The message from the greatest commercial ever is extremely relevant today

April 19, 2022
Nothing beats face-to-face contact and relationship development.

In 1990, the iconic Chicago advertising firm, Leo Burnett, released a television commercial called “The Speech,” for United Airlines, that could very well be the best commercial ever. In the ad, an executive – named Ben – laments that a client of 20 years just fired their firm because “he said they didn’t know us anymore.” Ben proceeds to hand out airline tickets to everyone on his team so they can all make a face-to-face visit with every client.

When Ben is asked where he is going, he tells the team he is “going to have a face-to-face meeting with the company who just fired us.” Then, of course, we are advised to give personal service to clients and do so by flying the friendly skies of United.

Nothing beats face to face

The message is simple. Nothing beats face-to-face contact and relationship development, which was actually beginning to diminish even before the pandemic turned us into a nation of Zoomers and emailers. While that lack of direct human contact can make life seem much easier for a sales rep, a customer service rep, a manager and a business owner, the inevitable consequences of doing business electronically are not good – certainly not for operators in the convenience services industry.

Avoid commoditization

The lack of a strong relationship leads to commoditization of our products and services. More shopping goes on by the prospect or client who hardly knows you. What differentiates you from an online shopping portal? Once the prospect or client loses the relationship, their comfort level drops, and the account becomes highly vulnerable to all sorts of competition.

Do not be lulled into the belief that virtual contact is a better way. Yes, there is no driving, and you can make the sales wearing gym shorts. In many ways, virtual deals can be made more efficiently – but without relationship development, an operator loses so much, from differentiation to a competitive advantage. Cultivation of referrals is virtually impossible when your client is only moderately inspired by your company and only knows you as a face on the screen.

Listen to Ben

The pandemic pressure is easing, and as each week goes by, more employees and decision-makers are returning to the office. That was confirmed to me by many operators at the NAMA Show in Chicago. It's time to take a page from Ben’s playbook and pass out the airline tickets (figuratively anyway). So, what does that mean in today’s context?

Renew your company’s commitment to get out and see clients, do site surveys, performance evaluations and reassess the needs of your customers. Those visits will result in discovery, opportunity, fresh solutions and increased revenue.

Make every effort to have an actual, in-person sales meeting. Just sending the numbers and a few samples plays right into the hands of our online competitors, not to mention the legion of lowballers in the office supply business, always looking for a piece of our pie, without a care for margins.

Brew coffee samples for your prospects, even if they are interested in a single-cup solution. There are three reasons why this makes sense:

  1. Coffee brewing is a pleasant central activity that slows everything down and provides a nice opportunity to understand the needs of the prospect and the additional revenue channels that might be available, such as cold brew, water systems, paper products – maybe even a micro market. Coffee opens the door.
  2. By brewing coffee, you are positioned as the expert – the one person from the one company who knows what they are talking about and cares enough to take the time to earn the business.
  3. Because you are on location, the relationship process is already building. How does that compare with the competitor who simply drops off samples and fires off a cookie cutter proposal? Advantage, you!

Ramp up your client entertaining. Take your existing clients out to sporting events, lunches, dinners, concerts and whatever activity they might enjoy. After a two-year hiatus from fun, they will be more receptive than ever to venturing back out into the world of business entertaining. It’s special again.

One key to landing big accounts

Among several other strategies for landing big accounts that I discussed in my pre-conference presentation at the 2022 NAMA Show, “Selling Convenience Services – Strategies of Elite Performers,” I stressed the importance of entertaining existing clients and prospects too, if the opportunity arises. Existing clients are especially important because they can do so much to help you build your business. Existing clients who enjoy doing business with you have valuable referrals to give. That’s how you land the biggest, most coveted accounts.

Next month, we will explore the topic of referrals and the right way to ask for them.


Industry consultant and contributing editor Bob Tullio is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry on how to build a successful business from the ground up and advises suppliers on how to successfully connect with operators. Tullio’s YouTube channel, b2b Perspective, is designed to “elevate your business in two minutes.”

At the 2022 NAMA Show in Chicago, Tullio presented a pre-conference session entitled, “Selling Convenience Services: Strategies of Elite Performers.”

For more information on the services that Tullio offers to operators and suppliers, visit his new website at or contact him at [email protected].

About the Author

Bob Tullio

Bob Tullio is a content specialist, speaker, sales trainer, consultant and contributing editor of Automatic Merchandiser and He advises entrepreneurs on how to build a successful business from the ground up. He specializes in helping suppliers connect with operators in the convenience services industry — coffee service, vending, micro markets and pantry service specifically. He can be reached at 818 261-1758 and [email protected]. Tullio welcomes your feedback.

Subscribe to Automatic Merchandiser’s new podcast, Vending & OCS Nation, which Tullio hosts. Each episode is designed to make your business more profitable.



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