Indispensable: Out of all the businesses you’re familiar with, there’s likely a select few that you consider absolutely essential. What sets these businesses apart from the rest? Joe Calloway dissects the key principles to empower your business to become indispensable for your customers.

Indispensable By Joe Calloway, 2005, 220 pages.


Introduction of indispensable

From the avid viewer who diligently records every episode of “Sex and the City” to the corporate decision-maker who values a reliable salesperson over a more affordable competitor, certain customers deem specific products or companies indispensable. It’s the ultimate goal in business: cultivating loyal customers who are unwaveringly committed to your product or service. Consider a company you can’t imagine doing without—whether it’s your local auto shop or the multinational handling your office supplies.

Indispensable companies secure business even when their prices are higher. They’re the ones we’re willing to go the extra mile to visit, even if a similar product is available closer. What’s their secret to earning unwavering trust and consistent loyalty? According to Joe Calloway, there are five interrelated drivers that establish habits, making a company indispensable.

1. Create and maintain movement

One of the primary hurdles businesses face is the inertia within their organization. It’s a natural inclination for a group to stick to what has historically worked. The challenge lies in the fact that what seems effective now might be the very thing holding your business back from reaching new heights.

To propel toward enhanced performance, it’s essential to relinquish what’s currently working and make space for what will work in the future. This demands courage and a series of both challenging and straightforward actions. The initial step is deciding to pursue this transformation—a step many companies fail to take.

While many companies discuss achieving a higher level of performance, holding meetings and creating visual representations of ideas, they often revert to their previous practices. It’s akin to talking about a trip to Barcelona, sharing plans with friends, but never purchasing the plane ticket.

Creating and sustaining momentum requires a committed decision to pursue the change. Designate someone responsible for leading this journey and then implement the necessary actions to ensure its realization. This encapsulates the essence of leadership—keeping everyone in motion and on the path to success.

2. Develop reliability as a habit

The greatest allure for customers is the consistent performance of a business. The seamless operation, uniformity in service, and a high standard maintained by every employee at every location without fail act as the adhesive binding an indispensable business.

While having one exceptional employee who is friendly, professional, and helpful can make them indispensable to the customers they serve, this isn’t sufficient for the overall success of your business. A clear sign of trouble arises when customers have to embark on a treasure hunt to locate the right employee, indicating a potential challenge for the company.

3. Ongoing connection

This driver is straightforward yet potent, demanding continuous attention. Sustained connection involves maintaining contact with your customers in a way that fortifies your relationships. The mantra for indispensable companies is constant communication—initiate contact early and frequently.

4. See the overall result

This implies envisioning the comprehensive experience desired by your customers, transcending mere products or services and exploring innovative business approaches. Rather than concentrating solely on the transactional aspects of your product or service, direct your attention towards aspects such as cost savings, user-friendliness, or quality. Contemplate how your offering can contribute to your customers’ overarching, long-term objectives.

Undoubtedly, this entails investing effort in comprehending the long-term goals of your customers—a task that many may shy away from. However, this commitment will serve as your competitive advantage.

5. Engage, enchant and excite

This driver is the opposite of analytical science; it’s magic. Most average companies lack the talent to create magic, and more importantly, they lack the creativity or vision to implement it. Their approach is often confined to acting based on figures.

This magic, also known as the WOW factor, involves doing something unexpected that the customer wasn’t anticipating. It aligns seamlessly with considering the overall result, and its impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty is remarkable.

The goal is to be the best part of each customer’s day. Understand it. Do it. Embrace it.


Instead of creating lengthy explanations for each driver, Joe Calloway provides a concise overview and illustrates their practical usage with detailed case studies in six out of the seventeen chapters. Additionally, he shares alternative methods, techniques, and tips for becoming an indispensable business.

first things first book

Chapter 4: Back to the six new basics

What seems like a groundbreaking idea today often becomes the norm tomorrow. What we label as thinking “outside the box” in one area has likely been practiced for years in another. Let’s explore some fundamental concepts. The key is to present these ideas in a way that you may not have thought about before.

