1000 Donuts

originalOne of the best sales engagements I ever experienced was also one of the worst.

Every morning before work I visit a convenience store in the shopping center not far from my house to pick up a cup of coffee. Through fifteen years of visits this location, part of a large national convenience store chain, has always been a consistent, proficient, friendly place. And I love the coffee.

One morning a few years ago, shortly before Christmas, I was surprised by an unusual intensity of excitement among the regular Monday morning store staff. They roamed the aisles like eager press-gangs in search of new conscripts and before long one of the clerks had me cornered.

“We’re going for the record on Friday. Can you come in and buy a donut to help us?”

The record, as it was related to me by the eager young man, appeared to be some global achievement for one day single store donut sales. I was intrigued.

He went on to explain, “Apparently some mosque in Virginia did, like, 875 donuts in a single day, so corporate said we’re going to try and break the record.”

Now I was becoming a little skeptical. I doubted very much that the worldwide single day donut record was held by a mosque, however motivating that might be to American jingoists fearful of a confectionary jihad. If there were really such a record I think it more likely that it was set one Sunday morning by some lucky donut store next to a Baptist megachurch in Alabama. I was pretty sure my young salesman had either seriously misheard or was simply making stuff up.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday and Wednesday the store hubbub amplified.

“Don’t forget Friday; we’re going for the record; we need everyone to come in for donuts.”

Store staff hummed from one customer to another like bees pollinating new blossoms. Their mission was all encompassing and, I have to admit, it was becoming exciting. Despite the fact that I was very blurry on exactly what we were striving for, I found myself becoming emotionally committed to helping them make their goal. As I looked around I could tell my fellow regular customers were feeling the same way.

That night I told my wife that I needed her to drive to the convenience store on Friday and buy a donut.

By Thursday store activity was at a fever pitch but there was also some challenging new information.

“Corporate told us that they were wrong and the record was 1000 donuts not 875,” another clerk related, “so we’ve got to do 1000. Don’t forget to come in tomorrow. We’re going to need everyone to buy donuts.”

By this time I had no idea whether the contest goal had actually changed overnight, or whether the original challenge had simply gotten mangled as it worked its way down the increasingly passionate chain of employees on the shop floor.

No matter. We had to break the record.

Friday morning came and the store was packed. Boxes of donuts were stacked against the walls and regular customers who might normally purchase a single donut were buying dozens for all their co-workers. There were lines ten deep at each cash register and customers who might only come by once or twice a week made a special effort to show up that morning. We were all on the mission to buy 1000 donuts even though none of us knew exactly why.

In retrospect, of course, this was a terrible sales effort. These were not the best donuts in the country; heck, they were not even the best donuts in our neighborhood, nor were they the cheapest. The sales story surrounding the alleged “world record” was so riddled with misinformation it bordered on offensive. But here I was driving to work with not one but two blueberry cake donuts. Why?

For one thing, donuts are not complex and can be purchased with a small discretionary spend making them perfect for a spontaneous response to an emotional appeal; it was easy for me and the other regulars to participate. But with my two little carbohydrate mementos nestled on the seat beside me, I had to wonder if there was not something more to it.

Three possibilities came to mind:

Enthusiasm is contagious. It is no substitute for a good product or service, but genuine sales passion gives that good service special timbre in the ears of the customer.

History means something. I wanted my convenience store to succeed in large part because of their long history of treating me well as a customer. They earned it.

Everyone likes a mission. I like being involved in something bigger than myself and the store gave me a mission. It is no wonder that “movement marketing” is becoming so widespread; it taps a strong need within us to join a community in a greater endeavor.

In the end, as it turned out, there was no donut world record. The corporate challenge had, all along, been simply to exceed that chain’s single store record within the Dallas/Fort Worth region. That message had gotten bungled up in all the local fervor to over-achieve.

But I didn’t mind at all. Once again, life had offered up some wonderful lessons which I only hope I remember. Of course, how could I forget; each day when I step up to pay for my coffee I can look up at a bronze plaque on the wall behind the cashier which reads:

12/17/2010

MOST SINGLE DAY DONUT SALES IN DFW:  1,475 sold

We did it.

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