It’s strange how some advertisements find a permanent place in your head; they get so deeply embedded they become virtually impossible to remove.
The events and experiences that trigger those images can be just as strange. Something in an ad finds something in your brain — a past image, event or memory to attach itself to — and the two are inextricably joined forever.
Every time I think of United Airlines, I hear Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” playing in the background while an old United Airlines TV commercial that ends with the CEO of some nameless corporation handing out airline tickets to everyone in his company goes into instant replay.
The ad’s message is simple: Business is a “contact sport.” No matter how impersonal or “transactional” you may think your business is, it isn’t. Not to your customers.
Business is all about relationships, and by definition relationships are personal. They determine whether or not a transaction will take place, but more than that they ultimately determine whether the relationship will continue, and as a consequence, require constant nurturing and attention.
I experienced this on a very personal level when I was visited by the owner and general sales manager of our First Call supplier recently and then had lunch with the owner of what was once a First Call supplier more than a decade ago just a few days later.
The visit from our First Call reinforced the fact that he recognizes that we are an important and integral part of his continued success, important enough to warrant an 80-mile round trip.
Lunch with our former First Call was different, but no less important. It ended almost 20 years of frustration, enmity, misunderstanding and lost sales despite the fact that the events that shattered that relationship never once came up in conversation.
Lunch was long overdue and both of us seemed to realize that almost instinctively. I think we both saw the wisdom in looking forward and not back as well. Besides, as far as I was concerned, after almost 20 years, what caused the “breakup” was nowhere near as significant as the attempt to repair it regardless of how long it took or the sales that were lost in between.
In one instance, a relationship was reinforced; in the other, it was reborn. Sales with my current First Call have and will continue to grow as long as the relationship remains mutually beneficial, while sales with my former First Call have begun to increase following our lunch.
If there is a message here, and I think there is, it is a simple, yet powerful one: Buy a ticket. Buy a ticket for yourself and for every one of your associates. Visit your clients — all of them: the big ones and the not-so-big ones.
After all, there was probably a time when the big ones were not so big themselves. Let them know they matter. Let them know you care. Let them know that you know they are out there.
What have you got to lose?
The worst thing that can happen is the best thing that can happen: You will create an opportunity to reconnect with your customer base, and who knows, you might just do it before one of your competitors hears Gershwin’s “Rhapsody” playing in the background or starts thinking about that old United Airlines commercial themselves.