What Every Business Can Learn From My Dentist

Endodontist, actually. You know, root canals. Had my first one two weeks ago. Not too bad. Ninety minutes of discomfort for a lifetime pain-free tooth.

But that’s not the point of the story. It’s what my Dentist, er, Endodontist did that makes this story. I had my root canal on a Friday, and on the following Monday, at around 4:30 in the afternoon I got a call, on my cell phone, from him. Not his secretary. Not his assistant. Not his “service.” Him! He just wanted to follow-up and see if everything was okay and to let me know I could call him if I needed anything.

How many calls have you received from a doctor in your life? Any kind of doctor? I’m guessing not too many.

He has countless years of schooling and if he is not already a millionaire, he will be soon. He already has a million-dollar dental practice. The restrooms in his office are the kind you would expect to see in five-star Beverly Hills restaurant. He serves people in a very upscale area of Los Angeles. In short, he did not need to call me. But he did.

In his world, he is not the Dental King and I am not the Patient Serf. He is not too busy, too rich or too well educated to give personal service. Or to actually care about his patients.

What is the likelihood I will use him again if I need another root canal? What are the chances I will tell everyone I know this story? What are the odds I will blog about it?

In a world where everyone is trying to invent the new new thing–the latest technology, the coolest web site, the hottest app–it was a simple phone call that will assure my dentist’s success. That is a lesson every business can reinforce.

Nothing Happens Until This Happens

For the longest time I never fully appreciated the role of sales in business. When I was a young engineer, I showed up, did my engineering thing and come Friday, money showed up in my checking account. I never spent much time thinking about the fact that for me to be able to have that job, somebody had to sell something. Money had to exchange hands.

It was not until I actually got a job in sales that I had a chance to see up close the cause and effect that sales has on everything in a business. You want better benefits?  Make sales. You want a raise? Make sales. You want to develop the next generation of cool products? Make sales. You want job security? Make sales.

Whether you are in the sales chain or not, you need to have a strong appreciation for the miracle of sales. Yes, it is a miracle. Jobs get created, taxes get paid, products get manufactured, companies go public, fortunes get made and redistributed. And none of that happens without a sale. Engineers—can’t afford them. Accountants—don’t need them. CEO—huh?

People are constantly worrying about job security. Do you want to have job security for eternity? Be an effective salesperson. You will never be without work and you will always make a good income. From an accounting perspective, sales people are the only employees who are not an expense. (Technically they are “Cost of Sales.”)

Are you an entrepreneur? Until you make a sale you are a hobbyist. If you want to start a business (or keep one going) you need to become obsessed with sales. And if you are employed at a company, even if you are not a sales person, you ought to become “sales aware.” You should be able to explain your company’s value proposition to a stranger and you should know what a customers looks like. That way, if you ever sit next to one on an airplane or run into one at a social event, you can tell them about your company and maybe even facilitate a meeting with your sales department. I am always surprised by people who live in fear of losing their jobs, but do not know what their company sells or what a customer looks like. Today, everyone needs to be in sales.

I guess that is what I find so frustrating with a bloated government: too many government agencies filled with too many government employees. Most are good people trying to do a good job, but deep down they do not understand the preciousness of sales. They do not have to convince a customer to part with their money and they do not have to better their competition in the marketplace. Their paycheck shows up without anyone ever having to make a sale. Their pay magically shows up every Friday just as mine did many years ago before I learned the truth about sales in the private sector: nothing happens until that happens.

How to Get a Stellar Credit Rating

You will never be as good as you are as when you are broke. ~ Carl Weisman

I recently went to purchase some bedroom furniture from one of the national retail chains. They had a deal that was too good to turn down. The deal was, if I applied for their in-store credit card and put my purchase on that card, I could take up to one year to pay it back, interest free.

I did not need to the put the purchase on credit, I could have paid cash. And I certainly did not need another credit card, but several thousand dollars interest free for a year, I would be crazy not to, so I did. Of course before I could get the credit, I had to give the sales clerk my social security number and she had to run a credit worthiness check on me—you know, the FICO score.

