Mike Kenney On The Power Of Marketing Attributable Revenue In Heavy Equipment

Written by Matthew Ludden / November 27, 2023 / 34 Minute Read
Article Preview

Putting marketing strategy before tactics is what a think first approach is all about. Kenney Machinery CEO Mike Kenney discusses how he saved marketing spend and drove better results on the latest episode of Here We Grow.


Full Episode

Episode 6

What results must your marketing efforts drive to create growth for your business? Is your marketing strategy aligned with your business strategy? In this episode of “Here We Grow,” Kenney Machinery CEO, Mike Kenney talks about how he and Marcia adopted a ThinkFirst marketing strategy to ensure he saw the maximum return on his marketing spend.

Mike also shares his philosophy about unlocking business potential by recognizing the immeasurable impact of good relationships with not only customers but vendors and employees as well.

Tune in to this episode of “Here We Grow” to learn how to get the most from your marketing spend.

To learn more about the podcast and Marcia Barnes’ book Here We Grow: The Marketing Formula to 10x Your Business and Transform Your Future, visit https://mathbeforemarketing.com/podcast/.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understand the Value of Relationships. Establishing trust and strong relationships could lead to larger, more lucrative opportunities.
  • It can take around 18 months to start seeing the results of a ThinkFirst marketing strategy, but the journey is worth taking.
  • Prioritize Investing in People. Mike Kenney invests not only in his employees but in himself.

Full Transcript

Marcia Barnes [00:00:03]:

At Valve+Meter, we take a math before marketing approach to working with every client. This means that we don’t implement any actions on behalf of a client without a methodical, data driven plan. Math for us is top of mind in building strategy because it is what helps us define tactics at a particular client’s disposal to move their business forward. For us, good marketing results are defined by delivering proven trackable results using three primary metrics ROMs, Growth Rate, Profitability we call our strategy ThinkFirst. Good marketing strategy starts with understanding the results that marketing must deliver to drive profitable growth and align the marketing strategy with the business strategy. Start with the math before getting attached to the tactics you will use. Employ the data and facts to knit together a robust strategy for financial success and growth.

Here We Grow Narrator [00:01:03]:

Is your marketing strategy aligned with your business strategy? What are the results your marketing efforts must deliver to drive profitable growth for your business? In this episode of Here We Grow, Marcia speaks with Kenney Machinery CEO Mike Kenney. In their conversation, Mike and Marcia share the benefits of a ThinkFirst marketing focus and how this strategy ultimately spelled success for Kenney Machinery.

Marcia Barnes [00:01:37]:

Today we’re talking with my good friend Mike Kenney, CEO of Kenney Machinery and RPM Machinery based in Indiana. Mike, I really appreciate you joining us to have a conversation about marketing strategy today.

Mike Kenney [00:01:52]:

That’s my pleasure.

Marcia Barnes [00:01:53]:

Good. So we’ve had a relationship that just we just finished, I think, our fourth year or we’re pretty close to ending.

Mike Kenney [00:02:01]:

Our fourth year, something like that.

Marcia Barnes [00:02:03]:

Together. Yeah. And we’re getting ready to move into the fifth year. We are getting ready to move into the fifth year, right?

Mike Kenney [00:02:09]:

We’ll find out after this meeting. Yes, we will be moving into the fifth year.

Marcia Barnes [00:02:14]:

Yeah. We’re actually reviewing their fourth year results today and talking about what the next twelve months look like. Mike and I are pretty good about ribbing one another.

Mike Kenney [00:02:24]:


Marcia Barnes [00:02:25]:

So good. Mike, for our listeners, I really liked having you inside these podcasts because you’ve really had a four year look inside of something that started out as developing a marketing strategy and been evolving over that around and has been evolving over time into these working marketing programs you have that are driving great growth for you. And in the book, Here We Grow, we talk about the importance of a marketing strategy. So we’re going to walk through that with our listeners today. But I’d like to start with let’s hear the Mike Kenney ready for Lifetime movie version of what Your life has been.

Mike Kenney [00:03:06]:

Sure. I born and raised in Indianapolis and but for two years have lived here my entire life. When I was getting ready to graduate from college, I had some plans to maybe go start my own little business and then eventually come to the work for the family business, which is now a fourth generation 100 plus year old company.

Marcia Barnes [00:03:29]:


Mike Kenney [00:03:30]:

And my dad at that time said, those plans sound great, but if you want to work for the family business, you’re going to have to go get some experience somewhere else in a similar company. I’m not just going to hire you the day that you decide you want to come to work for the company.

