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It’s not about Michael Jordan. It’s about you.

Your customers care a whole lot more about themselves than they care about your products or your messages.  That’s why your marketing and sales communications shouldn’t focus on your products.  They should focus on your customers. I recently conducted a

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[VIDEO] 5 Tips to Sell More Now

Let’s face it, we all want to sell more, and we all want to sell more NOW! Here are five short video tips to help you sell more now:   Turn Every Presentation Into A Conversation Our first tip summarizes

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Posted in Commitment Compass, Ditch the Pitch

Persuade with the Power of Spoken Language

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Humans respond to spoken language and written language differently. So, ditch your PowerPoint when selling! Spoken language encourages your customer to think, interact and converse with you. Talk with customers. Don’t read to them. Watch the video: Persuade with the

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Find Your Customer’s Urgency

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Imagine… you’re talking to a customer, eager to close the sale.  You’re ready to move things forward, but your customer is not displaying the same urgency. What do you do?  How do you get your customer to feel some urgency

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Learn to Be Alert with this Sales Role-Play Video

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

The first Ditch the Pitch Practice is to be alert to your customer. In this video, I’m joined by Senior Strategy Consultant Danielle Zaft in a role-playing sales conversation that shows what happens when you become distracted. Watch the video: Sales

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Will Customers Share Their Problems With You?

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

A senior executive at one of my client companies wrote me with the following question: “Steve, we train our sales people to discover their prospective customers’ ‘problems.’ Does this make sense? I wouldn’t want to discuss my problems with a

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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?

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

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

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

Bricks and Mortar as a Metaphor for Marketing

Don’t just talk about the tough economy.  Be ready for it! Today’s newsletter, The 2009 Readiness Test, outlines the most important questions you should address to ensure that you don’t just survive, but thrive, in 2009. Just about every one of my consulting clients, prospects and audience members is asking me questions that revolve around the economic situation. Virtually every answer and every conversation I’ve had with them involves one or more of the topics covered in the newsletter. Here are the six questions outlined in the newsletter:
  1. Do you know where the latent profit is in your business?
  2. Which of your current customers can help you unleash that latent profit?
  3. How does the economic situation help you focus your new customer acquisition efforts?
  4. Is your brand strategy right for the times?
  5. Are you communicating effectively at all customer touchpoints?
  6. How clear and compelling is your internal brand?
Please have a look at the newsletter and share your comments below!

The 2009 Readiness Test

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Each customer situation implies its own persuasion strategy.Ditching the Pitch means developing a persuasion strategy, on the spot, depending on the situation you find yourself in. You can't plan your pitch ahead of time, because the odds that the pitch you create ahead of time is right for a particular customer in a particular situation are about one in a billion. You can't possibly know the best approach to take until you Figure out what's going on. The best improvisers are the best listeners. To determine what to do or say, they don't search mental file folders for pre-written scripts. Instead, they look to the world around them, alert and confident that they will soon understand the situation in front of them. Eventually, this understanding will enable them to navigate the situation effectively. You can learn many things about a persuasive situation when you pay attention to it closely. First, you can learn many things about your customer. If it is someone you are meeting for the first time, you will observe a virtual fireworks display of personality characteristics. Every person has their own blend of disposition, temperament, intensity level, thinking style, conversation style, confidence level, pace, and other character traits that are often revealed immediately during a first encounter. If you are speaking with someone you already know, you can always learn more about them. How are their various personality characteristics activated right now? Which are more prominent today, and which have retreated into the background? At the same time, if you are paying attention, you can learn much about your customer's situation. What is going on around them, and how are they reacting to it? What are they trying to change? What is making them happy? Understanding your customer, understanding your customer's situation, and understanding how your customer is interacting with that situation, are the keys to Figuring out what's going on.The reason: the better you understand these things, the better you understand your customer's perspective, and the better you can craft a one-of-a-kind persuasion strategy that is right for this customer at this moment in time. As you improvise persuasive conversations, you must be assured that you will soon know what to do, even if you don't know what to do right now. You can have the confidence to improvise in knowing that Figuring out what's going on is the key to finding the right path. Ditch the Pitch Habits to help you Figure out what's going on There are two Ditch the Pitch Habits that will help you Figure out what's going on, and we will explore them more deeply in the next two issues of this newsletter.
Ditch the Pitch Habit #1: Think Input Before Output As you master this habit, you will learn to look to the world around you to guide the creation of a new, spontaneous persuasion approaches to unique situations, instead of looking inward for pre-conceived and pre-packaged ideas. Ditch the Pitch Habit #2: Size Up the Scene  Every situation has its own "game" or plot that is a function of the characters in it, the forces driving it, and the way the characters are reacting to it.
Improving your ability to Ditch the Pitch is like turning up a dimmer switch; no matter how good you are now, you can dial up your capabilities a little at a time, getting better each time you interact with a customer. Between now and the November publication of Ditch the Pitch, get acquainted with the concepts and habits that will help you create spontaneous, fresh, engaging persuasive conversations. Start this process by heightening your awareness of your surroundings and Figuring out what's going on. Pay attention to the situations you are in, and you'll be surprised by how much they readily reveal to you.

