Sunday, November 16, 2014

On being an open book...

It was just a week ago that I began my work at Brivo here in the Washington, DC area. The opening caught my eye because I had actually bought one of the Brivo products last year to act as a card access system at the Mindnest office. It actually operated through the cloud, rather than having some ridiculous local programming interface. When doing that research, the Brivo product kept coming out on top of any comparisons and ended up being a pretty easy decision for me.

Yes, we're in the process of relocating eastward, something that's been a mixture of sadness for reduced family and friend contact, but excitement for the prospects of the future. Although the company has existed for about 15 years, it has the look and feel of a 1-2 year old startup right out of the bay area. That is not common. The people are smart, excited, and ready to blaze new trails, and I'm happy to be there with them.

When putting out my book, I never really considered that anyone would bother reading it. I know a few have, and I hope they're getting something out of it. But, what I hadn't thought of was what affect the book might have on the next job I would take... I was literally an "open book." All my thoughts on management were right out there for anyone to read... even prospective employers and teammates.

During various interviews (at Brivo and some other spots), some folks acknowledged that they had perused the book and had some questions and comments on it. My new boss basically said, "I saw the book, read the blog, and I know exactly who you are." I guess that's a good thing. :)  I suppose the only downside is that I've already published many of the crazy and funny "stories from the past" I would have to relate over lunches and such. Well, hopefully nobody will read them.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A simple tribute to my dad

My father, Bob Wagner, passed away about a week ago. He had been in good health until that point, and was an integral part of my life. We constantly hung out together whether to grab a meal, work on computer stuff, fix things around the house, or take a trip together.


In my formative years, my dad gave me the inspiration to be a real scientist or engineer. He was a top engineer at Motorola until his retirement. In my early high school days, he smuggled home a computer terminal that I used to hack into Motorola's computers and teach myself programming. Such was my introduction to what would become my chosen profession... although I try to keep the hacking to a minimum.

Even more importantly was one interchange my dad and I had underneath my 1968 Ford Torino, working on the water pump. I never brought it up, and he would never have remembered it if I did. I explained something about what I was working on, but I wasn't entirely clear and descriptive enough. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "If you want to be an engineer, make sure you say things clearly, and describe technical situations in ways that make it easy for others to understand." Yeah, not a huge deal on the surface, but it stuck with me. I still think of that every time I start to describe an object, a problem, a situation, or a procedure.

He was a great guy, devoted to my mother and family for over 60 years. We had a celebration of his life yesterday, attended by many family members and friends. You can try to describe someone in the conventional way -- great dad, great husband, good neighbor, hard worker, close friend. Or, you can simply look at the people that surround that person, and get a really accurate idea of who he was, what he stood for, what he enjoyed doing, and what his life represented.

Looking around yesterday at all the fantastic people that came to celebrate him, it was all clear to me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The dreaded all-department meeting

Take a look at almost any company-wide survey asking for general employee feedback on what’s working well and what’s not. Almost invariably, the one item that will top the “not so good” list is “communication.” Regardless of how good the communications are, they’re still not good enough. Although I must admit to having seen, once, a comment like, “There are too many communications!” workers tend to feel left out of the loop quite easily.

Your job is to fill the vacuum that forms usually in about a 2-4 week timeframe. Even if you
thoroughly communicated everything that was going on a couple weeks ago, by the time a few weeks have gone by, your folks are starting to feel like they are out of touch. Fretting doesn’t help. It’s just a fact. So resign yourself to doing whatever is necessary to make them feel like they’re always in the loop. Better yet, why consider it some sort of detrimental situation? This is actually a great opportunity for you to do much more than speak -- you can also get everybody rowing the boat in unison. Generally, a message must be communicated 2-3 times before everybody will really hear it, and 5-10 times before they’ll start believing it. So, by taking advantage of these pre-scheduled opportunities, your bigger messages will be believed that much sooner.

At the very least, get everyone who reports to you (directly or indirectly) into a departmental briefing every month. If you do them frequently, concentrate on important items, keep up the pace, and layer in a little humor, you should be able to take no more than 30-60 minutes and provide enough information to loop everyone back in. It’s good to switch up the presenters as well -- don’t try to do the whole thing yourself. Not only does this offer the gathering a more dynamic feel, but it also gives others an opportunity to address the team, and even show off something interesting that they’ve been working on.

