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Ira Koretsky
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I was in Starbucks yesterday for an early wait-for-my-car-to-be-fixed morning. To my right was an empty, single chair and table.

As I started cleaning up my laptop and drinks to retrieve my fixed car, a man came up to me, smiled, and said, "Is this seat..." And before he finished, I said "No." 

He looked at me a bit strange as it was unoccupied. I processed his facial expression, and then said, "Yes, it's open."

And then I said, "Sorry, I should have let you finish." He smiled.

I answered without actually listening to the entire question. What he said was, "Is this seat open?" Most people say, "Is this seat taken." And that's how I answered the "expected question."

We all should "sharpen our saw" every once in a while. Perhaps I should be like Bart Simpson and write on the chalkboard 100 times, "I will be a better listener." 

I’ve held a number of leadership positions in my career – managing the men’s clothing department in a large retail store, supervising a small telemarketing team of outbound sales reps, managing a large billing and order entry center for a Fortune 500 company with over 100 associates, coaching a dedicated global account sales team as well as leading a large Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop. I’ve learned from these experiences that healthy leadership and strong results require a prescription of team members who think and act differently than their leader.

As a new and inexperienced manager right out of college, I saw how easy it was to simply order others around under the pretense of “I’m the boss”. My young and impressionable ego was inflated by surrounding myself with “yes persons,” subordinates who would agree with and implement my every idea and whim without question.

Over the course of many years and these collective leadership experiences, however, I’ve come to see the people on my team, and how I treat them, as the single most important contributor of my success. Building and sustaining high-performing teams requires generous doses of the following elements:
• Credible advice and counsel – from team members with relevant experience and a documented track record of success – because there is no way I or any one person could possibly have all the answers to the challenges we face
• “Safe to say” environment – where team members are encouraged to speak their minds and tell me what I need to hear without fear of reprisal, especially when the idea I am proposing is not a good one
• An open door policy – managers who are approachable and manage by walking around encourage collaboration and mutual respect
• Risk-friendly culture – for accelerating growth and innovation, with the freedom to make and learn from the mistakes that each and every one of us will inevitably make
• Trust and reliability – across all levels in the organization, where team members are as committed to supporting each other as they are the boss

Strong and confident leaders understand this prescription for success.  Team members who are encouraged to think and act differently know they are trusted and valued by the organization. In return, they will reward their leader with an enduring commitment toward driving strong results.

For more on the connection between leadership and results, see:
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation – Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking
• Leadership Skills: Maximize Your Resources to Overcome Unexpected Challenges
• Drive Breakthrough Performance with Decisive Leadership

Imagine you are selling a basic commodity, like a simple telephone. The one you’re selling is virtually identical to the ones your competitors are selling (e.g., same color, same look and same features). And yet, you’ve found a way to sell more of yours at a higher price. How?

In the late 1990’s, I asked one of my clients to address the Lucent Technologies sales organization I was with at the time. I encouraged him to help us understand why customers like him were willing to pay a premium for the commodity we were selling. My client was a Vice President at one of the world’s largest hospitality brands and happened to be the General Manager of the Times Square, New York hotel where we were meeting for our annual sales kick-off.

He started by saying there was really no difference between the telephones we were selling and the ones being offered by then-rival Northern Telecom. To him, they were just telephones and he needed them to run his hotel. What made us different and worth paying more for, however, was his global account manager.

Having an account manager who understood his business, who genuinely cared about the success and well-being of his hotel, who was accessible to him whenever he needed him, who was willing to take accountability for service outages and who came to the table with solutions were the things what made our telephones different…and worth paying more for. He went on to tell us how his experience with Lucent Technologies was shaped more by his interaction with his account manager than by our products and services. Like the hospitality business, he explained, the success of our business was all about people and their enthusiasm for serving customers.

He concluded by reminding each of us that the power to succeed in any commoditized market – the ability to differentiate your brand and to command a price premium for your products and services – resides within you, the account manager, and the other customer-facing associates in your organization.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Make the Most of Your Network

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”
                                                                 -Winston Churchill

For most of us, building a life is more than just earning a living. Life is about the relationships we hold, the stories we share and the goals we aspire to. Our success in reaching our goals is often a function of how well we use our network of business associates, friends and family members.

