Claudia Steed and the Be Uncommon Initiative

I’m not a big fan of fitting in and being just another face in the crowd. I love standing out and being known for doing good and interesting things.

So I started a philosophy at Robroy called Be Uncommon.

It means, if you’re living in the shadow of giants, (i.e., your company is small and your competitors are huge), the only way to be noticed is to Be Uncommon because you will not be able to out market the giants, outspend the giants, or have the same resource base as the giants.

Uncommon Ground restaurant. Would be a great place for the Be Uncommon crowd to meet.
Uncommon Ground restaurant on Clark Street in Chicago
But being uncommon is an attitude that you can do better than anyone, no matter how big they are.

Be uncommonly courteous. Be uncommonly swift. Be uncommonly gracious. Be uncommonly accurate. You can do all that and it won’t cost you anything.

This is something I’d love for the country’s cable companies to practice. I know whenever I have a cable problem, I’m on the phone for at least 20 minutes just waiting to speak to someone.

When I was leading Robroy, whenever a customer had a perceived or real complaint on a job site, it didn’t matter where in the world it was, we said someone would be there within 24 hours.

That could have been over a major breakdown or just a $59 part. In fact, it may not have been a real problem, but a perceived problem that just needed a little education. We showed them how to prevent the problem, or we solved the real problem, and the customer was ecstatic. And we kept their business.

That ends up being uncommon. Just the idea that we would send someone within 24 hours to fix a problem was almost-unheard of in our industry. Can you imagine if you had a cable problem, and someone was at your door in 24 hours to fix it, you’d be impressed, right?

And if they could identify the problem quickly and easily, you probably wouldn’t even negotiate the price, you’d just pay it if it meant fixing a major pain point. Therein lies the result of being uncommon. Provide uncommonly good service, and people will pay for it.

At Robroy, we worked with manufacturers reps. They sold our products, but they were independent and not employed by us; they sold a number of different product lines from a number of different suppliers. I would often fly six of my top reps in to meet with me, to discuss business and our products. I would always fly them first class to our office in Gilmer, Texas. Uncommon, right?

What that bought me is that I was probably only 2% of their total revenue, but I was 80% of their mindshare. They wanted to continue to move our product and do good work for us, because we took good, good care of them.

(And the truth is, it didn’t cost me anything, because I used my credit card frequent flier miles to upgrade them. Just don’t tell them that.)

I did it because I was living in the shadow of giants. I only had 2% of my top reps’ revenue — my top reps! — so how could I get their mindshare?

If a problem takes up 2% of your time, you don’t pay attention to it, and focus instead on the big problems. If a product only creates 2% of your total revenue, you’re thankful for the extra money, but you don’t put much thought or effort into increasing it, you focus on the products that bring you 20, 30, or even 50% of your revenue.

So I knew I had to be uncommon to get them to think of us more than 2% of the time. And first class air travel was a small price to pay for such a big impact.

How do you encourage your whole company to Be Uncommon?

I encouraged Be Uncommon throughout the entire company, not just in our sales and marketing departments. I wanted everyone to be uncommon. So how do you get someone who maybe doesn’t interact with a customer directly to be uncommon?

You measure the hell out of everything and do it quantifiably.

If you knew what the average was — what the “common” was — for your particular role, then you would look for a way to do better. If your accounting department messed up 10 invoices per month, you tried to reduce that to five the next month, and zero the month after. If you’ve had zero errors in a year, then find a way to simplify the invoicing process and improve its efficiency.

If your production department has a 10% rejection rate, try to improve that by a percentage point each month. If you can reduce it to just a few rejected units per month, that’s pretty good. (But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do better.)

You can’t be perfect, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Find a way to improve a little bit everyday, everywhere. Try to eliminate mistakes and be perfect.

Several weeks ago, I received a very nice note from Claudia Steed, one of my HR managers at Robroy.. (It was a lovely note, and it certainly warmed my heart. And it inspired this blog article.)

In her note, she said that she had learned “the importance of measuring output in terms of accountability and how Human Resources and all departments were connected together or must work together to form the synergy needed for a successful business to operate.

She also said she continues to use the initiative of “being uncommon” as a benchmark in her own small business today.

Claudia’s small business is that she now makes her own candy, and takes it to different flea markets and sells it. It’s something she loves doing, and she’s found a way to not only measure her output, but has found a way to Be Uncommon enough from all the other candy makers and all the other flea market booths. And she’s making a fairly good living out of making her candy.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Photo credit: Keith Cooper (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Author: David Marshall
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.