PODCASTS

Suji Sullivan Of The Davlyn Group: Best Practices For Growing B2B Commercial Sales

Suji Sullivan Of The Davlyn Group: Best Practices For Growing B2B Commercial Sales

Kip sits down with Suji Sullivan to discuss her incredible journey. Suji joined the Davlyn Group right before the COVID-19 Pandemic as their VP of Sales and had to contend not only with navigating a new company but also do so in a time when the world completely changed.

 


 

Podcast Participants

Graham: Product Director Concora
Kip Rapp: CEO Concora
Suji Sullivan: Vice President Sales Davlyn Group

 

Graham:

Hello everyone and welcome to The Concora Corner, a podcast dedicated to bringing you interviews and folks working in the AEC and BPM industry. I’m one of your host Graham Waldrop, a director of product here at Concora. Today on the show we’re talking with Suji Sullivan, who is the vice president of sales for the Davlyn Group. Suji discusses her baptism by fire as it were, as she started her position right before the COVID 19 pandemic began last year. But through it all, Suji remained a positive and adaptable force to help propel her company to success despite not only having to adapt to being a VP at a new company but having to do so during an unprecedented time. We hope you enjoy today’s interview with Suji, but before we begin, here’s a quick word from our CEO Kip Rapp.

 

Kip:

I wanted to thank everyone again for listening to our podcast. And if you’re interested in knowing more about Concora, we help building product manufacturers get specified and purchase more by providing a great web experience that’s bolted onto your website. It makes it easy for your architects, engineers, and contractors to do business online with you. We sum it up as three things, it’s providing a good web experience, good content and good tools. And we have some great tools such as submittals, sustainability, project showcases, or anything else needed by your design community to specify and purchase products. We’d be more than happy to show you a quick demo and you can go to concora.com to learn more, read case studies and see how other customers have grown sales with our partners.

All right. Yeah. Well, hi Suji, and thank you for joining our podcast today was looking forward to it. I know we haven’t chatted in a while and I know you’re driving to DC that long holiday had several weeks ago and was looking forward to talking about what you do and what you guys do at your company. And just kind of your story through this kind of entrepreneurial spirit, right? Working in this company and looking at the challenges of COVID and what you were all able to do to really focus on customer or balancing some of the best practices that you guys brought in. So definitely I think that’d be great for our listeners today and how we start Suji, if you just want to introduce yourself and what you do and what your company does.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Sure. Hi, I’m Suji Sullivan. I’m with the Davlyn Group. I joined this company one week before March started last year, right before COVID started. So it was a little bit of a crazy haul because I joined it coming from a very large company, a fortune 500 company that was bought by a European company. So I’ve always worked for larger companies but this one was a very interesting challenge for me because it’s entrepreneurial and I would be heading the sales function for this company. And the idea is for us to actually acquire other companies and grow to actually be able to create a larger portfolio in what we do. We design and manufacture high temperature sealing gaskets and insulation materials for the appliance industry and industrial applications. So very, very high heat applications.

 

Kip:

Good stuff. Yeah. And you mentioned you started right around COVID started, right? So could you walk me through. I know that might’ve just been a scary or stressful time, right? New company, plus you have this generational event that occurred. So.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah. Going into it, when I joined, we kind of had heard of some issues going on and we really didn’t think it was going to impact the US, there’s no way. Well, right away I went to visit my teams. We had several departments, I had one in Virginia, one in Pennsylvania so I had to get to know my people that were reporting to me as well as I got to go to one show to kind of understand our… It’s a conference in Las Vegas. Everything was shutting down because it’s an international conference.

The folks from Japan never showed up, the folks from Spain never showed up and we were like, what is going on here? We were already not shaking hands at that point. So on the airplane coming back because they shut the show down early, before the US had a mandate about masks or anything, I decided to get my team to get their laptops and start working from their homes. And we started Zoom right away because it became real, it was something unbelievable. And we didn’t realize what we were getting into but I just said, “Hey, let’s do this, let’s start working from home, let’s do the Zoom thing and we’re going to try this out.”

