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Don’t miss the chance (for) encounter

Two fabulous Chicago theater experiences this weekend: Steppenwolf’s adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.  Both were powerful and, if you are in Chicago, please see them. At this moment,

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Recessions are an inevitable phase of the economic cycle. Many economists are predicting late 2019 through 2020 as the most likely time for the next downturn. That’s pretty soon. You need to start recession-proofing your business now. When this recession hits, and demand for products like yours drops, you and your competitors will be fighting for a smaller pool of business. And the customers you will all be chasing will also be facing economic headwinds of their own. You can’t control when a recession will hit, or how severe it will be. But you can control how it will impact your business. The best thing you can do now to make your business recession-proof: Motivate customers to be committed to your company. During a recession, customers scrutinize who they do business with, and how they allocate their precious financial resources. If your customers love doing business with you, value their relationship with you, and believe that you are valuable to their own success – in other words, if they are committed to you – you will lose less volume and margin than if they see you only as a transactional “vendor.”

What Do Committed Customers Look Like?

Commitment is demonstrated through action. Here are some actions committed customers take:
  • Give you a substantial share of their love, loyalty and purchases.
  • Call you before calling the competition.
  • Tell people how wonderful it is to work with you.
  • Pay your prices without complaint.
And beliefs drive commitment. Committed customers believes:
  • They are better off because they work with you.
  • You are different – and better – than your competition.
  • You are their valued partner.

What Creates a Committed Customer?

Customers become committed to your company if their entire customer experience communicates a clear, compelling, motivating story that differentiates you from the competition. A powerful customer experience will encourage beliefs that motivate customers to act with commitment: Rate your current customer experience.
    1. Does it inspire commitment?
    2. Is it clear, compelling and motivating?
    3. Does it differentiate you from the competition?

Your Team’s Role

As I wrote in a previous article, a committed team is the magic fuel of your company’s success. A committed team will deliver engaging customer experiences and motivate committed customers. Everyone on your team needs to believe and act every moment of every day in ways that motivate customer commitment. You can’t motivate committed customers without an inspired, committed team.

Your Role as a Leader

To recession-proof your business, act with intention and focus most of your time, energy, attention and resources on inspiring a committed team and motivating committed customers. The result will be customers who stick with you when the inevitable downturn comes, protecting your revenue and your profitability. Dedicate yourself now to customer commitment. It’s the best thing you can do for your business to thrive in these good times, and continue to thrive at times when your competitors will be focused only on surviving.

Recession-Proof 2020: It’s Time to Prepare for the Next Recession

One of my favorite lessons from writing We and studying customer relationships is that the best wisdom for business often comes from everyday life. A few weeks ago I wrote a post describing an inspiration from listening to a Joni Mitchell song when I was in Europe. Today, Joni's plain wisdom inspired me once again. Just now, at 33,000 feet on the way from Atlanta to Chicago, I was listening to her song Chelsea Morning and heard one of my favorite passages: Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I knew, There was milk and toast and honey, and a bowl of oranges, too. The sun poured in like butterscotch, and stuck to all my senses, Won’t you stay, we’ll put on the day, and talk in present tenses? One of the key components of a relationship-building encounter is that you and your customer need to both be fully present, engaged in the present moment. As I wrote in this recent post on, one of the easiest ways to kill a sales conversation is to be focused on the next step in the sales process, ignoring the opportunity to create an encounter RIGHT NOW, in the present moment. When Joni wakes up into her Chelsea morning, she is fully engaged in the “what’s happening now.” What does she want to do? Talk in present tenses. That’s profound. Even while you are in a discussion with your customer planning the future, or recapping the past, be sure that you are in the spirit of the present tense. When you are engaged in dialogue with your customer, think, “Won’t you stay, we’ll put on the day, and talk in present tenses?” Wow. Thanks again, Joni.

