Blog Archives

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

A Committed Team is the Magic Fuel of Your Company’s Success

In today’s world, you are in a contest for both customers and talent. Your business operates in an environment where customers essentially have limitless purchase choices and employees essentially have the benefits of a full employment economy. How do you

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Commitment Compass, Inspire a Committed Team

The Leader’s Role in Marketing: Creating Commitment

As a leader in your company, are you the person who pulls out a toolbox to fix the office copier or adjust a piece of equipment on your plant floor? When an order needs to be shipped to a customer,

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Commitment Compass, Commitment-Driven Impact, Inspire a Committed Team, Motivate Committed Customers

How to Help Your Team Deliver Compelling Customer Experiences

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

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in "We" Relationships, Commitment Compass, Inspire a Committed Team

Welcome! How to Onboard Employees to Your Brand

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

I believe this: Your external brand can never be better than your internal brand. What this means: Your employees’ understanding and beliefs about your company is a limiting factor to what your customers can understand and believe about your company. A comprehensive and effective

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Brand Harmony, Commitment Compass, Inspire a Committed Team

[VIDEO] Come Together to Create Success

Come Together was the theme of AVI’s National Sales Meeting. Marketing and sales speaker Steve Yastrow inspires and motivates the audience to bring the theme to life! Watch the keynote video: Come Together to Create Success  Related Posts: [VIDEO] Let Employees

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Brand Harmony, Commitment-Driven Impact, Inspire a Committed Team
On Steve's Mind
Get Steve's newsletter featuring his ideas and practical advice delivered to your email inbox.
* = required field
Latest Tweets
This week's Time Magazine reviews Geoffrey Miller's book Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior. The book makes the case that much of our behavior can be traced to self-advertisement in the pursuit of mates.  One quoted section in the review caught my attention.  The reviewer titled this paragraph, "On the futility of consumer capitalism: "We take wondrously adaptive capacities for human self-display — language, intelligence, kindness, creativity, and beauty — and then forget how to use them in making friends, attracting mates and gaining prestige. Instead, we rely on goods and services acquired through education, work and consumption to advertise our personal traits to others. These costly signals are mostly redundant or misleading, so others usually ignore them. They prefer to judge us through natural face-to-face interaction. We think our gilding dazzles them, though we ignore their own gilding when choosing our friends and mates." Although Miller is writing about general human behavior, many companies make the same mistakes with marketing.  They "forget" how to use basic human skills for attracting customers, relying instead on manufactured, unnatural, flashy means of communication, such as advertising, which are ignored most of the time.  Customers, instead, prefer to judge companies through natural face-to-face interactions.  Parallel to what Miller says, advertisers think their gilding dazzles customers, though the advertising professionals that produce this gilded communication make their own personal purchase decisions in the same way non-marketing professionals do: not by evaluating advertising, but by evaluating the constellation of more relevant interactions that happen through the normal course of doing business with a company. Human communication is not about what you present, it is about how you are understood.  Why is so much money and effort spent communicating companies' messages in ways that are so inconsistent with the way we live our non-marketing lives?

Get Beyond the Gilding

Recently I published an article describing Ditch the Pitch Habit#5: Focus the conversation on your customer. It's simple: Your customer cares more about herself more than she cares about you, so you're much better off talking about her than talking about what you're selling. Drake Baer wrote an interesting article in Fast Company today that shows us another reason to focus the conversation on your customer as you ditch the pitch: If you use the word "I" or "me" too much in your conversation, it can project a lack of confidence. The article is called If you talk about yourself all the time, you might need more confidence, and references the book The Secret Life of Pronouns by James Pennebaker. Two key Ditch the Pitch practices for focusing the conversation on your customer are to Make 95% of the Conversation About Your Customer and Obey the One-Paragraph Rule. Practice these, and not only will it help you ditch the pitch, it will help you project more confidence ... all of which will help you persuade.  

Keep an eye on your I

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
"During our meeting the customer was really excited about working with me.  I was certain I'd be able to close this sale. But then I was never able to get him to answer my phone calls or emails after that."
I've heard different versions of this story from many sales people. While with a customer, they create excitement and interest. But after the meeting, the customer's interest wanes. What's going on?  And what can we do about it? Ditch the PitchA good sales person is able to create a conversation that is engaging and interesting to a customer. The sales person's presence and conversation skills are a key driver of this engagement and interest. But if they are the only drivers, it's not hard to understand why the customer won't be as interested tomorrow. You need to make sure your customer really understands and believes in the substance of what you are discussing. Here are four tips to ensure that the customer has lasting beliefs about the "meat" of what you are talking about:
  1. Consider this question: "Tomorrow, if this customer is telling a friend about his meeting with me, what do I want him to say?" Answering this question will force you to think of key takeaways that you want to leave with your customer. And, it will force you to focus your message.
  2. Use language your customer would use. It's always important to avoid jargon, and it's especially important during a sales call. Your customer can only create clear, lasting beliefs about his conversation with you if he can frame those beliefs with words that are natural and familiar to him. Pay attention to the way he talks, and be sure to offer your information in language that matches the language he uses.
  3. Give your customer opportunities to summarize. Give your customer room to recap his thoughts. Don't be afraid to ask your customer to summarize what he’s taking away from the conversation.  This will give you a chance to see if he's understanding the things you want him to understand, and it will also help him solidify his thoughts.
  4. Give your customer a recap -- now and in your follow-up note. If your customer isn't able or willing to summarize his takeaway, give your own summary to the customer as the conversation is winding down. And, if appropriate, recap those points in a follow-up note.
Your customer leads a busy life; he doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about your product, and he doesn’t care as much about this sale as you do. For these reasons, it’s unlikely that he’s going to remember your conversation as clearly as you will. Use these four tips to help him create motivating, lasting beliefs that will encourage him to buy.