The score came back 845 or some such number. I did not pay particular attention to the number. But I do recall the sales clerk telling my that my credit score put me in the hundred percentile. Basically, I was as good a credit risk as there is.

Now with a score like that you might think I had the wealth of Bill Gates. Regrettably I don’t. Which just goes to show you that it is not you wealth that gets you a high credit score, but your (historically derived) trustworthiness.

What is interesting is not that my credit score is so high. What is interesting is that I “earned” that score during the worst financial period of my life. I had little to no income and owed thousands of dollars to the IRS and a few credit cards. It was how I chose to deal with those debts that created my “trustworthiness.”

At the time of my deep indebtedness, it was during a period, like now, with low interest rates. There were a lot of credit cards that offered twelve month teaser rates on balance transfers. Some offered 1.99%, but others offered 0%. Now there was almost always a transfer fee of $50 or so, but when you owe five or ten thousand dollars on a credit card, paying $50 for 0% interest is a steal. So that is what I did, year after year. Always transferring the balance to a new card just as the old card’s teaser rate was about to expire. And all the time paying whatever I could, usually a couple hundred dollars, month after month. During all those years it took to pay off my debts, the very last thing on my mind was my credit score. I was trying to get out of debt, not take on more. It just so happened that a byproduct of my financial gymnastics displayed to the financial gods my trustworthiness and boosted the heck out of my credit score.

I never expect to be in that financial condition again, but it taught me a lot. If I owed $50,000 to fifty different creditors and all I had in my checking account was $50, I would send each of them a buck toward my debt. It may not save my credit rating, but it would let them know I am alive, I have not forgotten them, I care about what I owe them and that I can be trusted to pay them back, eventually. After all, credit worthiness is not about money, it’s about trust.

Lesson One: Everyone is Replaceable

Life’s not fair—get over it. ~ Many

I love watching NFL football, and I have to admit the replacement referees are not as quick or as consistent as the “real” referees. If you have not been following it, the real referees are on strike (they are actually locked out, but that is just semantics). Their union is striking over several issues, but apparently the key issue is that the league wants to freeze the referee’s long-running pension plans and switch them to less attractive 401(k)-style retirement plans. According the Huffington Post, “The key is the pension issue.” The pensions have been around since the mid-1970s and “a lot of guys have made life-career decisions based on assuming that pension would be there.”

Pensions were a bad idea from the beginning. Not the idea of pensions, but the math of pensions. They are referred to as a defined benefit plan, which means they guarantee the recipient a certain monthly income, no matter what. The problem of course is the “no matter what.” Most of us cannot guarantee what we will be making next year, how can a retirement plan guarantee what you will be receiving in thirty years. So, the NFL did the prudent thing (which many other firms are doing) and switched to the more-than-fair 401(k) plan. These plans, which are referred to as a defined contribution plan, depend on the individual saving their own money for retirement—a very self reliant thing to do. You want a comfortable retirement, save a lot of money.

I do not really care which side you take on the pension issue because there is a much bigger issue at stake here for the striking referees: the replacement referees are getting better, each week, little by little. At some point, in the not-so-distant future, the difference between the real referees and the replacement referees will be indistinguishable. And on that day, the striking referees are going to learn a very harsh lesson: everyone is replaceable. A lesson the air traffic controllers learned all too well back in the ‘80s.

Their failure will not be lack of foresight, but lack of flexibility. Years ago, when organizations felt pensions were viable, they offered them to the NFL referees. And now they don’t, so they are being flexible and switching to a more sustainable business model. If the referees were smart, they would match that flexibility and take the new retirement plan. Especially in this economy.

Because of their unwillingness to remain flexible in the face of life changes, the NFL referees may soon be demonstrating the ultimate act of flexibility by changing from striking union workers to the permanently unemployed. Their life decisions were based on their pension, now their life decisions will be based on being without a job. Everyone is replaceable; never forget it. And that is why at the apex on the Pyramid of Self Reliance you will find Flexibility. The final piece to the self reliant life.