A friend of mine shared a quote that has stuck with me, “Salespeople and bartenders make the world go round; the rest of us are just bystanders.” I share this quote in jest to emphasize the point that the ability to sell your product or service is CRITICAL.
While this may seem obvious, I have seen far too many entrepreneurs and businesses crash and burn because of an inability to sell. I learned this lesson early in my career. I worked for a venture-backed web services firm in the late 1990’s that had plush offices, cutting-edge technology, and talented people. The one thing we lacked was customers! Unfortunately, a company with great promise simply disappeared and over 100 people lost their jobs.
My interviewee this week understands that the secret to success as an entrepreneur is the ability to sell and create great customer relationships. Frank Fair, president of Background Reporters, LLC, knows first-hand the importance of selling as he has worked to build two successful service businesses after working for years in the banking business. Fair is a native of Louisville, Miss., and he went on to earn his undergraduate degree and master’s degree in business from Ole Miss. Out of college, Fair began his banking career like many others in Deposit Guaranty’s management training program. He went on to work for several banks in his 23-year banking career before taking the leap to become an entrepreneur. Along with a partner, he was part owner and operator of a shipping company called Unishippers. He and his partner built a very successful enterprise by working hard to build a loyal customer base in the very competitive shipping market.
Fair later sold his interest in Unishippers to his partner. As he considered what his next venture was going to be, Fair knew that he wanted to find something that he could be passionate about if he was going to sell effectively and compete in the marketplace. In October 2012, after studying a number of businesses, he found his next niche in background screening. He shared, “Statistics show that 40 percent of all job applicants misrepresent the facts on their applications, and 30 percent contain out-right lies. One in three business failures is the result of employee theft.” Fair acquired a franchise from Background Screeners of America, one of the nation’s largest background screening companies. His company, which offers 22 different background checks, helps business employers, property managers, schools, and health care workers make better decisions about their potential hires.
Being a successful serial entrepreneur is no easy task, so I probed Fair on the secrets of his success. He noted, “I am a very hard worker, and I’m persistent. I believe in the quality of the background checks our company provides, and I try to deliver exceptional customer service to all our customers no matter how big or small.” Fair’s observations reminded me of the old Vince Lombardi quote, “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success.” Fair is not afraid of the hard work it takes to build a business from scratch.Fair noted that his grandfather, Frank L. Fair Sr., had a great influence on him. Fair shared, “He was an individual who had great vision and faith, and invested in people and causes that bettered his community. He actively supported many young people to pursue their education. He provided jobs for numerous people in the community, supported worthy philanthropic causes and had a keen sense of humor and humility when dealing with people.”
Like Fair, an entrepreneur either needs to have the ability to personally develop customers or have a partner or team member who can excel at acquiring customers. I see too many organizations where no one “owns” the revenue number. In today’s competitive marketplace, we all would be well served to make sure we don’t take our eye off the ball of driving the revenue number through hard work and creating satisfied customers!
» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.