4 Ways to Keep the Magic Alive After the Sales Call

I recently met Paul Herr, author of the upcoming book Primal Management. Paul's been studying the science behind what motivates people for 30 years, and is convinced that an understanding of our "social appetites" is necessary to understand why we do things.

I asked Paul if his work could support my beliefs about the value of "We" relationships, and that relationships can have a very high economic "utility" value for customers, counterbalancing issues like price, competitive offerings, product imperfections, etc.  Paul said he can definitely support these ideas, and a response to me on his blog contains this passage:

"The emotional calculus of relationships, I believe, is quite simple: if we value something, and then willingly invest effort into that something, it becomes incorporated into our sense-of-self, our identity. This identity-merging process is stealthy and subconscious. Psychiatrists call it cathexis."

Cathexis.  How cool.  When you move beyond doing things for customers, and instead do things with customers, engaging your customers and investing them in the relationship, they will feel a sense of ownership in the relationship, and it will be an ownership they share with you. It will not be You and Me, but will be We.

My definition of a customer relationship is "an ongoing conversation in which your customer never thinks of you without thinking of both of you." If you nurture this identity-merging cathexis through relationship-building encounters with your customers, your customers will value you in way that transcends the basic value of your products and services.  They will get so much (utility) out of the relationship that your competitors will have a hard time stealing them.

You + Me = We … Cathexis

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 choose you over the competition? You need to help your customers develop compelling beliefs about why you are the best choice. Your customers don’t form these beliefs just by listening to you talk, or by reading your marketing materials. You’ll be much more successful if you look at the customer’s entire purchase process as a conversation between the two of you.

Creating a Conversation that Matters to Your Customer

In workshops, I frequently ask audience members to describe the characteristics of a great conversation. They say things like:

“Each person is interested in the conversation.” “It’s two way.” “It has each person’s full attention.” “It is meaningful to both parties.” “Each person gets something out of the conversation.” “It involves a lot of listening.” “Each person understands the other person better as the conversation progresses.” “It builds a relationship.”

Ditch the Pitch

Imagine that, over the course of a sale, you and your customer were engaged in an ongoing conversation that had the characteristics listed above. Even if that sale takes more time and involves more meetings, it would be a powerful, compelling experience for your customer. Imagine that while your competitors were presenting PowerPoint decks and sell sheets to a customer, you and that same customer were creating this kind of conversation. This approach will without a doubt make you (and your products) more memorable and more meaningful to your customer.

Consider This: Selling is an Ongoing Conversation

When you reconnect with a good friend, after not seeing them for a few weeks, you are able to pick up right where you left off. You and your friends have a series of ongoing conversations that continue from one meeting to the next. These ongoing conversations form the fabric of your friendship by adding both continuity and shared experiences to your relationship. Imagine that, over the course of a sale, you and your customer formed an ongoing conversation that added continuity and shared experiences to your customer’s decision-making process. Wouldn’t that increase your chances of making the sale? A sale is the result of a great, ongoing conversation. Practice this. You will improve your sales while building lasting, committed, and profitable relationships with your customers.

Consider This: Selling is an Ongoing Conversation

It's time to turn to Fundamental Marketing Truth #6: "Complementary is More Important than Consistent." Consistency is often considered to be one of the most important factors that help brands create strong interest from customers. Examples like McDonald's are often given, as in, "You can get the same hamburger at McDonald's restaurants throughout the entire world. They have a really strong brand." But is consistency really enough to create a strong brand? Consider the impressions that customers have of you or your competitors. If customers really love your company (or your competitors), chances are they have multi-faceted, detailed beliefs about you. Like a great character in a story, they perceive your brand personality as multi-dimensional, complex and interesting. If a friend asked one of these customers about you, they could talk non-stop for 15 minutes, describing many things about you. Could you create rich, complex beliefs like these in your customers' minds just by being consistent? Or is something else at work? To understand this, let's think about how people perceive the world around them. We are constantly integrating hundreds or thousands of different inputs into a composite picture of our environment. Our brains are compulsive synthesizers, blending everything we sense into a composite story. We have evolved to "make sense" of our environment. We couldn't survive if we didn't. Similarly, this synthesizing process is at work when customers create their beliefs about your company, your brand or your products. As I wrote about in Fundamental Marketing Truth #5, integrated marketing is not something marketers do, it is something customers do. Customers are continually integrating many different kinds of inputs from your company into a comprehensive self-authored story about you. But if you want customers to use this habit of synthesis to create strong, compelling brand impressions about your company, the interactions they have with your company need to be more than consistent. These interactions need to complement each other. When multiple interactions customers have with your company blend, in complement, to create a strong sense of Brand Harmony, your customers will perceive an interesting, memorable story, and be more likely to act on their beliefs. On the contrary, focus solely on delivering consistency, and your message will not only be uninteresting to your customers, it will likely be lost among the thousands of other messages your customers are exposed to every day. If you want customers to love you, consistency is not enough. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Your customers don't have little minds, so you need to create interactions that complement each other, creating Brand Harmony. Here are some examples of Brand Harmony, where complementary is more important than consistency:
  • All the rides at Disneyworld are not consistent (Space Mountain isn't the same as It's a Small World), but they complement each other in a way that creates an overall, unified Disneyworld experience.
  • The ease and accessibility of the Apple Genius Bar complements the ease and accessibility of Apple's user interfaces, without being identical or consistent.
  • That family-owned Italian restaurant on the corner that you love... the owner, the wait staff, the menu items and the overall atmosphere complement each other to create a warm, homey atmosphere.
Practical application: Want customers to love you? Yes? Ok, then think of your overall customer experience in a way that is much more Hollywood than Madison Avenue. What I mean by this: You want to orchestrate your overall customer experience in a way that tells an interesting story, weaving in lots of elements and story components similar to how a filmmaker weaves many pieces together to create a compelling movie. Avoid the advertising-based mindset that claims the secret to persuading customers is exposing them to repeated, simple, consistent messages. It isn't. You need to look at marketing as a whole-company affair, in which all of the different areas in your company play complementary, mutually-reinforcing roles, creating a rich set of inputs that your customers can blend together to create great stories about you in their minds. It's not the individual messages your company communicates that count, it's how all of your company's messages blend to tell one rich, complementary, compelling, persuasive story.

