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Archive for the “Entrepreneurial Sales” Category

Contemporary comic book writer and graphic novelist Joshua Dysart writes: “People, we’re always reaching for these big things…you know? Big ideas…big moments…big lives. And all the while the little things we’re ignoring are undoing us.”

I was reading a Maureen Dowd op-ed a couple of years ago in the NY Times. It was enjoyably full of her scathing, caustic observations, on this occasion commenting on a recent “Get Motivated!” seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington. As usual, Dowd was funny and more than a little mean. And right on.

My general feeling about these massive feel-good inspirational gatherings is that they’re a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in their stated insights, just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kind of like a business pep rally. Certainly not my cup of tea.

However, amidst Ms. Dowd’s cynical reportage on talks by the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Dan Rather and Rick Belluzo, I was caught by some business advice shared by General Colin Powell. His advice? Simply to be nice and particularly to be nice to the little people like the folks who clean your office and park your car (or simply other people on your elevator who sometimes turn out to be the CEO). He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch cards. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.” Dowd reports.

It seems to me Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s little things that set the tone for successful entrepreneurship–little considerations, little details. Focusing on the small decencies creates an ambiance of service and real carefulness in business dealings. It becomes reflected in the larger actions of a company.

To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend that any missive or serious communication one sends out go on high-quality stationary and be sent by snail mail, ideally with a commemorative stamp. This is sometimes cause for eye-rolling impatience by some cutting-edge entrepreneurs enamored of the wonders of Tweeting, Friending, Linking-in, etc. But there is a method to my antediluvian madness. Yes, it takes extra time and money to communicate in such qualitative ways, but the very effort communicates care and valuation on a subconscious level. There is a sensual subconscious statement that is communicated by the very feel of high-quality stationary. It creates an aura of seriousness, reflecting both respect for your client and the general business process. It unspokenly says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve her.

Additionally, the very fact that the personal letter is increasingly rare gives special notice to those who use it. It is not a dinosaur inefficiency. It is a notable differentiator that, in the long-term, makes a branding statement, as well as creating a subrosa gravitas and a sense of business seriousness.

Or, as John Donne says in his poem To Sir Henry(1663) “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Thank you, John Donne.

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9123123977_335d6bb5edDon Draper is coming to an end this year. Yup. AMC’s Mad Men gallops to its hard drinking, heavy smoking, sex addicted denouement at the close of this TV season. The last seven episodes started April 5th.

I’ve read several encomiums to the incipient death of this popular, highly-awarded series. One of these articles described Don Draper as numero uno of all time among “salesman, con artist, sweet-talkers, swindlers, and bullshitters.” Wow. That is quite a concatenation of villains and it says quite a lot about how salesmen are viewed in the contemporary culture.

The archetype of the salesman is the used-car salesman–winding back the speedometer and screaming, “Deals! Deals! Deals!” Or Don Draper, in the very first episode of Mad Men, proposing to save Lucky Strikes in the wake of the 1960s Readers Digest Report linking cancer to cigarettes. Draper, in his machiavellian brilliance, proposes differentiating Lucky Strikes with the phrase “It’s toasted.” When his client argues that all cigarettes are “toasted”, he states, “Everyone else’s tobacco is poisonous, Lucky Strikes are toasted.” A charming, brilliant con man indeed.

Yet isn’t every successful entrepreneur in large part a successful salesman? For that matter, aren’t all human beings, to one degree or another, salesmen. What makes a good salesman?

Believe it or not, I personally feel that what makes a good salesman is the same thing that makes a good minister, good teacher, or good social worker–someone who genuinely loves the world in which she lives and wants to improve it through offering a product or service to that end. That’s my view and I believe it is also the view of most really effective salesmen.

Unlike the cliches of popular culture, the juxtaposition and equivalency of salesmen, con artists, sweet-talkers, swindlers, and bullshitters is breathtaking. And yet it fully reflects the popular view of salesmen as somewhat lower than whale shit. The list includes such luminaries as Gordon Gekko (portrayed by Michael Douglas in Wall Street), Blake (portrayed by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross), Freddy Benson and  Lawrence Jamieson (portrayed by Steve Martin and Michael Caine, respectively, in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Roy Waller (portrayed by Nicholas Cage in Matchstick Men), etc. You get the idea. A veritable litany of the villainous and the predatory.