Here are 5 ways for making the most of your network:
1. Be yourself – gaining someone else’s trust requires sincerity and authenticity
2. Be respectful – treat everyone you meet like they’re your organization’s next CEO
3. Be reliable – when you say you’ll do something, be sure you do it…on time
4. Be generous – when someone helps you, find a way to help them, too
5. Be gracious – Send a written thank you note within 2 business days

 See also:
• 18 Tips for Job Hunters, New and Experienced
• What Not to Do After Meeting a Group of People at a Networking Event
• How to Grow Your Network

Does your organization encourage risk-taking? If not, how can you create a risk-friendly culture, especially in these tough times?

If you’re looking to accelerate growth and innovation, you need to encourage risk-taking. Risk-taking enables creativity, which drives innovation. As Edwin Land, the co-founder of Polaroid Corporation, once observed, “The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” Founded during the Great Depression on his belief that consumer markets should be created around scientific research, his company was once the world leader in instant photography – largely due to the commercial success of ground-breaking innovations like the Polaroid SX-70 camera, which was introduced in 1972. The camera was an instant success, garnering year-over-year sales growth of 20% within the first few years of its commercial launch.

If you’re looking to accelerate growth, you need to find ways to innovate – your products, your services and even your customer experience. Encourage the risk-taking needed to enable creativity in your organization. Let your employees know it’s ok to fail once in a while. After all, as The Chief Storyteller®, Ira Koretsky, once told me, “You’re not going to hit a home run every time.”

Here are some ways you can encourage a culture of risk-taking, creativity and innovation in your organization:
1. Embrace a perspective that views mistakes as opportunities for learning, rather than failures.
2. Encourage your employees to follow their passions and to think outside the box.
3. Tell your employees what you want, not how to do it…and recognize there are many “right” ways to achieve the desired result.
4. Encourage collaboration through the open sharing of others’ ideas.
5. Recognize and reward your employees for doing something right.

And finally, on a personal note, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the Polaroid SX-70 camera my dad had when I was growing up. That camera (and the big square case it came in) was an endearing presence during Bailey family holidays and vacations for many years.  Thank you, Mr. Land, for providing us with an innovation that allowed us to preserve our fondest memories...in an instant.   

Many of the leaders I know do their best to make good plans, use the resources they have and manage potential risks. And for the most part, they get along just fine – sales are made, customers remain loyal and net income continues to grow. What happens, though, when things don’t go according to plan and the unexpected occurs? Do they have the skills they need to overcome the challenges they are facing?

Highly effective leaders are able to step back when faced with unexpected challenges. They view the world with an open mind and often see opportunities others miss. They look around to see what resources are available and then skillfully maximize those resources to overcome the challenges before them.

These are the leadership skills Boy Scouts acquire when they earn their Wilderness Survival Merit Badge.  As defined in the Merit Badge handbook, wilderness survival is “taking care of ourselves [in the outdoors] in ways that allow us to come home safely.”

As a former Scoutmaster, I know that even with the best preparation and planning, the unexpected can happen during any outdoor activity – losing your way, encountering a surprise storm and incurring an injury are prime examples.

Let’s assume you’re on a backpacking journey. You’ve lost your way and have become separated from your group. Night is falling, rain is in the forecast and you're feeling alone. You have enough food and water to sustain you for the next 24 hours. Because this was supposed to be a day hike, you have neither a tent nor a sleeping bag.  With an expected night time temperature in the low 40’s, you need to find a way to keep warm and dry.  What do you do?

You step back. You look around (assume your surroundings are similar to those pictured, below). What do you see? A forest? A fallen tree? Some dead branches? Leaves on the ground? And not much else, right?

alt

Now look again. Everything you need to stay warm and dry – and maybe even found – is right in front of you. There are materials for building a fire (e.g., the inner bark of dead branches, twigs and downed wood) and a shelter (e.g., a level surface, a fallen tree, leafy branches and dry leaves).  With the right skills and an open mind, things that seemingly held little or no value to you before suddenly take on new meaning. They become essential resources in your quest for survival and success. 

If your organization has lost its way in the wilderness of lower than expected sales, an increasingly high customer defection rate and disappointing financial results, step back and take a fresh look around. Look carefully for the opportunities others are missing. The resources you need to find your way home safely may be the people who are right in front of you. You won't know until you look.

For more insights on effective leadership, please see:
• Drive Breakthrough Performance with Decisive Leadership
• How the Best Leaders Inspire Others
• How Business Storytelling Helps Leaders Communicate Their Vision

I recently attended a conference at New York’s historic Waldorf=Astoria hotel. I had planned to go for an early morning run and when I got outside, discovered it was raining heavily. I opted instead for a workout in the hotel’s fitness center. When I got there at 5:40AM, I checked in through foursquare and sent a Tweet indicating I was there for an early morning workout.