I’ve seen some managers that have used frequent departmental meetings quite well, only to abandon them when projects were getting down into their final stages and time was getting precious. Let me state that this is exactly the reverse of what should happen. When the pressure and stress levels get high, it is more important that the briefings continue. In fact, in those instances it is preferable to shorten the gaps and have the meetings more frequently. You have to keep everyone informed and motivated, and if things are happening fast, then more things are changing, and all the more reason to fill everyone in. There will always be a few of the, “I just can’t afford the 30 minutes out of my day to listen to this stuff” folks, but in the end, everyone gains from the experience.

In between your formal departmental meetings, use email for what it’s best at… general announcements. Give folks a periodic update on cool happenings in your department and from activities around the company. Sometimes, you will be lucky enough to have a boss who does this broadly enough to include all your own employees. That kind of communication can partially offset the need for you to send your emails, and the skip-level information will be appreciated by your team.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Indoctrinating new managers

An old friend called me a couple of days ago to help him out with a problem he was having with a new manager under him. The new manager, let's call him "John" for the sake of this discussion, was making some bad calls on how to handle some situations that had cropped up, and he was wondering how to best bring John under control.

This is a key part of any new manager's training... teaching them how NOT to become a Dingus (as I call it in the book). When moved into their first management post, most people don't have enough experience to properly deal with the myriad of situations that will arise. If they are left totally on their own, they will make mistakes. They need to be gently weaned into the management role.

My suggestion to my friend was to instruct John to come to him each and every time he encountered a situation that was new to him. Not just in situations where we wasn't sure of an appropriate approach, but in EVERY new situation. Then, have John relate the situation, then ask John how he would handle it. If correct, then all future situations of that type are "cleared" for him, and he doesn't need to repeat the process. If not correct, he and John can thoroughly walk through the situation, discuss other alternatives, and eventually show John the right way to handle it. This will include expanding John's knowledge of people issues, HR issues, legal issues, etc... And, again, John is then "cleared" for future occurrences.

Please note that it is critical to provide positive feedback and praise to John in every situation. If he initially figures out how to handle the situation, that's pretty easy. If he hasn't come to the correct initial solution, praise him for small things as you walk through the discussion. John has to go away from the conversation feeling pumped up and energized... not distraught that he didn't already know what to do.

Over time, John will encounter new situations less and less. By the time 2 months have passed, he'll probably have seen enough to be highly independent, and by 6 months, he'll have seen just about everything.

Although we've been discussing weaning new managers, the same holds true for new non-manager employees that report to you. Use the "what would you do if I wasn't here" approach to grow them and be more independent.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On the Radio (on the internet anyway)



If you have the better part of an hour to kill, feel free to listen to today's interview on VoiceAmerica. Very nice interviewer, and we got into some pretty good subjects from the book.

http://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/79528/shutting-up

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Avoiding the Firing Squad

Everyone has heard about “not shooting the messenger,” but when the rubber hits the road, few tend to actually remember it. When someone comes to you to discuss a problem—whether he is alerting you to a situation, confessing to a mistake, or simply in all-out venting mode—never make him feel personally responsible for the mess.

This can be harder when you’re alerted to a problem that’s developed due to a decision that you’ve made. It’s easy to unload on the messenger in self-defense. Instead, take a breath and savor the fact that someone actually trusts and respects you enough to come talk to you about it. Remember that we as managers are not always right! Having folks out there acting as real-time barometers is a good thing. And the minute you jump down someone’s throat about a problem that isn’t his personal doing, you can be sure he won’t be coming back to you with similar alerts in the future.

In fact, you need to go out of your way to praise him for his act:
“Hey, thanks for coming to me with this. I know it wasn’t something you did. In fact, we both know that if anyone’s at fault for this, it’s me. I don’t know if it was hard for you to come point this out to me, but I appreciate it. If we’re going to succeed, we have to quickly adjust anything that’s not working, even if that thing was created by me. Then we all look better in the end.”
Now, that guy won’t hesitate to come to you again when he needs to.

Finally, when you announce a change you’re making as the result of this kind or information, say something like, “Jeff pointed out that my decision to such-and-such wasn’t working so well. So now we’re going to…” Acknowledging the “messenger” instead of shooting him will help get the word around that you appreciate that kind of feedback.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

As seen on TV!

Yes, the PR folks at iUniverse are doing their thing, and last Friday I appeared on The Dee Armstrong Show, a local talk show on the NBC channel in the Columbus, Georgia region. It was a lot of fun, moreso than I thought it would be.