Steve Yastrow

Figure Out What’s Going On

Exact Target is a company who markets itself as "On-demand email marketing and one-to-one digital communication platform. " I'll add to that by saying that I think of Exact Target as a group of really smart, cutting-edge marketing experts. They asked a number of people, including me, to contribute to a whitepaper called, "Letters to the C-Suite: Sage Marketing Advice for Uncertain Times."   Please have a look.

Letters to the “C-Suite”

  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

I've seen every Shakespeare production produced by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater since 1990. Over the years, as they choose plays from the repertory, I've had the treat of seeing new interpretations of plays I've attended at Chicago Shakespeare before. Last night, I saw the third version of Comedy of Errors they've done. It was a very creative, interesting production, setting the play on a 1940 British movie set, where a team is making a film of Comedy of Errors while the Nazis are dropping bombs. It really worked; click to read a Chicago Tribune review. (I think the review sells the play short) Comedy of Errors, like Twelfth Night, starts out with a shipwreck that separates siblings and leads to cases of mistaken identity. In Comedy of Errors, two sets of identical twins are separated as infants. Shakespeare sets the stage for farce by giving identical brothers the same names: Antipholus of Ephesus grows up with his servant Dromio, and Antipholus of Syracuse grows up with his servant Dromio. When, as adults, the pair from Ephesus end up in Syracuse, chaos ensues. People think they are having conversations with the Antipholus they know or the Dromio they know, but they are not speaking with the person they think they are. Wife confuses husband, merchant confuses customer, master confuses servant, lover confuses beloved, etc. The heart of the comedy in Comedy of Errors is that people often think they are having successful communication with another person, when, in fact, the other person is understanding the conversation in a completely different way. As the audience, we can see both sides of the misunderstanding, but each of the characters in the conversation can only hear the part of the conversation they are prepared to hear. As the audience we laugh. But what happens when we return to daily life? Work life, especially the part that includes interactions with customers, is filled with misinterpreted conversations. We live a daily comedy of errors where sales claims and elevator pitches are misconstrued, where technical explanations are misunderstood, and where nods of understanding are really signals of disinterest. And, as in Comedy of Errors, when we advertise we really never know who we're talking to. We may think we know, but we really don't. And we certainly don't know how we'll they've understood us. Communication isn't about saying what you want to say. It's about being understood. As Harold Bloom wrote, Shakespeare invents characters that are more human than real people. Even in a farce like Comedy of Errors, first performed 416 years ago, Shakespeare's multiple Antipholuses and Dromios can teach us lessons about communicating in our modern work life. When you converse with a customer, don't just assume you are understood, make sure you are. And, believe it or not, make sure you really understand who it is you are communicating with. It may be a different character.

Our Daily Comedy of Errors

People were packed into the gate area, waiting to board the flight from Philadelphia to Chicago. It was one of those hot afternoons where business travel is exposed as the unglamorous, uncomfortable process it is, with most waiting passengers looking tired, a bit disheveled and without any trace of a smile. Suddenly, I heard my name announced from the ticket counter. I looked in the direction of the counter and saw a man in a white uniform shirt holding a laptop computer. As I walked over he asked, "Are you Steve Yastrow?" TSA AgentI noticed the epaulets on his shoulder and saw that he was from TSA. Had I breached security? "Yes, that's me." "You left your computer at the security checkpoint over at Terminal F." He smiled and handed me my laptop. Let me put this story in perspective, recounting the few hours leading up to TSA's rescue of my computer. I had finished a morning speech in Burlington, VT, after which I took a US Airways commuter flight to Philadelphia, from where I would take a flight home to Chicago. In Burlington, I checked my bag at the gate while I was boarding the plane and was told I could retrieve it planeside when we arrived in Philadelphia. I asked the flight attendant for a claim check, and she said, "You won't need it. You'll get your bag right when you get off the plane." You can probably guess what happened next: Everyone else on the flight received their bags after we landed in Philadelphia, but mine never showed up. "Sir, there must be more bags," I said to the baggage handler as he started to leave through the jetway door. "Nope, that's all." "My bag hasn't arrived yet." "There are no more bags." And he left. The next hour was filled with frustration, unanswered questions... and no suitcase. The US Airways flight attendant who had told me I didn't need a claim check told me she couldn't help me. A US Airways gate agent did little more than shrug his shoulders when I asked for help. I went to baggage claim to see if my bags went there by mistake, and the US Airways employees in baggage claim barely looked up as I spoke with them. Very frustrated, I left baggage claim and went to the security checkpoint in Terminal F, the commuter terminal, from where I would take a bus across the tarmac to Terminal B to catch my flight home. The security line was long and moving slowly, and I spent most of the time in this line on hold with US Airways customer service, trying to find someone to talk to about my lost bag. I finally made it through security and, without realizing it, left my laptop in the bin. "How did you find me?" I asked the man from TSA. "I opened your computer and pretty quickly figured out your name. Then I checked the airlines' manifests on our computers to see what flight you were on. Then I rushed over here to find you before the flight left." "Really? Wow." The English idiom "close enough for government work" has come to mean work that is done at minimally acceptable standards, i.e., work that is "just good enough" but not better than it needs to be. But in this case the employees of a major for-profit corporation, whose salaries are ultimately paid by passengers, couldn't have cared less for their customer, and the government worker made it happen. Customer experiences are created by employees, not by companies. It's the people, not the institution. No matter what your job is, always remember this: Any employee, in any organization, at any time, has the possibility to either make it happen for a customer or not make it happen. I don't care if you work for the government or the most cutting-edge, entrepreneurial, Zappos-like, service-oriented company-- individual people in your company are impacting your organization's success at every moment.

