Wisdom from an Octogenarian: A Thanksgiving Tribute to my Sales 2.0 Uncle


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“Oom Ronald” (Uncle Ronald), my 80-year-old uncle from Holland came to visit me in San Francisco last week. Although Ronald would not call himself a Sales 2.0 leader or an entrepreneur, I would disagree. I have long admired his career, exemplified by a warm and deeply personal approach to staff management and customers and an attraction to start-ups. I was in awe of Ronald as a shy, young, only child who visited him, my equally adventurous aunt and their five children once a year – first in the Netherlands and later in Noumea, New Caledonia and Indonesia.

Like my mother and 170,000 other Dutch people, Ronald survived the second world war in a Japanese concentration camp in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), his homeland. After the war, he attended and graduated from hotel school in Switzerland, which prepared him for a long career in hotel management and hospitality with companies including Hilton, Holland America Line and Marriott. He developed a specialty in starting up new properties in the developing world – off-the-beaten-track places all over Africa, the Middle East, Asia and French Polynesian islands where no hotel had existed before. Ronald says he isn’t an entrepreneur because he was always on someone else’s payroll and he didn’t dare to build his own hotel business. But if moving your wife and five small children who speak only Dutch to a completely foreign land like Tunis, Tunisia to launch the region’s first hotel isn’t risk-taking, I don’t know what is.

After a property was selected and a hotel constructed, the hard work began: training the local population. Before covering essential service skills, Ronald had to start from scratch with some fundamentals we take for granted: the importance of showing up for work on time and basic hygiene (e.g., washing hands before handling food.) Ronald’s skill, respect and patience with all kinds of people, their cultures and languages (I’ve lost count of how many he speaks; more than 5), and focus on high-quality experiences earned him the respect of staff and repeat customers.

Here are a few things I learned from my sage uncle in the last week:

  • Marriott’s innovative, unique culture and superior management training gave them a competitive advantage over old school, traditional hotel chains.
  • One breakthrough: management ate in the same dining room as the staff rather than a separate space. This markedly improved employee performance.
  • Recognizing repeat customers, greeting them by name and remembering their personal preferences leads to more business.
  • Taking care of the small details like noticing and fixing a burned out light make you stand out from the competition.

See any similarities between my uncle’s thinking and the Sales 2.0 philosophy of innovation, personal customer focus and excellence? What can you learn from your relatives this holiday season?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Anneke Seley
Anneke Seley was the twelfth employee at Oracle and the designer of OracleDirect, the company's revolutionary inside sales operation. She is currently the CEO and founder of Phone Works, a sales strategy and implementation consultancy that helps large and small businesses build and restructure sales teams to achieve predictable, measurable, and sustainable sales growth, using Sales 2. principles.


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