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Customer Service: Human vs. Robot

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Two 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

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Posted in "We" Relationships, Brand Harmony, Commitment Compass

‘You Have Cancer, Goodbye.’

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Your excuses for delivering bad customer service don’t matter to your customers. “Mr. X, this is Betty from Doctor Y’s office. I’m calling with the results of your biopsy.” Mr. X is the name we will use for my close

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Posted in "We" Relationships, Motivate Committed Customers

Do It With a Human

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Think of the companies you most despise doing business with. They may include an airline, a bank, a car dealership, or some other businesses. It’s likely that the source of your animosity was a problem with human interactions– an airline

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Posted in "We" Relationships, Commitment Compass, Motivate Committed Customers

An Open Letter to the Class of 2015

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Last weekend, I heard two very good commencement speeches at my son’s graduation from Boston University. The first was from A&E CEO Nancy Dubuc and the second was from television journalist Meredith Viera. What would I have said if I

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Posted in "We" Relationships, Ditch the Pitch

Bring Yourself to the Customer Conversation

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

One day in 2005, I found myself in a conference room in Sausalito, California with the top management of Kimpton Hotels.  This was the first meeting, in what would prove to be a very valuable business relationship.   I didn’t yet

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Posted in "We" Relationships, Ditch the Pitch, Motivate Committed Customers

Time is Money? I Don’t Think So.

Joe and Megan have always been friendly rivals. They sell similar services and compete for the same customers. And, they have different approaches. Let’s have a look at how Joe and Megan do business. Joe: Time is money Joe is

Posted in "We" Relationships
On Steve's Mind
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  Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonIf you haven't read Walter Isaacson's biography, Steve Jobs,please do. Yes, you will learn that Steve Jobs could be cold, hurtful, mean and completely lacking in empathy. But, you will also see insights into the more attractive aspects of Steve Jobs: that his relentless pursuit of his visions made him one of the most high-impact business leaders of our time. This is an amazing book. In this article I want to focus on one lesson that Isaacson relates during his telling of the story of the developments of the iPod and the iTunes music store. Isaacson writes: One of Jobs's business rules was to never be afraid of cannibalizing yourself. "If you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will," he said. So even though an iPhone might cannibalize the sales of an iPod, or an iPad might cannibalize the sales of a laptop, that did not deter him. Most businesses don't heed this rule. They protect existing products, services, business lines or practice areas from the potential dilution that comes from new offerings. I've seen hotel companies be cautious as they promote new hotels coming into service, for fear they could cannibalize the sales of the companies' existing properties. I've seen insurance firms be careful about cross-selling additional services to clients for fear that the client might buy less of the first service. I've seen companies cancel important promotions because customers "who would have bought anyway" might take advantage of the promotion. In most cases, this over-caution comes at a great price. Yes, the company avoids cannibalizing its own offerings, but it ends up worse off, on the whole, at the end of the day. Can you imagine if Apple had decided not to include the features of an iPod on the iPhone for fear that it might cause them to sell fewer iPods? What's any different about that and an insurance firm that avoids bringing health insurance ideas to clients who are already buying property and casualty insurance, for fear that it might damage the existing relationship? (I've heard that excuse from every insurance brokerage I've ever worked with and analogous excuses from every law firm I've ever worked with.) Jobs wasn't focused on boosting the sales of any one particular Apple product; he was focused on the customer's overall experience with Apple. What about your company? Are you ruled by product-line parochialism, or are you more focused on your customers' overall relationship with your company? Are you willing to forego a little today for the sake of strong customer relationships tomorrow? The reality in most companies is that this over-caution happens because certain people in a company protect their own interests. The manager of one product line sabotages another to ensure he makes his forecast ... and earns his bonus. A lawyer doesn't want his clients to meet one of his partners, for fear that the client may give more business to the partner. In one revealing story from Steve Jobs, Sony, maker of the revolutionary Walkman and Discman, lost the chance to merge digital music players with content because its music division and consumer electronics division couldn't cooperate. As the New York Times reported, "That internal battle was seen by many as the reason Sony, inventor of the Walkman and the biggest player in the portable audio market, was being trounced by Apple." In the meantime, Jobs introduced the iPod, created a music division and cut deals with Sony's competitors to deliver content through the iTunes store. Jobs's lesson, "If you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will," is critical to all of us. Don't protect your products. Protect your customer experience. Protect your customer relationships. And, most of all, don't let individuals in your company protect themselves at the expense of your customer experience and customer relationships.

Steve Yastrow


Cannibalize Yourself (Before Someone Else Does)

It's hard to be in business and not find yourself frequently frustrated by things that customers say. A customer might misunderstand your product after speaking with you for ten minutes about it. She uses your product for a year, reaping great benefits from it, but then report that it is "ok." You go out of your way to help a customer, then in the next conversation he says everything but "thanks." Our natural inclination is to focus on how our customer is "wrong" or "doesn't get it." Well, yes, your customer is often wrong, and often doesn't get it. But, as far as your customer is concerned, everything he says is true. Everything your customer says is true.The only response you can have when your customer says something "wrong" is to accept that, although it may be wrong, it is true. It is the new reality. It is part of the universe you share with your customer, and you must accept it. It is tempting to fight your customer's truth, denying it, arguing against it, resisting it, but that won't get you anywhere. Often our customers' version of truth changes from one day to the next. A friend who is a realtor has told me that people's ideas of what they want in a home can change many times throughout the home buying process. One day it's an older home with lots of character on a wooded lot; the next day it's new construction with a mega-master suite, Jacuzzi and walk-in closets. It's not that the realtor's clients were wrong yesterday. It's that they had just redefined their "truth." Her challenge is to adapt to her clients' new reality. It may be difficult to sell to a moving target, but her only choice is to improvise and adapt. It's critical to be alert to changes in your customers' reality. "Our budget was just slashed," or "We're making Janice the project manager," or "The project has been put on hold for three months" are reality-changers. It's really tempting to be frustrated by these kinds of situations, but the fact remains: your customer has redefined a new truth, and you have no choice but to go with the flow. These redefinitons of the truth aren't always bad, of course. Last week a client said to me, "Steve, we've had some personnel changes and are having challenges with senior management buy-off, so how much will it cost to extend your contract for one more month?" Personnel changes and senior management bureaucracy have become the new truth in their organization, and my best course of action was to recognize that truth and work with it (And benefit from it). If you focus on denying and resisting your customer's truth, you won't be able to see a clear way out of this truth to a better place. Let's imagine that a customer says she thinks a competitor's product is as good as yours, but you know, with 100% certainty, that your product will work better for her than the competitor's. Should you focus on the fact that she is wrong, or focus on understanding her version of the truth? What will make it easier for you to deal with the situation and eventually encourage her to embrace a new version of the truth? When your customer says something you don't like, recognize the new reality. Recognize your customer's truth. Then, you will be in a much better position to help your customer shift from her current idea of what is true to a different truth.

