Why Manage Better?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What can Apple and a Street Vendor teach us about selling Quality?

While trying to answer the question, How to Sell Quality? I looked around me for examples of how other successful sellers sell their wares. Wait, this is not very creative and I have never made any claim whatsoever that I am a creative person. In most cases it is sufficient to learn from what is already being done.

In recent years one of the most successful sellers has been Apple with its range iEverything. What do we learn from Apple? Many things. But, the most fundamental lesson is – have a real good product, which is really well designed and addresses a need that even the customer may not be aware exists.

At the other end of the spectrum are fruit and vegetable vendors down the street who do a marvelous job of selling. They stock their wares in a way that is attractive and remember the specific needs of regular customers. And most such vendors have never gone to school!

So, how do we sell quality? Let’s look at some lessons from Apple and a Street Vendor.

Know who your customer is. Both Apple and a vendor down the street know their customers well. They then design their product and process to attract such customers. Apple realized that the regular retail chains would not be able to position their products appropriately. They created a unique concept of the Apple Store which by footfalls and sales has become the benchmark for all retail chains. When you know your customer you can speak her language. Street vendors do this very well. I have seen so many of them adopt the local language (and there are so many in India) to ensure they connect with customers.

How do we do this for quality? Selling quality to the Leadership requires a good understanding of what will excite the current management. Unless you are the leadership team of Enron, you are likely to be interested in good robust products, short and long term profits, happy employees, and delighted customers. If people selling quality can connect their message to these needs, leadership is likely to listen.

It is futile now to believe that quality is that nice thing to do that should be done because I want it done. Leaders could be least bothered if we can’t connect it to what leaders want done.

Package your product well. Both Apple and the vendor down the street package the product and communication really well. Now, don’t compare. I am not saying you should get your daily fruits wrapped in a box like an iPhone. All I am saying these guys know how to package the overall product and communication around it.

How do we do this for quality? Package your programs and communication. Very often I find quality professionals believing that quality is the right thing to do and anyone not doing, is out of their mind. Learn from the fruit vendor who will even tell his regular customers that he didn’t have good fruits today. He will present his goods attractively, clean each fruit and keep them fresh and watered. Why? He knows all this matters. Most quality professionals don’t.

Deliver on your promises. Apple and the fruit vendor down the lane don’t make too many promises. But they keep all of them. When Apple brings a new version of the iPhone or iPad the promise is that it will be several times better than the earlier one and they won’t settle for anything less than a WOW. Fruit vendors also keep their promise of fresh fruits daily and will deliver to your home if you are a regular customer.

How do we do this for quality? Keep your promises. Big or small. Very often I have seen quality professionals promising the moon with Six Sigma and not even delivering some dust. We all promise reports and then don’t deliver. Many of us live a life of comfort away from the pressures of Operations or Sales. Then why do we bother when we don’t have the same weight in senior management?

Don’t lose sight of the Money! Ram Charan, one of the most influential management consultants around has commented on how smart the roadside vendors are. They deal in cash and turn their money around daily. Apple also always has an eye on money. It doesn’t discount its products much and also keeps prices high till it can. And makes tons of money.

How do we do this for quality? Keep an eye on how much money are you helping make or save. If quality programs cannot help a company make or save hard cash then they are not worth pursuing.  I have earlier proposed a marriage of quality and finance and still feel that such a marriage could help the quality profession flourish. Many CEOs have wondered where is all the Six Sigma saving coming from when none of it shows up on the balance sheet. I have tried, where possible, to collaborate with finance and ensure that any benefits are real and endorsed by finance.

In summary there is a lot to learn about selling quality to leadership from people around us. Quality professionals have to give up our ‘quality is the right thing to do’ attitude and ensure quality makes a traceable difference to profit. Once this happens, no leader will need any selling to be done!

1 comment:

John Hunter said...

Well said. Knowing your customer and explaining to them why quality will help them in the terms they care about it key. Delivering on your promises is part of that as those running organizations don't just want to hear a good story, they want results.