Beckwith has advised countless Fortune 100 companies, including Target, Wells Fargo, and IBM, and won the American Marketing Association’s highest award. His published works include Selling the Invisible (1997), What Clients Love (2003), You, Inc. co-authored with Christine Clifford Beckwith (2007), and The Invisible Touch (2009) and have been translated into 23 languages. Beckwith graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University and later served as Editor-in-Chief of Oregon Law Review, the Stanford Law School’s highest honor. He also served as a law clerk to a federal judge. Since 1975, Beckwith, a four-sport, four-year letterman in high school, has run over 58,000 miles (more than twice around the world) in his spare time. He also serves as a part-time grade school teacher, a member of the Stanford University Athletic Board, and a participant/member of Renaissance Weekend, a regular private gathering of worldwide leaders in business, education, government, science and the arts.
This interview of Beckwith was conducted two years ago. He has since published his fifth book, Unthinking: The Surprising Forces Behind What We Buy, published by Business Plus/Hatchette Book Group (2011).
Morris: You were a four-sport, four-year letterman in high school. What were the most valuable lessons of your involvement with competitive sports?
Beckwith: Team sports teach that health is a key to a rich life, and can transform you into an athlete throughout your life, a good idea. They teach that hard work pays, in strong correlation to the effort. They teach grace under pressure, to be calm during storms. And team sports teach that while success can be fleeting failure can be too.
Morris: What seem to be the most common misconceptions about “selling?” How do you explain them?
Beckwith: That it’s backslapping, arm-twisting and myth-spinning. The explanation is the extremes, parodied in our culture: the old Snake Oil salesmen, the oily car salesman, and the brokers in the movie The Boiler Room. But great salespeople are so good you don’t know they are selling. If you did, you would recoil from them. And they are also good people, from the inside out.
Morris: What do peak sales performers share in common?
Beckwith: Resilience, integrity, and a conviction that their product can really improve the quality of someone’s life.
Morris: During Q&A after your presentations and workshops, which questions are most frequently asked and what is your response?
Beckwith: I conclude most presentations by saying “take the road that runs along the cliff, the one without guard rails.” People tell me how much that meant to them; sometimes, their eyes are damp. Generally, branding gets the most questions–except outside North America, where price does. People know branding matters but don’t know how to build one, and it’s a weakness among businesses; only one business in fifty understands branding and manages its brand well.
Morris: Warren Buffet reportedly suggested that price is what you charge and value is what people think it’s worth. Your opinion?
Beckwith: He’s forgetting that price tends to enhance most people’s perception of quality. For example, most women think L’Oreal is worth more because it costs more, just as Diner’s Club credit card users switched to American Express when AmEx nudged its yearly fee just above Diner’s Club’s. Price conveys quality and implies value. You cannot separate price and value as easily as Mr. Buffet’s comment suggests.
Morris: In The Invisible Touch, published in 2001, you identify “the four keys to modern marketing. What were the “keys” then and have you changed your thoughts since then?
Beckwith: Price still matters, but consumers have more information than they did six years ago. They can shop more shrewdly. But people do not comparison-shop services as often because they can’t–there’s not enough comparative data, and because services are harder to commoditize. All haircuts, for example, are different. If you want a nice haircut, you assume it will cost more.
Key two, brands, matters even more, because our options continue to proliferate, making it harder to choose among seemingly similar products and services. Just go to the store today, determined to switch toothpastes. Try to compare your options; you will feel overloaded. Ultimately, you will migrate to the one whose brand message resonated most.
Packaging, the third key, matters more, too. Design plays a growing role in our economy. Target has made cheap chic by enlisting the architect designer Michael Graves. Look at what Dyson has done in vacuum cleaners, a category that seemed so mature it appeared exhausted–the Dyson design is a brilliant example that design can transform an industry where design appeared irrelevant. Look at the IPod. You open your IPod box and are taken back to childhood Christmases, because it is wrapped like a wonderful gift. It’s an MP3 player, for heaven’s sake, but the design has turned it into a lust object and the virtual name for the entire category.
And the fourth key, relationship, matters deeply, not least of all because it has been somewhat neglected. You can go to college and business school and never learn how to relate to others. Your education can mislead you into deciding that all that matters is technical prowess and that the ability to relate to others is for anyone but you.
