What I learned about marketing from working in a deli

I’m pleased to be a contributor to the upcoming book, Shattering the Status Quo, by Scott Jagodzinski. I was interviewed for Chapter 1: Know Your Product First. This is an excerpt (with permission):

Can you describe and talk about some of the key learnings you have used to hone your professional success over the years?

Most of what I have learned about work started when I was 13-years-old working in a deli for a guy named Louis De Palma. I talk about Louis all the time. Louis never had a college degree; he never had any kind of advanced degree. He didn’t know what marketing was. Spam to him was a product from Hormel that was sitting on a shelf and gathering a lot of dust. Louis knew something that he imparted to all of us: to know your product first.

The first couple of years working in that deli I never waited on a customer. He made sure I knew where every product was, what the features of those products were and what they did, the brand names and the types of things that people would ask about.

I remember one day he came to me and said, ‘Okay now is your time. Now you are going to come up front, and you are going to wait on our customers.’ I said, ‘Well, what’s that all about?’ He said, ‘We are going to stand and you are going to put an apron on. You are going give people what they need. They are going to be coming in; they have all these lists and they are looking for products. They are looking for things for their homes and things to eat. You are going to stand there and you are going to ask them what they need. Then when they tell you what they need, you are going to go around the store and you are going to pull all these products down off the shelves. You are going to bring them back and you are going to provide it to them and say ‘Is this what you need?’ They will say ‘Yes this is what I need and thanks a lot.’ Then they will go on to the next thing they need.’

In life and in marketing, a lot of us forget the key to success is always to understand customer’s needs, preferences, desires, and the buying process they are going through. You need to make sure if you’ve got a product or a service you are trying to sell to a customer you never lose sight of that, because the customer is trying to get their need satisfied. From a marketing standpoint, whether you are marketing a magazine, product, television station or ads in newspapers, the closer you can get in terms of creating a unique selling proposition that satisfies that customer’s need, the closer you are going to be in terms of winning the customer and building a better engagement with the customer.

That is one of the great lessons I have never ever forgotten from Louis, because it really does matter. I have sold all kinds of things in my career and I have built all kinds of businesses. It’s always about the folks who understand the customer need, understand how to satisfy that need, understand the competitors in the marketplace, how they are trying to satisfy the need of their customer, and how an individual product or service or company can differentiate how they solve the need for the customer versus how someone else does it.

Louis was one of my first teachers in terms of the acumen or the DNA that I have as a marketing professional.

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