by Tom Gaylord, The Godfather of Airguns™
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

• What motivates people to buy?
• Problems are the perfect time to succeed!
• Try the product you sell!
• Don’t fire your star salesman!
• Listen to your customers
• Make THEM do it!
• The point

“To sell John Brown what John Brown buys, you have to see the world through John Brown’s eyes.”

What motivates people to buy?
That profound saying came to me when I was 16; and when I first read it, it made perfect sense. I knew that I responded best when a sale was structured in my favor, so why wouldn’t that work the same for everybody? You might also say, “Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes.”

But organizations don’t always do that — do they? And when they don’t, we feel the disconnect of poor decisions made to favor the company rather than the customer.

For example, long ago, I bought a Beeman Model 66 Blue Ribbon scope from a gun store in Silver Spring, Maryland. This store was a place where I did business frequently. I bought the scope because it was a Beeman; and at the time (the late 1980s), the American airgun community thought very highly of Beeman and their products. This had to be a wonderful scope — it cost a lot of money and carried the Beeman name.

Alas, the scope broke soon after I mounted it on an air rifle. The reticle tilted on an angle inside the tube, and I didn’t have to know much about scopes to know it was broken. So, I returned it to the store. They told me they could not fix it, and they had to return it to Beeman for repairs. I was so naive in those days that I really thought Beeman repaired scopes.

One month passed, then two months and no scope. I called the store every few days to learn the status, which was always the same — no scope yet. Finally, I went down and talked to the store owner. I reminded him of the details of this transaction and told him I thought he should do something about it right then and there. We went back and forth for a few minutes, and I walked out with a small refund and a new RWS scope.

Here’s my point. Beeman Precision Airguns in California set this Maryland dealer up as a “5-Star Beeman Dealer.” They had to buy a certain amount of Beeman products to get that status; but once they did, Beeman published the store’s name in their catalog, along with all other Beeman 5-Star dealers. Beeman told them that they stood behind all their products, and that being a 5-Star Beeman Dealer was a very good thing. And I’m sure Beeman thought that it was! I’m sure that in their company conference room, all the Beeman employees smiled at one another and agreed that this was a sound business plan that would help the dealers and grow the parent company, Beeman Precision Airguns, as well.

But they forgot one thing — the customer! The reason I shopped at a brick-and-mortar store, rather then going through the mail, was because I could go to someone when I had a problem and look them in the eye to get it resolved. Beeman overlooked that by turning this brick-and-mortar store into a mail-order drop-house for Beeman products. When there was a problem with anything carrying the Beeman name, it had to be handled through the mail and on the telephone. In other words, I was no better off than if I’d dealt directly with Beeman and cut the store out of the equation!

If a Remington rifle broke down, the same system was in place to support it, but Remington had something Beeman didn’t — territorial representatives. They were the guys who made the system work behind the scenes, so people like me didn’t have to wait two months to get satisfaction.

Beeman was thinking of themselves when they set up their sales program. I’m sure they had every intention of making it work as it should, but it didn’t. And this is not an isolated incident. Several years later, when I was writing the R1 book, my first R1 rifle broke in a way that I could not fix. It had to have a part welded back on the gun. The store wouldn’t send it back for me, so I had to return it myself. When I did, Beeman was faithful to their Lifetime Repair Policy I’d purchased with the gun — and they fixed it right away. But they had to disassemble the gun to weld it, so when they assembled it again, they gave it a moly tune. I was in the middle of recording the break-in of a factory-new rifle for my book, and this unscheduled moly tune ruined the entire test.

Beeman didn’t like hearing about my problem, but I demanded and got a second brand-new gun, which then had to be broken-in and documented all over again. If you’ve read the R1 book, it’s all in there.

Again, I was dealing with a company by remote control — through the filters of a continent, three time zones and the telephone system. And they had a hard time understanding why the kind thing they did for me (the lubing of the repaired gun) wasn’t good. I was the customer, and in their eyes I clearly wasn’t right! I didn’t understand that they were being nice to me.

Problems are the perfect time to succeed!
Joe Girrard holds the world record for selling the most cars in one year. All his sales are one at a time — no fleet sales! As a result, he’s been called The World’s Greatest Salesman by the Guiness Book of World Records. He always tries to satisfy his customers; but when there are problems, he really swings into action! He’s learned that by solving a customer’s problems, he can make as many as 250 important word-of-mouth contacts, which is how he earned his salesman’s title. He knows that people don’t talk much when they’re satisfied, but you can’t shut them up when they have a problem! So, solving problems after the sale is more important than making the sale to begin with. If you solve them, your customers will refer you to their friends — and even to their recent acquaintances! Ain’t nobody who don’t need a good car guy or plumber, these days!

…people don’t talk much when they are satisfied, but you can’t shut them up when they have a problem!

The reverse is also true. A bad experience becomes a cautionary tale that gets retold hundreds of times. “Whatever you do, don’t shop there!” In the Army, we had a saying that sums this up. One bad experience cancels 100 attaboys (only we didn’t say “bad experience”).