Steve Yastrow


Fundamental Marketing Truth #6

Last month I wrote a newsletter article called "We are not multi-taskers." We are really only capable of doing one conscious thing at a time, and this tendency to glance at the Blackberry or surf the web while talking with someone ensures that none of those actions will be done well.  My point: One of the key ingredients of a relationhip-building encounter is being 100%, fully engaged in the moment you are sharing with your customer. I just read this article on multi-tasking from the website of Dr. Joseph Mercola, who I always find interesting.  How about this statistic Dr. Mercola quotes: Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers. One of the greatest challenges to creating relationship-building encounters with customers is actually just being there, fully-engaged with your customer.  Attempting to multi-task doesn't mean that you are successful doing it.

You can’t multi-task

Why do some marketing efforts work and some (most) don't? Here's what I believe: Most marketing efforts fail because they ignore some of the most fundamental truths about marketing. The variables that determine marketing success or failure are not usually high-level or complex. Here's an analogy. On August 6, 2012, the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars, after an eight-month journey. It travelled 350 million miles and landed within 1.5 miles of its target. Yes, there was a lot of "rocket science" involved in directing Curiosity to its intended landing place, but that rocket science was largely based on some basic, fundamental truths about how the universe works, such as gravity, momentum, and the velocity of both Mars and Curiosity. Honoring and recognizing these fundamental truths enabled NASA scientists to navigate to their mark from 350 million miles away. If they had ignored these fundamental truths, Curiosity would never have reached its destination. It's the same with marketing. We succeed not when we have the most complex, intricate marketing programs, but when we adhere to the fundamental truths about what drives our results and what drives our customers. Over the following three issues of this newsletter I will describe "7 Fundamental Truths of Marketing," that, similar to the rocket science that navigated Curiosity to its base after 350 million miles, will help you reach your marketing goals. As I describe these fundamental truths, I will outline practical action steps that will help you use these fundamental truths. As a preview of these three upcoming issues, here is an overview of the 7 Fundamental Truths of Marketing.

Fundamental Marketing Truth #1: You don't create your results. Your customers do.

I once had a humbling, yet healthy, realization. I don't create the profits in my business. My customers do. My job is to encourage customers to act in ways that improve my results. It's the same with your company. You succeed when your customers do things, and your company's marketing challenge is to encourage customers to do the things that help your business succeed.

Fundamental Marketing Truth #2: Customer = anyone whose actions affects your results

Yes, paying customers are really important to your business. But you have many important customers who never buy things from you. Think of how many people, or companies, can affect your results without ever writing you a check. Vendors and referral sources are two good examples. Do you have any other non-paying customers that affect your results?

Fundamental Marketing Truth #3: Your brand is not what you say you are. It is what your customers think you are.

A customer won't believe a company's marketing claims just because the company makes those claims. In virtually all cases, there is some level of disconnect between what a company says about itself and what its customers believe about it. Closing this disconnect is one of the keys to successful marketing.

Fundamental Marketing Truth #4: You don't brand your customers. They brand you.

Don't ever use the branding of cattle as a metaphor for the branding of your customers. Will your customers let you hold them down and imprint your brand message on their brain? (I don't think so.) You do not create the brand impressions customers have of you. Your customers create them for themselves.

Fundamental Marketing Truth #5: Integrated marketing is something customers do, not something marketers do.

Marketers have long looked at integrated marketing as something they have control over. "Start with advertising, add in a pinch of PR, a dash direct marketing, a little bit of paid search and social media and, voila, you have an integrated marketing program." This is backwards: Integrated marketing isn't something marketers do. It is something customers do. As customers have interactions with your company, they choose how to integrate those interactions into a comprehensive story about you.

Fundamental Marketing Truth #6: "Complementary" is more important than "consistent"

Consistency is usually set up as the paragon of branding, as in "you can get the same McDonald's hamburger at any restaurant, anywhere in the world." So what? Is consistency enough to make me love your company? As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Brand harmony requires more than boring consistency. It requires you to create a rich complement of customer interactions that tell an interesting, compelling story about your brand.

