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In the '80s, in the days of Michael Milken and Gordon Gekko, the rule on the street was "eat your young." Nice guys finish last. Hold your information. Keep the rules to yourself. Win at all costs.

No matter who or what you have to trample.

Today, with the advent of mobile technology and 24-hour-connectivity, those days are long gone. And those who have yet to realize that are on their way to being eliminated. If your company isn't "nice" from the top down, your revenues will suffer—and you'll actually spend more money on marketing than you have to.

We live in the "Sharing era." People share for two reasons: to share happiness with a slight sense of smugness (oh, check out this photo of the room upgrade the Westin just gave me!) and to share disappointment, with the logic that people aren't truly miserable about their situation until they've made everyone around them miserable, as well. (Listen to the cell phone conversations the next time your flight lands three hours late.)

We share more now than ever before... simply because we can. Every phone is a broadband ticket to immediacy, with the ability to upload statuses, photos, and videos to the world in real-time.

So, want to improve your marketing and drop your costs? Teach your employees to treat their customers one level above crap.

Let's face it: In addition to being a society of sharers, we're also a society that expects to be treated like crap. You expect the fast-food place to screw up your order, you expect your exit-row window seat to be replaced by a middle seat in the last row of the plane. We expect to be treated like crap, because it's what customer service has generally become.

But... being nice can change all of that. When the rest of the world treats customers like crap, treating yours one level above can make all the difference. And it doesn't even have to be above and beyond (although that's nice, too)—just one level above.

I walked into a hotel recently, having been delayed four hours in getting there. I had no status at that hotel, and I half expected my room to have been given away. Instead, I was greeted by name and offered a hot towel. This wasn't a five-star hotel, it was a regular chain. They'd seen my flight information and noticed I was late, and they took it upon themselves to not only hold my room but also give me a brief sense of relief when I arrived. That hot towel made all the difference, and you can bet that my followers and friends knew about it immediately. That type of personal recommendation is what will drive new customers.

The key to being nice is focusing on the customers you have, and letting them get you the new customers you want. Think about it. If one level above crap results in someone's telling his friends how impressed he was, that impression will translate into new customers: "Well, Peter stayed there and really enjoyed it, I'll go there, too."

That is TRUE marketing, and even more important, it's BELIEVABLE marketing. It comes from a place of trust—which is worth more than any media buy or any PR firm hit you could ever hope to get.

This approach works in any industry, whether B2B or B2C. Face it, in B2B, companies don't buy; someone at that company does. That's the person to whom you want to be nice.

Being nice is not about sucking up. It's about treating customers with a level of respect they don't expect. It's about training your employees from top down why and how to be nice. Most important, it's about empowering your front-line employees: explaining to them that you're giving them the power to make the company better, to do little things that go a long way—whether topping off an order with a little something extra at no charge, or upgrading a room to a bigger one because it's available.

And know this: The ROI you'll get from this approach will almost always be higher than the margins on the profit you'd make by not doing it.

The call to the enlightened CEO is this: The old "kill your young" way of doing business is over. Without joining this new movement of "niceness," your business will simply fade away.

More than ever, consumers have the ability to choose with whom they want to do business. And with those choices being made more and more from the recommendations of those within our personal networks, the chances of maintaining the old school "they'll get it the way we like it" mentality and still keeping your customers is growing slimmer by the day.

The new age of being nice starts with your CEO, and it goes down the chain to the front-line employees. The last two years of research for my book have proved it: Nice companies really DO finish first.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Peter Shankman

Peter Shankman is the founder of The Geek Factory Inc., a marketing and customer service agency with clients worldwide. His third book, Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Out, and Collaboration Is In, hit stores on April 2, 2013. Reach him via peter@geekfactory.com.

Twitter: @petershankman
LinkedIn:  Peter Shankman