Steve Yastrow

Everything your customer says is true

Your Most Powerful Competitive AdvantageBrand Harmony

We tend to think that our competitive advantages are based on our products’ performance, or our low costs of production. Sure, these are important, but they are not your biggest sources of competitive advantage. Your biggest source of competitive advantage: Knowledge of your customers Consider what happens if you know more about your customer than your competitor knows:
  • You will know what your customer cares about in ways that your competitor can’t know.
  • You will be able to customize your product or service delivery for your customer in ways that your competitor can’t.
  • You will be able to personalize your communication with this customer in a way your competitor can’t.
  • You will be able to address any problems or disappointments your customer has in ways that your competitor can’t.
Additionally, if you not only know your customer really well, but ensure your customer recognizes that you know them really well, your customer will appreciate you more than the competition. This is due to my differentiation paradox: Customers often think we are different not because we are different, but because we recognize what makes them different. Now, ask yourself: Is customer knowledge a proficiency and a priority in our company? Do we know a lot about our customers? Do we have good mechanisms for gathering customer knowledge? If your answers to these questions are “no,” you are missing potential competitive advantage. Here’s what you should do:
  • Create a “culture of customer curiosity” in your company.
    • Imagine if everyone in your company had a burning, natural interest in knowing as much about customers as possible.
  • Talk to them!
    • Sure you can do surveys, but if you really want to know what customers care about you need to engage in deep, probing conversations with them.
  • Watch them!
    • You can learn a lot by observing customers’ behavior. When do they buy from you? How often? What do they buy? What do they return, and when? When do they contact you? What do they say to you?
If you have any comments or questions on these ideas, shoot me a note at, or call me at 847-924-2470. I’ve seen many companies create success after learning about their customers, and I’m happy to share some insights with you.

Your Most Powerful Competitive Advantage

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

What Drives Customer Preference?

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

Why Personalization is a Key Driver of Profitability

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

Preference Happens One Customer at a Time

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

Preference and Profitability

How long are you able to pay attention when someone starts monologuing? How much do you enjoy listening to someone who talks too much? But... Have you ever caught yourself talking too much? One behavioral trait most modern humans share is that we stop listening when another person talks too much. Don't you get distracted and start thinking about other things when someone babbles on in a monologue? Whenever I discuss this in my workshops, audience members are virtually unanimous in their disgust with "monologuers." Yet, most of these same people admit that they often fall into the monologue trap while doing their jobs. Does it really matter? Is it possible that monologuing, while irritating, doesn't really have an impact on business outcomes? Could monologing be like television commercials, a distracting nuisance, whose messages we ignore, but hardly enough of a reason to give up watching Project Runway? I don't think so. I believe it really matters. Relationship-building business encounters require genuine dialogue. If you are monologuing, you are not engaging your customer. He is spacing out. He's thinking of something else. He's not enjoying himself. So, what do we do? My brother, Phil Yastrow, sells very complex "application specific integrated circuits" for Avago Technologies, an HP spin-off, and he often has to explain highly complicated information to customers. Knowing that this is the kind of situation that can lead to excessive monologuing, Phil came up with a very useful toolcalled "The One-Paragraph Rule." Here's how it works: When you are speaking with a customer, try never to speak more than one "paragraph's worth" of information without a break. Just as a book has a short break between paragraphs, allow some space after each chunk of information that you deliver. This gives your customer a chance to say something, ask a question or absorb what you are saying. And, importantly, it gives you a chance to read your customer's reactions. The one-paragraph rule isn't always easy to follow. We have a lot to say, and we've been trained to believe that sales and marketing are about telling our stories to customers. It takes a lot of discipline, not to mention a lot of "un-learning," to stop talking. But learning to use the one-paragraph rule is really worth it. I remember my first experiences selling. I was a summer intern at MTI Vacations in Oak Brook, IL, between my two years of MBA study at Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management. After a few weeks on the job, I was on an airplane to Hawaii to sell advertising in MTI's Hawaii vacation brochures. I had no idea what I was doing, and I used every sales call as a chance to present my case. I was totally focused on giving my pitch, and, after I gave it, I waited to hear the customer's response. Needless to say, I didn't do very well. (I actually did make some sales, but these were to companies who had something to gain from us, since we were bringing 65,000 people a year to Hawaii. In retrospect, they probably thought they had to buy an ad, or we wouldn't give them business in return.) If only I had known about the one-paragraph rule. Fast forward twenty years ... A few months ago I had a phone call with the owner of a company that was making a decision about hiring Yastrow & Company for a consulting project. I'd been dealing with the company's president, and this was my first chance to speak with the owner. I knew I had to impress him, because he was going to play a role in the decision to hire our company. As we started talking, it was clear that he was very eager to tell me about the company, and he began to relate some very interesting stories to me. After fifteen minutes, we still hadn't talked about Yastrow & Company or my project proposal. I wasn't worried about this, but I knew, based on what the company's president had told me, that I had to communicate some key points during the call if I wanted the owner to support my proposal. Finally, there was a chance for me to speak. Obeying the one-paragraph rule, I said a small bit of information that responded to what he'd been talking about, then paused to leave some space. It was tempting to disregard the rule, since I knew I had a lot more to communicate, but, as if Phil's voice were in my ear coaching me, I stopped talking. The owner jumped back in, taking this opportunity to speak for a few more minutes. When he stopped, I commented on what he said and paused, after which he talked some more. This lopsided back and forth went on for a while. I only spoke every few minutes, but I was very careful to ensure that I didn't talk too long each time that I spoke, and that what I said was based on what he was saying. As this was happening, I imagined myself twenty years ago. I would have been nervous, concerned that I was missing my opportunity to tell my story. I would have stored up all of the things I wanted to say, and I would have spit them all out at once as soon as I had a chance, as if to balance the score in the conversation. Fortunately, with age I've gained some patience and discipline. I knew that this conversation was going very well, even though I hadn't said much. I knew that my goal wasn't to tell him everything about me - my goal was to have a conversation with him that made him want to have more conversations with me. The conversation did go well. Even though he didn't hear all of my story, he felt good enough about the conversation to give a "thumbs-up" to the president, and Yastrow & Company won the project. The one-paragraph rule is a tough rule to follow, but if you stick with it you'll find it much easier to ditch the pitch and engage your customers. (Since this newsletter has 18 paragraphs, please come and contribute your comments!) Steve Yastrow

