image of Don Corleone from The Godfather 1972 Paramount Pictures

10 Things The Godfather Taught Us About B2B Marketing

By Carl Melville | The Melville Group LLC   If you are one of the 17 people on earth that have never seen The Godfather, you should skip this post (and go watch the movie).

My strategic marketing practice specializes in helping B2B supply chain organizations. However, as I was wrote this I realized the Corleone family advice applies to all marketers everywhere.

1. “Save it for the library.”

Uttered only once by Sonny Corleone, it should remind marketers that our role is creating a conversation, or rather a space for a conversation. To add value, we should inform prospects briefly. Save the long and boring material until your prospect is interested enough to want more. Let that be your “library”.

2. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Clemenza’s instruction to Rocco following his hit on Paulie. It’s about priorities. In the heat of the moment Clemenza’s priorities and instructions were clear. In our efforts to please everyone, supply chain marketers tend to bring the gun, the cannoli, as well as the Buick they were riding in. Knowing what to leave behind is essential to crafting powerful strategy and effective communication.

3. “No Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day.”

Spoken by Tom Hagan, and a central theme. For marketers, that “wedding day” is usually the first transaction. While delivering value throughout the relationship is vital, it is never more important than during that initial transition from prospect to new customer. The number of customers who have abandoned partners at the altar is huge. It is the most likely place where new relationships go awry. What are you doing to ensure an outstanding “wedding day” with your new customers? A tremendous amount of time, money, and effort has gone into creating what you hope will be a long-term relationship. Heed Tom Hagan’s wisdom, and fulfill those requests

4. ” A refusal is not the act of a friend.”

Spoken by Don Barzini, this is a reminder of our role. We exist to serve the customer. Barzini reminds us that if we are doing our jobs, our clients will consider us friends. They will trust us. They will ask for our help. They will expect our cooperation. They hate surprises. A refusal is a surprise and not the act of a friend — or an intelligent vendor. While we cannot, and probably should not do everything that a customer requests, we can go out of our way to make sure that we never flatly refuse a request.

5. “You’re not gonna wanna hear this Sonny, but if your father dies, you make the deal…” .

Tom Hagan reminds us that no one likes it when things go south, and no one likes to make the hard decisions when things go bad. Part of success in business is anticipating and preventing these things — but another big part is responding thoughtfully and powerfully when  things go very wrong. We should all heed Tom’s advice, and make the tough call.

6. “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.”

Some customers want to hear bad news immediately. Others do not. As marketers, it is our job to deliver the bad news with equal speed regardless of the customer’s preference. Those that want to hear it right away, much like Don Corleone, want to maximize their options and know where they stand as soon as possible. Those that don’t like to hear bad news right away have the same concerns — therefore should be treated with equal respect. After 20 years in crisis management, there is absolutely no substitute for getting bad news out quickly and calmly, while maintaining control of the situation (as much as possible) and continuing to earn the trust of your customer.

7. “Do you know who I am? I’m Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders.”

As you may recall, it did not end well for Moe. His tirade was about the fact that he was already established, and had a certain amount of entitlement. Entrenched businesses living on past accomplishments sometimes behave like Moe Green. They pound their chests and exclaimed to the world how incredibly competent they are and then point to past accomplishments. Past accomplishments are important, and are often a future indicator of success — but we must use them as a springboard and not as a hammock. Moe Green thought that his previous success entitled him. He paid a dear price for this, as do companies that make the same mistake.

8. “If you had come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day.” 

When Don Corleone said this to Bonasera, he was speaking of something fundamental about how successful marketers (and successful people) build relationships. If we wait until we need someone before we engage them, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Business strategy, brand building, thought leadership and business development are team sports. You cannot accomplish them alone and you cannot accomplish them without lots of cooperation. The time to build those relationships is before you need them. Don’t be like Bonasera and wait too long.

9. “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

For marketers, this is a message about trust. The reason we must keep our enemies closer, is because we trust them the least. What we can trust is that they will work in their own best interest, which is usually counter to ours. Friends, or those who can be trusted to care for our concerns, do not need to be watched as closely. We always want to be on our customers “friends” list, and likewise we would like all of our customers on ours. This lowers the cost of doing business and produces more opportunity than relationships based on distrust; requiring constant monitoring and expense – and will ultimately end in dissatisfaction.

Saving the best for last, and the one many of you have been waiting for…

10. “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

I’m unaware of any marketers putting animal parts in customers beds. For marketers Don Corleone’s message is about the value of your offers — or more precisely the weakness of those offers. Don Corleone made offers that were accepted, usually quite readily. It is easy to refuse weak offers. it is easy to refuse me-too offers. Most marketers, especially in the supply chain, have exceptionally weak and lame offers — this undermines their business success. If your offer is not unique to your business, to your prospect’s situation, and producing value difficult to find elsewhere — it is absolutely easy to refuse. Don Corleone built a successful business (albeit an abhorrent one) by making sure his offers were powerful — and could not be refused.

If the above has inspired you to re-watch this American classic, by all means do so. As you do, reflect on it not just as a movie, or the story about an American family, but a touchstone for business life, and specifically a touchstone for those of us that compete in the marketplace of ideas as we try to win and retain new customers.

Carl Melville’s firm, The Melville Group LLC works with B2B Supply Chain organizations, providing strategic marketing solutions that drive revenue and build enterprise value.

(This content is submitted under fair use guidelines. Any copyrighted content referring to the Godfather is the property of Paramount and/or other registered copyright owners.)