 

Kip:

In March, 1st conference and the changes were happening in real time with people not showing up and then you’re leaving early. And I’m also curious, you mentioned you worked at a larger company, fortune 500 and I assume you were doing sales there too.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yes.

 

Kip:

So now being here at entrepreneurial environment, could you walk us through, because that’s certainly very important and maybe something that other people experience. They get into kind of a new world, similar function, like make money and sell stuff, right? But a new environment, entrepreneurial, you have teams on top of the COVID, right? So, I mean, what is your general practice for starting off successfully?

 

Suji Sullivan:

So I don’t know if there’s a general, because this was a very odd year, right? The idea for me, my marching orders was basically when I joined this company was to start hiring people and growing our sales team and actually growing our business. And really I expected to be on the road immediately and just start gaining knowledge about our industry and then working on building the business. Right away, we saw that keeping the business was really the most important and critical part of it. This company had already had the CEO for over a year. It was a family owned business that was acquired and the CEO that came to us was a very international guy that worked for large companies as well but very entrepreneurial, has an excellent background and track record. We also hired a VP of marketing, a VP of manufacturing.

All of these guys had very technical backgrounds. Everyone had an engineering background so we kind of all came from similar backgrounds. The big thing that we had in front of us was a company that didn’t have the same kind of focus that we did. This company is family owned and it had been running for 40 years doing an excellent job, keeping their customers, the same customers for decades. So we realized the most important thing is to really listen to our customers, listen to them, get closer to these customers, see during COVID, because that was how real time happening, what they were going through because a lot of them are bigger companies. What they’re going through and then kind of adapting ourselves and being agile and nimble enough to make sure that we could help them stay afloat. So the idea was that we would never be the disruptor.

We have to do everything in our power to make sure that our supply chain was intact, that our ability to make what they need was intact and that we were focused on them and we understood what their needs were. So this turned out to be something where we had to work on a call daily, all of us, because this organization is extremely flat. And we all worked together, worked with the CEO every day, every minute. So we would have daily information about what needs to be done for each of our top customers and then weekly we would actually talk to our customers. I think our customers had never been talking to us like that ever in the past so this was something that was different and it was welcomed, honestly.

 

Kip:

Listening to them what did you find out? I mean, obviously the supply chain sounded like it was really important and they loved being listened to, as you mentioned, like hey, yeah, this is new, thanks for listening. So was there key learnings? Yeah.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I think the main thing was to confirm what their requirements were and to kind of watch the impact of COVID since we were all going through it. This was a time where we could actually reach out to the higher ups in these companies and kind of understand their critical issues and what was keeping them up at night. I mean, to say the same old proverb here, but it’s true. It was an eye opener for me because without going and meeting the customers face to face at least I got to get to know them and these are customers all over the world and so we’re a small company actually really making an impact. I think our part of their structure was so important to them that this was critical, that we became a critical factor. And I think what we learned from them also was we needed to make sure that all of our suppliers were also very strong. And there definitely were issues, we had to make sure we didn’t just rely on one supplier, that we had some backup ideas and situations.

And then through this whole thing, freight became a huge issue in cost. All of that started to impact us so we had to worry about how are we going to get these products out the door to the customers through the whole entire thing. So freight was a huge issue, it still is. What was really nice is that in the beginning because we basically would sell to the customers, the freight was our cost. In the beginning because of this craziness we had to do some air shipments, we had to change the way we did things, like I said, we were talking to them very, very closely so we asked for some help with that. So in some places we did fifty-fifty on the cost increases and we worked with them and they worked with us, it was a partnership that was phenomenal. And I think that’s what will keep us intact with this customer base. Our business has grown over COVID, which makes no sense whatsoever. Yeah. It was a very interesting experience.