Give me a break

Last night I was a witness to a business opportunity for my home remodeling contractor. At dinner, my friends mentioned they were going to redo their kitchen, and that things weren't working out with the contractor they had planned to use. "Have you called Ira Singer?" I asked. "He did a great job for us." My brand impression of Ira's work is so strong that my referral of his work was almost reflexive. I witnessed a need for home remodeling and it was automatic to recommend Ira. Your customers continually witness business opportunities for you. What happens when they do? Do they even notice that there is an opportunity for you? Once they witness the opportunity, will they care enough to recommend you enthusiastically, like I did with Ira? These two questions represent the two biggest hurdles in helping your customers be witnesses for you. Let's take a look at them.

Witness hurdle #1: Do they even notice an opportunity for you?

Do your customers really understand what you do? Or do they just understand what you have done for them, which may be only a slice of what you are capable of doing? What have you done to help your referral sources "get it?" Your potential witnesses are some of the most important customers you communicate with. Are they part of your marketing and sales plan? Do you have a strategy in place to ensure that they understand who you are, what you do, and what you can do for others? I was able to describe Ira's capabilities very clearly to my friends. I "get it."

Witness hurdle #2: Once they witness the opportunity, will they care enough to recommend you enthusiastically?

This is, in many ways, the saddest way not to get a referral. Your customer witnesses the chance to refer you, and doesn't. My market research experience has showed me that companies often don't know when their customers have lukewarm brand impressions. "Yeah, they're ok" is a phrase I have heard customers say many times. How enthusiastic are your customers? If a customer is going to recommend you reflexively, as I did with Ira, they need to have a powerful, compelling brand impression of you, which differentiates you from your competition. This requires you to help your customers form brand impressions that transcend what you do (in Ira's case that he remodels homes) and focus also on how you do it (in Ira's case that he gave us personalized advice that helped us find the smartest, most cost effective ways to get the job done). I know a number of good contractors who can do construction work and get that work done on time, so it's hard to be a reflexive witness for one company based only on those factors. But Ira helped me form impressions of his business that went beyond the basics and differentiated him from the pack. Because of this impression, I was able to say, reflexively, that my friends should use him. I witnessed an opportunity for him and jumped on it. If you want your customers to witness opportunities for you, and reflexively recommend you, you must help them see that you are different from the competition in a really meaningful way. Do your customers see you that way? Do you help them see not only what you do, but that you do it in a way that is different? Sales and marketing are hard. They are expensive. And, most sales and marketing efforts don't work. Think of how much more effective your business development efforts will be if you are able to enlist the eyes and ears of your customers to witness opportunities for you and their voices to recommend you enthusiastically after they witness those opportunities. Go ahead. Create better witnesses. And watch opportunities come your way that you never would have seen had your customers not spotted them for you.

Steve Yastrow

Will your customers be witnesses for you?

When things are going well, it's easy to have shared beliefs throughout your company: "We're #1!" "Everything we touch turns to gold!" "People love us!" But what happens when times are tough? Fingers start pointing: "Boy, our sales team is sure underperforming," says the factory. "Our product quality is the reason our customers don't want to buy," says the sales team. "If our marketing team could come up with any new ideas, maybe people would notice us." says management. "If management was willing to invest in marketing, we might be able to interest new customers." says the marketing team. And, everyone has their own ideas about how to fix the situation: "We should start a program that does X." We should start a program that does Y." "We should stop the program that does Z." "If we would just start doing A." If we would just stop doing A." One thing I believe emphatically: Your external brand can never be stronger than your internal brand. If you want to improve your company's performance, you must start by addressing the set of internal beliefs running through your organization. As a business advisor, I see this all the time. The more trouble a company is in, the more fragmented are the beliefs running throughout the company. You might ask, "What's the cause and what's the effect?" i.e., do fragmented beliefs cause poor performance or does poor performance lead to fragmented beliefs?  Well, it goes both ways. But, in either case, fragmented beliefs will hinder a company's efforts to get on the right track. So if you're trying to improve performance, don't neglect to look at the set of beliefs people in your company have. Shared beliefs, of the right kind, are critical to turning any ship around.

