Brenda Lee sang those very lyrics way back in 1961, and because human nature never changes, neither will their significance.
The other day, a good friend of mine was negotiating to purchase a business from a third party that she had never met, and would likely never deal with again once the transaction went down.
It was for the purchase of a restaurant/coffee shop whose key differentiator was it’s unique location. It was located in the kind of place where people could easily get together, but also the kind of place that would likely never be able to do great volumes of food and coffee due to the fact that it was also an outdoor location.
But towards the very end of the negotiations, my friend (who we’ll call Sally) found another, more interesting location with a far greater volume of business, which was located inside of a fairly prominent building that itself could provide significant revenues. When I asked her how negotiations were going with the first site, she couldn’t seem to wait to tell me about this new opportunity.
“It’s got far greater upside potential,” she said, “plus, the current owner isn’t really out there, selling to the businesses located within the building. So I know I could build this side of the business up.”
She went on to point out other advantages of the second business and eventually I had to stop her and ask the obvious question --- “Sal, if this new place has so much going for it, why are you even going ahead with your negotiations with the first place?”
Some years ago, I was working with a young sales force that had a pretty strong product idea and that I felt could go a long, long way.
It’s not important, now, but the product itself was one of those intangibles that really needed to be demonstrated to be sold.
These guys came up with the idea of holding a traditional sales seminar. They would organize a hotel suite in an office park and invite mostly companies within a mile or two. It was the kind of product that just about any business could use.
It was summer. The kids had just gotten out of school and it was the traditional beginning of the vacation season.
Which was the rub. The leader of this gang of five came to me and said, “We’re going to have to optimize our presentation date. Somehow we’re going to have to find out when the best time might be to conduct the seminar and still obtain the maximum audience.”
I patiently listened to this line of garbage, thinking to myself, “How the hell does anyone ‘optimize’ a vacation schedule?” I mean, who’s to say that one individual is more important than another, and who’s to say that the seminar is a go or no-go based on a collection of individuals like that.
My grandfather (the absolute wisest man I have ever known) used to say to me: a.) Get a mechanic who won’t cheat you, b.) find a plumber who will always show up, regardless of the day or time, c.) marry a woman who is easy-going, and, d.) find an accountant who cares as much about your money as you!
(To his last point --- I have since concluded that, “there is no such person,” but I think I know what grandpa meant anyway.)
The world of business is all about “protecting yourself,” really. And since the number of people with whom you can do a “handshake deal” dwindles each and every year, it is becoming more and more critical that you find people, systems, and (unfortunately) “pieces of paper” that will enable you to sleep more than three hours a night.
Think about a typical day in business. You start out in marketing, where you must copyright and/or trademark your slogans and copy.
Then, you move on to sales, where you have to be sure to have non-compete and non-solicit agreements in place for your salespeople --- thus preventing them from “walking out” with an armful of your customers.
Next, you go into R&D. Where again you need “Intellectual Property Rights” agreements with your engineers and software developers, as well as good old patent and trade secret agreements to protect your products and processes from adoption by others.
Physical Plant? Here, you’re going to need guards, cameras, entry codes, foolproof identification, changeable lock combinations, instant employee updating, and secure perimeters.
Operations? Security in this area means inventory lists, more security cameras, bar codes, materials sign-in/sign out systems, and computer systems and software that can tie everything together.
Finance? These guys need bulletproof “firewalls” --- between and among your accounts payable, accounts receivable, and general ledger people and books. And this is just the beginning. You will also need multi-signature checks, double entry accounting, solid tax advice (no longer a “given”) and (probably most importantly) clear audit trails for all transactions.
Information Systems and Technology? – See “Finance,” above.
And I have only scratched the surface!
The reason I bring all of this up is because I often get asked about something I like to call “piercing the corporate shield.”
The question usually goes along the lines of this: “Even if I incorporate my fledgling business, can I still be liable personally?”
The answer? A resounding, “Yes, you can (be liable).”
It was December 10, 1963. It was also my birthday.
My father, whom had divorced my mother many years earlier, invited me to travel with him on a business trip to New York City. This was odd, since my dad had very little to do with me or my brothers since my parents’ split in the mid 1950’s.
Nonetheless, he took me with him to the Big Apple. It was a trip I’ll never forget.
My dad was a salesman. He worked for Westinghouse Electric, in their major appliance group. Basically, he sold things like refrigerators and stoves. Why he was going to New York City was beyond me. I never asked and he never explained. But it was a very cool trip.
I remember I wore the same sport coat, shirt, and tie the whole time I was there. I also remember walking down Fifth Avenue and just staring at all the skyscrapers. I was in awe at how many tall buildings there were.
I also remember taking our meals at the Automat. For those of you too young to remember, the Automat was a Jetsons-like restaurant. You put your tokens in the machine, and out came everything from lemon meringue pie to a cold turkey sandwich. This is commonplace today, but in 1963 it was pure space-age!
I accompanied my dad on all of his sales calls. Mostly, I would sit in the lobby or reception area while he did his thing. He never debriefed with me, but I could always tell whether or not he got the sale. It was generally written all over his face.
I think we were in New York for three days. It could have been two. All I know is that on the last visit on the last day, dad took me inside the meeting room. I was actually allowed to witness the negotiations between my hero and his customer.
It was at that meeting that two amazing things happened: First, my whole opinion of my father as a businessman changed. I could see that he was quite adroit at his job, as he went about the task of bargaining with these two other guys. But something else also happened in this last meeting --- and that something changed my entire life forever.
The other day, I had to deal with a rather pushy salesperson. She was trying to get me to final-commit to a deal that I had already decided to make, but at that particular point in time I still had not executed the paperwork and signed the check.
I had every intention of doing this deal --- I had already rationalized the payback and I believed that I was making a good investment.
But you know how it is when it’s time to actually pull the dough out of your bank.
As she was pushing me to do these very things, however, I became annoyed. For one thing, I felt like I was being patronized. Further, she had this compulsion to continually let me know how successful she was as a business owner. In time, I really began to personally dislike her. She never got the contract or the check.
Later on, I called the owner of her company (a friend and a great guy) to say that he himself could drop by my office any time he liked to pick these items up, because even while I was sold, I simply was not going to give the sale to her.
He was lucky. Most buyers would not have done this deal.
He commented, “You know, you’re not the first person to tell me how intensely aggressive she is. But on the other hand, my other sales guys have been so weak at closing that I had to bring her on board to at least show them how it’s done.”
I grasped this completely. Because thirty-five years of selling has taught me exactly how difficult it is to cover that “last (sales) yard” … those thirty-six inches between the one and the goal line. How many times do you see an NFL game where the ball gets to the one but no further? You truly need some special individual to force it to pay dirt.
It’s the same with selling. Here are a couple axioms: