Blog Archives

Marketing with Big Data: Lazy vs. Laser-Focused

Last week, a friend sent me a private text message mentioning the name of a company that had hired him. The same day, I started getting ads for that business on my Facebook feed. Seeing as the company is a

Posted in Commitment Compass

How Not to Fail at Retail

A friend of mine recently went to Crate and Barrel to buy a couch. The store didn’t stock the color she wanted, so the sales clerk said, “You can just go buy it online.” And she took his advice. She

Posted in Commitment Compass

Consider This: Selling is an Ongoing Conversation

How do you convince customers to buy from you? With sell sheets? PowerPoint decks? Explanations of new product features? Hardly. A Sale is the Result of a Great Conversation How do you lead your customer to make the decision to

Posted in Commitment Compass, Ditch the Pitch

How Will You Unleash Your Untapped Potential In 2019?

Your business is brimming with potential. But you can’t chase every opportunity because, the fact is, you have limited resources. Check out my recent video “Think Beyond Low Hanging Fruit” for more on how to choose the best opportunities to focus on

Posted in Commitment Compass, Create Lasting Impact

Think Beyond Employee Engagement

Think beyond employee engagement initiatives. Instead, focus every element of your employee experience on inspiring a committed team.

Posted in Commitment Compass, Commitment-Driven Impact, Inspire a Committed Team

Think Beyond Marketing

Once you recognize that each member of your team contributes to your customers’ impressions of you, you can focus your efforts not only on traditional marketing tactics

Posted in Commitment Compass, Commitment-Driven Impact, Motivate Committed Customers
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Today, you can make this positive impact on your business: Improve your relationship with one customer. Customer relationships are your best source of competitive advantage, and the true driver of value in your business. Every time you come in contact with a customer, you have the opportunity to improve your relationship with that customer. And, when you improve your relationship with one customer, you are keeping the competition away from that customer ... and increasing the value of your business. So ... make your next interaction with a customer a relationship-building encounter. I am offering my ebook, Encounters: The Building Blocks of We Relationships, to readers of this blog for free. Take it. Use it. Lose it and then download again. Use it as a coaster for your coffee cup and then download it a third time. I don't care, as long as you improve one customer relationship, today. (And another one tomorrow) I'm sure you're busy today. So am I. But, can you think of a better use of time than improving your relationship with a customer?

Improve your business – today

Yoga practice is filled with balance poses. As you first learn these poses your concentration is focused 100% on the physical requirements of balancing. You find yourself moving your arms around and tensing your muscles, trying to keep only 50% of your weight on each side of the mid-line. Then, you eventually learn to see balance in a new way. The physical requirements of balancing never go away, but you begin to see that mindfulness is the most important, overriding key to your balance.  You begin to notice that you wobble and fall not because your leg lost its strength, but because your mind did.  Your balance feels different every time you practice - some days you’re not very "balancy," to quote one of my teachers - but you begin to realize that your readiness to be focused and present on a given day are what most influence your balance. Tree pose (know as “vrksasana” in Sanskrit) is one of the most common balancing poses in yoga.  You stand on one leg, driving it down to the ground while your head reaches to the sky.  The heel of your raised leg pushes into your standing thigh which, in turn, pushes back on your heel. Your eyes focus on one point in front of you.  You breathe.  And your ability to hold this pose with grace and calm depends on how well you stay present in all of this.  Almost every time I start to fall out of a simple balancing posture like tree pose, I realize that my mind has wandered.  But I have also learned that I can usually regain my balance once if I am able to regain my mindfulness. A sales conversation is like tree pose.  There are many ways you can fall, and you are often challenged to stay in balance.  You are constantly alert to new information from your customer and the environment around you, requiring constant micro-adjustments. Distractions can enter your mind, at any time and from any place, challenging your focus.  But at any point in a sales conversation, no matter what happens, you can always improve your balance with mindfulness.  The best way to hold your balance a sales conversation successfully is stay focused and present, aware of everything, not distracted by anything. So, in your next sales conversation, be in tree pose. Stay present, and you will not only keep your conversational balance, you will have a more productive relationship-building encounter with your customer.

Tree Pose in a Sales Call

  1. Are your marketing efforts focused on the right results?
  2. Are you clear about what you want customers to do?
  3. Are you clear about the rich story you want customers to understand?
  4. Are your marketing efforts integrated over the entire lifecycle of a customer's relationship with your company?
  5. Are you focused on internal marketing within the company?
  6. Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed?
  7. Does your marketing department "get it done?"
In the December 1st, 2009, issue, I addressed marketing efforts, your results and your customer's actions (Questions 1 and 2). On December 15th I devoted the issue to creating your rich brand story (Question 3). Today, I'd like to focus on Question 4, "Are your marketing efforts integrated over the entire lifecycle of a customer's relationship with your company?" To get us started, consider the basic chronology of most customer relationships: Customer Lifecycle: Learning about you, becoming your customer, being your customer. Download Customer Lifecylcle Graphic (Adobe PDF) In Phase 1, prospective customers learn about your company. During Phase 2, prospective customers become paying customers. Phase 3 represents the time when people are actually your customers. Companies that practice great marketing communicate a clear, compelling brand story, rich in Brand Harmony, throughout the entire lifecycle of their customer relationships. To explore this concept, and to help you understand how well your company is living up to it, we'll address three issues:
  • Focus your marketing throughout the entire lifecycle of the customer relationship.
  • Recognize that everything is marketing.
  • Does your marketing build relationships with customers?
Issue #1: Focus your marketing on the entire lifecycle of the customer relationship. A look at most companies' marketing activities will show that these activities are concentrated early in the customer relationship, on things like advertising, public relations, search engine optimization, sales to new customers, etc. Of course, a disproportionate amount of effort needs to be spent early in the customer relationship, since tools like advertising, direct marketing and pubic relations are highly inefficient. But companies who over-focus their marketing early in the customer relationship usually do so not to make up for this inefficiency, but because of a myopic view of marketing. For years, the practice of marketing has been based largely on efforts that attract new customers, leaving everything after that to customer service and product performance. This won't work anymore. Today's customers are highly discerning. Competitors are constantly trying to steal your customers. Companies that practice great marketing in our modern marketplace recognize the need to create an integrated, cumulative, epic story for their customers that continues through their entire relationship. I am convinced that the most lucrative source of latent profit for nearly all companies lies in their current customer relationships. By using the power of your marketing efforts at all points in the customer relationship, you will give yourself a much better chance of unleashing this profit. Loyal, motivated customers are willing to form rich, multi-faceted brand impressions of you. Help them! Use the entire range of touchpoints throughout your customer relationships to create a rich tapestry of interactions, fueling these rich, multi-faceted brand impressions. This marketing focus across the entire lifecycle of customer relationships is a key factor in evaluating a company's marketing efforts. So what about your company? Are your marketing efforts focused throughout the entire lifecycle of your customer relationships, communicating a continual story, or is marketing largely a get-the-word-out-find-new-customers tool for you? Now let's focus on the second issue... Issue #2: Recognize that everything is marketing. Consider the brand impressions of customers who love doing business with you. What influenced them to think so highly of your company? Chances are it was not your sales presentations, ads and brochures. In fact, if you were able to trace these influences, you would most likely find that traditional marketing communications have a relatively small effect on your customers' brand impressions. However, if you ask most people about their company's marketing efforts, they will describe "traditional" marketing efforts, such as advertising, PR, direct mail and brochures. They will also tell you about newer Internet-age versions of traditional marketing, in which they are investing time and money: pay-per-click online advertising, search engine optimization, their Facebook fan page, etc. In other words, they describe their company's marketing as the work product of a typical marketing department. Most companies describe their marketing in much narrower terms than their customers do. Customers are looking at everything companies do, and marketing departments tend to focus on only a portion of these things. Companies that do great marketing practice marketing in a way that goes well beyond the scope of traditional marketing. Does your company? Are you like Starbucks and Southwest Airlines, where the brand story comes alive not only in television advertising but at touchpoints you experience while interacting with the company? Or are you more like Verizon, where the promises of television advertising and the customer experience often don't have a lot in common? Ask yourself: Do we orchestrate all customer touchpoints in a way that tells one clear, compelling story? In other words, do we create Brand Harmony... or brand dissonance? Does our company have a comprehensive way to coordinate all aspects of the customer experience, or is the customer experience an agglomeration of various touchpoints, generated in an uncoordinated fashion from different points throughout the company? Does our company take a customer's eye view of the entire customer experience, and then transcend our company's organization chart and "silos" to ensure we create Brand Harmony? Many executives nod in violent agreement when I talk aboutBrand Harmony, yet only select companies actually practice Brand Harmony in a meaningful way. Defining marketing in the way your customers do, i.e., recognizing that every point of customer contact is a chance to evaluate you, is a key to great marketing. Issues #3: Does your marketing build relationships with customers? Next, consider whether the marketing you are doing is actually building customer relationships. In this crowded, competitive marketplace, it is difficult to differentiate your company solely by having great products, because many of your competitors also offer great products. A key theme in my book, We: The Ideal Customer Relationship,is that your customer relationships will differentiate you, in your customers' minds, more than your products, services, or prices will. The best companies look at marketing not only as happening at all customer touchpoints throughout a customer relationship, but also as being a key to building customer relationships. For example, Ritz Carlton teaches employees 12 Service Values, the first of which is, "I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life." Employees learn that their job is not only to provide service, but-- more importantly-- to build relationships. What about for your company? Do you look at customer interactions as opportunities to build customer relationships, or only as opportunities to transact business, talk about product features or sell promotions? Great marketing requires a company to break through the old marketing paradigms and practice marketing in a much more comprehensive way. Marketing isn't just about marketing communications, and it isn't just about attracting new customers. Marketing isn't about communicating messages "at" customers, it is about building relationships with customers So how does your company measure up?

Steve Yastrow

Don’t stop marketing

In 1997, Tom Peters published a powerful, groundbreaking article in Fast Company Magazine titled, The Brand Called You. I did a lot of consulting work for Tom in the few years following the publication of The Brand Called You, so I had the chance to witness first-hand its incalculable impact. This article opened up the conversation that a person is a brand and that a personal brand can have everything to do with that person's success. In typical fashion of Tom's writing, he subtitled the article, "Here's what it takes to be the CEO of Me, Inc." The Brand Called YouThe only thing I didn't like about this article was something that Tom had no control over. It was the cover of the Fast Company issue in which the article was published, which carried a likeness of a box of Tide detergent with the title of the article, The Brand Called You, written on the graphic of the box. Sure, in 1997 the conversation about personal branding was not pervasive, and it may have made sense to the Fast Company editors to use a long-standing icon of branding to communicate "this is about brands." But not thinking of your personal brand in the way Tide and other mass-market consumer goods are marketed is one of the most important lessons you can learn about personal branding from this article. Your personal brand is much deeper than a slogan on a package of laundry detergent. It's about who you are today and, even more, who you want to be in the future. It's about how you want the world to engage with you, who the people are in your world that you most want to engage with you, and how you want them to engage with you. It's about what you want people to believe about you. These issues are much deeper than the superficiality of a package or the hype of a press release. They get to the essence of how you want to engage with the world as your future unfolds. Here are the key steps to creating a powerful personal brand. 1. Be true to the future you want for yourself It's possible to have a "successful" personal brand and be miserable, because you don't want to be the person that brand represents. A PR-driven approach to personal branding could distract you with the sheen and superficiality of what it is that could impress people now. But how do you know if that is going to impressyou later? Put the words "public relations" out of your mind and off to the side for now. Think now about the deeper issues about who you want to be. Be true to yourself first, and think about who you want to be before worrying about anybody else. We'll get to other people later. 2. Think about the dent you want to make in the world In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, James Stewart's character George Bailey has a chance to see what the world would be like if he hadn't lived. The world without George is a completely different one, as George sees, because he was able to have such a powerful impact on the world in his "real" life. It's your turn to be George Bailey. Imagine the impact you are going to have in your life and/or work. Imagine the dent you are going to make in the world. Imagine it is 10 or 20 years from now, and your surroundings are much different-- and better-- because you have been there. How are these surroundings different? How is your company different? How is your industry different? How is the world different? The purpose of your powerful personal brand is not just to get people to know who you are. Celebrity is highly overrated. The purpose of your personal brand is to help you impact some part of your world. Dream about that impact. 3. Identify your circle of collaborators None of us can have success on our own. Our success depends on encouraging other people to collaborate with us in our success. If you want to be a successful dentist, you need patients to collaborate with you in your success by coming to your practice, following your clinical advice and referring you to their friends. You need your employees to collaborate with you by working in the manner you want them to work. If you want to be a successful politician, you need the collaboration of thousands of voters, members of your party, the media and your donors. None of us can make our dent in the world without the collaboration of others. So think about who your collaborators could be. Who do you want in your tribe? Who will help you make your dent in the world? Thinking about who the collaborators in your success could be in the future is a critical step, because the kind of brand you will be depends on the kinds of people you will need to persuade. Your brand will be much different if you need to persuade world leaders than if you want to encourage twenty-something bohemians to download recordings of your songs. What if you need to persuade both of these groups, or other groups of collaborators who are so different from each other? It's possible, but only if you are very clear on the previous steps outlined above. Think Bono. He is very true to the future he wants for himself, and I'm sure he is also very clear about the dent he wants to make in the world. 4. Craft your personal brand story Imagine you are on an airplane five years from today, and you hear the people behind you talking about you. They haven't noticed you are sitting right in front of them, but they are saying wonderful things about you, describing not only who you are but discussing the impact you have made as well. What do you want these people to be saying about you? Realize that you will only have a powerful personal brand when other people believe in it. We cannot be legends in our own minds. We can be clear in our own minds about who it is we want to be and the dent we want to make in the world, but our personal brand will only resonate in the world if other people believe in it. As you think through this step in the personal branding process, be willing to imagine the rich, multi-faceted story people could have about you. Imagine people talking about you, enthusiastically, for half an hour. What would you want them to say? 5. Communicating your personal brand How will people come to believe in your personal brand? Everything we've discussed so far is planning. We've focused on who you want to be in the future, on the dent you want to make in the world, on the people you want to collaborate with in your success, and on the personal brand story you want people to believe about you. Now it is time to address how you implement this personal brand strategy. This is the place where the differences between the Tide package and our concept of personal branding become most acute. In the traditional consumer-goods, mass-market branding world, there is a big focus on what is said on your package or in your ads and press releases. But in the personal branding world,what you say about yourself has little to do with what your brand actually becomes. Personal branding is much more about what you do, how you live, and how you actually fulfill the promise of your personal brand. Having done the previous steps I've outlined, you can then think about the actions you can take to encourage people to believe the right things about you. Yes, you have to say the right things about yourself, but your personal brand cannot rest too firmly on self-promotion anymore than your success can be determined by by wearing the right clothes to business meetings. The strongest personal brands, whether they are Richard Branson, Joan of Arc or John Lennon, are built by actions, not by promises. Summary We've looked at five steps to personal branding:
  1. Be true to the future you want for yourself
  2. Think about the dent you want to make in the world
  3. Identify your circle of collaborators
  4. Craft your personal brand story
  5. Communicate your personal brand
Walk through these steps in order, but don't be too concerned about "finishing" each one before moving on to the next step. Personal branding is a life-long, iterative, organic process, and as you continue to develop your personal brand over the course of your life, you will want to cycle through these steps repeatedly. Your personal brand is about so much more than the way you are packaged. Your personal brand is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be in the future, and of the dent you want to make in your world. Look at your personal brand as a challenge worth embracing, because it has everything to do with your success.