Because it was quickly scheduled, rather than have time reserved in the regular local TV studio, they asked that we do the interview live over Skype. My wife and I had to create a makeshift studio in our home -- incredibly challenging as we are about done moving out of it. Although in the way everywhere, the boxes made for nice tables. We cobbled together some lamps and tried to get a halfway decent lighting look. I put on a nice shirt over my moving-trashy-cutoff-shorts, and we stacked a few books and plants behind me to make it look "officey."

During the commercial break right before going on, Dee and I chatted for a couple minutes, though not about any questions she was going to ask -- she wanted to keep it real and spontaneous for the actual show. The actual format was much more of a discussion than a pure "Q&A" session.

It didn't come out too bad, other than I had no live view of my own camera, causing me to wave my hand around a little too much. I also had no live view from the other end, so I was just talking into the little green light at the top of my mac. I have to figure out why my monitor view disappeared so I can keep tabs on my own hand waving.

Here's a tiny version of the segment, though I recommend you go HERE (starts at about 31:35) and watch it there.
video

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Guest blogging


In a week or two, I'll be guest blogging at www.smartbusinessblog.biz. Here's a free preview. :)
For most of us, talking is a heck of a lot more fun than listening. And when managers speak with their subordinates, the instinct to inject comments or answer questions before they’ve really been asked can be powerful. What better opportunity to show off your hard-won skills and knowledge?
But too often when you think you’ve been helpful, you’ve actually thrown away the opportunity to develop a great new idea or gather some useful feedback. The most effective, respected managers realize that what they have to say is almost always far less valuable than what their subordinates have to say to them. At best, doing too much of the talking can quash the opportunity to build a trusted bond with a team member. At worst, it can be disastrous.
In my book, Shutting Up!, I discuss numerous situations in which it is imperative for managers to let others do the talking… plus techniques to help you actually do the shutting up. For example:
1-on-1 Talks. Bite your tongue… literally. Sit on your hands. Do anything to stop yourself from talking. Let the other person get it all out. And understand that even when you think they’re done, they’re probably not! Wait for it. Or ask a probing question. Then see what happens. Chances are, the real meat of the matter is a lot different than what you expected.
Assigning Tasks. When you delegate, don’t dive into the what, how, when, and why of the job before asking your workers what they know about it. If your team already understands what’s up, you’ll save everyone time and build mutual respect.
Responding to Questions. Don’t let your workers off easy by feeding them all the answers. Instead, ask them, “What do you think we should do?” and guide them as they figure out the answers themselves. You’ll be amazed how fast your people grow into more effective, self-sufficient workers.
Don’t Hijack Meetings! Ask for everyone else’s thoughts before you inject your own. When you speak first, it’s too easy to push your team into going along with your ideas. But the best idea just may not be yours.
Making Estimates. Instead of telling your team how long they have to get things done, ask them to tell you how long they need. When your people make the estimate, they own it. And they’ll do everything in their power to come through as promised.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Giving powerpoint presentations, or not

Man, if I have to sit through one more presentation where someone is reading the entire presentation right off the slides, I'm just gonna lose it. Whether in a large group setting or just in a meeting with a few folks, this type of thing shows a complete lack of understanding for how to effectively communicate, and how to connect with the audience.

First off, unless you are presenting on a stage (or similar conceptual location), don't use powerpoint or keynote if you can possibly avoid it. You will spend way too much time trying to figure out how to format what you have to say, rather than thinking about WHAT YOU SHOULD BE SAYING. As one who knows, I will tell you that taking some concepts and putting them into a formatted presentation is incredibly tedious. If you're just going to be talking with a few folks, find some other way of presenting the info. Hand out a diagram. Walk up to the whiteboard. Speak off the cuff. Something. Anything. Just avoid wasting time on powerpoint.

Another great benefit of not having a structured presentation is that it gets your audience in an immediate dialog mode, rather than what they will assume is supposed to be an extended monolog on your part. Again, per the title of my book, the more you can personally SHUT UP and let others participate, the more valuable the meeting will be.

Actually, this concept has been gaining great popularity recently, with many companies (including Amazon) banning powerpoints entirely. You can, and should, become one of them.

