The topic was customer relations. The lights were dim and night had fallen on the streets outside. Light raindrops misted the air. Our wine glasses stayed full as the night deepened, and the conversation turned from one of stiff defensive business to business from the heart.
And so when Brian Masserman, a celebrated local photographer with more than two decades in business, put his hands over his eyes and his voice caught, we knew we had hit upon something of essence. It was the story of a girl whose parents had brought her for pictures every year of her childhood and then the girl herself, now 25, called him to say, I would be honored if you would be my wedding photographer.
The tears were real because business from the heart is what happens between two souls – not a transaction, not a run-of-the-mill sale. It’s two people connecting in a meaningful transaction of time and space and love and meaning. And that’s what elicited the tears.
You have to understand, this is a savvy businessman, the last person I’d expect to break down over a customer story. But when your customer is like family, it’s a different story altogether.
And when your customer feels like family, your business lifts to another level. And so does your life.
Last night, my monthly Power Table convened at Sweet Lorraine’s in Southfield and we started out in the usual way, with each participant sharing about their business and their challenges and their hopes and dreams and goals. The timer went off after 15 minutes and the next person began.
Evening shifted into night, as the Tigers lost several miles south of us. We nibbled on our salads and soups and then our entrees and then the big slices of chocolate cake came out but somewhere between when everyone entered our soft-lit room to when cars rushed by on the rain-slicked street, we melded as an intimate group of entrepreneurs, hungry for connection and guidance and inspiration.
That call that Brian received is the kind of customer call every business owner wishes for. It’s the moment when you know you’ve touched someone’s life – so much more than just selling a product or service. When you add meaning to another, you elevate your whole existence. And theirs. And the world.
It is no small thing to look at business in this way. The connection and community and heart that go into this mode of business, it’s not easy to fake. You have to mean it. You have to care.
What Brian is selling isn’t photography; it’s the meaningful moments of a lifetime, recorded for posterity, so we can all go back there and truly remember that…A photograph becomes a showcase of love – a parent’s love for every stage of a daughter’s life, a daughter’s blossoming love of a husband-to-be, a family intertwined who, yes, may fight over the dinner table or annoy one another on long car drives but ultimately will be there through snowstorm and drought and the photograph encompasses that all.
Wow, that’s way more than something to sell.
The point of my Power Table is to turn the conversation into these depths for everyone who attends. Each business and every non-profit has this much potential – if the person at the helm is willing to reach for it. That’s where strategy, innovation and creativity come in. Thinking outside the box. Living outside the box, even if it’s in a tent on the roadside.
Trying something different and believing it can work. Believing in yourself, your worth, your story. Not taking other people’s lumpy moods as a reflection on you and what you have to offer. Realizing your unique dharma or path in this lifetime and living it.
Business isn’t about taking money to live well. It’s about living well in the midst of others and meaning what you say. It’s about doing something that makes a difference each and every day. And never compromising integrity for the promise of dollar signs.
I’m sorry if this seems preachy. But I know that if it does, it’s your issue entirely because I feel this truth in my bones. This is the meaning of life. Why would any of us want to live any other way?
By the way, last night’s powerful Power Table included Michelle Bianco of Walled Lake Foundation for Excellence; Lynn Clark-Geiner of Launch Showcase; Michael Ansara of MJ Diamonds, Zam Glass and ACCESS; Evan Mountain of Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Michigan. Check them all out. They are shining examples of business with heart.