7 Things My First Real Boss Taught me--Lesson 3
Lesson 3: Words of wisdom from a Rhinestone Cowboy
I was a few years out of college and had a very busy job handling the majority of the customer and reseller engagements at a rapidly growing technology company. This was in a time before e-mail. I was always on the phone. Always. And, while I talked to customers nonstop, little pink phone message slips piled up on my desk.
Steve, my boss and the CEO of the company, got the mail every day. After he sorted through it, he would stroll down to my office and drop a stack of sales leads and order confirmations on my desk while I was on the phone. He would always say the same thing:
“Keep those cards and letters coming.”
At first, I didn’t really know what he was talking about. This was apparently a reference to a 1950s country song. But, Steve was making an important point about those “cards and letters.” The day we stop getting orders and inquiries from customers is the day we have a big problem. That phrase was a daily reminder that customers were the most important thing. Without them, none of us have jobs.
Steve became so well known for saying those words that others in the company would often quote him quoting Ernest Tubbs—an original Rhinestone Cowboy.
Whenever we received a big order or closed an important deal, the excitement would spread throughout the organization. Very often, we would declare a company-wide celebratory lunch and grill fajitas for all the employees on the shipping dock. Inevitably during those times, someone (maybe from shipping or manufacturing or accounting) would declare, “Keep those cards and letters coming!”. That phrase became a battle cry that was sewn into the fabric of our young company. The Customer was king.
Companies get bigger. And with that growth, comes bureaucracy and formality. Too often, growth also brings conflict, infighting, internal politics, silos, and even outright hostility. Some internal tension is good and necessary, but the really successful companies are the ones that keep the customer at the top of the organization through it all, and never take the cards and letters for granted.
Losing sight of what is most important is dangerous. One of the benefits of Ignite’s strategy process is reintroducing our client companies to what they may have lost sight of—the needs of their customers and market. A Strategic Planning Workshop provides a collaborative environment, away from day to day operations and turf battles and helps them think through things like distinctive competencies and strengths, opportunities, threats, and weaknesses.
The writer of this blog insisted on using the Rhinestone Cowboy reference. While the famous Glen Campbell song does in fact reference “cards and letters”, it is not the origination of the quote the blog is based on. That goes to the Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubbs. The argument could be made, however, that Campbell was thinking of Tubbs and his contemporaries when he popularized the 1970s classic.