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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

The Rules for Selling with a PowerPoint Deck

When I told one of my team members the title for this article, her answer was, “That’s a simple one for you to write. You’ll just say, ‘Don’t, don’t and don’t.’” Yes, it’s true, a PowerPoint deck is one of

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Posted in Commitment Compass, Ditch the Pitch

How to Help B2B Prospects Convince Colleagues

A B2B client called me recently and shared this frustration: “A senior executive was very interested in working with us, and his company would be a great fit for our product. But after he met with his C-suite colleagues, he

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Posted in Brand Harmony, Commitment Compass, Ditch the Pitch

A Sale is the Result of a Great Conversation

How do you convince customers to buy from you? With sell sheets? PowerPoint decks? Explanations of new product features? Hardly. To lead your customer to a thoughtful decision where they choose you over the competition, you need to help them

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Posted in Ditch the Pitch

Two Tips for Your Next Presentation

Everyone who subscribes to this newsletter – and I mean everyone – has to give presentations from time to time as part of their job. Here are two tips to help you give better presentations: Don’t “give” presentations Don’t “present”

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Posted in Commitment Compass, Ditch the Pitch

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.” She took his advice, and bought

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Posted in "We" Relationships, Brand Harmony, Commitment Compass, Ditch the Pitch, Motivate Committed Customers
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Here's an experience I had in an improvisation class at Second City: Two of my fellow students were asked to start a scene, and I was supposed to jump into the scene after about a minute. The two other students began to improvise a scene, and they quickly found themselves playing a customer and a counter employee at McDonald's. The "customer" started ordering voluminous amounts of food, and as I watched this, I thought I could jump into the scene as her doctor, catching this obese patient binging on fast food. Just as I was about to enter the scene the McDonald's employee said, "I haven't seen anybody order this much food since I started working here." The customer answered, "Well, I've been stranded on a deserted island for two years, and this is the first food I've eaten since I was rescued." Oops. The story I was planning to use wasn't going to work, because she wasn't an obese person binging, she was playing a character who had nearly starved to death. I had a moment of panic, knowing I needed to ditch my plan. Fortunately, I had learned that the cue to your next move is always there, right in front of you in the scene. I quickly shifted gears and came into the scene as the person who rescued her, and fell in love with her, upset that she was trying to avoid me. Think about how this situation relates to a sales conversation.  If you write the story ahead of time, there's is a MAJOR chance that the situation you find won't be right for your story. You may not find a change-of-situation as striking as an obese person turning into a starved wreck just rescued from a deserted island, but customers can throw some pretty significant curve balls at you. "My budget has been slashed in half," or "My budget has been doubled."  "I'm really upset about what you said in our last meeting," or "I've been really thinking about the advice you gave me last time we talked." Here's one: "I'm leaving the company, and I want to introduce you to Joyce, the person who will be taking over my job." If you write the story ahead of time, the chances are that the story won't fit the surprises that you will inevitably find in your sales meeting. So ditch the pitch, and let the story emerge in your conversation.

Don’t write your sales story ahead of time

We all know the difference between talking and communicating. Being "talked at" by someone has a very different feel to "communicating with" someone. On an individual basis, this can be annoying. When an entire nation fails at communication, the results can affect the entire world. My op-ed in The Times of Israel explores why Israel is losing the battle of narratives, and what can be done about it.

In the conflict with Hamas, there are two narratives fighting a battle:

  1. Hamas’s actions directed at Israel, and the impact of those actions on Israel and Israelis.
  2. Israel’s actions directed at Hamas, and the impact of those actions on Gaza and Gazans.

What proportion of global public discourse is focused on each of these two narratives?