Steve Yastrow

Close Enough for Government Work

Across the board cuts are lazy There's a lot of cost cutting going on these days, much of it necessary, appropriate and beneficial. But the worst kind of spending reduction-- one you should avoid yourself and be suspicious of in others-- is the across-the-board cut. Across-the-board cuts are lazy.  They are also irresponsible. A few months ago, an executive attending one of my workshops said, proudly, "I'm cutting all of my salespeople's travel budgets by 50%." I asked, "Why all of their budgets, and why by the same amount?" What if this executive has one salesperson who is incredibly effective in face-to-face meetings with customers? Maybe it makes sense to increase this person's budget, and tell him to stay away from the office.  Perhaps another sales person is particularly good on the phone.  Cut his travel budget by 75%. Here's another example of lazy, broad-brush, across-the-board cost cutting: A company announces, "All departments will reduce headcount by 5% in light of the current economic downturn." I hear this and I want to ask a similar question to the one I asked above: Why all departments, and why all the same amount?  Maybe the best way for this company to deal with the economic downturn is to double the size of one department and slash another department by 50%. Since they are bad business decisions, why do business people make across-the-board cuts? One reason: Bunker mentality.  Many executives use business stress as an opportunity not to think.  "We're taking a lot of fire here, getting shot at from all directions, we better just hunker down, cut back, and ride this thing out."  ("Isn't it a relief," says this executive to himself, "with all of the pressures hitting us from the outside world, to have an excuse not to deal with all of this thinking and strategy stuff?") Another reason:  Not being "fair" is uncomfortable. Executives often use across the board cuts as a way to avoid the difficult, uncomfortable, fidget-worthy process of saying, "Bill, I'm cutting your travel budget by 75%.  Julie, I'm doubling yours."  Or, "Fred, you need to let half of your department go. Jim, you better start hiring, quickly."  It's so much easier to treat everyone the same, but it's really bad for your business. The big reason: Laziness. Thinking is hard. Many people avoid it.  Those who don't avoid thinking are much better equipped to deal with the current state of events-- whether that be a slight economic downturn or a full-blown economic recalibration like we are now experiencing. Your business is a complicated beast trying to thrive in a complicated, pressure-filled, ever-changing world.  If you want to have the agility to navigate this world, you need to practice discernment, deliberateness and deep thinking in order to recognize the different values that each part of your business contributes.   Now is a time when it is critical to make optimal allocations of resources, because resources are tight.  When you look beyond the across-the-board cut, you look at the unique values of each of your resources, and you can nurture – or cut – those resources in a sensible way. As I wrote at the beginning of this article, you should be suspicious of across-the-board cuts. They are usually a sign that the people making the decision to cut haven't thought hard enough.  Most importantly, question yourself if you find yourself making broad-brush, generalized spending cuts.  If you sharpen your thinking, and recognize that your business is made up of many different components that each contributes a unique value to your company, you will put yourself in a much better position to thrive in this time of economic turmoil. This topic isn't new to me. Here are more resources to help you avoid the pitfalls of across-the-board cuts: Focus on opportunities, not cuts "Making across-the-board cuts is like going to the bank and asking for five inches of money." (From Are you hunkering or recalibrating? No matter how many costs you cut, they can only help so much. Your business needs its own stimulus package. Listen to my 2009 Readiness Teleseminar and download the workbook.

Steve Yastrow Join the conversation! Comment at

Across the board cuts are lazy

"Your job isn't to impress your customer," I say in this Ditch the Pitch sales video. What? Watch to find out why.