Marcia Barnes [00:03:46]:

Now, today you’ll hear that coached a lot when people are dealing with multigenerational family businesses.

Mike Kenney [00:03:52]:

Yeah, and I think it was genius on my dad’s part.

Marcia Barnes [00:03:54]:

Yeah. I’m not sure that was common back then, but how wise? Because it’s very important to the succession.

Mike Kenney [00:04:00]:

Absolutely. So I moved to New England, went to work for a company called Turf Products, which is another multi generational family business in the same space that we’re in. Kenney Machinery is a distributor for the Toro company. Turf Products was likewise a distributor for the Toro company. So I went out there, and I was a sales rep for a year. And then I think the owner was just being nice to me because he knew that my ultimate plan was to come back and work for the family business. But he promoted me to sales manager, and I sat in that role for a year before I came back to Indianapolis and came to work for our business.

Marcia Barnes [00:04:41]:

And then what was that journey like from when you returned to work for Kenney Machinery and you worked for your dad, right?

Mike Kenney [00:04:51]:

Correct. So, honestly, the company I was working for in New England was, at the time, one of the larger distributors for Toro in the country. Very successful, high growth, high energy. And Kenney Machinery was really one of the smaller distributors for the Toro Company, and frankly, today they still are. But we’ve managed to scale our business in other ways. So when I came back from that experience, I was somewhat disappointed to begin with, because what I had perceived on the outside, just as looking at it as my father’s business, it was different than the reality. So there were lots of issues to be dealt with. And that’s not to say it was a bad business.

Mike Kenney [00:05:40]:

It was just a much different environment than I had worked in for two years in New England.

Marcia Barnes [00:05:45]:

So did it kind of feel like you were a consultant inside your dad’s business?

Mike Kenney [00:05:50]:

Well, there was a little bit of that, and I’ve got a little bit of a hard charging personality and much different than my dad. So all credit to him. I think during the window of time that we worked together, which was a little over ten years, I think we only had two arguments that I would call fights now. Where we were both hostile in the conversation. And I give him all the credit for that because he let me try things and make mistakes and basically fail forward.

Marcia Barnes [00:06:28]:

My mother worked for me. We fought two times a day. I love the story about how we met. There were a couple of different ways that we got introduced, but let’s hear your version and then I’ll plus it up.

Mike Kenney [00:06:43]:

Sure, that’s fair. Well, we actually met on a home build with Homes for Hope, but I knew of you because my friend Dave Lindsay, who I’d been in a YPO forum with years prior, had spoken about you, and obviously you were running his company at the time, so I knew about you. And when we met on the home build, we just met briefly. There were a lot of people at that, and I think four or five different homes were built during that trip, and we weren’t on the same home. But I came back from that and I’d been growing increasingly frustrated with our marketing at both Kenney Machinery and now this new business that we had acquired called RPM Machinery. And I can’t remember if I saw something online that mentioned your name again or what it was, but somehow your name appeared in front of me again shortly after that trip. And I thought, you know, I’m just going to call her and see if maybe her company would be a good fit for what we do.

Marcia Barnes [00:07:52]:

Right. So my version of it is and a little more context on Dave Lindsay and running his company. So I started out as he was my client, and he was 2 million in revenue when we started, and then four years later, we merged the companies together. He was 25 million then. And I took the position of director of marketing, did that for about seven years and then became president and CEO. So you were in his YPO forum and you’re watching this growth story happen that’s going on with his company.

Mike Kenney [00:08:23]:

That’s right. He probably was in the 2 million to $50 million growth period when I was in that forum with him, and then his company exploded after that.

Marcia Barnes [00:08:35]:


Mike Kenney [00:08:35]:

But I kept in touch with him periodically, and it was really interesting to see and hear about the successes that were being had there.

Marcia Barnes [00:08:51]:

So we met on a YWAM missionary trip, and then later I was on that same trip again, you were not on that trip. And when I was on that trip, you’re down there for four days to build a home in Homes of Hope. And I had two business meetings in different cities prior to the mission trip and then another one after the mission trip. So I was on the road for a period of nine days and was really still in the startup phase of Valve+Meter. And the whole time I’m going, I don’t have time for this. This is about the mission trip. I’m like, I don’t have time for this. My sales pipeline’s blowing up.

Marcia Barnes [00:09:27]:

I’m really hurting the business by being done. It’s just this little voice in my head going, Yakity, yakity, I know I’m a sinner. I get back to the office on a Tuesday morning the business development rep comes to me and says, marcia, this business called in at 07:00 A.m. This morning, or sent an email in 07:00 A.m. This morning, and they have a $50 million heavy equipment business, and they’d like to talk to you about doing the marketing for them. And he knows you because you were on a mission trip with him last year, and that’s where you met. And I was like, oh God’s, getting me right there again. Get those little god nudges.