Read the article: We’re Talking, but We’re Not Communicating

Israel is Talking, but Not Communicating

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

  Brand EntropyOne of the most powerful forces in the universe is entropy, the tendency for systems to move progressively from states of organization to states of more disorganization and diffusion. Stick an ice crystal in a warm room, and you will soon have a pool of water. You may organize all of the toys on a child's shelf, but over time they will inevitably end up scattered on the floor... unless you continually fight the entropy and return the toys to their proper places. Similarly, no matter how well your company is creating a strong experience of brand harmony for your customers today, with complementary experiences communicating a clear and compelling story, ongoing attention is required to ensure thatbrand entropy doesn't take over. The reason for this is simple-- there are thousands of possible ways that any particular customer/product interaction can happen, but only a small number of those possibilities are appropriate for the brand story you are trying to communicate. Without strategic and deliberate efforts to maintain a strong experience of brand harmony for your customers, odds are that your organization will stray from the story, and customer experiences will move further and further away from what you intend. And, if that happens, your customers will have fewer reasons to stay engaged with you. Entropy in the universe is constantly pushing systems to disintegration, not integration. When you create brand harmony, you are working against some powerful, universal forces. That's why you need to be strategic and deliberate in your efforts to create and maintain brand harmony. Here are the keys to fighting brand entropy:

Be able to answer the questions "Who do we intend to be?" and "Why do we have a right to exist?"

Brand harmony requires a powerful, shared idea of where you are headed as an organization and what value you provide to the world. The answers to these questions are catalysts that bring together everything you do under a common mission. Traditional mission and vision statements usually don't aim this high. They frequently include platitudes such as "We seek to serve our customers with integrity" and "We will be the preferred supplier in our market space," which are not clear and differentiated enough to fight the forces of brand entropy. Set the bar high, and ensure that you can answer these two questions with passion and precision. "Who we intend to be," serves as a beacon guiding your team to the future. "Why we have a right to exist," describes the value you provide to the world. If you can't answer these questions, it's very hard to move forward.

Be sure that everyone in your company believes in your idea "Who we intend to be" and "Why we have a right to exist."

Defining the answers to these questions will do you little good if these definitions are known only by a small number of people. Brand harmony is an all-company affair, because everyone -- yes everyone -- in your organization impacts the customer experience. Everyone needs to believe in your answers to these questions and have those answers guide the ways they do their jobs. Get specific: help people understand their personal roles in creating the powerful customer experience that fuels your future.

Build your customer experience around your brand

This is the most obvious -- and often neglected -- principle of brand harmony. Companies give lip service to having a clear idea of what their brand means, but then don't infuse their brand story into the interactions customers have with their company. You can only succeed, and become the company you intend to be, if your customers love you, become more involved with you, and act in ways that drive your success. We live in a crowded, noisy world, and customers will only come to love you (or even notice you) if the experiences they have with you create a strong sense of brand harmony. Entropy makes your hair get messy by the end of the night and turns the Roman Coliseum into ruins. It influences the remains of dead stars to diffuse throughout the galaxy and turns your desk into chaos by the end of the week. Entropy will get the best of you if you let your guard down and don't work hard to counteract its force. Put special attention into nurturing and maintaining the brand harmony you create for your customers, or brand entropy will take over and muddle the experiences customers have with you. Once that happens, it will be very difficult to become the company you intend to be.

Steve Yastrow

Brand Entropy vs. Brand Harmony

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”

- Ram Dass

Every second you are talking in a sales conversation is a second you are not listening to your customer. You are listening to yourself. Use words sparingly, returning to “input mode” as quickly as possible, giving yourself the chance to be alert and notice things that can drive your reactions. I’m always impressed by how infrequently stage improvisers interrupt each other.  One reason for this is that these actors are much more focused on listening and observing than on talking. Their mouths wait for their ears and eyes, and this extra focus on input makes it easier for them to exchange the focus of the scene between themselves. Contrast this with business meetings where people are more interested in getting their points out than they are interested in listening to others. People are constantly starting sentences in the middle of other people’s sentences, and people are not alert to cues from colleagues that could help communication. Sell like the stage improviser, not like that obnoxious guy you work with who is always interrupting people in meetings. The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

Say less when you sell

To create great customer experiences, every employee must come together and deliver the experience! Steve Yastrow motivates AVI employees to be the brand at the National Sales Meeting. Watch the keynote video: Every Employee is in the Marketing Department 