 

Kip:

That’s good. And what’s an example of a critical mission that you’re supplying. Because I can only guess like if it’s firefighters or other things that are… What is the supply chain that you mentioned, right? So.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah, so really it’s for the oven gaskets and the pyrolytic ovens they have a gasket in them and pyrolytic means they are self-cleaning. So whenever you have a self-cleaning oven, you’re going to have a high, high temperatures, basically creating a fire inside your oven to clean it. And if you have any old gasket there, it’s a hazard. You have to have a specific type of gasket. We’ve come up with this design, we have more than 80% of the market share in the world of this particular gasket that we’ve designed. It became very important for us because I think people were staying at home and they were looking at their stoves and changing them out, it was definitely an increase in business all over the world. Most of the folks in Europe and North America and South America, New Zealand, Australia, they’re the ones that are customers of this pyrolytic oven.

 

Kip:

So they’re getting more demand because people are at home, maybe wanting to cook I guess, or they’re staying at home and now you have an increased supply or demand, which then talking to your customers are saying, hey, we really need to make sure our customers are happy and we need to deliver on time, their product. And so is that what you’re saying then, is that whole supply chain and being partners and sensitive to their needs you’re able to change your supply chain. And maybe it was a little more expensive but because of that partnership, you’re also able to work with them, right?

 

Suji Sullivan:

Correct. And along with that we have implemented a lot of data-driven practices. We have KPIs for everything we follow Kaizen. This has all been implemented by our CEO when he got in, I mean, this idea and the way we work is very different because our whole idea was to reduce our inventory. This was not intrinsic to the folks that are there or were with us or the company prior to our acquiring them. So it took some changes within to understand that you can reduce inventory if you’re smart about how you do it. And so that’s basically how we worked it and we still work with that reduced inventory and really manage our whip, we’re working pretty well with that. It had to change the culture of the people, really, to try to drive the state of driven thought process.

 

Kip:

So for people that don’t know Kaizen, can you maybe explain it at a two year old level maybe?

 

Suji Sullivan:

So I think the main thing is to look at all of our processes and make sure that we basically find a way to quantify how we are doing with these process. What is the most critical factor in the processes and we quantify, find a way to measure, make these measurable ways of improvement. We’re actually coming up with new KPIs this year because we’ve realized that there are some changes that we need to make. And this is the whole idea. It’s an iterative process, the idea is to see where we might have some critical issues and try to change that, come up with a strategy of improvement, it’s all about constant improvement.

 

Kip:

I remember the word Kaizen and I remember Kaizen events. And so what it sounds like is you look at critical processes, you look at critical measures that can measure that process and then you look at ways to iterate changes and then measure those to see if it’s working.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Exactly. And you have to kind of go through a countermeasure process of five whys. Why did we not meet this goal? And then kind of really dig deep in and find out the reasons. And we do this when we meet in our monthly management meetings, we’re addressing where we did not meet our KPIs and why. And then we look into the whys and then we put in the countermeasures. The idea is you don’t just let it sit, you’ve got to put in the countermeasures and then you have to look at it again and measure yourself and see. And everybody has a piece in it so it’s on every part of the organization, for sales for instance, closure rate would be one. So how often do you close businesses? You have these opportunities, are we closing? So the company originally already used Salesforce for instance, they have a CRM system. Now we’re really, really driven by that with keeping up with it and making sure the team really puts in the right information, and we keep a good funnel of leads and opportunities open, so.

 

Kip:

Yeah, now that’s awesome. I always kind of think about, because I haven’t really been well entrenched in engineering practices since many years ago, and you can see that it’s definitely a best practice to be able to measure. But then you also have personalities that aren’t conducive to that, right? So I kind of think of how do you really get that into a culture of a company. And I just assume every personality type can embrace this stuff, some slower than others maybe. I kind of think of the creative artist, right? It’s like, oh, you can’t measure this stuff, it’s a beautiful painting, right? When it’s done, it’s done. And then you’ll know it’s beautiful because you go, wow, right?

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah.

 

Kip:

So what’s kind of your thoughts on that. I mean, I’m guessing there’s a way to do it where people can embrace it at their own personality level, right? But have you run into any of that?