Marcia Barnes [00:10:13]:

So I come to my first meeting with you. Pretty much afraid I’m getting struck by lightning. And it happened. No. You came in, we sat down and talked the first time about what was going on with your marketing. We did a little bit of a free marketing assessment that we like to do here at Valve+Meter. It helps us to make sure you’ve got a problem that we can solve before you spend any money, before we go to the next. So that next stage then, would have been your ThinkFirst strategy development.

Mike Kenney [00:10:44]:


Marcia Barnes [00:10:45]:

So talk to me about how that process was for you. Um, and I know it’s been a…

Mike Kenney [00:10:51]:

Few years, but yeah, so the idea of ThinkFirst really it felt right to me. And in fact, just a few years prior, I wrote a marketing book that talked about the importance of strategy before tactics. And when you talked about ThinkFirst, I recalled that, and I thought to myself, apparently I’m a slow learner. I didn’t learn a lesson from that book because everything we were doing was tactics before strategy. And so we were basically wasting a lot of money.

Marcia Barnes [00:11:23]:

Yeah. And some of what you were in, you’re a manufacturer’s rep, so you’re a rep for Case Manufacturing?

Mike Kenney [00:11:31]:

Yeah, we’re actually a rep for Toro. For Toro, but then we’re also a dealer for Toro and for Case Construction equipment.

Marcia Barnes [00:11:40]:

Got it. So sometimes in those environments, because typically the business owners of those types of businesses may not be completely marketing savvy or see the need for a full blown strategy or marketing campaign, marketing tactics, sometimes what happens is the manufacturer will say, well, there’s this company that does this and that and the other. But it never gets codified with a uniform strategy.

Mike Kenney [00:12:07]:

Right. And that perfectly describes the situation we were in.

Marcia Barnes [00:12:10]:


Mike Kenney [00:12:11]:

Yeah. So we would use a third party recommended by Case, for example, to maintain our website, update it, and then send out a couple of emails a month to whatever list of emails we happen to have in our system. And then with Toro, we participate in trade events, and there’s a big golf show every year. That’s kind of a big expense and big customer gathering. And that was kind of the extent of our marketing efforts.

Marcia Barnes [00:12:46]:

Right. There was lead quality issues. When we talked to your team going through the ThinkFirst process, your sales leader, Fred Rohlman, went in and looked at what your salespeople had reported in as results for those meetings that had been set for them.

Mike Kenney [00:13:03]:

Yeah. So there was another third party company that we had engaged to do know, the dialing for dollars, basically. Right. And very impressive on the front end, very data driven. We were really excited about that. And as it unfolded, they turned over their team multiple times during a fairly short relationship window that we had. I don’t think we were using them for more than a year. We just never got the quality leads that we were promised.

Mike Kenney [00:13:37]:

And we paid a lot of money to try that program.

Marcia Barnes [00:13:41]:


Mike Kenney [00:13:42]:

So they were sending us leads for sometimes our competitors. You’re thinking to yourself, well, sure. The competitor wants to know more about our company.

Marcia Barnes [00:13:54]:

That makes sense.

Mike Kenney [00:13:55]:

Have them call me.

Marcia Barnes [00:13:56]:

Yeah. The websites were not maintained. There was a lot of errors in the websites. They’d been built. At least one of them had been built quite a few years prior.

Mike Kenney [00:14:07]:

Yeah. The RPM website was, I think, a little clunkier than the Kenney Machinery one. Kenney Machinery had hired an independent guy to redesign their site and it still wasn’t great, but it was in better shape. The RPM one, it looked good, but you’re right, there were errors in it. And unbeknownst to us, nobody was seeing it. It wasn’t popping up in search engine results.

Marcia Barnes [00:14:35]:

Right. There wasn’t any kind of strategy in place or tactics even in place to get search engine optimization onto the site.

Mike Kenney [00:14:42]:


Marcia Barnes [00:14:43]:

Yeah. So, fortunately, you had a great sales team and good sales leadership, and they were out there knocking on doors and the business had been growing somewhat, so that was helpful. But one of the things that I noticed that happened in strategy at the time when we sat down and I’m taking in the data about the numbers of your business. We’re talking about average deal size, and we’re focused on equipment sales. Right. And I missed it that there was also service. I knew there was service and parts, but they were small dollar value. Right.

Marcia Barnes [00:15:16]:

Compared to you can get a $200,000 order at the drop of a hat. Right.