The fitness center was clean, well-equipped and staffed by a very polite trainer. He greeted me when I signed in and handed me a towel and a bottle of water – everything I expected from a luxury hotel like The Waldorf=Astoria. Toward the end of my workout, something unexpected happened. In response to the Tweet I had sent an hour earlier, I received a Tweet on my iPhone – from @WaldorfNYC. The Tweet was simple and concise: “Enjoy!” It made my day. It turned an ordinary customer experience with the hotel’s fitness center into an unforgettable one.

What made the Tweet from The Waldorf=Astoria so unexpected?

Here was a brand that, for over a century, personified the best of New York City’s elegance and grandeur. The brand can be traced back to 1893, when millionaire William Waldorf Astor opened the first hotel where the Empire State building sits today. The current hotel on Park Avenue opened in 1931 and has played host to famous entertainers, visiting dignitaries and every U.S. President since. The lobby areas are dotted with historic black and white photos and the building itself has been designated an official New York City landmark.

Yet, as steeped in tradition and history as they are, the brand never stopped innovating. They embraced social media apps like Twitter and HootSuite to engage their customers – both by listening to and speaking with them. It’s all part of what makes a stay (and even a workout!) at The Waldorf=Astoria in New York City an unforgettable customer experience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Does Your Brand Have Klout?

In today’s consumer driven economy, content is king. Whether you direct an international association, manage a government program, run a small business, serve as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or are simply in the market for a new job, the content of your brand story should engage or influence members of your target audience.  For brands who engage their prospects and customers through social media, your Klout score measures influence based on your ability to drive action.

Measuring influence is more than just looking at the number of followers, friends or connections your brand has.  Klout scores use data from social media applications like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to measure the following:
• True Reach - the size of your influence;  i.e., the members of your audience who share or respond to your content (these are your influencers)
• Amplification - the strength of your influence;  i.e., the number of retweets, direct messages, likes and comments your influencers make in response to your content
• Network - the frequency of your influence;  i.e., how often your influencers share and respond to your content
Klout scores range from 1 to 100. Brands with higher scores are doing a better job of influencing and engaging their audiences.

Audiences who are engaged often make the best brand advocates. They will do your marketing for you – through conversations and other great word-of mouth (WOM) communications in the highly connected world of social media. As we tell our clients at The Chief Storyteller®, “Great communications are the engine of great relationships and great relationships are the engine of continued success.”

How much Klout does your brand have?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How to Differentiate Your Application

College admissions, scholarships, internships and jobs are examples of opportunities that require an application in order to be considered. As part of the application process, some suggest including an optional personal statement describing who you are and how you’ve made an impact in an area of interest to you. If you’re serious about differentiating your application from the rest, make a well-written personal statement a part of every application you submit.

Why?

Your personal statement brings your application to life. Done right, it’s an effective form of business storytelling. It helps make you unforgettable. Where application forms typically include facts and figures (e.g., raised over $_____ to buy school supplies for needy families), personal statements can provide context. Through the power of storytelling, they help you form an emotional connection with your reader. 

A friend of mine, Mike, recently told me about a story he included in his personal statement. He was part of a team who wanted to help provide school supplies to kids and their families who were struggling to make ends meet. Mike used his own money to purchase the supplies at a bulk discount and then proceeded to raise the money he needed.

He made posters alerting his co-workers to his cause. The posters included a photo of a teacher working with a student, a brief explanation of who would benefit and a call to action. He set up a display in the employee lunch room with the supplies he had purchased, prominently displaying larger than life price tags on each item. The display included a lunch box where donors could place their contributions, using the pre-printed forms and envelopes Mike had left for them.

All told, Mike raised more money than he needed to cover his costs. In fact, he later discovered he had raised more money than any other team had raised in the last 5 years.

While his application certainly spoke to Mike’s commitment to helping others, the story he shared in his personal statement helped bring his application to life. It showed his initiative, creativity and drive for success in a way that made him unforgettable to the readers considering his application.

What stories do you have in your personal inventory that might help differentiate your next application?

For more on how to differentiate your application, please see:
- The Personal Storyteller – 3 Tips to Improve Your Communications Skills
- Tell Me About Yourself: How to Wow Your Interviewers
- Before You Make that Call: Use Research to Stand Out from Your Competition
- Highly Connected Group and No One Is Talking

Imagine a culture where your customers are your advocates. Strong, personal relationships have been forged with your brand. Your customers perceive you as their trusted advisor. And your customer retention rates are above industry average.