Basic rule 1: Constantly say “Why not?”

George Bernard Shaw once said, “You see things and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?'”

So, say “Why not?” Say it early and say it a lot. The possibilities of “Why nots?” are boundless. Take a close look at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Challenge the assumptions. Reverting to your previous way is an option, but at least, through this process, you’ll gain valuable experience, thinking about it and exploring ways to make it better.

Basic rule 2: Get back inside the box

While the idea of saying “Why not?” is encouraged, Joe Calloway offers another perspective. Instead of immediately jumping on the trend of thinking outside the box, he suggests ensuring that everything inside the box is well taken care of.

Rather than rushing to be different, many companies should focus on excelling at what they were originally doing. The sequence should be: “Let’s become exceptionally good at our current practices, and then we can explore being different.”

Basic rule 3: You will make partnerships

Who is your potential business partner? Consider those who have customers that could also benefit from your products or services.

Gone are the days of limiting yourself to what you offer. Now, it’s about piecing together solutions and providing comprehensive care. This doesn’t mean compromising your brand; rather, it’s about forming partnerships with other companies that offer complementary products or services, adding value to your customers.

Think creatively; for example, if you own a bakery, consider partnering with a newly opened hair salon to provide your cakes as a delightful treat for their customers.

Basic rule 4: Selling is dead

Traditional sales, where you persuade someone to buy your product through convincing talks, is on a slow decline, according to Joe Calloway. He doesn’t believe in selling in the conventional sense. When asked, “Why should I do business with you?” his response is, “I don’t know that you should. That’s what we need to find out.”

While this might sound unconventional, it reflects the changing nature of business interactions. Understanding your prospects, especially if they are businesses, is crucial. If you know everything about your business but nothing about theirs, you might face challenges.

The old idea that selling is a numbers game still holds, but the numbers have changed. Instead of making numerous calls to get meetings, focus on quality interactions. Joe Calloway emphasizes preparation and understanding the prospective business, having fewer but more meaningful conversations that lead to successful sales.

Basic rule 5: Every that happens is normal

In the last decade, media has bombarded us with messages about the ever-changing world and the need to adapt. The old rule was the ability to change during difficult times, but Joe Calloway suggests a new rule: there are no difficult times, just times. Instead of constantly judging events as good or bad, embracing the idea that everything happening is normal allows us to navigate challenges effectively. Joe isn’t referring to genuine hardships like wars or natural disasters but rather economic fluctuations, high-interest rates, new regulations, and technological shifts. Your perception shapes your reality, so adopting a positive perspective enables more effective action.

Basic rule 6: Internet has changed nothing

This principle might irk certain individuals, particularly Internet enthusiasts. However, according to Joe Calloway, the internet hasn’t fundamentally altered anything of substantial importance. Despite expectations that innovations like fax machines, computers, and video-conferencing would replace their predecessors, the fundamental nature of business rules remains unchanged. The internet was anticipated to supersede all forms of advertising, yet this hasn’t been the case. While the internet transformed business operations, the core principles, including the necessity of profitability and customer satisfaction, have endured. The internet is undoubtedly a valuable tool, but its real purpose lies in ensuring customer satisfaction, a timeless aspect that hasn’t shifted with technological advancements. It’s crucial to note that this perspective on the internet is somewhat outdated, reflecting the mentality post the burst of the Internet bubble in 2001. The book was published in early 2005, likely written in 2004, contributing to this outdated context.

Chapter 6: Create community

The principle of continuous connection largely revolves around creating a community. Achieving a community built around your business, products, or services is akin to unlocking the marketing power Holy Grail. Apple is a prime example of a company excelling in this aspect, especially with its computers, iPods, and iPhones.

