Have you noticed how, once in every great while, you have a truly transforming experience? I had one, one Thursday in Atlanta. I was speaking with a Vistage Group and found a unique blend of unusually alert, affluent, successful, engaged CEO’ had been gathered to discuss Nurturing Customer Relationships with me.
I have been honored to be invited to engage with hundreds of TEC/VISTAGE groups worldwide over the past nearly 22 years and my regular routine was to arrive early, present, enjoy lunch with group when invited, then head for the airport and on to the next assignment.
I spend a lot of time working on ways to visually dimensionalize the actual concept of Nurturing Customer Relationships and responding to questions or comments raised. This time it was different.
A member asked a seemingly innocent opening question; “Why Nurture”, Jim? His tone alone demanded a spontaneous and immediate answer so here’s what came out of my mouth.
“I believe, dramatic pause for emphasis, that,….. fundamentally,………Love is stronger than Fear! Now, I am not a naïve person. I am a marketing researcher at heart. I want to know why people do what they do avoiding mythology wherever detected.
With the Vistage relationship and the numerous subsequent invitations from Chairpersons, worldwide, to speak on Nurture, I have had the rare opportunity to deeply listen to CEO’s tell me their strategies for success.
Many were brilliant in thought as well as in execution and rewarding to all involved.
Some naturally thought of their business as simply a machine that makes money and never gives a thought to the challenges faced by the buyer and ignores the possibility of any kind of relationship other than a courteous problem/service, often automated process.
But some really got it. Let me explain. A tall, ruddy man of about 50 stood up during the opening ‘Significant Events’ report-in to the group session and a quick way to get caught up with a lot of people with only one saying.
He looked me straight in the eye and said kindly, “You changed my life that day, whether you realize it or not”.
I, dumbfounded, denied his sweet claim by glibly saying that only he had the power to truly change his life. But he persisted in rebutting my offhand disclaimer. “If you could see my bottom line since I began nurturing, like you said, to my figures in prior years, you’d think differently”!
He said. “I vividly remember the day you first came to the group, about five years ago, I sat there listening and right away I was thoroughly convinced you were full of Kentucky Bull S*** and began from the very start to mentally rebut and write down every point you made. I really thought you were some liberal, feel good, evangelist, Yankee, out to change the world and went home huffing about the crackpot I had listened to for half a day.
He went on to describe the conflict he was having with the ‘customers/employees as ‘plants’ in his garden. And even occasionally pondering his whole business as his personal garden or farm. It really disturbed him. He had always run things his way.
Quickly rejected. Too much work!
And went on to tell them/me how one day out fishing he began thinking about sales in a different way. He began to evaluate the profit potential that lay in the prospecting side of sales. He said he instinctively knew that random and frequently avoided entirely, cold calls were the failing factor in his ‘farm’ and he was losing money in his harvest because of it and it was probably unchangeable by his existing selling process.
He started gently by explaining to the sales team how he knew of the daily pressure on them to close deals and constantly raise revenue and how hard it was to constantly stay in touch with identified but slow adopting prospects in their day-timers
Being an engineer himself, he said he immediately bought a sales CRM solution, and personally took control of his ‘prospect garden’ or his future, as he put it. He had a willing assistant carefully and quietly, scrub and enter each customer and prospect into his database. He sought advice from a plethora of marketing firms to create campaigns for the purpose of staying in touch, educating and cultivating both until they needed a sales person to begin paying serious attention to them. Always on behalf of the individual sales rep, each letter to be personally, hand-signed.
He told them how he designed his process to cause each step of the follow up process to be produced by admins and given to the reps to finally approve and sign. He found little resistance to his idea and plan for what for him was a major shift in revenue production management. He said that almost immediately, fresh opportunities began appearing, reminding him of the first shoots that begin to appear as a sown field begins to sprout.
Always a skeptic with his analytical approach to business he quietly waited and fed his garden as planned to see whether or not this was just a seasonal anomaly. He watched quietly for a year as the real comparative statistics began to show. He especially wanted to see if this addition to his arsenal was influencing sales turnover as well as revenue stimulus.