Mike Kenney [00:15:21]:

Right. Transaction sizes were certainly smaller with parts and service and even rental. But the actual gross margin percent is significantly higher. And it gets skewed big time with equipment because equipment sells at fairly low margins.

Marcia Barnes [00:15:39]:

Right. And I overlooked the importance of that piece of data in the strategy. So here we find out that I’m not perfect.

Mike Kenney [00:15:48]:


Marcia Barnes [00:15:49]:

And evidently you’re not either, because you said, yes, this sounds good. So we go marching off.

Mike Kenney [00:15:55]:

That’s my nature. Ready, fire, aim.

Marcia Barnes [00:15:57]:

Yeah. And I’m telling you yeah, I got you, brother. No. We go down this path of heavy equipment sales and we get six months down the road. And our team is focus just on the heavy equipment sales. There’s some things coming in, but it’s not much because if you looked at heavy equipment sales and you said, okay, now what’s your target return on marketing spend? It’s ten to one because of the margins in the business. Right. But in parts and service, it’s going to be a lower right.

Marcia Barnes [00:16:33]:

There’s a lower return on marketing spend that’s acceptable, which can be three to one or four to one that’ll grow that business, that part of the business profitably. And so we were both sides, you and us were in panic over this. And finally it hit me. We’ve got to calculate instead of return on marketing spend, we’ve got to look at gross profit return on marketing spend for this client. And when we measured it that way, a healthy gross profit return on marketing spend, most people will accept a dollar 25, a dollar 50 is good. If we translated what your ten to one target was when we started into a gross profit target, it would translate at about 225 would be the goal. And we were hitting that number with a couple of different tactics. And so that helped us to hone in, helped you to put a focus too on the service.

Marcia Barnes [00:17:25]:

We switched some of the tactics to going after service instead of equipment and then parts came along in the journey, too. So we did that shift after the original strategy was developed, we go through it every quarter and adjust. That was the second adjustment. So six months in is where we were making that change.

Mike Kenney [00:17:45]:

Yeah. And that all happened before COVID hit.

Marcia Barnes [00:17:48]:

Thank God we had a year in front of us before COVID hit.

Mike Kenney [00:17:52]:

Yeah. So we talked about shifting the strategy to, well, first the metric to gross profit return on marketing spend and then shifting some outreach strategy to parts and service. And then shortly thereafter we completely shifted our overall company strategy to put the focus on bringing customers in with parts, service or rental transactions because those are smaller transactions and it’s easier to build a relationship with somebody that then turns into the sale of a couple of hundred thousand dollars piece of equipment down the road. And then we put the pedal down on that strategy hard.

Marcia Barnes [00:18:36]:


Mike Kenney [00:18:36]:

And it paid off.

Marcia Barnes [00:18:37]:

Yeah. So the other thing that we knew in your strategy, you have in one line of business, it takes a full year to get all the results in for a marketing tactic. In the other one, it takes a year and a half. Those are long sales cycles. So we had to figure out how do we know that this thing’s on track? And sometimes the sales team knows from pipeline volume. Fred’s really good at tracking, has been very good at tracking can. Sometimes you can tell from that. But the other thing we could do is we could predict where is half the results going to be in at because that was pretty consistent.

Marcia Barnes [00:19:14]:

And then that would give us more of a three to six month timeline where we could say from a marketing perspective, similar to your pipeline value, from the marketing volume that we’re seeing based on 90 days or 120 days, this one looks like it’s on track. So that helped to make some pre decisions without having all the revenue in.

Mike Kenney [00:19:33]:


Marcia Barnes [00:19:39]:

So in part of the strategy that we developed, we proposed building a new website for RPM.

Mike Kenney [00:19:44]:


Marcia Barnes [00:19:45]:

Typically, we don’t like to do that at the beginning of relationship. We’d really rather get things done to the website, and on the website, they’re going to make money and then come back and build. But we didn’t think we were going to be able to produce anything without having the website rebuild.

Mike Kenney [00:20:00]:

Right. Which is how bad it was. Again, it looked good, but to the layman.

Marcia Barnes [00:20:06]:

Right? Yeah. And then I get the phone call I don’t really like to get from a client that says, we need to talk about because we’re in this website build. And you called me in and you just very patiently and lovingly explained to me what was not going right in your customer experience on the build of this website. And you said to me, I care about Marcia and I want her to know, because I would want to know if this was going on with one of my clients. Have you always operated that way or is that because you’re a vendor that you have learned to do?

