Monday, 28 November 2011

Deal or no Deal? Salesperson or Order Taker?

I recently spent $526 on winter tires at my favourite tire place.  These guys take very good care of my wife's car, and so when I went shopping for winter tires for my old beater, I called them first for a price. 

Buy three, get one free was the deal.  $526 out the door.  I checked around, and on the same tires they were not the lowest priced, but within a reasonable margin that it warranted continuing what has so far been a great relationship.  It still is.  I ordered the tires and they put them on this weekend.
I paid my bill and they told me all the other great stuff that went with the deal.  Four free oil changes.  120 days complimentary roadside assistance.  $250 in a coupon booklet, and reasonably speaking I may use about $100 of it.  Free alignment annually.  Replacement value pro rated on road hazard damage to the tires.  I was blown away and very glad I had paid a few extra bucks and come back to this place.

But none of that was mentioned when I was still in the shopping stage.  They were order takers.  Customer asks a question, guy at the desk gives an answer.  Your move, Mr. Customer.  Without a pre-existing relationship they might not have got the sale at all, and I would have ended up with four tires from someone else, never the wiser or worse, retroactively wiser if I found out what could have been.

We're all in sales, folks.  A smarter man than me once said, "You can have the greatest product in the world but if you can't sell it, you've still got it."  Sell, sell, sell!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Well, Shut my Mouth!

Want to lose weight?  Shut your mouth. That's the title of an article on - read it here.

The subject of the article found she lost more weight by keeping her goals to herself, which is counter intuitive to what we've been led to believe about enlisting a support group, a confidant, someone who will cheer you on.  But I have to agree.

Sometimes we spend more time dreaming and talking than doing.  Frankly it's a panacea, if we engage the endorphin inducing state of imaginary success already realized, we can avoid the adrenaline and pain of doing; of failing, of facing defeat on the way to victory.

But first you're going to have to get off your butt.  So stop talking and start doing.  Here's three more things about which you should just shut up, please.

1.  Your first million.  You're lying.  You wouldn't be talking about it otherwise.
2.  How many women you've been with.  I don't believe you, and if it's true, I don't respect you.  Wait, I don't respect you either way.
3.  How much you won (or lost) in Vegas.  You're an idiot.

We are surrounded by the quietly successful, and if we can just keep our mouths closed long enough to use our eyes and ears, we might just benefit from being in their humble company.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Agora and the Occupiers

: a gathering place; especially : the marketplace in ancient Greece

The dictionary definition sounds benign, however the wikipedia description suggests that the gathering place in Greece and in Rome (the forum) was under government control.  I can't imagine freedom of speech was a coveted right in ancient Rome .  We have only look to the Christian martyrs for proof.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is slowly disbanding across the globe by government decree, by ennui or by inclement weather.  If this movement is to survive, and it has to, what will replace it?  There isn't one sane person who believes the occupiers can camp out forever, but I wonder, "how can we use the village square as a place of the people to be heard?"

The answer may be "agora", the gathering place of civilisations long past.  What if?
A view to City Hall Square in Windsor, Ontario
  • Local government created a place in the square for a permanent "soapbox" of sorts, that included proper audio visual, and perhaps a recording aspect that municipal politicians could access and listen to.  Yes, Much Music in Toronto did it first, but why not continue it into the public square?
  • Politicians, wanna be politicians, protesters and loudmouths alike would have equal access to the soapbox, not regulated or monitored except by the patience of the assembled
  • This place is protected and celebrated, not merely tolerated. 
We regularly see protests in front of government buildings.  What I'm suggesting is town square by design.  Windsor's City Hall square has some nice flowers and benches and a cenotaph, but I can't see where the right to freely gather was built into the design.

We are citizens first, before we are taxpayers or voters.  Let's encourage and elevate debate.

Here's another look at the Occupy Wall Street movement; interesting reading:

Monday, 21 November 2011

I Have Met the OccuHippies (and I like them)

The other day during lunch I walked across City Hall square and waded into the midst of the "OccuHippies", as I have referred to them (here).

I went prepared to learn enough to write a second scathing piece, which I suppose I could now.  I couldn't find even one person who voted in the last election, which actually suits me just fine.  No, really, it does - I've written about that here.  But I have trouble criticizing them for it.  I found what I was looking for but can't write the scathing piece because what I found were people, not ideals.