But, when you are giving a presentation to a significant number of folks, it's almost impossible to do without a real powerpoint or keynote slide deck. You can still pull this off, but PLEASE have mercy on your audience and follow some rules:
  • Use short bullets and not full sentences. If anyone could deliver your talk by simply reading the slides out loud, you have bad slides. And you don't want your audience being completely transfixed on reading your slides and missing anything good you have to say. Keep it way short and simple.
  • People get confused very easily. Don't try to convey more than one basic point with each slide.
  • Rehearse your talk, fully, in a standing position, EXACTLY as you would do it to your audience. No matter how many times you pseduo-rehearse it, you will never get the timing right. Even then, you will probably underestimate it. Talks always take longer when they're for real, and everyone hates it when you go over your allotted time.
  • Pick your jokes carefully. They will never go over quite as well as you think they will. You will go down in a nuclear pile of slag if you tell a joke and get no response.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Apocalypse never

So, unfortunately, a situation with one of your customers has "gone south." They are unhappy over the quality of your products, the speed of delivery, the handling of some support issue, the overall value they're receiving, whatever... Maybe you should have seen it coming sooner (see some earlier blog entries), but you didn't. Or it got out of control quickly.

Now is the time to bear down and get things positive again. In situations that continue to go sour, do whatever you can to salvage them. It costs so much more to attract a new customer than it does to retain one, it makes sense to go the extra mile. When you factor in the pyramid affect of your departing customers notifying all their friends, coworkers, neighbors, and relatives as well, the damage can be immense.

So, you apply some of your best people to the problem. You set up regular communications (since it's likely that your customer is not located near to you). You may even setup some kind of "war room" to track all the issues. You're going to be thinking that you're doing everything within reason to deal with the issue. And, at some point you’re going to ask “What else can we really do here that will help?”

That’s a good question, but don’t limit yourself to things that are "within reason". Sometimes you need to go a little further – to things that don’t seem logical on the surface. I've mentioned before about how TV news channels throw helicopters at news stories that don't really demand them. Yes, here's one car that has rear-ended another car. You know that dozens happen in your city every single day. But, when we here at TV 7 decide to hover a copter over the top, now that's really exciting! Yeah, everyone's fine... no injuries, and the damage isn't even that great. But we've got this copter and we're sure as heck gonna use it to show you what's important (or ratings-generating) to us!

Well, you can do the same. Go hover a copter. Send one of your best guys, or send yourself, out to the customer’s site. Talk to them in person. See their problems. Feel their pain. They will really appreciate it. It may not do any more to really solve the issues, but the increased personalization will buy you credibility and time to get things right.  Past workmates of mine know that I call this, “putting the helicopter on scene.”

And here’s something I’ve experienced repeatedly upon helicoptering. More often than not, while you are visiting, you will see something new – something the customer hadn’t reported, or an additional clue to whatever was making their lives unpleasant. You’ll be able to funnel information back to your team that will help get this customer up and running quicker than you otherwise would have. You’ll also have a chance to let them, in person, tell you everything that’s on their mind. That will further improve your relationship and probably help the product out in the long run, as well.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Getting direct customer feedback

So, we were chatting about keeping customers happy, and proactively collecting information about how they're feeling.

One large company I was at had links on all the web pages for each of the products that said, “click here to submit a comment, suggestion, or complaint regarding this product.” Given that there were literally millions of customers, those links got clicked quite a few times a day. As the head of some of the products there, guess who actually got to read and respond to those clicks? That’s right. The comments weren’t sent to some front-line support or marketing person... they were targeted directly to yours truly. And that turned into a one or two hour a day job in sorting through comments and responding to those that really needed it.

But that was a truly eye-opening experience. Direct customer feedback. No filtering applied by any other company channel. A direct pipeline from the customer to me. I certainly saw my share of complaints, but some of the suggestions that came in were fantastic, and they helped us improve the products even further. And, as I said, the complaints were an opportunity for us to salvage a bad experience.

I remember one situation where I had messaged back and forth a number of times with one Australian customer that had started out very unhappy and was now getting happier. I had given him lots of help, comp’d him a few items, and given him feedback on his suggestions – even committing to him that we would do some of them in the next release.

It is important to note here that nowhere in the “make a comment” links did it indicate that the customer would be corresponding with the Vice President in charge of the product group. In my messages with the customer, I simply signed them with my first name – no title. After a few days, as our exchanges were coming to a close, I actually called him on the phone and we had a conversation that went pretty much like this:
Customer: Thanks so much for all the info. You are cool. And when you get a chance to talk to the man, tell him you deserve a raise!

