By Anthony Sills
They taught us about the five families and organized crime. They taught us that family comes first and how to get revenge on our enemies. They taught us about life in the Mafia, keeping business and personal affairs separate, and cannoli.
But did you know that the members of the “Godfather” Corleone family have a lot of lessons about how to retain customers and be a better business owner?
Sometimes, expert advice comes from where you least expect it. Here are seven small-business lessons from Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”— adapted for the screen as a movie trilogy by Francis Ford Coppola — that you can apply immediately to boost your business.
Lesson 1: Cultivate and maintain relationships to develop a powerful network.
Vito Corleone’s rise to power is rooted in doing favors for others and building goodwill among his business partners. He develops a reputation as someone who knows how to repay a favor. But just knowing the “right people” is not enough. When undertaker Amerigo Bonasera asks a favor of Vito on Connie’s wedding day, Vito is offended, replying, “We have known each other many years, but this is the first time you’ve come to me for counsel or for help. I can’t remember the last time you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is godmother to your only child.” Don’t show up only when you need something.
Lesson 2: Helping people is good for business.
Tech entrepreneur Daniel Gulati observes in the Harvard Business Review that “the professional world is powered by favors.” Helping others achieve their goals can build goodwill and establish your reputation as someone who gets things done. As Johnny Ola tells Michael Corleone, “Hyman Roth always makes money for his partners. One by one, our old friends are gone … Hyman Roth is the only one left, because he always made money for his partners.” People remember people who help them out, and as Don Altobello says in Coppola’s film ”The Godfather Part III,” “The richest man is the one with the most powerful friends.”
Lesson 3: Have a clear vision and be patient.
Michael has a plan to transition his “family” away from illicit activities to become legitimate. At one point his wife chastises him, claiming he promised her the family would be legitimate in five years, yet seven have passed. Although he never achieves his goal, Michael works diligently toward it throughout the three films. He keeps his plans close to the vest and takes action to make them happen, even when his associates are in the dark and think he’s losing his touch.
Lesson 4: Know your objective … and your competition.
In business it’s critical to know exactly what you want and where you’re going. It’s just as important to keep that information to yourself most of the time. There are countless scenes in the trilogy where the only reason certain parties are successful in their endeavors is that they had specific goals and up-to-date (sometimes insider) information on the activities of their competitors. As Michael Corleone says, “Never let anyone know what you are thinking.”
Lesson 5: Have a trusted source of advice and unbiased feedback.
In the Mafia, the godfather typically has a “consigliere” — an adviser or counselor — who gives impartial advice and helps the boss make important decisions. In the business world it is just as important to have someone to turn to that will tell you the truth. This could be a mentor, a business coach or trusted family member.
Lesson 6: Make your message clear.
When Bruno Tattaglia and Virgil Sollozzo see through Vito’s plans to infiltrate their organizations using his enforcer Luca Brasi, they make sure the Corleones know what happened and who was responsible. A fish wrapped in Brasi’s bulletproof vest informs the Corleones that “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” When Jack Woltz refuses to cast Johnny Fontane in a movie that would resuscitate Fontane’s career, he receives a message that is just as impossible to misunderstand — a horse head in his bed. Whether you’re sending an email message, mailing a direct mail package, giving a speech or planning a marketing campaign, make certain your message is crystal clear.
Lesson 7: It’s all about the offer.
If you craft a strong, compelling offer, it will motivate your prospect to take action. A great offer can cut through the avalanche of marketing the average consumer is bombarded with daily, overcome resistance and break down barriers to buying, and separate you from the competition. (Think of Domino’s ”30 minutes or less” guarantee.) How will you know when you have a compelling offer? Easy. It will be “an offer you can’t refuse.”