Steve Lipic, Principal of Lipic’s Engagement (formerly known as Lipic’s Recognition) says he had an epiphany of sorts at the first Enterprise Engagement Alliance conference four years ago in Westchester County, NY, where the original framework for Enterprise Engagement was launched.
His firm, which he purchased from his father, was founded in 1863 as a writing instrument manufacturer. Over the decades, many companies like Lipic came to discover that there was also a significant market for their products in the promotional products and gift marketplaces. It was out of that trend that Lipic’s Recognition emerged about 15 years ago.
While Lipic’s annual sales run into seven figures and the firm handles many national accounts, it tends to focus on companies based near its St. Louis headquarters because, as Steve Lipic puts it, “It’s all about customer service and accessibility. The more involved we become with our clients’ business, the more they appreciate the fact that we can easily get over to their offices to brainstorm in person.” Consequently, most of the firm’s clients are good-sized organizations you’ve likely never heard of unless you’re from St. Louis or the surrounding area.
Lipic, a Cornell graduate who become involved with the family business 18 years ago, says he has always believed the key to long term success is to focus on the goals his clients are trying to achieve, not just the underlying products that are part of the process. At that first Enterprise Engagement Alliance conference, Lipic says he clearly saw the broader context in which his products were being used and realized that he could offer his clients a formal framework for applying a broader range of services.
About two years ago, the company began making some fundamental changes. While not taking his eye off the ball of the core business, Lipic began to actively prepare himself and key members of his staff to offer a broader range of products and services. The new focus was to apply a formal framework to help them develop and implement strategies to achieve specific sales, marketing, human resources and community-building goals with the support of all of the people critical to success.
This meant he would have to be equipped to help organizations create a formal engagement business plan and implement many of the coaching, communications, learning, rewards and recognition, measurement, and other aspects of the program well beyond rewards and promotional products. Lipic knew that in order to offer an effective solution he had to start with knowledge, so he and another team member signed up for the Enterprise Engagement learning program at the Rewards & Recognition Expo in New Orleans in April of 2013.
They both also read the available curriculum on Enterprise Engagement, and Lipic paid to have the Enterprise Engagement Alliance come out to his organization for a full day of training with his entire team. He and his designated team member both prepared for and passed the Certified Engagement Professional (CEP) exam, and the day membership became available in the EEA, he signed up.
While all of this was going on, Lipic continued to engage with his customers to feel them out on their needs, detecting a keen interest in the topic of engagement and a willingness to learn more about how to apply these principles in a concrete way. Along the way, he realized that he needed to help organizations integrate all of these various aspects of engagement – not an easy task, given the array of strategies and tactics that were required.
“Most corporate intranets reflect the same silos that stand in the way of effective integration of engagement solutions,” explains Lipic. “Corporate IT departments are buried. They don’t have time to rework the entire intranet to mirror Enterprise Engagement best practices.” Despite the fact that he had experience creating his company’s own technology, Lipic had to question whether he really wanted to be in the technology business. “After looking at the framework of Enterprise Engagement, I knew I wanted a technology that was easy to deploy – a platform I could adapt to my business needs.”
After an exhaustive search, Steve turned to Engagement Technology LLC. (Full disclosure: the owners of Engagement Strategies Magazine helped create Engagement Technology and hold a minority stake in the company.) “To start with, I needed to offer my clients a program-management portal that could integrate all of the elements of engagement on a single platform, as well as support multiple programs,” says Lipic. “We’re talking about customizable technology that could be connected to whatever rewards made sense for my client, and it had to be as configurable, flexible and automated as possible, requiring minimal resources from a clients’ IT department. ET’s Universal Rewards Exchange product was the only one that fit the bill, and we did our homework.”
As Lipic began developing clients for the new portal platform – “the sales cycle is at least three to nine months for that product,” he says – he also worked with ET to create Engagement Express. This version is focused on helping companies rapidly launch specific programs focused on communications, rewards, recognition and/or measurement so they can get started within a week – or even a day, if all of the information is in place. “Because of the simplicity of Engagement Express,” he says, “I don’t have to create a separate version of each program while preserving complete security around that program’s information. That simply isn’t possible with multi-program portals.”
Engagement Express is now available to all ET clients and Lipic has already sold it to a number of his clients. “That’s the interesting element of this technology model,” he notes. “On the one hand, I help fund a platform that helps others, but what I get in return is other enhancements I don’t have to pay for. As part of our development program for Engagement Express, we received a mobile catalog we didn’t even expect.”
Doesn’t Lipic worry that he’s giving up a differentiator by using platforms available to others? “Absolutely not,” he says, “no more than my using Zoho for customer relationship management or my accounting platform or presentation technology gives up my competitive advantage.” He notes that what makes Lipic’s Engagement different is its experience, breadth of services and cutting-edge commitment to engagement. “It’s how we use the technology that makes the difference. Providing solutions is all about asking the right questions, learning about our clients’ businesses, applying the framework to help them take the journey of engaging the critical people to do what’s right for the organization.”
Another reason for Lipic’s willingness to help organizations like the EEA and Engagement Technology, even though these services also help his competitors, is this: “I grew up in the era when the advertising industry really came into its own…I saw how that industry, by working together through their organizations, expanded to become an enormous marketplace with advertising and marketing agencies in every town and industry, and I believe in the same potential for Enterprise Engagement.”
Four years after it embarked on this journey, Lipic’s Recognition formally became Lipic’s Engagement. Again, no one ever accused Steve Lipic of being impulsive. “I look forward to many more years of working with clients, my colleagues at the EEA and Engagement Technology to take advantage of this highly rewarding revolution,” he says, “because it does so much for the success of our clients, our community and our business. The pie is big enough for many more of us than have already embarked down this road, and the industry will only grow larger faster as more companies get involved. I’ll have been proud to have been an early pioneer and know that I will be able to profit from that early commitment.”