By Alan Minton, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cornerstone Information Systems

I just got back from a quick trip to NYC with some colleagues to make a sales pitch. We worked hard conducting research and practicing our presentation, yet it was what I learned en route that might have the most lasting impact on my business.

I am a big reader on planes and I love all types of books. I was reading a book by Andy Stanley on his method for building a church in Atlanta. It is an excellent business tome, and there are two key points that every successful entrepreneur can apply.

  • 1. The sermon begins in the parking lot. The basic premise is that everything you do prior to the customer’s successful use of your product is important. Andy instructs his staff to make sure that the parking lot is clean, that greeters welcome people as they enter the building, that schoolteachers introduce themselves to parents, and that ushers make sure a comfortable seat is available before the service starts. In short, make sure every experience is positive and valuable. We can all do that at our business. No interaction with the customer is small and everyone has an opportunity to communicate value and make a lasting impression.
  • 2. Abhor policy, Adore guidelines. (This is a liberal paraphrase.) The point is to provide your staff direction and general guidelines and then allow their creativity, ingenuity, and passion take over. All too often in a misguided attempt at leadership we provide too much direction, and we miss opportunities for differentiation. Enable your best and brightest to be excellent.

After a bit of a delay in LaGuardia (someone broke the plane), I had the benefit of sitting next to a leadership trainer with the Defense Intelligence Agency. We had an enjoyable conversation and two things really jumped out at me.

  • 3. Stop reacting, start responding. Frequently when a question is asked we get defensive and start answering the question by identifying how the current situation is not our fault. The end result is that we wind up spending more time covering our rear end than engaging in a meaningful conversation that drives toward an outcome.
  • 4. Stop answering the question and start solving the problem. This is a close cousin to the preceding lesson. Many times businesses value the issuance of a prescription greater than a proper diagnosis. This works only as long as what ails the customer can be solved by a single generic cure. To properly deliver value it is important to invest time up front in understanding the problem so that a proper solution can be prescribed. The long-term payout justifies the short-term expense.

After I landed and was driving home I reflected on the benefits of the trip. Good quality time spent with colleagues, a solid sales opportunity that we can deliver upon, and some unexpected education delivered at 35,000 feet. Not a bad day. Business travel is pretty cool.