Monday, June 17, 2013


The car buying experience, and the car salesman, has become the stereotype of all that is wrong with sales and selling in the eyes of the American public.

As with many stereotypes, there is a basis in fact and deed.  Manipulation, high-pressure, duplicity lying are words that consumers associate with buying automobiles specifically and sales in general. 

As a result, car salespeople rank dead last in a recent survey of most trusted professionals.  They managed to beat members of Congress in this race to the bottom, which is quite a telling performance.  

Speaking of performances, the Alec Baldwin sales "training" in Glengarry, Glen Ross, and William H. Macy's salesman in Fargo are two star-turn portrayals of the prototypical noxious sales professional.

Movies, you mock?  Well, art imitates life, as my experience this weekend in a local car dealership attests. In a 15 minute conversation bludgeoning encounter, the salesman spoke for 14 of those minutes.  He was trying to build trust, by telling me stories about himself: 30 years in the business, that most of his sales were through referrals by satisfied customers, that he opens the dealership on weekends to get ahead of his colleagues, that he works all the time getting great deals for people like me because he doesn't have a family.

Maybe this approach works for him.  Maybe I don't meet the profile of his typical customer.  Maybe he thought that I wouldn't notice all of the pictures of his wife and kids (maybe they left him because he never shut up or paid attention to them.)  As a consumer, maybe I could have cared less about him.  Nah.

But, if he had just made a minimal effort to really engage me, maybe by asking just a few questions, maybe he would have learned that I had done my homework, and maybe he would have learned that I was ready to buy if my specific terms were met.  And when he lied was misinformed about the price of the car that I was interested in, and the current financing rate that was being offered by his finance company, any trust that his approach may have engendered popped like one of the helium balloons festooning the showroom. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Customers and other strangers

If you operated Momma Mia's Meatballs, which feature do you think would give you the best advantage in the competition for customers?
  • The best location?
  • The best meatball recipe?
  • The best prices?
Would any of the above matter if you didn't have any customers?  Or if you ill-served the ones who patronized you? Probably not. At least not for long. 

I was thinking about this following a hike this weekend in a local state park.  We were hungry after finishing our jaunt and were looking forward to a burger and beer at a historic tavern near the entrance to the park.

It was closed.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon. 
In June. 

It wasn't closed because of an illness or malfunction.  Its posted hours noted that it didn't open until 4 pm on Saturdays. We took our appetites and our business elsewhere, as did others.

The little deli up the road, which didn't offer anything other than pre-packaged fare, was busy with others like us. Hungry customers. With money. 

As Peter Drucker, the father of modern business management once wrote:  "The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer."  You cannot do this successfully if you are not focused on satisfying their needs.

Monday, June 3, 2013

To serve whom?

Even if you are just a casual fan of the original Twilight Zone series, you are probably familiar with the 1962 episode titled, "To Serve Man."

Considered one of the classics of this seminal series, it tells the story of a visit to our small planet by an alien race that offers to eradicate strife and enrich the lives of earth's inhabitants.  The payback for consequences of this largesse, are, for the earthlings, unappetizing.

The show came to mind following a conversation I had this week with Sam Silverstein, author, lecturer and expert on building cultures of accountability.

I am a big fan of Sam and his concepts and have enrolled in his "Accountability Academy," as  have several of the companies with whom I work. However, despite the absence of accountability being a frequent lament an affinity for accountability is not universal. That's what Sam and I chatted about: where accountability cultures thrive, where they don't and why.

Two nuggets emerged from our talk:
  • Many individuals and organizations confuse responsibility and accountability.  "Responsibility is about things; accountability is about people," Silverstein believes.  Ironically, though, when you have a culture where individuals accept responsibility for helping others, accountability is the result.
  • Not surprisingly, organizations and individuals that practice servant leadership, are generally more successful because the concept of personal responsibility and accountability is ingrained and/or embraced.
Servant leadership is not about training a staff of business butlers, or a boss who makes sure that coffee is brewed and hot when the staff arrives.  It is a management philosophy that is people-centric, where leaders accept responsibility for enabling team performance through their own actions.

As author Bill Treasurer says:  Leaders Open Doors.

In the Washington Post, Professor Edward Hess of the University of Virginia recently noted:
"Many people think that you cannot be people-centric and maintain high standards, because employees will take advantage. That’s another leadership myth.
These high-performance organizations show that people-centric environments and high performance are not mutually exclusive. Employees in these companies have high emotional engagement, loyalty and productivity, and outperform the competition on a daily basis over long periods of time. In fact, the relationship between high performance, high employee engagement and how you treat employees is compelling. My research clearly demonstrates that employee satisfaction drives customer satisfaction and loyalty."

The lesson?  If you can't grow beyond yourself, you have a job, not a business.  In a small business especially, the ability to motivate and manage your team to achieve a consistent high level of performance is the critical factor of growth -- and survival.

In a review of the new book, Give and Take, Harvard Business School Professor James Heskett writes that research "suggests that servant leaders are not only more highly regarded than others by their employees and not only feel better about themselves at the end of the day but are more productive as well."

Like the ironic ending in the To Serve Man Twilight Zone episode, there's also a surprising twist to the familiar servant/teacher cliche:  it seems that those that can do, teach.  And those that can't teach, are toast.