Steve Yastrow

Reinventing the Brand Called You

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Brand Harmony "We don't need to do any additional market research with patients," I told the CEO of a large dental practice management firm. We were concurrently conducting research with his patients and staff to try to understand what was most important to patients.  "So far, the information we are receiving from your dental hygienists and dental assistants is exactly in sync with what patients are telling us. Let's save you some money and cancel the rest of the scheduled patient research." Yes, the front-line staff, who directly interact with patients day-to-day, had very accurate insights into what their patients cared about. The dentists we interviewed were much less clear about patients'  needs and wants, and the company's corporate executives had, relatively speaking, poor insights into what patients were thinking. I have seen this pattern repeated many times. Front-line employees are deeply in tune with customer interests and needs, and as you move away from the front lines, up the executive ranks, you see much bigger disconnects between assumptions about customers and reality. And, of course, we all know where the marketing and product decisions that affect customers happen. Hint: It's not on the front lines.

You need to take advantage of this valuable employee knowledge.

Do you ask your employees what's going on in your business? Do you encourage them to speak up? Do you welcome their insights? Your customer-facing employees work in the best research laboratory you have, gaining insights from the daily encounters they have with real-life customers. The experience they gain from these encounters gives them perspectives that workers living in the home office bubble can't possibly acquire. Here are some questions I recommend that you ask your front-line employees, in order to engage them in conversations that will help you improve your business. (With the obvious requirement that you assure them that it is safe to talk and share their insights.)

So, what do our customers believe about us?

Your front-line employees know when and where you make customers happy, and when you don't. Ask them to imagine what customers are saying to their friends about your company. Ask them how customers would complete this sentence about your company: "It sure would be nice if..."

What's right, and what's wrong, about the experience we create for our customers?

You're guaranteed to get some surprises here. Front-line employees witness the details of the interactions between your customers and your company. They will, inevitably, see things that you can't see from your desk, giving you an opportunity to improve your customer experience in meaningful ways.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change about our company?

As insightful as front-line employees can be, they often don't feel empowered to use those insights to suggest changes in the way your company operates.  If you encourage them to share suggestions for improvement, and if you listen carefully, you will discover important ways to improve your organization.

What would you like to do differently in your job to deliver a better customer experience?

Most employees will follow the procedures that have been outlined for them, and all employees have ideas for improving those procedures. It's not surprising they would have these ideas, since they spend so much more time doing their work than the people who created the procedures ever did. Your front-line employees know many things you don't know.  Think of what can happen if you tap into their knowledge.

Your Employees Know More Than You Do

On Steve's Mind - Ideas and Action Steps for Next-Level Business Results
Here are two kinds of statements I have heard from executives over the past few weeks:
“People think they can do business over text or email, but that will never work as well as interacting directly with someone, face to face.” “People don’t want to have to deal with a person when they can just go online or go on an app and get what they want.”
These statements are clearly counter to each other. Which is right? Both and neither. These statements are extremes, and they each assume that the question revolves around human or digital communications, when the reality is that the opportunity in our marketplace is the way human and digital communications can be integrated. Brand HarmonyLet's start with the first statement, which focuses on the importance of direct, human contact when transacting business. Unless your business is something like Waze, Snapchat or Amazon, your digital interactions with customers aren’t as effective as the human interactions you have with customers. This isn’t surprising; humans have been having face-to-face conversations since we evolved our language skills about 100,000 years ago, and most people have only been using email for about twenty years and texting for about ten. We are wired to communicate through face-to-face dialogue, not through wires. What about the second statement? Sure, there are many occasions where a digital customer interaction is more effective than an in-person interaction. Maybe the customer is in another place, maybe the customer doesn’t have time to allocate to an in-person interaction, or maybe your company doesn’t yet know the customer and can only reach her through a digital medium. Digital communications can be wonderful tools to advance customer relationships.

Here’s the right way to think about the interplay of human and digital customer interactions:

For most companies, human interactions should form the foundation of your relationship-building and preference-building activities with customers. However, now, unlike 50 years ago, you have access to a wonderful suite of digital communication tools with which to supplement your human customer interactions. Imagine a metaphor where your relationship with a customer is like a building made of bricks. The face-to-face, human interactions you have with this customer are represented by those bricks, and form the most important part of the structure. The digital interactions that happen in between the human encounters act like the mortar that holds the large stones together. Imagine a customer you meet with in-person one time each month. These face-to-face meetings are productive and effective, and form the most important relationship-building encounters you have with this customer. In between those meetings you exchange a number of emails and texts. While you would never imagine that these emails and texts would be as valuable as your actual conversations, they serve a valuable purpose as the mortar that strengthens the bonds between your in-person meetings. At Yastrow and Company, the basis of our philosophy of customer communication is Brand Harmony, the principle that a customer’s impressions of your company are formed by how all interactions you have with that customer blend to tell one clear, compelling and integrated story. Focus on how your human and digital communications can blend in Brand Harmony to communicate that story, and you take advantage of both our long history as a species who specializes in face-to-face communications, and our new, innovative capabilities to communicate with our customers through digital media. When you use the bricks and mortar together, your results will be stronger and longer lasting.

Bricks and Mortar as a Metaphor for Marketing

The definition of marketing is something I am asked about frequently. Just last week a CEO asked me, "Steve, so what is marketing?" I'm not surprised I get asked this question, since one of my personal missions is for people to abandon the marketing-is-advertising-websites-brochures-Facebook-PR-and-other-communications mindset and think differently. "Marketing is encouraging your customers to do things that improve your business results," I answered. That's the definition of marketing. Simple. And true. Your business succeeds not only because of what you do, but because of what your customers do. When customers take the time to learn about you, talk to you, talk about you, buy from you, use your products, give you feedback, buy more of your products, etc.... all of these actions impact your results.

