Shake On It: Simple Handshake and Being Nice Pays Off in the Long Run
By Mark Alison, President, The Alison Group
It was a sticky hot August morning when my car decided to break down somewhere between Augusta and Savannah. A steamy blanket of mist covered the asphalt and spilled over into the ditches. Sunburned corn stalks that had given up their bounty a month earlier stretched forever on both sides of the road. This was definitely rural Georgia.
Running on what sounded and felt like three cylinders, my car limped into a boarded up convenience store. I was hoping the outside pay phone was still working. As I explained my situation and told my 10 a.m. appointment I would be a little late, she said, “If you can’t make it on time, don’t come.”
We had spent days preparing this pitch. I knew I had one chance.
“I’ll try to be there,” I said, and hung up.
A couple of miles back I had seen a crooked sign for a crop dusting service so I headed that direction. The pavement gave way to an overgrown dirt road that ran alongside a cane break for a few hundred yards. When it opened up, there was no paved air-strip and no airplane hangars, just a faded blue single-wide mobile home on a raised concrete block foundation. No dogs, thank God.
I climbed the rickety wooden steps and knocked three times on the aluminum door. Nobody came. I reluctantly but desperately knocked again and saw the curtains move through the corner of my eye.
Then my confidence turned to mush. Did I mention this is rural Georgia and I am dressed in a suit, standing on some porch, on someone’s private property? Nobody would even hear a gunshot, I thought to myself.
“Yep?” was his response when he opened the door about halfway. A bearded man in his late 20s stood there, coffee cup in hand. He wore blue jeans and a working man’s shirt.
I spoke to him through the half screen door. I explained my car situation and asked, sheepishly, if it was possible that he could fly me to the Savannah airport.
He stared at me, turned his head slightly and then in a calm baritone voice said, “Hey, ain’t you Mark Alison?”
A million scenarios flashed through my mind in the instant before I owned up to the fact and said “Yes,” with an anxious smile. “How do you know me?”
“You worked for the Chronicle-Herald when I was working for Jack and Betty Pender’s plant nursery,” he explained. “You’d come by weekly to sell ads dressed in a white shirt and tie. Me and the other guys were slopping manure and re-potting plants but before you went in to see Ms. Pender you’d always take time to greet us and carry on a conversation. You seemed interested in what we had to say. You even shook our dirty gloved hands. Me and the others all figured you for a pretty good guy.”
He said his name was Jim and stuck out his hand. I didn’t remember Jim but that didn’t matter to him. He remembered me or at least had a positive perception of who I was from 13 years past.
I remembered reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends book around that time and he reinforced what I already knew about being nice to everyone. I guess it paid off.
“I remember there were always some guys who were busy around there,” I said, and we chatted for a few minutes more. He glanced around for the time, I guess a clock inside the trailer. “I’ll call Pete,” he said. “He has the fastest plane in the county and he will get you to your appointment on time.”
Fifteen minutes later Pete buzzed in low across the tall pines and landed in the front yard. I climbed up on the wing with my portfolio of work. The seat and instrument panel was literally held together by wire and duct tape.
Before I could finish my thought he said, “She don’t look like much but she flies like hell. I rebuilt the engine myself.”
There were no headsets so he and I yelled at each other to be heard above the engine noise. At 2,000 feet I could see the ocean and in no time we landed. He said he would wait. Ninety minutes later I was back after making the pitch on time and we made the short flight back to Jim’s field.
As we landed I thanked Pete profusely, kind of happy to be on the ground.
“What do I owe ya,” I asked before climbing out.
“How bout five bucks for the gas,” he said.
“Any friend of Jimmy’s is a friend of mine,” he said with a wave.
I shook his hand, thanked him again and watched him clear the trees.
“Nobody will believe this story,” I thought.
In those days it was simply a good deed rendered for a kind word spoken. If it happened today we would call it positive reputation management, social media marketing, sales and perhaps even a blog story. Heck, it might even go viral.
Either way Carnegie was right – good marketing still starts with a handshake. And a bit of appreciation doesn’t hurt either.
Mark Alison is President of The Alison Group (started in 1982) with offices in Augusta and Charlotte. TAG is a B2B Marketing and Communication Company with a rich history of creating new business growth. Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.