Marty Sokoloff was different. He was the kind of person you liked to be around. He was always full of energy and enthusiasm, and you could see his smile from a mile away. When I entered the store where he worked he always greeted me by name and asked after each member of my family, again by name. His memory was incredible. I've talked to many of his other customers and he always did the same things for them.
Marty was a haberdasher. He sold clothes at a fine clothing store in Winnetka, Ill., my hometown. I first met him many years ago and after a number of visits to his store, the Fell Co., and buying suits and other things from him. We became good friends. He was one of the best salespeople I have ever met, always considerate and always taking the extra step for his customers.
Marty passed away about 10 years ago, but I still think about him occasionally and of the way he treated me each time I came into his store. Whether I needed a suit, a jacket or a pair of slacks, he would always comment, "I've been holding this for you because I think this would look good on you." He said it with such sincerity that I always believed him. He did the same thing with my son. Marty had a way about him that made you want to buy from him.
Here's another thing he did that I'll always remember. Marty kept track of his customers. One time I was sitting at home and I got a call from Marty, who said, "Chuck, how are you doing? I haven't seen you in the store recently and I miss chatting with you. I hope everything is OK, and I look forward to seeing you soon." What a kind and thoughtful gesture that was. Somebody actually missed me simply because I hadn't been around for a while. That does wonders for one's self-esteem.
Then there was another time when I got a note from Marty that went like this, "Chuck, I just thought I would drop you a note and tell you how much your friendship means to me. Having customers like you is a joy."
You know relationships are so important in any business. Too many people in business don't get it. They think relationship is just a word used for personal interactions and don't realize how important it is to cultivate a web of business relationships. People who think that way are going to find themselves out in left field without a glove. Relationships, both internal and external, are critically important to any executive who hopes to succeed in accomplishing a goal or creating a new program or selling something to a client.
At the beginning of my career I had the opportunity to work with a gentleman by the name of Dick Harmel at a major weekly magazine based in New York. At that time I was the drug-merchandising manager at the magazine and Dick was director of merchandising. At the time I traveled all over the country putting on promotions for the magazine and visiting with major retailers in the drug and toiletry field. One day Dick called me into the office and gave me a piece of advice: "I know you travel a great deal, but maybe you should spend more time in the office. You need the support of the salespeople on the magazine if you are going to be effective in running good promotions. As a matter of fact, I would say that 90% of your selling should be done internally. It's as simple as that." I was shocked by his comments, but as I gained experience I began to realize how important his advice was. All of us need the support and trust of our colleagues if we are going to be effective in selling any kind of product.
Another example of establishing a relationship is a note I received recently from Sharon Brooks, an admissions clerk at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, where I had a hip replacement done earlier this year. I wound up writing a column about her (March 18, p. 36). When I first registered at the hospital for a preliminary test, Sharon was a ball of enthusiasm and good will. She greeted me as though I was a long-lost friend, and even though I was somewhat apprehensive about giving a pint of blood that day she made me feel comfortable. It was amazing to watch her work. There were a number of people in the registration area and I'm sure many of them were there for something serious, but her demeanor, her smile and her willingness to go the extra mile had everyone in better spirits. She even had a machine that made bubbles and she would turn it on for everyone. It was clear she cared about people and she was kind enough to go out of her way to make people feel better about the circumstances they were in.
Last week I received a note from Sharon, and here's what the card said: "I need to thank you for: Being so nice. Helping out. Giving of yourself. Sharing your time. Making the days brighter. Making the load lighter. All the things you do. And the big smiles you bring. Thank you for being so special. And thank you for everything!" The day I received this note wasn't the greatest, but her note picked me right up. That small gesture had bigger meaning than it might seem.
The Marty Sokoloffs and the Sharon Brookses of the world are consummate relationship people. They know how to make people feel special and worthwhile. I'm not sure either one of them received a college degree, but they both had doctorates in establishing relationships. Think of it: A simple note or word of kindness makes us all feel better. Do that a few times a week for others and you can build your own web of relationships. And then you are a success, as a person and very likely as a professional as well.
It'll only take a moment,