Fundamental Marketing Truth #7: Your external brand can never be stronger than your internal brand

Dine in a restaurant where the servers act cold and distant, and you will have a window into the soul of that restaurant's culture. What your employees believe affects how they act and, in turn, affects the experience customers have with a company. Want a strong brand in the minds of customers? Focus first on the brand inside your company. Stay tuned over the next three issues of this newsletter for more details and practical applications of how to use these 7 Fundamental Truths of Marketing to help your businesses succeed.

Steve Yastrow

The Fundamental Truths of Marketing

You know your stuff. But don't assume your customer wants to know everything. Weave pieces of your story into the conversation with your customer.

Don’t Be a Know-it-All

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Ditch the PitchLast week, I received a call from a salesperson. He was frustrated with some recent customer conversations and wanted my advice. This salesperson, "Joe," interacts with his customers mostly through telephone and email, and has been able to build good relationships with many customers he has never met in person. Occasionally, a customer will come to the company's warehouse to pick up an order, and Joe will have a chance to meet the customer face to face. "These meetings often don't go very well," Joe told me. "The customers don't seem that excited by our conversation, and they seem to get impatient with me. This never happens when we’re on the phone." Joe is very personable. In case you are wondering, he is a "normal" looking person, so his appearance is certainly not the reason he's having problems with in-person meetings. "Tell me about these meetings," I say to Joe. "I try to ask my customers questions, to show I'm interested in them." Joe paused.  "Maybe I'm asking too many questions, but I thought it was good to ask your customers questions." "Ah," I thought. "Joe just self-diagnosed his problem."

How to Ask Questions in a Customer Conversation

Questions are effective, but they are most effective in the context of a conversation. To Joe's customers, these questions didn't feel like a conversation. They felt like an interrogation. Conversation is a key element of any relationship-building customer interaction. Customers will feel more comfortable if the questions you ask are integrated into a back-and-forth dialogue than if they come rapid-fire, one after another. Here are some tips for ensuring that your questions engage, instead of overwhelm, your customer:
  • Think granularly -- The best dialogue includes much back and forth, with each person speaking for only a short period of time before returning the focus to the other person.
  • Use questions to generate dialogue, not just answers -- Avoid moving through a list of questions. Ensure that any follow-up question directly flows from your customer's answer to a previous questions.
  • Explore and heighten -- find out what your customer cares about, and then discuss what your customer cares about.
  • Focus the conversation on the customer -- Keep the subject of the dialogue focused 95% on the customer. This way, you will show care for the customer's issues, as you would do with questions, but you will do it in a way that will feel more engaging and interesting to the customer.
A series of questions is not a sales pitch, but it can feel like pitching if it isn't engaging, two-way and conversational.  When you are with a customer, think less about the questions you want to ask and more about the conversation you want to have.

An Interrogation is Not a Conversation

Are customer relationships as important to non-profit organizations as they are to for-profit organizations? I addressed this question today in a speech to 160 non-profit executives in Jerusalem. The speech was titled, "Creating We Relationships: Turning Donors Into Partners," and was sponsored by the most "We" bank I've ever seen - Bank of Jerusalem. My answer to this question is an unequivocal "Yes." The difference between, "I support Organization X, they do great things," and "I am involved with Organization X, we do great things" is significant. When a donor stops thinking of a charitable organization as "Them," and begins to think of himself and the organization as "We," magic happens. Donations go up, involvement goes up, and the donor will be more likely to introduce friends to the organization. The same can be said for the non-profit organization's other customers, such as funding agencies and foundations, volunteers, board members, and recipients of aid. A We relationship leads to actions that drive results. It's always important, when working with non-profit organizations, to recognize where they are different from for-profit organizations. When it comes to customer relationships, they are, fundamentally, the same. Click here to download the slides from the presentation. Click here to read today's Jerusalem Post interview with me about this topic.