 

Suji Sullivan:

I think so, because we have it all the way down to the production level. I think some of those people thought we were crazy, honestly, and we’re doing it again. We’re doing it again because we’ve just acquired at the end of November, another company. So we’ve almost doubled our size overnight and we’re integrating. I mean, the whole idea is integration and making sure we retain the value of what the company is known for, and that’s the way they handle their customer service, the quality. We can’t let any of those things slide so we have to speak of Kaizen in the same language that this will only help enhance what you’re already giving to your customers. So if you’re going to the production level those production folks are extremely proud of what they’re making.

And we’ve automated a lot of processes because of COVID, we’ve had to add shifts so that we can really reduce the number of people near each other. And so we would work on three shifts instead of one. Actually we had to add because we’re also increasing capacity but at the same time, each of those folks in all three shifts need to understand what we’re trying to do. So we have these huge boards and they’re written on boards, just like your school classroom boards, and had the people that actually were in charge of certain areas of production put in their information on the boards. So then if you’re seeing your own colleagues putting in information, you’re part of this, this is part of you. Everybody was part of it and a contributor to the entire system. Then we would show this on, we’ve got some big huge TV, we’ve changed it a little bit. So it’s not just boards, but we had the boards too, so we can make changes on the fly.

 

Kip:

Awesome. So in that example you gave, you have people that are on the floor, maybe operational and they’re putting in some measure of some sort, right? And I assume that gets rolled up to something else, right?

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah, all the way up. And our VP of engineering is also the VP of operations, he comes from Tesla. This is his thing, he’s improving systems left and right and he’s gaining confidence. That’s the other thing, you have to gain the confidence of the people that are there. And that’s what we’re working on, making sure our own people also see the light and they’re on the same mission. I think, of course there’s pushback, of course there’s folks that aren’t all into it but if you get the majority of them kind of working on that… It’s kind of also like wearing a mask.

We are required, you are required to wear a mask. Not everybody wants to but it’s a requirement. So at the same time we made sure we gave them bonuses. We made sure they felt the successes that we were having. So that’s the keys to implement things that they always had. They always had a bonus, they always felt like they were not just a number but they were a part of the structure, so we tried to maintain that same kind of thought process. I think we’re really on a much better clip, but we’re starting all over again with another one.

 

Kip:

Well, you’ve done it once and you went through the headaches and growing pains, right?

 

Suji Sullivan:

That was the idea, the idea was we would have learned something. I think the takeaway here is to always be positive because there’s so much chaos and negative and unknown and uncertainties around this COVID stuff that’s added to also the chaos of being bought, right? By another company and the fear of the unknown. So if we can actually add a value of being positive and steadfastness, yeah, we’re agile but within reason. We also have a process, a plan and we have the team see what the plan is, the end goal. If they can see that but also realize that the plan can change, that’s it. I think the main thing is just managing that way of thinking throughout the company, I think is important.

 

Kip:

Yeah. It sounds like you’re moving a big ship, right? And that’s not an easy thing.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Like that Suez Canal thing.

 

Kip:

Yeah. It took a little longer there.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Sometimes we feel like that.

 

Kip:

That is great. And I know we’re talking about this Kaiser but I think it’s really interesting because there’s a lot of great methodologies that have been birthed into manufacturing that can apply to other disciplines. And I think that much more needed in an entrepreneurial environment because you need to be consistent and you only have a small team and they all need to be in the same direction and on-

 

Suji Sullivan:

Same direction.

 

Kip:

… the same village, right? So in that case when you have this kind of methodology and you have a team there that’s definitely kind of new to it. So let’s say we have a listener that says, “Hey, Suji, this is awesome and I’d like to maybe try this out,” right? And I know there’s a lot of dynamics involved like executive management and that, but what would you say to them? I mean, maybe they’re a leader of a company and they say, “Hey, we really like what you’re saying Suji, what are some first steps that we should take?