Leave Things in Your Pocket

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

Don't Confuse Awareness with Meaning

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

Go Deep, Not Wide

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

Launch Dialogue, Not Missiles

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

3 Ways to Get on Customers’ Radar

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
We the Ideal Customer RelationshipTwo days after her 92nd birthday, an actor arrived on the set of a prime-time television show for which she had been hired to play a part.  At the entrance of the set, she encountered a security guard who was checking IDs to verify the identity of those entering. Due to an unfortunate set of logistical circumstances, her license was two days past the expiration date. The guard noticed the expired date on the license, and wouldn't let her enter the set, and wouldn't do anything to find a way to make an exception. The nonagenarian actor took a cab home, retrieved another ID, and returned to the set. Let's explore this situation, to learn lessons about how your company, and your employees, can remain competitive in our fast-changing world.

What’s the Guard's Problem?

The guard's real job was to verify the identity of those coming on the set, not to ensure their driver's license was valid. The actor's license showed who she was, and where she lived - the exact information needed. However, this guard either did not have the judgment, or was not empowered to exercise the judgment, to think beyond the technical limitations of the situation. In a few years, it seems likely that this guard's job will be outsourced, either to a computer or a remote ID reader sitting in a developing country. If no brains or judgment are involved, there is no reason to have an expensive human being sitting on an expensive piece of real estate doing a job.

Or Was the Company at Fault?

Maybe the guard wanted to exercise judgment, but was instructed only to let people through his gate who had completely valid IDs, with no exceptions. Then the problem rests with the company, or the guard's supervisors, who, similarly, can easily be outsourced. The reason is clear: The simpler the algorithm by which your work operates, the easier it is to replace you with something, or someone, cheaper. Imagine the guard company's customers-- the producers of the show. They hired this actor, and had a tight, expensive production schedule. Their goal was to ensure this particular actor was on the set at the scheduled time, not to make sure her driver's license was valid. A producer's day on the job is filled with thousands of moments where judgment and quick decisions are made; how do you think this producer would feel if a rigid process, that involved no judgment or discernment, held up her production and negatively affected her work?  Do you think she would praise the guard company for noticing a 92 year-old actor's license was two days past its expiration date, or would she look for a new guard company?

The Moral of the Story

Think about the face-to-face interactions your company has directly with customers. During these interactions, are your customers encountering the kinds of employees, and the kinds of systems, that take advantage of the most highly-evolved, most complex, most wondrous thing in the universe, the human brain? Or, are your systems so rigid, or your employees so disempowered, that these interactions could be automated or outsourced? There are many things you can automate or outsource, but it is important to choose the customer touchpoints where you do this carefully. After all, when you take the special human element out of a customer interaction, it's much easier for someone to copy you, at a lower price. More importantly, if your customer interactions are rigid, and don't require a human touch, what does it feel like to be your customer?  I once asked a restaurant server if I could have one piece of rye toast and one piece of whole wheat toast with my omelet, instead of two pieces of the same kind of bread, as was normally served. The server came back after a few minutes and said he was not allowed to do this, because the manager insisted their policy was only to serve two pieces of the same kind of toast to each customer. You know those irritating number or letter CAPTCHAs you have to type into a box when you buy tickets online? They are designed to be read only by a human being, not by some bot that wants to buy up the entire main floor of a Hamiltonperformance. There is a lesson in these letters that is anything but irritating. Do you interact with your customers in enough ways that require a human being to exercise judgment to keep thoughtful employees engaged, and create meaningful experiences for your customers?  Or can your important customer interactions be replaced by bots? How you answer these questions says a lot about how your customers-- and your competitors-- will react to you in the future.

