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The Invisible Touch
By Harry Beckwith

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 The Invisible Touch

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The Invisible Touch
By Harry Beckwith
ISBN: 0446524174
Genre: Business & Money

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Chapter Excerpt from: The Invisible Touch , by Harry Beckwith


The lures of partial-celebrity are tempting. For both your sake and mine, however, I hope to resist them.

I wrote Selling the Invisible from obscurity. A few hundred clients, friends, and acquaintances knew me. On the morning the book first appeared on the shelves, March 5, 1997, our clients reached from Greensboro to San Francisco, but 80 percent worked within view of the IDS building in midtown Minneapolis.

As I look back on how much has changed since then, I realize my first book offers this lesson to service providers: Write one. If a book sells nicely, an author's life changes.

Letters arrived postmarked from towns we'd never heard of (Valley, Nebraska? Kosciusko, Mississippi?). Callers spoke in dialects we'd never heard of (Singapore has a dialect? Pakistan?). Both often overflowed with compliments. Those incredible compliments actually poured in, unsolicited. None was written by an old friend, by someone whose back I'd scratched first, or by Jimmy Franco, Warner Books' fine publicist.

This welcome response brought with it a temptation.

The temptation is to think I know everything now, and to write a book from that narrower perspective. Like fatigue narrows a distance runner's peripheral vision, the label "expert" can limit an author's. The author starts looking inside, confident of finding wisdom there, drawing on what he already "knows." Thus diverted, he misses the critical insights outside his tunnel vision.

This book does look closer to home. Its emphasis on my experience — as a service provider, a client, and an adviser to services — reflects how the months spent on the first book changed my perspective.

Selling the Invisible drew heavily on larger businesses such as McDonald's. As the book evolved, however, my perspective evolved, too. It was ready to change completely; the slightest nudge would do that.

Then the nudge came.

In the summer of 1997, I called Alan Webber, the editor of the magazine Fast Company. In the course of a nice phone conversation, we agreed to a swap: two signed copies of Selling the Invisible in exchange for a Fast Company denim hat.

The following Monday, my receptionist carried a small box into my office. The conspicuous return address said Fast Company. I tore open the box, knowing what was inside.

I reached in, pulled out the hat, and noticed an enigmatic slogan on the back of it: Work Is Personal. I viewed those three words, perplexed. What did they mean? What could they mean?

The force of those words soon imploded in my head: Work is personal.

Work is not about business; it's about us. The human dimension of business — the messy, emotional, utterly human dimension — is not merely important; it is all-encompassing. As a result, we must plunge into the world of feelings — truly frightening territory.

In our search for critical insights into business, particularly marketing, we can learn from Peter Drucker, Philip Kotler, and Theodore Levitt. But we can learn just as much from Shakespeare, and perhaps even more from Daniel Goleman's bus driver (seepage 40). Business provides one stage on which we act out the human drama. We understand the stage; we know far less about the drama. Fortunately, we can find the "texts" that can teach about that script in front of us every day: a cabby rushing us through downtown Chicago; your four-year-old son reacting to some colors but not others; Hamlet battling his demons.

The first good lesson of marketing, then, may be this. Look. Just look around. And look carefully. See what is there — rather than what you expected to find.

It is not a perfect method. Nothing is. Among other things, you can conclude far too much from the little you see. You see an exception, for example, but declare it the rule. You see something, write a book, and then notice yourself being quoted. You feel terrified. You realize that much of what you have regarded as wisdom all these years was just other people quoting other people like you — people making their best educated guesses.

The shock is enough to make you stop reading.

I am not expressing false modesty, or modesty at all. I wrote this book with conviction. The evidence makes every conclusion seem almost irrefutable. But like most people, I often assemble the evidence after my conclusions, not before them. I usually stick by my guns, even after my bullets are gone. Like all people, I am puzzling even to myself but deeply engaged in trying to solve this puzzle. It helps me to recognize patterns that help build businesses. Like everyone, I yield to emotions and idiosyncrasies; reason badly; succumb to impulse, influence, and other false prophets; and regularly act against my own self-interest.

With those disclaimers, I begin this book.

I do not intend this as some final word, but as some first ones. Many who have followed this advice have enjoyed either sudden luck or well-earned success. Most of this advice reflects the experience of the twentieth century's smartest and most successful service marketers: Ray Kroc and Walt Disney. These pages offer fuel for growth and food for thought, and this final reminder: Those two are not mutually exclusive.

