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Defending the Indefensible

I’ve read and received a lot of commentary and feedback on the United Airlines situation.  My initial thoughts, and my own episode of passenger abuse, was recapped in my post, “Stop Customer Abuse!”  If you haven’t read it, you might do so now.

Frankly, a lot of the defenses of United Airlines’ conduct in throwing the passenger off the flight are incredible to me.  I think much of what I’ve heard and read reflects the type of society and business culture that we either have become, or are becoming –and should turn away from.  I’ll sum those thoughts up at the end of this post.  For now, though, let me just recap some of the defenses, and I’ll explain why those aren’t really valid.

“Flying is a privilege, not a right.”  I heard this from a United pilot who called into a popular talk radio show.  Really?  Oddly enough, I seldom feel privileged when I fly.  First of all, few of us pay for a ‘privilege.’  I don’t feel privileged when I go through the TSA screening routine, nor when I sit in small, uncomfortable seats.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mind flying.  But I think the ‘privilege’ probably feels different if you’re PAID to be there rather than the one paying.

“We have rules – we have to put off unruly passengers for our safety.”  Horse puckey. The passenger was, by all accounts, perfectly reasonable and calm UNTIL he was told to get off the plane, giving up the seat that he paid good money for.  I’d be angry too; wouldn’t you?

“United’s flight crew absolutely had to be in Louisville by the next morning.  That’s why they had to put passengers off the plane.”  I’m guessing that this situation didn’t just spring up; why didn’t United plan accordingly for this?  They could have stopped selling seats on the plane when there were four seats left for the flight crew, for instance.  Or – and I know this is radical – they could have found another flight on another carrier going to Louisville and put those people on THAT flight.  They’d have probably gotten better service there anyway.

“Denial of boarding is usually handled in a more mature fashion.”  This little bit of genius came from United’s past CEO.  Leaving aside the issue of calling a guy who spent money to fly your airline immature, the fact is that the boarding itself went just fine.  Things went haywire AFTER the guy had boarded, and they decided to pull him back out of his seat.  I’ve also heard a couple of lawyers say that this is a very important distinction.  According to these lawyers – and keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer – the airlines can do what they want, basically, before the passenger boards the plane.  However, after the passenger boards the plane and sits in his assigned seat, that leeway gets much smaller.  This could make things very interesting when this dispute makes it to the legal arena.

“I heard the guy had mental issues, drug problems, etc.”  A red herring.  Again, by all accounts, the passenger was perfectly peaceful and calm until he was ordered to give up his seat.  From that point, he might (or might not) have had issues that escalated the situation, but why does that matter?  If United simply lives up to their promise of getting him from Chicago to Louisville, there’s no problem.

“Hey, they offered $800.  That’s generous; why didn’t he just take it?”  First of all, it’s the passenger’s choice to take the offered compensation.  When no one took the offer, United should have simply kept upping the offer until enough people accepted it to accommodate their employees – if said employees had to be on that plane.  Second, what is seldom reported is that the $800 offer is not cash money.  It’s a voucher for more flying on United.  Given the situation, why in the world would anyone want to get MORE flying on United?  I was involved in a similar situation years ago (with an airline that wasn’t Southwest), and the conversation went like this:  Me – “Is that $500 offer cash?”  Them – “No, it’s a voucher for more airfare on our airline.” Me – “Never mind.”  Them – “Why not?”  Me – “Because if I ever fly your airline again, it’ll be an accident.”  Want to sway people?  Wave $100 bills.

“There are rules, regulations, a contract that goes with the ticket, etc.”  Yes.  There is a contract online that you can download and view.  I’ve never viewed it, and I’m betting that few travelers – even frequent ones – have.  It basically covers the airline’s behind legally.

But – and this gets to my point in this entire piece – what ever happened to simple right and wrong?  United is ducking and covering behind contracts, policies, and legalese.  What amazes me, though, is that during this entire sad episode, not a single involved United employee stopped what was going on and said, “You know, to hell with our policy.  This is WRONG.  This is not how you treat people who spent money with us.”  At no point during the physical assault on the passenger did any of the “security” personnel stop and say, “Hey, guys, you know, maybe beating the snot out of this guy isn’t really the right thing to do.”  I’m not talking about reading from a policy manual; I’m talking about employing simple humanity.

At what point did we begin substituting policies and legalese for simple morality and sense of right and wrong?  We’re becoming, in too many ways, a business culture that values what we can get away with, rather than fulfilling promises and doing what’s right.  It’s at times like this when I think of what my grandfather told me.

“Troy, when it’s possible, just do business on a handshake.  If a man’s handshake isn’t any good, his signature won’t be either.”

