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At Sea

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I’m writing this from a 2,500 square foot, duplex stateroom on the Queen Mary 2, a day out of New York. My wife and I are on our way to London, where I’ll speak for two days, and then we’ll fly on to Italy for a 10-day vacation.

So why have we chosen to spend six nights and seven days at sea?

What are they (you) selling?

The Cunard Line isn’t selling speed. Not only are planes faster, but the passage itself was done in five days in the 1950s by ships such as The United States. They aren’t selling hedonistic luxury, because there are only two suites like ours on the entire ship, and the vast preponderance are accommodations of mid-scale hotel size and nature. And they aren’t selling cuisine, since most of the restaurants are good but not great (with the exception of two that most people can’t access).

Yet there are 2800 people living here for a week, about 500 of whom will continue on a Mediterranean cruise after landfall at Southampton. And the crew ratio is an astonishing 1:2, with two of them for every one of us.

Cunard is selling a combination of unique experiences. A great many passengers have sailed the QM2 before, and there is a reunion tomorrow for those who sailed on the last Queen Mary. (You won’t believe this, but I sailed on her as a 17-year old exchange student from an inner city, a landmark event which changed my life.)

I’ve not quite experienced, in over 3 million air miles, the sensation of watching the sunset behind the Verrazano Bridge while a band plays on the fantail as we leave Manhattan in our wake. It’s romantic to consider that this was once the only way people traveled to Europe, just as the great, old trains like the 20th Century Limited were the only way to cross the country in style.

It’s fun to wear a tuxedo some nights at dinner, to stroll through the casino and lose a few dollars, to hear string quartets and harpists in he public areas, to attend art auctions, to visit the spa, to swim while at sea, and just to stare at a kizillion stars while we cruise through a pond-calm North Atlantic.

Cunard is selling a unique experience, packaged for different purses. What are you selling, and how flexibly?

The onus is on you, not the buyer

I’ve found that too many salespeople can’t explain what they are selling in terms of a customer outcome, and they can’t adapt and package it for diverse customers. You can sail on this ship, one way, to Europe for $3,000 or for $50,000. The experiences within the experience are, as you can imagine, quite different. Mercedes has, to the surprise of the pundits, varied its line to allow a vast number of people to own the Mercedes star, while retaining the caché of its top end cars. (The difference between Cunard and Mercedes is that the former alters the service and support, the latter has not done so, and the product remains superb but the service undifferentiated for the most part, which is an error.)

How can you provide your products and services in a manner that constitutes a unique experience for the buyer (a unique relationship) while offering a variety of options to engage? Low volume, high status providers such as Bulgari and Bentley have no such need, but Cunard can’t sail this ship with all suites (not enough people with the means and the time) not sail it half-full (far too much overhead and sunk costs).

Can customers work with you for a week as well as a year? Can they purchase a little or a lot? Can they come to you as well as you come to them? Are you in hard copy and electronic formats? Are there different people and varied avenues available for them to interact?

I’m writing this on my balcony, which is about 500 square feet and completely private, over the pool below and staring into the ship’s wake, which stretches to the horizon, as endless as our opportunities.

What are you doing to board your ship?

© Alan Weiss 2008 All rights reserved.

NOTE: See Alan’s blog, below, for photos of his trip.

Alan Weiss, Ph.D. probably has the strongest independent consulting brand in the country, and maybe beyond. He is the author of 27 books appearing in 8 languages. His newest is The Global Consultant (with Omar Kahn) coming out from Wiley in the fall. He runs the unique Million Dollar Consulting® College three times a year. He has won dozens of writing and consulting awards and is a member of the Professional Speaking Hall of Fame.® Contact him at, or his blog,

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