Try the product you sell!
I never cease to be amazed that the decision-makers in companies have not tried the products their company makes. Let’s stay with airguns. What does a company president think when he cocks a breakbarrel rifle that takes 50 lbs. of effort, and he has to do it 50 times at one sitting? Having done that more than once myself, I’m pretty sure that no company president ever did the same. If they did, that gun wouldn’t have made it to market.

I know that companies pass new products around the conference table to let everyone in the management team get their hands on them, but who actually tries these products? “Oh, we let our engineers handle that!” should not be the answer.

If a product requires skill to operate, you don’t let the designer test it! You don’t let software engineers who program websites test those websites, too! They know how those sites are supposed to work. You don’t want that. You want people who are barely able to navigate around the internet testing your new websites, because they’ll make all the mistakes that your customers will. If you’re clever, they’ll make these mistakes before the website goes live! Or, you can just do what the Obama Care website did earlier this year, and suffer a huge publicity embarrassment when the new site launches and then locks up.

Don’t fire your star salesman!
What I’m about to describe is so unbelievable, yet also so common that I think it must be a sign of widespread mental illness. Out of a group of salespeople in a company, one person often rises above the rest. He or she out-sells everyone and earns large commissions. When that fact becomes well-known, corporate insanity sets in. At first, the sales manager takes territory away from the star to “level the playing field.” But the star keeps right on performing, and the mediocre sales staff start screwing up the company’s top accounts that were given to them. Maybe the sales manager has discovered that the top salesperson earns more money than him or her. That can’t be right, can it?

In some instances, the top salesperson out-earned the company CEO! Then, they were fired. Because you can’t have someone working for you who out-earns you. That doesn’t make sense — does it?

I used a salesman in my example, but the same holds true for a good engineer, a dynamite warehouse manager who keeps the wheels turning, a popular customer service representative whom everyone asks for when they call the company, and a top-flight maintenance tech who makes the customers’ problems their own. None of these people earn commissions, so they aren’t going to trigger the jealousy response based on dollars, but people can still be jealous for many reasons not related to money. Maybe, the star employee has a long history with the company and knows more about what they do (and have done) than those currently in charge. Or maybe they’re the new person on the team who sees that the emperor is not wearing clothes and says so out loud.

We think companies are in business to make money and to succeed, but there are dangerous games played by some employees that can negate any good done on the company’s behalf. The various intelligence and law enforcement organizations of this nation play these games. In their world, it can be more important that “they” (the sister organizations) fail, than it is for “us” to succeed.

Listen to your customers
The internet allows companies to listen to what their customers are saying about products. Of course, you have to filter through these comments to remove the drivel and the meaningless chatter, but that’s no different than being at a party and listening to all the conversations. The ones that make sense are the ones you listen to.

For instance, let’s say that on an airgun blog, 90 percent of those commenting dislike fiberoptic sights. Let’s say they make it very clear they would rather not have fiberoptics of any kind on their airguns.

But let’s also say that your marketing manager learns that 75 percent of all shooters like fiberoptic sights and will only buy guns that have them. Which source should you believe? Would you believe they can both be right?

If the people who comment on the blog are known to spend $300 and more on an air rifle, but the people your marketing manager polled are those who only buy airguns from discount stores, then perhaps there is a dichotomy to the data. Perhaps those who spend a lot of money on airguns want plain sights, while those who buy based on price alone want fiberoptics. A clever company, discovering this, would have a price point above which the guns would have plain sights and below which they would have fiberoptics. They would then be listening to all their customers.

Make THEM do it!
I remember the old M60A1 tank, whose air-cooled generator sat on the bottom of the engine compartment, under the 12-cylinder air-cooled twin-turbo diesel engine, where the hot air surrounded it and didn’t circulate. That generator failed more than any other single part on the tank engine; and when it did, you had to pull the engine out of the tank to replace it.

The people who designed the M60 and M60A1 put things where they wanted and where it was convenient for them. To pull an engine required the disconnection of many electrical quick-disconnect Cannon plugs that were located all around the engine bay. Disconnecting some of those plugs required the services of the proverbial left-handed double-jointed skinny mechanic.

About 15 years after it was introduced, the Army put the M60 A1 tank through a Reliability Improved through Systems Engineering (RISE) program. All the electrical Cannon plugs were routed to a central panel that was easy to get at, and the generator went from being air-cooled to oil-cooled. The engine that had taken about 12 man-hours to remove dropped to about two man-hours, but removing it ceased to be necessary because the oil-cooled generator stopped failing altogether! The availability of the M60-series tanks went from low to very high, just as a result of changing these few things.

The RISE program was a “How would you build it if you could?” program, and it changed the readiness of American battle tanks overnight. Using the same logic, an air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle engine is replaceable in a few hours, while on certain performance cars you have to lift the engine off the motor mounts to get enough clearance to check all the spark plugs.

In all these examples, those vehicles that were designed for easy maintenance were designed by people who maintained vehicles, while the ones that were not designed that way were designed by stylists whose only concern was what something looked like.

The point
The point of all of this is to put yourself in the customer’s position. Use the product the way he has to use it. Maintain the product the way you ask him to maintain it. I believe that if all corporate decisions were required to pass a test like this, fewer poorly designed products would get to the market.