For instance, individuals owning a Harley Davidson or a Porsche often exchange waves when passing each other on the road, forming a community around the product. This gesture, subtle and cool, signifies a connection. It communicates a shared identity, even if the specifics may differ – like a free-spirited Harley rider with long hair and tattoos acknowledging a weekend rock and roll fantasy Harley owner who happens to be a dentist with a different appearance. Despite the contrasts, they share something significant in common.


Can any company create a community?

Certainly! Your challenge is to explore the “how” instead of immediately dismissing the idea of building a community, as it applies to a vast range of businesses. It’s unreasonable to assume that a community can’t be part of your strategy. There’s a multitude of ways to unite people around your product or company.

For example, consider a car dealer who hosts a monthly seminar titled “Understanding Your Car.” This event includes free hot dogs and a barbecue for new car owners, showcasing an understanding of the community’s power. Similarly, a dry cleaner owner who sponsors a local football team and attends every match to sit with the parents of the players is embracing community-building. It’s akin to a restaurant that shares its most beloved recipes on its website and provides cooking and wine tips regularly.

Chapter 8: Obvious but often overlooked

Joe Calloway finds continuous amusement, astonishment, and frustration in observing numerous individuals within companies consistently overlook the most apparent truths.

Obvious truth 1: You had me at hello

Joe Calloway experienced something unexpected when visiting a client employed by what he considered one of the best companies. Despite the company’s reputation for consistency and attention to detail, Calloway encountered a surreal situation at the reception desk when attempting to meet his client for lunch. The receptionist seemed more absorbed in her tasks than acknowledging his presence, emphasizing the importance of maintaining vigilance against cracks in organizational efficiency. To be indispensable, companies must invest significant energy in creating positive impressions, and one way to assess this is through the “mystery customer” approach, possibly hiring external services for evaluation.

Obvious truth 2: Talking about it doesn’t make it true

Be cautious about today’s advertising claims, especially the widely used yet often untrue slogan: “We exceed our customers’ expectations.” While this phrase is commonly seen in mission statements and advertising, the reality is that very few companies genuinely go above and beyond. Indispensable companies, however, consistently exceed expectations. Ask yourself when was the last time you pleasantly surprised one of your long-time customers? If you haven’t, someone else might be contemplating how to impress your customers in a way that leaves them wondering why you never do the same.

Obvious truth 3: Tell the truth

Conduct your own honesty check this week. How often do companies tell you the truth?

This issue is real, but most people don’t pay attention to the fact that companies can lie to customers every day. Regardless of moral considerations, lying is ineffective and counterproductive.

If you conduct a survey asking, “How many times has a company lied to you?” you’ll likely be surprised by the frequency of such incidents. You’ll end up with a list of numerous lies, as if falsehoods have become the norm.

Truth starts from within. Lying is fundamentally a leadership problem. Period. An organization’s culture either encourages truth-telling or it doesn’t. Indispensable companies attribute customer loyalty, in part, to their commitment to truth. It’s ingrained in their corporate culture. When management lies to employees, employees are likely to lie to customers.

Lies often accompany bad news. However, the silver lining is that customers can appreciate bad news if it helps them better organize. Try to minimize the frequency of bad news, as its constant occurrence indicates poor product or service quality that will eventually lead to failure.

Announcing bad news to customers requires finesse. Avoid the approach taken by airline staff when they assure you that the flight will depart on time despite the plane not having landed yet, five minutes before the expected departure time.

Questions like “Will she call me back today?” or “Can you guarantee that I will get the quantities I need?” can be answered with “no” truthfully, gaining the confidence and loyalty of your customers. By providing relevant and truthful information, you become indispensable to them.

Customers can handle bad news, but what they can’t handle is uncertainty. Keep them informed.

Chapter 9: Right place – right time

Being in the right spot at the right time with the right product delivered promptly is pretty much the magic recipe for a successful business. Nowadays, though, the meaning of the right place, time, and delivery has expanded to include factors we didn’t consider in the past.

