Empathy, Listening, and the Small Business Roller Coaster.

life of an entreprenuer

Very few B2B professionals that I’ve worked with have owned a business.  It matters in that this inexperience may truncate an understanding of the volatility inherent in small business.  As Phil Knight wrote, “For an entrepreneur every day is a crisis.”  That’s an important thing to keep in mind.  It should change the way you sell.  When you ask for a customer’s time you’re asking them to not do something else–and there’s a cost associated with that detraction.  Talk a whole lot less.   Listen for understanding and respect that their agenda (stay alive and grow) may be different from yours (buy my products).  Don’t ask glib questions.  Ask well-prepared questions and take excellent notes.  Follow through like your life depended on it and honor 100% your commitments.  Don’t show up empty-handed to a meeting.  Swag does not a meeting make.  Share provocative content that improves their business in some way.  Be incredibly easy to do business with.  Learn how your customers make money.  Thicken your value by deepening your empathy and improving the quality of your engagement.  Go on the roller coaster ride with them instead of standing on the sidelines.  That may not having anything to do with features, functions, or benefits.  But it will eventually.

In-N-Out Burger Beats Google (and nearly everyone else)


The apotheosis of burger meals.  The double double with fries and a medium drink.  Costs you about seven bucks.  Simple ingredients, simple philosophy: Great food + great people = Great results (total sales in 2016 estimated between 640mm and 700mm).  This year In-n-Out Burger was rated the 4th best place to work in 2018.  Only Facebook, Bain & Co., and Boston Consulting were higher on the list.  It beat Google (who has a regular series of happiness meditations, free food, and insane salaries).  It beat all the heavy-hitters.  The closest fast food competitor on the list is Chick-fil-A which landed at #72.  Here’s the complete list of results:


In-n-Out practices Richard Branson’s philosophy: “Clients do not come first.  Employees come first.  If you take care of your employees they will take care of your clients.”  Here’s how In-n-Out takes care of its employees (and what the service industry can learn):

  1.  Progress.  Build a workforce of managers.  The right type of employees won’t chop onions forever.  In-n-Out looks for and hires people who want to improve personally and professionally.  That means that they’ve had to create and design career paths for their employees.  80% of their managers began at the bottom of their ladder.  Moreover, people are less likely to leave a company if they know there is a path–advancement.  The opportunity to advance is a form of hope.  Hope is fuel.
  2. Compensation.  From the very beginning In-n-Out has always prided itself on taking care of its employees in terms of above-average compensation and job security. In an industry in which a significant number of employees live at the poverty line In-n-Out understands a simple fact: Well compensated employees can pay their bills, save a little, are happier and loyal.  Moreover, progress and compensation are joined at the hip.  In-n-Out managers are reported to earn six figure incomes.
  3. Flexible Scheduling and Benefits.  From day care to co-parenting plans to second jobs, In-n-Out is known as a company that works with employees to find  schedule that accommodates their other demands.  According to Glassdoor this is one of the most appreciated benefits.  They also offer a 401K, profit sharing, paid vacations and free meals.
  4. Organizational Expectations.  In-n-Out clearly defines their dress codes, customer service expectations, food handling, and the enthusiastic customer-centric attitude that has kept the company profitably expanding for over 50 years.  Do them expertly and a person can have a rewarding career with In-n-Out for a very long time.  A set of standards that are relative leaves a company’s brand open for interpretation (and aren’t really standards at all).

You may be reading this and thinking “My company does ALL of those things!”  It’s true that the service industry can offer a nice career to a person.  This is something that we keep a very well hidden secret.  We talk about a shortage of great employees but don’t hold ourselves accountable enough.  In order to make the trades attractive and deliver world-class service we have to start asking ourselves:  Am I hiring people that want a career or am I hiring people who need a job?  Am I building a workforce of managers?  Do my employees understand the performance expectations required to advance?  Am I profitable enough to pay above average wages?  Are there non-traditional benefits that I should be considering?  Are my customer service standards set clearly communicated, modeled, and reinforced or do I tolerate certain deviances?  Does my team know the purpose of my business (the real one, the deep one, the one that isn’t cliched)?

In-n-Out is the 4th best place to work in The United States.  It’s a family company that understands a simple truth: The quality of your Customer service is a reflection of how your employees feel about working for you.  That’s In-n-Out Burger’s secret sauce.


The Ordinary Badass…

I was thinking about Badassery.  Who’s the biggest bad ass I can think of?  Bruce Lee?  Obi Wan Kenobi?  Everyone in KISS?  The list can get pretty long and I guess the reason I was even thinking about it was out of pure fascination with people who live in Full Awesome all the time.  And then I found this article about a Japanese man who IS the most ridiculously super-bad-ass ever…and he’s an ordinary guy.  Hideaki Akaiwa.  The Ordinary Badass.

When the Tsunami off the coast of Japan exploded in 2011 Hideaki was at work.  Learning that his wife of 20 years was missing he switched in to Badass mode:  rather than running or crying or hoping for the best he found a wetsuit and a fanny pack and ran toward the disaster and to find his wife.

By then his home was 10 feet under water.  He swam through a tsunami of debris, people, cars, rubble, glass, metal, garbage.  He swam until he found his home.  His wife was in the home, somehow, breathing whatever scant air was left.  He saved her.  His wife of 20 years.  His true home.  He saved her.  And when she was safe he went back in to the darkness and saved more people: his mother-in-law, strangers, whomever he could find in that nightmare.  His city, Ishinomaki, was gone forever but his badassery helped a few actually live and not be dead.

“I’ve got deadlines”.  “My boss is a jerk.”  “There aren’t enough leads.” “There aren’t enough good leads.”  “Sales are slow.”  “It’s not hot enough.”  “It’s not cold enough.”  “It’s all about PRICE PRICE PRICE!!!”  I hear this crap all the time…  

Suck it up.  That’s right.  Suck it up.  When you’re ready to swim through pitch black water in a borrowed wetsuit to find your home ten feet under water in order to hopefully find your wife alive and breathing air instead of post-tsunami trash and then somehow drag her out of that hellhole and in to the light and pure air and safety and then go back and save more innocent souls because it’s the right thing to do and then accept no praise and no reward and no money and no press and then go back to your life working in a factory…just…suck…it…up.

Hideaki Akaiwa you ARE the super bad ass.  Ordinary men and women in the worst possible situations.  Becoming, at that moment, exceptional.  I aspire to that type of selflessness and admire your humility.  We all should.    

Zen and the Art of Selling

Your imperfections are your strengths. The sale is closing at the beginning. You are your only obstacle. Urgency slows everything down. Repetition leads to freedom. Chameleon’s adapt only to survive. Honesty and humility are impossible to falsify. A sales process must be invisible in order to be effective. Decisions are never made for a stranger