Jerusalem Event: Relationships & The Non-Profit Organization

Your business's future is not guaranteed. The same can be said for the future of your career; it is not pre-destined. Prosperity will not happen to you. But (good news), you have the opportunity to make prosperity happen. Our popular culture has overly embraced concepts like "destiny" and "fate" and terms like "meant to be" and "your time will come." These ideas are dangerous, because they encourage people not to rely on themselves but on imagined, scripted wheels of history that will escort them to a rosy future. If we think of ourselves as passengers on the way to a pre-determined future, we may be sorely disappointed when we arrive. "Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string.It is up to you-- and only you-- to invent your future. A person in a failing business once told me, in a moment of desperation, that he was confident that God would take care of things for him. I cautioned him not to assume that God cares for his competitors any less than for him. What gives any of us the right to sit back and wait for success to happen? We have only the right to try to create a great future. In Twelfth Night Shakespeare wrote, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." If you were not born "great," you must not wait for greatness to be thrust upon you. It is up to you to achieve greatness. If you are a believer, consider this possibility: Maybe God will be more impressed if you attempt to achieve greatness than if you expect God to do the work for you. If you are not a believer, sitting back and waiting for a comfortable future to happen to you is no better than playing roulette on a wheel with an infinite number of slots. No matter what you believe, I encourage you to have faith in this: We live in a tough world that serves as a stage, but does not provide a pre-written script. So how do we go about the process of inventing our futures? The man must be so much that he must make all circumstances indifferent.The first step is personal responsibility and self-reliance. (With homage to Emerson by use of quotes from Self-Reliancesurrounding this text.) I take this approach in my work on clients' businesses and on my own: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing." No matter what goes on in the world around us, the biggest variable in our success is what we do. Do you work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.Circumstance affects our results, but we cannot let a blame of circumstance distract us from what we need to do. On the contrary, circumstance should inform what we do. Look out the window at the outside world, and study closely what is happening. Then, turn and look in the mirror and say to yourself, "Ok, now it's time for action." I see the power of this kind of self-reliant thinking and action every day, especially in this time of economic upheaval. On the negative side, those who chose to "hunker down" in late 2008 and early 2009, waiting to "ride out" the recession through unthoughtful, across-the-board cutbacks and a paralysis of positive action, are still suffering. But I hear stories, more and more frequently as we move into the last months of 2009, of companies who, through vigorous resolve and action, are creating success within the current turbulence. Sure, there are industries and sectors, such as real estate, where the circumstantial pressures are great. But just yesterday I spoke with an apartment building owner whose properties, just last week, reached full occupancy. Was there some luck involved? Maybe. Was her relentlessness in pursuing tenants a key part of this success? Certainly. Once you accept your central role in creating your own future, the next step is to ask, "Who do I intend to be?" or, in the case of your company, "Who do we intend to be?" The picture waits for my verdict.As Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else." Consider this: There are an infinite number of possible futures for you and your business. What do you really want? What future do you want to create? Who do you intend to be? When I press executives to create a picture of the future they want, I usually see two things happen:
  1. It is clear they haven't really thought about it.Once, in a workshop with the top 15 executives in a company with $85 million in annual revenues, I asked each person to write down what he or she thought revenue would be in 4 years if things went well for the company. Answers varied from $150 million to $1 billion. What were they going to do, I asked, invest for a billion and overspend if they end up at $150 million, or invest for $150 million and be unprepared to grow to a billion? And this was only a lack of clarity about revenue growth; can you imagine how fuzzy everything else about the future was for this group?
  2. They are afraid to articulate anything about the future because they fear it is a forecast they will have to live up to. Forecast "sandbagging" is the enemy of creative thinking about the future. In an effort not to fall short of expectations people choose not to dream.
Choose the future you want for yourself and for your company. Your picture of the future can evolve later, as you learn new things. None but he knows what that is what he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.Choosing a future depends on an acute understanding of what's going on now, in the present. For some thoughts on this, please see my last newsletter,The Things That Matter. The next step is not to procrastinate. The future starts NOW. Once you have a good idea of where you want to be in the future, you will see more clearly what you can do in the next five minutes. Continually connecting the present moment with your future is one of the most critical pieces of inventing your future. You are always inventing your future. Always. Right now. And now. And now. Everything you do-- yes, everything-- has an impact on choosing one future for you out of the infinite number of possible futures. The work you do is not just about the work you do. It is about the future you create for yourself, a future that is an epiphenomenon of every action you take. What did you do this morning? Did you make progress toward creating the future you want? What about this afternoon? The civilized man has built a coach, but lost the use of his feet.We can't lose sight of the need for self-reliance and the role of personal responsibility, even for one minute. We need to focus on what we can do, not what the world does to us. For example, as you do your work, try to ignore the news, to some, important, extent. Learn from the news, of course, but don't take it too seriously. Inherently, the news is about macro factors, not about you. So, just because you hear about the economy, the President, the Congress and the price of oil every time you turn on the TV, don't assume it is more important to you than you. Trust yourself, and your colleagues in your organization, to invent the best future for you. You can't count on anyone else to do it for you. A man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.

Steve Yastrow

Self-Reliance, Emerson Style

In my last article, How to Start a Sales Conversation, I focused on the first two Ditch the Pitch sales habits, Be Alert To Be Quick On Your Feet and Size Up The Scene. These two habits will help you notice what is going on in a customer interaction and interpret what you notice, preparing you for an effective, powerful sales conversation. This is a point in a customer interaction where many sales people believe their job is to start telling their story. It isn't. As you take stock of what is happening in the interaction, your next move is to propel the conversation forward. Before any story can begin to emerge, you must get the conversation flowing first. You need to create a rich back-and-forth dialogue that builds and continues to engage you both deeper into the conversation. How do you create this rich back-and-forth dialogue? Let's explore the next two Ditch the Pitch habits, Say Yes andExplore and Heighten.

Habit 3: Say "Yes"

The quality of your sales conversation depends on how well you and your customer are moving in sync together, like two surfers on one surfboard, riding the same wave in a flow of mutual affirmation and agreement. To understand this fluidity, look no further than your everyday conversations. How does a conversation that is based on mutual affirmation and agreement feel different from one that is either contentious or disconnected? As I have written before, saying "yes" is the core, fundamental principle of stage improvisation, that magical art where actors are able to create a compelling, spontaneous scene with no prior planning or discussion. By affirming and agreeing with every move each other makes, the ensemble is able to create a "slice of life" out of nothing. As the scene unfolds, an audience member is able to see this flow of mutual affirmation and agreement turn into an interesting scene. How does "the scene" work in a sales conversation? Are you supposed to say "yes" to everything your customer wants? Of course you can't. But 100% of the time, you can say "yes" to the situation. You can always agree with the direction your client is moving in. You can always affirm and validate what he or she says. Don't force topics into your conversation before their time, if your customer clearly wants to talk about something else. Protect the flow of the conversation. If you create this flow of mutual affirmation and agreement, your customer will be much more likely to move with you in the direction you want to go. You will be in sync, moving together. Say "yes" to the situation. Say "yes" to where your client wants to go.