Customer Service: Human vs. Robot

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
I once spoke with a lawyer who wanted to improve his sales abilities, but he was not a confident salesperson. With a tinge of jealously in his voice, he told me a story about another lawyer who had struck up a conversation with a stranger at a niece's wedding and turned that stranger into a valuable client. "I would never know how to do that," lamented the first lawyer. "Even if I get into a conversation with a potential client, I don't know how to turn it into a sales opportunity." Many of us have had similar experiences. We see an opportunity to do business with someone, but are not always able to turn these potential customers into paying customers. How do we do this more effectively? An important part of ditching the pitch is learning how to turn improvised, persuasive conversations into tangible results. Anyone who needs to persuade others can turn a kernel of a sales opportunity into tangible results by recognizing the process by which your customers make decisions to buy from you. A customer does not immediately say "yes" to you when you try to persuade her. She will say yes to you only after:
  • She clearly sees how she can benefit from what you are offering her
  • She sees your solution as her best alternative
  • She perceives that the benefits of your offer outweigh the costs
To get her to this place, you need to work with her through "The Decision Funnel." The Decision Funnel The Decision Funnel includes five steps that happen as you nurture a sales opportunity from the time it is a gleam in your eye until it turns into dollars in your pocket. At all steps of The Decision Funnel, you are ditching the pitch,creating fresh, spontaneous, persuasive conversations. Let's explore each step. Step 1: Identify the opportunity When you speak with people, whether they are current customers or potential customers, you will inevitably identify business opportunities, as long as you are paying attention. A current customer may say or do something that illuminates a chance to expand your relationship, and a potential customer may inadvertently give you a clue to what would make them buy. Once you spot that opportunity, and decide you want to pursue it, it's time to move to Step 2. Step 2: Discuss the opportunity Many people make the mistake of starting to sell as soon as they identify an opportunity. Neither you nor your customer is ready for you to start selling; you haven't learned enough about the opportunity, and your customer has no vision of what this opportunity is or what it can do for her. She is not ready to buy. At this point you want to engage your customer in genuine dialogue about the opportunity. Genuine dialogue is about give and take, responding only after listening, and being flexible. Your goal in this step is to explore and develop the idea with your customer, helping you both understand it better. As you develop a vision in your mind of how you can help your customer, remember this truth: Your vision is clearer than hers. You understand your offerings better than she does, so it is important, during your discussion of the opportunity, to recognize that you need to help her see it more clearly than she does right now. Step 3: Frame the opportunity Now it's time to help your customer develop a clear vision of how she will benefit if she moves forward with this opportunity. Through continued dialogue, you want to "frame" the opportunity, so she can clearly see the benefits of what you are offering and of working with you. Framing the opportunity is about giving your customer the tools to visualize the benefit of working with you. I have discovered that asking a customer to "Imagine if..." is a great way to frame the opportunity. Ask your customer questions like, "If this were working really well, what would it look like?" or "If you were able to address this challenge successfully, how would things be different for you?" By encouraging your customer to think of a time in the future when things are better, she will be more likely to understand the value of your help in addressing this situation. Step 4: Propose the opportunity Many things we sell require written proposals. The points below are valid whether you write a short email outlining your proposal, or if you require a detailed written document. Proposals are a confirmation of what you and your customer have already agreed to. You aren't ready to propose the opportunity until you have successfully discussed and framed it, and you and your customer have a shared perspective about the value of your help in addressing her situation. I suggest you start your proposal by reviewing the situation that surrounds the opportunity and follow that directly with a description of the benefits to your customer. Once you have established the benefits to your customer, you can then describe what you will do to help her realize those benefits. The actions you will take to complete your work should only be positioned as support for the benefits you will provide, not as the highlight of the proposal. The most valuable information for your customer is how she will benefit. The most important rule of proposals: Price comes last. Only introduce price after you are sure that your customer clearly understands the benefits of working with you. Try as hard as you can to avoid "submitting a quote" or "delivering an estimate." Price is only one factor in your customer's decision; don't make price a bigger factor than it needs to be by giving it priority. Step 5: Sell the opportunity No sale is guaranteed. But if you have "escorted" your customer through The Decision Funnel, your chances of making the sale are much higher. Many people make the mistake of "presenting" a proposal to a customer, unknowingly allowing themselves to launch into a pitch. Nobody, especially your customer, wants to hear a sales pitch. To make the sale, you need to continue to ditch the pitch. Have a conversation about the proposal, rather than a presentation. Ensure that the conversation focuses on your customer and the benefits she will accrue from working with you, rather than on what you will do. Never talk more than one-paragraph's worth of information at a time without leaving a break for dialogue and discussion. Keep The Decision Funnel in mind as you ditch the pitch, and you'll find yourself turning more opportunities into tangible results.

Steve Yastrow

The Decision Funnel

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

Today's (Sunday, 8/30/09) New York Times ran an article titled "The Mediocre Multitasker."  Researches at Stanford's "Communications Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab" set out to find what makes great multitaskers be able to accomplish so much. To their surprise, they found out that multitaskers are actually very ineffective, and get much less done than those who don't multitask.  "Multitaskers are were just lousy at everything," said Clifford Nass, one of the study's investigators. He added, "High multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy.” As I've written many times, one of the key reasons people fail to create relationship-building encounters during business interactions is that they don't engage fully in their interactions.  They look at emails while they talk on the phone. They read text messages the moment the messages arrive, even though they may be in the middle of a conversation with a colleague.  While another person is talking, a part of their brain is dedicated to reviewing this week's soccer carpool schedule. This research provides tangible support for what I've been saying: We don't actually multitask, we "time slice," quickly switching between mental tasks.  If you insist on typing an email while you talk on the phone, you are compromising your relationship with the person on the phone. Why? Because part of the time you are not actually in the conversation.  The other person is there all by himself. Focusing on one task at a time is really difficult.  But it's necessary, especially if you want to build relationships during your business interactions.  Wisconsin Public Radio host (and master interviewer), Ben Merens, has published a wonderful CD called "Unitasking: 25 Tips for Better Listening," which offers advice on how to focus on the conversation you are in, and not be distracted by the noise of daily life.  (There are also tips in Chapter 2 of my book, We, and in my free ebook, Encounters.) I naturally want to multitask, and avoiding it is very difficult for me; I'm a poster child for the Struggle Against Multitasking. But I have learned the price of multitasking, and the benefits of unitasking. I am always more effective when I don't multitask, especially when I am in interactions with other people. Go ahead!  Shatter the myth!  Believe this: You can't multitask. You can only do one substantive thing at a time. Now, start practicing.