Shared Beliefs in Tough Times

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
Did you ever notice that some people are able to respond to situations with the perfect comment or action? What enables them to be so quick on their feet? Although it's tempting to say that intelligence is what helps people be quick on their feet, I don't think this is the primary reason. I believe that people who are quick on their feet focus on "input before output." Their in-the-moment responses (their output) are based on what they observe or hear (their input.) Being quick on your feet is critical when you are persuading another person, whether you are in a selling situation or in another setting where you are trying to get someone to say “yes." You can never predict everything you need to learn about your customer and her situation; you need to ditch the pitch and be flexible based on what you listen and observe as your conversation unfolds. This leads us to Ditch the Pitch Habit #1, Think Input Before Output. Let's explore this habit, and how to use it to make yourself a better persuader. Let's face it, most people look at sales and other forms of persuasion more as processes of telling and convincing than as processes of listening and observing. They rehearse their pitches and create their PowerPoint presentations, then work diligently to tell their customers everything they planned to tell them. This is not an effective way to sell, because the odds that a preconceived persuasion plan will be right for the customer you are trying to persuade, at the moment you are trying to persuade her, are about one in a billion. To ditch the pitch, we first need to shift our mindset from output-driven to input-driven. Believe the answer will be there Nearly every improvisational actor or musician I have interviewed while writing Ditch the Pitch told me that listening, observing and paying attention are the key factors that enable them to improvise. As author and spiritual teacher Ram Dass said, "the next message you need is right where you are." Yes,ditching the pitch might seem a little bit scary, but the best antidote for this fear is to trust your skills of perception. Here are three practices that will help you become better atthinking input before output, no matter how good you already are at this habit. Practice: Be alert My biggest sales fear: I'll be meeting with a prospective client, hoping to make a sale, and my mind will wander for a minute. Suddenly I'll hear this prospect say, "And that is the most important issue facing our business. You show me how to fix this, Steve, and you'll be worth your weight in gold to us." Fortunately, this hasn't happened yet, but it could. Like all of us, I have many things to think about, and many distractions in my life. 100% attention during a persuasive conversation is critical for success. When you are persuading, shut out all possible distractions. If you are on the phone, don't look at your email or web browser. If you are in a busy place, such as a restaurant, try to shut out all extraneous noise. If you are distracted by other things going on in your life or work, do your best to put those issues aside while you are with your customer. Put yourself in a mood of curiosity and wonder, genuinely interested in learning things about your customer that you didn't previously know. And remember what Ram Dass said: the next message is right where you are. Practice: Say less to notice more Every moment you are speaking in a persuasive conversation is a moment you are not listening to your customer. You are listening to yourself. My goal when a persuasive conversation starts is to get the other person talking more than me. I learned this concept in my twenties from my boss at MTI Vacations, Bob Pancoast. We were constantly trying to persuade airlines to sell us seats at a discount and hotels to sell us rooms at great prices so we could sell lots of vacations to Las Vegas, Hawaii, Florida and the Caribbean. Bob taught me to focus on encouraging the other person to talk and then to sit patiently, listening for clues to how to get the airline or hotel executive to say yes. When you say less, you will notice more. And you will keep your customer more engaged. Practice: Turn down your analytic brain As I wrote in an earlier article, Don't Think So Much, thinking too much can kill spontaneity. Don't overanalyze everything that happens, because when you get inside your head, you won't be paying attention to what's going on around you. Yes, it's impossible to completely turn down your analytic brain, but you can keep it at a "low hum" in the background while you arethinking input before output. Like all habits, practice helps us get better, a little at a time. Focus on these ideas, and steadily improve your ability to focus on input before output. In our next issue. we'll explore Ditch the Pitch Habit #2: Size Up the Scene.

Steve Yastrow

Ditch the Pitch Habit #1: Think Input Before Output

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

Your Team of Improvisors

Here's a relationship-building-encounter thought for today: As you interact with a customer, consider what it will take to have your customer think, "This could have only happened with me. I am not getting the 'standard treatment.' I am being treated in a way that recognizes and honors who I am." Customers have very sensitive antennae that tell them when they are getting a cookie-cutter, scripted, pulled-from-inventory sort of treatment. Yes, it's more efficient to treat customers in a standard way. But, when it comes to building relationships, it is much less effective.

Could have only been with me

Here's my interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network, talking about the waste of Super Bowl advertising. A couple of days after The Super Bowl, but a timeless message! [youtube:] Watch on YouTube.

Interview – Super Bowl Advertising is Stupid

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

Steve Yastrow

Internal Marketing

Last week, in a workshop, an attendee said that his company is ‘reactive.’ The word didn’t sound right, so I asked him to explain. I quickly realized that he meant that his company is ‘responsive,’ not ‘reactive.’ I forgot about this exchange until last night, while I was having dinner with my friend Gene Hensley in Seattle, as Gene coincidentally mentioned the contrast between the meanings of these two words. “‘React’ is to re-act,” Gene said, “meaning that you act in a way you have acted before in the past. ‘Respond’ is to act in a way that is based on what’s going on right now, in this 60 seconds.” Imagine that you complain about the way your meal is cooked in a restaurant. A server who ‘reacts’ to your complaint will pull a canned rejoinder from his inventory of past experiences, treating your situation in a routine, recycled way. A server who ‘responds’ to your complaint will not base his response on past customer interactions, but will respond directly to what is happening to you at this moment. I don’t think this is a subtle distinction. Your customers can easily tell if someone in your company ‘reacts’ to their situation, treating them in a routine, rehashed way. They can also tell if someone in your company ‘responds’ to their situation, treating them in a genuine, personalized, unique way. What is better for your business, reactions or responses?