Is this something your brand is aspiring to? Or perhaps you’re already there.

Most brands who have achieved this position have done so with the realization that brand loyalty begins at home. With your employees. And how you treat them.

Employees who are trusted and valued by their employers find it easier to build similar relationships with their customers. They inherently trust others outside of their organization to honor their commitments, act in their best interest and speak positively on their behalf. This trust makes it easier for them to forge deeper, longer-term relationships.  Customers are viewed as collaborators, not conspirators.

In turn, customers are attracted to brands whose employees genuinely delight in serving them. Customers find value in content, products and services designed to meet their specific needs. Trusts are built and relationships are strengthened.

If you’re aspiring to higher levels of brand loyalty, where do your employees stand in your organization? How trusted and valued are they?

For more on employee loyalty and collaboration, please see these recent posts:
• Inspire Employee Loyalty – Celebrate Your Employees
• Back to School:  Collaboration Is In
• Business Is Personal:  Accelerate Relationship Building with Small Talk

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tech Support as a Competitive Advantage

It wasn’t very long ago when most of us would have laughed at the notion of technical support – online, phone or even onsite – as a competitive advantage. Thanks to advances in interactive voice response technology, customer relationship management tools and the soft science of customer loyalty, technical support has become an unforgettable way to differentiate your brand.

I recently spent a weekend reloading the operating system on one of my PCs. With no prior software replacement experience, I logged countless hours with both my PC manufacturer, Dell, and my Internet Service Provider, Verizon.  In both cases, I was pleasantly surprised by their commitment to providing me with an outstanding customer experience – 24/7 expert technical support, a good balance of self-help and live agent interaction and exceptional value for the price paid. I even received a follow-up phone call from Dell to see if I needed any additional assistance!

While I did manage to restore my PC, I will acknowledge that at an age of almost 6 years, it is nearing the end of its useful life. Soon, it will be time to invest in a replacement. Thanks to the service I received from Dell and Verizon over the weekend, I'm fairly certain I'll be staying with the brands we have.

An outstanding tech support experience – it's what makes these brands unique from many of their competitors. It's also part of what's keeping me as a loyal customer.    

According to a recent study by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association (“The CMO Survey”, September 6, 2011), CMOs in the U.S. are focusing less on financial metrics and more on the measurement of customer relationship-based activities.

Metrics like site visits and page views, the number of followers or friends and buzz indicators (or web mentions) have all seen noticeable increases in popularity over the last year.  During the same period, fewer CMOs reported using financial metrics like sales levels, revenue per customer and profits per customer. The noticeable exception, however, is in the percentage of CMOs who still view customer acquisition costs as an important metric.

What, then, might this mean to your marketing strategy? Are there any takeaways you can bring to your organization?

I’ve compiled my list of the top 5:
• For starters, more CMOs now believe the customer is king and managing those relationships well can be a key differentiator.
• Customers and prospects want a relationship with your brand that transcends the initial sale.
• Strong and enduring customer relationships result when relevant content is shared through a mix of traditional and social media.
• Providing customers and prospects with a rich customer experience that enables self-education and word-of-mouth advertising is one way to reduce customer acquisition costs.
• Your story (i.e., answer to “What do you do?”) and your brand positioning need to be consistent across multiple touch points (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, website, sales, marketing collateral, customer service, billing, etc.).  

How does the customer rate in your organization?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"No" Often Hides the Door to "Yes"

Over the years I have learned to use the hidden power of "No" when working with certain types of people or with time-challenged teams. 

Today I have a client where the team is out of town half of every month. Saying that scheduling meetings is a challenge is sometimes an understatement.

With their personalities and time commitments, they are the perfect candidates for applying my "No" style of consulting.

For example, while developing a new presentation outlying the group's strategy, we would collaborate and develop the outline. I would then show them two to three options for each of the major concept storyboards/slides. The various team members inevitably would tell me more about what he/she didn't like than what he/she did like.

And that was perfect. I got the results I wanted. I learned what the team preferences were for the messaging and visuals.

Sometimes consultants shy away from what seems like a confrontational communication style. Try looking at how the client communicates, the reasons, and what you can do to adapt your style to achieve the same results.

About a month ago, I posted a blog asking if volunteer leadership experience is relevant when looking for a job in business.

Apparently the folks at LinkedIn think so. On September 7th, the online version of CIO magazine featured an article on LinkedIn’s new profile section, “Volunteer Experience and Causes.”