Stop the Customer Abuse!

In all the instances of customer abuse, I think we have a new low.  This story has gone viral:


If you haven’t read it, go read it now.  Here’s the short version.  A United Airlines flight leaving Chicago for Louisville was sold out.  Then, somehow, it came about that four United Airlines employees “had” to be on that flight so that they could be in Louisville on Monday.  They offered incentives for volunteers to give up their seat.  Finding none, they then announced that the computer would randomly select four passengers to give up their seats.

Now, a quick question. When you book a flight, are your travel plans “random?”  Mine aren’t.  In fact, usually, I’m flying because I have a definite engagement to get to, at a specific time.

Apparently, the passenger in this video had the same situation.  He said he was a doctor, had patients to see, and had to be in Louisville Monday morning.  Now, it appears, the good doctor will need a doctor himself.  For his unforgivable transgression of refusing to give up the seat for which he paid good money, he was physically assaulted and dragged off the plane by ‘security.’  In the video, he can be clearly seen to be unconscious and bleeding.

Another question.  Security is there to protect people.  Who, exactly, was endangered by this doctor?  More to the point, what law was being broken?  It seems to me that the only law that might have been broken was “theft of services,” by forcibly taking away the seat that he’d paid for.

I’m not big on lawsuits, but I hope this guy sues them for big bucks and wins bigger bucks.  It’s about time this crap ended.  I have a feeling that United, if they were competently run, knew well ahead of time that they had four people to transport to Louisville, and should have made arrangements to do so without punishing the customers that had already paid.

Now, I have a story of my own.  I thought extensively about whether to post it, but I’m going to because there’s a connection.  As you probably know, I just returned from Spain.  It was a wonderful trip, except for the flight out on Air Canada.  Here’s what happened, and it also constitutes abuse of a paying customer.

My flight had three legs.  I flew from Kansas City to Toronto, from Toronto to Montreal, then from Montreal to Barcelona.  I had one carry-on bag and one checked bag.  Like most of you, I put the most important stuff in the carry-on.  And my carry-on is the maximum allowable size.  It fits in the sizing racks at the airport, but just.  And I’ll admit that from time to time I’ll push it a bit by putting things in the front pockets, which makes it not fit.  In this particular case, I had my laptop in the front pocket.  However, I didn’t carry a ‘personal item,’ so I figured that in the worst case, I could remove my laptop, it could be my personal item, and the bag would fit.

As we were boarding for the flight from Toronto to Montreal, I was stopped and told that I’d have to check my carry-on; it was too big.  Again, this has happened a couple of times and when it did, I simply rearranged things, the carry-on fit, and the airline personnel allowed me to go on as normal.  But I’d never flown Air Canada.

I explained that I could remove the laptop and that my bag fit in the rack.  I removed the laptop and the bag fit.  Good, right?  Nope.

“The bag fits tightly and it shouldn’t,” was the response.

“IT FITS,” I said.  “Those are your rules and I’m playing by them.”  I argued passionately, because there were things in the bag that I had no desire to leave up to the tender mercies of their checked baggage system.

There was some more discussion during which the person checking this got downright rude and said that if I flew enough, I’d know what was right and wrong.  Again, I pleaded my case, repeatedly sliding the bag in and out of their rack.

“The decision is made.  Check your bag,” he said, with all the humanity of a gulag commander in the Soviet Union.  I had no choice.  They promised me the bag would go to Barcelona.

I was angry.  Thus, when the flight attendant greeted me, I didn’t feel like saying hello, I just went to my seat.  Above my seat was a space plenty big enough for my bag, and I watched other people loading bags far bigger than mine in the bins.  I sat down, booted up my Kindle, and began reading silently.

Then, a manager approached and asked to speak with me off the plane.  Now we’re going into extra innings.  Off the plane, he said that the flight attendant was ‘concerned’ about my demeanor and wanted me off the plane.  This could be avoided if I made an apology to her “and meant it sincerely.”  In other words, grovel or I don’t fly.  I groveled.

Here’s the thing. This entire situation was created by Air Canada’s employees.  There was no reason – logical, reasonable, or technical – to make me check my bag.  I was within their rules, and they arbitrarily decided to mistreat me.  Then they chose to make it worse with their little ‘apologize or else’ routine.

And after all that, guess what?  The bag didn’t make it to Barcelona.  Its journey stopped in Montreal.  I had to go through the lost-baggage routine and they were able to get it to me in Barcelona two days later.

Granted, my situation wasn’t as dramatic as the doctor’s, nor was it caught on video (I hope). However, it was rooted in the same attitude – that the airline has no responsibility whatsoever to its customers and that it can treat them however the hell they feel like treating them.  But there are two big commonalities.

