'Important' or 'Unimportant' Customer... Is there any difference? Why Making Time For People = Success For Everyone

by Robert Thompson

Ask yourself this... When someone asks you for your email or time for a phone call, perhaps a business acquaintance you met briefly or haven't even met at all, do you give it to them? And do you have time for them?

In a busy world, where everyone is rushing around or concerned with catching the 'big fish' or job titles, it doesn't occur to most people that the big fish were once the small ones (or that the big fish are hiding in plain sight, just not overly-promoting who they are or what they do to see whether you think they're worth the effort - even when you don't immediately realise it! - or if you pre-judge and dismiss them). Sound familiar? We've all been in that situation at one time or another.  

Now, I'm not saying speak to everyone all the time. Let's face it, there's not enough time in the day for that and, yes, a lot do send you spam BUT, and it is a big BUT, there will always be that one person who has the potential to change your career, life or more for the better; or whose life you could make the world of difference to, simply by listening or helping. That's something to remember in all walks of life, not just business. Here's a story from when I was starting out...

2001: Minor League, Major Political Drama & An Uphill Battle (With The 'Little Lady At Home' Saving The Day!)

In 2001, I led a small but scrappy group with an expansion Arena Football 2 team. A minor league team to a minor league sport but with a passionate fan base. We came into a market that already had a very successful AFL team for over 12 years, but who had also relocated immediately after they had won an AFL championship. We arrived the following year, after they had left. Good luck with that one, right?! 

Oh it gets better.  

The welcoming press conference to the market announcing the coach, team name, logo, ticket information, website, and TV and radio ads ready to run was an interesting and horrific day. To put it into perspective... the press conference was at 10am on September 11th, 2001... It was an unbelievable time for us as a country emotioanlly, economically and more. Trying to launch an expansion team that no one wanted was so below anyone's radar. We were all just trying to make sense of what had happened, let alone sell a ticket.  

Soon after, we were told by the league to scrap our team name 'War Birds.' Understandable, but now we had to change the logos, collateral, websites, business cards, everything. And, on top of that, there were only 6 months left until the season started. That said, we never gave up. It wasn't in us so we focused on what we could do to progress, not what we couldn't, and that was key to us succeeding. One of the main advantages was that, whatever happened, we could still sell our revenue lifeline of season tickets as the previous team had been kind enough to leave us a dusty box filled with twelve years of index cards with handwritten information for all of the season ticket holders. Luckily for us, we had somewhere to start and a focus, so we went for it.

Even without a team name, mascot, players or business cards, we set off on a phone-a-thon to get those passionate fans to come back. We practiced our elevator pitch, wrote up scripts and role played for a few days while we prioritized our prospects. Then the big day came to start calling and we were ready. Armed with our sorted index cards, we divided them up between 4 of us and, all fired up, we crowded around my office desk to make that FIRST call to one of the families. They'd consistently brought 6 season tickets from day one of the original team so it was in the bag.    

Phone on speaker, I dialed the first number. 

'Hello! This is Rob Thompson from your brand New Arena Football Team, can I please speak with Sam?' A nice elderly lady replied 'Hello, who is this?' 'I am the General Manager from the new arena football team and calling to say hello, thank you for your continued support and tell you that we would love to have you and your family back to continue enjoying your local arena football team.'  Silence, then crying on the other end. I looked around my tiny office and the look of horror on everyone's faces is still burnt into my memory. 'Hello are you ok?' I asked. 'Sam loved that team. We watched every game together, our kids grew up going to those games' she bellowed. 'That's why I am calling you to let you know that we are back and we have Sam's same seats held for your family.' She started crying again. 'Sam died 2 months ago!' 

The very first cold call - to what we felt like was a lay up sale - led to the discovery that our most loyal fan had past away. Seriously, how much more could our scrappy team take besides Sam was in his 80's?!

'Sam loved going to those games; he waited all year for the season, wore that damn game jersey everywhere. He was crushed when the team left.' I took a deep breath; there  wasn't a text book answer for this one. Looking around the room, I forgot the script and went for it. 'Well then, you should keep his legacy and attendance streak going. Don't you think Sam would want you to keep his streak going?' Silence. I tried again. 'So does that mean you will come back?' 'Call me tomorrow', then she hung up.

We called her that next morning and not only did she buy her original 6 season tickets but she also bought another 6 for her extended family and friends because she loved the idea of the streak and the legacy of Sam. Her and her family turned out to be our favorite and most loyal season ticket holders. They attended every game and event we had over the next few seasons.   

The Moral Of The Story: 
Regardless of the level of the sport or the circumstances that are beyond our control, this business teaches you one huge lesson: it's all about people. The people who work in the business and the people who passionately care about their teams. That emotional attachment is much bigger than the players or the games. It's about creating and sharing memories for and with people, not just money. The sooner one realises that, it's amazing how quickly success follows.

Today, you may not be able to get anyone to pick up the phone and take that cold call we made 17 years ago, but they are out there and waiting for someone to make their day a little brighter.

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