The wise marketer looks for buffets filled with food for thought: the isolated events, curious behaviors, odd trends, and tiny bits of data, all of whose relevance is unclear. The marketer who can assemble a shrewd blend of this information can create a power salad: an idea, strategy, or tactic that changes a business. Sometimes, the answer we need is not the answer, but another perspective on the problem. You see a slogan on a hat, for example— "Work is personal." Suddenly, the fog lifts.

On behalf of the many people who have contributed so generously to this book and to my life, I hope you find pieces here that make a sudden difference, and perspectives that help you eventually, and forever.

*    *    *

It's a warm fall evening in 1970. I hand eight dollar bills to a woman in a glass ticket booth, and almost sprint with my girlfriend Annie to our seats in the sixth row of Stanford's Memorial Auditorium. Laura Nyro plays tonight. We have been in thrall to the singer-songwriter since we first heard her album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, with songs like "Eli's Comin'," "Stoned Soul Picnic," and "Woman's Blues." We sit. We fidget. We cross our legs, then uncross them, then repeat the drill. We cannot wait to be enthralled in person.

It doesn't happen.

Almost nothing happens, in fact. The curtain rises. Nyro sits with her right profile to us. She remains in that profile, rarely budging except for her arms, for ninety minutes. Looking across the stage and never toward the audience, Nyro plays the piano and sings. After each song she hurriedly introduces her next song; she looks at no one. She sings all her songs we love. But while the songs sound the same as they do on the LP, we hear them much differently.

Our simple reaction speaks volumes about the differences between services and products, and the differences in marketing them.

Laura Nyro's album is a product. We spent $4.98 for Eli — for the way her lyrics, melodies, and production values appealed to our senses and souls. We bought this product for its technical features: its words, its tunes, her voice.

When Nyro gave her concert, we were buying something different. She was supposed to be providing a service. We were paying for an experience and a relationship. Unfortunately, she never connected with us. We felt incomplete and left dissatisfied. Her technical quality had not changed, but our experience had —for the worse.

Laura Nyro knew how to create a marketable product. But in her concerts, her service, she committed the blunder that many artists, architects, and millions of other service people commit every day. She assumed that only the quality of her product mattered. Everything else — presentation, connection, human contact— she regarded as superfluous. Maybe she considered all that to be too commercial.

And so she failed.

This bygone concert by this now deceased artist illuminates an immediate issue: the difference between services and products, a difference Selling the Invisible touched on:

Products are made; services are delivered.

Products are used; services are experienced.

Products possess physical characteristics we can evaluate before we buy; services do not even exist before we buy them. We request them, often paying in advance. Then we receive them.

And finally, products are impersonal: bricks, mortar, pens, carseats, fruit — things with no human connection to us. Services, by contrast, are personal — often frighteningly so. A service relationship touches our essence and reveals the people involved: provider and customer. For that reason, a service marketing course belongs in the School of the Humanities. Service marketers, like humanities scholars, strive to answer this question:

"What does it mean to be a human being?"

No one knows exactly. We know less than we assume we do, and far less than marketing research suggests we do.

But in business, he who hesitates is lost. We cannot wait for the Absolute Truths, of which there are so few. We must settle for some Apparently Useful Premises: assumptions that usually produce good results. This book attempts to uncover those AUPs, and eventually deliver to you, the reader, their many benefits —of which financial reward is only one.

You may object to the Laura Nyro analogy. "My service is not like a concert," you say. But it is. Your customers buy more than the simple delivery of some basic service; they buy the entire experience. If people sought only basic services, Caribou's double cappuccinos would cost less than tackle's burritos, because the raw ingredients and labor cost less. Consumers buy more than things; they purchase connections.(The remarkably named businesswoman Silver Rose described this perfectly. "I think adults invented work," she observed, "so that they could play together all day.")

Our lives seem increasingly disconnected. Our grown children move farther from home; technology reduces direct contact with people. Our drive for connection grows more intense. Making genuine, human connections becomes more important everywhere —not least of all in our businesses every day.

Most workers no longer build; they serve. We have become a service economy, right down to the business unit, and the smallest business unit of all: the individual. We provide a service that we offer to the market — to clients, prospects, customers, contractors, and employers.

We give concerts. The question is, how much better can we give them?

Excerpted from The Invisible Touch , by Harry Beckwith . Copyright (c) 2000 by Harry Beckwith . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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