One, the doctor and I were both following the rules.  He’d bought and paid for his seat. My carry-on fit their dimension rack.

Two, United and Air Canada are both part of what they (laughingly, I’m sure) call the Star Alliance of airlines that have a business relationship with each other.  Perhaps “Advanced Customer Torture” is one of their training courses.

I honestly don’t know what is going to get the airline industry’s act together.  The only airline I’ve encountered that actually acts like they like their customers is Southwest.

I’d encourage you to look at your own business.  I doubt strongly that any of my readers ever treat their customers like this, but if they do, it’s time to reevaluate.

Spanish Travel Thoughts

If you’re looking for a normal sales article – one that has a distinct meaning and point – this isn’t it.  I’ve just returned from a trip to Spain that combined a great training session at DocuWorld Europe with a vacation to Barcelona.  What follows is a random collection of thoughts that might be helpful to anyone thinking of traveling overseas.

First and foremost – 95% of sales is universal throughout the world.  Any cultural differences lie in the margins – that 5%.  And, from my conversations, even that 5% can be very flexible.  I had 40 people representing 15 different home countries in my session, and the amount of overall agreement on selling was amazing.  Yes, the session was in English, if you’re wondering.

One of the most gratifying occurrences for any trainer is to discuss a technique with a new person, and have someone in the back of the room say, “Hey, you taught us that last year.  I tried it, and it WORKS.”  This happened about four times in the session I did (most of the session was new material).  To have my techniques work worldwide is a great validation.

And on that note, I have to say a huge “Thank you” to everyone connected with DocuWorld, especially the people who attended my training session.  This was my second year at DocuWorld, and over half of my class was made up of repeat attendees from last year.  I was overwhelmed at the reception I got, and with the friendships that I’ve made.  It was a great experience and I’m already looking forward to next year.

Now on to travel – Mallorca is a truly beautiful place.  The old city of Palma is a great sightseeing location.  There are rural areas surrounding, and the coastline is dotted with resort areas and ports (our resort was in a port town).  It’s a great setting for such a convention.

Barcelona may have more art museums per square mile than any other city in the world.  In Barcelona, you’re literally immersed in history from the Roman Empire forward.  The Museum of Natural History actually allows you to walk through a dig of the original Roman city that was Barcelona’s predecessor.  It’s almost overwhelming.

From the moment we landed in Barcelona, we were warned about pickpockets.  Pickpocketing is the most common crime for tourists to encounter, but honestly, it’s not that difficult to avoid.  I kept my wallet in my front pocket instead of the rear, and had my hands in my pockets much of the time I was walking, and never had a problem.  I do think that I had two close brushes.  Once I felt a bump from the rear and turned to see a man scurrying away in the opposite direction.  Two nights later, we were walking on a small pedestrian street and a person who looked like he had bad intentions walked by us, turned, and followed us for about half a block.  He quickly figured out that I wasn’t an easy mark.  Pickpockets aren’t strong-arm robbers; if you don’t make an easy target of yourself you won’t have a problem.

If you’re going to be staying in the middle of the big cities, think hard before you rent a car.  Barcelona in particular has an excellent public transportation system, and parking is difficult to say the least.  We rented on Mallorca and to go to the World Superbike race in Aragon, but went without in Barcelona and didn’t miss it.

The food is a definite difference from the States.  Spanish food is fairly bland; if you’re looking for spicy food you probably won’t find it here.  There’s the occasional Asian or Indian restaurant, but most restaurants have a wide offering of tapas, sandwiches, and pasta.  A few have steaks (Spanish steaks are very thinly cut).  What’s odd is that there is little difference between the restaurants – most Spanish restaurants have similar offerings.  My prediction is that, even if you go there planning to ‘go native,’ eventually you’ll end up eating at Burger King, McDonalds, or the like at least once.  We had Whoppers once and our last dinner was at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Overall, I can highly recommend Spain as a travel destination.  The people are friendly and welcoming, for the most part, and it’s a fairly easy destination for English speakers.


“Wish I Had” or “Glad I Did?” Which One Would You Rather Say?

An interesting thing happened to me yesterday.  As you know, I’m promoting my “Explosive Growth Selling” program  in May.  Well, yesterday, I I received a phone call regarding the “Smart Hiring” program I did (along with my partner, Kirk Young) last November.  The caller said, “Hey, when are you going to offer ‘Smart Hiring’ again?”  I replied, “I don’t know.  I don’t think I will.”  The caller was dumbfounded.

