Recently I sat across the desk from one of our best customers. We’d serviced his company for over 25 years and a competitor came in significantly cheaper than us and appeared to be offering the same solution. Both companies proposed to lease equipment with full maintenance, so the only difference he could see was the monthly payment amount. He runs a very competitive business himself with tight margins. So he had to give serious consideration to their offer. The difference was so significant, that the entire account was in jeopardy.
He asked, “What makes your solution any different than theirs? What are you offering that they can’t”? The answer came to me in an instant – It’s our people. You can buy other forklifts but you can’t get our people.
Jim Collins, noted author of Good to Great, talks about how companies grow from just good companies to really great ones. He states that the first thing to fix is the “who”. . . and then the “what”. Using an analogy of a bus, Collins describes that great companies first get great people on the bus (and the wrong people off). Then they can decide where they want to drive it. According to Collins, the right people are your most important asset. I couldn’t agree more.
It sounds cliché’ but it’s true. We currently have the finest team I’ve ever worked with. It has taken us years to find the good ones and weed out the bad ones. I’ll admit that we’ve kept some folks on the bus a few stops too many. Like all smart people we’ve learned from our mistakes and work hard to repeat our successes. We’ve built a team of 39 people who take their work seriously and themselves, not as much. They celebrate with each other, support each other in hard times and get a real kick out of impressing our customers.
I was able to show this customer that our people have kept our promises. We’ve kept their equipment running without costly down time and have brought value to the entire relationship – from sales and service from operations to accounting. (Full disclosure, we had to get a little creative with the finances; that’s what we do to maintain long term relationships.) The point is that without great people who provide great service, a low price doesn’t mean a better value.