Habit 4: Explore and Heighten

Once you are in a flow of mutual affirmation and agreement, the next move is to take the conversation to a new level. This is the time to explore and heighten the subject of the conversation. Everything you and your customer talk about has the potential to go to a higher -- or deeper -- level. Everything can be explored. Everything can be heightened. For example, let's imagine you are selling furniture, and a customer shopping for a couch tells you she has seven cats. You start to explore this piece of information, and you discover that she doesn't believe that cats should be declawed. You are now able to zero in on your toughest, tear-resistant and stain-resistant fabrics, heightening the conversation by focusing on what is most important to her. Or, let's say you sell HR consulting services. A client mentions, almost off-handedly, how difficult it is to keep good employees, saying, "We just lost another good one today. Oh well, there's nothing we can do about it. We've been trying to fix this problem for years, but nothing works. Just have to live with it." Your first reaction is to say, "No, I don't agree with that; there is always a solution," but you want to say "yes," not "no." Instead, you go with the flow of the conversation and ask about the employee who just resigned, exploring what happened in this particular case. As the client answers, you explore the issue further, asking about other employees who have left, learning about the patterns of resignations, heightening your questions in your quest to learn more. As you explore and heighten this issue it begins to become clear to you, and you start to see new ways you could help this client. And, throughout this whole process, you never had to say "no," even though you disagreed with the first premise put forth by your client. One of the best ways to explore and heighten an issue with a customer is to dig into the issue's specifics. If a customer says his international business is down, engage him in a dialogue to find out the details of why this business is down. If you were a house painter and a potential customer started nostalgically describing the time he and his dad painted his parents' house when he was a teenager, explore the issue and find out the details of what he remembers of the experience; you will be certain to find a way to better connect with him, all the while giving him a chance to reminisce about the experience. Be curious... explore and heighten during your customer conversations. It will provide you a great way to affirm and agree with your customer, while also giving you insights into how to best sell this customer. In our next issue, we'll explore How to Turn a Sales Conversation into a Shared Story, giving direction and purpose to the conversation that we have learned to propel forward in this article.

Steve Yastrow

How to Propel a Sales Conversation Forward

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Ditch the PitchHere's an article I recently wrote for Brazen Careerist that shows how to use Ditch the Pitch principles to get ahead on the job. If you work for someone, these ideas are for you! If you are the boss, and everyone works for you, pass this on to your people... and notice who impresses you. Let's imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when your company's executive team is considering candidates for promotion. You're being discussed. What are those executives saying? You can be sure the conversation will include far more than a discussion of your on-the-job skills. Promotions aren't offered based on job skills alone. Plenty of people are good at their jobs, yet never get ahead. If you want to be the person selected for advancement, you must move beyond honing your skills; you must learn to sell yourself to executives throughout your company, creating a personal brand that distinguishes you from others. So how should you sell yourself? By creating an elevator pitch that you can deliver to these executives when you get the chance to speak with them? No. Despite popular belief, an elevator pitch is perhaps the least effective way to sell yourself. Instead, sell yourself by engaging leaders in improvised conversations that matter to them. Improvisation is key. You can't possibly pre-script a conversation with one of your company's senior leaders because you can't predict what will happen when you meet with them. You need to be ready to improvise a fresh, spontaneous conversation that'll capture the interest of this executive, based on what unfolds as the two of you speak. You may not have unfettered access to your company's top leaders, so make the most of every small encounter. Use these tips to ditch the pitch and improvise meaningful conversations that get you noticed.

Think input before output

Each executive in your company is unique. Before telling them about yourself, listen and observe. Seek to understand who they are, what their style is and what interests them. If you're alert and pay close attention, you'll discover ways to interest each of these executives.

Go with the flow

Engage these executives in ongoing conversations. Be willing to adapt to the subjects and style of each executive, so your dialogue feels natural, flowing and comfortable. Don't worry about impressing this person with your skills; first interest them in having conversations with you.

Explore and heighten

As you have conversations with one of your company's leaders, find out what matters to them. Then, heighten the conversation by talking about what they care about. This will also increase their interest in continuing to speak with you, opening up new opportunities to build your relationship with them.

Obey the one-paragraph rule

When talking with a senior person in your company, never speak more than one-paragraph's worth of information without leaving a break. This will give the other person a chance to speak, process information or react. And it'll help you keep them engaged in the conversation. Don't monologue.

Focus the conversation on the other person

No matter how much an executive begins to like you, she likes herself more. It makes more sense to talk about her than you. Here's a rule of thumb: Focus 95 percent of the subject matter of your conversations on the executive, talking about her work, her areas of responsibility, her key projects and her interests. If you do this, you'll inevitably find opportunities to weave relevant information about yourself into the conversation, always connecting things about you to things about her.

Focus on the relationship

Don't think of selling yourself to your company's leaders as a series of transactions. It's much more about building relationships over time. By ditching the pitch and creating fresh, spontaneous and improvised conversations that matter to each executive, you'll see these relationships grow. Let's return to that time in the not-too-distant future when your company's senior leaders are meeting to determine who will move up another notch up the ladder of success. Imagine you've successfully sold yourself as a key leader of your company's future. Now imagine the wonderful things those leaders are saying as they try to outdo each other in praising you. You can make that happen when you sell yourself by ditching the pitch. Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.  

