Savage Killer Transformation #3

Get in the Trenches

I wish you could have met Bob Aga. Bob was a junior high school teacher, 55 years old. He had spent his life as a teacher. He sponsored the Student Council. His school sold our fashion jewelry. In just three days, they sold $24,000. They earned $12,000 and bought the lights they needed for the football field.

My partners and I loved the way Bob inspired his students to work together to raise money for their school. We talked with him: "Bob, anyone who can raise $12,000 in three days is the kind of person we want working for our company. How would you like to join us?" He was fascinated, but said, "I love what I do. I feel like I have been called to be a teacher. I've spent a lifetime working with kids."

Then we said, "Bob, what if you could keep working with kids and make three times more than you're making right now?"

The following Monday, Bob and I were out calling on schools. He quickly became our star salesperson.

Imagine making $33,000 a year and tripling that to $100,000 per year. Bob often came to the office at the end of the day to tell us how he was doing. We three entrepreneurs loved to see him and lapped up his stories.

Not everyone was overjoyed with Bob's visits. He began to irritate Roscoe, our controller, and the operations people. They felt he was wasting their time. "Oh, hell, here comes Bob again! Can't you tell him to stay away and let me work?"

We didn't have the heart to tell him to stay away. How could we throw a bucket of ice-cold water on his enthusiasm. So we switched gears. I said to Roscoe, "Let's make a deal. Instead of having Bob come in to the office, how about having you go out and spending half a day with him in the field, visiting our customers?"

Bombshell!

"Are you kidding? I've got work to do. I don't have time to go out in the field."

Roscoe was not about to go out into the trenches. But my two partners and I kept working on him, as gently and diplomatically as we could. We said, "Look, try it just once. We think it will give you a better feel for the business. Listen to what the customers are saying."

One day Roscoe finally went out. He trudged out of the office, very reluctantly. Four hours was all we asked. Four hours later he returned. And what a transformation. He was actually smiling. He said to me, "Steve, I hate to admit it, but this wasn't a bad idea. I never had any idea what Bob had to go through every day. And I never knew what out customers thought about our products and services."

Then we set it up so that all our managers and customer service people went out with Bob for half a day. It changed their perspective. They had a much better feeling for the customer. They also had a much better feeling about Bob. At the end of each day, they would talk to me and tell me what they had seen. I remember Tom, our plant manager, who had not liked the idea of making sales calls. After working with Bob, he came into my office. "Wow, Steve, I never realized how hard he worked and what he had to go through each day. I have renewed respect. I also saw problems out in the field that were the result of operations errors. It will make me a lot sharper on my job. I want all my people to be more oriented towards our customers."

We made a schedule so each person in the office, from finance to operations to customer service, each spent half a day in the field, every six months. We had to be rigorous, because it was easy for the office staff to find excuses not to go out. There was always too much to do in the office. It was never convenient. And they hated to meet Bob at 7:00 AM instead of coming to the office at 9:00 AM. We made it an absolute sacrosanct rule, a guiding principle of our company's culture. We made a calendar six months ahead of time, and each person had to plan his or her half-day way in advance.

Don't get me wrong. It was never easy. It was a constant struggle. It is not the kind of thing you do once and never have to do again. To make this part of our corporate culture, we had to talk about it all the time. We always talked to the staff after their visits with the salespeople. We asked them to give us their impressions. We thanked and congratulated them for going out and coming back with so many good ideas. Even Roscoe made sales calls. And he began to smile.

How about your company? Are you ready to apply Savage Killer Transformation #3? Do the office people ever go out and make sales calls with the salespeople? If not, do it. Start tomorrow. Your company will become more vibrant, more in tune with the customer. There will be a bond between sales and operations. Your entire business will flourish. You will make more sales, more often.

©2009, Steve Savage

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