Admittedly, I am a Do-Gooder. Even my Twitter profile reads, “My goal in life is to be a swizzle stick, stirring up good in people. I want written on my tombstone: He loved well and helped a lot of people feed the hungry.”
However, I’ve had the good fortune to spend the last eight years being mentored by a world class businessman, Floyd Hammer, whose number one rule in business is, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” No matter what business it is, the financial transaction between a business and their customer is the foundation for success. You can have the best product in the world, but, if no one buys it, you will fail.
Floyd grew up in small, rural town in Iowa and learned the value of hard work from his father who was a businessman. Any good business owner is first an entrepreneur at heart and those values of taking the risks and being rewarded for it are baked into their DNA. They can’t help but figure out a way to make money with a product or service.
He went to college to get a teaching degree and, soon after completion of not one, but two degrees, began his teaching career. However, he quickly discovered this valuable lesson:
Entrepreneurs do not make good bureaucrats.
He left his teaching career and joined the J.B. Clay Implement Company. Clay began his business in the late by selling farm gates and implements out of a wagon that he hauled around in rural Iowa. During Floyd’s time with J.B. Clay, he learned Clay’s business principles that has guided him through a staggeringly successful career both in the for-profit business world and the nonprofit business world. And, yes, the nonprofit world is a business world is a business : it is the third leading business in the U.S. trailing only behind the military and banking.
Floyd is used to selling a product. He, and his wife, Kathy, started the first plastics recycling plant in America then owned them all over the world.
However, I came from the nonprofit world where, in essence, I sold causes, ideas and visions to people. Having been a minister for 20 years and growing a successful church, I understood that I had to create a sense of value in our church and its mission for people to be willing to donate disposable income. Although I was unfamiliar with selling tangible products, I have learned in the eight years since then that in both worlds, nothing happens until someone sells something and that the process is the same.
Therefore, when I joined The Outreach Program, a 501c3 nonprofit, I must confess I was a bit surprised to repeatedly here this phrase: “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”
Wait. What? I was accustomed to appeals to a higher mission and calling about doing good, saving the world, feeding the hungry, or whatever noble cause most nonprofits are based on. Yet, the simple fact that nothing transpires in any kind of for profit or nonprofit business without a willing exchange of money makes perfect sense.
Whereas the most important roles in most nonprofits are development directors and grant writers, the most important role in The Outreach Program is sales. And as Floyd and Kathy both remind all of us, we are all salespeople, not just the Sales Manager. From the person who answers the phone the first time to the warehouse manager, each person in the organization understands they all have a role in selling our services and products to customers. That’s what keeps the lights on; everyone is a salesperson.
Recently, I had an experience of entering a business whose employees did NOT understand the importance of selling. Here’s the letter I wrote to the owner:
“Dear Mr. Store Owner,
I thought it fair to let you know your salespeople lost your company several thousand dollars today in a sale I had full intention of making because you are a local business and I’ve done business with you before. I write this not to complain; I’ve already spent the money somewhere else that I had allocated for your store. However, I write this so you can train your salespeople better. They are the front line of your brand and product and need to understand how critical custom relations are to keeping their jobs.
Upon entering your small store, there were no other customers. As you know, the two salespeople sitting behind the counter fixated on their computer screens could easily see, and hear, me enter. No part of your store is without line of sight to a customer browsing your products. Granted, my blue jeans, work boots and sawdust covered flannel shirt might not represent your normal customer, but the green in my pocket spends the same. They never said a word.
Since I am in sales myself, I was quite fascinated with how deftly they ignored me, which was not easy to do. I purposely walked down along the counter and neither of young man or the young woman bothered to look up, and over, their computer screens to acknowledge me. Since I have spent thousands of dollars with your store through the years and know the store layout, I gravitated towards the service counter. Bounding out of the tech department, a young lady asked if anyone had waited on me.
“No,” I responded. “I’ve been looking around but you’re the first person to talk to me.”
The look of dismay in her eyes as she furtively glanced at the salespeople spoke volumes. She blushed; it was too late for a sale, but she did her best and I thanked her. I went down the street to a big box store and spent my money with jovial, interested, salespeople who asked me for my name, then repeated it to me when they talked. I can’t tell you how much I don’t like buying from a box store, but I also will only spend my money with people who understand, and appreciate, that my purchase provides their income.
Again, I wrote this as a tutorial for you to share with your frontline sales people so the next blue collar guy that walks into the store will be greeted with a friendly smile and a warm welcome.”
I received a nice apologetic note from the store owner with assurance it would never happen again. On that same day, his company advertised for a new Director of Sales. Culture starts at the top.
I wonder what the reaction would have been in that store towards me if they were taught that nothing happens until someone sells something?
If I had a do-over as a parent, I would instruct my children to learn how to sell first before going to college or entering business. Great sales eople will tell you they can sell anything, that it’s a process learned. Three of my sons are now salespeople and doing quite well at it. And you know what? They don’t get downsized in tough times. They are the ones bringing in the money to keep the company thriving.
This first lesson from Floyd is one of many that the Businessman taught this Do-Gooder.
Stay tuned for more lessons of, What a Nonprofit Do-Gooder Learned from a For Profit Businessman.