Brand Harmony leads to business results

This may seem basic, but most companies skip the very important step of asking, "So what is it we want our customers to do?" Here's a simple example. One of my clients has a beautiful website that gets a ton of traffic. The problem: Very few of the thousands of people who visit their website ever call the company to inquire about their products. The key to making sales for my client's high-end, high-ticket business is a personal conversation on the telephone. When designing the website they assumed that the main purpose of the website was to give people great material to read, and then for the site visitors to actually read that material. Had they asked the basic question, "What do we want our customers to do?" and answered with, "Call us," they would have been able to design the site completely differently. It's really that simple- and that problematic- if you don't ask this basic question. A few years ago I worked with a company that manages a number of fine dining restaurants. In processing the question,"What do we want our customers to do?" we calculated that the company would be significantly more profitable if only one of every ten tables purchased one more bottle of wine. By defining clearly, "We want to encourage one of every ten customers to buy one more bottle of wine," we were able to create a very focused program to sell more wine. Yes, the company had previously talked to servers about selling more wine, but it was not a priority, and they didn't have a clear strategy for how to accomplish it. By defining it in terms of customer action, the company saw the value of this effort and was able to focus on it. Ok... but how do I get my customers to take these actions? This can best be explained by looking at Yastrow & Company's Brand Harmony Results Model, which shows us the answer: Brand Harmony Results Model Brand Harmony Results Model - View a larger version Customer beliefs drive customer actions Customer actions drive results, but customer actions are driven by what customers believe (Not by what marketers tell customers to think). As I laid out in detail in my book Brand Harmony, you don't brand your customers; they brand you. Customers reserve the right to believe whatever they want about you, and customers use those beliefs to drive their actions. Therefore, the brand strategy development process is not about determining what you want to say to customers, it is about determining what you want customers to think about you. This is another very critical step that companies often skip, answering the question, "What do we want people to think of us?" This question is very important, when you look at the Brand Harmony Results Model and see how directly customer beliefs impact your business results. So how do I get customers to believe these things? The main premise of Brand Harmony is that customers use every contact point with your company to form their brand impressions of you. Whether you like it or not, your customers consider your company one big marketing department. If marketing is about encouraging your customers to do things that improve your business results, you must look at marketing as a whole-company, whole-customer-experience process. Everyone in your company, and every customer touchpoint, is part of your marketing process, whether your company recognizes it or not. Take Notice As a customer, how often are companies trying to engage you to do things that would help them? Or, are companies using their marketing efforts just designed to dispense information? How do you compare? Now, look at your company's marketing strategies and marketing efforts. Are they directed at encouraging the most profitable customer actions? Try This Gather a team of your colleagues in a room, and write this up on a whiteboard or easel: Brand Harmony leads to business results Then go through your different types of customers, and for each one write down the 5 - 10 things each could do to improve your business results. Then, discuss how well your current marketing efforts are directed at encouraging these actions. Do you see room for improvement? Marketing is about encouraging your customers to do things that improve your business results. That's it. What I've outlined here is the very core of my thinking about marketing; everything else flows from here.

Steve Yastrow

Definition of Marketing

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Improvisation is the best way to engage in persuasive conversations. And it's easier than you think!

Stop Pitching. Start Improvising.

Conversation. Genuine Dialogue. Relationship-building encounters can't happen without it. Make this a week of awareness about conversation.  During every interaction - with customers, vendors, partners, colleagues, bosses, direct reports, etc. - keep "The Conversationometer" alive in your mind: - Are you and the other person engaged, at each moment, in true, genuine dialogue, or is one (or both) of you practicing "monologue disguised as dialogue?" - How fluid is the conversation? What can you do to make it more fluid? - How well are both of you listening? - How relevant are your responses to each other? Are each of your answers and comments based on what came before in the conversation, or on a "pre-approved agenda" you wanted to force into the conversation? Monologue does not move relationships forward. Conversation is critical. Make this a week of conversation.

Make this the Week of Conversation

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Latent ProfitToday, I woke up and took a nice Sunday-morning walk around my neighborhood.  As my thoughts were wandering, I began thinking about a product line for my business that I have tried a few times to develop, but without success. "It's never going to happen," I caught myself saying. Why did I think that? Just because it hasn't happened in the past doesn't mean it won't happen in the future. Why can't tomorrow be different? Psychologists describe a phenomenon called "hindsight bias," also referred to as the "knew-it-all-along effect," in which an occurrence that was only one of many possible outcomes seems, in retrospect, to have been inevitable.  The therapist should have been able to predict that his patient would commit suicide based on things the patient said, shouldn't he? The CFO should have been able to spot that her controller was embezzling funds, shouldn't she? When hindsight bias deceives us into believing that what has happened was inevitable, it can prevent us from exploring possibilities for our future.  If the one road that led you to your present state seems like the only road, it's easy to see that one road as a fixed path towards tomorrow. But there is no fixed path towards tomorrow. Your business has an infinite number of possibilities for its future, many of them good, many of them bad. Your job, no matter what your title or position, is to explore those possibilities and create a great future for your organization.  Recognize your hindsight bias, so you can push it out of the way.

It's Possible to Overcome Hindsight Bias

The first step in overcoming your hindsight bias is to recognize the near-infinite number of possibilities for your organization's future. Looking backwards, the past looks like a single line leading to today. Going forward, visualize that one line breaking into thousands of lines, all representing possibilities.  Does your past blind you to seeing the best of those possibilities? How can this kind of hindsight bias limit your business? Do you ever catch yourself saying things like this?
"Our sales pace always falls off at this time of year." "That customer will never give us more than 25% of their business." "We always launch a spring promotion and a fall promotion, but summer promotions never work." "Two-thirds of the salespeople we hire fail, and it will always be that way."
Every one of those opinions may be based on past trends, but they should not describe the limitations of the future. Recognize that the future is not fixed by the past.

Learn from Your Experiences

Hindsight bias can get in the way of learning from experience. "If you feel like you knew it all along, it means you won't stop to examine why something really happened," observes psychological scientist Neal Roese of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. If you believe something bad that happened was inevitable, you may not address the situation that caused it. Or, after something good happens, hindsight bias may make you overconfident that it will happen again.   "It's often hard to convince seasoned decision makers that they might fall prey to hindsight bias," adds Roese. The same article describes that research has shown "that overconfident entrepreneurs are more likely to take on risky, ill-informed ventures that fail to produce a significant return on investment." Psychologist Baruch Fischhoff calls hindsight bias "creeping determinism."  If we believe that the past was inevitable, it can lull us into thinking that our future is pre-determined, and nothing could be further from the truth. Your future and the future of your organization are not fixed. They are filled with possibility.  Identify the best of those possibilities, and pursue them to create your future.

Is Hindsight Bias Holding You Back?

When you consider where to focus your team’s time attention and resources, I encourage you to think beyond low hanging fruit. Use these questions to filter the opportunities with the most potential in your business:
  • Is the fruit within reach?
    • How accessible is this opportunity?
    • Can you tap into this opportunity with a reasonable investment of resources?
  • Is the fruit big enough?
    • Will your business really benefit from this opportunity?
    • Is this opportunity worth it?
  • Is the fruit ripe?
    • Is this the right time for your business to focus on this opportunity?
    • Are you ready to pursue this opportunity?

