All Business is Show Business

"Little things", he said. "That's how people make up their minds about you and about your business. Little things." "So, how do you fix that?"

All Business is Show Business
Capital Thinking | All Business is Show Business

Everyday people judge you and your business. Most often, they make decisions about whether or not to do business with you in a matter of minutes; sometimes only seconds.

What causes someone to move from eager buyer/prospect/client to complete disinterest or outright hostility?

Sometimes, it can be the tiniest things. Things so small, so insignificant, or so irrelevant (in our opinion, of course) that we ignore them.

Sure, I can hear you saying, "But that's never been a problem for me. In fact, I've never come across a situation like that."

OK, then.

Here's a story for you.

Phil had recently formed a highly successful investment group in London. Searching for yet another project and flush with cash, he and his partner decided to get much more involved in the property business. Specifically, building investment grade apartment buildings.

Not just any apartment buildings, luxurious, upscale units that would easily outclass any possible competition. They lined up bankers and investors and went on the hunt.

But first, they needed a builder - and not just any builder, but one who shared their vision to provide extravagant living to people who could afford and appreciate it.

And so, the the search begins.

Finally, after weeks of interviews, they come to an agreement on a firm who's reputation for excellence far exceeded any other.

Asked what his secret was the builder responded with "Detail, detail, detail."

A closing date was set. Money wiring instructions were checked and double-checked.

And finally, the parties met at the builder's high-rise office to close what would soon be the largest deal of his career to date: 300 luxury apartment units to be built over a three year time-period.

Reading over the lengthy, multi-page contract one last time, Phil reaches for his pen.

His pen is missing. He remembers changing into his newest sport coat just before leaving for work this morning. He must have left his pen in his pocket. At home.

No problem. The builder happily offers a pen from his desk drawer. Phil reaches for it, glances back at the contract, and then hesitates.

The end of the pen is chewed. Not just a little, a lot. In fact, it looks like somebody tried to make a meal out of the top of it.

As Phil glances once more at the contract, he can hear the builder's words echoing in his ears "Detail, detail, detail."


Phil decides to ask for a couple of more days to review the contract.

Two days later, the world-wide financial crisis is underway.

Did I mention this happened in 2008?

Phil would have been in a much different situation had he signed that contract to build and pay for 300 luxury apartment units.

Little things indeed. A much-chewed pen cost the builder millions of dollars in business.

Now, some of you are thinking that was just too petty. Phil too impulsive.

Maybe, maybe not.

Read on.

Capital Thinking • Issue #15 • View online

Years ago, I had a friend who owned a very successful restaurant. It was "the" place to go for a night out. It was chic, upscale, had a wonderful, warm and cozy ambiance - not to mention a highly trained chef . Best of all, the food was great.

It was perfect... if you could get in.

However, as time passed his restaurant began to lose some of its luster. Customer service was still OK, the food was great, but overall the place just seemed a bit worn down and worn out.

Finally, after fifteen years in business - quite a spell for an independent restaurant - it closed quietly one Sunday evening. No parties, no celebrations, no fanfare.

One day it was open for business and the next, it was closed.

When I asked someone in the "biz" what happened, he said that the owner and staff had become "back door" people.

I laughed and asked what he meant by that.

He said it was his Dad's expression. When he was growing up, he traveled with his Dad on the weekends. His Dad was both a food salesman as well as a smart businessman so he was always trying to pick up good ideas to use himself.

So what about this "back door" thing, I asked again.

"OK, here's the deal."

"If you notice, many businesses have a designated parking area for their employees. Sometimes it's marked as such and sometimes it's not, but it's usually there just the same."

"So"? I asked.

"Well, most employees come to work through the back door; not the front. And they leave the same way - through the back door. They gather to smoke or gossip near the back door.

They forget that customers walk in the front; not the back. Trust me, the view - as well as the viewpoint - could not be more different.

Too often, employees focus on "getting ready" while customers are deciding whether or not you deserve their business. You rush to open the door at exactly 9 am, but the first thing your client notices is that you haven't carried out yesterday's trash. You may run from desk to desk making sure all the computers are turned on, but all they see are papers scattered about and layers of dust and fingerprints on the computer equipment."

"That's not exactly fair, is it?" I asked.

"No. But that's the way it is."

"We judge a restaurant's cleanliness by the bathrooms and not by its kitchen. We value a doctor's great bedside manner - meaning he listens to us - as much or more than his skill and expertise. We trust a bank that has shiny marble floors and smiling tellers but not a bank that can't ever seem to get our name right."

"Little things", he said. "That's how people make up their minds about you and about your business. Little things."

"So, how do you fix that?"

"First, you have to begin looking at your business from the viewpoint of the customer - through the front door. Check it out like you would a nice hotel room suite. Clean and neat? Everything in its place? Comfortable and inviting?"

"That's too easy."

"No, it's simple. But it's not easy. Definitely not easy. It requires you to think like a customer and that's something all too few people do."

After my friend left, I thought that I'd heard something like this before. Looking though my books at home, I came across one written years ago by an airline executive.

He was put in charge of an airline while the owner (a national government) decided whether or not to shut it down for good. It was losing money, market share, and the confidence of both investors and customers alike.

Despite all this, the executive was able to turn the airline around in a remarkably short time and he was soon in great demand as a speaker and author.

A reporter sent to interview him was surprised to find him not in his office, but instead on the ground in one of his planes. He wasn't holding a meeting or getting ready to fly somewhere. Instead, he was working on the plane along side the crew members, picking up trash from under the seats; getting the plane ready for the next flight.

"Why spend your time doing this?"

"Passengers judge the quality of our engine maintenance from the appearance of our flight-cabins. Crews like the fact that I work as hard as they do and they realize that I take this job seriously when they see me picking up trash. It reminds them that the success of this airline is everyone's business. And it makes a point".

"What point?"

"That all business is show business."

*Featured post photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

*Originally posted in Capital Thinking OCTOBER 22, 2011