Mike Kenney [00:20:42]:

You know, I’ll give my dad credit. And it’s kind of the core values that came from Kenney machinery. We’re talking about the RPM website, but the core values are now shared between companies. And one of our core values is build positive relationships. And when we explain that to our employees, we help them understand that positive relationships are with vendors, customers, coworkers. I always say that we all spend way too many hours of our lives working not to be friends with the people we work with or do business with.

Marcia Barnes [00:21:20]:


Mike Kenney [00:21:21]:

And that’s just part of who we are.

Marcia Barnes [00:21:25]:

Right. Yeah. I write about this in Here We Grow about the importance of how you manage the outsourced relationship or a vendor in general at Defenders, when I started there, I had been used to leading a team of about 200 people. And when we merged the business, I was a team of one person on marketing now. And so I’m looking around for where can I use these leadership skills? So I just led the vendors like I would a team, and shared the goals and the results and expectations and told them, look, I’ve got an unlimited budget for marketing that works. If we can prove this, hits this return on marketing spend, we’re buying everything you can sell us. And what I observed happening is I got a lot of discretionary effort from the vendors. I got them really thinking outside the box of, well, if she’s not getting her six to one return goal.

Marcia Barnes [00:22:16]:

If we reduce the pricing by 15% she hits, and then she’s going to buy $2 million of this a year from us. Right. But without leading that way, they would have never been able to see that there was abundance on the other side of that relationship.

Mike Kenney [00:22:34]:

So rather than viewing a relationship as transactional, you’re co creating a result that is better for both of you. We believe that big time. That working with our customers and or our vendors to co create a better way. That’s ultimately the path to success.

Marcia Barnes [00:22:58]:

Yeah. Your account manager sits in your EOS meeting on sales and marketing.

Mike Kenney [00:23:03]:


Marcia Barnes [00:23:04]:

And that young man on my team, on my payroll would move heaven and earth for you. You get so much discretionary work from him.

Mike Kenney [00:23:10]:

That’s good to know.

Marcia Barnes [00:23:11]:

He’s got to be one of the best values in marketing. But the other thing I saw in this approach, Mike, is by what you were looking back on it, your belief that we could do it and could win for you and get the results was so strong that you were willing to slog it out and help us get through that bumps and bruises part of our relationship.

Mike Kenney [00:23:34]:


Marcia Barnes [00:23:35]:

To get to the other side. Right.

Mike Kenney [00:23:37]:

I’m going to give you some credit, too, there, because on the very front end, you said it’s going to take 18 months before you really start seeing results, and you really like me. And I can’t remember exactly the words you use, but you said I was going to think you were some sort of terrible person six to twelve months into it.

Marcia Barnes [00:23:56]:

Yeah. I said, you’re going to hate me for the first six months, you’ll tolerate me for the second six months, and after that, you’ll wonder how you ever live without me.

Mike Kenney [00:24:05]:

There you go.

Marcia Barnes [00:24:05]:

Which works just the opposite for me in marriage and Internet dating. But yeah, there’s that. And then the other thing that happened in that strategy work of ThinkFirst was when we were done presenting, you asked one of the wisest questions I think a business owner ever asks us. And I only get this. Asked once in a while if, when we move forward with you, what’s the most important thing for us to do to help you be successful in us growing? And I said, I need that guy right there to be my new best friend. And that was your vice president of sales, Fred Roman.

Mike Kenney [00:24:39]:


Marcia Barnes [00:24:39]:

And Fred dug in and really went after it, and we won together.

Mike Kenney [00:24:44]:


Marcia Barnes [00:24:45]:


Mike Kenney [00:24:46]:

And that’s part of the reason that your guy sits in a weekly L10 meeting, EOS meeting with our team, because he really is part of the team and we want to work side by side.

Marcia Barnes [00:25:00]:


Mike Kenney [00:25:01]:

And my recollection, too, is that I know I came in at least once, but our team came into the Valve+Meter offices a handful of times, educating the Valve+Meter team about what we do and inviting them over to our place to kick tires and see what kinds of machines we sell. And working together like that, I think, probably accelerated the results.

Marcia Barnes [00:25:25]:

Right. You really do use us as a fractional marketing department.

Mike Kenney [00:25:29]:


Marcia Barnes [00:25:30]:

There’s no one on your side that’s doing marketing. We report in through Fred, who was your VP of Sales at First Is today your president. And it makes for a very fluid environment. We know how to run the marketing. You don’t have to learn how to do that.

Mike Kenney [00:25:45]:

That’s exactly right.

Marcia Barnes [00:25:46]:

Yeah. So that part has been really great for us. So when we started this strategy, you told me, look, this industry does not grow really fast. What’s the typical growth rate for a company in your line of business?