“You’re kidding!  I really thought about going in November, but I knew it would be cold in Kansas City, so I decided to wait until next time.”  I said the only thing I could.  “Sometimes, there is no next time.”  It’s true.

My caller said, “Wow.  I really wish I had gone.”  Meanwhile, those who attended told me that they were glad they did.

I can’t guarantee if I’ll offer this program again.  I can guarantee that these techniques won’t appear in any YouTube videos, free whitepapers, or other ‘free’ content.  If you really want to learn techniques that will make a difference, you need to make an investment in real, live training.   I’ll even make one more offer to help.  I know that some of you might want to go – IF your company would pay for it.  If that’s you, email me and I’ll send you a letter that you can take to your boss to make the case.

So, this time next year, would you rather be saying, “Gee, I wish I had,” or “Boy, I’m glad I did?”

The choice is up to you.  Click here to make a difference in your career, or the careers of those that work for you.

Troy Harrison to Present Two Programs at PPAI Expo East, March 16, 2016, Atlantic City, NJ!

After a great PPAI debut at the Expo last year, not only has PPAI booked me to return to the Expo, they’ve expanded our relationship to include the Expo East in Atlantic City in 2016!  I’ll be presenting two programs on Monday, March 16:

“21st Century Prospecting” will show attendees how to blend proven techniques with new technology to generate a flow of new prospects and new business.

“Using Buyer Psychology to Close More Sales” will take you inside the most valuable place in selling – your customer’s head – and teach you how to win more sales by helping your buyer achieve their most desired results!

I’m excited to be involved in this program.  I’ll see you in AC!

Troy Harrison to speak at PPAI Expo, Las Vegas, January 10-11!

I’m excited to announce that PPAI has booked me to return to their Expo in Las Vegas in 2016!  The PPAI Expo is the biggest event in the Promotional Products industry, and I had a great experience speaking there last year.  Returning this year is going to be even better!  I’ll be presenting three programs:

Sunday, January 10, 3:10 PM:  “21st Century Prospecting” will show attendees how to blend proven techniques with new technology to generate a flow of new prospects and new business.

Monday, January 11, 8:00 AM:  “Ask the Right Questions to Win More Sales” is a repeat from 2015, due to popular demand.  This one completely filled up last year, so if you’re going to be there this year, get to the room early!  I’ll show a comprehensive questioning model that will win more sales!

Monday, January 11, 9:20 AM:  “Name Your Price and Get It!” is a program that will help salespeople deal with one of their toughest issues – PRICE.  Attend this session and learn how to protect your profit!

If you’re in the Promotional Products industry, you need to be there!  I’ll see you in Vegas!

Troy Harrison to Present “Value Added Selling” at DocuWorld USA, Las Vegas, May 5-6, 2016!

I’m very excited, because DocuWare has signed to bring me back to their United States dealer convention, DocuWorld USA, in 2016!  This year, instead of delivering a one-hour keynote speech, I’ll be presenting a four-hour training program on “Value Added Selling” to help reps build more value through their questioning, presentations, and closing!  Docuware is the world’s leader in document management software.  If you’re in the office technology business, you should be in business with them.  Learn more at www.docuware.com.

Troy Harrison to Train at DocuWorld Europe, Mallorca, Spain

This is one I’m particularly excited about – I’ll be presenting “Value Added Selling” at DocuWorld Europe this year, in Mallorca, Spain, on April 20, 2016.   It’s presented by DocuWare, the leading provider of document management software in the world.  I’ll help attendees understand how to better build value in their sales approach, presentations, and closing – and they’ll do more business as a result!

I know that some readers of my page are European.  If you’re in Europe, interested in DocuWare or document management software, you should check this out.  Learn more at www.docuware.com.

Comfortable Customers BUY! Sales Training Boot Camp, September 23/24, Las Vegas!

It’s clear in 2015.  The old sales tactics and techniques – the manipulation, the one size fits all sales calls, the canned presentations, the donut calls – they DON’T WORK ANYMORE.  What works?  Understanding your customers.  Understanding how salespeople make them uncomfortable, and how that gets in the way of selling.  Understanding, most of all, that COMFORTABLE CUSTOMERS BUY!  In fact, comfortable customers buy – and they keep buying.  And if you’re trying to sell in today’s Internet driven sales environment, YOU MUST KNOW THE SKILLS I’LL BE TEACHING IN LAS VEGAS!

I seldom do open-enrollment sales boot camps; in fact, I haven’t done one in four years.  The demand from corporate and independent business clients keeps me hopping.  Still, I know that there’s an underserved market that needs this type of program, so I’m excited to be offering it for the first time in one of my favorite places – LAS VEGAS!