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What Does A Good Evangelist Go For These Days?

BillysundayI read one of Mike Sansone's recent posts with keen interest.  It seems his love affair with Panera is coming to a rocky end.  Of course, I could have told him that they were all a bunch of WUHOTs, but it's an unspoken rule around guys that you don't diss another guy's "significant other" to his face... even if that significant other is an underperforming restaurant that doesn't care about its customers.

It's still shocking that Panera would treat someone like Mike so poorly, though.  Don't they realize who he is?  The King of Conversation.  The Lord of Links.  The Duke of Dialogue.  The Prince of Pings.  The Baron of Blogs.  And more importantly, he's been one of their chief evangelists for many months.  He's been the pulpit-pounding preacher of the Panera gospel.

Evangelist1This reminds me of a past situation with one of my Drake MBA classes.  We had the opportunity to pilot some new whiz-bang software.  The owner of the company was anxious to break into the educational market, and the software had some functionality that my students could leverage, so it seemed like the perfect fit.  I worked with the owner directly for weeks prior to class.  We communicated expectations to the students, and all of the stakeholders were excited about the possibilities.

Then disaster struck.  On the first day of class, the software company owner decided he was only going to support one of the project teams, instead of the entire class.  Hence, 80% of my students would be without technical support on new and unfamiliar software (which turned out to be not nearly as intuitive as originally claimed).  When I communicated workarounds to this issue for my students, he flew off the handle (publicly), accusing me of undermining the integrity of the pilot and his own credibility.  His unprofessional communications soon became evident to the students (by his doing, not by mine), and all of the students quickly ceased using his software and also ceased all conversation with him.  That's when it got really interesting.  He started name calling, accusing Midwesterners of being stuck in their ways and not willing to embrace change.  Over all, he just left a bad taste in everybody's mouth.

During the final class debrief, we talked about how we had turned the pilot-gone-bad into some great teachable moments for the students.  We talked about how this owner could have turned things around by acting professionally, apologizing, and working collaboratively with me and the other stakeholders.  Moreover, many students commented what a lost opportunity this company had.  Some of them said they initially liked what the software had to offer, but the owner's behavior changed their minds.  This was a class of over 30 students who represented Des Moines' largest employers.  And many of them went back to their employers and communicated never to allow this software to ever darken their doorways.  One comment in class summed it up best, "(He) had the opportunity to make 35 evangelists; he did that but they're all communicating a different gospel."

One comment.  One screw-up.  One action.  One offense.  Credibility and customer commitment are delicate balancing acts.  We'll see if Panera can pull their collective heads out of their (ahem) ovens before the evangelical movement passes them by.


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Sherry Borzo

I'm the gladiator for migrating to Grounds for Celebration. Jan Davis said she has a wall and the space in the morning and they really do care about their employees (a small business who provides health insurance!) their customers, and their community. I pledge my sword!

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