June 2012

How’s your balance sheet?

My daughter and son are both very successful business people. They often share with me stories and examples regarding sales and customer relations. John is a very successful businessman and Christina could sell snowsuits to Jamaicans. They passed on this note to me about an apparently hard-working account manager.

The salesman was very disappointed when he received the news that one of his longstanding, loyal customers had unexpectedly taken his business to a competitor. The distraught businessman contacted his old customer, asking what led to his client’s change of service provider. The customer explained that his former provider had seemed to lose interest and contact with him, while his new salesman had been more attentive and seemed genuinely interested in him and his business concerns. Predictably, the former salesman was disappointed and perplexed. He thought to himself, “I’ve been working really hard to get new clients. I never thought my old client would leave me.”

My marketing whiz offsprings explained, “My mentor taught me to imagine that we have a bank account with every client. Everyday (or week, or month) we make either deposits or withdrawals. We make deposits into those accounts whenever we contact our client, making certain that they are being taken care of, or solve one of their problems. We make withdrawals when we fail to return phone calls promptly, increase our prices because we feel they will continue with us anyway, or simply take them for granted. After enough withdrawals are made, the account is drained. We have “spent” all our good will with them and, much to our chagrin, they take their business elsewhere.”

Most of my readers may not work in business, nor are they salespersons. But it struck me that everyone’s life involves this same principle of “deposits and withdrawals.” Think of your few real friends and your family as the major, most important, “customers” of your life.” We may say, for example, that the most important person in our life is our spouse, our partner. Do you regularly make deposits with your words and actions? Or do we look for “new customers” by investing energy and effort in winning over a new acquaintance or neighbor at the expense of those most important to us?

I’m far from a biblical scholar, and perhaps I just didn’t get the message as intended, but I never liked the story of the Prodigal Son. Personally, I always felt that the good son got the short end while his miscreant brother received too much undeserved support and attention. In the spirit of “deposits and withdrawals” it seemed the good son has earned a bigger bank account than his father rewarded him, while his brother had drained his account totally. Yet the Prodigal Son still received dividends from his loving and forgiving father. It never seemed fair to me.

But I know my readers understand my basic point: make deposits today with the important and deserving people in your life. Don’t depend upon the love and support of others to bail you out of debt. Fill your own account by your words and deeds.

When the check bounces, it may be too late to cover it.