Think Beyond Low-Hanging Fruit

Stop "pitching" when you sell. It's so one-way. Instead of the sales pitch, think about the sales conversation. Most successful selling isn't about convincing. It's about diagnosing. If you are pitching, it is only a coincidence if the pitch you toss at your customer lands in the right place. Unlike a sales pitch, a good sales conversation helps you diagnose your customer's interests, needs and opportunities. And, it helps you identify the "spices" that make this customer unique. Another danger of the sales pitch: People don't like to listen to monologues. If you pitch, they will only hear some of what you say. If you manage to create true, genuine dialogue, they will be engaged in every word. When you prepare for an interaction in which you have to sell something, stop thinking about what you want to say and start thinking about the kind of conversation you want to have. You can't script a sales conversation, of course, or it really wouldn't be a conversation. But you can think about how you will create a fluid dialogue, about how you will get the customer talking and revealing, and about how you will be 100% engaged for every moment of this conversation. You can have your toolbox of ideas and comments ready, at your side, but prepare yourself to have the patience to pull these ideas and comments out only at the appropriate time, bringing them into the conversation when the conversation arrives at the right place. Sales conversations are much different than sales pitches. They are also more effective. Can you add to this list of differences between a sales pitch and a sales conversation?
The Sales Pitch The Sales Conversation
You deliver it You and your customer engage in it
You script it You and your customer create it
It is prescriptive It is diagnostic
It is one-way It is two-way
You sell to your customer You help your customer buy
You guess about what you should say Your customer shows you what to say
You receive feedback after you talk You receive feedback throughout
You sell You build a relationship
You talk about what you are selling You talk about your customer
It's a coincidence if you say what your customer wants to hear You are very likely to say what your customer wants to hear
You plan what you want to say ahead of time You determine what to say as the conversation unfolds
You are reading sheet music You and your customer are playing jazz together
To illustrate the effectiveness of sales conversations, following are two scenarios contrasting the sales pitch with the sales conversation: The Scene: A wedding planner meets with a bride and her mother. The bride is getting married next year and is thinking about hiring a wedding planner. Scenario #1: The Sales Pitch The wedding planner sits down with the bride and mother and launches into a description of her services, gushing about how a wedding is, "a girl's special day," and that she can help make the bride's wedding a dream come true. She shows them glossy brochures with pictures of weddings she has planned, emphasizing how each of her brides feel so special on her wedding day. The bride interrupts, saying, "Actually, my fiancé is very excited about our wedding and wants to be involved in the planning. He couldn't make today's meeting because he is getting a root canal." "Well, that's great! It's good to let the boys think they are in charge." replies the planner with a wink. Then, she asks, "What venue have you chosen?" (The planner knows this is an easy way to assess the budget of a wedding because brides always choose the venue first.) The bride hasn't thought of the venue yet, and the planner doesn't quite know where to go from there. The bride is left with the distinct impression this planner does not share the couple's vision for the wedding. Scenario #2: The Sales Conversation The wedding planner sits down with the bride and her mother and requests, "Please, tell me about your wedding." The bride launches into a description of colors, design (she mentions her fiancé is a fashion designer) and cakes; emphasizes needing to accommodate out of town family and also admits to confusion about where to have the wedding. "We just don't know how to get started choosing a venue. It's so overwhelming." she sighs. Her mother chimes in that her elderly mother will need special assistance and that they don't want anything outdoors. From the onslaught of information, the planner identifies the venue selection as the most important source of stress for the bride. She assures them she will limit the selections based on their preferences and budget and can handle the negotiation with the venue management. She also starts a conversation about the groom and learns he will be designing the wedding party's attire. The bride and her mother leave this meeting feeling reassured the wedding planner understands them and are confident the wedding will be stress-free if they hire her. An effective sales conversation is a relationship-building encounter.(For more on encounters, see the sidebar) Your customer moves closer to a purchase not because you have convinced him of your superior features and benefits, but because you have helped him think "We" when he thinks of you. We all have things to sell. Ideas, projects, products, services, solutions, ourselves... the ability to sell influences the career of each person reading this newsletter, no matter what title is written on your business card. If you ditch the pitch, and substitute it with dialogue, your ability to persuade people will increase -- immediately. Take Notice The next few times you are in a situation where someone is selling you something, notice whether they are pitching or conversing. How do you react to each of these types of selling? Are you more likely to buy from a sales pitch or a sales conversation? How do you compare? What about you? Are you a sales pitcher or a sales dialoguer? Do you deliver messages to your customers, or engage in conversations with your customers? Try this Ditch the pitch! Over the next week, as you prepare for selling interactions (you all will have opportunities to sell something in the next week), prepare yourself to have a sales conversation and to avoid creating a sales pitch. In preparation, focus not on what you will say to your customer, but what kind of conversation you will have with your customer.  Once the interaction starts, focus not on delivering your message, but on creating a genuine conversation.  In your mind refer to "The Conversationometer," a mental tool I use to monitor how well a conversation is going: The Yastrow Conversationometer: From monologue to dialogue Download the full-size Conversationometer (Adobe PDF) Are you creating true dialogue, or is one of you monologuing too much?  Are you both listening to the other, and responding appropriately?   How fluid is the conversation. If you see things going astray, steer back on course. Remember, the key to selling isn't "selling."  It's conversation.

Steve Yastrow

The End of the Sales Pitch

I was coaching a salesperson recently who sells a stress-relief program for overworked professionals, such as lawyers, accountants and doctors. We were role-playing, and I was pretending to be a potential customer-- a stressed-out lawyer who was working too much with too much pressure, barely able to bear the stress I was under. The salesperson asked me a few questions about my situation, which I answered by describing my intense stress, and then he launched into a perfectly logical explanation of everything he could do for me: "I can see what kind of stress you are under, so let me tell you about our programs to deal with that kind of stress. We offer a complete program, including chiropractic services, relaxation techniques, massage therapy, stress counseling and a complete website, so you can access stress-relief tools whenever you want. We believe that, for people like you, we should start with a 12-week program, where you would visit us 3 times per week and also be able to call in any time you feel stressed. Our methods are proven and have been shown to make a major difference in people's lives. I can give you the phone numbers of people who've been through our program, so you can hear from them how effective it is." My advice to the salesperson: Everything you just said makes logical sense and speaks to my needs, but, as a customer, you just lost me. I'm pretending to be an overworked lawyer, about to burst I'm under so much stress and pressure, and I'm very emotional about it. After hearing about my situation and gathering your facts, you immediately started talking about your product. I still want us to talk about me! If you want to ditch the pitch successfully, you first have to abandon your preconceived notions; listen to your customer, and construct a story based on what you learn. This salesperson did each of those things. But he made the mistake of putting his entire story into a metaphorical slingshot, pulling back on the sling, aiming it at his customer, and letting it fly... all at once. Ditching the pitch isn't only about abandoning your pre-written sales pitch and developing a sales story on the spot as you learn about your customer. It is also about communicating that story through a fresh, spontaneous, collaborative dialogue with your customer. It's easy to fall into the trap this salesperson fell into. After all, he has seen many customers with situations similar to the one I was describing, and, like an experienced physician, he was able to construct a diagnosis quickly. As the conversation continued at a brisk pace, and his sales strategy for addressing "my" needs was coming into focus, it's not surprising that he became enthusiastic and was eager to tell me his solutions. The salesperson thought he knew exactly what I needed, and he proceeded to tell me... everything. There is a principle in stage improvisation called "bring a brick, not a cathedral." The idea is simple: each actor, at any point in time, adds only a small piece to the evolving story, leaving his fellow actors plenty of space to add their pieces to the story. Brick by brick, the actors build a story together. The same idea holds true in any sales conversation. The salesperson must resist the temptation to tell his customer all of his ideas and recommendations at once, no matter how brilliant and insightful those ideas and recommendations are. To keep a customer engaged, and to avoid overwhelming the customer with too much information, the salesperson needs to weave his story into a dialogue with the customer. You can never start monologing, because it will feel as much like a sales pitch to your customer as if you delivered a canned speech. Most people reading this newsletter don't have the word "sales" in their titles. But virtually everyone reading this newsletter has to sell and persuade. No matter what you are trying to persuade people to do, this principle--Don't load the slingshot--holds true. In an earlier newsletter on a closely related topic, Leave Things in Your PocketI wrote about the importance of patience and restraint in a sales conversation. Hold yourself back--don't shoot an entire sling loaded with shot at your customer. Bring your ideas, slowly and gracefully, into the conversation at a pace that will maintain the dialogue and avoid overwhelming your customer. Don't load the slingshot!

Steve Yastrow

Sales Tip: Don’t Load the Slingshot

What is the single biggest driver of a compelling customer experience?

We: The Ideal Customer RelationshipIs it your product’s performance?

Is it your customer service?

Is it your social media presence?

It’s none of the above. The single biggest driver of a compelling customer experience is how well your employees work together. It’s difficult to create a sense of Brand Harmony for your customers if your employees are at cross-purposes. This observation comes from the Yastrow and Company team’s many projects that help companies create compelling customer experiences. And we’ve seen that the single biggest factor influencing teamwork is the strength of the relationships between individual team members.

