By Paul Reilly

I noticed something interesting on a recent Southwest flight. I approached the gate and the boarding process had already begun. I was running late and they were already on boarding-group “B.” Since Southwest has no assigned seats, I would likely be stuck in one of the dreaded middle seats. I boarded the plane and, thankfully, there were plenty of aisle and window seats. I quickly settled in and was hoping that the middle seat next to me would remain empty. A few moments later, the flight attendant announced, “The flight is completely full and every seat will be taken.” So much for the extra leg room.

A few minutes later, the flight attendant announced, “Boarding complete.” That’s when I noticed it. Although boarding was complete, there was still an open middle seat in front of me. Before the flight attendant shut the door, a Southwest pilot boarded the plane and entered the main cabin. He was looking for a seat.

The pilot was probably catching a flight home or connecting to another city. This is normal. What made the experience unusual is the timing of the pilot boarding the plane. This pilot could have boarded earlier, but instead, he waited until every other passenger was seated. The pilot waited, knowing he would be left with the dreaded middle seat. In this situation, Southwest literally put the customer first.

Salespeople can learn from this Southwest pilot. The lesson is simple, put the customer first. On every sales call, every e-mail, every phone call, in every situation, it’s all about the customer. The customer defines value, not the salesperson. And the customer’s definition of value is the only one that matters. When you define value in customer terms, they’ll pay for it with a higher selling price. When you define value in seller terms, you pay for it with a bigger discount.

Our research shows that top-achieving salespeople put the customer first and they define value in customer terms. Top achievers view serving the customer and satisfying their needs as a privilege. Their attitude drives their behavior and compels them to act and pro-act on behalf of the customer. Southwest pilots board the plane last to put their customers first. How will you put your customers first?

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