The Real Secret to Scoring a Promotion That No One Tells You About

In today’s world, you are in a contest for both customers and talent. Your business operates in an environment where customers essentially have limitless purchase choices and employees essentially have the benefits of a full employment economy. Inspire a Committed TeamHow do you compete with other employers to attract and retain talent that’s right for your business? Executives and bosses often focus on “employee satisfaction,” which is certainly important. But satisfaction alone is not enough to ensure a workforce committed to the success of your company and each other. The “satisfied” employee will do their job satisfactorily. But they may not do their job at an optimal level, and they may lose interest in the job over time. A satisfied employee may not care enough to help you earn the loyalty of a fickle customer. Imagine an employee who is more than satisfied. Imagine an employee who is committed:
  • A committed employee is dedicated to helping your company succeed.
  • A committed employee is devoted to collaborating with their co-workers for the good of your company and your customers.
  • A committed employee is focused every day on motivating your customers to be committed to you.
Commitment is worlds beyond satisfaction or even engagement. Commitment is devotion. Commitment is emotional. Commitment drives employees to always do the right thing while doing their jobs. Now, imagine if your entire team was committed. Imagine the cumulative effect if every one of your employees was dedicated and devoted to your company and to your customers. A committed team is the magic fuel of a company’s success. Committed teams work together to make your company more attractive to both employees and customers. Committed teams naturally collaborate, because the team members are aiming at shared goals. And, committed teams are focused, every minute of every day, on motivating your customers to be committed to your company.

Is your team committed?

This is one of the most important questions you can ask. And it’s one of the most important questions you should be able to answer with a “yes.” My thoughts on committed teams come from years of observing and advising companies. Countless times, I have seen that this is a critical factor for success. If you’d like to talk about the level of commitment of your team, and get some ideas for increasing that commitment, get in touch with me at

A Committed Team is the Magic Fuel of Your Company’s Success

Great customer service is expected these days. You can’t win by having good customer service, you can only lose by not having it. To differentiate from the competition, it’s time to think beyond customer service. Here’s the truth: relationships are more differentiating than products or services. Every company thinks their product or service is the best in its category. But “better” is subjective and customers don’t make decisions based on which product is better. They make decisions based on emotion, based on a feeling of connection, based on relationships. Do more than just surprise and delight your customers with expedited shipping or loyalty perks. Try personalizing experiences that build relationships and help them feel more connected to your company. Stand above the competition; think beyond customer service and focus on building customer relationships.

Think Beyond Customer Service

There was once a grocery store that carried a stunning selection of great food. Fresh produce, eclectic imports, organic rarities... you name it, you could find it in this store. The problems started to happen after you found what you wanted, when you tried to find the cash register to check out. A sign pointed you to the entrance of a labyrinth, through which you wound back and forth, like you would in line for a popular ride at Disneyworld. Finally, you exited the end of the labyrinth, to find yourself in front of a cobweb-ridden, unmanned cash register in the back of the store. After a few minutes, a clerk arrived and started to ring you up. He complained that the keys on his cash register were sticking, smacked the drawer to get it to open, gave you your change, and said, "Next." It's clear that a grocery store like this wouldn't stay in business for very long. But many companies do things very similar to this grocery store, making it very difficult for customers to use their "cash registers." Every company has cash registers. If you aren't in a retail business, your cash registers don't look like those in a store. Nonetheless, you have cash registers. Cash registers are a business's customer touchpoints that most influence profitable revenue generation, because they are touchpoints that strongly influence customers' buying behaviors. When the cash registers are operating well, the company makes more money. When the cash registers aren't operating well, the company makes less money. Here are a few examples of cash registers:
  • In a restaurant, the waiters and waitresses are cash registers. If they are able to engage the restaurant's guests in a way that encourage the guests to buy more, pay more, visit more and rave more to friends, the restaurant's performance will improve. But if the waiters and waitresses serve the guests ineffectually and transactionally, acting as mere 'servers,' the restaurant's financial performance will suffer.
  • In a clothing store, cash registers are found not only at the checkout aisle. The salespeople on the floor have the ability to significantly influence the attitudes and purchases of customers, which, in turn, have a significant influence on the store's business results.
  • A beverage distributor's route drivers are cash registers, because they have the opportunity, many times a day, to interact with people working in retail stores, building relationships with them and identifying opportunities for additional sales.
  • In an insurance agency, the well-dressed, highly-compensated salespeople are not the only cash registers. The humble account managers, bound to their telephones, dealing with clients' day-to-day issues, can be very effective cash registers if they are able to spot opportunities to sell clients additional services. Important point: the account managers don't need to close sales to be effective cash registers; identifying opportunities and bringing them to sales people can have a powerful effect on profitable revenue generation.
The art of profitable revenue generation relies heavily on the calibrating of cash registers. How well are your cash registers calibrated? Are they operating smoothly, creating profitable revenue for your company? Or, are they in a sloppy state, out of order and limiting your results? Calibrating your cash registers requires some important steps:

Identify your cash registers

Sales people are conspicuous cash registers, and a well-tuned salesforce can do wonders for your financial performance. But, in countless consulting projects, I have seen valuable cash registers hidden in inside sales departments, undervalued customer service departments, and field support departments. Don't miss your hidden revenue generators.

Understand how your cash registers impact customer behavior

You don't create your profits; your customers do. Your customers' actions are the direct drivers of your results, so be sure to understand, deeply, how your cash registers impact customer behavior. Are the customer support people able to impact customer renewal rates? Are the waiters and waitresses able to encourage customers to buy more wine and desserts? How do on-site installation technicians impact customer loyalty?