Me: Haha. I appreciate that. But so you know, I am “the man.”

Customer: Huh?

Me: I’m actually the VP in charge of this stuff. I handle these comments directly to make sure we’re getting all the information.

Customer: That is really cool. I thought you were just some customer support person. That’s cool that your company feels we’re that important.
I was paraphrasing above, but he did say “cool” a lot. We had saved this guy, and gotten some great future product direction to boot. Again, you can bet he told his friends about the experience. We'll cover some additional things you can do to try to salvage a bad situation -- next time.

As a side note, I'll be speaking at the IntergratED Portland education conference next week. I'll be covering some technology future stuff, as well as some management topics from my book. If you're in the Portland area, stop by!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Turn that frown upside down!

So we were talking about dissatisfied customers. It happens. As much as you'd like to only speak with folks who love what you're doing, you'll have to deal with some who are a little less in love with you. But you can use some good technique to get that guy back into the good zone.

First, go out of your way to try to contact the customer to have the initial conversation. Don’t make your customer come looking for you. Especially if you are part of a company with any reasonable size, locating the right person in charge may be dang near impossible for your customers. By the time they get lost in your support voicemail hell, or try to push something up the line through your sales channel, or whatever, they may give up on both you and your company. You know they’ll be happy to tell their friends all about it.

I actually got my first lesson in this back when I was in college and supervising one of our city’s swimming pools. One woman was unfortunate enough to receive a car wash from a poorly aimed lawn sprinkler. Problem was, her car windows were open. I thought I did everything right. I apologized. I sent a crew of lifeguards to her car with towels. And I gave her the names and phone numbers of everyone to call at the city offices the next day (it was a weekend). Later that day, when describing the situation to my manager, he responded with, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to take her information and then we would have the right city folks call her?” Duh. I put the onus on her, when I should have left it in our hands.

You need to be on the lookout for customers that are getting into trouble and might need proactive contacting. Ensure that your service and sales folks know that you need to be kept in the loop as early as possible on customers that might be degenerating. Maybe you can get a weekly report on “hot customers”, or maybe you have some sort of CRM system that will allow you to automatically generate notifications or reports of big issues out in the wild. Whatever you do, do something.
 Hi Joe, this is Ed with XYZ Systems. I noticed that you had filed a number of problem reports recently, and I just wanted to talk with you about your business, what you're doing with our products, and any suggestions you might have for what we could change or do better.
Seeing something going wrong, and proactively contacting the customer about it will leave your customer absolutely amazed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Customers are a terrible thing!

If you have the fortune of being in a startup type of company, you have the luxury of probably not having any customers yet. You might have some strong possibilities that you’re talking to, but nobody has formally paid you money yet (other than your investors!). You also don’t have any type of product on the market. That means no support headaches. Nobody screaming at you to fix anything. Nobody telling you that they have to have some particular thing as soon as freaking possible. You are free to focus your attention on getting together the initial version of whatever product or service you intend to offer.


Fast forward a few months – you’re now officially “in business.” You’ve started selling to those long-sought-after customers and the money is starting to flow. Unfortunately, so are the headaches. Now you’ve got folks out there who are actually relying on your product or service. They paid good money, and they expect everything to be perfect. And they also feel that they have the right to dictate your future direction. Not that that is a bad thing, but it is a distracting thing.

So, now, all that wonderful focus you were able to have at the beginning is getting diluted by the problems and suggestions of your newfound customer base. Hence, “customers are a terrible thing” – they make you focus on and do things that you might rather not. It’s frustrating having to divert so much time to these tasks, especially if you still have a long list of stuff you wish you had done the first time around.

You have two choices here. One, do the best possible job in the first pass at whatever product or service you’re planning to offer so that you’ll be able to avoid most of the requests and complaints. Good luck with that. Of course, you may never get to market, ever, probably resulting in running out of funds before a good revenue flow gets going.

Or, two, appreciate your customers for what they’re doing – telling you exactly what you need to do to provide more value to them. By fixing problems and providing things they specifically request, you are helping them, providing more value for what they’re paying, all while you are increasing your company’s value as well. Everybody wins.

In fact, the key point here is to include some of your likely customers early in the process. Even if you are a well-established company, this applies if you’re beginning work on some new product as well. Get those customers into your shop and pick their brains clean to the nub. But don’t stop there. Bring them in as often as you can (even if via phone or video conference) to see the work in progress and offer fine-tuning to your ideas as you go.

