July 4, 2010

Reliving 1991: Kmart, Wal-Mart & My New Blog

I have strong memories from 1991:  Silence of the Lambs freaked me out, George Bush (41) was silencing Sadaam Hussein in my generation’s first exposure to war (viewed on CNN), and I got to attend Super Bowl XXV in Tampa where my beloved NY Giants handed the poor Buffalo Bills the first of four consecutive Super Bowl defeats. I was 23 and living large in my second year of a dream job – Assistant to the Chairman/CEO of Slim-Fast Foods.  The company was growing like mad, filming TV commercials with Tommy Lasorda, NFL coaches and other celebrities, and every week we were criss-crossing the country in our Gulfstream jet calling on the nation’s most important retail accounts. Sure, hanging in the Dodger’s clubhouse, buying the plane and flying in the jump seat were the most fun and ego-feeding parts of the job.  But the biggest benefit and my real-life MBA came from riding shotgun for a couple years alongside the CEO and sitting in on meetings with our key customers and most important suppliers.

Sometime midyear there was a day I won’t ever forget.  Slim-Fast was one of the hottest brands in the country and Grey Advertising was making a fortune loading up the airwaves with new 30-second spots. The VP Sales, CEO and I were headed out to see Kmart, Wal-Mart and a few other biggies. We were announcing a new advertising blitz and rolling out a significant line extension for Ultra Slim-Fast.  First stop: Troy, Michigan, Kmart headquarters.  We met with a few buyers and merchandise managers…older guys wearing thick polyester pants and short-sleeve dress shirts.  They sat with arms crossed and I remember hearing, “we’re not sure, think we’ll take a wait and see approach, we’re uneasy about committing the space. On the limo ride back to airport, Danny the CEO shook his head and said, these guys are dead and they don’t even know it.

Just moments later we were wheels up headed for Bentonville, Arkansas.  As always, Wal-Mart’s lobby was packed with anxious visitors and you could feel the electricity in the air.  We were escorted to the obligatory tiny meeting room and crammed around the table with the young, sharp buyer and his boss.  The contrast in tone and energy to the culture at Kmart was huge and in many ways prophetic.  How can we buy smarter? What if we only had you ship full truckloads? When is your local rep going to dial in to our online system and help optimize the inventory mix?  About these line extensions…we want to be first to market, when can we get these in the stores?  What can you do for us if we commit to the end-cap next month?

What does this story have to do with my sales blog?  Everything.  Up until a few months ago, I was the guy ignoring invitations to connect on LinkedIn and barely using twitter to joke with friends or keep up with the leaders at our fast-moving multi-site church.  For our family spring break trip to San Diego, I picked up Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation. After hearing David Meerman Scott give a fantastic eye-opening talk at a Gazelle’s Summit, Mitch’s book was exactly the wake-up call and how-to book I needed to get rolling.  I had the painful realization that I had become like Kmart, living in the past, not embracing the new, thinking I’d continue to succeed the way I always had. Returning from vacation, I was committed to personally building both my own and my employer’s online brand and bringing value to the community through a social media presence.
Welcome to newsalescoach.com, my blog dedicated to sharing thoughts on sales hunters and the new business development process.  I’ve been inspired by some fantastic sales blogs and my favorite belongs to Anthony Iannarino (www.thesalesblog.com).  Many thanks to Anthony for his writing and encouragement as I’ve prepared to join the ranks of those contributing to the sales conversation in the blogosphere.We all know the trajectory of Kmart and Wal-Mart from 1991 through today.  Something to think about as you ponder your company’s leadership culture, approach to sales and attitude toward social media.

Happy Birthday America and Great Selling to You!