 

Suji Sullivan:

First steps I think, is really listening to what works within your own culture first. I think that’s a key because if you lose that, you’re going to lose who you are so you have to keep that identity, retain that identity. Because at the same time when we’re acquiring these companies, we’re also changing the names but we want to keep their brands, we want to keep their identity. We want what they’re proud of so if you crushed that you’re crushing some real intrinsic value of the company. So that’s a big key component and see what worked well and really do that even better and be very surgical on how to improve that. And then what did not work well and where there are holes, I think you need to have a team approach. You need to have the entire team, unfortunately. I mean, this is what we do.

I think sometimes we feel like this pandemic has helped us in having more meetings than ever but it has given us the time to meet and understand what we need to do cross-functionally. So we were worried about losing certain people. So that’s the other thing, is to make sure you keep the key people and the ones that you think are of most value for your organization to work. Because usually these small companies, there certain people that really they are the ones, they’re the key holders. And then we also have been working with the prior owners to make sure that we aren’t losing some elements that they’re easy to lose. So I think those things and working together in a cross-functional way and surgically about what needs to be done to improve and like I said, to really be data-driven.

We didn’t have the ability, we got a VP of accounting finance, oh my gosh, the world changed because we needed to get the data like, what products are actually selling where. I didn’t have proper data, it was always kind of a feel not a real understanding. And so are we making the right products? What’s selling? We have to look at the future also. So we’re always have to stay one step ahead, right? Understand what’s happening in innovation, what’s happening in the world we’re in and what else we need to look at for the future because of the renewable space or what changes in the laws are making things different because safety is one of our needs, especially with the new company that we bought, safety is a huge factor.

 

Kip:

You mentioned, for people that want to try this, and it’s very apropos to the company you acquired because you are trying it again, right? And it sounded like you’re saying, you got to recognize what’s already been doing well and the culture of why people love working there and continue to foster that. And you mentioned kind of your keystone employees, right? That may be hypercritical to what the company does and making sure that there’s a partnership there and certainly this surgically of what you said of taking swipes not hitting hammers, jackhammers, right? But am I kind of assuming then when you’re talking about, oh, here’s some great things that our company stands for and here’s some great things that we do well and we want to continue that and you kind of meet them halfway on the Kaizen approach and the measuring, is that the idea?

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah. That’s all part of it. I think the other big part that I didn’t mention at all is, know your competition, know them well. And see how we can really grow because of the benefits that we have and try really hard to improve on those.

 

Kip:

When you look at these Kaizen events too, Suji, is there some piece of that where you then look at what’s currently going on because we used to do this in, guess when I did consulting a long time ago, we called them As-Is process and you say, okay, you’re doing this stuff really well but in order to kind of make sense of most of this we need to kind of interview observe and understand.

 

Suji Sullivan:

You have to know where you’re starting from before you can do anything different, right? So you have to evaluate your processes as they are and then to improve on them because maybe you don’t need to change a whole lot in certain areas. So we have limited time and limited folks, right? It’s very, very horizontal our management team. So it’s tough because we have to prioritize what makes the most impact and what’s really good about this is different from what I used to do before, because I can make a change here and immediately see the result, good or bad, I’m just saying. So you have to have, I guess, the wherewithal to be able to do that because you might make a mistake but that’s okay, it’s part of the deal because you learn, that’s how you learn and you might learn something more from making that mistake.

 

Kip:

Yeah. That’s awesome. And the other thing you mentioned I thought was really crucial is celebrating. And for the people that don’t necessarily embrace it at the beginning, I think there’s some kind of discussion, debate and then there’s faith and then really what it sounds like is when you have incremental celebrations and wins, they’re like, oh, this stuff works, my life is better. And then it’s less about faith and it’s more about, hey, this works out, right? And it works out for everyone.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah.

 

Kip:

Is that what you’ve seen?

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah, definitely and I think that’s the key. I think there was a lot of questions in the beginning. We had a record here, unbelievable. Lots of questions, lots of negatives and, oh my goodness, this company is going to… The confidence level was very low I think when I joined because people didn’t see the clear path yet, the whole team hadn’t yet been put together and hadn’t jelled yet. And now it’s starting to jell at least the first part of the company and it’s starting to make sense. There’s still a lot to do because we haven’t even come out of COVID, right? So I had my first trip last week because I’m vaccinated and it was like a breath of fresh air to meet customers and the stuff you learn on a face to face, you can’t do it with the Zoom meeting.

