“Gentlemen, you are not jewelry store managers. You are businessmen who happen to be in the jewelry business.”
The speaker, Burt K., a tall imposing man who looked like a New York Jew but sounded like a man who had lived in Dallas his entire life, delivered that line as if he really meant it. He didn’t. He was a terrible supervisor, possibly the worst I ever had. But, he was proof that you can learn something of value from anyone. You just have to pay attention.
A young businessman, a self-employed guy in his early thirties, heard that I mentor several entrepreneurs. Most of the people I’ve coached have been insurance agents, but I have also worked with other professionals, such as doctors and attorneys, as well as retail establishments and not-for-profit agencies. What really attracted this guy, a service provider, was my price. FREE. I refuse to charge for my advice. Of course, it may only be worth what they are paying.
Our guy, we’ll call him Rob, asked for my help. The problem was that I had already been coaching him for three months. He hadn’t been paying attention. Since I refused to begin every sentence or every email with the words “Rule One or Remember This”, he had missed everything.
I brought out the 2 x 4 Friday morning. Below are a few rules I shared with Rob. Bluntly. I also let him know that this would all appear in my next blog. Many of you will find the following self-evident. Indulge me. I know that Rob isn’t the only small businessperson that needs to read this.
1. The customer/client/patient you are with is the most important person in the world. Believe it and live it. If you don’t believe it, pretend. If you can’t pretend, do something else.
Every meeting with a customer is like being in a restaurant while on a first date. If you are checking out the room instead of focusing completely at the person across the table, you are doomed to failure. Unless your spouse is about to go into labor or a parent is at death’s door, put away the cell phone. You don’t need it. Don’t even put it on vibrate. It’s a distraction. Your customer deserves 100% of you.
2. Ask More Questions. Most businesspeople fail to ask enough questions. You may know what you want to sell, but you may have no idea what your customer wants to buy. Stop. Throw away that script. Talk to your clients. They have made time to meet with you. Why? You can’t solve their problems until you know what their problems are.
I recently told a vendor exactly what I wanted. He didn’t understand and he didn’t ask any questions. He had no idea how important this was to me and how much I was willing to spend. He underestimated my needs and wants and lowballed the price. Total failure. I didn’t get what I really wanted and he left hundreds of dollars on the table.
3. Communicate. Some appointments can’t be made. Some deadlines will be missed. Blizzards happen. OK. Call your customers and let them know. Don’t force the client to track you down like some escaped convict. We will understand and forgive errors if you disclose them. Skip the excuses. Just tell us what happened and how you will fix it.
Rob was surprised that the first three rules had nothing to do with his particular business. They don’t. These basic rules apply to all businesses, even law firms. Paying attention, listening, and treating people properly won’t guarantee success. They are simply the foundation. I need Rob to master these basics before we can move on to more difficult assignments.
There are lessons to be learned from the most unlikely of sources, if we are paying attention. One of my most important rules came from an unpleasant bully who managed by fear. Are you paying attention? We are surrounded by teachers.