The Lesson Poop can Teach Sales People [and Product People Too]

I’m gonna deviate from Success Saturdays this week, to follow up on my post Sales Can’t Save You. If you’ve ever wondered if poop, crap, shit, or by it’s less offensive term, human waste could deliver a message to sales people wonder no more. It can.

One of my favorite podcasts is RadioLab. It’s brilliant and if you’re not a subscriber, I highly suggest you become one. It’s some of the smartest content online.

The other day they did a piece on New York City’s sewage treatment.  Until 1985, NYC would dump all, YES, I said ALL of it’s raw sewage into the Hudson River. Ugh! That is nasty.  Clearly NOT a sustainable practice and by 1985 they started treating their sewage and stopped dumping it into the Hudson. That’s good news for those who live on the east side. 🙂

No more raw sewage in the Hudson, but there was 125 million gallons of “sludge” a day being created that had to be disposed of. That’s enough shit to fill a college football stadium.  The question then became, what to do with it?

Fertilizer, was the answer!

Every state in the country was selling their sludge as fertilizer. Milwaukee had been bagging their’s up for retail. You can go to Home Depot and buy a bag of Milorganite, or basically the treated shit of your Milwaukee citizens.

Surprisingly or not surprisingly, there is a market for human waste or shit.  Well, that was, except for New York’s shit.

New York shit had a stigma, no one wanted the shit from New York. They were concerned that it would be contaminated with toxins, disease, it will have the “city” in it. New York’s brand was making their shit stink!

No city would accept NYC sludge, until Wayne Shultz from Colorado agreed to accept it.

At first the locals didn’t want it, rumors spread. There were stories of horses and cows dying. The public was not in favor.

But, then something started to happen. The bio-solids, sludge, shit, call it what you will, actually worked and work well. Colorado farmers started to use it and after the harvest, farmers where seeing over 50% increases in yields, going from 40 bushel, to 66 bushel. No one had ever heard of a 66 bushel yield. Not only did it increase yield, it kept a problem aphid away and repelled prairie dogs. As word got out, everyone wanted it. Over-time, the demand for NYC bio-solids began to grow to the point they couldn’t meed demand. The demand for the bio-solid was for 50k acres, yet NYC could only support 10k per farmer. NYC couldn’t produce as much as farmers wanted. New York City people just couldn’t shit fast enough to meet the demand for their waste.

Like most organizations, when they have something to sell, they hire a sales person. So, in the early 90’s NYC did what most organizations do. They hired someone. They hired Mike Sharp. It was his job to sell NYC bio-solids. He had done it for other city’s. But in the beginning, he couldn’t sell NYC’s shit. The product was perceived as faulty, crappy (pun intended). In spite of having a dedicated sales person, NYC couldn’t sell their shit. After repeated rejection, they offer to give it way. They couldn’t even do that. The product was deemed so crappy, they couldn’t even give it away . . . well that’s until a farmer in Colorado said he’d give it try. After that users found out it actually worked and NCY didn’t have to even try to sell it, it sold itself.

I loved this story. It’s a great example of the importance of how a good product is critical to sales and revenue and that relying on sales to over-come a subpar product is futile and a recipe for disaster.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again — sales can’t save you. Build a great product AND a great sales team.