Friday, July 27, 2007

Lessons from Girl Scouts and Jerks

When my daughter first joined Girl Scouts, I learned about a sales process that (as a boy) I had never experienced.

I have five brothers and no sisters. So we never sold Girl Scout Cookies.

What I discovered, going around the neighborhood with my daughter, is that

  1. Everyone loves Girl Scout Cookies
  2. When people ask the price, they aren't trying to decide whether to buy. They just need to know how much to write the check for.
  3. GSC sales are 99% emotional.
  4. People want to tell you about their fond memories of these cookies and how the girl down the street used to sell them, but she moved, and somebody else sold them when she was a little girl, and "I haven't had those in years."

As a boy, I sold stuff for Boy Scouts, school programs, clubs, and just for money. In my years on earth I've walked hundreds, if not thousands, of miles knocking on doors and asking people to part with their money. I've sold newspapers, candy, magazines, advertising, raffle tickets, yard work, computer services, and more.

And, as a boy, the most common answer I've ever heard -- no matter what the product -- was "No thank you."

But GSC are a different story. Holy smokes.

That first year, my daughter was very eager to hit every house on every street in the neighborhood. She kept track of every house where someone wasn't home so she could go back.

And then the stunner hit: Someone said no.

Let me be very clear for all the boys out there. My daughter sold more than three hundred boxes of cookies before someone said "No thank you, dear."

Guys without daughters or sisters think I'm kidding. Trust me, it's true. 300+ boxes without a single "no." She wasn't making sales, she was taking orders.

Anyway, so she gets her first "no" and she looks up at me with a puzzled look on her face. She didn't say anything, but she looked very puzzled. Nothing in her cookie sales career had prepared her for this. It was as if she was saying "I don't understand. What happens next?"

Of course we thanked the lady and moved on.

But I'll never forget that look on her face. She was blindsided by her own good fortune. Things had gone so well, with no problems, that she wasn't prepared for them to go any other way.


As adults, you would think we would be immune from such experiences, but that's not the case. For example, as my business has grown, I've been blindsided by a new kind of client: those who don't want to pay their bills. It doesn't happen much, and the amount is a microscopic percentage of my invoices.

I'm not sure how I escaped these people in the past. I can think of two incidences of failure to pay in the first ten years of business. And back then it hurt more! So when I suddenly had to start developing prepayment policies and collection procedures, it really surprised me. I just don't get how people can wake up one day and decide not to pay the money they owe.

I guess I've had that quizzical look on my face, just like my daughter.

So, unfortunately, I need to grow up one more notch and figure out how to avoid such problems in the future.

The really sad thing is that virtually everyone _does_ pay on time, but I have to have policies for everyone.

And as my business grows, and I do more business with strangers, these policies make sense. It's too bad I had to deal with jerks who don't pay their bills in order to learn this lesson.

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