[VIDEO] Every Employee is in the Marketing Department

  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
Latent ProfitIt’s Sunday afternoon, and my one-year-old granddaughter has fallen asleep in her stroller. I just stopped into Whole Foods to let her snooze, which she is doing as I’m writing. Here’s what else is going on around me while Adina naps: Whole Foods is busy.  The check-out lines are full, people are filling to-go containers with salads, soups and pre-made entrees, and the coffee bar has a line. Today isn’t an aberration; it seems every time I go into a Whole Foods Market I have to wait in line at the register to pay. Remember the pejorative nickname people once used to describe Whole Foods?  “Whole Paycheck.” Yes, Whole Foods’ prices are high, but my (admittedly) empirical observation is that it doesn’t seem to hurt them. A quick search for the company’s recent financial data supports this empirical observation. Since 2009, Whole Foods’ revenue and gross profit are up more than 50%, while operating income, net income and earnings per share have more than doubled. So even as we have spent more money in their stores, fueling impressive sales growth, we have enabled Whole Foods to make an even higher profit every time we visit their stores. Giving them our “whole paycheck” must not be worrying us. So what’s the lesson in this? You are more worried about your prices than you customers are. Nearly 30 years ago, I attended a conference by a guy who called himself “The Pricing Advisor.” One clear message I remember from The Pricing Advisor:“The most common pricing problem is not that your prices are too high, but that they are too low.” Customers base their purchase decisions on many factors, one of which is price. If the other factors under consideration are not clearly understood, compelling or differentiating, the customer focuses on price. If they are, the customer has other reasons to buy, and your prices can be higher. In my workshops, I frequently hear business leaders say, “My customers just care about price. I wish they would focus on something else.”  My answer: Give them something else to focus on. Clearly, Whole Foods has given plenty of people something to focus on besides price. And Whole Foods is not alone. Look at any retail mall in America, and notice that very few of the thriving stores base their customer promise on price. Even consider a company like Wal-Mart that actively promotes price; when you visit Wal-Mart, how frequently do you choose the lowest-priced item on the shelf? You deserve to charge higher prices to your customers, because you deliver them something of value. If you encounter price resistance, don’t reflexively lower your prices. Instead, look for ways to more effectively communicate a clear, compelling and differentiating story to your customers. Over the next week, pay attention to the purchase decisions you make, for your business and personal life. How often are you choosing the option with the lowest possible price?  Not much of the time?  Doesn’t your business deserve the same consideration from its customers?

You’re More Worried About Your Prices Than Your Customers Are

Get customers to open up to you and share information by taking your customer conversation to a higher level. Use the improv techniques of Explore and Heighten, which I explain in this video.

Take Your Customer Conversations to a Higher Level

Do you have an elevator pitch? It's that 30-second, well-crafted self-description you would deliver if you found yourself on an elevator with an important, prospective customer. Tear up your elevator pitch into little pieces.If you have an elevator pitch, tear it up into little pieces. But don't throw those little pieces away. Your elevator pitch has lots of valuable pieces in it, and you don't want to lose them. But when those pieces are combined together, they can turn into something that is long, boring and unmemorable. You're much better off thinking of the pieces of your elevator pitch as tools that you can use at appropriate times during conversations with customers. When you look at the individual pieces of your elevator pitch, notice how each one of them can be developed into an interesting idea. Isn't there more to each piece than the short phrase allotted in your elevator pitch? For example, let's say you sell machinery that uses leading-edge technology, decreases your customers' production cycle times, and offers a 99.9% uptime guarantee. If you're talking to a prospect and you realize that uptime is a major issue for him, wouldn't you be better off having a deep discussion about uptime rather than just mentioning it as part of a well-crafted 30-second monologue? (And, by the way, if you were just delivering your elevator pitch, and not listening, you would not have learned that uptime is a major issue for him.) Now, notice how the different pieces of your elevator pitch connect to each other. Can you diagram their inter-relationships? Could you have a rich conversation with a customer on any of these connections? For example, maybe your elevator pitch includes one phrase that refers to your team's expertise, and another that refers to how you help your clients anticipate market needs. Could you hold a deep, meaningful, 10-minute conversation with a prospective customer about the connection between your team's expertise and this ability to anticipate market needs? That conversation would last 20 times longer than a 30-second elevator pitch, and would focus on only two of the elements of the pitch. And, most importantly, it wouldn't be a pitch. Nobody wants to hear your sales pitch. I don't care how amazing you are, how unique your product offering is or how much better you are than your competitors; nobody wants to hear your pitch. If you launch into your elevator pitch, your customer will tune out well before you're finished. He'll start thinking of his next appointment; he'll look for his car keys in his coat pocket, and he'll make a mental note to call his assistant to check on something, all while your mellifluous adjectives and well-turned phrases bounce off the elevator's walls, unnoticed by anyone but you. Instead, think of how to have a 30-second elevator conversation, in which you engage your customer and judiciously bring in pieces of your elevator pitch at appropriate times. This means that you can't tell your entire story during this short meeting, but that's okay. Your objective is not to close the sale, but to earn the right to have another conversation. At the end of the elevator ride, you want the prospect to have enough interest that he's willing to agree to that follow-up conversation. Maybe your follow-up conversation will happen in the building lobby, after the elevator doors open, or maybe it will be a phone call you schedule for the next day. During the follow-up conversation, you'll be able to weave in more pieces of your elevator pitch, and, as your relationship develops over subsequent conversations, your new customer will begin to form a rich story about you in his mind. What has a better chance of earning you a follow-up conversation- a 30-second monologue in which you deliver every piece of your elevator pitch, or a 30-second conversation in which your prospective customer becomes intrigued by one thing he learns about you? Don't lose sight of your goal in a first, chance meeting with a potential customer. Whether this meeting happens in an elevator, at your cousin's kid's wedding or in an exit row of an American Airlines 757, your real objective is to create a reason for a follow-up. If you want customers to understand what you do and how you can help them, tear up your elevator pitch and weave its pieces into relationship-building encounters with your customers. That way, people may actually hear what you have to say.

