Friday, December 9, 2011

Maybe Janis Joplin was Right...


While I’m sure Janis Joplin was not thinking about small business and entrepreneurs when she sang “Take another little piece of my heart now baby”, the refrain has served me and many other entrepreneurs well as we focus on finding customers for our businesses.  When we launched the Arena Football franchise in Kansas City in 2006, the Commissioner of the League, David Baker, was kind enough to share some advice with us.  Of course, I almost always welcome advice from successful leaders and try and incorporate their suggestions the best I can.  But this time, it was different.  Baker stands 6’ 8” and is a self-described “couple of twinkies short of 400 pounds.”  When a man of that size speaks, you listen.

The Commissioner told me that the League was asking us for four things.  They were going to ask us for our time. They were going to ask us for our effort.  They were going to ask us for our money (the most important item).  But they were also going to ask us for “a piece of my heart,” because that is what our fans, our players and our community deserved.  Every week, our fans would come out and give a piece of their heart to the team and regardless of how many games we won or lost, we failed if we did not give a piece of our heart back to them.

Now I am not a touchy, feely, emotion-rules-the-day kind of guy.  I’m not into any of that new age; it’s all about feelings philosophy.  But I can tell you that we took the Commissioner’s advice to heart (no pun intended) and I believe that was a huge reason we were so successful in connecting with our fans and selling tickets.  Nearly every decision we made as an organization was with the fan’s heart in mind.  We put ourselves in their shoes (which was not difficult because at the end of the day, that’s what were: fans) and developed a product that spoke to their hearts.   Since that day, whether consciously or subconsciously, we’ve tried to incorporate that attitude into every business venture we have launched.  This is obviously easier in some industries as there are many businesses that would find it difficult to establish an emotional connection with their customer.  Yet I honestly believe that no industry and no business and no customer engages in a transaction without some emotion.  How often have we worked harder on a deal because you “like” the other side?  How often have you killed a project simply because you didn’t “like” the people you were dealing with?

Steve Jobs arguably built one of the most dynamic companies in history by combining cutting-edge technology with emotional appeal.  The outpouring of emotion when Jobs passed away was not because people loved Steve.  Most people had never met him.  But his products spoke to people’s hearts in a way that they became part of the company.  If you owned an Apple product, you were part of Apple.  That is a lofty goal for all of us.

I know one of the first lessons they try and teach you in business is to leave emotion at the door.  Look at the opportunity purely through an economic lens and decide whether the opportunity has merit.  But is that really possible?  Establishing an emotional connection and reaching out to your customers or your partners is the very essence of building brand loyalty and more importantly, customer loyalty.

So whether you are a first time startup with a golden idea, or a serial entrepreneur with another new business, I would urge you to fire up your iPod, put a little Janis Joplin on your playlist and look into your customer’s heart to find the magic ingredient for success.

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