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A while back, Karl Krayer presented the synopsis of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam. It presents a really clear and simple way to communicate your key points.
If you would like to see the author’s attempt to explain the health care debate (with the aid of a Doctor), take a look at his slide show here — all on the back of a few napkins. It is pretty enlightening, mostly devoid of controversy, and will help you think through the issues.
My true academic love is rhetoric (part of what we call the humanities). I love it because it is honest – it calls itself an art. And art is imprecise, long-brewing. You can use a calculator to get to the right numbers, but you need a crock pot to simmer all the stuff that goes into your mind to ponder the big questions of life. From Aristotle on, rhetoric has been defined as an art – “Rhetoric is the art of persuasion; rhetoric is the art of finding the available means of persuasion.” If persuasion was a science, then Coke or Pepsi could make the definitive commercial, persuade us to abandon those lesser brands forever, and we would then be loyal customers for life.
But, no, rhetoric (persuasion) is not a science – it is an art, unpredictable, very, very tough to nail down. Science is definite – art is indefinite. And without art, life is less meaningful, and much less noble. Science can make a nuclear bomb or provide nuclear energy. Somebody, from the inside of his or her unique human soul, needs to help decide which is the appropriate use of such power. This part of “education” is called the humanities – it is what keeps us human.
Business books fall in the midst of this discussion. Shall we approach business as though business were a science, or part of the humanities? A whole bunch of business authors simply want to tell us what works. And increasingly, the voices telling us how to do the job of education come from the world of business.
“What do our kids need to know today? As far as some are concerned, whatever will get them hired by Bill Gates.” These are the words of Mark Slouka in a terrific, thought-provoking, confrontational article in the September issue of Harper’s: Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school. (Note: subscription required for access to full article).
The evidence is overwhelming, and the advocates are many. They tell us that our schools need to do a better job teaching math and science, in order to compete with schools rising in quality, from all across the world. But are we about to throw away what made America great, the “soul” of America? The point of the Harper’s article is that it is a dangerous move to move away from the humanities into mathandscience.
In my book synopsis presentations, I usually read quite a few quotes from the book. Here, I print quite a few quotes from the article in Harper’s. These provide just a taste, but help us understand the warning:
• It’s a play I’ve been following for some time now. It’s about the increasing dominance—scratch that, the unqualified triumph—of a certain way of seeing, of reckoning value. • It’s about the victory of whatever can be quantified over everything that can’t. It’s about the quiet retooling of American education into an adjunct of business, an instrument of production.
• In a visible world, the invisible does not compute; in a corporate culture, hypnotized by quarterly results and profit margins, the gradual sifting of political sentiment is of no value; in a horizontal world of “information” readily convertible to product, the verticality of wisdom has no place. Show me the spreadsheet on skepticism.
• What is taught, at any given time, in any culture, is an expression of what that culture considers important. That much seems undebatable.
• By downsizing what is most dangerous (and most essential) about our education, namely the deep civic function of the arts and the humanities, we’re well on the way to producing a nation of employees, not citizens. Thus is the world made safe for commerce, but not safe.
• Writing is “a critical strategy that we can offer students to prepare them to succeed in the workplace.” Writing skills are vital because they promote “clear, concise communications, which all business people want to read.” “The return on a modest investment in writing is manifold,” because “it strengthens competitiveness, increases efficiency and empowers employees.”
• (a “first-rate education,” we understand by this point, is one that grows the economy),
• The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be. Their method is confrontational, their domain unlimited, their “product” not truth but the reasoned search for truth, their “success” something very much like Frost’s momentary stay against confusion.
• It’s been said before: in the margins of the page, over the course of time, for the simple reason that we shape every book we read and are slightly shaped by it in turn, we become who we are. Which is to say individuals just distinct enough from one another in our orientation toward “the truth” or “the good” to be difficult to control.
• To put it simply, science addresses the outer world; the humanities, the inner one.
• Mathandscience becomes the all-purpose shorthand for intelligence; it has that all-American aura of money about it.
• The market for reason is slipping fast…
As I read this article, I thought of a book I presented a couple of years ago. It has cropped back up on the business best-seller list. That is good. Here’s the book:
Why HOW we Do Anything Means Everything…
In Business (and in Life) by Dov Seidman.