Joni’s back … at this very moment

The Apple Farmer

There once was an apple farmer who owned a beautiful orchard. The orchard produced many apples, which the farmer used to make apple pies that were thought to be the tastiest around.

Each day, the farmer would pick apples from his orchard and bring them into the building where the pies were made by a crew of bakers. One day the head baker told the farmer that he needed more apples to keep up with production. The farmer ran out of the building to his apple cart, but instead of pushing the cart in the direction of the orchard to pick apples, he turned to the road and pushed the cart three miles into town, where he paid full-price for apples at the market.

He brought the apples back to his bakers, who were very happy to see that he had returned so quickly with this new material for production. The next day his bakers needed additional apples, and, once again, instead of picking apples from his own orchard, he went into town and bought apples.

One day, the farmer’s wife asked him what he was doing. “I’m buying apples for our pies. Look how many I bought today!”

“What about all of the apples on our trees?” she asked.

“Oh, I think I got most of them.”

She grabbed him by the hand and walked him out into the orchard. There, they saw that the branches of his trees were still heavy with apples, many of which were rotting and falling to the ground. They saw a squirrel nibbling on a piece of apple he had found under a tree.

“What you’re doing is pretty silly,” said the farmer’s wife.

“I gotta go. I need to get into town and buy some apples or we won’t be able to keep up with our pie production.” He turned and ran to get his cart so he could get to the market before it closed.

Are you running your business like this farmer? Here are a couple questions to see if you are:

What percentage of your customers are giving you all of the business they could? I’ve started asking this question regularly of my clients and audiences. The average answer, across many companies and industries, is about 20%.

How much money are you spending on buying new customers before you finish “cultivating” your existing customer base?

Like the farmer going to market, it’s tempting to throw money at customer acquisition tools, such as advertising, direct marketing and sales promotions, before fully developing the most important asset you have: Your existing customers.

Yes, of course, it’s impossible to pick every apple in your orchard, and there are times you will need to replenish your supply of new customers. But you invested significant resources in planting those trees, and nurturing them as they grew. Don’t let your apples rot.

Take Notice

Think of companies of whom you are a customer, that enjoy some, but not all of your business. Do any of them do a good job of working to earn a larger share of your business? Or, do you think they forego focusing on developing their relationship with you, while they try to find new customers?

How do you compare?

Are you the farmer? How did you answer the questions I posed above? Are you buying a disproportionate number of new customers, while letting customers you already have “rot on the trees?”

Try this

Forward this newsletter to colleagues in your company. Ask them how much they think your company resembles the farmer. Have a discussion on this topic: What can we do to shift resources from buying apples, at a premium price, to farming our own orchard?

Steve Yastrow

The Apple Farmer

I often ask audience members to describe what genuine dialogue feels like.  Here's some of what I hear: "Give and take." "Flowing." "Paying attention to what each other says." "Learning from each other." "Listening." ... and many more like that. Genuine dialogue is a necessary component of a relationship-building encounter. (Check out my free ebook, Encounters, for more information on relationship-building encounters.)  But, so many of our conversations aren't true dialogue.  They are either monologue or monologue disguised as dialogue. Try this:  (I've been doing it, and it's been very interesting.)  Pay attention to every conversation you are in, noting where it falls on a continuum from monologue to genuine dialogue.  If a conversation falls short of  genuine dialogue, ask yourself, "Why?"  Did the other person talk without really listening to you? Did you not exactly answer what the other person said, but force-fit your answer into a topic area that you wanted to insert into the conversation?  Were you really talking to each other, or, were you each really just talking to yourselves? Pay attention.  Share your observations in comments here.  How many of your conversations each day are genuine dialogue?  What conditions or situations make genuine dialogue easier, and which make it harder? How are outcomes influenced by the presence, or lack thereof, of genuine dialogue?  How does dialogue contribute to relationship-building encounters?

Genuine Dialogue-ometer

The key to starting a successful persuasive conversation is to Size Up the Scene. Your customer is in the middle of her day-- your sales conversation needs to fit in with her context.

