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Ride For Your Brand

March 18th, 2014

A Business Tip from the Cowboy Playbook

James Owens’ book, Cowboy Ethics” (www.cowboyethics.com), points out that cowboys seem to be an undisciplined breed, but for more than a century they have lived by an immutable set of guidelines – the Code of the West. If you want to be a cowboy, you have to live by the Code.

The Code includes “riding for the brand” – in Owens’ terms, “giving allegiance and respect to the brand, where they are deserved and returned.” Owens, a 35-year Wall Street veteran, points out that what’s good for the cowboy is good for Wall Street, and for other industries as well.

I frequently give and get business referrals and I recently saw how Owens’ perspectives apply to business leaders.  A company CEO mentioned one of his service providers to me that could be helpful to my company. He specifically mentioned Jake, a young associate with the provider, and gave me Jake’s contact information. I sent Jake an email mentioning our mutual business contact and requesting a time to discuss my business need.  Jake replied, “I’m really busy, but you can try to call my cell phone if you want.”

Apparently, Jake wasn’t interested in pursuing a warm lead. Did this service provider have enough business already, or was Jake just too busy to care?

The next morning, I received an email from Jake, inviting me to connect on a social networking site.  Part of me admired his outlaw audacity. Here was a guy who was too busy to talk to me about my business. Yet he had time to ask for my connections to people that I trust and respect without showing me the same.

Most business leaders would ignore the invitation to connect and move on by doing business with someone else. Or they’d tell others about their experience, reinforcing a negative perception of the offender’s brand. What if they borrowed from the cowboy playbook? What if business leaders viewed situations like these as opportunities to ride for their own brands?

I sent back the following reply: “Jake, I received your invitation to connect online; thanks very much. I hope you understand that since we haven’t met or spoken yet, I’ll defer acceptance until after we’ve gotten to know one another. If you’d like to do business with me, you’re welcome to give me a call this afternoon.”

That afternoon I got a call, an apology – and great service. Jake gained a customer that he treats with respect; I’ve gained yet another business connection that speaks well of me and my company in the marketplace. Like cowboys who honor the Code and ride for their brands, business leaders need stand up for theirs, even and maybe especially when others don’t.  When you ride for your brand, what might have been rough terrain can become fertile grazing.

What’s Behind Your Sales Pitch?

March 5th, 2014

I recently reconnected with a business acquaintance, the founder and CEO of a successful company, at a networking event. We hadn’t seen each other in a few months and exchanged news on our respective businesses and mutual acquaintances. 

John mentioned that Derek, an inveterate pitchman we both knew, had contacted him. Derek was involved in yet another business and made another pitch to John. “Did you consider it?”  I asked.  John shook his head. “Why not?” 

John stammered something about the services not being a fit for his company, and being too busy. Then he shrugged, palms up, and sighed, “Because there’s no there, there.”

John had articulated a hard truth about the difference between a shallow pitch and a meaningful business dialogue.

This kind of candor doesn’t often surface in casual conversations, and the fact that it did set me to thinking. What does it mean to have there, there?

No there means you’re not here.  If a prospective client, customer or business partner thinks that you have no there, it means they’re not willing to invest the time, energy and ultimately their hard-earned cash to work with you. 

It’s often said that every business relationship involves give and take. I prefer to think of it as an exchange. If your exchange isn’t a blend of substance, character, and space for the prospect’s point of view, there’s no there behind your pitch. And no chance to develop the mutual trust that transforms an exchange into a sale.

Yes, it’s important to craft a short, compelling value proposition and use it skillfully in conversations with prospects, clients and customers. But when a prospect starts to feel like Dorothy wishing for a little dog to pull back the Great Oz’s curtain and reveal the person behind it, perhaps it’s time look behind your pitch for deeper substance. 

Where’s your there?