Too good to be true can still be good

Marlborough 20

When I was young, I remember my Dad telling me that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Wise counsel, indeed, but it sets you up for failure in one particular way: not everything that looks too good to be true is. Its just that its “newness” spooks us because it’s so unfamiliar to our existing frame of reference. I just finished reading David McCullough’s book about the Wright Brothers. Here were two guys who everyone truly thought were bonkers – even AFTER they’d proven all skeptics wrong! There’s just something in human nature that won’t allow us to accept “new” ideas readily.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from a personal business hero, Howard Schultz, the venerated Chairman and CEO of Starbucks. He advised, “Don’t just give people what they ask for. If you offer them something they’re not accustomed to, something so far superior that it takes a while to develop their appreciation for it, you can create a sense of discovery, excitement, and loyalty that will bond them to you forever.” Chairman Schultz was a man of great vision. He created something people didn’t even know they wanted.

All of this brings me to my point which is in order to make great leaps forward in your business, you’ll have to suspend some of your current (and often deeply held) beliefs long enough to entertain new ideas that don’t fit neatly into your up-to-this-point experience. I guess the good news here is since most people won’t do this, it makes success easier for the few of us who will. I have a vivid memory from my early days in sales, working for a wine & spirits wholesaler in Houston, when I first saw a Bell Curve being drawn on the blackboard. I loved the concept immediately- that there were basically three types of people in the world: the few people at the top, the few people at the bottom, and the vast majority of the people right smack in the middle. I have desperately tried to stay out of that middle ever since.

Another favorite quote comes from Timothy Ferris’ book, The 4-Hour Workweek: “Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” Again, super good news for those of us willing to take some risks and blaze new trails. So, if you’re one of the few at the top of the Bell Curve, please read on. Otherwise, please hit “escape” or delete and go back to your comfortable world of business-as-usual so I don’t waste any more of your time. You will certainly never be lonely there.

If you’re still with me, I’d like to ask you a few questions: How good of a job are you doing keeping your existing customers engaged with your brand (and by “customers,” I mean restaurants, fine wine shops, etc)? If one of your products gets a great score in the press or your company is launching a new brand or line extension, do you have a way to quickly and easily let ALL of your existing customers know about it? To what degree are you augmenting your existing sales efforts and investments with technologies like CRM software (Customer Relationship Management), Email Marketing and Key Account Targeting?

Among the many things I’ve learned after 30 years in sales and sales leadership, is the fact that most salespeople confuse activity with achievement. Flying and/or driving from customer to customer and conducting face-to-face meetings, albeit expensive,  will always have value. Always. But guess what?  It is not the only way to sell.  Yet, for hundreds of companies in the wine & spirits industry, it’s still the only way they do it (outside of the burgeoning DTC market). This is 2015. We live in an age of big data and instant accessibility to just about everything. There IS a way to extract serious value from the data and corresponding insights but it requires a willingness to accept new ideas.

What I suggest is keep doing what you’re doing if it’s working for you. But, consider there is something you can do in addition to what you’re currently doing that can dramatically accelerate your sales performance (and at a tiny fraction of the cost). I mean, why not leverage every available sales vehicle instead of just a few of them?

Our industry is very much behind other consumer products industries when it comes to sales automation and leveraging technology. Ironically, our industry (especially the wine business) is far more competitive than any other CPG category. So, the industry that needs it most is also the most reticent to adopt it. I guess it’s because it looks too good to be true.