The Landmark Worldwide Business Model
For those of you who know me, know that I am incredibly passionate about transformational / breakthrough coaching. I tend to be a little hesitant about using the word transformation as the word has been diluted in our culture where every consultant under the sun uses that word as a fancy word for change. Change is based off the past. Transformation is created from a totally new paradigm where all new ways of thinking, being, and acting become possible.
Landmark describes this on their website as follows:
Landmark’s programs are grounded in a model of transformative learning. Informative learning adds to people’s skills by bringing new knowledge; transformative learning gives people an awareness of the basic structures in which they know, think, and act. From that awareness comes a fundamental shift that leaves people more fully in accord with their own possibilities and those of others. This shift is the single most powerful attribute of Landmark’s breakthrough methodology. Participants find themselves able to think and act beyond existing views and limits—in their personal and professional lives, relationships, and wider communities of interest.
Landmark’s method leaves you applying what you learned naturally and without effort. Similar to what happens when you first ride a bicycle, in Landmark’s methodology you learn by direct personal discovery—a moment occurs when a new ability is yours. You become confident in what you’ve learned, and the new ability is yours forever.
The Landmark Forum, Landmark’s flagship program, is designed to bring about such a fundamental shift in what’s possible in people’s lives. This transformation is not a one-time event, but an ongoing access to living an extraordinary life.
I will first acknowledge that the vast majority of businesses fail and the vast majority of people in the consulting and coaching world don’t make it very long. It’s extremely hard to go at it on your own and especially hard to create an organization that ends up impacting over 2 million people directly.
Landmark Is A Private Company
While running my company, Granite State Capital, I spend the vast majority of my free time reading and analyzing publicly traded stocks where all the financial statements are disclosed and I can get a pretty good look at how the operations of the business work. Landmark is not public. Furthermore, it’s extremely easy to have an opinion of how a business should be run when you’re on the outside. Every football fan thinks some coach should call a play differently on occasion. The truth is of course, they aren’t on the field and are missing many real-time nuances that me or you won’t see. On top of that, there are day to day nuances around any business operations that I won’t see when I am not working there day to day and seeing what’s happening in real time in each moment. So in some ways, you can take everything I am saying with a grain of salt and not as some divine prophecy of the way Landmark’s business should be run. Furthermore, there are also many valid business models.
Shaking Things Up: Threat To Management
In the world of investing in public companies, sometimes an outside investor comes in to shake things up. Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it is not. However, management teams are often hostile towards an outsider coming in as they see it as a threat even when it would benefit the company. It’s sometimes hard to see something outside of ourselves when there’s a company group-think. Every company has a bit of that and it’s one of the useful aspects of hiring an outside consultant or coach that isn’t involved in the day to day operations of the company so they can see things that someone deep into it just won’t flat out see.
So with all of that out of the way….. here’s some of the ways I would change their business model:
Change #1: Sell Products In Full
Steve Jobs understood that he had to tell the customer what they needed as opposed to diminishing his product to appeal to what the customer thought they needed. Landmark sells out and only diminishes the quality of their customer and customer value proposition in the process. I would not sell Landmark’s Curriculum For Living in 3 different parts. The Landmark Forum gets your past out of the way. The Advanced Course is all about creating a future to live into. The Self Expression & Leadership Program (SELP) has you create a project to fulfill on that expression. This is a very surface level view of each course so I’m sure some of you Landmark Graduates will find my description of those three programs lacking in something which I am okay with for the sake of brevity and for the sake that it isn’t that relevant to this article. The transformation that one experiences in the Landmark Forum doesn’t become real out there in the world unless it is shared and gotten by others. A project is a wonderful access to that and the SELP project creates an access to other people getting the possibilities you have created as opposed to them just being stuck inside you, being gotten by others conceptually or intellectually but but not truly gotten experientially, or landing on deaf ears.
Selling High Quality Packages
Instead, I would sell the Curriculum For Living as one package. Nobody goes to grade school just to take first grade. They go to complete grade school. Nobody says I’ll do first grade and then I’ll process it before I consider doing second grade and we will see. No, you just are in grade school with the expectation that you’ll move up the grades. A lot of people get sold on the Forum and then wonder why they even have to do the other parts of the Curriculum or they just really aren’t interested in the other parts of the Curriculum. That’s a little bit like learning what numbers are and then not being interested in learning how to do basic math. It would in some ways be a waste. Now obviously the Landmark Forum isn’t a waste on it’s own, but it becomes so minuscule to what’s possible to those who go through the entire curriculum, like barely scratches the surface of what is possible. By only selling the curriculum in full, you better ensure the people registering for the program are fully committed to what’s possible and not needing to be baby-stepped-sold each part one step at a time because they aren’t ready for the next conversation yet. This avoids any kind of unnecessary sales, surprises, etc.
