Avian Lessons

(NOTE: REPRINTED FROM MY COLUMN IN RainToday, raintoday@raintoday.com)

I’ve been using the new Providence, RI train station for 20 years (it’s not that new). It’s a typical six-track station, with a small restaurant, newsstand, vending machines, baggage office, ticket counter, and so forth. The Boston commuter trains use it as the terminal for their routes, and Amtrak uses it for its Northeast Corridor, a highly-profitable business that features the high-speed Acela.

About two months ago, for the first time, I noticed a pigeon walking around the station, pecking its way through the crowd. A police officer slowly ushered it toward the automatic doors, weaving in and out, until the bird found itself outside. The officer, in uncharacteristically sensitive language, told me, “I keep throwing him out because he tends to befoul the station.”

Ten minutes later the bird was back.

Getting in the Door

I know it could have been another bird, but it had the unhurried pace of a creature that was totally familiar with the surroundings. And I could have sworn that it nodded at the cop.

This morning, once again headed for New York, I found three pigeons in the station, diligently cleaning up crumbs and other detritus under benches and tables. The officer on duty made no effort to herd, direct, or arrest them. And it looked like that original bird was part of this threesome.

I’m assuming they’ve learned how to time the automatic doors, have established some sort of nest (the station is locked from about midnight to 5 a.m.) and no one seems to object to them at all. In fact, they add some interest to the place.

I’m predicting that the station will ultimately house that number of birds which can be supported by the food supply and is less than the number that will create public outcry or neccesitate animal control. That number might be six or ten, and that will be it, a happy co-existence. (Interestingly, I haven’t seen one sign of “befoulment.”)

I’m relating all this because the pigeons have learned to go where the food is, in comfortable surroundings despite outside conditions, to master the doors and gates to enter, and to get along with other, transient users of the place. They are also diligent in returning when they are thrown out, never taking it personally.

Avian Learning

What does this mean for you? Let’s summarize, in terms of the sales process:

Find the location of the sustenance.

Figure out a way to get in.

Elude and avoid the gatekeepers without offending them outright.

Co-exist with others who use the place for other reasons.

Understand that if others like you are thriving somewhere, the odds are good for you to thrive there.

Don’t take rejection personally or permanently.

Keep returning for additional sustenance.

If you can, feather a nest and become unofficially “permanent.”

Don’t be greedy, you can allow others to prosper, too.

When you’re the first one in, and know the ropes, you’re the hardest to displace.
You may think that this is all for the birds. I assure you it is not.

We see around us every day examples in nature of creatures that must hunt in order to eat, raise families, and perpetuate the species. Some of the biggest sales failures I’ve seen are among people who begin with a base of business and referrals, engage in zero marketing, run out of the original business base, and then starve, because they have built neither new business potential nor new business sales skills.

Just because you were born on third base doesn’t mean you’ve hit a triple.

We all need to thrive, not merely survive. We need to feed our families and perpetuate the species. But we can do so by providing value, by also enabling buyers to come to us. We don’t have to hunt in the train station, but the processes aren’t all that different.

Birds Are Simple Creatures

Are you pursuing real buyers (not middlemen) and avoiding the gatekeepers and blockers? Do you have the self-esteem necessary to provide you with resilience when you are, inevitably, rejected? Do you know how to form relationships that create a permanent place for you in buyers’ esteem and in a key position on their speed dials?

People selling professional services tend to make things too complicated. They focus on elaborate methodology when the client merely wants clear business results. They build elaborate models and matrices which are often unnecessary and onerous (when one only has to say, “Stop doing that and start doing this”). They focus on their honorifics and their credentials rather than their expertise and their outcomes. They form relationships with people who can’t help them because they think it’s important to be liked more than it is to be successful.

I’ve always thought that “eats like a bird” was an oxymoron, since birds eat like hogs. And equally untrue is “bird brain” as a metaphor for slow-witted. Those in sales and marketing could do a lot worse than to follow the example of the pigeons, and could be called a lot worse than “birds of a feather”….

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.


3 thoughts on “Avian Lessons

  1. Years ago I was on the London Underground (but was on an overground section). We stopped at a station, and a pigeon hopped onto the train. I thought “Oh no, this is going to get messy”, but the pigeon stood calmly in the carriage until three stops up the line, it hopped out onto the platform. I thought this was chance until I read that some research group had put trackers on pigeons and found that they were systematically using the Tube to get around. They are very resourceful!

  2. People are far too dismissive (“flying rats”). They don’t seem to realize that many forms of life are far more adaptive–and more inherently peaceful–than are we.

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