Mike Kenney [00:26:00]:

Probably 3% to 7%. Some of that depending on annual inflation rates, economy. Some of it just the overall GDP growing supply chain.

Marcia Barnes [00:26:09]:

We saw that in recent years with.

Mike Kenney [00:26:11]:

COVID Yeah, that’s another struggle. We’ve actually had to shift some strategies there, too, because we ran out of equipment to sell.

Marcia Barnes [00:26:21]:


Mike Kenney [00:26:21]:

So we reallocated some resources as part of that.

Marcia Barnes [00:26:25]:

Yeah. In one of the quarterly reviews, we’re going back in and saying, yes, all right, we got COVID going on. We can’t get new equipment. What do we do from here? And so both companies are trying to find their next best footing there. And it worked.

Mike Kenney [00:26:37]:


Marcia Barnes [00:26:38]:

Yeah. Tell me about we’ve been together four years in that first twelve months is kind of your ramping up period, but we did it profitably. You made marketing dollars from that. But what’s growth been like these last four years for you?

Mike Kenney [00:26:58]:

So, as a combined business, RPM and Kenney Machinery, when we started the relationship with Valve and Meter, probably we’re in the $60 million top line area, and we should finish this year at about 105,000,000.

Marcia Barnes [00:27:17]:

Yeah, that’s remarkable. But the marketing has been solid. But the way your team has grown, too, and evolved has been stunning. I think about the same time that we started working with you, you got involved in the entrepreneurial operating system, EOS.

Mike Kenney [00:27:37]:

Yeah, actually Kenney Machinery had been using EOS for a few years and then when I got the opportunity to take over as president at RPM Machinery, which happened before we acquired RPM, I implemented EOS over there as well, just because I knew that that was going to be the quickest way to sort of bring the culture, the people together. In fact, I’ll just give EOS a plug here on the podcast. But when we first merged with RPM I’m sorry, when I first took over at RPM, we administered the Gallup Employee Engagement Survey to all those employees, and then we brought them together for a company meeting. We shared the results of that survey, and Gallup kind of lumps things into three different buckets. Red, yellow, green means you’re doing well. Yellow means you’ve got some work to do, and red means you’re in big trouble. Every single element of that survey was in the red. I think we were, like, in the 21st percentile of all companies, and we shared that information with the employees at the same meeting.

Mike Kenney [00:28:52]:

We introduced them to EOS and we explained to them what that was going to look like over the next twelve months and how they were going to get involved and have a voice. And the very next year, when we administered that survey, every element was in the green. And I attribute that largely to EOS because it just naturally engages all of your employees. Everybody has a voice.

Marcia Barnes [00:29:14]:


Mike Kenney [00:29:15]:

Which means you’ve got the power of collective thinking that you can harness. So I’m a big fan of EOS, just the structure of that.

Marcia Barnes [00:29:24]:

Yeah. I was at your annual meeting when you were in that transition, and you said to your team, I feel it’s necessary to have EOS in place because it’s the way each of you can find their voice, just like you just said. I came right back to Defenders and called it you mean valve meter? Yeah. Thank you. I came right back to Valve+Meter and said, let’s take a look at EOS again. And we went on it right after that. So we are both operating in that same operating system, which I think helps with a lot of the fluency between our organizations, too.

Mike Kenney [00:29:57]:


Marcia Barnes [00:29:58]:

Yeah. And EOS is also a program that is about people developing and learning, because your operating system helps people to follow a plan. This is how we do a meeting. This is how we have a quarterly conversation. This is how we do report cards and hold one another accountable. I’ve found you over the years to be a leader who is continuously developing, and you are a lifelong learner. But sometimes as we get older, you’re several years younger than I am, but folks will tend to stop trying to actively learn, but you’re still in there punching it out with your brain. Tell me about some of the things you’ve done for your personal development.

Mike Kenney [00:30:39]:

Well, just three weeks ago, I bought about $400 worth of books that are specifically focused on how to better run an equipment dealership.

Marcia Barnes [00:30:46]:


Mike Kenney [00:30:47]:

Yeah, and we’ve been digging into those. In fact, I brought one with me today for our meeting after this podcast. I am a lifelong learner. That’s important to me. I love the business of business and finding opportunities and fixing things and raising the bar, making things better. So any resource that I can find that is going to have a new way of thinking or a better way of thinking, or probably more importantly, been there, done that way of thinking. So I don’t have to learn through mistakes, then I’m all over that.

Marcia Barnes [00:31:30]:

Right. You also are going shoulder to shoulder with other successful entrepreneurs to learn from them in places like YPO.

