Tim Dini
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The Lessons of Willie Sutton

The Lessons of Willie Sutton

Willie Sutton in police custody.

Newspaper reporters crushed around the famous bank robber Willie Sutton after he was nabbed by police on a snowy day in New York City in February 1952. 

Responsible for more than $2 million in heists from some of the country’s most prestigious banks, Sutton – also known as “Willie the Actor” and “Slick Willie” – had gained international acclaim for being unstoppable. Yet here he was, finally being hauled away in handcuffs.

Fresh-faced New York Herald reporter Mitch Ohnstad pushed his way to the front of the jostling mob of newsmen.

“Willie! Willie!” Ohnstad shouted. “One question! One question before they take you away!”

Sutton glared at the young reporter, then lifted his chin, seeming to say, “Go ahead, kid.”

“Why do you rob banks?” Ohnstad asked. All the other reporters drew silent and turned their eyes to the famous criminal.

Looking at Ohnstad with contempt for a moment, Sutton’s face suddenly broke out in a smile.

“Because that’s where the money is!” he replied.

What a Bank Robber Can Teach You About Your Business

Lessons learned from Willie Sutton

Although Sutton wound up spending nearly the remainder of his life behind bars, he left behind an enduring lesson:

Whether or not he actually uttered those words, banks are where the money is. For Sutton, that answer would seem obvious.

In the same way, utilizing interactive conversations would also seem like a no-brainer for your business.

If you are not yet familiar with them, interactive conversations are a business model based on building interpersonal one-on-one relationships with your customers.

Before the internet took over how business is conducted on the planet Earth, these typically required store owners to strike up conversations with the customers who browsed in their shops.

“Nice weather we’re having. Can I help you find something? I like your shoes!”

This type of relationship-building puts your customer at ease, makes them feel like they are welcome and appreciated, and lets them know that you are ready, willing and able to serve them.

In the internet age, however, when thousands – even millions – of prospective customers can be visiting your web pages at any given moment, this type of one-on-one interaction isn’t possible.

Instead, successful business owners need to replicate that same trust-building dynamic using cutting edge, web-based tools that engage customers in a friendly, reassuring manner.

Why? Because that’s where the money is.

These Go to Eleven!

Spinal Tap,

This Is Spinal Tap. 2 Mar. 1984.

Regardless of whether you are selling whoopee cushions or Cadillacs, you inevitably are going to have competitors.

Both you and they will be competing for the same pool of customers.

The object of the sales game is to attract more customers than the other guy, and score is kept by who has the most revenue and profits at the end of the quarter and fiscal year.

In order to win the game, you have to strategize to outwit, outsmart and outperform everybody else in the market place.

That means promoting the best products, paying attention to trends, providing superior customer service and carefully monitoring the steps your competitors are taking to lure your customers away and beat you at your own game.

Winning the game requires having a sales program that is louder, more far-reaching, and which speaks more clearly to the people who are going to buy the types of products you offer.

You don’t simply need to turn your sales volume to the highest volume level of 10. You need to figure out how to turn it to 11.

The Power to Convert Visitors into Customers

The Max Headroom Shw

The Max Headroom Show. Matt Frewer. 1984. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Headroom_(character)

This is where interactive conversations come into play.

Interactive conversations are a rich media experience that gives customers who visit your web page the illusion that there’s an actual person behind the screen speaking with them online.

These interactions should have a tone that is unique to your company.

The tone can be wacky, friendly, helpful, a little edgy, laid back, even humorous. It should reflect the personality of your business.

In the same way 20th Century sales clerks chatted up customers, virtual hosts of interactive conversations respond in real time to your customer’s questions and needs, while maintaining the personality that you want them to project.

Raving Fans

Raving Fans

With interactive conversations, people who visit your web pages are able to not only get the information they are seeking - such as pricing, selection, options, etc. – they also engage in a memorable experience.

It is so innovative that it is an experience they want to repeat and share with their friends, family and even their social media contacts.

Interactive conversations are a unique way to engage your customer’s interest, turning up your sales pitch volume to 11 and even higher, and setting yourself head-and-shoulders above your competitors so that you can capture the largest share of the market.

They are the 21st century solution to the sterility of internet business, adding life and even entertainment to the otherwise cold, barren experience of visiting web pages.

Master the application of interactive conversations on your web pages and you can convert passive customers into raving fans.

"I’m All In"

Apple iPhone Siri

Siri - Apple Inc. 2011.

If you own a later version of the iPhone, you’ve probably already met Siri.

She is the automated virtual assistant who lives in your smart phone, answering your questions, giving you directions and letting you know if it’s going to rain tomorrow.

In her most basic form, Siri is simply a voice recognition software program that is connected to an internet search engine.

Whenever you ask her where the closest delicatessen is located or if your flight to Bermuda is on time, the program in your iPhone converts your words into text, sends them to a search engine, then reads back the results in a robotic female voice that some people find sexy.

It’s actually not that complicated.

Yet the response to Siri has been overwhelming.

Apple was able to convince millions of people to pay five to ten times more for the same smart phone that their competitors were offering simply for the privilege of being able to interact with this faceless virtual assistant.

Otherwise normal people were willing to stand in line for hours waiting for the chance to get their hands on the new iPhone that came with this must-have app.

Television crews beamed images of lines forming all the way around Apple stores, sharing the excitement about this innovative new product with prospective customers around the globe.

