October 26, 2007

America’s Bright Future

Filed under: Observations, Leadership, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 11:39 am

I’m in Indianapolis to speak to the national convention of the FFA. Some 50,000 FFA members have converged on the city for competition, recognition, celebration and leadership development.

I served as national president of this organization in 1978-79. For most, this seems like ancient history, but for me the experience impacts my life every day.

My formal education, including my years at The Ohio State University, was important. But the single biggest influence on my current career and whatever success I’ve enjoyed in life I attribute to being a member of FFA.

“Back then” it was Future Farmers of America, but today with so many student members enrolled in agribusiness related areas, it isn’t just about, or even primarily about, becoming a farmer. Hence the name change to FFA. Today, FFA is about preparing for a career in agriculture and the spectrum of diverse opportunities the industry provides.

I have the highest regard for youth organizations of every kind, but even admitting my extreme bias, I believe FFA to be the greatest developer of young people in the U.S. Public speaking, leadership and parliamentary procedure are just some of the life-skills that FFA develops.

You won’t find a more polite group of young people anywhere. They are respectful, ready and anxious to learn, competitive in the best sense of the word and virtuous. They are by and large a group with solid values and old-fashioned but not naive patriotism. There are a few minor exceptions as you’d expect in any group this large, but I assure you that an hour at an FFA national convention would convince you that America’s future is indeed bright if these students are in line to lead the way. Just to be in the same town with them is inspiring, and that isn’t hyperbole.

The FFA motto is: Learning to do. Doing to learn. Earning to live. Living to serve.

I’m looking forward to addressing the group. It is great to be back after so many years. But the reason I wrote this post is to encourage you. The theme of the convetion is Blue Coats, Bright Futures (the FFA jacket being blue and gold). You know what? The convention theme goes beyond FFA members to our future as a nation. Today’s FFA members will help ensure a bright future not just for themselves, but for all of use who benefit from what they’ve learned.

God bless America, and God bless FFA.

October 22, 2007

Sanborn’s Axiom

Filed under: Observations, Selling — Mark Sanborn @ 10:26 pm

“Those who pay you the least demand the most.”

The corollary: “Those who pay you the most treat you the best.”

I can’t explain it. I’m not sure why this is, but in the rare instances when I’ve granted a client special dispensation on a fee it has come back to haunt me. In most of those situations the client showed the least amount of appreciation althought they demanded more than normal clients. Yes, there are times when it makes sense to charge less than normal: to extend a personal favor, introduce your product or service to a new market or simply because you want to help the individual or organization asking for a reduced price.

Strangely, you open yourself to an odd entitlement mentality. If we get what we pay for, maybe we also value most what we pay the most for. Does getting a reduced price make the customer think themselves clever in the arrangement they’ve struck, and therefore superior? Does it tilt the balance of power in the transaction in their favor?

I can only speculate because I honestly don’t know.

This is also most interesting: the clients who have stretched to pay a price or fee have been wonderful. They have invested in the results and have been most grateful for what they received for their investment.

Be leery of accepting less than you deserve or not charging what you’re worth.

It Is About Time

Filed under: Observations, Customer Service Strategy — Mark Sanborn @ 12:18 pm

Wellpoint has teamed with Zagat to evaluate doctors in its system. They won’t be evaluated on cost or expertise (makes sense) but on trust, availability, communication and office environment (what patients do understand and can assess). The evaluation is based on a 30 point scale.

The old management saw is “measure what you treasure.” Customers/patients have always valued a doctor’s expertise, but have never wanted to sacrifice basic courtesy and service to attain it. Unfortunately that has often been the trade-off.

Good for Wellpoint. When it comes to measuring what customers/patients understand and value, it is about time.

October 20, 2007


Filed under: Customer Service Strategy — Mark Sanborn @ 10:33 am

This past week my client got me a great 1500 square foot suite at the Venetian, one of my favorite Vegas hotels. The room was great and the service was excellent until…

…I needed to dry my hair. I searched ever drawer, crook and cranny. No blow dryer. Called the guest service line and they told me where to look and the hair dryer still wasn’t there. I asked for a dryer to be sent up asap–vanity of vanities–while I could still style my hair. They said no problem.

Fifteen minutes later my hair was bone dry when the guy knocked on the door with the blow dryer. Too late.