He said in his first year he had his first non sales-turnover year in his firm’s history. He was quoting sales revenue growth that astonished even him. And quoted conversations his now enthusiastic team that reported having had with customers about their appreciation for the patient, faithful, always helpful touches as the mailings accumulated. He said that one new customer stated that his personal filter on source-selection was by watching how sellers stayed in touch during his ‘buying-process’. Helpfully and always appropriately?
Or, “ready yet” occasional, fishing voice nails. He said he felt that “How he was sold was an almost perfect prediction on how he would be served” once selected.
I expressed my appreciation for his comments and tried to regain some control of my message.
He persisted by saying that wasn’t what changed his life, that just started the shift. Said he reckoned if feeding was working so well on strangers he wondered what would happen if he started nurturing hic most important crop he thought, his good customers. Said he separated or segmented his customers with simple A B C D classifications to ensure he was always communicating exactly the right messages, to just the right people, at precicely the right time, in the appropriate right media.
He describes connections with customers he hadn’t heard from in years with opportunities that were not even imaginable in years or days gone by.
I attempted once again to start my intended talk but he had more to say and people were making notes like crazy while he was talking and he was telling my story better than I. I graciously thanked him and began my intro when he said I still didn’t get his point and wanted to talk more. A complied and he told the rest of the story.
He said if the sales and customer relationship strategies had impressed them he said that he had just one more story to prove his point.
He described waking up around 3 am while in a strange hotel far from home and he said it hit him like a brick what had wakened him so suddenly. It was a dream he had where he said he saw his life’s most precious crop visualized as plants in his garden and how shocked he was at the withered way they all looked and he said he got it finally. He realized that he was ignoring diamonds.
The group was unusually quite as he became silent and I couldn’t help asking what he did about it.
He said he got up in his PJs and sat at his small hotel desk with his day-timer and working furiously in outlook to scheduled and define an event to remind him about his plan for each person on that date. Events so significant and personal as to last well beyond memory failure for each person in his personal nurture garden: his significant other, his children, grand children, friends, siblings and relatives and he loved. He said he sat up all the rest of the night building his plan to become a natural nurturer; his personal goal, yea.
The meeting shifted radically at his finish. The group was given a break and I had the opportunity to express my appreciation for his very public and very personal endorsement of me. When we reseated the group we took a quick poll of preferences for using the balance of the two hours we had together and the vote was unanimous that we had a facilitated an open discussion of the lessons learned from their member and others. Best presentation I believe have ever facilitated and led.
When attendees ask me why at 73+ I am still making long airplane flights and making Vistage presentations to groups, I tell them a quote of one of my still living heroes, Richard Stephenson, Founder and visionary of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. When asked why, being born with unbelievable wealth, had he devoted his fortune and life to helping people survive Cancer he pointed to a scroll on the wall behind his desk that reads; “I do not believe that God will charge me down for failure to find a miracle in this life and I also believe that if you do discover something that would help other people, you have a moral imperative to find a way to pass it on.”
Since I became scientifically convinced that Nurturing would beat scavenging and aggressive selling tactics. With the velocity of shift and sometimes outright fear we are all experiencing what might happen if we increased the velocity of personal touches, getting clear and identify those most important to your needs and dreams. What if we use this ‘slow’ time to really Individualize the really significant people we must ultimately influence.
Forget database think dossier. Become a sleuth on information about the ones you intend to nurture. Hire an intern with blazing internet search skills for a few hours a week to master search engines and uncover and capture oh so vital insights. Foresight that ensures you will never lack for relevant, laser-on spot content, free, at your finger tips and forever fresh.
So my Vistage member was probably unaware he was starting a transformation that day when he asked, “Why Nurture, Jim? Why Nurture Indeed? It’s really only natural.
Happy Christmas and whatever other holidays you get to celebrate and please involve others in this blog who have a nurturing state of mind to join our tribe and are willing to Nurture fellow nurturers. My intention is to first expose some actual Nurture outcomes and seek and invite and example of transformation you might share.