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Groups or Communities -- Which Are you Attracting?


Twice in the last five days I've had very positive experiences at Starbucks. Oddly, neither of them had to do with the product or service.

I placed my order at the drive-thru, pulled up to pay, and discovered my order was paid for by the person in front of me. Instinctively I wanted to return the favor so I tried to pay for the person behind me but was told that as many as five cars back were all paid for. Luckily there was a sixth car and I paid.

The second incidence happened at a Starbucks in O'Hare airport in Chicago when the man in front me turned around handed me a voucher. He said, "I've used as much as I can, they gave me this yesterday because of a flight delay, it would be a shame to let it go to waste, why don't you take it?" The $14 voucher covered our coffee.

Random acts of kindness; both at Starbucks. Coincidence or Brand Affinity? Did I just get lucky this week, or is Starbucks doing something to encourage such behavior? I was moved by both experiences. I tweeted, I LinkedIn, and I posted on Facebook. Now I'm writing about it here. Free advertising for Starbucks; an unsolicited testimonial and positive feelings tied to an experience they really had nothing to do with -- or did they?

Howard Schultz is the CEO of Starbucks. He was interviewed by USA Today. The article was about Schultz not changing the health insurance coverage for Starbucks employees despite greater costs due to the change in laws, and the fact that most other companies are making changes to "protect" their profitability.

The quote from Howard Schultz that resonated most with me was, "I think we have a greater responsibility beyond just the profit and loss of our business, to do the right thing not only for our employees, but the communities we serve... I say this through the lens of being a CEO of a public company, recognizing that I have a significant fiduciary responsibility to make a profit and build shareholder value. But after 30 years, what I've learned is that we can make a profit and perhaps do even greater by also demonstrating that we mean well in the world."

As a salesperson, you have a personal "brand identity." Are you seen as a person who means well in the world, cares about your clients, or is just out to make a buck? What actions do you take daily, weekly, and consistently to strengthen "your brand"?

Thomas Knoll is the Community Architect at Zappos. He talks about the difference between brands developing loyal crowds that follow them and communities of people that interact. "Crowds don't have a purpose" he said, "Communities do. Crowds show up and get stuff, communities like giving. Where crowds want benefits, communities want to belong. Crowds are powered by inspiration, communities are powered by influence. Crowds are sustained by service, communities are sustained by the story."

In a sales world, measuring dials, contacts, and appointments; presentations, packages, and closes, it can sometimes be difficult to keep the "long view" of your sales career. Intoxicating, and pleasing to the boss, is the package of the day or the short sale that gets immediate revenue on the books.

Do you want to assemble crowds looking for deals and stuff, or do you want to cultivate communities that have common beliefs, common values, and common interests? Ironically, both strategies work. The question is, "Which one is more appealing to you?"  Maybe it's true that nice guys finish last. However, they finish as winners, and most importantly they get to the finish line.

Howard Schultz's approach to health care for his employees is indicative of a company culture, a "brand consistency" whose purpose is to mean well in the world. Somehow paying $3.47 for my Venti Americano rather than $1.00 somewhere else, makes perfect sense.

When you mean well in the world, when you provide a business advantage to your customers, price doesn't seem to be an issue. You will also earn more referrals through word of mouth, and you will be creating communities of customers based on value.

The results are clear. Companies that take the "long view" approach, sellers who develop their "brand identity" around giving and being a "business advantage" to their clients, are ultimately more sustainable, profitable, and certainly more fulfilled than companies or sellers that take the short-term approach. I haven't figured out why companies take the short-view despite the evidence to support the long view. Maybe you have some thoughts on that. Comments encouraged.

Think Big, Make Big Things Happen.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach him at,, follow him on Twitter @JeffreyASchmidt, or connect via LinkedIn