Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thanks Mom, Mr. Fruth, Mr. President, and Mr. Anonymous

This comment from Mr. Anonymous, regarding my earlier blogpost on marketing in a recession led to today's thoughts: Boy (or girl) do I ever agree with you on the strategy for operating a business during a recession. As you say, what I have seen is reduced service and increases in prices. If I was CEO of a consumer product company I would announce a reduction in prices to break-even and push my employees to slobber all over my customers with appreciation. I would commit to doing this for a year and publicize the fact that we are all "in this together" and that this is our way of showing that we care about our customers. Then stand back and watch the doors get knocked down. I would count on people remembering what we did when they needed it most and expect to keep them for years to come. If not I lost a year of profit but I bet that would be all that I lost. I would point this out to my shareholders and suggest that their investment would be enhanced by our action.

I just spent several hours a day, over the past few days, writing thank you notes to many of the people who have spent their company's money with my company, by advertising in my magazines. Thank you notes are my way of "slobbering all over my customers with appreciation". I can't visit them all personally, but I can certainly take a little bit of my time to really thank them. (Confidential to Mark and Jay - yes, you will be receiving one, even though we e-mail regularly, and speak on the phone occasionally.)

Many times we look at business transactions as just that - two cold, unexpressive, simple words "business transactions". But any good business transaction should be much more. (I'm not talking about paying bills or accepting a fee, I'm talking more about the sales experience within a business transaction.)

In my own experience, I have found the majority of my business transactions to be personal in nature. When I sold tools for a living, I made myself get to know my customers on a more personal level. Sure, I loved and believed in my product, but I knew I would never get anyone else to feel the same, unless I could discover what "made them tick". I felt everyone "needed" my tools, because they performed a necessary function, and they could help my distributor's profitability, etc. But there are many times when appealing to someone's basic business sense is not enough, and filling a basic need is not enough. How many times have you had the conversation with a buyer that begins, "you can't pay bills with margin, you pay bills with dollars...." A simple appeal to business sense does not always work.

And in tough times, sometimes a personal relationship makes the difference between a deal or no deal. A lot of times we rely on our sales reps to have these relationships. It is equally as important that strong relationships exist between people amongst all the layers of your business - whether it's a counter person, customer service, sales..... anyone who speaks to your customer needs to have a certain level of personality that appeals to the customer. It's part of the "service" part of any job.

I worked for a small company for a number of years and I credit a portion of my success to my daily reliance on the following principles, principles that were developed by our President, and honed by his staff. They were an important part of our culture.

1 - always treat the customer in front of you like he's the only customer you've ever had, and ever will have

2 - never assume you'll have a customer for life,

3 - always work hard to make doing business very easy for the customer and

4 - never think you're first in anyone's book, because if you're number 2 - you'll always try harder.

I agree with Mr. Anonymous, (paraphrasing him) treat customers right and they'll remember you when they can. To some degree, I think if we all thought of ourselves as being in the business of selling a commodity, as individuals, we would all work a little harder, a little more effectively, to personalize the business transaction. And ultimately, I think it would make for a more interesting and rewarding career.

So - I can't personally visit everyone I want to thank. But I'll start with Mom - Mom, thanks for making sure I understood at a young age the value of a thank you note. Mr. Fruth, thanks for being so tough on me when I struggled with cursive writing. Because of you I have a deep love of learning, and also pretty decent handwriting. Thanks Mr. President, for laying down a good foundation of best business practices for me. And finally, thank you Mr. Anonymous, for reminding us that we are all in this together, and we better start acting like it!

And thank you readers! I appreciate all your comments and look forward to hearing from you.

And every now and then, I'm going to close with a picture of my dumb dog, Rascal.


Baron's Life said...

I love your Dog...!
The four four points you make in your post about how to treat a customer are so true that they should be taught in every business school and seminar.
I will print and paste them on my wall as a constant reminder on how to behave in sales...We always do these sub-consciously and it is good to finally see it in writing...and yes you're right Margins don't pay the bills...$$$ do!

Donnie Smith said...

And thank you for all you do. Great tips!