Multitasking is a Myth

We all want our customers to think, "I can't get it anywhere else!" when they think of us.   How do we do this?  How do we differentiate our companies in our customers' minds? Consider four different ways of differentiating your company:
  • The least effective way to differentiate your company is through advertising and other traditional marketing communications.  Ads are easily copied and more easily forgotten.  This is the main tool of differentiation employed by advertising and marketing agencies on behalf of their clients.
  • The next way to differentiate your company is through price or price-related promotions.  These tools are generally more effective at driving sales than advertising, but are still weak differentiators, because they get your customer to focus on the wrong reasons for buying from you. (Unless you want your customers to focus on price, which, for most of you, is not the case.)
  • Next, you can attempt to differentiate your company with superior products and services.  This is increasingly difficult, because your customers, no matter who they are and no matter what you make, are convinced they can buy similar products elsewhere.  Welcome to our land of plenty, where too many sellers are chasing buyers with limited spending power.
  • The best way to differentiate your company in your customers' minds is to help customers focus not on your advertising, your prices, your promotions, your products or your services, but on the relationship they have with you.
Relationships are, simply put, the most powerful differentiators.  Your competitors can copy just about everything you do, but they can not copy the private relationships you have with your customers. In your mind, flip the four bullet points written above upside down, with advertising differentiation on the bottom and relationships at the top.  The higher you can climb on this ladder, i.e., the higher on this ladder are the reasons your customers buy from you, the more differentiated you will seem to your customers, and the more loyal they will be.

The Differentiation Ladder

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

Scene: You are at your friend's daughter's wedding, sitting next to someone you've never met before. You carry on a conversation over the course of the evening, and during that time he shares much information about his business. It becomes clear to both of you that this person could really use your professional help; he really should be your customer. At one point he says, "So how can you help me? Can we do some work together?" In essence, he has asked, "let's talk about us."

The Relationship Conversation

"Let's talk about us." In dating relationships, this statement is often seen as either a welcome opportunity to move a relationship forward or as a frightening ultimatum for someone who is not ready to commit. When a prospective customer says it to you, it's definitely a welcome opportunity. I refer to this as a "relationship conversation," when a sales conversation evolves to the point where you and the prospect can start discussing how you can work together. Transitioning to a relationship conversation is a necessary part of the sales process. As noted above, it's most effective when your prospect brings up the idea of working together. But what if a person who "should" be your customer doesn't bring up the relationship conversation? How can you do it?

Leading your customer to the "brink of the relationship"

Ideally, if you've been ditching the pitch and conducting an effective sales conversation with your prospect, in which most of the focus has been on his business and not on what you want to sell, this prospect should be having thoughts about working with you, even if he hasn't mentioned it. If this is true, your role in bringing up a relationship conversation is to "confirm" something he is already thinking. What is it he is already thinking? Well, if he is thinking about working with you, you can rest assured that he is not thinking about the depth of your product line or that you've "been in business since 1987," i.e., the kind of things that are (unfortunately) found on company websites or in company brochures. No, he is not thinking about you. He is thinking about how he could benefit by working with you. Therefore, if you introduce a relationship conversation, you will most likely be successful if you frame the idea of a relationship in terms of how it could benefit him. You want to avoid (like the plague) anything that seems self-serving to you, such as the old sales stand-by, "I will do anything to earn your business." Why does he care that you really want his business? He cares only about how he will benefit by doing business with you. Lead into the relationship conversation by focusing his attention on an improved future state that would occur if you worked together: "Nick, you've told me that you would have much stronger sales in your retail stores if your employees did a better job stocking and organizing the shelves, so customers could find the products they want. Imagine walking into one of your stores, six months from now, and the shelves looked great. What would be different about that store's sales performance?" I call this technique "bringing the future forward." By helping Nick envision a time in the future where his problem is fixed, you are helping him feel, in a tangible way, how valuable it would be to him to fix his problem. Most likely, Nick will answer you by saying something to the effect of: "I'm convinced that this problem is costing us 5-10% in sales, so I think that the store would be doing at least 5% better. That's enough to make a significant difference at the bottom line, since the last 5% we sell in a store is very profitable." Now, you can introduce the idea of a working relationship by showing him how you can help him realize this improved future state: "Nick, with the right type of training program that includes ongoing reinforcement and reminders, your employees could be doing the things you want them to do, in a much shorter time-frame than six months. I can help you make that happen. Can we discuss how I could do that for you? Note the use of the "one-paragraph rule," and that you avoid "loading the slingshot" by bombarding Nick with too many details about your ideas for helping him. This is a delicate part of your sales conversation, and it is critical that you continue to ditch the pitch. Don't start pitching now!

But what if the customer resists your attempt at a relationship conversation?

