Everyone knows Harley-Davidson. You need to wait in line if you want one of their motorcycles. And you’ll pay a premium for your hog because they’re so popular. Maybe you forgot when no one wanted to buy them. In 1981 when AMF tried to sell them, not one company offered to buy them. That’s quite a turn around from no one wanting you, to everyone who wants you standing in line. Their strategy for turning their business around has some powerful seeds of wisdom that can help us grow our businesses.
Know your business. Before they could focus on the customer they had to first focus on themselves. They had a product whose reputation for performance was less than stellar. They later got to poke fun at themselves in an ad. The ad had Malcolm Forbes’ hot air balloon hovering over a massive crowd of people. Forbes’ balloon was in the shape of a Harley bike. The caption said, “Thank G-d they don’t leak oil anymore.” They knew they had manufacturing and product problems. They focused on identifying the problems before they did anything else. They fixed their problems before they focused on their customers.
Know your customers. Harley-Davidson leadership identified who their customer was. Sure there’s the beefy, leather-clad tattooed rider who buys their product. Now their customer is most likely to be over 40. There are more women buyers than ever. When they examined who their true customer was, they decided it was their dealers. Their dealers were the focal point for the decision to buy a Harley. Harley-Davidson management decided that their job was to help their customers, the dealers, get customers. Their dealers became the customers that all programs were focused on.
Pay attention to details. Harley-Davidson now licenses a wide range of products. They range from helmets to clothing and accessories. You may have eaten at one of the Harley-Davidson Cafes. They even sell Harley-Davidson toys! Harley-Davidson is absolutely vigilant in protecting its logo in its placement and how it is used. They see every Harley-Davidson product with its logo as part of the Harley-Davidson experience. By paying very close attention to managing all the details in their licensing process, management can promote a positive Harley experience for their customers.
What Harley-Davidson does applies to everyone in sales. How they do it may be different than what each of us does in our businesses. The overall strategy works. Harley-Davidson went from losing $15.5 million in 1982 to earning $333.6 million in 1998. And they see themselves as a renewable company not a surviving one. Surviving companies don’t last. They are so focused on surviving that when the crisis passes, employees have nothing to hold on to. Renewable companies have continuity. They have employees who operate with a sense of personal responsibility. They don’t need a rulebook 2 inches thick. Their employees take the initiative to make the tough business decisions.
Harley-Davidson once had an ad showing the Harley-Davidson logo tattooed on a rider’s biceps. The caption said, “When’s the last time you felt so strongly about anything?” They don’t expect all their loyal customers to tattoo the Harley-Davidson logo on their arms. They do hope they’ll tattoo their Harley-Davidson experience on their hearts. Is the experience of buying from you tattooed on your customers’ hearts?