Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
I can’t tell you how surreal it felt standing under a large and oh-so-imposing image of Lenin while giving a talk to senior officers of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs just after the fall of Communism.
The Ministry, Russia’s Federal law enforcement body, is based on a military structure, so the room was full of uniforms hosting dazzling displays of medals and combat ribbons and hats adorned with more gold braid than a university marching band.
They were all Russian officers, most of whom, until a few months previously, had been Communists, or at least had paid it lip service. I later found out that I was the first American to ever address this group, which is probably why my initial reception was…oh, let’s call it “chilly.”
But they warmed up, actually. And by the time I was done with the talk, the room was abuzz with interest.
See, for 70 years, the primary communication line between the Russian police and the country’s citizens was a night stick. When Communism fell, the citizenry started to turn on the police.
It happened that I had gone to Moscow at this time to help open up a business college. The grand opening of the college included a conference and I’d given a talk on the use of surveys in marketing and public relations to a couple a hundred Russian entrepreneurs (a very new breed of Russian at the time). A lieutenant colonel from Ministry happened to in the audience.
After my talk, he approached me and asked if I might discuss the survey technology I had spoken about with his superiors at the Ministry.
I have always made it a habit not to turn down a request from a colonel of the Russian Internal Ministry when hanging out in Moscow. So the next morning my wife (who had accompanied me on the trip) and I found ourselves in a meeting with Colonel Stanislov Pylov, the Director of Personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. All police in Russia are federal, so this man oversaw the lives and fortunes of a million Russian Police.
We discussed many things that morning, one of which was the invitation to speak to the senior officers of the Ministry. Thus the talk beneath the visage of the Founder of the Russian Communist Party.
The other subject we discussed was the fact that the Ministry was having recruiting problems. Could the survey technology I had spoken of at the conference help the department improve its recruiting results, he wanted to know.
“Yes,” I said. It could. Pylov stood up with such fanfare I thought Yeltsin had entered the office behind me. He walked over to a closet in his office and carefully removed a beautifully crafted wooden clock. He handed it to my wife as if it were a new born child and said, “This is a new day in the relations between the United States and Russia.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up.
I briefly considered a career as a diplomat. But Reagan and Gorbachev had left things well under control, so I let the moment pass.
But a great deal came out of the relationship with Colonel Pylov, who became a good friend and ally, as well as an important partner in bringing important management skills to the Russian government.
But I digress.
I agreed to help Pylov with his recruiting problem. I won’t bore you with all the logistics of getting these surveys done, but trust me when I tell you it was a world-class challenge without a Russian speaking crew there; without any crew there.
But here is the punch line: you never know what your prospects need or want until you survey; until you ask them.
We needed to survey high school seniors, college students and returning military (the Ministry’s primary recruit pools). But we needed to train surveyors to do that, which was going to take some time. Pylov needed answers now and so I figured out a way to survey existing ministry staff to find out what had motivated them to choose a career in law enforcement in the first place.
This could give us enough initial information with which to start promoting, while we worked out the logistics of surveying others.
Why did people join the Ministry?
The answer will floor you. At least it did me. Even though I knew the only real answer would come from the surveys, in the back of my mind I thought it would be something like, “Catch bad guys,” or “Serve Mother Russia,” or even, “Protect our citizens.”
But remember this is just months after the fall of Communism. Almost no one owned anything. The state owned all. The general population certainly didn’t own cars, for instance.
The number one reason people joined the Ministry of Internal Affairs was because… they could ride the Metro for free – cops didn’t pay. That was it.
I don’t have the time to tell you the whole story, which rolled out through the early 1990s. But I usually end these short vignettes with a success story.
While this one is a bit unusual, and sounds rather self-aggrandizing, I tell it to make the point. And it was kind of fun.
One my second trip to Moscow, a few months after our initial work with him, Pylov picked me up in a Ministry car and drove me to the studio of one of Russia’s preeminent sculptors, Sergei Bychkov. I was ushered to a chair in a studio surrounded by huge statues of famous figures from Russian history. And Bychkov proceeded to sculpt a bust of me, which was cast in bronze and later placed in the Hall of Heroes of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
This is not the kind of thing you wake up in the morning and think, “I ought to get my bust done in bronze and have it placed in the Internal Ministry’s Hall of Heroes today.” It’s just a little out there. But it shows you what a happy client can do (especially one that is highly placed in Russian law enforcement).
Busts aside, the moral of the story is a simple but important one: don’t guess at what your prospects think is valuable about what you sell; survey first. I promise it will pay big dividends.
I should know, our survey company has been getting these kinds of results for almost a quarter of a century.
If you need to know what is going to motivate your prospects to buy from you, call us at 818-397-1401 or visit us at www.ontargetresearch.com
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