Steve Yastrow

Tear up your elevator pitch

True Loyalty isn't created because one business offers customers a better deal than their competitors offer.  True Loyalty happens when a customer has deep, meaningful, unquestioned beliefs about a company they buy from or a product they buy. Today's newsletter, I believe I am loyal to you, focuses on the connection between belief and loyalty.  I'd love your comments, below.  Do you agree with me?

I believe I am loyal to you

On Steve's Mind - Ideas and Action Steps for Next-Level Business Results
Latent ProfitThere are many ways to drive profit. One way is to be the low-cost provider, or be the most efficient company in your marketplace. However, the most lucrative way to drive profits is through customer preference. When your customers prefer you to the competition, their willingness to pay you a premium, relative to the competition, increases. The more customers prefer you, the more profit you can make.

What Drives Customer Preference?

If you look at most companies’ sales and marketing efforts, you might think that customer preference is driven by claims of being the best, the fastest, the newest, the highest performing or the cheapest. Sure, those things count. But they aren’t the biggest drivers of preference. Each of those factors describes the product or service being offered. The most powerful beliefs customers have that influence their preference are not about products or services, but about the impact those products or services have on them. A customer won’t prefer you just because you are the fastest, newest, or highest performing, but because of what those features do for them.

Why Personalization is a Key Driver of Profitability

Customer preference happens when a customer thinks, “I am better off with this product (or service) than with any other.” Every customer has the permission to create their own personal reasons for why a product or service benefits them. For every 1000 customers who believe they benefit from a feature of your product or service, there are 1000 descriptions of what that benefit is. This means that creating strong customer preference is not just about effective marketing and sales messaging that describes your offerings, but is about framing your offerings in a way that is personally relevant to each customer. If you are a mass marketer, this is really difficult, because you are stuck saying the same thing to thousands of customers. But most people reading this article are not mass marketers. You have the ability to personalize your message for each customer, as you determine what personally relevant impact your product and service offerings can have for them.

Preference Happens One Customer at a Time

Not only do I encourage you to recognize customer preference as the key driver of your profits, I encourage you to focus your sales and marketing efforts on personalizing your messages. Describe the impact of your offerings in ways that are personally relevant to each of your customers. Most of you have enough one-on-one contact to make that happen. If you commit your best and highest sales and marketing efforts to customizing your messages in ways that are personally relevant to individual customers, you will increase customer preference and markedly increase your profits. Preference and profitability. They go very well together.  