Size Up the Scene

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

Is your team committed?

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

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

A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting in which a number of people were advising a young entrepreneur on his new business. At one point in the conversation, Sol Buckingoltz, a very successful Moscow-based entrepreneur who is also a potential investor in this business, said: "To achieve success you have to create success. If I can see you create a small amount of success with a small number of clients, I will then be confident that you can turn that initial success into real, longstanding success. What can you do to create a small-scale version of your idea with a few clients, over the next 60 days?" It would have been easy, in the course of this lively discussion, to have missed the wisdom of Sol's comment. But, fortunately, as soon as Sol said it, the importance and profundity of his statement hit me, right between the eyes. I thought of the first months after I started my consulting business in 1997. I had plans. I had dreams. But these plans and dreams didn't take on any real, tangible meaning until I had my first couple of projects with my first couple of clients. Even though these first few projects were tiny, relatively inconsequential and barely memorable, they proved to me that I could do it. This little bit of initial success became the launch pad that made possible everything that has happened for me since then. I thought of one of my clients, who has a very successful program for attracting new customers. Even though this program now accounts for most of the new business this company gets, it started out as a tiny experiment by one of the company's sales people. By creating a small amount of success, his company is now achieving great success. I'm a big advocate of strategic planning. But the kind of planning I like is living, organic, flexible and evolving ... it's about creating an approach to your business that enables you to take a kernel of success and help it evolve into something more substantial. Great strategic plans are alive. The best things in life aren't pre-scripted. They evolve from something small to something big. And this is what Sol was teaching the entrepreneur... and the rest of us. I'm sure there is some new initiative you are dreaming about bringing to life for your business. We all have these dreams. But so often it is difficult for us to get these new projects and initiatives off the ground, because the eventual success we dream for seems so far away. Imagine, if instead of being at ground zero with this initiative, you had a small, successful prototype underway. Imagine if you knew you had already created a small amount of success with this initiative. Would that make it easier to achieve the eventual success you dream of? Wouldn't this give you more confidence? Moreover, wouldn't this make it easier for other people to believe in your dream... and then cooperate with you to make it happen? On the surface, Sol's idea may seem simple and obvious to you. But how often are you living by it? In my work, I see many companies stuck at ground zero with their dreams because they are unwilling to start with a small-scale version of the dream. Don't get stuck. Listen to Sol's advice. Create some success, and you will then be in a position to achieve success.

Steve Yastrow

To Achieve Success You Need To Create Success

We all know this. But if sales pitches don't work, what do we replace them with?

Sales Pitches Don’t Work!

I don't get it. I recognize that this isn't new news. But I just saw a Southwest Airlines commercial for their Business Select program, and, after all these months, I still don't get it. One of the charms - and differentiating features - of Southwest has always been their "everyman" personality. No first class, no preferential seating (unless you show up early), and a complete lack of pretension. Business Select is a program that gives privileges to frequent business travelers. That, in itself, is not a problem (of course). But the ad I just saw has one customer loudly proclaiming how happy he is to be in the Business Select program, while his friend says, "Shh. Be quiet. If you talk about it loudly everyone will want to be part of it." That's not Southwest. Way too exclusionary. If I'm sitting near the front of a coach section and I see a flight attendant close the curtain behind first class, I know I must be on American, United, Delta or Northwest. Southwest has never created a class system. Everyone has a fair shot, and that's a big part of makes them special. What's next, a special bathroom for Business Select members? (Sound crazy? That's exactly what other airlines do for first class passengers.)