Put your cash registers at the center of your organization

The experiences customers have when they come in contact with your cash registers have everything to do with how much they buy, how much they are willing to pay, how loyal they become, and how much they tell other people good things about your company. Build your organization around your revenue-generating areas, ensuring that the rest of the organization is set up to support them as they do their important work of generating profitable revenue. Don't be like the grocery store described in the story above. Calibrate your cash registers, and enjoy the profitable revenue that comes your way.

Steve Yastrow

Every Company Has Cash Registers

Ditch the Pitch! has certainly been my theme lately. Since I'm deep into writing a book by that name, this writing experience has me super-tuned in to the problems with pitches. So if you want to avoid sales pitches, what do you substitute them with? Sales conversations. Nobody wants to hear your pitch, but they may want to be in a conversation with you. So if you ditch the pitch, and instead focus on creating an engaging dialogue with your customer, you will have a much better chance of success, no matter what it is you are selling. A sales conversation gives you the opportunity to adapt to your customer's situation. It gives you a chance to let your customer talk. It gives you a chance to avoid saying things your customer doesn't care about. Let's look at the contrast between sales pitches and sales conversations:
The Sales Pitch The Sales Conversation
You deliver it You and your customer engage in it
It's about you It's about the customer
You script it, planning what to say ahead of time You and your customer create it, determining what to say as the conversation unfolds
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 wait for feedback You receive feedback throughout
You sell to a customer You build a relationship
You talk about what you are selling You talk about your customer
It is boring to your customer, and it gets more boring as it proceeds It is interesting to your customer, and it gets more interesting as it proceeds
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
One in a million chance it is appropriate to your customer's situation. Highly likely it is appropriate to your customer's situation.
Any time you are giving a sales pitch, you will be better off with a sales conversation. Anytime. No exceptions. Even if you are presenting to a committee of 13 stuffed-shirt, sour-pussed, RFP-issuing, procurement-driven buyers, you will improve your chances of success if you can create a conversation. And it's even more true if you are in a real-life, one-on-one sales situation. Go for relevance. Go for interest. Converse. Avoid seeming self-centered. Avoid boring your customer. Ditch the Pitch.

Steve Yastrow

Sales Pitch? No Way!

Here's a shocker- Customers care more about themselves than about you! If you want customers to think you are different, show them you understand what makes them different.

Customers Care About Themselves More

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Customers aren't sitting around waiting to hear our sales pitches, watch our ads or study our brochures and websites. They would much rather think about their own narratives than think about ours. Successful, persuasive conversations are focused not on what the seller has to offer but on the customer's issues. To address this, practice Ditch the Pitch Habit #5, Focus the conversation on your customer. The subject matter of your customer conversations should be your customer, not you. As you become more fluid with this habit, you will not only keep customers more engaged, you will make it easier for your customers to see how your offerings directly connect to their most important issues. When this happens, it's much more likely that you will be successful in persuading your customer. Here are three practices to help you Focus the conversation on your customer.

Practice: Make 95% of your conversation about the customer

Here's a number I keep in my head during persuasive conversations: 95%. My goal is to ensure that 95% of my conversation with a customer is about the customer. I leave myself a very small ration of time allotted to talking about what I am selling, and I must use that 5% wisely. While my customer and I might both speak an equal amount, I focus on making sure that 95% of the content of our conversation is about him. Anytime the topic of conversation focuses on my company, my products or my services, I know that I need to bring the focus back to the customer as quickly as possible. You may be wondering, "So if 95% of the subject matter of the conversation is about my customer, how do I communicate what I have to offer?" Keep reading.

Practice: Obey the one-paragraph rule

We have a lot to tell our customers, and it's tempting to slip into a monologue when selling or persuading. To avoid this temptation, and to keep the conversation focused on your customer, obey the One-Paragraph Rule. It's simple: Never speak more than one paragraph's worth of information without leaving a break. During that break, your customer may speak, or she may give a cue that shows she is either very engaged or disengaged, in agreement or not in agreement, etc. In all cases, this break prevents you from shifting the content of the conversation away from what your customer cares about.

Practice: Weave your stories together

Here's the answer to how you communicate what you have to offer while focusing the conversation on your customer: weave your stories together. As you are making sure that 95% of the conversation is about your customer, and obeying the one-paragraph rule, you will inevitably identify areas where your offerings meet your customer's needs. When this happens, take a small thread of your story and gently weave it into your customer's story. This is much more effective than listing your offerings as a series of bullet points in a sales presentation. When you weave a thread of your story into your customer's story, your customer will see the direct relationship between what you offer and what she needs. On the contrary, if the same offering is presented to the customer out of context, it's up to her to do the work of figuring out what your offering means to her. Like all Ditch the Pitch Habits, Focusing the conversation on your customer requires time and practice. Use these practices in your upcoming conversations, and notice how your interactions with customers change as you further develop this habit. Have the discipline to Focus the conversation on your customer, and you will see that your ability to persuade improves, and that your customers enjoy talking with you more.

Steve Yastrow


Ditch the Pitch Habit #5: Focus the conversation on your customer

Consider your organization's technology initiatives over the last five years, and ask yourself:
  • What portion of our technology initiatives make it easier for customers to get closer to us? (Example: Apple lets you sign up for Genius Bar appointments online.)
  • What portion of our technology initiatives put a barrier between our customers and us? (Example: "Please say or enter your 16-digit credit card number.")

Ask yourself this question: Do our technology initiatives brings us closer to, or further from, our customers?

When talking with friends, you don't use scripts or PowerPoint slides. When talking with customers, you shouldn't either. Watch the video Improvise Every Conversation.

Improvise Every Conversation