I know there’s more than we need to add to our process and our understanding as the world opens up to meeting. So I feel like we’re going to always have, because of COVID and what has happened to us and all our businesses, we’re always going to have a piece that we’re going to have this ability with technology to meet like this through Zoom which is great actually. I know everybody is tired of it but it is great because you can’t just hop on a plane and see everybody, but you can do a Zoom call and really get some things ironed out but nothing is like actually meeting face to face.

 

Kip:

Yeah, now, I agree with that. I do think the COVID economy may improve lives in a way where you can establish empathetic conversations over Zoom. I think what the combination of Zoom being easy to use, great quality of internet, right? People aren’t delayed in speech or sounds like a robot. It can keep that level of relationship and balancing that out with the face-to-face and the traditional ways, that’s awesome.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Exactly. And what I’ve noticed also is, in the beginning when we were making these calls to Europe, the customers wouldn’t turn on their cameras, then they’re starting to turn on their cameras. So it’s great, we were finally getting to see people also adopting the same structure, we’re all in the same situation. That kind of helps, it’s not just the US that’s going through this, the whole entire world is. So it helps in having some compassion and empathy and being able to kind of work through our issues together and have a stronger partnership because of it.

 

Kip:

Yeah. And I think some of that might be, well, you’re stuck at home, there’s really no one to talk to and just doing the voice phone thing, right? It’s like, oh, I got to see someone, I got to make this a little more interesting, which is pretty cool because, yeah I mean, I just read articles nowadays, where there is a new normal, right? Where we will stay and you don’t have to have as much of a footprint and there is a way to do this well and healthy and hopefully in a few months from now we’ll reach that balance, right? And I think it also helps with work-life balance too, because some people drive like two hours to work or three hours, right? And it’s like crazy stuff, right? So.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Right.

 

Kip:

Well, good stuff. I really appreciate you sharing Suji. I know we’re running into the end parts of our session and it was just amazing talking through your experiences, how you got there at your company and it’s just scary, right? When you’re there, right when this generational kind of pandemic starts. And it seems that no one really has a good answer but what’s really nice is that you have a team that can support each other and wherever you go that’s what really matters, right? Is that you do it together. And for the most part, I’ve talked to other people who just had to make some tough decisions but they do it as a team, they do it as a company and they’re healthier for it and they’re better for it, yeah, so it’s a good testament. Hopefully there’s less of these kind of life-changing events so that we can, yeah, do it a little more organically.

 

Suji Sullivan:

I think we’re done. What more can we have, right?

 

Kip:

I know, the year of 2020.

 

Suji Sullivan:

Yeah. I’m looking forward to a much more open, relaxed world ahead, just can’t wait.

 

Kip:

And you seem awesome. I really like your positive nature and your just storytelling of being able to look at an entrepreneurial environment, take what you’ve learned. Obviously your leadership and your peers have similar kind of cultures where you can keep a culture intact with happy employees but have a very thoughtful way of growing the business, listening to your customers and then lining that up with this embedded in measuring methodology, right? And it’s iterative and it brings people together. So if people needed to reach out to you or your company, how could they do that?

 

Suji Sullivan:

You can just reach out to the Davlyn Group, go to our website or call the company and reach out to me, looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Kip:

Good stuff. Well, thanks again Suji, I appreciate the time and look forward to talking to you again.

 

Graham:

All right folks that wraps us up for today’s show. So you can find our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and SoundCloud by searching for The Concora Corner. And if you’d like to, we’d love a rating and a short review if you listen on Apple, any feedback is appreciated on any of our shows that are coming out or just a show in general or if you just want to say hello. You can find out more about Concora and our services at www.concora.com. We’re on Facebook at facebook.com/ConcoraLLC. We’re on Twitter @Concora and you can find us on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/concora. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

 

 

Concora is the Web Experience Platform for Building Product Manufacturers.