Southwest’s BS

We: The Ideal Customer RelationshipAs a leader in your company, are you the person who pulls out a toolbox to fix the office copier or adjust a piece of equipment on your plant floor? When an order needs to be shipped to a customer, are you the one who packs the box? Let’s hope not. Your job requires you to focus on bigger issues. So, should you spend time worrying about search engine optimization, the copy on your company’s website, or other details of your company’s marketing? No! As a leader, you need to depend on other people to do these things. But that does not mean that you have no responsibility for your company’s marketing. In fact, no matter what your job role – president, COO, or a senior leader of operations, HR, finance, marketing or sales – you have two very important roles in your company’s marketing:
  1. Creating committed customers
  2. Creating a committed team
Committed customers are customers who value their relationship with your company so much that they will you do business with you instead of the competition, even when it’s more convenient to use a competitor. They will stick with you for the long term. They accept your pricing, because they think it’s a great value for them. They believe that they are better off because they work with your company. A committed team is a team in which all employees passionately believe that what your company does is important and matters to your customers. Because of that, they are fiercely focused, day-to-day and minute-by-minute, on creating committed customers. Whether they are customer-facing or behind the scenes, a committed employee enthusiastically works to contribute to compelling, commitment-building customer experiences. As a leader, ask yourself: What can I do to contribute to creating a more committed team and more committed customers? No matter what your current job or situation, I’m sure that you can identify ways to influence increased customer and employee commitment. You can do this directly, within your particular sphere of influence, and you can also influence commitment through collaboration with the other leaders in your company.

Your Company’s Success is Your Success

Ultimately, your success as leader is intrinsically linked to your company’s success. When you make a positive impact on your company’s success, it can lead to a positive impact for you, and for your family.

How Do You Create Impact?

My years of work as an advisor to hundreds of companies has me convinced of this: Committed customers are the biggest drivers of a company’s success. I remember meeting with a company whose senior leaders claimed that their biggest immediate need was to cut overhead. They were losing money, and their overhead expenses were out of line with their revenue, which had dropped in the preceding years. But why was revenue so low? Because their customers weren’t committed to them. This company was suffering significant downward pressure on margins, because customers were only choosing them when they offered the lowest available price. Their customers showed no loyalty, and, no matter how well this company performed, customers treated them like a disposable, unimportant vendor. Imagine if this company had committed customers. And, what is the biggest driver of committed customers? A committed team. Ultimately, Yastrow and Company helped this client rebuild their results from the inside out. We embarked on a focused effort to strengthen their culture, creating a fully-committed team. Within a year, employees were working well together, and delivering a customer experience that helped differentiate them from the competition. Not only were employees more enthusiastic, they all contributed to making it easier, and more compelling, to be their customer. The Leader’s Role in Marketing: Creating Commitment That’s how you create results. Now, go do something about it. Create a committed team. Create committed customers. Don’t wait. Start now.