Look, these citizens want change.  You may not agree with their methods, but do you have a better idea?  Don't tell them to join a mainstream political party - they don't trust 'em.  Don't tell them to get jobs - they're trying.  Starbucks only needs so many baristas.   As one of the underemployed told me, "I'm just sick of being poor."

In the Windsor camp the voluntarily homeless occupy when it suits them, showing up to protest and then heading to their warm homes and apartments.  The tents mark the spot.  For others, the first wave of fainthearted joiners have been replaced by the actual homeless.  If not here, they'd be under a bridge.  Here they live in community, people give them food and treat them with respect.  They have much to protest, as much as their situation is as much of their own making as it is of society's.

There are no easy answers.  The fate of the least of us falls on the shoulders of each of us.  In our lives we will never eliminate poverty.

But shame on us when we look the other way.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Well I Ain't no Superman

Perhaps you've met or worked with a Super-manager who's respected by one and all for being the go-to guy when things get rough.  You know that things are hitting the fan when he breaks down a door and enters the room.  When he flies in and saves the day everyone breathes a sigh of relief and feels an enormous debt of gratitude.  Compliments abound and buoyed by our affection, off he goes until he's needed again.

What he doesn't seem to know is that if he applied himself to the mundane task of a problem free workplace, there'd be no need for his heroics at all.  A focused presence and an attitude of anticipation, not reaction, would make it difficult for the supervillains who threaten productivity and outstanding customer service to gain a foothold.  Boredom, staff chatting, neglected customers, over and under scheduling, lack of inventory, lack of tools to do the job would all but disappear.  But what's the point of owning tights and a cape, if not to don them from time to time?  The trouble is, things have to be well on their way to hell (in or out of a hand basket) by the time his preferred management style is implemented.

This "putting out the fires" stuff makes for great movies and comic books, and for some legendary stories, but it's a lousy leadership model.  It is reported that with an excellent and diligent system of routine traffic and by-law enforcement the incidences of more violent crime and costly crime are reduced; the need for a Superman in a well governed town is rare*.  Carrying the metaphor, the same is true of our businesses.

Following policy and procedure, holding people (and one's self) accountable in a well managed organization is far more work and takes more fortitude than swooping in when all hell breaks loose, but infinitely worth it to the professional manager.

Besides, as exciting as it is for us when things go crazy, as good the celebrations afterwards when we save the day, our customers like it way better when we've got things are under control.

"Well I ain't no Superman, if that's what you demand then set me free"  Set Me Free - Utopia

Cool tune - listen to it here: Set Me Free - Utopia

* Source:

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Take my Call, Please

There are a few people who really enjoy cold calling.  Frankly, I'm not one of them.  I do like getting "cold" calls, though.  I learn and I'm inspired to persevere.  I am by no means an expert, but here's what I've learned from the best of them, here's what I try to put into practice every day:
  • It's a good idea to warm a call up a bit with a personal connection, perhaps through a mutual friend or association membership.  
  • I like to get a feel for the potential client's needs by doing a small amount of research first, either by the web or connecting with a few of my associates in the biz.  
  • Armed with a bit of knowledge, I use it not to tell my potential client what I think she needs, but to frame my questions in a way that helps her get directly to the point.  I don't know anyone who has the patience to explain what is easily attainable through a little background work, but I have met lots of people who have shown me the professional courtesy of sharing information in answer to a genuine query about their unstated needs.

Cold calling is not dead.  It's an introduction that can be nurtured at networking events, trade shows, conventions and monthly meetings of our Association.  At it's best it isn't a cold call at all, it's a follow up to a conversation we've started elsewhere.  It's a live connection to a mutual interest perhaps, or a common goal.

If we determine we're not a good match, isn't it better for both parties to have had the conversation?  Neither of us wants to do business if it's just going to end in anything less than success.

A thoughtful and professionally delivered telephone call is far from a nagging annoyance in a busy person's day; it may just be the right information (for both parties) at exactly the right time and it can lead to a satisfying and profitable relationship.

So, for all those salespeople who believe cold calling is dead, you just keep on believing it.  That just frees the phone lines up for those of us who don't.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Flux Capacitor...Fluxing!

It's official, says the L.A. Times.  Time Machines Won't Work.

That's good news and bad.  Frankly, if time travel was ever going to be possible we'd already know about it.  So now that it's been proven that the photon cannot travel faster than light, we can get on with our linear day.  Here's some good (and bad) news as a result of time travel being put to rest.