We vs. Us and Them

In 2009, I published a book called We: The Ideal Customer Relationship. The main premise of the book is that if your customer’s frame of reference, when thinking about you, is “We” instead of “Us and Them,” that customer will see you as a partner and value you over your competition. The same principle of “We” exists inside your company. The more “We Relationships” that exist between your employees, the stronger your culture will be, the more effective teamwork you will see, and the more compelling experience your customers will have.

Relationship Strength Benchmark

Here’s an exercise to measure your company or department’s relationship strength. If you think about all of the possible relationships between employees in your company, how many are “We” and how many are “Us and Them?” Give yourself one point for each We Relationship. Of the employees who need to collaborate, do at least 1/3rd of them have We Relationships with each other? If not, you have a relationship deficit! Almost every company scores lower than they’d like in this exercise and sees room for improvement. Now imagine: what would be different about your company if there were many more “We” relationships among your employees? Of course, you can’t expect all relationships among your employees to be “We.” It’s not important if a worker in your shipping department doesn’t have a strong, collaborative relationship with someone in the legal department. But that shipping employee will certainly be more effective if they have a “We” relationship with someone in Quality Control.

Creating We: The Relationship Building Encounter

I focused on creating We Relationships last week with the employees of Willoway Nurseries, a dynamic and exciting player in the wholesale nursery business. Willoway has a strong culture, and their CEO, Tom Demaline, is dedicated to making this culture even stronger. The Willoway team and I covered on the following principles as we discussed how to maximize “We” within the team:

1. The Goal of Every Team Member Interaction: Relationship-Building Encounters

Employees within a company continually need to transact business with each other. If every one of these interactions is not purely just a “transaction,” but a relationship-building encounter, employees will develop We Relationships with each other.

2. The Key to Relationship-Building Encounters: Conversations

Conversation is the quintessentially human activity. And when two of your team members are able to create an effective conversation, as opposed to any sort of miscommunication, they will be well on the way to building their relationship.

3. The Critical Ingredients of Conversations: Listening, Dialogue and Personalization

Good conversation is not about explaining your needs and expectations to a fellow employee. It’s about listening, so you can understand the other person’s perspective. It’s about ensuring that you create a flowing dialogue with the other person, and personalizing your approach based on what you know and learn about one another. One of the most common times this does not happen is when managers talk with their reports. Effective management and leadership are definitely not about edicts and explanations; they are about relationship-building between the manager and the employee that is grounded in mutual, open conversation. If you’d like to know more about how to create a culture of We Relationships inside your company, get in touch with me and we can share some ideas. It’s one of the best ways to create an experience that encourages your customers to love doing business with your company. And, just as importantly, it will create a rewarding work environment for your employees, encouraging them to stay employed, stay engaged, and stay the course.

How to Help Your Team Deliver Compelling Customer Experiences

I just checked into a beautiful, spacious suite at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. This room is four times the size of any hotel room I would choose for myself; thank you to the folks at Subway, for whom I'm speaking tomorrow, for the nice room. Before sending me up to my luxurious suite, the very nice front desk clerk, Anna, warned me about the mini-bar refrigerator. "It's touch-sensitive," cautioned Anna, "So if you open it and pick anything up to look at it, you'll be charged for it." What if I want to read the label on the Pellegrino to see how many calories are in it? Or closely study the logo on a can of Budweiser? I arrived in the suite, and got lost for a few minutes finding my way around, marveling at all of the amenities I would not have time to enjoy during my short stay. Remembering Anna's admonition, I located the refrigerator and looked at the outer door. (No way was I going to open it and risk maxing out my credit card) A sign on the door said that "For Your Convenience" you will be automatically charged if you grab anything. Wow. The Venetian is offering me all of this comfort in my suite, but I was feeling like I better be careful or they might reach in my wallet while I'm not looking. What else shouldn't I touch? What other secret charges are lurking in wait for me? Suddenly, I thought of the hangers in the closet. I went to look. Sure enough, they were the kind that have the extra-small loops, to go over the extra-thin rod, so you won't steal them. Nobody has closet rods in their homes that can fit these types of hangers. Like a Motel 6, The Venetian wants to make sure I won't walk off with their clothes hangers. So, after initially feeling pampered by The Venetian, I now see that they look at our relationship as if I were an adversary. This is where Brand Harmony meets We relationships ... a few small dissonant cues reveal that we are not We.

You touch it, you bought it!

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
It is very common for marketing and sales departments to create a schedule that outlines which products or services they will "push" at certain times. Every product has a sales quota, and, as the logic goes, each deserves its rightful time in front of the customer. Latent ProfitThere is a problem with this near-universal strategy: you can push as hard as you want, but if your customers aren't interested, they're not buying. I see this problem frequently in my consulting business. A client tells me that they are frustrated with their marketing efforts or their sales force, because their scheduled promotions, which focus on certain products at certain times, are not working. My response? "I'll bet your customers are even more frustrated, listening to you push products at them for which they have no interest."

It's not about the calendar. It's about the customer.

Customer attention is one of the scarcest resources you have. It is dangerous to waste this precious resource on communications that have no interest to a customer. When you talk about a product or service with a customer, you better have reason to believe that the customer is interested in that product or service. Otherwise, the customer may ignore you, and be less likely to listen to your future communications. Products and services don't need to be pushed at a certain time in order to meet sales quotas. They need to be offered to individual customers at appropriate times, based on the needs and interests of those customers. These needs and interests are uncovered during an interactive, personalized marketing/sales process. Here are a few tips to move your product–centered promotion process to a process that is based on creating customer interest that leads to sales:
  • Look at your promotional communications not as a way to push certain products, but as a way to initiate interactive customer conversations. The products you promote should be those that are most likely to generate customer interest, and lead to further sales interactions.
  • Instead of training your salespeople to push certain products, train them to uncover the unique needs and interests of individual customers and then lead customers to the products and services that will most interest them.
  • Never compensate salespeople based on how much of a certain product they sell during a certain time period. Incent them to find the right solutions for individual customers.
If certain products are not meeting their sales quotas, it's not because your marketing and sales departments are not "pushing" them hard enough. It may be that your sales force is not connecting customer needs with the product, or it could be that the product is not worthy of customer interest. In any case, pushing harder is not the answer.

Focus on Your Customer, Not Your Calendar

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Brand HarmonyOn any given day, the people in your company encounter the unexpected. Surprises happen every hour. Even every minute. The typical human day is atypical. It is continually unpredictable. People are constantly navigating ever-evolving situations as the world throws curve balls, knuckleballs and sliders at us relentlessly, one after the other, from morning until night. The good news: We are amazing at dealing with these surprises. We've evolved to be expert improvisors. In this ever-changing world, it simply isn't possible to give your employees a procedure manual that describes exactly how to deal with every possible situation they could face. Employees need to be equipped to deal with any of the infinite possibilities that could confront them at any given moment. Throw out the procedural manual. Bring in group improvisation. Group improvisation describes-- exactly-- how the employees in your company need to interact with each other to create compelling experiences for your customers. They need to improvise together, as an ensemble, continually adapting to their ever-changing environment. When a customer tosses a surprise in their way, they instantly assess the situation, coordinate their actions and invent a solution-- in real time. When market conditions change, they evaluate the new state of affairs and adjust to make the most of the new situation. If someone on the team is out sick, on vacation or temporarily unavailable, the other team members improvise a new way to get things done. How does a company create a successful team of improvisors?
  • First, team members have to have their "minds wide open" to notice all aspects of each new situation.
  • Second, team members needs to instantly "get into formation" to best collaborate as they deal with the new situation.
  • Third, team members need to create a shared, integrated approach to dealing with the new situation.
Consider a basketball team in the middle of a heated contest with a tough opponent. Each team member assesses the unfolding situation in real time, and as they make their assessments, the team members take the places on the court that are most appropriate for facing this situation. Next, they execute their play, spontaneously creating the right course of action, effortlessly and without the need to shout commands to one another. Can your team improvise to address new situations this effectively? Imagine if they could. How much better would you be able to take care of customers? How much better would you be able to deal with new market conditions?  How well would you be able to beat the competition? When you create an effective group of improvisors, your company will be ready for any possibility it confronts. And that's really good for business.