LinkedIn’s own research apparently convinced them that volunteering is not only beneficial to those who are being helped; it’s also beneficial to the careers of volunteers, as well.

Some of the reasons cited in the article include:
• It can differentiate you from your competition
• These opportunities can provide you with a low-risk forum for trying new things and demonstrating new talents
• It often leads to new business relationships that can help enhance your career
• Volunteer activities provide proof of your commitment to helping others and your ability to work effectively in a collaborative environment

If you volunteer and your resume does not include this experience, you may want to consider adding it. As LinkedIn’s Nicole Williams aptly observed, “Whether you’re employed or unemployed, including volunteer work on your LinkedIn profile is essential to the current economic climate.”

For many of us in the U.S., the Labor Day holiday marks the official end of summer and with it, the close of our summer pool, water park and beach season. It’s also when the summer lifeguards-- those typically tan, buff and attractive figures who watched over us every time we were in or around the water -- return to school or other full-time jobs.

Who are these lifeguards, anyway? I suspect your answer depends on your personal experience with them. To some, they are the men and women in red bathing suits who spend endless hours in concentrated observation atop towering white chairs. Others see them as the rule enforcers – blowing their whistles when we stray too far from shore or when we are running on the pool deck. And to many others, they are the ones who clean up after us by taking out our trash, straightening the lounge chairs and cleaning the pool.

There’s more to their story, though. They are there to ensure our safety and, if necessary, to perform water rescues and administer emergency first aid. In an actual emergency, they are the ones who respond first and how they perform can mean the difference between a happy ending and a tragedy. 

The lifeguards I know are an elite breed – among them Eagle Scouts, honor students, competitive swimmers, cross-country runners, football players, basketball players, crew team members, etc. They undergo rigorous training and renew their certifications in first aid and water rescue annually. By doing their jobs well, they keep us from becoming stories in the news. And yet, the quiet and concentrated demeanor they bring to their day-to-day duties often lulls us into thinking they are simply there for our comfort and convenience.

There are “lifeguards” in almost every organization – those whose ordinary duties mask a higher purpose – flight attendants and nurses are just two examples that come to mind. As we return to work after Labor Day, let us use this occasion to celebrate the important contributions of the “lifeguards” in our organizations. They really are more than just a book with an attractive cover.

Yesterday I came across an interesting blog posting "The Pull of Narrative – In Search of Persistent Context." It was an interesting and thought provoking piece on the concept of narrative and why it is better than storytelling. This excerpt does a pretty good job of capturing John Hagel's sentiment. Below the excerpt is my comment.

Excerpt:  Stories and narratives are often used interchangeably, as synonyms.  But here I will draw a crucial distinction between the two.  Narratives, at least in the way I will be using them, are stories that do not end – they persist indefinitely. They invite, even demand, action by participants and they reach out to embrace as many participants as possible. They are continuously unfolding, being shaped and filled in by the participants.  In this way, they amplify the dynamic component of stories, both in terms of time and scope of participation. Stories are about plots and action while narratives are about people and potential.

-------------------------

John,

Just came across your posting. Your article is interesting and thought provoking. After reading it, I do not agree that narrative is different from storytelling.

My focus is storytelling as part of making your professional and personal communications unforgettable. Every single thing you say, write, or post online is a story. 

For this to work, the "effect" of the story has to persist long after the story is read or heard.

It is funny for me to say this, when I was in college, I was repeatedly told that the soft skills were less important…I came to believe it. How shortsighted that thinking was. And unfortunately, it is ubiquitous worldwide.

It is an easy laugh to say public speaking is the number one fear. There are more than 20 phobias associated with communicating. Life in and of itself is not the best teacher for communication. Most students who graduate high school, college, and to some extent graduate school are not truly prepared for the professional world in terms of communication. They have the skills to be excellent in his/her profession. 

I learned from working in a hospital years ago a nursing adage:  see one, do one, teach one.Rather than redefine or move people to rethink narrative over story, I'd strongly suggest providing people with the know-how (e.g., tools, templates, examples, and case studies) to be great storytellers--to be great communicators. 


Ira Koretsky
The Chief Storyteller
www.TheChiefStoryteller.com/blog

As I was driving through the neighborhood last evening, a business acquaintance and neighbor stopped me to say how much he appreciated the volunteer work I’ve done in our community over the past few years.

In the currency of life, he told me our most precious asset is time – how we spend it, what we spend it doing and who we spend it with. He told me one reason he liked working with me was because of my willingness to share my time helping others.

