ASAE day 2: Ken Schmidt

This guy is such an excellent speaker that I heard several people head straight over to him as soon as his thought leader session was over and said they wanted to book him for their conference. I just wanted to buy a Harley. Schmidt, the former communications director for Harley-Davidson, was just dynamite in how he explained how HD turned itself from a near-disaster to a soaring success (which reminds me of a favorite quote. He was talking about how to describe a typical Japanese bike's sound, then how to describe a Harley's sound. "This will get you a free drink every time," he said of a Harley's distinctive roar. "It's the voice of God.")

His main point was that people judge you by the noise you make, which isn't what you say about yourself, but what others say about you (or your organization) when you aren't around. Too many people use the "expected language of business," which is vapid idiocies like, "we stand for quality." As he said, who doesn't? People just tune out all that. I can vouch for this, as someone who hears a veritable avalanche of it daily in press releases.

If I got nothing else out of his session (and I got a lot more than this), it's that every decision someone makes in life is based on emotion, not reason. We do business with those we like. And if we like them, we'll tell others about them. That's why sales pitches based on great miles-per-gallon or 0-to-60 mph in X seconds is just so much noise; that's not where the passion is. HD found this out the hard way, when they revamped their machines in the mid-80s and built such fabulous bikes that all three of the motorcycle magazines at the time put their Harleys on the covers and praised them to high heaven. But sales didn't move. So, duh, they took the bikes to the customers, listened to them, and gave them what they want.

Sounds so basic, but, as he said, how many times have companies you deal with actually asked you for feedback, then acted based on it? No hands went up, let me tell you.

Then they got the execs going face-to-face with customers and potential customers, which set an example for everyone else. The rest, as they say, is history.

But first you have to create something that people feel something about, not think something about. Harley-Davidson is about freedom. What's your organization about? Makes you think, doesn't it? Anyway, if you ever get a chance to hear/hire this guy, go for it. He is amazing.

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