The Leader’s Role in Marketing: Creating Commitment

"If you don't know where you're going, you will wind up somewhere else" - Yogi Berra Consider this: There are a near-infinite number of possible futures for your business. Inherently, most of these possibilities aren't very good. Virtually every one is not optimal. Why not choose to create one of the best possible futures for your business? Choose your future? C'mon Steve. What do you mean, choose my future? Yes. Choose your future. The hard truth: You choose your future whether you want to or not. Every time you do anything -- yes, anything -- you are affecting the course of your company's future. Sometime's these actions are as momentous as the CEO's decision to cook the books; sometimes they are small gems, like the receptionist offering to hail a cab for a client in a snowstorm. In every case, they have an effect on the future. Take the receptionist's action, for example. Like the apocryphal butterfly flapping its wings in South America and causing a hurricane half a world away six months later, this client's view of the company has been altered by her small gesture. Maybe he'll be in a better mood on the way to the airport, have a glass of wine during his snow-induced flight delay, and decide to award the next contract to your company. You never know what effect a tiny action can have... Now, zoom out from single actions, and think about the cumulative effect of the thousands of things you do every day. Can any of us think, for even a moment, that the sum total of everything we do doesn't affect the course of our business's future? For example, if people in your company regularly ask customers for input and feedback, then just as regularly respond to that input and feedback, won't that inevitably affect the future course of your business? Conversely, what if people in your company share a bad habit of ignoring customer input? I don't even need to ask you if you think that would affect your future. No matter whether you try or not, you inevitably choose your future. It might not be the future you really want, but your actions will choose it. Everything you do is an overt choice about the future you will have. I wrote in a blog post recently about the film What the Bleep Do We Know? which connected one of the basic ideas of quantum physics -- that the observer influences reality -- with the choices we make in every day life. The film does a great job of showing how our minds influence our realities by affecting our worldview and the actions we take in response to that worldview. What future do you want to choose? So, if you're going to choose your future, you might as well choose a good future. I'll let you in on a consultant's secret little observation: When I first meet most companies, it's very clear to me that they haven't spent a lot of time talking about what kind of future they want to have. Oh, sure, they've discussed their future... a bit. They may have a rough ongoing conversation about expansion into Europe, or about developing new products to meet new government regulations, or about someday going public. But, in virtually every case, their picture of their company's future is fuzzy and unformed. How often does your company ask, "Who do we intend to be?" How often does your senior team work together to create a clear, rich picture of your company's optimal future? Or do they just muddle through and end up meeting an unexpected future when it arrives? "Who do we intend to be?" is a question you should ask now and continue asking every day you are in business. I wasn't using the term "Invent Your Future" 25 years ago, at age 25, when I graduated from business school. But I was asking myself "Who do you intend to be?" on a pretty regular basis. I was a bit obsessive about choosing my future, and now that I've turned 50, it's interesting to look back and see the future I chose for myself. I really wanted to be a dad, and now Arna and I have three wonderful kids, ages 23, 21 and 17. I wanted to play in a band, and now Shakshuka has been together for 15 years and released three CDs. (My 21-year-old son Levi is our drummer.) I wanted to have my own business, and I've been doing that for the past 12 years. I wanted to write a book, and now I've written two. I decided I didn't want to take cholesterol-lowering medicine every day for the rest of my life, so I got myself in good enough shape to go off the medication. I did these things because they were important parts of the future I wanted for myself. I get frustrated sometimes when I think about all of the other things I haven't done, but the reality is that I haven't done them because I haven't chosen to include them in my future. Our ability to accomplish things has less to do with skills and abilities and more to do with the choices we make. I just made certain choices that were important to me. The Window and the Mirror "But there are too many variables that affect our company's future," you might be thinking, "and we can't affect them all." Of course there are many variables. Some of these variables are not in your control, such as interest rates in 2013. Other variables are in your control, like where to invest your capital. To acknowledge the place where you have choice is to be enlightened -Amit GoswamiSo a first step in choosing your future is to recognize what is in your control and what is not. I like to think of this distinction as"The Window & The Mirror."Know what is going on in your environment -- outside the window -- and understand it with great depth. Then, look into the mirror and say, "I understand what is going on out there, and here's what I'm going to do to make the best of it." When you acknowledge where you have choice, you are making a very important step in choosing your future. You can't choose all futures. In his (fantastic, amazing, highly-recommended) book,Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely writes a wonderful chapter called Keeping Doors Open: How options distract us from our main objective. Ariely's point is this: In our quest to leave too many possibilities in place, we end up diluting our efforts, our focus and our chances for success with any one option. Isn't this the truth! Virtually every company I've ever worked with (including my own) is in dire need of a "to-don't list" that will keep them from being distracted. You just watch. When you commit yourself and your company to a focused future direction, you will enjoy much better "return on effort" with everything you do. Don't worry. You can make mid-course corrections. Yes, keeping too many doors open can distract you and dilute your efforts. But it's very difficult to limit your options, because it's natural to worry about the opportunity cost of the things you give up. Don't worry about this opportunity cost too much. As the future becomes the present, you will inevitably learn new things about yourself, your company and the world you compete in, and it will be possible to alter your course. Your choice of a future can evolve as the future evolves. The most important things are these:
  • Admit that you are choosing your future, every day, by the actions you take.
  • Be bold and choose a future.
  • Recognize what you can choose, and what you can't choose. Distinguish between "the window and the mirror."
  • Focus! Don't leave too many options open.
  • Make mid-course corrections as you go forward.
You can invent your future, and to do that you must choose the future you want to invent.

