There are some things we simply cannot live without.
By Bill Scott, President, StoreReport LLC
The Worst Punishment of All
Solitary confinement, isolation from all forms of human contact could be the cruelest punishment of all. While many of us enjoy the solitude of our quiet time alone, no human contact for an extended period of time can lead to depression, hallucinations, delusions, a break with reality and, eventually, madness. Regular social contact with others is crucial for our mental health, and normal humans (and many animals of other species) congregate in groups, join clubs, plan gatherings, create their own ‘laws’ or ‘rules’ and choose a leader to ensure the group’s sustainability.
Acceptance is the Goal
The tendency to want to belong is so intense that in recent times we have seen youths go so far as to commit murder to gain acceptance into a gang. All people seem to depend on varying amounts and intensities of social interaction to keep them happy, stable and sane. If a human being would commit murder to gain acceptance, I think that gives us a pretty good indication of how important belonging can be.
I will never cease to be amazed by the things I read on Facebook. When I read through the unrehearsed writings of people who are isolated from human interaction, I wonder, ‘What planet are these people from anyway?’ On social media, we can read a person’s most closely guarded secrets. The Internet has allowed us to peer into the dark recesses of the human mind heretofore never possible.
Mostly, people who meet in groups are seeking far more than entertainment. They are looking for validation of their own existence. Is it any wonder that there are people who will take advantage of that fact for their own gain?
I’m from Missouri, Show Me
Well, I’m really not from Missouri, but I have heard that slogan most of my life. The inference being, “If you want to convince me, don’t tell me, show me.” Why we continue to fall for the hyperbole we hear daily remains a mystery to me. We realize that we are more susceptible to being drawn toward people who share our values and opinions and put distance between ourselves and those who do not.
I’m going to tell you a true story. It’s not a terribly long story, and some of it is not terribly flattering, but it has a happy ending. After all, was it not Fred Smith that made his first payroll at Federal Express by putting his last dollar on a blackjack table in Las Vegas? Wasn’t it an unemployed artist named Walt Disney whose sole experience was drawing mice for a living, when after losing his job, spent his last dollar buying a First-Class, one-way train ticket to look for work in Hollywood? After you read my story, it will help to drive my point home.
I know I won’t be remembered like the two geniuses I mentioned above, which stand as testament that you don’t have to have everything going for you to be successful in business, or in your daily life. Anything is possible if you have an idea, remain committed, locate a tiny hole in the environment and rush in and fill it.
In my book “Turning Convenience Stores Into Cash Generating Monsters,” I go into greater detail, but the fact is, there are opportunities flying around us like a herd of mosquitoes, and few of us are paying attention to them.
I started my company in 1978 with no money and a limited amount of knowledge. After two years of trying to get customers to give me their money, broke and on the verge of bankruptcy, I shelved my plans for a while and went to work for a computer sales company to gain more knowledge about the industry; never losing the hope that I could improve my quality of life by resurrecting my failed computer business, I restarted my enterprise in 1981.
Again, having no significant funds to keep me going, I barely scraped by; however, facing yet another disastrous financial collapse, I experienced an epiphany. These “blind strokes of genius” aren’t proof of genius at all. They more often can be traced back to desperation. The best way I can describe it is to imagine yourself buried alive and determined to dig your way out. It takes a special kind of person to succeed against all odds, but it’s rarely what you would call ‘genius,’ It’s usually one who becomes obsessed.
One thing I learned from starting my own business is that instead of breaking away from one manipulative, dictatorial boss, I quickly found myself the slave of scores of dissociated bosses pulling at me from all directions.
I recalled something a seasoned salesman told me back in 1974. He said:
Don’t think about what YOU want. Make your boss wealthy, and he (or she) will take care of you for the rest of your life.
I thought, why not change my marketing tactics to take my wants and needs out of the equation? Could I not be successful if I put the emphasis on the needs of my clients rather than on myself?
My new idea was to find potential customers that would benefit from my programs and experience and prove the value of my product by installing my product in their businesses for free, train them, teach them, show them the results and accept their money, only after it proved to be a product they truly needed?
The Shortest Route to the Success of Any Business
Put another way, I realized that I had to GIVE something before I RECEIVED something back, and my gift had to be something that was valuable to the receiver. I made this suggestion to a few of my more interested potential clients, and they seemed interested, but only after I promised to vacate their premises if and when it was apparent to them it wouldn’t work as I promised.
How would I Finance this New Plan?
My first problem was ‘where was the initial money coming from?’ I had none of my own. A microcomputer (the predecessor of a PC), one terminal and a printer would cost me around $9,000. Travel, food and lodging for one month would cost around $80 a day ($2,400) and expenses back home were $2,000. I approached my good friend and bookkeeper and he agreed to loan me $14,000 to be paid back in 30 days. Then, I had to locate and convince my first customer to put my new plan into action.
How Did I Do It?
Using my previous two successes as references, the first company to accept my “Try it before you buy it” plan, was a small Exxon distributor in Granbury, Texas—Noah Oil Co., owned and operated by James Noah and his wife Linda. During the month that I worked in their business, I was able to not only install the computer, I literally changed the way they operated their business. With no upfront money invested on their part, they had nothing to lose. I helped them to realize what I was doing for them would drive their success, and at the end of the month I humbly accepted their money. I left with a check, and after repaying the loan to my accountant, I realized a $6,000 profit.
Going forward, my new plan resulted in the addition of 40 new customers (I succeeded in every instance), with sales of over $1.4 million by the end of the year 1985. I went from being on the brink of bankruptcy, to having six figures in my bank account by simply making one tiny adjustment in the way I marketed my product. I did what I promised, on budget, and all parties profited in the deal.
What was the Real Reason for My Success?
During the time I spent with my new customers, I became much more than a salesman and supplier of services. I became a friend, a confidant, an accepted member of their families; and the more I worked at that objective, the more the issue of ‘cost’ faded into the background. It’s just common sense. By giving something to your customers, you move the issue of compensation to the back burner.
You can’t buy customer loyalty. If you try, the results are only temporary, and you have to do it over and over again, and you simply can’t afford that. For a long-term relationship, for their repeat business, you must earn customer loyalty. At the least, you must take an interest in your customers first.
In Part Three we’ll discuss how this equates to retail markets.