Best Practices

The Beauty of Surprise

 

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:

  1. You are inherently doing positive things. These little wins count toward a greater good.
  2. 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!

Mike Haeg is an industry guru in the call analytics and technology sector. He has a deep passion for helping dealers measure their marketing ROI and i...
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    Aaron Wirtz
  • May 21, 2013
Great post, Mike! You've written about one of my favorite aspects of persona development, and you've got some great ideas going. 
Surprises are memorable because they make positive traits participatory. The word you used, "stickiness" is definitely appropriate. Everyone wants to feel smart, and when you give someone a chance to figure something out about you, they'll be grateful. The internet has turned our lives into scavenger hunts, so oftentimes, all a person has to do is not tell someone else something interesting about themselves (a hobby, skill, talent, whatever) and wait for it to be discovered. This is the difference between annoying and intriguing, or interesting and legendary. No one wants a "Nard Dog" around them, constantly begging to be congratulated for their mediocre talents. The art of surprise requires restraint but exudes confidence.
Recently, I surprised one of the most passionate Suzuki fans on Instagram http://instagram.com/p/ZWO6PMK15r A fairly basic surprise, sure, but still meaningful for both of giver and receiver. The ripple effect of random generosity is pretty evident in the comments, too.
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What a great post Mike, it get's folks out of their comfort zone to try and surprise others and it's such a strong way to build influence! Our small used car operation sales reps have the latitude to spend $50 per client as a thank you. It's completely unspoken during the deal. Unfortunately, most of the sales reps don't take advantage of it, maybe 25% of the time. There are a couple instances that stick out.
New to the area (1000 miles away from home), bought a truck in the dead of winter, bought them a shovel and some SK Roughrider mitts and 4 touques for each of the family... Roughriders are our pro football team, CFL, and it's a BIG DEAL around here. Made sure they'll fit in.
Single mom, excited to have a reliable vehicle, not very well off, got her a 6 month subscription for mother baby yoga. Made her cry(happy tears)  : )  :'(
We also have a Dairy Queen across the street from our dealership. Often enough we stock up the freezer with Dilly Bars and bring a few down after internet appointments (30%-50%) show up as a special way to say thank you for coming. Ice cream puts a smile on most faces. : D
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    Mike Haeg
  • May 23, 2013
Thanks guys!  Nice responses.  The flare of individuality in your examples are great.
Mitch Gallant Your Sales Reps are crazy not to take advantage of the $50!  That has repeat / referral business written all over it.  No doubt the surprise yoga subscription was talked about among the Mother's friends and family.
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    DealerRefresh
  • May 24, 2013
Comment over on the blog for your chance to win!! We want to know what you do to surprise your customer.
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Surprised at the crickets... thought this would have blown up Mike! I really think you're onto to something huge. Just days ago in HBR there was a futurists look at marketing in 2020. I truly look forward to that type of marketing!