Your Team of Improvisors

  1. Are your marketing efforts focused on the right results?
  2. Are you clear about what you want customers to do?
  3. Are you clear about the rich story you want customers to understand?
  4. Are your marketing efforts integrated over the entire lifecycle of a customer's relationship with your company?
  5. Are you focused on internal marketing within the company?
  6. Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed?
  7. Does your marketing department "get it done?"
Today we're going to focus on Question 6, "Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed?" Once upon a time, an automobile designer finished a beautiful, innovative design for a new sports car. Each co-worker who came by his office to see his fire-engine red model gasped at their first look; they had never seen a car so beautiful, with lines as sleek and style as captivating. He called the CEO's assistant, to set his appointment for the design's final executive approval. The meeting was set for later that afternoon. As he set the model down on the CEO's conference table, the CEO rose from his chair, removed his reading glasses, and came closer for a good look.
"I've never seen anything like it. This could change the entire company. You've done an amazing job. But I want you to make the hubcaps yellow."
"Yellow hubcaps?" asked the startled designer.
"Yes, you heard me, make the hubcaps yellow."
"But it will ruin the design."
"Give me a break," said the CEO. "I'm letting you have most of your design. The hubcaps are just a small piece of the entire car, less than 5% of your entire design. I'm letting you have 95% of what you wanted. You're getting most of what you recommended, so stop complaining."
Does your company make its marketing department put yellow hubcaps on sports cars? Does your company give its marketing team room to succeed? Are your marketing people so micro-managed that they can't complete their projects effectively? Many executives respond to these kinds of questions by saying their marketing team isn't strong enough to function independently. That may be true, but that's not the subject of this newsletter. Let's assume, for our purposes today, that your marketing team is qualified to do the job, and then focus our discussion on whether your company gives its marketing team room to succeed. The "Yellow Hubcap Syndrome" In which micro-management compromises otherwise-solid marketing efforts. It is only one of the ways companies get in the way of their marketing departments. Here are a few more: The "Let Me Put This On Your To-do List Offense" A marketing director once showed me his list of active projects, which contained more than a hundred items. "Why so many?" I asked. "Well, there are the ten or twelve projects that I think are really important, and then there are all of the rest that have been assigned to me by senior management, the board of directors, and other departments." IT and accounting departments are usually pretty successful at push-back, saying, "No, we can't do that for you. We'll put it in the queue, but don't expect any progress until Q4." Marketing departments usually can't get away with that. The result? True priorities are moved aside to make room for some EVP's pet idea. The worst of these to-do-list invaders have the following genealogies:
  • "Our competitors are doing it, so we better."
    • The worst reason to make a marketing decision is because your competitors are doing it.
  • "Well, at my last company, we did this."
    • Senior execs and board members are often guilty of this, assuming that their past performance is a strong indicator of action in the present.
  • "I was talking to someone at a party over the weekend, he gave me this great idea for us."
    • Ugh.
  • "I met somebody on an airplane."
    • Ditto ugh.
The "Halt! Who Goes There! Defense" A marketing executive once mused that if he had back all of the time he spent on projects that were killed before implementation, he could have learned Chinese, become a virtuoso violinist and coached all of his kids' sports teams. Look at a marketing department today, scrambling to meet deadlines, preparing for executive presentations, creating budgets and plans... then go back three months later. What you will find is that many of today's most critical priorities were sent to an early grave. Some projects lose budget, while others lose executive support. Other projects were humming along nicely until somebody from the C-suite noticed what was going on and decided it wasn't a good idea. In all cases, a quick "off with his head" wave can take months of effort and toss it in the trash. Not to mention the opportunity cost of other projects that could have received attention if this dead-end had not been pursued. The "Make Something Out Of Nothing Quandary" Items are added to the marketing department's to-do list. Projects are killed mid-stream, but good sales results are still expected. Headcount and budgets are cut, leaving fewer people and fewer dollars to get the work done. Hey, that's life. Make do. A builder wouldn't think of stocking a construction project with too few two-by-fours. So why do companies think they can staff their marketing departments with too few resources? Now, maybe your marketing department has plenty of resources, but still can't get the job done. What's up? In addition to the points raised above in this issue, have a look at the previous issues in this series. What you'll see is that good thinking can help your marketing team prioritize better. The only thing more valuable than a solid to-do list is an even better to-don't list. The "You Have No Power, But It's Your Fault Anyway Pickle" A CEO once asked me to evaluate his marketing team. He was convinced they were incompetent. "They never get anything done. They never have any good ideas." I looked into things. Yes, the marketing team didn't have a lot of talent. But that wasn't their main obstacle. They actually had a lot of good ideas, but they were unable to act on most of them because they didn't have the authority to do so without approval from upstairs. Also, they were victims of the "Yellow Hubcap Syndrome," the "Let Me Put This On Your To-do List Offense" and the "Make Something Out Of Nothing Quandary." Sure, this CEO might want to upgrade his marketing team. But most of the blame in this situation lay outside of the marketing department, in other parts of the CEO's sphere of influence. It's easy to point fingers at others, much harder to point them into the mirror. The "You Should Have Known That Mind-Read" Is your marketing department privy to the company's latest strategic thinking and direction? Has anybody shared the latest vision with them? It's surprising how often marketing decisions are made in the dark, without the benefit of the company's broader thinking. This is less likely to happen in smaller companies, where size makes good communication more likely. This is most likely to happen in larger, capital-intensive organizations, such as real estate companies, or in technical, manufacturing-oriented companies. The "He'll Pick Things Up Quickly Option" Companies would never hire an IT executive who didn't have good experience with computers. They wouldn't hire accountants that weren't properly trained. But, for some reason, it's assumed that anyone can quickly learn marketing concepts, just by being in the job. Marketing is the accidental profession. Take someone from sales, amend "& marketing" to the title on his business card and, voila!, he can do marketing! Take a talented graphic artist, stick her in the marketing department, and expect her to absorb the skills she needs through some mysterious corporate osmosis. Guess what? There are actually skills and methodologies at play when great marketing happens. There is more to marketing than pretty pictures, contrary to much popular opinion. Evaluate your marketing department with great scrutiny. But, as you do this, be on the lookout for forces within your company, but outside of marketing, that conspire to hurt your marketing efforts.

Steve Yastrow

Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed?