Steve Yastrow

Choose Your Future

Last Sunday, after a weekend that included two trips to the theater, I wrote a post about how Murakami's Kafka on the Shore at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater inspired me to think about capturing the opportunity for personal encounters. In the post I said I also wanted to write about a passage from Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, also seen that weekend, but couldn't find the text.  Thanks to Jeff Pasquale for sending the text, which teaches us lessons about Brand Harmony. At one point,  Mozart is talking about how he can create harmony in an opera in a way that can't happen with spoken text in a play:

Sire, only opera can do this. In a play, if more than one person speaks at the same time, it’s just noise. No one can understand a word. But with music, with music you can have twenty individuals all talking at once, and it’s not noise - it’s a perfect harmony. Isn’t that marvelous? But it’s new, it’s entirely new. It’s so new, people will go mad for it. For example, I have a scene in the second act - it starts as a duet, just a man and wife quarreling. Suddenly the wife’s scheming little maid comes in unexpectedly - a very funny situation. Duet turns into trio. Then the husband’s equally screaming valet comes in. Trio turns into quartet. Then a stupid old gardener - quartet becomes quintet, and so on. On and on, sextet, septet, octet! How long do you think I can sustain that?

This passage teaches us a lesson about how customers listen to our businesses.  If we're not careful, the different voices our customers hear will be "just noise."  Or, if we craft it well, the different voices can blend "and it's not noise - it's a perfect harmony," as Shaffer's Mozart tells us. As I wrote in a recent newsletter, Brand Harmony describes one of my most fundamental beliefs about branding, marketing and connecting with customers.  As customers interact with your business, they are listening for how all of the different interactions blend together, creating a story.  What would Mozart hear when listening to your story?

Mozart’s Brand Harmony Lesson

So, you need to ditch the pitch. How do you do it?

How to Ditch the Sales Pitch

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

Steve Yastrow

Don’t stop marketing

I'd like to hear your comments on my latest newsletter, True Loyalty. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm at the 2008 Loyalty Expo in Orlando, where 500 professionals are gathered to discuss the latest ideas in customer loyalty. My keynote speech this morning focused on True Loyalty, where I encouraged the audience to evaluate their loyalty efforts not by the number of transactions these efforts generate, but by how they create customer relationships.  I closed with a story from a recent newsletter, called Turning Customer Loyalty Upside Down, describing how loyalty in a We relationship is a two-way street. Creating True Loyalty is especially important in tough economic times. Most companies have significant untapped potential in their current customer base.  (See my recent newsletter, The Apple Farmer.) Is your company focused more on transactional loyalty, or are you heading in the direction of True Loyalty?

True Loyalty

When you enter a customer conversation, you don't know what's going on in that person's life. Each and every time you need to Figure Out What's Going On.

Figure Out What’s Going On

Here's short video rant on taking control of your company's future, inspired by a conversation with Mats Lederhausen of Be-Cause. Mats is very interested in helping companies define their purpose, and this conversation, led me to a late-night eye-opening. There is no destiny that you don't create! 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard distinguished between riding a wild stallion and riding in the back of a hay wagon. They both get you somewhere, but the first, while more challenging, requires much more responsibility.  Ride the stallion, especially in tough times!

Drivercam: Invent Your Future – Now!