React vs. Respond

Strategy as Thought and Focus In your mind, picture a highly spiritual person praying. His eyes are closed; he may be swaying back and forth ever so slightly. Maybe his lips are moving, but you can't quite tell, since the movements are barely perceptible. His entire being is focused on prayer; he is undistracted by the chaos that goes on around him. He may have said the same prayer a thousand times, but his mind is sunk so deeply into the prayer that he is experiencing new insights and feelings from it today that he has never experienced before. Now, imagine if you spent the next hour thinking about your business with that kind of focus and concentration. What would you learn? What new insights would you have? Would you be more prepared to succeed tomorrow than you were yesterday? The Hebrew word for this kind of concentration during prayer is kavanah. (All 3 a's sound like the a in car; the accent is on the last syllable.) Kavanah is a state of mind that is highly desired by Jews in prayer, and, of course, other religions have parallel concepts describing this kind of spiritual fulfillment. But it's not easy to achieve kavanah; the world is a busy, noisy place, and there are many obstacles to kavanah that people face every day. And, similarly, there are many obstacles to a kavanah-like focus in business. If you are a typical American who works in an office, you are interrupted about once every three minutes, or more than 150 times per day. Phone calls, beeping email alerts, chirping text message alerts, people who barge into your office, papers dropped onto your desk... all of these conspire to threaten your concentration and your ability to get things done. Your schedule is likely to be chock-full; you have way too much to do, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel... or, for that matter, at the end of the day, since your personal life is also overflowing. Your reaction to the suggestion that you could achieve some kavanah-like thinking about your business might be: "Sounds great, but fat chance. I can't find that kind of time." That response is typical-- and understandable. People are so overwhelmed with their to-do lists and the demands other people put on them, that they believe they are too busy to think. Thinking deeply is difficult, so it's easy to avoid it when other priorities provide distractions. Yes, it's difficult to bring a kavanah-like focus to your business, but it is a very healthy thing to do. Just like kavanah in prayer can help a person bring holiness into his or her daily life, kavanah while thinking about your business can help you bring a strategic approach into your daily business activities. My premise is simple: We can do a lot to advance our businesses if we just practice a little "strategic kavanah," -- devoting time and concentration to focused thought about the key issues that concern our businesses, then using the fruit of that focus to infuse all of our actions with the appropriate intent. The word kavanah comes from the Herbrew word for direction, and is related to the word for aiming. Concentration isn't just the ability to hold onto a concept in your mind. Concentration helps you get a grip on a thought and move it in a positive direction to the next step in its evolution. Focus. Aim. Direction. Isn't that something most businesses need? If you start practicing strategic kavanah, you'll enjoy tremendous benefits from this practice. If you think you don't have time, think again. Strategic kavanah is like a down payment; you'll move yourself so far ahead that you'll need to spend less time later. If you're worried that you don't have the skills, confidence or experience to practice strategic kavanah, rest assured. Strategic kavanah is a skill that can be learned. The first step is noticing when you are practicing strategic kavanah, and when you are not. Like everyone else, sometimes your mind wanders, step to step, and you don't realize it for many minutes, as your thoughts have traveled from the important matter at hand to the lousy family vacation you went on in 8th grade. Notice when you don't have kavanah. Be aware of interruptions that come from the outside, and when they are distracting you, but also be aware of those interruptions that you impose on yourself. (A moment after I hung up with him I suddenly discovered I had started reading a story in the SundayNew York Times, while this article waited patiently, and quietly, on my computer screen. Fortunately, I noticed this self-imposed distraction pretty quickly.) In an interview with Gallup Management Journal, Dr. Gloria Mark of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, says that 44% of our interruptions at work are self-imposed. Awareness of your kavanah, or lack thereof, is the first step, as many of you who have practiced meditation know. (I just got interrupted again, by a call from my good friend and client, Shomari Scott, director of tourism for The Cayman Islands. This time, after a short productive conversation with Shomari, I returned immediately to my focus on writing. Phew.) Next, you'll need to get better at strategic kavanah. I've found that when I'm practicing strategic kavanah, my thinking about business issues falls neatly into these 3 categories:
  1. Know the issue: Exploring the issue, learning about it, and figuring out how to think about it.
  2. What to do: Figuring out the right things to do to address the issue.
  3. How to do it: Figuring out how to do the things identified in step 2 (or how to get others to do them).
It's important to separate out your focus on these different categories; don't get hung up on defining action steps before you understand an issue, and don't get distracted by the intricacies of implementation before you define what it is you need to implement. Practice an awareness of these three categories.
  1. Know the issue: Be willing to invest in a focus on getting to know an issue. Explore the issue, with patience, as you get well acquainted with it. As I wrote in a recent article, The Things That Matter,it's always possible to "pan for gold" and find the things that are most important to a situation. Pick the issue up, hold it, turn it around and look at it from different angles, talk about it, think about it. Find analogies and metaphors for its parts. Look for its finer details, its hidden secrets.For example, take one of your toughest issues with customers or co-workers and really get to know it. Think about it in ways you haven't thought about for awhile. Don't get too distracted by action steps; quickly jot them down if they come to mind, but return quickly to getting better acquainted with the issue. No matter how well you think you know it, I guarantee that you will find new insights and angles if you are open to seeing them.
  1. What to do: Next, move on to category 2, figuring outwhat to do. The toughest thing here is shutting out category 3, how to do it, so you don't focus on all of things that make implementation tough. That will come. Focus now, untainted, on what action steps are indicated by the thinking you've done so far.For example, if your know the issue thinking has surfaced a new opportunity within a certain group of customers, focus yourself on the actions that will help you exploit those opportunities. And, more importantly, don't shoot down your ideas because of implementation challenges... you'll get to implementation. Now, just focus on what the right things are to do, without judging your ability to get them done. As Peter Drucker taught us in The Effective Executive, our success hinges much more on doing the right things than it does ondoing things right.
  1. How to do it: Then category 3, how to do it... focus on how you can do the things you've come up with. You were very careful about avoiding these types of thoughts in your earlier phases, but now you have to pay attention to implementation. Ironically, implementation challenges tend to distract our thinking about categories 1 & 2, but then we frequently don't devote enough effort to implementation at the appropriate time. Many projects fail because we never appropriately scope out what it is going to take to get the job done, and we never allocate adequate resources. This is an important step, but you must take it at the right time and with adequate kavanah.Start with some of your best ideas from the earlier phases. Chances are you've identified some great opportunities and have defined some action steps for addressing them. You are probably already frustrated by the lack of available resources for making these action steps a reality. But, hasn't your strategic kavanah put you in a better position to compare priorities and reallocate resources? My experience is that, with almost universal consistency, everyone is short of resources, but much of their scarce resource is dedicated to things that aren't as important as the ideas that surface through productive strategic thinking. Yes, you have to reallocate, but this process of strategic kavanah makes it much easier to do that.
As you practice strategic kavanah, you'll be able to move freely back and forth between these categories, purposefully, without losing an awareness of where you are. Be intentional. Be the paddle, not the ping pong ball. Most importantly, be willing to practice strategic kavanah even though most of those around you aren't doing it. Impetuousness is inappropriately admired in our fast-moving age. We tend to confuse movement with direction. But these busy times demand strategic kavanah more than ever, because the perspective it provides and the preparation it enables are critical for dealing with the rapidly changing world your business lives in. Ignore these distracting forces. There is a telling story about Gunther Plaut, a famous modern rabbi, which illustrates these forces. Rabbi Plaut reserved a few hours every morning for thinking time. He instructed his secretary to hold all of his calls and tell the callers that he couldn't be interrupted because he was thinking. His congregants were livid and indignant that he refused their calls just so he could think. The problem went away once he instructed his secretary to say that he couldn't come to the phone because he was busy. Busy is ok. Thinking isn't. Isn't it ironic: The rabbi was expected to bring kavanah to worship, but not to the rest of his life. Ignore these forces. Think. Practice strategic kavanah. It will improve your aim. Infuse everything you do with intent. Strategic kavanah is not difficult. It just takes practice. Daily practice. Hourly practice. Moment by moment practice. When should you start practicing strategic kavanah? Why not now?

Steve Yastrow

Strategic Kavanah

The 1st Two Ditch the Pitch Habits

Input before output

For thousands of years most salespeople have assumed that their job is to tell a persuasive story to their customers. Their focus is more on output (what the sales person says) than on input (what the sales person learns.) The focus of these first two Ditch the Pitch Habits is input before output. If you're paying close enough attention to what's going on around you, noticing and interpreting what is happening, you will be able to be quick on your feet.