Gordon_GekkoCertainly when I began my late-in-life adventure as a salesman and entrepreneur, my idealistic and somewhat bohemian family did not quite know what to say. They probably thought I had become apostate to all that was fine and good. A Faustian sellout to filthy lucre. A crazed lemming descending into the rat hole of venality.

But what makes a good salesman in reality is the opposite of the amoral knaves of popular myth. You simply don’t win in the long term by fooling people. You win through sincere care, concern, and communication. That is a naive but very real truth.

Unlike the popular cliches about salesmen, long-term sales success comes from focusing on service and candor in all aspects of the sales process. A liar and a villain is eventually known by his works. Gordon Gekko aside, you don’t successfully sell with deception and legerdemain.

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220px-NeelemanI am convinced the future sales and success leaders of our entrepreneurial vocation will be those who make their companies matter in the world.  Everywhere I look these days that fact keeps hitting me squarely between the eyes.

Case in point:  David Neeleman.  You may well ask whatever happened to David Neeleman?  Well he didn’t just disappear after essentially being fired from JetBlue (his own company) in 2007.  He went on to found Azul Brazilian Airlines, which is on the verge of becoming the number two airline in Brazil after just five years, grossing over five billion in sales during 2013.

I had the good fortune to hear David speak last week at the Darien, CT library.  I find him very much in the line of new business leaders who find remarkable service, spiritual generosity, and a sense of giving back to the universe the key to their success.

For Neeleman the question to focus on is:  Does your company matter?  Would it be missed?  Would you as its leader be missed?  The companies that would be missed are the ones that matter.  Neeleman’s list includes Amazon, Apple, and his own JetBlue.

Neeleman bases his entrepreneurial work on three basic business principals.  They are:

  1. Make your people feel your company is the best place in the world to work and they will sell your product or service for you.  Make your employees feel this is the best job they ever had and they will pass on to your customers their own happiness and sense of being cherished.
  2. 69515_002.tifExercise flawless execution at every point of contact with your customer.  Trust your employees to execute at every stage of customer interaction, but systematically check to make sure–much like Ronald Reagan, who famously said of his diplomacy with the USSR, “Trust, but verify.”
  3. Use your failures to solidify your brand and your passion for service.  When there is a problem use it to make people to love you even more.  Make things right.  It builds loyalty and trust.  Offer exceptional service and courtesy even in the midst of disaster.  People increasingly trust word of mouth more than any amount of advertising and your customers will sell for you.

As David succinctly puts it, “Too much service is not enough.”

In a speeding world of increasingly cacophonous claims of revolutionary innovation, I am convinced the real sales differentiator of the future is service of the highest order–the sort of service that can only exist in companies with a through-branded trope of unconditional love, if you will.  That is, a passionate caring at every level of a company, starting with the owner or CEO who walks a daily walk of unswervingly serving both her employees and her customers.

I am reminded of a story I heard Tony Hsieh tell at a book signing for Delivering Happiness in 2010.  Hsieh recounts he was at a sales conference in Santa Monica, CA and, after a night of bar hopping came back with a group of friends to his hotel.  The group decided they all wanted pizza.  The hotel kitchen was closed.  In a fit of drunken braggadocio Hsieh recounts, he dared his friend to call Zappos customer service and ask for a phone number for a local 24 hour Santa Monica pizza delivery.  They called Zappos and within two minutes were supplied with several numbers by the Zappos call center employee.  Such was the depth of unconditional service orientation Hsieh had steeped in his firm.

People like David Neeleman, Tony Hsieh, John Mackey, Steve Jobs, Danny Meyer, et al. are a growing cadre of leaders who’s sales strategy is ultimately to inform through their very existence and lived public presence that their companies have meaning well beyond their various products.

95c40/huch/1904/26If a dawning new paradigm for entrepreneurial success is mattering, and I believe it is, the main way I, as an owner, can make my company matter is to make myself and my actions matter, hopefully imbuing meaning throughout my firm and employees and into anyone and anything my company touches.  Good is greed.

Rabindranath Tagore says, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy.  I awoke and saw that life was service.  I acted and behold, service was joy.”  Thanks, Tagore.

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