That will prevent you from marching down completely invalid paths, providing overly complex solutions, or adding things that “get in the way” rather than adding true value. Development of your solution will not take longer than it otherwise would. Indeed, by saving all the backtracking, false starts, and duplicated efforts, you will save – significantly – in the long run.

Having 100% of your customers be satisfied 100% of the time is impossible, so accept the fact that you’ll have to speak with a few of the peeved ones occasionally. Do not avoid these interactions – unpleasant as they might sound. On the surface, these situations appear to have all the excitement of a good rope burn. But, handled deftly, you have the opportunity to turn them around and transform a customer from miserable to delighted.

More on that next time.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cost of health insurance... OUCH!

To folks who wonder about what affect the affordable care act will have on small businesses, here’s a specific example. I’m not going to get political about this… I’m just relating facts…

I handle the policy work for Mindnest’s company’s benefits. At the warning of our insurance broker a few months ago, we renewed our plan in December of last year (a few months early) to avoid having to renew this coming March on the 1-year anniversary. Our total premium increased about 15%.

We had renewed through our broker, but we just received the direct information from the insurance company itself, giving us the info for renewing this March (seems that group didn’t get the word we had already renewed through the broker).  Bottom line: our premium would be going up 64%, but the employees would also be subject to this:
  • out of network coinsurance increased
  • doctor visit coinsurance increased
  • specialist coinsurance increased
  • DOUBLING of out of pocket max (from $8000 to $16000)
  • drug costs significantly increased
If we were really renewing now, and if we wanted to maintain the best plan we could, while sticking with about the same premiums we were paying, we’d have to go to a lower plan, but that would hit our employees with this:
  • big increases in coinsurances
  • doubling of coinsurances to see doctors and specialists
  • doubling of deductibles
  • TRIPLING of max out of pockets (each family could spend up to $25000 a year)
  • more than doubling of drug costs
Note that all of these other costs are items that directly hit the employee, not me the employer. So even if we were to hold OUR costs the same, the employee takes a huge hit. The inherent value of the insurance has been decreased.

So, as small employers are asked to double their costs for providing health insurance, they certainly may choose to do that, but how many will simply dump their employees into the exchanges and pay a small fine instead? Or, how many will hold the line (or pull back) on salaries, bonuses, and other benefits to compensate for the extra burden? I guess we shall see.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Say what you mean!

Back last June, I blogged about negotiating in good faith (see the original post here). As the primary example of lousy negotiating environments, I used buying new or used cars. The dealerships will do everything in their power to overwhelm you. They will have you bargain with people who have no power to bargain. They will try to slip stuff by you. And on, and on, and on. And this is with the "nicer" guys.

Time has a way of blurring old memories, so when I re-entered the car purchase process a couple weeks ago, I was expecting that maybe things weren't as bad as I had remembered. Ha.

Once again, we found ourselves talking to the sales guys (they had a team assigned to us), but each round of discussions had to go to some other guy, hidden far away, for his feedback. Getting a warranty thrown in required bargaining with yet another guy, and even some aspects required bargaining with the finance guy who was doing all the final paperwork. At pretty much every point in the process, somebody was figuring out how to throw in a few more of our bucks... without telling us.

All this would have been much easier if the guys we were working with had looked like or acted like scumbags. But the problem was they seemed like genuinely nice guys. Oh sure, they have a job to do, and everyone knows that. But this large dealership, and the nice guys, made it appear like all would be pretty straightforward. Their congeniality would have made it very easy to trust that they were working things out as they said they were, and that the final papers and numbers would have reflected exactly what they said it would. Only our careful checking and rechecking of figures allowed us to insert a few, "uh... wait a second..." checkpoints. It was obvious that alot of the chat, humor, and general friendliness was intentionally designed to impart a feeling of trust that would allow them to do a little more under the table manipulation.

Here's the sad part. Even if they had managed to insert the extra cost items they were trying to slip in, their total take would have been increased by only a tiny percentage. For the most part, I was willing to put them into a short list of dealerships I would be willing to deal with again. But now, they've lost future business from me. Was that really worth it for them? I would think not.

In your own business (and personal) dealings, don't be these guys. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Make your customers and suppliers comfortable in your negotiations. You may still get a deal with someone (you might be the only choice at the moment), but you may be losing out on future business with them. And people talk. Word gets around. When word about you gets around, make sure people have nice things to say.