Almost overnight, Siri became the poster child for interactive conversations and their ability to breathe new life into your online business.

Brand Building and Customer Loyalty

Starbucks. 1971. starbucks.com

Interactive conversations can do for your web pages what Siri did for the iPhone.

If you can provide a web-based experience that entertains as it connects your customers with the goods and services you promote, you can create long-lasting, iron-strong loyalty bonds with your customers that will keep them buying from you for years to come.

To be successful in the 21st century, businesses need to do more than simply offer the best products and provide customers with their choice of the most desirable options.

Winning businesses today have to entertain and delight their customers using interactive conversations.

That’s because customers today are looking for more than a transaction. They are looking for an engaging and memorable experience.

Successful restaurants today don’t just offer steaks and sandwiches; they provide a glamorous theme or a self-affirming image that customers can buy into.

When you pay $5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, it’s not just the flavor of the high-quality beans you are paying more for; it’s the experience of being part of something cool.

It ceases to be a cup of coffee and becomes a lifestyle that tells the customer, You are no longer just an ordinary Joe.

You’re a person, who cares about the environment, appreciates the difference between coffee beans grown on a Sumatran mountainside and an Andean plantation; you appreciate the finer things in life and are willing to pay a little more to prove it!’

Engaging the Customer into the Experience

Angry Birds - Rovio Entertainment

Angry Birds - Rovio Entertainment. Dec. 2009.

If you have left your house anytime in the past month, the odds are that you’ve had a poor customer service experience.

Whether it is an inattentive sales clerk, a poorly trained fast food cashier, or a toll booth operator who is more interested in their Angry Birds video game than in providing you with service, being the victim of poor customer service can be infuriating.

Poor customer service is often enough to drive customers away for life.

Worse yet, an angry customer is often the most vocal, sharing their story of neglect and offense with their friends, family and – increasingly more common – with their social media contacts. And once word gets out on Facebook or Twitter, it can rapidly grow viral.

Even adequate service isn’t enough for many consumers today.

If you go to your bank and make a deposit and the cashier didn’t smile, use your name, ask how your day was going and make other small talk throughout your transaction, you probably would think something was amiss.

After all, you come to expect those things because many banks now provide that level of service.

While your deposit still goes into your bank account, you could walk away feeling displeased and may even consider changing banks.

Because competition is so fierce, customers today have higher standards when it comes to customer service.

It’s no longer enough simply to be efficient; you must also be friendly and engaging.

Otherwise, you could be putting your business at risk.

Increasing Engagement During Interactive Conversation

Connecting with your clients.

Online, the challenges become even greater.

Someone sitting in front of their home computer or looking at their smart phone or tablet not only expects high-speed efficiency, but also entertaining graphics, flashy design and cutting edge technology.

And if they don’t get it, your competitors are literally only the click of a button away.

Interactive conversations can provide the spark that ignites the customer service experience into something unique and entertaining.

They can create an illusion for customers that there is someone on the other end of that internet connection who genuinely cares about pleasing them and quickly and efficiently provides them with the products and services they are looking for.

Interactive conversations can also help draw your customers deeper into the transaction experience with your business, recommending other products they might like or reminding them of upcoming events and offers.

Most importantly, interactive conversations give you a way to provide your customers with a high-quality two-way conversation that entertains as it informs, impresses as it sells, and exceeds their expectations so that they will continue to choose you above your competitors time and time again.

Why Every Moment Counts

22% Visiting Social Networks
20% Conducting Online Searches
20% Reading Blogs & Other Content
19% Scanning Emails & Texts
13% Watching or Listening to Media
5% Shopping Online

The Average Internet User Spends 32 Hours Online Per Month

The average internet user spends an estimated 32 hours per month surfing the web, but only 5% of that time is spent shopping.

Perhaps not surprisingly, much of the time (22%) is spent on social networks such as Facebook and Instagram.

Conducting searches (20%), reading blogs and other content (20%), scanning emails and other communications such as texts (19%) and watching or listening to media (13%) make up the rest of their internet hours.

Given those statistics, it might seem like your customers would rather be doing almost anything else rather than visiting your web page.

And let’s face it, competing with Angry Birds and streaming Netflix movies or Hulu shows can be a challenge.

Funneling customers to your site is of primary importance to your business so when your customers finally do arrive on your website; you want to keep them there as long as possible to continue to promote your products and services.

To do this, you need to engage your customers in interactive conversations.

When you create an interactive conversational experience for your customers, you can transform a mundane transaction into a fun and lively experience that they will want to sustain longer than it takes to simply make a purchase.

Improving Contact Efficiency

Interactive Communication

By asking just a few innocuous questions, interactive conversations can be used to mine a lot of useful, meaningful information from your customers.

A statement as simple as “What can I help you with today?” can be the entry portal you need to vibrantly engage your customers.

Customers who are just looking can be led to product recommendations or places where they can get additional research they can use to find the information they need.

With interactive conversations, your customers will feel that you are listening to what they have to say; meeting their needs and helping them achieve their objective with as little hassle as possible.

Those customers looking for a specific product can be instantly directed to what they are looking for so the transaction can be completed as quickly as possible.

But you also can prolong their experience by up selling them with recommendations for other products they might like based on their choices.


In short, online tools can provide the interactive conversations you need to engage customers in a genuine and profitable manner, making them the right choice for smart business leaders.

About the Author Tim Dini

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