Return to Home

This Land of Strangers - Robert E Hall

This Land of Strangers

"..the most important book of the decade." — Richard Boyatzis, co-author of best seller Primal Leadership

Relationships, in all their varied forms, have been the lifetime study of Robert Hall. He brings a rare combination of experience as a researcher, consultant, writer, teacher and CEO in dealing with the real-world relationship challenges of modern organizations. When coupled with a decade of hands-on experience in the gritty world of inner-city homeless families it translates into a tapestry of vivid stories, well-researched and oft startling facts, and strategic insights that weave together the yet untold narrative of society's gravest risk and most stellar opportunity.

Relational Branding: Welcoming, Informing, Inviting

It takes a lot of money to look this cheap. – Dolly Parton

• • •

You know the drill.  Last Saturday we reached the tipping point for buying my wife a new car.  She had narrowed her choices to a couple of makes/models and so off we went to the daunting land of car dealerships.

As we entered the first dealership we were greeted by a young, exuberant salesperson who welcomed us in.  He was very friendly, nice and not pushy.  However, it went downhill from there.  Nearly everything that happened thereafter helped build a wall and a brand that separated and repelled us.  First, he seemed very inexperienced and was unable to answer some very basic questions about the car.  Second, when we asked about price, he left us and took the infamous retreat over to the dark side to see the man behind the closed door, his sales manager.  When he returned he offered us the sticker price.  We were a little offended because we knew these cars were being discounted.  When I asked for his final and best offer, he went back to the manager – and after waiting for way too long, we motioned to him and asked him to just email us the price.  Over the next three days, we have received a succession of emails each with a lower price.

We entered the second dealership about 45 minutes before closing time.  They were busy but a salesperson who had been headed to his office asked if we had been helped.  When we said no, he invited us over and asked us several questions regarding what we were looking for.  They did not have the model in stock that my wife wanted but he quickly found a demo and a different model to demonstrate features, color and so forth that we wanted.  He was very knowledgeable about the car, features, financing options and the like.  Next, he looked at the cars he had coming in and found a couple that met our requirements.  He then said here is what I will do:  We will give you “x” off list price – I was surprised at the magnitude of the discount.  If you want to claim the car that is coming in, just give me your credit card to make a nominal deposit and I will reserve it.  You can then go have dinner and confirm that this is a deal and car that works for you and call me on Monday to confirm or void the deal.  In 45 minutes we had selected a car, agreed to terms and reserved one that was being shipped. It felt so much more relational to deal with someone empowered to make a decision on the spot.

No wonder that Booz Allen Hamilton reports that 85 percent of a firm’s brand image is determined by the direct interaction between the sales force and target buyers.  Let’s look at three key characteristics of a local team that enhance the brand of the store and the company.

Welcome the customer in:  The first step of relational brand building is to welcome the customer.  While that certainly includes a warm greeting it is much more than that.  Often the greeting is cordial but the environment is off-putting.  For example, at the second dealership, there was an easy and friendly rapport between the sales person and several other sales and service people he interfaced with that made the place feel welcoming.  They exchanged friendly banter and helped each other out in securing keys for the various cars we looked at, touring the service area and making the rounds.  Welcoming is a team sport and it cannot be done well in a detached and cold team environment.  Injecting a sales manager – the stranger behind the closed door — interrupts the rhythm of relationship building and dis-empowers the sales person.  It is made worse when a first offer offends rather than develops the relationship.

Inform the customer regarding what is of interest to them:  Knowledge of the products, inventory and such further reinforces the welcome – signaling that you are at the right place, dealing with the right person.  For businesses such as banks or retail clothiers where recurring visits are common, telling the customer what is new or relevant for them – new products or new service options continues the welcome.  For a prospective customer it means finding out what is of interest to them, like how your product compares to others they are considering so that they get the information they need.   Informing the customer’s interests saves both the parties time and effort and helps extend the welcome.  All of us have chafed at dealing with the newbie where their lack of knowledge and experience costs us time and the enterprise its brand.

Invite them back:  Certainly it is important to actually ask the customer to return.  But if the welcoming and informing do not go well, the words have no meaning.  It is the experience that most meaningfully invites them back (or doesn’t) and causes them to refer others.  The biggest source of “invitation” from the second dealership was how he respected the relationship by navigating us – quickly and with ease – to a fair price.  Pricing is one of the key relationship enabler or disablers.  Set the price too low and you lose money – set it too high and you antagonize people in the same way that bad food repels restaurant customers.  A fair price by an empowered sales person builds the relationship and sends a message of care and respect.

When a competent and empowered sales and service team constructively welcome, inform and invite customers back, it builds the relational brand.  Too many organizations have expended heavily in the costs of locations, stores, and employee teams only to have their processes and behavior actually repel customers.  The question Dolly might ask:  “Do you have any idea how much it costs to look this bad?”


(Column appeared originally in ABA Bank Marketing magazine – April 2012)


Not to be reproduced without written permission. All rights reserved. © Copyright Robert E. Hall 2012

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Article No Comments