Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Sunny Side of Madoff

Although he turned out to be a liar, cheat, thief, con-artist, swindler and all around charlatan, Bernie Madoff does present an impressive list of admirable qualities.

OK…let’s put aside for a moment the Ponzi scheme that cheated wealthy individuals, charities, non-profits and a myriad of other investors out of billions of dollars. Rather, focus on the fact that for decades Madoff successfully convinced the best and brightest to put their trust (and cash) in his hands.

Here is my list of Madoff attributes that every corporate marketer and sales representative should aspire to emulate:

1. Get access to the inner circle. The number one rule in sales is to connect with decision-makers who have money. Madoff navigated his way into country clubs, business groups, fundraisers and other professional settings where he cultivated relationships with those with wealth and power.

2. Create an eco-system of champions. It wasn’t merely Madoff pushing his fund. He was able to build an extensive network of money managers and investment advisors who directed their clients into his clutches. This channel strategy brought Madoff the scalability and reach needed to fuel the Ponzi scheme’s thirst for new capital.

3. Build a perception of desirability. This was the brilliance of Madoff’s pitch. A prospective client was informed there was simply no opportunity for them to participate in the program because it was in such high demand. A week or so later a call was placed to inform the target that Madoff would make an exception just for them. Of course, they had to wire the money right away.

Before you express outrage, please understand that in no way do I condone Madoff’s illegal actions or make light of the pain he caused his investors. His life in prison is well deserved.
However, his deftness as a marketer and in sales should be recognized.

Plus, my mom always taught me to look for the good in everyone. It has always been said Hitler was a wonderful dancer, right?

1 comment:

James Wallis Martin said...

Madoff was not good at true sales, he relied on fallacies, in particular "Appeal to Authority" to sell and market what the customer did not want which was empty promises, but rather falsely promise above market returns each year.

While the market kept going up, his claim seemed reasonable and he was able to use new investor funds to pay old investor funds. However, when the market took a downturn, which all markets do, he could no longer maintain the "illusion" and was crazy enough to keep the same sales and marketing pitch of offering the same "reward" of getting now way above market returns so that people wouldn't make a run and demand their entire funds back.

A great sales and marketing person may not have avoided the fallacies (although I argue the best sales and marketing people don't need to use fallacies to sell) but they definitely would have recognized the change in the marketplace and changed their sales pitch and marketing material to reflect the current market conditions.

To call Madoff exceptional in sales and marketing is insulting exceptional sales and marketing professionals because he did get caught. Exceptional sales and marketing people never get caught "lying" because they don't need to lie or even in the off chance they were caught in a lie, they would be able to get out of it without anyone noticing and would quickly think up arguments and counter arguments to avoid getting caught in the future.

To call Madoff exceptional in ego, greed, and manipulation would be fair to say. But the best sales and marketing people I know feed the customers desires and their egos, promote the benefits of their products/services rather than resort to selling greed, and have no need to manipulate because what they are selling is really what the customer wants.

My father sold what people wanted and never had to lie, promise what couldn't be delivered, or use any fallacies to sell his product and services. He made a career of selling over $500 million in computer equipment back in the 60's and 70's and then went on to sell over $5 billion in aircraft and aircraft parts in the 70's, 80's, and 90's simply doing it honestly and building long-term relationships. Now there is an 80 year old who could teach corporate marketing and sales professionals who never would, nor never needed, to go down the path Madoff went down.

Madoff may have made ten times as much in sales as my father did, but my father left customers with what they asked for and delivered in spades. Madoff did not and he betrayed not only thousands of his customers trust, but the trust of everyone in the regulatory agencies, our governments, the financial institutions, and business practices. How can one not think that the current reward system of being paid to "bend the truth", "spin the issue", or "trick the customer" is not wrong?! (and we wonder why sales and marketing have fallen down in the ranks of respectable jobs?).

No! I say we, as sales and marketing professionals, need to work that much harder (thanks to Madoff) to show that we have a moral compass and are not going to sell half-truths, empty promises, and grand illusions.

(Now, off my soapbox and back to selling my software)