You Will Lose Customers In The Short-Term
Yes, that means you will lose part of your customer base in the short-term. However, in exchange you will get a much higher quality customer base. These new higher quality customer base will then share with others who also have a higher likelihood to be a higher quality customer as well. It becomes a virtuous flywheel of quality customer base which just keeps on getting better and better over time. This becomes a real competitive advantage in the long-term.
Change #2: Stop Underpricing Products
I would raise the price on the curriculum. Yes, I know Landmark wants to make this work available to as many people as possible. However, the company is a for profit company and not a non-profit. By maximizing both value and profit, this would create a market demand for non-profit scholarships as well as for and non-profits who have the license to Landmark’s technology to make this work available to others in more affordable ways.
However, it just is a little ridiculous to charge $250 for the SELP and have the SELP leaders be doing this work for no pay. Yes, I get why they do it. Yes, I get that the people leading aren’t doing it for the money but for the benefits they get out of leading. However, look at someone like Tony Robbins. You could arguably say his stuff is not as sophisticated as Landmark’s work, yet he is able to charge thousands for his product, thousands of people show up, and his business is much larger than Landmark’s. He’s sold books and you could say his work has touched more people’s lives and has certainly impacted the culture more than Landmark’s. Most people know who Tony Robbins is, most people do not know what Landmark is.
High Quality Customer Base
By raising the prices, you will get a higher quality customer base as well. The vast majority of people who do the Landmark Forum will say it was well worth the money. Most people I talk to personally say in hindsight it was worth a lot more than what they charge for it. It doesn’t serve anyone to undercharge for a product. Raise the price to fair market value and now have more resources to add to the quality of the programs. I think about the amount of amazing people who won’t work on staff at Landmark because the money is just not there.
Employee Pay Impacts Culture
Paying employees well tends to impact the culture, performance, and just overall improve business results. Yes, money matters. And quite frankly, I don’t want people working for me who are going to sell themselves short and live a crappier lifestyle while underpaying themselves. There’s an impact when you have people doing that. Just look at political campaigns who have a bunch of passionate volunteers who are trained. It just won’t ever be at the level that a well paid and highly functioning culture at a business will perform.
Change #3: Pay Everyone Well
And this leads me to the third point…get rid of the assisting program and all non-paid positions. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the program and it’s actually pretty wonderful. However, paying people with the added resources from not undercharging for your product will go a long way in improving the overall culture and quality of people working at the organization. In the company’s introduction leaders program where you learn how to lead introductions to The Landmark Forum, there’s also assisting and phone agreements you have to do. Again, it’s a great program, lots of great training and development, however those people should not be the face of your organization. There’s many people who are fantastic and there’s quite a few people who are not so impressive.
Costco Customer Service
Imagine if Costco who is known for their amazing customer service had interns who were passionate about retail being the face of their customer service desk. I guarantee that Costco’s customer service satisfaction would decline substantially. While passion and a thirst for learning is fantastic, there does need to be an adequate skillset. I want to know that when I bring a guest to a Landmark evening session, that my section leader will be everything that I need. However, there have been many instances where my section leader was terrible or just not at the level of customer service I needed and had the Forum Leader come over to have a conversation with my guest.
The Negative Impact Of Assisting
All the while, I am resenting the fact that this couldn’t have been done by the section leader. I have made calls to the center where I was truly appalled at the way the person on the phone spoke to me. Landmark is committed to being a world class organization in the world of coaching yet you have people currently in training picking up the phones. Instead, every single one of those people picking up the phones should be paid and at the level a center manager or registration manager on staff is. There’s a gap there.
Change #4: Market Honestly
Seth Godin has written extensively on the importance of marketing your product in way that’s honest and is able to reach the customers who can benefit from your products. Godin’s work has really helped me understand the difference between marketing and advertising as well as get the responsibility that is marketing as a way to serve the customer as opposed to manipulate them. I would spend a lot of money on marketing and branding. As a Landmark Graduate I resent the fact that I have to bring someone to an evening session and that most of my friends don’t know about it.