Mike Kenney [00:31:37]:


Marcia Barnes [00:31:38]:

Your manufacturer’s relationships put some of you together like that, too.

Mike Kenney [00:31:41]:


Marcia Barnes [00:31:42]:

Yeah. What are some of the wins that you get in those types of environments?

Mike Kenney [00:31:46]:

So both Toro and Case will have annual meetings of dealer principals or sales teams, and I love participating in those. Really? I would say 90% of the learning comes after the day sitting through sessions where you’re sitting around the bar having drinks with your peers and talking about maybe what happened during the session today, but then relating it to real life experiences in different markets. And I always walk away from those meetings with new ideas, energized, ready to try something different. And YPO as well. That’s an organization where I’ve joked from the beginning that we just barely belonged on the bus as a member of YPO, but at least we might be in the backseat, but at least we’re on the bus.

Marcia Barnes [00:32:38]:

I love it when you tell that story.

Mike Kenney [00:32:41]:

I always walk away from YPO experiences, be it with forum groups or just a chapter meeting with raising the bar for myself, because I look around and I see and hear all these super successful men and women that are leading other businesses talking about what they’re doing, and it challenges me to go back and get better.

Marcia Barnes [00:33:04]:

Yeah. Another environment that we’re both in, you were in before I was. But True U, that’s a local area group here in the greater Indianapolis area who brings together companies who believe that people are the difference makers in their businesses.

Mike Kenney [00:33:22]:

Yeah. So, obviously, that was founded by Dave Lindsay and came out of Defenders. So maybe we’re a True U member before you were, but you were at the roots of True U founding. Yeah, absolutely. That’s another sort of one of those god things. I don’t know that I’ve told you this story before or not, but I stumbled on a video. I think it might have been on LinkedIn, maybe Facebook, I don’t remember, but it was Dave Lindsay being interviewed by someone, and I think it might have had a Homes of Hope context to it. But in any event, he was describing True U and how these things that he’d learned in his company about investing in people so that they could grow as individuals, he’s now put this organization together to help other companies do the same thing.

Mike Kenney [00:34:15]:

And I listened to that, and I was just fascinated by it. And then I immediately walked next door, pulled our general manager in at the time, and said, hey, I want you to watch this video. And when she was done watching it, she was the same as I was. I said, we have to go find out how we can join this organization. And I think I sent Dave a message. Maybe. And then the very next morning, I was having breakfast with someone, and I overhear a conversation going on at the table next to me, and they’re basically telling Dave Lindsay’s story. So I listened to this conversation, I finished my breakfast, and I went over and I introduced myself, and it was Kyle Defer who was running True U the very next morning after I’d stumbled on this video.

Mike Kenney [00:35:00]:

It was just really bizarre.

Marcia Barnes [00:35:02]:

That’s a god thing.

Mike Kenney [00:35:02]:

Yeah. Looking back on it, I think it is a God thing. So we immediately joined. Didn’t matter what the price was. I was like, we’re in. Yeah, we’re in. It is very affordable. I was actually shocked at what the price was on the low end.

Marcia Barnes [00:35:16]:

Right. And so we’re often in shoulder to shoulder in those educational environments and forums, too, learning from subject matter experts and one another. There’s over 100 companies today in the greater Indianapolis area.

Mike Kenney [00:35:29]:

Yeah. And those are great learning forums. And again, I walk away energized because I always take some nugget away that I can think about.

Marcia Barnes [00:35:40]:

And it’s probably important to point out true you is different from YPO. YPO is aimed at the executive.

Mike Kenney [00:35:47]:


Marcia Barnes [00:35:48]:

Maybe one or two or a third executive inside a YPO forum. True U is aimed at the front. Know, Mike and I are talking right now about us learning things in there, and we do. But the majority of the content and the purpose of it is to help everybody learn.

Mike Kenney [00:36:05]:

Yeah. The entire population of employees or team members.

Marcia Barnes [00:36:08]:

Yeah, I know. I’ve sat in the leaders in training. They have that Leaders in Training Program that we can each send team members into.

Mike Kenney [00:36:19]:

Right. We’ve sent several people through.

Marcia Barnes [00:36:21]:

Yeah. And I’ve enjoyed being in those Capstone presentations with your team members, doing their Capstone presentation and then graduating. Yes, it’s been very moving.

Mike Kenney [00:36:32]:

I try to attend as many of those as I can.

Marcia Barnes [00:36:34]:

Yeah, they appreciate that a lot.

