Be patient – You are a Christmas tree farmer

Yesterday, I ran into a 24-year old young man who is the son of close family friends. I’ve known “Jake” since he was a little kid, so I’ve seen for years that he has a magnetic, charismatic personality, and has always been able to attract friends.

About a year ago Jake started working for a local firm selling life insurance and investments – a very difficult career for anyone to start at a young age, with its long sales cycles and the need to get people to trust you with their money.  He and I work out at the same club, so I see him on a regular basis and have a chance to hear updates on his progress. Some days I’d see him, elated, after a promising meeting with a prospect.  Sometimes he was discouraged he wasn’t closing more sales yet.

My comments to him:  You have started a career path where long-term relationships create riches.  If you have enough great meetings with prospects now, you will start to build relationships with some of them.  When you are 40, some of the relationships you start this month may be paying your mortgage.  Meetings you have next month will start relationships that will help send your kids to college.  If anybody can make it in this business, you can. The only question: Can you wait?

In most businesses, customer relationships are your most valuable asset. Jake has chosen a business where this is especially true, with great rewards for those who can create and nurture long-term relationships.  But we’re all like Jake to an extent: Can we be patient and invest now, one relationship-building encounter at a time, in building those relationships that will help us prosper in the future?

Certainly, Jake could use his exceptional relationship-building skills for more short-term financial gains.  He could be a waiter in a fine-dining restaurant, creating 45-minute relationships that, I’m sure, would earn him the largest tips of all the servers.  But, beyond the few repeat customers who ask for him, these relationships wouldn’t create lasting value for Jake.  If his insurance job is like that of a christmas tree farmer, being a waiter would be more like that of a migrant worker, earning wages for today but starting over tomorrow.

I’m rooting for Jake, and for his firm. If he and they can be patient, all will benefit, including Jake’s future clients, since We relationships create strong benefits for both  buyers and sellers.

It’s easy to look at Jake’s situation and think, “I’m glad that’s not me. I could never sell insurance.” And yes, specifically, I could never sell insurance. I’d go nuts.  But Jake’s job really isn’t selling insurance. It’s building relationships that differentiate him from other providers in the minds of his clients.  And when we recognize that we again remind ourselves that Jake’s challenge is our challenge: Do we want to be the migrant worker or the christmas tree farmer?  Do we want to build our business around short-term transactions that produce their yields now, or do we want to invest in a rich, bountiful future harvest?

1 Comment

  • Amanda Cullen
    Dec 11, 2009 - 14:38 pm

    Christmas tree farmers may work hard on their future harvests, but they need the lessons from this post, too.

    Against their best efforts, my husband and I have developed a relationship with the family farm we visit for our Christmas tree. At this farm, you cut your own tree, and it’s great fun. But our favorite part of the experience is the bah-humbug attitude of the multi-generational family staff.

    The best example was last year, when the pater familias handed us the saw and started into his long-winded spiel, “Stay on the gravel and only cut trees on the left side. When you finish, come back here. We’ll tie down the tree while you go into that tent to pay. While you’re in there, buy a wreath or whatever other shit she’s made.” He spoke so fast that I don’t think most kids would catch the color commentary… I hope.

    My husband and I may have a perverse sense of humor, so we enjoy this spectacle. But, of course, imagine how many more loyal customers this farm would have if they instilled a little bit more “Christmas cheer” into the whole process.

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