1.  I'm thankful this discovery wasn't made 20 years ago, or every other episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation could never have been filmed.  All they ever did was travel through time.

2.  What we do today matters today and going forward.  We can't undo the past, so once we've atoned for it, let's move on, shall we?  Step away from the time machine.

3.  We can't come back and fix today - so doesn't it make sense to give it our all right now?  Play full out, go the extra mile, stiff upper lip and all that...  Choose your cliche.  Pedal to the metal.  You won't get another chance.  Don't wait, do it now.

4.  One day most of what we worry about today won't matter, so let's try and remember that through our sleepless nights.

Your humble scribe stepping away from the Delorean

Friday, 11 November 2011


A few months ago I wrote about my absolute abhorrence of the overuse of the word "hero".  I think it does a great disservice to the individually heroic to label everyone a hero simply on the basis of their vocation alone.

I was taken to task by one reader for that, and understandably so.  It's a tough subject to broach with one who is the parent of a soldier, sailor or airman.  I respectfully stand by my words and humbly present those of another, of a man who knows what he's talking about first hand.

While I write comfortably from my chair, enjoying the freedom to be have an opinion and sometimes be wrong, he writes as one who served our country in West Germany, arriving at the Canadian Air Force base in Baden-Soellingen in 1970 just as my family was leaving, my father having served three years on that same Base.

Read Jock Williams' beautiful remembrance of Captain Paul Rackham, the first casualty to travel in 1973 what is now known as "The Highway of Heroes".

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


I miss the hippies of the sixties.  They didn't trust anyone over thirty.  Under thirty?  Cool.  Over thirty?  You're the man (and that didn't use to be a compliment).  They just wanted to tune in, turn on, and drop out.

It's not like I'm not paying attention, but I don't know what the Occupy movement stands for.  I kind of think I know what they're against. I think.  

When I walk by a tent city filled with the voluntarily homeless occupy hippies, I am filled with sadness at how easy it is for them to put a canvas roof over their unwashed heads, cook on camp-stoves and take bio breaks in portapotties, all on public property.  

Fill that same space with the legitimately poor and homeless, and wait to see how long it would take the police to clear them out.

If the occupiers are serious about building a better society, and I think that's their raison d'etre, then they will begin a peaceful retreat, leaving the tents and stoves in place for the homeless to take their place.

Monday, 7 November 2011

When Willpower isn't Enough

We are several decades into the "believe it, achieve it" delusion in the business world.  Several decades before that I was raised on a little engine that could, by personal willpower alone.  "I think I can, I think I can..." therefore, I will.

It makes for great movies, for mythic success stories, but for some it becomes an anesthetic to the realities of life.  I once worked with a sales person who started each day with a different motivational saying.  She talked herself into joy and optimism every single day.  Trouble was, she spent the rest of the day repeating the mantra de jour, but doing nothing else about it.  Before long she was broke and unemployed, still, presumably with that optimism of certain wealth just around her cheery corner.  She's one of many.

There's a business lesson in all of this, that optimism and self-motivation alone are not enough.  Hard work, continuous growth, reflection, the good sense to ask for help, properly directed sweat equity AND a great attitude are all predictors, but not guarantors of success.  Pithy quotes?  A little, but not so much.

You think you can?  Just do it.

Friday, 4 November 2011

You Guys are Idiots

"You guys are idiots," he said.  "Excuse me?" I answered, a little surprised.

We were a few days away from opening a restaurant in the Eaton Centre in Toronto back in the mid-eighties.  "You invest all this money, you design, you pay all sorts of professionals, you research the market, you pay guys like me to build it" (he was a professional painter), " and then you pay some waiter $4.25 an hour to go to the table and blow it."

He continued.  "One waiter in a bad mood who gives crummy service makes all this investment worthless, and you pay them minimum wage and roll the dice that they won't bankrupt you."  A sobering thought, and I have spent the rest of my career making sure that doesn't happen, either at the minimum wage front line level, or at the managerial level either.

Here's one Room Service attendant who cost herself a tip and cost the hotel my future business.  She didn't do it alone.  When I called the hotel management to let them know about the card that was left in my room, their answer was a matter-of-fact reply, without a hint of an apology, that they were in negotiations with the union and this sort of behaviour was to be expected.

Not by me.  Not by any reasonable person.  Contrary to what my painter friend from the 80s thinks, I'm not an idiot, and I won't be back.  Don't ask me the name of the hotel.  Between their management and the union, they don't need my help putting themselves out of business.