia, it’s very difficult for them to successfully and efficiently deliver parts on time. It’s just a hard thing. They may be able to get their machines there on time, but the after sales service is just as important for them maintaining that machine, and is a huge part of the decision in whether, or not they would go with us versus a competitor-

Michael Webb: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Doot: Either way. We saw the value in implementing this same processed based approach into everything that we do. It has made a difference. I think that’s actually solidified our relationship with certain customers, because we are able to deliver across everything that we do, not just capital machines, but also parts and service. That has made us more successful.

Michael Webb: I remember, let me make this comment, and then have you react to it, and then if there’s anything else you think we should keep in mind, or that the audience would appreciate hearing about your journey there, I know it wasn’t easy. I know that one of the challenges, because your business is so complex is a customer gives a request to use titanium on the guide rails, or something with different tolerances, so thus you have to issue a revised quote. Right? You get [crosstalk 00:30:34]-

Tim Doot: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Webb: Then six months out all of a sudden engineering or manufacturing runs into a snag, and we’ve got a delay. It’s just a frustrating thing for the customer, a frustrating thing for the sales department. By having a process, as I recall, it enabled, the first part, the sales people were kind of not, it was like, “Okay, fine, we did a process,” it didn’t seem to me anyway that like this is really the central, really important thing until they realized that there could be put a point beyond which it’s not the sales department fault if something goes wrong. Okay. Now, we agree on it. Then, sort of the snake turned around the other way, because they found out that they had been making some mistakes in the quotes inadvertently.

Tim Doot: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Webb: They were the causes. The process, this logic, this defining thing, focusing on the evidence, and the data helped everyone to realize what’s broken in our system, how that ends up impacting the customer, and therefore the money that we can get from the customers, the life blood, right? The implications of it weren’t expected. Right? You learned things you didn’t expect to be learning, and it made everybody, and the company better. Is that a fair way [crosstalk 00:32:01]-

Tim Doot: Yes. That’s actually a good description. One example, or one symbol of this that we have used is as we implement process throughout the organization, and start to understand the discipline required to do that, and if we master that one thing, and do it well, it will always reveal additional rocks. What it does is it reduces the water level, or however you want to put that, and it reveals other issues that you have to work on, and that is what enables you to get down to the root cause of whatever it is that’s keeping you up at night, giving you digestion, whatever it might be.

No, that is exactly right. It’s not only a process that we implement, but it’s a process to go through, because we learn, if we’re not learning every day, we’re probably doing something wrong, and we should be constantly on the path to improvement, and change. That’s part of process. That is what makes us better. We don’t really, we’re aware of what our competitors are doing, certainly, but our goal is to always better ourselves. We want to focus on our own processes the way we do the things, and make sure that we are doing it better than anybody else. If we’re doing that, then there’s no one that will be able to touch us.

Michael Webb: Yeah. That’s wonderful. That’s the principles approach it’s fulfilling not just for the company’s goals, but for individual goals, and leadership goals, and it’s rewarding to be able to encourage, and help the people who work with you, and for you in their growth as well.

Tim Doot: Yes. Absolutely.

Michael Webb: This has been a wonderful story. I’ve been looking forward to it. I really appreciate you being so candid, and open. Are there any final observations? If someone would like to contact you, and I don’t know become part of your distribution channel or some way, how would they get a hold of you?

Tim Doot: They can just go to Burr Oak Tool, burroaktool.com, or burroak.com, and that’s our website address.

Michael Webb: B-U-R-R-O-A-K.com. Right?

Tim Doot: Dot com. I’m also very active on LinkedIn, anybody can connect with me. Tim Doot, and you can look up Burr Oak Tool on LinkedIn as well, we have a landing page there. Our goal is to put new content up on a regular basis, and show what things we’re working on.

Michael Webb: Super. Thank you very much, Tim. I really appreciate this. We’ll be staying in touch, you and I, and help Burr Oak get even wealthier, and even more successful in the future.

Tim Doot: All right. Thank you very much, Mike.

Michael Webb: Thank you.

Tim Doot: I appreciate that.

Michael Webb: Take care. Bye.


Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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