Sep 18, 2008

Honesty in sales

Yesterday my wife stopped to gas up the car at a local hardware chain. As she was waiting for the tank to fill, watching the numbers go by faster than the price of a barrel dictates, she was accosted by a woman flashing a large smile, and the conversation sounded like this:

"Madam, today is your lucky day. We are going to give you a $10 coupon which you may apply to your next gas purchase. Isn't that great?"

"Yes it is, thank you."

"Great, all I need is a bit of information to be able to send you the coupon by mail. What is your name? Address? How many children? How much money do you make? When did you get married?"

At which point my wife, spotting a logo at the bottom of the woman's notepad, interrupted to ask: "Are you registering me for a credit card?"

"Yes, I am. So if you'll give me this information I can..."

"I'm not interested," my wife firmly replied.

"What?" was the incredulous answer, "you don't want $10?"

"Sure, I'll take the $10 but I don't want the credit card. Besides, I don't live around here so this won't be of any use to me."

"Ma'am, I'm sure there is a store close to you. Where do you live?"

My wife was flabbergasted. As the woman walked away, she watched her attitude as she coached a younger salesperson doing a similar job. This woman's approach was highly aggressive and she had a derogatory attitude toward anyone who didn't want to buy her credit card.

There are several things wrong with this scenario. Number one: are these people reading the news at all? We have a phenomenal financial crisis on our hands and a lot of it is due to the high level of indebtedness of the general population. Regardless, they are aggressively pushing people to add more debt to what they already have.

Number two: the woman's approach was deceitful. Under the guise of wanting to give a gift, she was only interested in selling a credit card. If my wife had not asked, I am not sure she would have told her what was happening. This lack of honesty is the main reason people dislike salespeople.

Selling is about relationships. If you don't like a person, you will not buy from him or her. Furthermore, a bad salesperson tarnishes your image and it makes people not want to return and give you their business.

When people have bad experiences, they will talk about it much more than if they have a good experience. I would not have heard about this incident if it had not bothered my wife enough for her to tell me about it. And I suspect she will tell other people around her also.

I won't say the name of the company at fault because I don't know if the problem is a bad salesperson, an unscrupulous third-party credit card company, or if it is the company itself.

All I know is that they left a bitter taste in my wife's mouth, and that's never a good thing in business.

Sep 14, 2008

High price of gas fuels debate over telecommuting

With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, who wouldn't want to join the growing number of U.S. employees whose route to work is just a few short strides from the bedroom to a home-based office? You can read more here:

High price of gas fuels debate over telecommuting

Sep 12, 2008

Eliminating spam through education

How often do you receive messages from friends or colleagues warning you of a latest health scare, a child that was recently abducted, or an offer from Microsoft to send you $128,443 if you forward your email to 15932 of your closest friends? Most of these messages (not all of them) are fakes that are easily verifiable with a quick Internet search.

I used to get a few of them per week from people I know, but it has dwindled a lot over time. I figure it's either because people don't like me anymore, or because my approach to dealing with such messages has helped them send fewer of them. Of course, I like to think that it's the latter!

If you get a lot of these messages, I invite you to try and educate the people who send them. Reply to the sender and let him/her know that you have found it to be a hoax. It's a simple three step process:
  1. Search for the most meaningful terms in the message. For example "microwave causes cancer". If there is specific information in the message, use that as it will give you a more precise result, for example "John Hopkins Hospital microwave cancer." You can also search on known hoax-debunking sites such as or
  2. Follow the first few links from the search page to find which ones are interesting.
  3. Send the links to the original sender, with an invitation to send them to the people who received the original  message.
Maybe if we can stem the tide of these useless messages, it can help take care of the email clutter we face every day.

Sep 6, 2008

Delivering a motivational speech, political style

Have you seen Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican convention? This was a great speech, whether you agree with the GOP's political agenda or not.

Why was it so great?
  • She was engaging: she smiled during the entire speech. Her smile seemed genuine and like it or not , a genuine smile is always more appealing than a sourpuss face. Too many political candidates forget to smile when they speak to their constituency. You can learn how to do so, but it always comes off better if you don't have to fake it. Palin seemed to thoroughly enjoy her moment in the sun, and it showed. If you want people to enjoy your speech, you need to enjoy delivering it also.
  • She made it personal: most of her stories were personal. This is a hallmark of this year's political campaign: all candidates and their running mates focus on personal stories whether it be Palin's dealings with the old guard in Alaska, McCain's days as a political prisoner, or Obama's rise to become the first black presidential candidate. It is easier to identify with someone when that person opens up and lets us know how they are very similar to us.
  • She made it about the audience: she identified the most important issues for the people in the room and addressed those, while skimming over the others. It is a fact that most voters don't really care about what happens outside of their country: it's what happens close to home that is important. In this type of setting, discussing foreign policy is a waste of time, except when your sons or daughters are serving overseas in a war-torn nation. For most Americans, foreign policy is not very meaningful unless it helps get their sons and daughters home safely, and soon. Palin stuck to themes that are important locally.
  • She showed grace and fury: one way to deliver a speech with impact is to include contrasting elements. She did so by using fierce words and tone of voice when talking about her political opponents ("What is the difference between hockey moms and a pit bull? Lipstick!") but using a decidedly more nurturing tone when speaking about children with special needs.
  • Few facts, much emotion: if you are looking for policy statements and programs in Palin's speech, you will find it lacking. But what she lacked in content, she more than made up for with flare. She brought the crowd on an emotional roller coaster ride for close to 45 minutes, and they loved it!
I don't fancy myself a seasoned political analyst by any stretch of the imagination. However, if the GOP wins the vote in November, Palin's performance last Wednesday night will no doubt be seen as a cornerstone of that victory.

You can see Sarah Palin's speech here: Vice Presidential Candidate Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) Full Speech at the RNC

Sep 1, 2008

Standing in the eye of the storm

Last week, I was discussing the Maple Leaf situation with some of my colleagues. Many of them disagreed with the approach taken by Maple Leaf to handle the current situation. Their perspective was that it was better to send a PR representative instead of the president. The reasoning was as follows: if things get worse, who do you send to the front lines then?

I disagree: Maple Leaf did the right thing and I wish more companies would follow their lead. When your company is facing a critical issue, one that could potentially spell the end, you don't send a mouthpiece to do the dirty work: you do it yourself. And you do it often.

Sending a representative for such important issues gives the following message: This isn't important enough for the president to be involved. For Pete's sake, people are dying here! If there is any time to send your president to face the storm, this is it!

This weekend, Maple Leaf put another full ad in the paper where president McCain (wow, that's a funny thing to say in September 2008) explained what steps are being taken to resolve the problem. Once again, he is reassuring their customers that all precautions are being taken fix the current problem and to prevent something like this from happening again.

Mr. McCain has done a lot of things right during the crisis:
  • he apologized and admitted guilt;
  • he has not tried to lay blame on anyone but himself and his company. Specifically, he hasn't tried to blame the current inspection process in Canada;
  • he has taken precautions beyond the minimal requirements to help resolve the issue;
  • he has communicated often to keep people aware of what is going on, and he is explaining and describing the progress and process.
Many companies can learn from Maple Leaf's stance: when things go wrong, if you are in a leadership position then you need to maintain that position throughout difficult times. You can't just hide and hope it goes away; you can't stop talking and expect people around you to fill in the blanks. You need to take responsibility, keep communication channels open, and take concrete steps to resolve the issue.

This works in business when dealing with clients or when dealing with employees. And by the way, it also works at home with your loved ones!