What do chili, steak and ale have in common? When Norman Brinker takes an interest they all get much, much better. Norman Brinker, currently the Chairman of the Board of Brinker International, once was one of the highest paid food industry executives when he was President of the Pillsbury Restaurant Group. He risked it all to see if his successful management principles for large businesses applied to a small business. In 1983 he bought the small Chili’s restaurant chain (28 restaurants) and turned it into a $2.3 billion international business. This included eight additional chains employing 99,000 people. His management principles were an overwhelming success at a small business. They’re also great principles to apply to selling.
Surround yourself with people who know more than you do. Brinker attributed his success to knowing what he didn’t know. He then chose to work with people who were knowledgeable in areas where he lacked expertise. He surrounded himself with those types of people. His comment about the staff he chose supports this principle. He says, “Sinners can repent, stupidity is forever.”
In selling we’ve got to keep learning about business, our products and our customers. We can choose to surround ourselves with people who can add to our education or diminish our progress. We can look to salespeople and others who know more than we do and ask for their input on our selling strategies. Listen to the customers you admire who describe what worked for them and also what procedures were less successful. By looking to someone smarter, we can increase our probability of success in selling. Selling is challenging enough. Let’s make it easier by surrounding ourselves with smarter people and learning from them. We can learn from their successes and failures. Groucho Marx was right when he said, “We can learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have time to make them all ourselves.”
Take risks. Brinker recommends taking risks, but not wild ones. He described his business career which started at Jack in the Box. He left to start Steak and Ale in 1965 and also developed the Bennigan’s restaurant concept. He then renamed his company S&A Restaurant Corp. and merged it with Pillsbury. He became an executive with Pillsbury and was one of the industry’s highest paid executive. His decision to leave Pillsbury was risky. He wanted to see if his management principles would work in a smaller business. In order to buy Chili’s he would have to sign a $12 million note. He did. Of course he would be able to tap into his years of experience, contacts and skills he had acquired.
In sales we can take risks by creating new ideas for our customers’ businesses, trying new sales techniques or doing something different than we’ve always done. Some of our ideas will succeed and some will fail. With our experience and skill behind us more of our ideas will succeed than fail. Our customers will appreciate the input and we will become more valuable to them. It might even make selling better for us. When Brinker took the risk of leaving and discussed his resignation with Pillsbury’s CEO after deciding to go to Chili’s he heard, “Norman, how come you always get to have the fun?”
Find out what your customers think. How do you know what your customers think about your products and services? Brinker would stand outside his restaurants and talk with his customers. He might say, “What kind of joint is this?” Or he’d ask a customer, “How’s the value of this restaurant? I don’t have a big budget.” He never had a clipboard. He talked with his customers, listened and got honest feedback. He was more successful in the smaller towns of Texas. When he was in Dallas some of his customers would say, “Well Norman, why do you want to know?”
You may think Norman Brinker has done it all. He was asked what he’d do differently in his life if he could. He responded, “I’d do more.” That’s another principle for selling. He made a wonderful difference in so many people’s lives and knew he had so much more to do. What a great salesman.