This minor inconvenience is what I call a customer service spoiler. You can get the big stuff right and still lose the battle on the little things, like missing blow dryers.

Are there any spoilers in your business?

October 13, 2007

Votes for Sale

Filed under: Observations, Politics — Mark Sanborn @ 9:38 am

Hillary Clinton and the democrats in general opposed privitization of social security because they were afraid Americans couldn’t manage their own retirement accounts.

But that was before Hillary officially started running for president.

Now she proposes that anyone who makes less than $100,000 a year should be given $1,000 by Uncle Sam. For what purpose? To invest in his or her retirement.

A week or two before she was advocating $5,000 for each baby that was born.

Who pays for it all? Taxpayers, of course. Uncle Sam, as you already know, is us.

And in another twist of irony, Hillary suddenly seems big on government spending after criticizing the Bush administration for spending too much.

Lest you think me close-minded, there are some merits to her ideas. Overall, I don’t agree with her suggested gifting program, but that isn’t my primary point.

The point is about political expediency. Yesterday’s opposed issue can quickly become today’s espoused platform if it serves to drum up votes.

Troubled or Troublesome?

Filed under: Non-titled Leaders, Observations — Mark Sanborn @ 9:32 am

I grew up sixty miles east of Cleveland, and we have a family friend who teaches at the school where Asa Coon shot four others before shooting himself. I head a commentator on CNN make some insightful comments, primary being that we tend to focus on kids that are troublesome, but we need to pay attention to kids that are troubled. By the time they cause serious trouble, it may be too late.

It makes sense to me.

Almost every kid that turns to trouble starts out troubled. By looking only at bad behavior too often we’re addressing the symptom rather than the cause.

Our social services, schools and government can’t possibly identify and help every troubled kid. Here’s a radical idea: maybe if we are citizens and parents did just a little bit more to help troubled kids rather than waiting to condemn troublesome kids, our society would be the better for it.

October 11, 2007

A Gift for a Valued Guest

Filed under: Customer Service Strategy — Mark Sanborn @ 12:44 pm

I recently checked into a famous resort owned by a famous hotel brand. I am in the second highest tier of the guest loyalty program and presented my card at the front desk. After the paperwork was completed, the reception desk employe handed me a bottle of water and said, “We appreciate your business and continued loyalty.”


I like $1.19 bottled water as much as anybody, but that was the token of the hotel’s appreciation for my continued patronage?

If you can’t do it right, don’t do it. That is to say, either offer an ammenity with perceived value commensurate with the customer’s spending, or else offer a simple, sincere thank you. Just don’t be cheap.

October 10, 2007

Don’t Be Afraid of Competitors

Filed under: Customer Service Strategy — Mark Sanborn @ 12:16 pm

In the current issue of Harvard Business Review, Jeff Bezos of Amazon says he tells his team not to be afraid of competitors.

Be afraid of customers. Your competitors will never send you money, but your customers will.

His point is well taken. Be aware of competitors, but don’t focus on them. Focus on making customers happy, and keeping them that way.

October 9, 2007

Too Much of a Good Thing

Filed under: Observations — Mark Sanborn @ 10:58 am

I caught a snippet of a radio interview with a famous musician. Unfortunately I never got his name, but he said something interesting (and I paraphrase): Music used to be something special. It wasn’t everywhere all the time. Now people listen to every kind of music all the time. Maybe all this accessibiliy has hurt rather than helped. It may not be necessary to do your gardening to music.

Accessibility and abundance can become too much of a good thing. That which surrounds us we tend to take for granted. I am amazed at how often I forget to notice the Rocky Mountains as I’m driving to work.

Too much luxury is drudgery (as evidenced by some very rich but bored and forlorn people). Too much music might well become static, and too much free time might become the busyness of doing nothing significant.

Too much of a good thing is an old notion but we continue to find ways to reinvent it’s application.

October 5, 2007

Blue Sky List

Filed under: Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 12:37 pm

On a recent long flight, with plenty of time to think, I started what I call a blue sky list. It is a list of all the places I’d like to go, things I’d like to do and projects I’d like to complete if there were no limits to my time or money. A few of the things on my list are far fetched, but some are just desires and dreams I’d lost track of. Out of sight, out of mind. Making such a list can be both interesting and inspiring. And the list can also be a first step to making big aspirations a reality.

What’s on your blue sky list?

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