Habit 1: Be alert to be quick on your feet

As Ram Dass wrote, ""The next message you need is always right where you are." The first step to being quick on your feet in a sales conversation is to look for those messages. Here are some specific ideas to help you be completely alert in a sales conversation: Be there!  Your ability to succeed in a sales conversation is directly related to how present you are, and how little you are distracted by anything other than the conversation you are in with your customer. A sales conversation can never be done on auto-pilot. You can't multi-task. You can't be thinking of your next meeting. And, if you're on the phone, you definitely can't be reading your email. Say less This seems obvious, but it's the number one reason sales people miss things. They talk too much. Another Ram Dass comment: "The quieter you become, the more you can hear." Be curious about the details Not only are answers in the details, but a focus on details is an effective way to keep your attention focused as well. Expect the unexpected Be open to all new information, and be willing to abandon any of your preconceived notions. Check out this article on the "Invisible Gorilla."

Habit 2: Size up the scene

Imagine you start reading a novel, with no previous information about the book's plot. As you read the book and notice what's happening in it, you start to understand its characters, its plot and its messages. The same thing happens in a sales conversation. As the conversation unfolds, you start to be able to answer the question, "So... what's going on here?" Here are some specific ideas to help you size up the scene in a sales conversation: Understand character Sales strategy is heavily influenced by the character, personality and style of the buyer. Seek to understand who you are dealing with before you start formulating your approach for dealing with that person. Understand context Here is a truism about every sales conversation you will be in during your entire career: Your customer was already alive before coming into a meeting with you. You are entering the flow of your customer's life, and you need to understand the context of what your customer is experiencing. What's going on in your customer's life right now? Listen for the "game" Stage improvisers have a concept they call listening for the "game." As an improvised scene evolves, they are alert to the emerging story and its related themes. As you interact with a customer, and begin to understand the character and context, you will similarly be able to understand "what's going on" between you and your customer. You will have a clear picture of the situation. These two first Ditch the Pitch Habits are critical to a successful sales conversation. Whether you are an accomplished sales star, a sales neophyte, or somewhere in between, I encourage you to use these simple steps to help you Ditch the Pitch. The next thing you'll notice? Your results improving. (In the next issue I'll explore Ditch the Pitch Habits #3 and #4,Say Yes and Explore and Heighten. The essence of these two habits is "Go with it!")

Steve Yastrow

How to Start a Sales Conversation

On Steve's Mind - Ideas and Action Steps for Next-Level Business Results
“We don’t have time for strategy. We need to make some money now.”Latent Profit

“Strategy is all about theory. What we need is action.”

 These kinds of statements, while common, are misguided. Strategy is definitely about action, and it is certainly about making money. In fact, one of the key reasons most companies aren’t performing well is a lack of good strategy. Strategy isn't supposed to be about theories and three-ring binders gathering dust on office shelves.  Strategy is about defining a game plan that directs each action taken by people at your company-- all day, every day. Imagine a football coach telling his team, “We don’t have the time or energy to create a game plan. Just go out there, try hard, and score some touchdowns.”  Seems ridiculous. So why does the same thing not seem ridiculous for businesses? Here are a few recent examples of how strategy work with my clients turned into instant money-making action:
  • While working with a client on a comprehensive strategy to improve their service and support business, we realized that the company’s service contract renewal process had significant problems that were limiting renewals. While working on this comprehensive strategy, the company was able to immediately begin improving the renewal process.
  • I recently spent a day with executives from a company that markets two similar product lines, which aren’t well differentiated from each other and tend to compete with each other. Although it will take longer than one day to create a workable product portfolio strategy for this company, this meeting generated three strong ideas that could be implemented right away to limit the customer confusion and margin erosion that currently plagued the company.
  • During a phone call earlier this week with a CEO, he and I identified some near-term action steps, based on strategic work his company has done, that will enable him to pump some life into a sluggish quarter.
So how can strategy make you money… now?

Do the Right Things

As management guru and philosopher Peter Drucker taught us, effectiveness is mostly about ensuring you do the right things. When I see companies with weak strategy, I always see that they focus their efforts on things that aren’t really that important. Your resources are finite, so let good strategy ensure that you allocate those resources to doing the right things. Follow this checklist to stay on track:
  • Are you directing your efforts towards the most promising drivers or results?
  • Are you focused on the right customers?
  • Have your strategies not only helped you know what you should do, but what you shouldn’t do? (A “to-don’t list” is one of the most helpful things good strategy can help you create.)
Consider this: Do you and the people in your company have a strong strategic framework that ensures people spend their time doing the right things?  If not, think about the time that is being wasted in your company… right now.

Cutting Through the Clutter

Companies without strong strategies tend to communicate with their customers through disjointed, confusing messages. The result is that customers are confused, and aren’t sure why they should buy from these companies. When a company has a clear brand strategy that defines what they want customers to think about them, it is more likely that they will create communications that are clear, compelling and differentiated. Are you clear about what differentiates you in meaningful ways? Are you clear about what you want your customers to think about your company? Consider this: Does your company have a very clear and well-developed strategy for what and how you communicate with customers? If not, how do you expect for customers to be at all interested in paying attention to your messages, let alone be motivated by them? How confused might your customers be… right now?

Strategy Creates Culture

I once heard someone say, “Strategy eats culture for lunch.” While culture is one of the most important things that can drive a company’s results, strong company cultures don’t just pop into existence spontaneously. I have seen that the strongest company cultures are not just those that “feel good” to employees, but those where employees feel that they understand where the company is heading, and they feel like they play important, personal roles helping the company get there. When employees understand your company’s strategies, and feel they are part of efforts to realize those strategies, your culture will be stronger and your employees will be more productive. Consider this: Do your employees know where your company is headed? Do they feel like they are contributors to your future, and do they care about your future?  If not, what kinds of actions and behaviors might they be engaged in that are not productive and effective… right now? You can’t be everywhere at all times to control everything that happens in your company. Let good strategy work create a game plan that directs everything that happens, including the things that can happen to generate results… right now.

