My first gig out of college was selling for a major alcohol distributor in Dallas. I hustled wine to convenience and grocery stores across the city. Lots and lots and lots of wine.
Imagine cutting deals in the back of a Wal-Mart with an angry store manager who preached the Wal-Mart Gospel religiously.
I needed him. He needed me. But it was never easy.
While the job was white collar, my hands got dirty. You know the big displays at grocery stores? Sometimes they are huge stacks of wine cases that create fancy designs. During the holidays, a stuffed Santa Clause may make an appearance. During the summer, expect beach themes.
These are high volume, prime real estate, and guess what?
Someone has to physically build them. Someone sweats blood and tears to protect and maintain them (Hint: It was the Sales Rep).
The holidays are huge in this industry and selling these displays is fiercely competitive. It was during this notoriously stressful season that I learned one of the most important professional and personal development ideas of my young career: Surprise People.
One Christmas, I was competing for an important spot. While discussing with my District Manager, he said “Go to the store in the very early morning and just build the display. Don’t go overboard and he may ask you to take it down. But it will surprise the hell out of him that you did this. He’ll never see it coming.”
So I did and this surprised the hell out of that guy. And it worked. He loved it. My competition wouldn’t think of showing up at the store at 6 AM to do this. The manager and I didn’t openly discuss my tactic. There was no need. It was clear he appreciated the flare.
Not surprisingly, there is neuroscience behind the element of surprise. The brain likes to be surprised according to a study at Emory University and the Baylor College of Medicine. Whether you think you like surprises or not, the brain does. It likes the unexpected. It’s rewarding.
Most articles on the topic refer to your customers. I agree and encourage everyone to try this every day. Stun your customers with good service and TLC. Frame the action around the notion of absolutely positively shocking your customer. HOLY [email protected]*%!!!
Let’s look inward though. Your personal and career development can receive a boost from the element of surprise. Managers love surprises. Your teammates will be impressed. It builds your value and worth. This is a nice way of saying you are more and more valuable than anyone who may attempt to replace you.
Here are a few ideas:
- Show up a little earlier or stay a little later than usual.
- Not normally a writer? Write and find places to publish. Your company blog is probably waiting for you.
- Raise your hand when volunteers are needed. This is especially great when no one else will.
- Speak up.
- Ask your manager to role play sales conversations.
- Your quota is X but in reality, you could do X+Y? Do it.
- Become an expert on something. Remember my blog on Persona?
- Ask your manager for ideas on how to improve.
- Lead something. Anything. Lead a project like this for example.
So why is the element of surprise so powerful? Two reasons:
- You are inherently doing positive things. These little wins count toward a greater good.
- Stickiness. People remember this stuff. They notice. People don’t remember when you do the basics or expected. The norm doesn’t give you a good story for your next performance review.
Now, it’s my turn to surprise one of you! I want to hear your ideas. What do you do to surprise customers, colleagues, or Managers?
I will keep track of everyone’s reasonable responses for 10 days. Every idea you submit counts toward an entry into a random drawing performed on video at the CI office. The lucky winner will get a surprise from me! Best of luck. Let’s hear them!