Seidman wrote: This is a HOW book, not a how-to book. What’s the difference between how-to and HOW? Everything.
I think it is a mistake for the business community to help lower the importance of the humanities. And not just because the humanities would make us better at business communication. I think the humanities will help make us better people.
Does anybody else wish that Bernie Madoff, or the creators of mortgage swaps, had spent more time really paying attention in the humanities?
• You can order the synopsis of my presentation of How: Why HOW we Do Anything Means Everything…In Business (and in Life), at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.
Don’t Bring It to Work: Breaking the Family Patterns That Limit Success
Lafair explains how to break certain family patterns that limit career success by “claiming and taming the world of interpersonal relationships.” All people have problems at work and in their personal lives. They become upset, confused, and impatient. “Such frustrations are understandable. But what most of us…never really ‘get’ is why people believe the way they do, and what can be done about it. The problem isn’t always other people’s behavior, either. How many times have you regretted something you said or did at work and thought, ‘Why do I always do that?’ Ever want to help your employees find out what’s holding them back? Or holding you back?” Lafair poses other questions of comparable importance. Her purpose in this book is NOT to answer them. Rather, to help her reader answer them…and perhaps help others to answer the questions they have.
What I realized almost immediately as I began to read the first chapter is that Lafair is demonstrating the importance of context and frame-of-reference by establishing them for the PatternAware™Leadership Model, an approach based on her more than 30 years of experience with both healthy and dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. Her observations and recommendations are thus supported by an abundance of empirical, real-world evidence. With rigor and eloquence, she explains how behavior patterns from a person’s history are intimately connected with every aspect of that person’s adult life, not least of all her or his work life. Much of her book is devoted to helping her reader to understand that, “although you can never fully leave your family behind, you don’t have to bring it to work.” That is frequently true but I have also observed, in my own behavior and others’, that it is possible to haul so-called “baggage” anywhere, into any relationship, without being aware of it. I’ve worked with people who have more hang-ups than a telemarketer.
Over the years, Lafair has identified “The 13 Most Common Patterns™ We Bring to Work” and they serve as a thematic infrastructure for her narrative. They are identified and discussed in Chapter Four. For example, the Persecutor humiliates work associates with finger-pointing, demanding, judging, and blaming. The Persecutor behaves like a bully and takes no prisoners. No resolutions occur because everyone is afraid to take him or her on. Lafair rigorously examines a total of thirteen of these disruptive characters: Persecutor, Avoider, and Denier as well as Super-Achiever, Rebel, Procrastinator, Clown, Victim, Rescuer, Drama Queen or King, Martyr, Pleaser, and Splitter. She discusses the probable causes and impact of those who have these dominant personalities. Her revelations are best revealed within the narrative, in context. Her insights can be of incalculable value IF applied with meticulous care, not only in a workplace but in all other areas of one’s life.
Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers
Poertfolio/The Penguin Group (2007)
Andersen makes brilliant use of a number of horticultural metaphors when explaining “how to turn ordinary people into extraordinary performers”: gardeners (i.e. effective managers), fertile soil, (i.e. a pleasant and supportive workplace), nutrients (i.e. constructive criticism, encouragement, recognition), and seeds (i.e. high potential workers with sound character and strong self-motivation). All are essential…and interdependent. Andersen’s organization of the material is also appropriate. First, she explains how to prepare the “soil,” formulate a plan, and select the “plants” (Chapters 1-3); then how to plant “not too deep and not too shallow,” how to develop a “gardener’s mindset,” and what a “mixed bouquet” consists of and why it is important (Chapters 4-7); then she provides directions for “staking and weeding,” letting [extraordinary performance] spread, and how to convert “plants” into “gardeners” (Chapters 7-9); finally, Andersen explains how to measure progress (“How does your garden grow?”), discusses why some “plants don’t make it,” and in the final chapter provides what she characterizes as “The Master Calendar” (Chapters 10-12). Just as almost anyone can learn how to grow grass, plants, fruits, and vegetables, almost anyone can help “grow” the people for whom they are primarily responsible as well as those with whom they are directly associated. As Barbara Kellerman explains in Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders, it is also possible to help “grow” immediate supervisors and even CEOs or their equivalent.