Preference and Profitability

Of all the things you could be doing, nothing is more critical than motivating customers. Watch this excerpt from my keynote speech at LINE-X's National Franchise Meeting. Watch the keynote video: Your #1 Job is Motivating Customers 

[Video] Your #1 Job is Motivating Customers

Do your customers love you? Do your customers really care about their relationship with your company? The connection between your customers' love for your business and your results is powerful. When your customers love your company, your business thrives. Today, customers have many choices of products to buy, and nearly limitless ways to find information to evaluate those products. Customer satisfaction and simply meeting customer expectations are just not enough for a business to succeed in our current environment. We need to aim higher. We need to aim for Customer Commitment. A committed customer gives you a substantial share of their love, loyalty and purchases and is willing to bypass your competitors to do business with you. A committed customer sticks with you for the long-term and goes out of the way to tell others how great it is to work with you. Simply put, a committed customer loves doing business with you. When customers are committed to your company, they seek your input and advice; they share and communicate with you. They see you as more than just a product or service, and they’ve stopped comparing you to the competition, because they care about their relationship with your company. Think about how much more successful your business would be if your customers were not just satisfied with your products and services, but were deeply committed to your company. Think of a time when a friend or colleague excitedly told you about a company they love doing business with. Maybe it was a national name-brand company, or maybe it was a local store or restaurant. Remember the enthusiasm of your friend’s rave reviews. Now, imagine how much more successful your company would be if more of your customers demonstrated this kind of commitment to you. Are you and your colleagues focusing your time, attention and resources on building customer commitment? Are you ensuring that your entire customer experience is designed to motivate your customers to be committed to you? Start focusing on customer commitment now. It’s the secret to driving results today, and well into the future. If you’d like to talk about the level of commitment of your customers, and get some ideas for increasing that commitment, get in touch with me at steve@yastrow.com.

Do Your Customers Love You?

For those of you attending today's 2009 Readiness Teleseminar, the Learning Guide can be downloaded at this link.  It is an Adobe PDF file. The audio download from the event will be available early next week. Today's event is full ... if you'd like a copy of the audio download, please send an email to amanda@yastrow.com. Thanks!

Learning Guide for today’s 2009 Readiness Teleseminar

This video is a great satire on the world of brute force branding. It's from Geert Desager of bringtheloveback.com.

Capturing reality

Consider what would happen if you tried this: You go to each of the top leaders in your company; you ask them to imagine that it is five years from today, and your company is extremely successful. Then, you ask them to describe what the company looks like at that time and in that situation. Would your company's leaders' answers be similar or wildly different? In most companies the answers would be wildly different. I believe this because I've seen it happen many times. I do this exercise with executives frequently, and it is striking how much a team that works together every day at guiding a company can have so little agreement about where this guidance is heading. Here's an example: At the beginning of a corporate retreat, I asked the top executives of a company with $80 million in annual sales to describe what their company would look like if it was very successful at a point a few years in the future. Their estimates of annual revenue in the future varied from $150 million to $1 billion. Their visions of customer mix, product offerings and geographic expansion also differed, as did their descriptions of other many parameters. How could this team expect to collaborate effectively if they shared so little vision about what they were trying to accomplish? If you were to put a hidden microphone under the tables in a thousand conference rooms of a thousand different companies and listen in on the discussions upper and mid-level executives are having with each other, you'd find yourself listening to debates and discussions about individual projects. "Should we fund this project or not?" "I think we should start selling our products in Macedonia." "Should we run an ad in this magazine or that magazine?" "I've interviewed all of the candidates, and we should hire Ed." "I completely disagree with you - we shouldn't call our new product the Super Amazing Gonkulator, we should call it the Super Magnificent Gonkufabulator." It's not hard to imagine the disagreements that ensue in conversations like these, as people debate relatively small issues without having a consensus on the big issues. Imagine if a crew of ten people trying to sail an America's Cup ship don't agree on where they are headed, which way the wind is blowing and the right strategy for tacking. Wouldn't they be likely to start arguing, especially if their captain wasn't certain of the situation? This seems absurd in a world-class yacht race, but it's a pretty accurate description of what's going on in most companies. If you want to be able to address the small questions in your company, it's important to ask the big questions first, because the small questions (Which ad should we run?) are driven by the big questions (What is our marketing strategy trying to accomplish?) And, of all of the big questions, the most important one to answer is, "Who do we intend to be?" Who do we intend to be? On one level, it seems so simple. We all know that we want our companies to be successful. We all know that we want our companies to grow. We all know (at least most of us) that we want to our companies to be great places to work. But do we really know what success means for our companies? Do we really know what kind of growth we want? Do we really know what it would mean for us to be a great place to work, and how that would support our success? I've had the opportunity to work with a number of non-profits lately, and it impresses me how much those of us in the for-profit world can learn by the way non-profits address the "who do we intend to be?" question. When revenue and profit are your prime motives, it's easy to be really vague about the details of what you're trying to accomplish. But I've found that non-profits, who are forced to define their reasons-for-being in varied and unique ways, tend to probe much deeper into this question. Let's face it, "We want to be the organization that saves 100,000 children from dying of dysentery" is a much richer description of a goal than "We want to be a company whose sales are 10% bigger." Defining what they want to accomplish is at the heart of what most non-profit organizations are all about, and, because of this, I find it really easy to engage them in rich, thoughtful discussions about who they intend to be. On the other hand, it's more typical for a for-profit enterprise to gloss over this question, and to define the future more purely in terms of financial goals. But even a definition of financial goals is hampered if a company can't clarify who it intends to be. Think of my corporate retreat example from above. The revenue predictions among the company's leaders varied from $150 million to $1 billion. If they had shared beliefs about who they intend to be, don't you think they'd have had a better chance of agreeing on what size company they could be, or needed to be, if they were to reach those goals? So don't waste a minute before you start addressing the question "Who do we intend to be?" And, while you're at it, think like a non-profit. Try defining what you want to be in terms that go beyond financials. After all, financials are a result that the market will reward you with once you become the company that you intend to be. They are not who you intend to be. Yogi Berra once said "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else." ‘Nuff said.

