When shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis was asked what it took to be a successful businessman, he offered three rules for success:
"Always borrow as much money as you possibly can.
"Always pay it back on time.
"Always have a tan."
Although there was more to the Greek billionaire's success than this tongue-in-cheek formula, his words to the wise do drive home a critical point: To succeed in business, you'll need more than a knowledge of manufacturing, marketing and finance. You'll need to master the "human factor." This means motivating customers, clients, lenders and employees to help build your business with you.
From Onassis' perspective, mastering the human factor meant getting bankers to provide an abundance of capital to leverage the growth of his business. By presenting himself as the picture of success and by meticulously honoring his financial obligations, Onassis played to the bankers' instincts and emotions. While less-gifted entrepreneurs were coming up empty-handed, Onassis was getting a steady stream of cash to fund his far-flung ventures.
How can managing the human factor help to build your company? Consider these strategies for dealing with customers, employees and suppliers:
* Give customers a reason to believe that you truly value their patronage. While a smile and a "thank you" are always welcome, companies skilled at mastering the human factor go well beyond these basics. They make their customers feel special, going out of their way to do the little things that build loyalty and repeat business.
Consider the management consulting firm that invites clients to call the firm's partners on evening and weekends. The purpose: to air complaints and to solve problems that fall through the cracks in the ordinary course of business.
By printing the partners' home telephone numbers on their business cards and by demonstrating their willingness to give up free time to provide superior service, the firm responds to the human factor that makes every client want to be treated like a VIP.
* Present your business not as one that sells products or services but as one that solves customer problems. This subtle shift in approach can have an extraordinary impact on your company's standing in the market.
"The idea is to start right out of the chute by asking the customer about his business needs and objectives rather than telling him what you have to sell," says Steve Taback, president of the sales training firm TEM Associates Inc. "The idea behind this is that the more you know about the customer, the more you can direct the appropriate products and services to him.
"Assume, for example, that you sell computers. You may start off with a standard pitch about the benefits of computerized accounting. But if you fail to ask the right questions up front, you may not discover that a prospect's real interest is in a computerized point-of-sale system."
* Give every employee in the company a feeling of stature and a sense that they are part of a team effort. To make this happen, give each employee a business card identifying his role in the company. While business cards are standard issue for managers and executives, the practice often stops short at the rank and NTC file. As a result, receptionists, shipping clerks and office workers feel belittled. Change this by printing business cards for every name on the payroll.
* Give up the widely held notion that because you pay your suppliers and because they compete for your business, you can treat them as second-class citizens.
Here again, the human factor comes into play. By consolidating your orders for a product or service with a single vendor and by paying your bills promptly, you will be establishing yourself as the kind of top-drawer customer that gets priority treatment.
"When it comes to mastering the human factor, the business owner or CEO must be a role model for the appropriate behavior," says John Tschohl, president of the Service Quality Institute. "If he leads the way, others in the company will learn the benefits of properly treating all of those who interact with the company. That's an excellent way to build a business."