Strategy Should Make You Money Now

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter
It's early January, and the entire year stretches out before us. We have big sales goals, and we are already active and busy, executing marketing and sales activities aimed at producing those revenue numbers and making this a great year. But, before you implement any more sales or marketing strategies, stop and ask yourself this question: Am I sure I am doing the right things to make 2013 a success? My answer: To ensure 2013 is successful, you need to plan the year backwards. Decide how you want 2013 to end, and then work back from there. Here's how:

Step 1: Imagine it is December 31, 2013, and you are celebrating a very successful year. What is it you are celebrating?

Yes, you may already have created budgets and forecasts, but think beyond what you've "turned in." Think beyond spreadsheets and columns of numbers. Describe a "picture of success" that describes, in detail, what you hope to accomplish this year.

Step 2: Which customers are most important to your success?

I define a customer as "anyone whose actions affect your results." Who are the customers who are most important to helping you realize your 2013 picture of success? And, looking back at my customer definition, answer Step 2's question by thinking beyond your paying customers. What referral sources, vendors, bankers, board members and partners could act in ways that influence your success? This is a very important step for focusing your sales and marketing activities. Most of us make the mistake of trying to communicate with too many customers, and we end up spreading our messages "a mile wide and an inch deep." As you determine who your customers should be, you are also making the important decision about who your customers shouldn't be.

Step 3: What do you want your customers to do to impact your success?

Sales and marketing are the things you do to encourage your customers to act in ways that impact your success. So, before you determine your sales and marketing activities, it's critical that you decide what actions you want your customers to take. Look at the customers you have identified in Step 2, and describe the actions you want them to take.

Step 4: Make sure your brand story is motivating customers to do the things you want them to do.

Customers will only act in ways that impact your results if their beliefs about your company and its offerings compel them to do so. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The ancestor of every action is a thought." Does your brand story encourage the right customer thoughts and beliefs that will lead to the right customer behavior? A brand story that focuses on who you are and what you do is usually not enough to motivate customers to act. And, importantly, a brand story that focuses only on the benefits you provide is also not enough, because your competitors probably offer benefits that are similar enough that your customer can't distinguish them from your benefits. Your brand story must directly connect who you are and what you do to the impacts you can have on your customers. Developing and refining a brand story is hard work, and, I'm sorry to tell you, it is work that is never complete. No matter what brand work you have done in the past, it is important that you refine your story for 2013.

Step 5: What do you need to do to communicate your brand story, in order to motivate your customers to act?

Now ... finally, you can determine what you need to do to communicate your story and motivate your customers. What customer experiences will best communicate your brand story? What will motivate your customers to act?

Step 6: Who, from within your organization, can impact your success, and what do you need them to do?

Everyone in your company has an effect on the customer experience. Who within your company or organization do you need to "enlist" to help you motivate customers to act in ways that help you reach your 2013 picture of success? What do you need these people to do? How will you earn their collaboration? It's January 8th, and we have 357 days left in this year. Plan backwards, and you'll make the most of that time, helping you create a wonderfully successful 2013.

Steve Yastrow

Imagine it is December 31…

This week’s theme has been “inventing the future” … it’s been cropping up at every turn. I spent a full-day early in the week with a group from a client company, helping them navigate from a powerful past, through a treacherous present, to create an even more powerful future.  I spoke with three prospective clients, each of whom is a business owner who wants to create a future for his business over the next few years that will allow him to pursue important life goals.  And, I ran three CEO workshops, between California and Texas, in which “Invent Your Future – Now!” was a major theme. The entire week came together for me early this evening, on a flight from Dallas to Miami.  Due to a faulty hydraulic valve on the airplane, we took off two hours late, giving me a 50/50 chance of missing my connecting flight to Grand Cayman. After take off, as I was wondering if I would make the connecting flight, I thought of Shrodinger’s Cat. In 1935, physicist Erwin Shrodinger wanted to illustrate the bizarre implications of something called “quantum superpositions.”  Quantum physics posits that all possible states for a system exist simultaneously until they collapse into one state at the moment of measurement or observation.  Shrodinger used the following story to describe how strange this is: Imagine a cat inside a box, along with a small amount of radioactive substance, a Geiger counter, an electrical relay, a hammer and a vial of cyanide.  There is a 50/50 chance that one subatomic particle will be emitted in the course of one hour, setting off the Geiger counter, relay and hammer, shattering the cyanide and killing the cat. You don’t know which of the equal probabilities exists, living cat or dead cat, until you open the box. So, before you open the box, is the cat dead or alive?  Both dead and alive, says quantum physics.  The cat doesn’t settle into one state until you open the box.  All probabilities exist, until the observer’s observation causes one state to manifest itself. Pretty strange, eh? (One basic example from quantum physics can help us understand the powerful role of the observer:  You can’t measure both the position and speed of a particle at one time, because your measurement of one parameter affects the other.  Observation is not passive; we affect reality when we observe.) Applied to my situation, which I pondered at 35,000 feet, Shrodinger’s Cat implies that I was both catching my flight and not catching my flight. Huh? How could that be true? Would my observation of the situation really have a bearing on the eventual outcome, on which of the possible states actually comes to be? How could it?  This is a tough concept! Then, I pulled a DVD out of my briefcase to watch on the fight.  On recommendation from a friend, I had rented the 2004 film,“What the Bleep Do We Know?” not really aware of the topic of the movie. This is an amazing film. It starts with a very accessible description of quantum physics, described by a group of perspicuous experts, and then, through a dramatic narrative starting Marlee Matlin, shows how this theory of multiple probabilities plays itself out in our lives. There are an infinite number of possible futures for each of us, so how do we settle on one?  Through an equally accessible description of biochemistry, the What the Bleep group of experts show how our brains manufacture chemicals, millions of times every second, that create the reality of our lives. For example, if we have a victim story going on in our minds, we will produce chemicals that addict us to the feeling of victimhood, and cells throughout our body will go through physiological changes that make them crave this victim chemical, shutting out other chemicals, such as nutrients.  The victim complex, in this example, actually turns one into more of a victim. Of an infinite number of possible life scenarios, the victim changes his physiology to create a reality of victimhood.  I suddenly understood the sea-change I have created for myself, over the past few years, in how I handle anxiety.  I have learned, thankfully, to produce chemicals in my brain that stop the feeling of “The sky is falling!” and, instead, tell myself that life is pretty wonderful. Of many possible life-states, I chose one. So, back to Shrodinger’s cat. Was I missing my Miami flight and catching it, both at the same time? Yes. “What?” you ask?  How could that be?  Quantum theory says that all  probabilities exist until the observer observes. I accepted, sitting on this American Airlines 757 somewhere above the Gulf of Mexico, that both of these realities existed, and I let my observer perspective determine the single outcome I wanted. Of course, I couldn’t influence American Airlines to hold the flight to Grand Cayman for me. But, instead of letting the situation dictate my mood, as I would have done in the past (make the flight = happy, miss the flight = pissed off), I decided to “be chill.”  I recognized that there were a near-infinite number of possible scenarios for the rest of my day, and I chose one.  By actively deciding how I would react to the situation – what chemicals my brain would release – I, as the observer, determined the outcome. No matter whether the cat was dead or alive, or, in my case, if the flight was waiting or had departed, I would feel the same.  Both states were equal.  Right now, I am sitting in the Sofitel Hotel by the Miami Airport as a “distressed passenger,” with no change of clothes or power cord for my phone. I am as calm as I would be if I were sitting in the lobby bar of the Westin Grand Cayman (where I was supposed to be by now). In “What the Bleep,” physicist Amit Goswami says, “To acknowledge the place where you have choice is to be enlightened.”  A very important lesson as you invent the future of your business. There are an infinite number of possible futures for your business. At every point in time, one of those futures will have manifested itself.  You – yes, you – will determine that outcome. Whether you are one employee at a 30,000 person company, or a sole proprietor, your actions will determine the exact future your business finds itself in at any point in time.  It can’t be any other way; you are not a passenger, you are a creator. So why not choose the best possible future for your company? Why not acknowledge what you can choose, and what you cannot choose, and choose to create the best possible future you can for your company? You cannot choose for the economy to improve, just like I could not choose for American Airlines to stall the departure of my connecting flight.  But there are many things you can choose.  You can choose to focus on certain business outcomes, and not others.  You can choose to focus on certain customers, and not others.  You can choose how you allocate your time and resources.  You can choose how you interact with customers.  You can choose the behavior you model for the people who work for you.  You can choose to ignore your competitors and focus on addressing the challenges within your company that influence your performance much more than the damage a competitor can do. Pre-dating Shrodinger by 94 years, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the following in his 1841 essay, Self-Reliance: "The picture waits for my verdict."  You can choose which of an infinite number of possibilities will happen.  Be enlightened.  Acknowledge the place you have choice, and then choose to create your best future. Invent your future – now.

