3 Crazy Business Lessons from B’s Barbecue


“If I was on death row their BBQ plate would be my final meal.” ~ John Dillanger, B’s Barbecue review on Google +

Located in Greenville, NC, in an old country store that almost looks abandoned, lies one of the greatest Eastern-style barbecue joints in North Carolina. How do I know? Partly because it has been featured in newspapersbooksmagazines, andtelevision programs for years; partly because of the line out the door every day at lunch; and partly because, like many others, I go out of my way to get their barbecue.

The food at B’s Barbecue is amazing but don’t expect any extras from this hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The have no phone, no website, no air conditioning, and no posted hours of operation except an old, hand-painted sign that says, “Closed Sun and Mon.” B’s opens “generally” at 9:00 AM and customers know to get there early because B’s shuts its’ doors when the food runs out. Their famous Eastern-style barbecue sauce is not sold in stores and not available on the Internet. You can only find it in the old Crown Royal bottles located on the tables.

What makes B’s Barbecue famous is its’ great tasting barbecue and unique, original charm. B’s opened in the late 1970’s when then farmer, Bill McLawhorn, decided to turn his hobby into a business. He had barbecued pigs and chickens for years and thought he had a pretty good sauce recipe, so he decided to start a barbecue business. Every week he prepared 40 hogs and 240 chickens for a simple menu that included barbecue, slaw, potatoes, green beans, and fries. Today, B’s is run by his three daughters, Judy, Tammy, and Donna, who continue to run the restaurant exactly as their father did.

As a leader who has worked hard to improve businesses over the past 20 years, I’ve always been impressed with the success of B’s and a little curious as to why they don’t make any changes. I’ve often thought of ways they could improve their business. They could paint the building, add a new sign, pave the parking lot, add air-conditioning, create a website, add a phone line, expand their menu, or even open a new location. So why not make a few improvements to boost sales? The answer lies in the owner’s desire to keep B’s simple, original, authentic, and true to its roots. The real question is…what’s wrong with that? We can learn a lot from B’s business approach:

The customer isn’t always right – One thing you don’t get at B’s is a lot of choices. Their simple menu is posted on the wall and you better be ready to order when you finally make it to the front of the line. If you try to order something special or something that is not on the menu, you’ll hear it from the people behind the counter and those behind you in line. This simple approach is refreshing. How often do we hear of products or companies that fail because they are trying to be all things for all customers? Stick to the principles of what makes your company unique. Remember, not all customers have your best interest in mind.

Do what you love and do it your way – Daughter Judy credits B’s success to the importance of family and being true to her father’s vision for the restaurant. In an interview she once said, “We’d like to have a nice new fancy building and eight or ten more people working… but, to us, when you start doing all that, then it’s like any other restaurant and that’s not what we wanted it to be. That’s not what my dad wanted it to be; he wanted it to be ours.” Again, this is very refreshing. Too often we hear of companies changing business models for the wrong reasons. You need to be careful not to let others define success for your businesses. It’s your business. Do it your way.

Word-of-mouth trumps the Internet – Conventional wisdom says you must have a well designed website and be active on social media. The long line at B’s Barbecue tells a different story. With nothing more than word-of-mouth, B’s continues to get new customers to come and eat their barbecue. Many companies work hard to get their website and social media strategy right while their product or service performance is poor. The lesson of B’s is to get your product right first. Be excellent at what you do first then add your marketing plan.

In a time where every business seems to be following the same formula for success and there seems to be little differentiation between companies and brands, it is refreshing to go to a place like B’s. It’s a place where they focus on doing the things that matter very well. The great food and simple charm leaves you with the feeling you are experiencing Eastern-style North Carolina barbecue exactly the way Bill McLawhorn would have wanted you to. You also get a sense that his daughters love what they do and don’t plan on changing a thing…and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

[Photo Credit – BBQ Jew]

Don’t Underestimate the Emotional Power of your Brand


Three years ago, I had a sales experience that was a real wake up call. After providing a compelling argument to a prospective customer about our company’s latest product, showing how it was clearly superior to the competitor’s offering in every way, our team was flatly shut down by the client. He told us that, “even if you gave me your product for free, I wouldn’t take it.” The problem? He had an emotional connection to the competitor’s brand.

On October 9th, Interbrand, the leading global brand consultancy group, released its annual Best Global Brands Report and the top 5 most powerful brands in the world stayed the same for 2014. Not surprising, these top brands are companies with market leading positions and strong reputations:

  1. Apple
  2. Google
  3. Coca-Cola
  4. IBM
  5. Microsoft

Interbrand examined three key aspects that contributed to each brand’s value:

  • The financial performance of the brand
  • The role the brand plays in influencing customer choice
  • The strength the brand has to command a premium price

While much has been said about how the emotional connection of a brand affects the purchasing decision for consumer products, the significance of brand in business-to-business (B2B) transactions may even be more powerful. A poor purchasing decision of a consumer product, like a soft drink or a mobile phone, would have a minor impact for the buyer. A poor decision in acquiring a large piece of capital equipment, however, could lead to years of negative financial impact and possibly the loss of a job for the buyer.

A recent McKinsey & Company study showed that brands have a strong influence on B2B purchasing decisions. Like consumers, professional B2B buyers use a vendor’s brand to shortcut the buying process. Knowing the reputation of a company’s brand helps the buyer reduce risk and simplifies the evaluation process. In fact, they found that brand was a central element of the final evaluation of a supplier’s value proposition. Brand had an 18% share in the purchasing decision, compared to only 17% for the sales effort.

According to Mohanbir Sawhney, Professor of Technology at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, there are three dimensions of benefits that B2B companies need to build into their value proposition:

  • Functional (what the product does)
  • Economic (what the brand means to the customer in time and money)
  • Emotional (how the brand makes the customer feel)

Traditional B2B sellers tend to talk in terms of product features, functionality, performance, and ROI. Professional buyers need these details but they are also looking for the emotional connection – trust, reputation, confidence, ease of doing business, and security.

IBM famously played this emotional connection to their advantage in the 1970’s by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about any of IBM’s competitors. The argument used by the IBM sales force at that time was that good things would happen to people who stuck with IBM but bad things loomed over the competitors’ equipment and software. This was epitomized by the phrase used by purchasing agents that “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

The challenge for B2B sellers is to recognize is that brand plays a major role in the purchasing decision. There is an emotional element for professional buyers that can’t be ignored. Smart companies are reviewing their value propositions and asking: What is the reputation of our brand? How can our brand address the emotional needs of the buyer better than the competition?

Realizing the importance of the emotional connection of our brand made us completely revamp our value proposition. We already had a great product with a strong functional and economic message but our emotional message was weak at best. Tying in a strong message about our brand to add that critical element of trust, reputation, confidence, ease of doing business, and security was exactly what was needed. This simple change helped us create $20 million of new business for our company.