Then maybe it's best to cut your losses and stop trying to pursue this customer. Not everyone can be your customer. Not everyone should be your customer. Your challenge, if this happens, is to determine if there is still a chance (that is worth pursuing) to create a relationship with this customer or if you should move on to your next opportunity. Relationship conversations - the critical step between "getting to know you" and "where do I sign?"

Steve Yastrow

Let’s Talk About Us – The Relationship Conversation

Try this over the next few days… Each time you interact with a customer, whether it is on the phone, in-person or through an email exchange, ask yourself this question: Is our relationship better at the end of this interaction than it was at the beginning? What do you think you will find? Are you improving your relationships with customers most of the times you interact with them? Or, are many of your interactions transactional, not enriching your relationship? We all know what this feels like; we interact with a customer and, after meeting, we can tell that our relationship has improved. We also know what the opposite feels like, when your relationship actually takes a step backwards during an interaction. Relationships with customers don’t pop into existence spontaneously. They are built one interaction at a time. If you want to build a relationship with a customer, it is important to move your relationship forward – sometimes by inches, sometimes by miles – each time you interact. Here’s how I classify these kinds of interactions with customers: An interaction with a customer in which your relationship improves is called an “encounter.” An interaction with a customer in which your relationship doesn’t improve, or actually degrades, is called a “transaction.” To build a relationship with a customer, you need to string together a series of encounters over time. These encounters are the building blocks of your relationship. Stay tuned on this blog for more information about creating encounters. Additionally, you can have a look at my free ebook, Encounters: The Building Blocks of We Relationships, which you will receive for subscribing to this blog, or see chapter 2 in We: The Ideal Customer Relationship. (If you don’t want to subscribe to the blog or buy the book, send me an note and I will email you a copy of Chapter 2. I’m happy to do it as long as you it helps you create encounters with your customers.)

Ask yourself this question: Did our relationship improve?