Working on my new book, Ditch the Pitch, has me thinking a lot about what it means to pay attention: In order to engage in a fresh, spontaneous, improvised sales conversation with a customer, you must be completely alert, totally in the moment, ready to accept all information that comes at you. But being completely attentive, ready to accept all new information, isn't as easy as it seems.  I'm reading a fabulous new book by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simmons, The Invisible Gorilla. The book is based on a famous experiment by the authors in which viewers watch a video of people passing basketballs, trying to count the number of times one team, those in white shirts, pass the ball.  In the middle of the video a person in a gorilla suit walks through the scene, yet 50% of people miss the gorilla because they are so focused on counting the passes. (Watch the video here) The lesson from the gorilla experiment: Realize that your brain is wired to notice what you expect to happen. It's easy to miss the unexpected.  If you have pre-determined what you think is going to happen in a sales conversation, you may be so focused on that you may miss something unexpected from your customer.  The "gorilla" you may miss could be a new opportunity your customer hints at, or a new piece of information that can help you get closer to him. Part of ditching the pitch is ditching your pre-conceived expectations about what could happen. Be alert for the unexpected ... it might be a gorilla carrying a lot of money.

Did you see the gorilla?

(My usual caveat: This is not a customer service story. It is a relationship-building-encounter-missed-opportunity story.  Much more interesting.  Bad customer service stories have become boring.) I had just arrived in San Antonio the evening before a speech, flying back to the states from overseas. I walked down the beautiful San Antonio Riverwalk and found a restaurant for dinner. The waiter brought the obligatory bowl of salsa and basket of chips. “Is it possible to get a few corn tortillas instead of the chips?" I asked. "I don’t want to eat anything fried, but I’d love to have something to eat with the salsa.”  My body clock was still wound 8 time zones ahead, and I could sense that any food that had been fried in oil would cause an immediate and significant increase in the effects of jet lag. “Hmmm,” the waiter said, pondering his options.  “I have to ask the cooks for the tortillas, and I’ll probably have to charge you for them.” “Do what you can,” I answered. A few minutes later he brought me two soft corn tortillas, and asked, “Have you decided what you like to order?” What a missed opportunity. I told him something very specific about me – that I didn’t want to eat fried food.  This was a gift I handed to him on a silver platter - a tip-laden, relationship-building-encounter-possibility, wrapped-with-a-bow present that he completely missed. The fact that I didn’t want to eat fried food represented 1% of 1% of 1% of the totality of Steve Yastrow.  It was a small detail … but an important detail. What if the interaction had gone like this: “Is it possible to get a few corn tortillas instead of the chips? I don’t want to eat anything fried, but I’d love to have something to eat with the salsa.” “You don’t want to eat fried foods?  I’ll check if I can get any tortillas for you.  Would you like me look at the menu you with you so we can find choices that aren’t fried for an appetizer and your entrée?” It’s a world of difference. As I wrote above, don’t confuse this with a story about customer service.  That’s so 2005.  This is a story about how easy it is to show a customer you understand some unique detail about them, and then to honor that unique detail, with very little effort.  The result if you do this?  By focusing on a little detail (a “spice” as we refer to them at Yastrow & Company) your customer thinks, “Wow. They understand me.” We share 99.5% of our DNA with all of the other 7 billion human beings on earth.  What makes us special are the fine details that exist in the last ½%.   In cooking, the spices that make up the smallest portion of the volume of a dish add the most to the dish's flavor and personality.  It is the same with people. So, don’t make the mistake my waiter made.  If a customer lets you in on a secret detail of his or her life, look at it as a gift, not an inconvenient challenge to your corporate policies.

I gave you a gift and you looked away

CNN Money, a collaboration of CNN, Fortune and Money, ran this story on Ditch the Pitch the other day. You should tear up your pitch always, especially when looking for a job.  

CNN Money/Fortune: Ditch the Pitch when advancing your career

Steve Yastrow asks the audience at AVI's National Sales Meeting, "Do you ever have two days that are exactly the same?" Learn how to unscript your career and improvise! Watch the keynote video: Your Unscripted Career 

[VIDEO] Your Unscripted Career

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

How to Ask Questions in a Customer Conversation

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

An Interrogation is Not a Conversation