Steve Yastrow

Who do you intend to be?

In the first minute of conversation with a customer, you can learn critical information about that customer. You need to be alert and stay in the moment.

What You Can Learn About a Customer in 60 Seconds

In my video post yesterday I talked some more (.... ok, I'm a bit obsessed with this topic) about the difference between transactional loyalty and True Loyalty. Transactional loyalty is based on promotions and programs, (and the customer is only loyalty to the promotion or program) and True Loyalty is based on solid relationships (where the customer actually becomes loyal to your business and to her relationship with you). This morning I went to get my car washed at Grand Prix Car Wash near my house.  As I got out of my car the guy with the vacuum handed me a ticket to take to the cash register.  I noticed that "You have 17 towards your 10th car wash free" was written on the bottom. I never noticed, but they type my license plate number in each time I enter the car wash and have been tracking my visits. I asked the cashier to explain.  He gave me a form to fill out and said that my next car wash (the 18th) would be my 10th car wash free. Do I even need to mention the easy ways Grand Prix Car Wash could turn this program from transactional loyalty to True Loyalty?  Ok, here are a few simple ideas ...
  • Tell employees that the business (and their work) depend on loyal customers who return many times.  Help them see that the loyalty program will help them have more secure jobs ... and better tips.  Bring them in on the story!
  • Keep track of progress for the customer.  Have the guy with the vacuum tell the customer, "Hey! This car wash is going to be free! Thanks for coming here so many times!"  If he misses it, the cashier can tell the customer.
  • Give the free car wash on the actual visit where the customer "notices" he's earned it, not on the next visit.
  • Use the form only if a family wants to group multiple cars under one account.
  • Think about loyalty as a human concept, not as a promotional concept.
On a related front, check out the thoughtful comment from Shane of Home Made Pizza Company on this post I wrote about their slip into "Get your 10th free" transactional loyalty.

Buy 18, get your 10th free

Your customer relationships are your most important assets. As such, they must be nurtured, tended and protected if your business is going to be successful. Chapter 3 in my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship focuses on customer relationships as ongoing conversations. The concept of an ongoing conversation is easy for all of us to understand: Imagine reconnecting with a good friend after not being in touch for a few months. Do you need to reintroduce yourselves and start the relationship from scratch? Not typically! Normally, you pick up the flow of conversation pretty quickly, continuing with topics you've discussed in the past, as if your previous conversations had never ended. As facile as we all are with ongoing conversations in our friendships, we tend to have a tougher time with ongoing conversations in our business relationships. There are many reasons ongoing conversations are more difficult in business. The other person may not be as interested in you as in one of their friends. You may not be as interested in them. The relationship may be (unfortunately) one-sided, where your customer sees you as simply a vendor. Your conversations with a customer may focus heavily on relatively boring transactional issues, and not on things that are interesting to both of you. Here are four features of an ongoing conversation that you can focus on as you build your customer relationships:

1. It picks up where it left off

This is the most important element of creating an ongoing conversation with a customer. Remember where you last left things with this customer, and be sure to stitch together your last encounter with this one. One of the best tools for doing this is to ensure that you leave a customer conversation with open issues and follow-up steps. As I wrote in this article, Don't Finish Anythingit is much easier to maintain a conversation than to start a conversation. Leave each conversation thinking about how to link it to the next conversation.

2. It is a shared story

As I have written many times, the sad truth is that your customer isn't all that interested in your story. To keep a customer engaged, and to stitch sequential conversations together, it is important that your conversation not be like a game of ping-pong, where you talk about the customer, then about you, then about the customer, then about you, and so forth. It is much easier to create an ongoing conversation if the focus of that conversation is a shared story, about how you and your customer work together.

3. It rings true for the participants

Ongoing conversations require you and your customer both to remember things from one encounter to the next. This is much more likely to happen if the content of your conversation is highly relevant to both of you. Don't clutter your customer conversations with issues of low relevance, just because you want your customer to know everything about you. Every unimportant thing you bring into a conversation has the power to crowd out an important issue, making it more likely that your customer won't create strong memories about your conversation.

4. It gets more interesting over time

Have you ever noticed how much faster you read the second half of a good novel? Great stories become more compelling as they develop. Likewise, an ongoing conversation gets more interesting over time. Look for ways to elevate the interest of your ongoing conversation with a customer as time goes on. Don't let it get stale! Here's a final tip: Create a personal mindset of ongoing conversation. When thinking about the topics you discuss with a customer don't think "we talked about this last week" and "we're going to talk about that in our conversation." Think, "we aretalking about this," even when you are not physically in a conversation with your customer at that moment. For a conversation to be ongoing, you have to believe that it has never really stopped.