For a new generation accustomed to having their needs met 24/7, this accessibility is a significant advantage. They might question, “Why isn’t the bank open on Sunday? Who decided people don’t need a loan on Sundays?” This perspective applies to various areas.

Certainly, balance is key. Opening on a Sunday or at night might clash with your company’s strategic plans or employees’ preferences. Sometimes, the cost of overtime outweighs the benefits of enhancing customer satisfaction.

However, it’s crucial to pinpoint aspects that “nobody in this field is doing” that could give you a competitive edge. This might involve more flexible hours or being open on a traditionally closed business day. It takes courage.

So, the next time someone in your company suggests an idea that seems unrealistic and breaks all the rules, take a moment to ask yourself, “Why not?” and “What if?” McDonald’s success, in part, stems from its flexible hours and convenient locations—open any time of day, ready to serve hot food within minutes.

leadership create a movement

Chapter 11: Big picture outcomes

People aren’t just buying products or services; they’re buying the results those products or services deliver. An old saying captures this: “You don’t want a drill; you want a hole.”

To be indispensable, you need to go beyond the mere transaction or service. Each customer brings a set of needs and desires to the table, and addressing them all is crucial. An example illustrates this concept:

Joe Calloway had a maintenance contract with the company that installed his home’s air conditioning system. During a routine inspection, the technician, James, demonstrated a deep understanding of the overall result. When Joe mentioned that his daughter Jess was napping, James not only worked quietly but also whispered during the report to avoid waking her. His considerate actions showed that he wasn’t just there for the air conditioning system; he was paying attention to their home.

This goes beyond the typical approach where employees are told their duties but not the underlying objective. Most companies focus on “What we do” rather than “Why we do it.” Understanding the “why” allows businesses to consider the overall result and become indispensable to customers.

In Joe Calloway’s case, he realized he wasn’t just a business speaker and author; he was someone who provided ideas to help businesses build their brand and competitiveness. The key is not to confuse the delivery system with the product itself.

Chapter 12: Twenty eight indispensable lessons

In this chapter, Joe Calloway shares 28 lessons on how to become indispensable. The challenge is to identify the ones applicable to your business and creatively adapt them. It’s even more productive to create your list of companies for inspiration, not to copy but to draw ideas from.

  • Have the lowest price, becoming indispensable for a broad market segment.
  • Compete with the lowest prices by adding a unique “plus” to stand out.
  • Create new products that address unmet needs before others copy.
  • Become a way of life, embodying a powerful symbol like Harley Davidson.
  • Be the good guys and have the right product, combining quality and values.
  • Know your customers and adapt when their needs change.
  • Be one thing less your customers have to worry about, emphasizing consistency.
  • Make life simpler, positioning yourself as the choice that simplifies life.
  • Know when it’s not your job; don’t take on tasks that don’t align with your strengths.
  • Do your best all the time; consistency is key to becoming indispensable.

Short lessons:

  • Make it simple and then simplify it even more.
  • Remember what customers are really buying.
  • Invest in finding the next idea.
  • Embrace the potential of being wrong; errors provide valuable information.
  • Don’t save small amounts to lose more significant amounts later.
  • Leverage the power of charisma as a crucial aspect of leadership.
  • Personalize marketing instead of generic mass mailings.
  • Implement pay-for-performance incentives for employees.
  • Use the customer’s name from the start and frequently.
  • Harness the power of storytelling over numbers.
  • Change how people buy or use your product, focusing on the delivery.
  • Aim to be everywhere, making your presence felt in the market.
  • Summarize what you do in six words or less for clarity.
  • Allow colleagues and employees the freedom to surprise you.
  • Enhance your product or service by considering what can be removed.
  • Let the market decide; listen to customer preferences and adapt accordingly.

