I’ve been thinking about the best piece of business advice I ever received. It was from a family friend and successful business owner. One day, over a meal, he said, “Go where the customers take you.”
Sometimes the deepest advice comes in the shortest of sentences.
That advice has been valuable throughout my career, but it has become more poignant over the past two years or so.
We’re facing one of those situations now. As you may know, Wal-Mart, with more than $341 billion in sales, is by far the largest grocery store chain in America. Its number of stores is more than three times as many as second-place Kroger and third-place Publix.
Recently, Wal-Mart changed some of its notification requirements for its suppliers. Basically, they wanted to better be able to track its myriad of products from the supplier to the storage warehouse to the distribution center to the store.
It kind of makes sense: I know that, depending on my emotional tie to a package, I watch my Amazon tracking notices like a hawk (and get home as soon as possible when it arrives!).
But why would Wal-Mart require this? Because technology makes it possible.
And technology is one thing we do pretty well. The way our information systems are set up, we are able to keep close track of products as they enter, are stored, and ultimately, leave our facility. Our reputation — and our clients — depend on it.
So when a client asked if there was a way to help with this new requirement for information on shipments that end at Wal-Mart, we listened.
Listening, of course, is the key.
“No” is the easy answer — after all, the extra work for our IT department to set up the process, as well as the hours of additional training to staff — these are real costs. But instead of the easy answer, we say, “We currently don’t, but I’ll see if we can.”
“No” is an ending. “Let’s see” opens a conversation.
“Let’s see” creates new partners.
“Let’s see” is the first step in going where our customers take us.