The Pressure Conversation For Non-Ontologists
While Landmark has made a valiant effort to help ensure that people won’t experience being pressured to sign up, the truth is, there’s no really way to get around that experience for most people. Yes, it’s true that all of this work only exists in a conversation and it’s needs to be shared to stay in existence for yourself and for others. However, unless you have an ontological background (which the vast majority of people do not), there’s no way to say that without it landing as a marketing ploy to “get” more people to register.
If I was Landmark, I would hire someone who could really shape and tailor Landmark’s message to people who really crave this stuff. There’s a lot of people into personal development who get that most self-help books are bullshit. There’s plenty of people in the business world who are looking for new ways to be more effective and are sick of flavor of the month consultants who say the same kind of motivational-teambuilding-bullshit in a different way to be craving something different that actually is effective, scalable, and lasting.
Change #5: Create Sustainable High Quality Partnerships
Focus on partnership. The CEO needs to be really out there, be doing interviews, going on CNBC to make comments about business developments, and really get out there into the world. Yes, CEO Harry Rosenberg is going to be the keynote speaker at the annual global conference for transformation, however, he’ll be simply preaching to the choir. Harry is the CEO of a company that should be a business leader both in action and in thought.
Avoid Preaching To The Choir
Get out there and share with the world. Be the Jamie Dimon, Warren Buffett, or Jeff Bezos of the personal development world. Sit down with other great people who have contributed to the field of organizational development. Partner with others. Really open up this work online, on TV, through interviews, etc. There’s plenty of motivational speakers who speak at schools and make zero impact. Why not create community events, create optional school programs, have people that work with the government.
Be Like Jobs, Not Like Woz
Yes, it’s great to have a cult following, however, things still do come from the top. Apple has a great cult following and Apple also has pioneered the way of computing in ways that the Apple grassroots would not have been able to do. Steve Wozniak just wanted to sell Apple to a bunch of sophisticated computer nerds. Steve Jobs wanted the product to be beautiful and appeal to those who weren’t as sophisticated but as committed to using the tools a computer could offer. Landmark is still too much like Woz and not enough like Jobs.
The Winning Formula Trap
In The Landmark Forum, one of the things I personally got was that a lot of the things I took on life that got me to where I was today were also not appropriate for me to get to where I wanted to be. What Landmark has done has been nothing short of incredible for all the lives it has touched and the ripple effect it has had on society. However, many of the fundamental ways in which the company is structured that allowed to get it to where it is today, with many of those structures rooted in the 1970’s…those exact structures are now getting in the way and limiting how impactful the company can truly be.
Haters Gonna Hate
If I had to predict, many people reading this will see the article as that I have something against Landmark, that I’m complaining about something I don’t like, or as the company would say, “I’m on it” about something. I have seen this kind of reaction and defensiveness before and it only dishonors and hurts the integrity of this work which I hold sacred in my heart. I write this article with a viewpoint that Landmark’s work is incredibly sacred, and anyway that I can contribute to the integrity of the product, and impact the effectiveness this work has on humanity over the next few decades to come is the commitment in which I write this article from. I have absolutely no idea how this article will land for others and I would imagine some people will like it and some people won’t. I couldn’t give a shit either way.
Leaving It To Fate
It’s also likely this article will simply get lost to time, perhaps picked up again years later, perhaps not. However, even if something I share in this article ends up being picked up by someone on staff, inspires a graduate in some way, or impacts someone in management to re-evaluate an action they are taking, a structure at the company, and this article makes a little dent in the impact-fulness of this work, then the short amount of time it has taken me to write this article was worth it to me. And, if it makes no impact, then it was worth it to fail valiantly in the process. I’ll end this by leaving it up to others to do with it what they want. Or as the saying gos, I’ll leave it to fate.
About Eric Schleien
Eric has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, GuruFocus, and in Warren Buffett’s Biography, “Of Permanent Value”. Eric is also a certified Tribal Leadership with over a decade’s worth of experience in the field of breakthrough coaching and since 2012 has specialized in producing breakthroughs at the level of organizational culture under the mentorship of John King who developed the Tribal Leadership Methodology and co-authored the New York Times Bestseller, Tribal Leadership. He’s also the co-creator of the Udemy course, Leadership By Design. Eric also hosts The Intelligent Investing Podcast which is a business/value investing podcast featuring mostly interviews from great value investors from around the world. Eric loves interviewing interesting people and has interviewed Warren Buffett’s son, Peter Buffett, Jimmy Fallon, and former pornstar Bree Olson on his show After Hours which was the #1 radio show in the history of The University at Buffalo. Eric currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Granite State Capital Management, LLC and also does consulting for a prominent Hedge Fund in NYC. You can learn more about Eric, here.