Chapter 14: Repeatable process

It’s good to have employees with good people skills, but it’s even better to establish a repeatable process that makes outstanding customer interactions the norm, not luck. This requires minimizing the element of luck by implementing processes and procedures that guide everyone on what to do in various situations. Joe Calloway differs from Chet Holmes in “The Ultimate Sales Machine”; he opposes hiring superstars, aiming for a different standard of behavior as the rule. The goal is to have ordinary people achieving extraordinary things with customers daily, surpassing the competition, not just within the team.

bargaining for advantage

Chapter 15: Stop apologizing – start doing your job

The saying “measure twice, cut once” is like creating consistency in performance. If a positive experience with your company depends on stumbling upon the right employee by luck, there’s a big problem. Many companies spend more time apologizing than fixing the root issues. Here’s an example to illustrate this point:

Joe Calloway arrived at Springfield airport and called his hotel for shuttle information. The employee assured him the shuttle would arrive in ten minutes, but after waiting for 15 minutes, Calloway called again. The employee insisted it would be there in ten minutes. Frustrated, Calloway took a taxi. At the hotel, he found out the shuttle hadn’t even left. The receptionist’s explanation was that the driver had other things to do. Dissatisfied, Calloway expressed his discontent. Later, the manager apologized and offered wine and a fruit platter.

A key sign of a B-list company is excessive apologies. Indispensable companies focus on training, building a positive company culture, and clear communication about expectations. While “Problem-solving” and “Managing customer complaints” training is useful, customers prefer a company that emphasizes “doing the job right the first time.” When a customer complains, it’s crucial to listen, ask questions, and find solutions to prevent recurrence.

Chapter 17: The customer decides

Here are some extra lessons from B2C (business to customer) that the author believes can be applied to B2B:

  1. Don’t underestimate your customer, even if they lack knowledge. Your role is to solve their problems, not assume they understand everything you do.
  2. Treat your customer as the most important person when they are in your care.
  3. Prioritize customer happiness. Even if it costs you money, ensuring their satisfaction is the difference between a single transaction and building a long-term relationship.
  4. People are often sentimental about their children. If your company is child-friendly, it can win the hearts of parents.
  5. Even in B2B, showing genuine interest in your customers, including their personal lives, can build a stronger connection.
  6. When there’s a change in ownership or management, new leaders should conduct customer research and communicate any upcoming changes.
  7. While the phrase “The customer is always right” is common, also recognize and appreciate your customer’s coolness, trendiness, and positive qualities.
  8. When facing challenges, remember those who supported you. Similarly, be there for your customers when they encounter difficulties.


Joe Calloway provides practical and straightforward guidance on making your business indispensable. His book is refreshingly free of unnecessary complexity and jargon, adopting an honest and direct style. It serves as a “User manual for companies,” emphasizing the importance of customer satisfaction before delving into the latest business trends or strategies.

While the content may seem obvious, Calloway presents it in an original and often overlooked way. He offers a fresh perspective on fundamental concepts that are essential but sometimes neglected. The focus on what makes companies indispensable and the commitment to customer service are particularly noteworthy.

The book dedicates six out of seventeen chapters to case studies, illustrating how the principles and drivers can be applied in real-world situations. Despite its strengths, the book’s structure is somewhat disjointed, resembling a collection of tips rather than a well-organized system for becoming indispensable. Readers need to identify relevant advice and creatively apply it to their situations.

Calloway’s candid and straightforward style may not appeal to everyone, as he occasionally comes across as authoritative. However, this style serves as a call to action, engaging and challenging readers while providing motivation and inspiration. Overall, it’s a must-read book that is easy to digest, offering concrete and relevant advice for businesses. 

Book appreciation of “Indispensable”

The book’s strengths lie in its simplicity, directness, and practicality. It offers a collection of methods and tips that specifically address problems and provide clear solutions. The author maintains a laser-sharp focus on the key element of making a company indispensable: customer service. The inclusion of numerous case studies enhances the understanding of concepts, and the overall style is motivational and engaging.

On the downside, the organization of the book appears somewhat disjointed, resembling a compilation of advice rather than a well-structured system. Some readers might find Joe Calloway’s style too prescriptive and authoritarian at times.

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