What The Bleep Should I Do With My Future?

The mantra of the modern customer is, "If you want me to think you're different, show me you know what makes me different." As I wrote in an earlier article, Do Differentiation Differently, it's getting harder and harder, in our marketplace of plenty, to prove to customers that our products and services are unique and irreplaceable. Sure, you should always strive to differentiate your products and services, and limit the number of competitive options your customers perceive, but it is much easier to differentiate yourself in the mind of a customer by honoring and acknowledging what makes him or her unique. This seems like a daunting task -- acknowledging the uniqueness of each one of your customers. After all, people are pretty complicated beings, and it's hard to know all of your customers really well. The good news: Your customers will appreciate that you recognize what makes them unique when you acknowledge just a few things about them. An example: Two friends of mine were married at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. A year later they returned to spend their anniversary weekend at the hotel. When they gave their car to the valet attendant, they received the same service everyone else received that day. The doorman smiled and greeted them in the same way he had greeted hundreds of people that afternoon. They rode the same elevator to their room that everyone else rode. Their room was decorated like the other rooms on their floor. But on the nightstand by the bed, a bottle of champagne awaited them with a personal note from the general manager welcoming them back for their anniversary. Later that evening, after a wonderful meal in the restaurant -- straight off the menu - the maître d' brought them a special dessert, as a gift of the hotel, in honor of their anniversary. They had at least 500 points of contact with the hotel that weekend, and two of them were highly personalized. But they couldn't stop raving about how the Four Seasons personalized their stay. This is a great marketing lesson: a little bit of personalization goes a long way. This has always reminded me of the way you can use herbs and spices in cooking; you can add personality to an entire dish by just adding a small dose of the flavor. Imagine adding a few drops of Tabasco sauce to an otherwise bland bowl of chili. The few drops flavor the entire meal. Think of your own experiences as a customer. How often have you felt that a business really "gets" you after acknowledging something that is only one small part of you? It works! PinatiThere is a restaurant in Jerusalem,Pinati, that I visit every time I'm in the city. Even if I haven't been there in six months or a year, I'm greeted warmly and within 30 seconds of sitting down my favorite soup, "marak kubeh," shows up at my place. My financial advisor, Frank Reid of Sila Resources, learned a few important things about me that he integrates into our work together, which makes me value his help immensely. I've been shopping at the Music Gallery in Highland Park, IL, for 35 years, and the owner, Frank Glionna, knows enough about my music interests, business and personal life to give me a highly personalized feel when I shop there. What about you and your customers? Are you adding a few drops of Tabasco sauce to each relationship? Are you showing them that you know what makes them different? If you are, they will certainly think that you are different.

Steve Yastrow

Marketing with Tabasco sauce

Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis. The Men's Room, 10 minutes before Springsteen takes the stage. I overhear a man commenting on this ad ... img_0339-copy.JPG ... asking his friend, "Isn't it strange to advertise advertising? At least everything else was well-targeted in the vicinity. (And, by the way, Bruce got 10,000 people's undivided attention for 2 hours and 20 minutes.)

The answer is “Yes.”

"Marketing media." Did you ever stop and think about what that means? "Media" = "In the middle." Every good little ad agency always makes sure that a media plan accompanies each recommendation they present to a client. It is assumed that all marketing communications must have some media in the middle, bridging the way between buyer and seller. Why? There's no good reason. In fact, the most effective marketing doesn't have mediation. It is when the buyer and seller are in direct contact, sans media. Certainly, there are times when media are necessary. If you have a lot of customers, you may not be able to talk with them all directly. If you want to reach people you don't know, you may need to delegate customer communication to some magazine or billboard. But, here's my question: What do you build first into your plan - rich, personal, unmediated encounters, or mass, impersonal, mediated transactions? Instead of building your media plan first, try this: Build your un-media plan. Start conceiving of your marketing by focusing on interacting directly with your customers. And then, use relatively-inefficient, less-productive marketing media for what's left over.

Your un-media plan