Step 2: Design it! If your business is producing all of the profits it could possibly produce, stop reading. If not, let's focus on how you can unleash the latent profit in your business. In the last two issues of this newsletter, I described a process for developing the hidden profit potential in your business: "Mining your own business," to unleash your latent profit potential, requires 3 major steps:
  • Find it! Identifying the most lucrative sources of latent profit.
  • Design it! Determining the best ways to unleash that latent profit.
  • Mine it! Orienting your entire organization to implement your plan to produce more profit.
This graphic illustrates the The "Mine Your Own Business" System: Mine Your Own Business System Full-size "Mine Your Own Business" graphic Today we're focusing on Step 2: Design it! in which we determine the best ways to unleash the latent profit opportunities identified in Step 1 of the "Mine Your Own Business" System. Customer Action Drives Profits Figuring out how to make your business more profitable requires, from the first moment, recognition of the key premise of Step 1, the Find it!, phase:  That your customers, not you, create the major profit breakthroughs in your business.   Mine Your Own Business System Yes, your business will be more profitable if you cut costs, but cost-cutting usually produces incremental, marginal profit increases, at best.  Order-of-magnitude profit increases happen when customers act.  Stop for a moment and think about all of the things customers can do to impact your bottom line.  It's staggering. The Design it! Phase is where we answer this question:  What would make customers act in ways that unleash the latent profit in our business? Customer Beliefs Drive Customer Action Always remember this:  Your customers don't do what you tell them to do.  They do what they tell themselves to do.  Customers' beliefs drive their actions, and these beliefs are formed by the free speech going on in their own minds. So, in order to answer the question, "What would make customers act in ways that unleash the latent profit in our business?" we really need to address these two questions:
  • What do we want our customers to believe about us?
  • How are we going to encourage them to believe it?
Yastrow Mine Your Own Business System: Design it! What do we want our customers to believe about us? This first question is the most important question in branding: What do we want our customers to believe about us? However, most branding exercises only give lip service to this question. Brand strategy conversations about positioning, taglines and Unique Selling Propositions (USP's) are often less about what we want customers to believe about us, and more about what we want to tell customers about us. In my workshops, I regularly ask senior executives to describe to me what they want their customers to believe about their companies, and I rarely hear a compelling, differentiating, thoughtful, well-pondered response.I hear lots about sales pitches and catchy slogans, and a lot of least-common-denominator mission/vision statement jargon... but not much about desired customer beliefs. For the moment, don't worry about what you want to tell your customers in your sales pitches and marketing communications. We'll get to that in a bit. For now, focus only on what your customers would need to believe about you in order to act in ways that unleash the latent profit potential in your business. To do this, look back at Step 1: Find it!, and consider the customer actions that will most impact your profits. (If you haven't done the Bring the Future Forward exercise from the Find it! Phase, consider doing it now. It's well worth your time and effort.) Now, let's focus on determining the beliefs that will drive those profit-inducing actions. Here's my favorite way to do this: Imagine a customer, who loves doing business with you, who has just been told by her boss to drastically reduce the amount of business she gives to you. She doesn't want to reduce the amount of business she does with you, so she resists and immediately starts to persuade the boss that she should do more, not less, business with you. Describe what you would want her to say to her boss that would be so compelling that the boss would say, "Oh, now I get it. I didn't realize how important they (your company) are to us." (If you sell to consumers and not businesses, just change the boss into a spouse, and imagine a similar scene.) Can you define, in the customer's words, what you would want her to say? Imagine that the boss (or spouse) is skeptical, so you need to "aim high" and envision the customer making an impassioned case for you. As an example, imagine that you are a wholesaler of office supplies. You have determined, through the Find it! process, that the most lucrative sources of untapped latent profit lies in your existing customer relationships, because most of your clients purchase less than 30% of their office supplies from you. You identify that the customer actions that could most powerfully and immediately boost your bottom line would be if customers...
  • Bought a broader range of products from you.
  • Gave you a larger share of their overall office supply business.
  • Allowed you to monitor and manage their stocks of office supply inventories, automatically replenishing supplies as inventories dwindle.
Imagine what your customer's beliefs would need to be in order for her to want to do those things.  To do this, imagine what you would want her to say to her boss, persuading him why their company would be so much better off if they relied on you more heavily, not less. What kind of compelling argument could you envision her making that would make the boss do an about-face and support increasing the budget allocation for your company? Could it be that, as they invest more in their relationship with you, you will understand their business better and be able to help them manage their overall office supply expense? Would it be a story of convenience? Of price? What you imagine your customer to say represents, directly, what you want her to think about you. What is the essence of what you want her to believe? If you find yourself writing a long list of bullet points, don't stop when the list is complete. A brand strategy is not a list of bullet points. Look for the common thread, the DNA, that ties the list together. How are you going to encourage customers to believe this? A customer's beliefs about you are influenced by each and every interaction she has with your company. When these interactions blend in Brand Harmony, she will more likely form strong, motivating beliefs about you. In too many companies product decisions, operational process decisions, customer interface decisions, marketing communications decisions and sales strategy decisions are made separately. It astounds me how infrequently I encounter companies that have taken a comprehensive, customer's-eye view of the entire customer experience. Different silos within the company assert their influence over a piece of the overall customer experience, and it's a total crapshoot whether the entire story comes together in harmony. Your challenge is to orchestrate the entire set of interactions customers have with your company, its people, its products and its services in such a way that the customer perceives a clear, compelling, differentiating brand story in her mind. Meeting this challenge is not a marketing function, or a product function or an operations function. It is an enterprise function. Your customers are paying attention to what your entire company is doing, so you had better pay attention to it also. As I described in my first book, Brand Harmony: Orchestrating the total customer experience to create dynamic results, it is critical to map all of the interactions customers have with you throughout the entire experience of their relationship with you. This is the best way to determine what you need to do to enhance your products, services, marketing communications, sales efforts, or any other touchpoint with customers, because you will be able to see where your story is not being well communicated. To pick up our example of the wholesaler of office supplies, let's say that you determine that a brand story based on the ability to manage a company's overall office supply expense would be meaningful and differentiating. Now, you have to ensure that your overall customer experience communicates that story. Here are a few ideas:
  • You could offer an inventory management/replenishing service for companies who reach a certain level of volume with you.
  • You could create customer reports that track office supply spending, by category of supply and by company department.
  • You could offer audits of supply usage and suggestions for enhancing the effectiveness of their office supply investments.
  • You could create an easy-to-use web interface to enable the company to make special adjustments to supply levels, based on situational needs.
  • Your sales conversations and marketing materials should focus on this brand story and its benefits.
  • Etc... the list has only just begun!
Creating this list is like the process a filmmaker goes through when determining the scenes for a movie. Here are some immediate things you can do to "Mine Your Own Business," starting now:
  • Go back to Step 1: Find it! and do the two exercises recommended there: Bring the Future Forward and What Customer Actions Created this Future.
  • Do the exercise in this newsletter that addresses the question, "What do we want our customers to believe about us?" in order to identify the essence of your brand story.
  • Then address the question, "How do we get them to believe it?" by mapping customer touchpoints and designing the overall customer experience that will communicate your brand story.
As you do these exercises, recognize that your first set of answers to these questions are only that-- your first set of answers. Answering these questions is an ongoing process, and if you continue to address them, you will make progress each time you revisit them. In our next issue I will focus on the 3rd step of the "Mine Your Own Business" System-- Mine it! In the Mine it! step, we will discuss the role that everyone in your organization takes on as you seek to unleash the untapped potential for improved business results that lurks just under the surface of your business.

Steve Yastrow

How will you unleash your latent profit?

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

Talking Points

Training MagazingTraining magazine asked me to adapt the Ditch the Pitch habits for any employee in a customer-facing role. I encourage managers to eliminate scripts in favor of personalized, persuasive conversations. Read the article: Give Your Employees Tools to Ditch the Pitch

Give Your Employees Tools to Ditch the Pitch