 http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2013/05/a_futurist_looks_at_the_future.html
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    Sandra Leigh Slaterback
  • May 29, 2013
I am not trying to surprise a coworker, a customer, or a manager. I am trying to surprise, by the use of positive actions, the General Manager of a dealership I want to work in; it is in the heart of San Francisco and completely indoors. All the inventory, parts and service, and even customer - employee parking are indoors on 7 floors plus a roof of a building that is 99 years old and has been completely renovated. It was built as a distributor all those years ago. I have had a successful career in Finance and Sales Management for over 20 years, however, I have had to for personal family needs been out of the dealershp setting for a 5-6 years. I know a lot has changed, but I'm confident in my ablitiy.
This began over 6 weeks ago when I saw an ad for sales staff and a description of the new "state of the art facility". I answered the ad stating that I was interested in a Finance Manager/or Director's position and with a new facility come more sales, hence the need for more sales staff and that should equal the need as well in the Finance Department. I got no reply. Since this is a Penske owned dealership and I have one Penske General Manager in my 1st level of connections, I sent her a message asking if I had approached this company with a touch of creative thinking?  She answered the next day only to tell me, yes, that they encourage thinking out of the box and oh, by the way, this dealership is the one that she is now managing. WOW! Her profile said nothing of which store she worked for only that it was San Francisco Bay Area, and that leaves the door wide open. She went on to say that at the moment, there was no need, but that she had seen my resume and sent it on to Penke's Corporate HR Department and not to be discouraged if it took a while to hear anything. She even invited me stop by and see this incredible place next time I was in the city. So, I moved on, had a few recruiters want to represent me, saw a few other dealers on my own, and had a few offers, but not one viable to make that move to the bay area.
Next thing I see is and ad for San Francisco Nissan-Infiniti and they now need a Fianance Manager. I send my resume as instructed and a BCC to her directly. She called the next day and recalled our first contact. We made plans to meet the following Monday and did, it all went very well. She is clearly a hard working woman who wanted to go to the NADA Academy and paid her due to get there through the Penske Organization. I was impressed by this and her overall confident yet relaxed demeanor. We spoke for over an hour; as we were wrapping it up, I asked what was I going to have to do to GET this job. She laughed and said I was an excellent candidate, she did have to make known this opportunity to the other Penske stores so to promote from within, however, she had one concern: I was not completely current. Finally, someone said what I had been thinking was the problem. She did give me disclosures for background and all to sign and fax back and said to bring the origninals back with me for round 2, so to speak. I went for a walk around the neighborhood and have not felt so happy in years. This is where I belong, there is no question. So, all the way home (2 hour drive) I am thinking "how do you get current if you're not working?"  I'll tell you how, you take your vehicle into the local Automall for regular service and try to find the owner of the Nissan store that you worked for in your first job over 25 years ago. He was out...for several days!
Next stop, still in the Automall, I went to the Infiniti store; I had to know "someone"  there, right?  Right! They welcomed my need with open arms and I am now fully educated on current Compliance and red flag regulations. I called her and told her my plan before executing it, and she told me I was the most creative person she had yet to meet and whether I came to work there or somewhere else it was a great idea. Positive, but not exactly what I was looking for.....next step: Being that all the inventory is indoors and not everyone knows what's going on in this gorgeous facility, without customers, that's all it is...on prime real estate. They were going to have to rely heavily on their website and anyother digital media possible. I connected with someone on LinkedIn who seemed to have a great system to dominate your market:  I forwared it on to her !  I also posted to their website what a fun place to shop for a car, ALL THE CARS ARE IN THIS GREAT BUILDING!  So, that's my attempt to become employed in the city of my dreams....I tried to surprise her.  I remain unemployed. No decision will be made until the first week of next month. I think anymore "surprises" may make me look more like a stalker than the best choice to hire.  That is where my story is as I type these words.
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    Mike Haeg
  • May 30, 2013
Mitch Gallant Thanks for the article link! I've personally come to enjoy the HBR blog immensely.  To me, #4 is particularly interesting.  On a macro-level, speed will be the name of the game there for big companies / brands.  How quickly can you adapt these conversations, features, and messages to an impulse shopper?  When you think about a micro-level, isn't this what we do in the more intimate B2B and B2C sales already?
Sandra Leigh Slaterback Sandra, thanks so much for the story and insight.  Your actions to get current are exactly what I'm talking about.  From a hiring point of view, how unexpected and refreshing to hear that.  Instead of "I hope to catch up as soon as possible if hired," you're able to say "I've busted my butt to catch up, put in work and effort, and thought outside the box!"
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Mitch Gallant Actually it doesn't surprise me. Let's be real - how many dealers or more importantly PEOPLE, as Mike points out in this article,  truly SURPRISE their customers? 
I put my customer hat on and just bought a new Ford Fusion a little over 2 months ago. The onsite experience was typical - nothing to complain about. Friendly sales staff and manager. It was an "average" experience at best. 
Since purchase - I've heard nothing from the dealer. Heck, I took upon myself to call my sales rep to remind him that I hadn't heard from him. But boy was he anxious to ask for referrals when I did have him on the phone. Again, not a bad experience but NO SURPRISES. 
The only communication I've received thus far has been directly from Ford Motor Company. I have yet to receive an invitation to the service department nor anything about having the ability to schedule my service online. NOTHING. 
Thankfully my expectations were low (first domestic purchase ever). No where to go but up. :)
No Surprises.
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Sandra Leigh Slaterback Thanks for sharing Sandra and keep us updated with great news!
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I live by the rule of over promising then over delivering! I always have Cars picked out and ready for the guest, as well as have pens, tablets, stickers, magnets, etc with my branding on them set aside to give the guests when they arrive. Another thing I like to do with some of my top clients is of course hook up with them on social. After that I will check out their page and posts to see what they are interested in. For example I have a client who has purchased 4 vehicles for his house hold and sent me over 10 deals in less then a 2 year period. I saw on his Facebook page that he was obsessed with Ben Rothelsberger (Steelers quarterback). So what I did was go to eBay, purchased a beautiful signed plaque of Big Ben and had it sent to him. He was SHOCKED and so happy! He is no matter what never going to think of another soul but Robert Wiesman when he or anyone he knows is shopping for a vehicle. Shock and Awe baby!
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    Mike Haeg
  • June 3, 2013
Rwiesman Nice! If you're familiar with Gary Vaynerchuk, you've probably heard him tell a story similar to yours.  In his early days selling wine online, he sent some sweet sports swag to a big time client of his.  Robert, way to crush it like GaryVee!
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    Mike Haeg
  • June 3, 2013
Thanks to everyone for the great responses!  TOMORROW is the last day to get your submissions in!  Tell your friends / colleagues / family / pets to post their Surprises on here and they will be registered for a fun random drawing.  Get it done by tomorrow folks!!!!
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dealerrefresh The new Fusions are beautiful machines! Congrats : )
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    DealerRefresh
  • June 4, 2013
Looks like we will be choosing a winner today! Anyone with a last minute entry better get in on it now!
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    DealerRefresh
  • June 4, 2013
Looks like we will be choosing a winner today! Anyone with a last minute entry better get in on it now!
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