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Lessons From Software and Fast-Food Giants

By Chuck Delaney

July 24, 2019

Before we get to these two common complaints: “Man, if my salespeople would just get out there and see more people, most of our problems would be solved,” or, “If all of my salespeople were as good as Frank [another salesperson], we’d be in good shape” …

Let’s step out of the box business for a minute for an example with which everyone is familiar. At last count, Microsoft has about 135,000 employees. Of those, I’ve got to believe that up to 20,000 of them are acting as salespeople calling on corporate and educational customers.

That is a ton of salespeople, on the road or on the phone every day. I’ll bet that you either know one or more of them personally or have had the opportunity to be “sold” by them at some point. Even if you haven’t, consider the following statements about that sales staff:

  • All or most of Bill Gates’ salespeople were born in Lake Wobegon. (For those of you who don’t listen to public radio, they are all above average.)
  • All or most operate in the same way as Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer (or for that matter, the same way as each other). Microsoft is successful because their sales force is one of the best in the world.

If you don’t like this software example, consider fast food for a minute. The last time you went into a McDonald’s, I’ll bet you looked around at their sales staff (that’s what they are) and said to yourself, “Man, look at all these above-average employees. I wish mine were just like them! We could sell a whole lot more packaging if that were the case.” Of course you didn’t!

A Very Brief History of Microsoft and McDonald’s

Think back now to the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s. (I know, most of us aren’t that old, but give it a shot anyhow.) These time periods were just a few years after each company was started (McDonald’s in the ’50s, Microsoft in the ’70s). Each of these companies was very small, and each was getting prepared for massive growth and ready to embark on a huge profit track.

Yet, oddly enough, the following statements accurately describe both of them:

  • Their products were not necessarily better than their competitors’.
  • Neither of them was bragging about producing their product on the latest, greatest equipment.
  • Neither was the first to make an operating system or to grill a hamburger.
  • Neither told their customers about how great their employees were or what a beautiful building they had in order to sell their products.

So, what were they doing that led to their success? Both of these companies saw an opportunity to occupy a position in the customer’s mind that made sense to the customer. So, they took full advantage of trends in the market, the changing face of customer behavior, and new technology to set themselves apart: You wanted an easy-to-use interface or software for this new thing called a computer? Microsoft was the best choice. You wanted a good hamburger fast and consistently just about anywhere you went? The Golden Arches were for you!

Fast-forward to 2019:

  • Neither of them objectively has the best product on the market.
  • Neither counts on getting customers based on the fact that they create their products on the latest and greatest equipment.
  • Rarely is either first to the market with anything.
  • Neither has better employees on average than their competitors.
  • And, neither is in markets with no competition.

Yet, both Microsoft and McDonald’s continue to dominate their markets the way nobody in recent history has been able to do. They do it solely by getting their customers to believe that they have the best solution to the problem that the customer is trying to solve. Need pretty good, pretty reliable software at a good price that will probably run on a decent PC? Microsoft. Need pretty good-tasting food that is pretty much the same everywhere at a reasonable price? McDonald’s.

Now, you may not want to be Microsoft or McDonald’s for many reasons. I know that I don’t want to be that big or have that many employees. But, regardless of your aspirations as a businessperson, there are some very basic, very important lessons to learn from them.

width=150Chuck Delaney is managing director of GROW Retail Technologies. He can be reached at 708-491-5090 or