In the 1970s, Hewlett-Packard adopted what was then a novel technique to improve company performance. It was called “Management By Walking Around,” and because it was so effective, it caught on at other companies. By the mid-1980s, MBWA was firmly entrenched in America’s corporate lexicon.
MBWA required managers to literally walk around the workplace on a periodic basis and in an impromptu manner as opposed to spending the entire workday behind a desk issuing edicts in memo form. By walking around, a manager could check in on direct reports, observe processes and identify small problems before they became big ones.
As long as the manager wasn’t perceived as an over-the-shoulder-looking micromanager, MBWA boosted employee morale, because they felt like supervisors cared about them and their work.
To this day, many companies encourage managers to engage in MBWA. Sure, it has evolved, and different offshoots of the philosophy have sprouted, but the basic tenets remain. It’s just good management practice for the boss to get out among the troops on a regular basis.
But the power of walking around should not be reserved solely for management activities. A different kind of MBWA is also very effective: “MARKETING By Walking Around.”
Just as supervisors benefit from walking among their employees, marketing and sales professionals benefit from getting out and spending time with their clients. I have witnessed that firsthand from one of my mentors, Ted Seldin. (Beals serves as executive vice president of World Group, a commercial real estate company that is closely affiliated with Seldin Co.)
Seldin realized the power of Marketing By Walking Around early in his career, and though he is now 82 years old, he still does it faithfully every week. Seldin owns 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space. The businesses that occupy his storefronts and office suites are not just his customers, many are like family. Each year, Seldin wears out several layers of shoe leather walking from business to business.
Back in 1957, Seldin and his family purchased 1,000 acres of farmland just outside the suburban frontier of a growing city. The 1950s were boom years for suburbia, and the Seldin family decided to be a part of that trend. They built two regional shopping centers, several office buildings and planned residential neighborhoods with parks, schools, apartments and a bunch of suburban houses.
From the beginning, Seldin realized it was far better to keep a tenant in his buildings than it was to recruit a new one. That’s one of the reasons he has spent the past 50-plus years regularly walking his shopping centers and office buildings, popping in for friendly visits with his loyal tenants.
“How’s business going?” Seldin asks the manager or owner at each store. “Are you happy with the property? Is our staff serving you well?”
Seldin asks these questions and listens to the answers. He looks around the store and finds something he can compliment. He might ask how a recent promotion or sale went. He might comment on a new retail display. He might ask about a new product or service the business is offering.
The conversation usually goes on for a few minutes, and at the end of each visit, Seldin shakes the tenant’s hand, looks deep into his or her eyes and says with genuine sincerity, “We appreciate your business.”
Seldin’s tenants appreciate his commitment to Marketing By Walking Around, and it helps with retention. Sure, some tenants don’t last, but many have operated at Seldin’s properties for multiple decades.
And Seldin does more than just talk. He puts his money where his mouth is by going out of his way to patronize the businesses that call his properties “home.” If you have lunch with Ted Seldin, it’s most likely going to be at a restaurant that operates at one of his properties.
Marketing By Walking Around obviously is not the only reason for Seldin’s success but it has certainly played a big role. By taking the time to show earnest appreciation one-on-one with each of his customers, Seldin builds long-lasting, loyal relationships.
“We appreciate your business.” It’s a short phrase, but those four words are powerful.
Find time and make excuses to walk among your customers, the people who pay your salary and keep your company afloat. Visit with them. Ask them questions and listen carefully to the answers even if those answers are occasionally laced with constructive criticism.
Customers are precious and never to be taken for granted. Let them know that you appreciate them. Let them know you want them to succeed and that you appreciate being a long-term part of their success.
Jeff Beals is an Omaha author and speaker who can be reached at www.JeffBeals.com.