Mike Kenney [00:36:37]:

That’s a great program. So, one more thought about True U. Sure. We’ve talked about me being a lifelong learner and how important that is. Right. And I always thought just by setting the example and letting people know that how important I felt learning was, that I’d done my job until I stumbled on True U, and that’s when the light bulb went off again, I’m a slow learner. That you know what? Not everybody is just wired that way. And you have to make those opportunities available to people.

Mike Kenney [00:37:16]:

They’re not necessarily just going to go look for the opportunities themselves. That’s really transformational. When you flip that switch inside of a company and you start proactively, putting in front of people these unique learning opportunities that they naturally wouldn’t go look for themselves, then you’ve really opened up a whole new world for the whole team.

Marcia Barnes [00:37:39]:

Yeah. And it’s a competitive edge in your environment.

Mike Kenney [00:37:41]:


Marcia Barnes [00:37:42]:

Your competitors aren’t doing things like that.

Mike Kenney [00:37:44]:

Probably not.

Marcia Barnes [00:37:45]:

Right. That’s a great stories about learning and the community of learners. Mike, one of the things that I’ve really tried to highlight in the book here, we growth is transformation. People becoming noticeably different or getting noticeably different outcomes. When you look back at your team and the people around you, tell me about someone you’ve really seen go through tremendous transformation.

Mike Kenney [00:38:14]:

Well, I think Fred Roman is probably the one that comes to mind or to the top of the list comes to mind when I got the opportunity to be the president of RPM Machinery. This is pre acquisition. The way that came about is a whole different story that we don’t have time for today. But when I came into that role, Fred was a sales rep for that company, and he was probably the most skeptical of the entire group, but he was the best salesperson, one of the.

Marcia Barnes [00:38:49]:

Best in the country.

Mike Kenney [00:38:49]:

He was one of their top performing he…Fred was a very successful sales rep, and he went, know, sort of arms crossed in the back of the know, staring me down as I was introducing myself. And he can be intimidating too today. Yeah, he’s a big guy.

Marcia Barnes [00:39:09]:

Former Purdue football player.

Mike Kenney [00:39:11]:

That’s right. A Big 10 lineman. And today he’s the president of our company. And he’s just a total sponge for learning.

Marcia Barnes [00:39:19]:


Mike Kenney [00:39:21]:

He laps up everything we feed him. In fact, I mentioned I bought a bunch of books, and he’s already consumed, like, a 400 page one goodness gracious. Just in the last week and a half, and he dives in and learns. So Fred went from being a sales rep to we made him a sales manager there at RPM. Then when we merged the companies, there was going to be we had a sales manager on each side of the business, and we really needed to consolidate that. And Fred was the winner for that spot, and then he went from that role to becoming the president of the company. So I would say somebody that’s grown. I don’t know that I could give a better example than that.

Marcia Barnes [00:40:07]:

Well, it’s notable, Mike, that he grew through all those positions under your leadership.

Mike Kenney [00:40:13]:

Well, I appreciate that.

Marcia Barnes [00:40:14]:


Mike Kenney [00:40:14]:

I guess I hadn’t thought about it.

Marcia Barnes [00:40:15]:

That right. Right.

Mike Kenney [00:40:17]:

I’ll take some credit.

Marcia Barnes [00:40:18]:

Yeah. And there’s something else unique about Fred being in that position. Right.

Mike Kenney [00:40:23]:

Yeah. Fred is we had a party for him, and thank you. You put that together so we could celebrate Fred’s promotion to president. But we’re a fourth generation, almost 120 year old family business now, and Fred is the first president of the company not named Kenney.

Marcia Barnes [00:40:42]:

Yeah. That’s got to make you feel good.

Mike Kenney [00:40:44]:

It does.

Marcia Barnes [00:40:45]:

Yeah. Mike, in 2013, I kind of was making plans to exit defenders over 400 million in revenue, 2600 employees. I’m in the CEO seat, and I felt like I was being called to grow to share the marketing math model with other companies. You’re who I was called to share that with.

Mike Kenney [00:41:07]:

Well, I feel blessed that you were called to share it with me, and certainly blessed to be enjoy it certainly blessed with the friendship that we’ve developed.

Marcia Barnes [00:41:21]:

We’ve got a lot further to go now. Let me go sell you some stuff. Okay.

Mike Kenney [00:41:26]:

All right. We’ll get my checkbook out.

Here We Grow Narrator [00:41:30]:

Thank you for joining us. For here we grow. This show is proudly brought to you by Valve and Meter Performance Marketing. Be sure to check out the show notes for exclusive content that will help you become a transformational leadership. For more, visit Mathbeforemarketing.com Podcast.