Steve Yastrow

Don’t stop the conversation when you hang up the phone

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

  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 5, "Are you focused on internal marketing within your company?" Marketing professionals are, of course, taught to "focus on the customer," and, therefore, most marketing departments have 100% of their gaze directed outside the company, as they try to persuade customers to buy. But what influences those customers' purchase decisions? Just the work product of the marketing department? Of course not. If you could "reverse engineer" a customer's brand impressions to determine its influences, you would see that, in most cases, traditional marketing communications play a relatively small role in creating customer love. In my book Brand Harmony (and also in last week's issue) I discuss a principle that most people profess to agree with, but fewer organizations put into practice: Marketing isn't what marketing people say it is. Marketing is what customers say it is. And as far as customers are concerned, everything is marketing, because every point of contact with your company is an opportunity to evaluate you. If every point of contact your company has with customers is a marketing contact, it's pretty easy to see that everyone in your company, well beyond the marketing department, affects your marketing. Actually, can you name even one person in your company -- even people who never talk to customers -- who doesn't have some effect on the customer experience, even if it is an indirect effect? The experience your customers have with your company is driven by the actions of everyone who works for your company, whether you are a company of 5 people, 50, 500, 5000 or 50,000. Companies who practice great marketing recognize that their most valuable marketing media are the people who work for the company. So... do you think these great companies only focus their marketing on customers outside the company? No! They are also focused on internal marketing within their own company. But... most companies don't practice great marketing. Walk into any office, factory, restaurant or retail store and ask people who work there, "What is your company's brand promise? Why should customers care about what you do?" In most cases, you will get blank stares, or you might get slapped. A few people might laugh and say, "I wish I knew." What about your company? If I walked the halls and asked those questions, what kinds of responses would I hear? How much better would your business be performing if everyone in your company were able to give me a clear, compelling, enthusiastic answer? Your external, marketplace-facing brand can never be better than your internal brand.This is one of the most important variables in evaluating a company's marketing strength (or weakness). Your external, marketplace-facing brand can never be better than your internal brand, because it is the people inside your company who create the customer experiences that make possible your external brand. If you want to do great marketing, focus on internal marketing within your company. "A shared belief of who we intend to be" The best measure of a strong internal brand is if everyone in your company has a "shared belief of who we intend to be." This is what you want to aim for, because it will unify your team in creating an overall experience of Brand Harmony for your customers. My observation: Most people agree with this premise, but most have a really hard time living up to it. Why is internal marketing so hard to do successfully? Well, one thing is for sure: It's not the fault of the "audience." Employees, of all job levels, are eager to learn what it takes to "Be the Brand," and, once engaged in the process, most will act effectively to reinforce your brand story. If a company isn't doing great internal marketing, there is always a management-centered reason. Maybe management doesn't think internal marketing is worth funding. Maybe they think they've got it all covered in the training budget. (They don't.) Maybe they support internal marketing, but think of it only as something for the front-lines, and not for themselves. Maybe they're still stuck in the dark ages of advertising, where they think great marketing is a function of brute force. The keys to great internal marketing Yastrow & Company does a lot of work helping companies improve their internal marketing, so I've had a chance to see things that work, and things that don't. Here are a few principles that correlate with success:
  • The company knows "who we intend to be."
    • Pretty obvious, but often missed. One CEO asked me to come in and "teach his people how to Be the Brand." The problem: Nobody knew what brand they should be.
  • The brand, and the idea of "who we intend to be," are woven into the fabric of the company's culture.
    • If your brand is something that is only talked about in terms of advertising, and finds itself listed on a few bullet points in somebody's PowerPoint presentation, you won't be doing great internal marketing.
    • One of many litmus tests: Is the brand discussed in an interview to hire an hourly employee?
  • The marketing department is focused on it.
    • If your marketing department thinks this is not their issue, preferring HR or training to worry about internal marketing, don't expect success. Expect most of the marketing budget to be spent externally.
  • Internal marketing is based on Brand Harmony, not on brute force.
    • Your employees are too savvy for you to "advertise" to them. They are also too savvy for button campaigns and tendentious monologues from the CEO.
    • Just like your customers, your internal marketing needs to be based on Brand Harmony, integrating all touchpoints your employees have with the company has with you into one clear, compelling story.
  • Employees participate in articulating their personal roles.
    • "Be the Brand" cannot be a command from above. It needs to be what my associate, Caroline Ceisel, calls an "empowering imperative." It is an invitation and encouragement, not an order from your boss.
    • Companies who practice great internal marketing stick the didactic, pedagogic, junior high-ish training model in the freezer, out of the way, and create a highly participative, genuinely interactive program that engages employees in dialogue about what they need to do to Be the Brand.
Here are few examples of companies that do great internal marketing: Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has, for years, focused on ensuring that its employees understand what it means to deliver a Kimpton Brand experience. One of the many things that astounded me through my work with Kimpton (2005 - 2007), was the similarity in what I heard from the company's top executives and from front-line employees working in the hotels. At all levels, and at all locations, Kimpton team members had clear, shared beliefs about Kimpton, and what Kimpton is trying to become. Building on their strength, we collaborated with them on a program called, "The Kimpton Moment," which helped employees build relationships with guests. (For more on the Kimpton moment, see my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship, especially Chapter 5) Apple (oh no, here comes another story praising Apple) has a strong focus on internal marketing, especially with employees in their Apple stores. A friend who used to work in an Apple store told me stories about how Apple helped him understand how to build the brand story into his interactions with customers. Each employee attends a two-day training and carries a Credo Card behind their name tag with short tips on how to be the Apple brand. Apple understands the importance of having every customer interaction blend to tell their brand story. The Geniuses and Creatives at an Apple Store spend at least a week in off-site training. While they learn a lot of technical product knowledge, the bulk of the training is spent on how to interact with customers and properly represent the Apple brand. If someone resists the brand training, his manager can let him go. For more thoughts on internal marketing, see Chapter 6 in my book Brand Harmonywhich is called "Be the Brand," and Chapter 5 in my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship,which is called "We Among Many." But most importantly, ensure that your marketing focus includes engaging the people within your own company. It is one the highest-impact actions you can take to improve the effectiveness of your company's marketing.

Steve Yastrow

Internal Marketing