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
We The Ideal Customer RelationshipI just received an email touting the value of putting logos on merchandise. It claimed that a cap receives 3,136 impressions over its lifetime. My first question: So what? My next questions: Did it sell anything? Did it change anyone's beliefs about the product whose logo is on the cap? We live in a very crowded, busy, noisy marketplace, in which the average American is bombarded with 5,000 marketing messages everyday. As consumers, we have learned to tune out most of this noise, with the result that we don't notice most marketing messages that companies send our way. How many ball cap logos do you remember from this past Fourth of July weekend? I’m sure you saw many, and I'm sure you don't remember most of them. This phenomenon doesn't just exist with ball caps. How many people created memorable, motivating impressions of you at the last networking event you attended?  How many solicitation emails from this morning's inbox motivated you to click to the website? How much mail did you toss into the recycling bin at home last night? It's really hard for a business to get on your radar. You're just too busy and have too many other things to think about. Similarly, it's hard for you to get on the radars of the people you need to connect with. Whether it is your customers, colleagues, co-workers, bankers or bosses, there are many people whose attention you need so you can motivate them to do things that will help you. And it isn't easy. Here are a three important principles of getting on someone's radar in our noisy world:

Don't Confuse Awareness with Meaning

Sure, it's nice if someone knows your name or recognizes your logo. But awareness doesn't cause a customer to buy from you or a co-worker to agree to cooperate with your new initiative.  People are motivated by their beliefs, and it takes rich thoughts and beliefs to inspire someone to respond positively to your message when they have thousands of other options for things they can do with their time.

Go Deep, Not Wide

No matter what persuasive message you are trying to communicate, your resources are limited. You can only talk to so many people. One of the most common marketing mistakes is being "a mile wide and an inch deep." If you spread your resources widely, trying to reach too many people, you will not make a meaningful impression on any of them. Salespeople often make this mistake, making cursory contact with many prospects, instead of focusing their precious time on creating deeper connections with the most promising future customers.

Launch Dialogue, Not Missiles

I avoid using the word "target" when talking about customers. This unfortunate term leads us to believe that our goal is to launch a message "at" people, assuming that a successful strike leads to an inspired customer. For most persuasive communications, the goal of an initial message should not be to make the sale but to initiate a dialogue. Whether that dialogue includes an in-person chat with your customer or a click on a link, the goal is to create conversation. Conversations engage. Presentations disengage. Since I woke up an hour ago, I have deleted about 50 solicitation emails, ignored every commercial that appeared on TV and clicked on exactly zero ads on the websites I visited. Like you, I am very protective of my attention, and it's hard for companies to get on my radar.  The same can be said for every person you need to persuade. And if you want to buy a ball cap, buy one with a nice artistic design, not one with your company's logo on it. You'll get much more value out of the art.

3 Ways to Get on Customers’ Radar

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
We The Ideal Customer RelationshipYour company has many interactions with customers. Some of these interactions are focused on making a sale. Some are focused on addressing a customer service issue. Others are focused on learning about the customer's needs. But no matter what the specific goal of a particular interaction, there are three goals shared by every customer interaction. If you meet these three goals when your organization interacts with a customer, you can consider the interaction a definite – and profitable – success.

Goal #1: Your relationship with your customer improves

Does your customer feel closer to you at the end of the interaction than they did at the beginning of the interaction?

Think what happens when you share an especially good time with friends. Don't you feel a bit closer to them afterwards, even if you already had a good relationship with them before this good time? Now consider what happens when you have a powerful business interaction, either when you are a customer or when you are interacting with one of your customers. The feeling that your relationship improved during this interaction is palpable. Relationships are built through relationship-building encounters, i.e., interactions in which a relationship is better after the interaction than it was before the interaction started. No matter what you are trying to accomplish in a customer interaction, always focus on this goal: Improving your relationship with the customer.

Goal #2: Your customer better understands why you are important to her

At the end of the interaction does your customer have a clearer understanding about why you are important to her?

In a customer interaction, you hope your customer will have an "A-Ha!" moment in which she says, “I really think this person/company/product can help me.” Most advertising and sales pitching fails to accomplish this because advertising and sales communications are most often intent on telling the story of the product. Customers are more likely to understand why you matter to them if your interaction is focused primarily on the customer’s story, and weaves in relevant product or service benefits into this customer-focused narrative. In every customer interaction, help your customer better understand why you are important to them.

Goal #3: Your customer is more motivated to act in ways that drive your success

Is your customer more motivated to do business with you at the end of the interaction than they were at the beginning of the interaction?

The direct driver of your company's success is the actions that customers take. You only meet your goals when customers take actions such as learning about your product, meeting with you, visiting your place of business, buying from you, buying more from you, raving to friends about you, etc. Ultimately, nothing you do matters if it doesn't encourage customers to act in ways that help you succeed. Motivating your customers to act in ways that drive your success is a goal of every customer interaction.

What kinds of communication media are most effective at accomplishing these three goals?

If you want the answer to this question, don't look at the to-do lists of most companies' communication professionals. Marketing departments are mostly focused on media such as advertising, websites, brochures, PR, social media efforts, etc.  These efforts are relatively ineffective at building relationships, communicating why you are important to a customer and motivating customer action. The media that most effectively meet the three goals of a customer interaction are the person-to-person conversations that happen between your customers and people who work for your company.  Conversations that matter to customers are influential, memorable and inspiring. As I asked you to consider in "Conversations That Matter," are you allocating enough of your communication resources to creating conversations that matter? Or are most of your communication resources devoted to marketing communications that aren't especially effectively at building relationships, helping customers understand why you are important to them, and motivating customers to act in ways that drive your success? Your marketing communications may be necessary, but they are not primary. When you focus on creating conversations that matter with customers, you are much more likely to achieve the three goals of every customer interaction.  

The 3 Goals of Every Customer Interaction

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Ditch the Pitch We all find ourselves in persuasive situations we've been in before. Sometimes, we meet a type of customer we know well or encounter a question we've heard oh-so-many times before.
A friend of mine sells high-end technology products, and he often has the chance to discuss his company's service contracts. He regularly hears the question, "But what if I don't need support every month?" In a workshop last week, I met a broker who rents space for several office buildings. She has several conversations every week explaining lease agreement terms.
When situations like these come up, it's tempting to "reach into inventory" and pull out pre-fabricated sentences and paragraphs that you often say in these recurring situations. But this reaction sounds very similar to a sales pitch. Most people can detect a sales pitch with only the slightest clues. Even if you have tried hard to avoid delivering a pre-scripted pitch, leaving your PowerPoint deck at home and focusing on creating a fresh, spontaneous conversation with the person you are persuading, that person is likely to notice that what you are saying has been used before. Whether it is the rhythm in your voice, a slight change in tone or an answer that seems generic, they will sense that you are telling them the same thing you have told other people, and, therefore, it won’t seem personally relevant to them. A sales pitch doesn't have to last for the duration of an entire meeting. Pitches can be as short as a sentence, if that sentence sounds like it was created before the meeting that you are in right now. Here are a few tips to avoid using "mini-pitches:"

1. Be aware of the pitch

As with so many things in life, the first step to self-improvement is self-awareness. Listen to yourself. Do you tend to rely on a set of phrases, sentences and paragraphs in persuasive situations that you see frequently?

2. Have a mindset of uniqueness

Think different. Have a goal of creating a completely new conversation that you or the other person has never been in before, because you know that a conversation like this will be much more engaging and relevant to the person you are persuading. Be prepared to use words and phrases in new combinations, so that everything you say sounds fresh and new.

3. Adapt the conversation to the customer

When you become proficient with first two Ditch the Pitch Habits, Think Input Before Output and Size Up the Sceneyou learn how to use information about your customer to improvise a fresh, spontaneous persuasive conversation. Let the details about the other person and about their situation influence the specific combinations of words and phrases you use. It doesn't take much to trigger another person's sales pitch detection response. Fortunately, it's not difficult to say things in new ways, so you can avoid triggering that response. Break your mini-pitches into their component words and phrases, and assemble those words and phrases in new ways, depending on the particular nuances of the conversation you find yourself in, and you will be much more effective at keeping people engaged, and getting them to say "yes."

The Danger of the Mini-Pitch