For me, volunteering is a labor of love. It’s who I am and it’s a big part of my personal brand. For many organizations, particularly those rooted in their local communities, serving others is as much a part of their brands as it is of mine.

Organizations who serve others foster goodwill in the communities they serve, build relationships with potential customers and provide assistance to those in need. They share their resources willingly with others and, in the process, differentiate themselves as brands that are sincere in their commitment to making a difference in our lives.

How is your brand serving its community?

For more on serving your community, please see these posts:
• Service Before Self: Why Strength of Character Compels Others to Do Business With You
 Do A Good Turn Daily
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others

One of our readers sent me a link to a blog posting, "Tell Me About Yourself: Tips To Answer this Tough Interview Question." 

The author's first point, "Start with your name," is what caused me to leave the following comment on the blog post. The author states that it is not a loaded question. I absolutely disagree. Here's the text from the point followed by my comments with suggestions.

"Start with your name:  A no-brainer, many job seekers panic right off the bat by incorrectly assuming the interviewer asked a loaded question. In reality, the interviewer just wants to see how well you can sell yourself. Just state your name and feel free to include a line or two about your passions and hobbies – but don’t overdo it. You need to pace yourself and save precious monologue time for significant details regarding your career. Your total answer should be short and complete."

My comments left on the Recruit.com blog:

I firmly believe “So, tell me about yourself” is the most important question in an interview. It is absolutely “loaded.” It is sooo much more than “see how well you can sell yourself.” It is your first and only chance to set the tone and energy of the interview. It is your elevator speech of interviewing. Demonstrate you did your research and show you are the best candidate for the position in less than three minutes. 

I disagree with points...

- "Start with your name" (it is on your resume and you’ve already introduced yourself in a greeting with a warm handshake and smile. Start with a headline, a grabber, whet the interviewer’s mental appetite)

- "Follow up with your background" (it is on your resume. Tell a story weaving in key aspects and a success story relevant to the prospective organization)

- "Turn the question on them" (Absolutely not. This is classic human behavior. The interviewer asked you a question. He/she expects you to answer it. Leave your questions for later in the interview).

I agree with points Relate it to the position and Avoid overexposure. 

In general, your answer is a personal success story that has a compelling opening (think headline or personal executive summary), interesting facts weaved into an engaging story, and conclusion (that clearly demonstrates you will be an excellent hire). It should be three minutes or less. It must set the stage for the rest of the interview. Intrigue from word one.

A friend of mine, Bob, once sat through a job interview where he was asked about his leadership experience. The interviewer wanted to know if he had ever managed people, coached others for improved performance or been accountable for achieving results through others.

When he mentioned that he was an Eagle Scout and, as a teenager, had organized and managed a highly successful food drive to benefit his community, the interviewer wanted to know what else he had done. He mentioned his experience as an adult leader with the Boy Scouts of America, where he helped young men learn to take care of themselves and to lead others.

The interviewer acknowledged this experience and then said, “That’s all volunteer work. What leadership experience do you have in business?”

In response, Bob told him that effective leadership is the proven ability to move other people to action. It means making a connection with the people you are working with. It means making them feel good about who they are, what you want them to do and why you are asking them to help you. It transcends the organization and applies equally in Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, team sports, business and other not-for-profit organizations.

As for Bob.... He got the job and went on to distinguish himself as one of the most effective leaders in that organization.

For more on leadership, see the following posts:
• Drive Breakthrough Performance with Decisive Leadership
• How the Best Leaders Inspire Others
• How Business Storytelling Helps Leaders Communicate Their Vision

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Road to Best-in-Class

Name the best in your industry, profession or sport. What are they doing now?

Practicing. Preparing for the next campaign, interview or game.

Somewhere right now, someone is competing with you for the top spot.  They’re honing their strategies, perfecting basic skills and learning new techniques. 

If you or your organization is looking to become the best in your industry, profession or sport, you need to make sure you and your team members are all-in. In short, everyone needs to be personally invested in your success. And that means practice and preparation.

Practice can make a positive impact in almost every functional area of an organization.  In the area of marketing communications, for example, team members from best-in-class organizations tend to exhibit these attributes:
• A well-rehearsed elevator speech (answer to “What do you do?). Everyone should be able to internalize and deliver the same 30-second pitch.
• Presentations with purpose. Prepare for and rehearse your customer presentations so you start and end on time and follow a customer-focused agenda.
• A clear and consistent message.  Every message you share verbally, in print and online should be consistent with your desired brand perception.
• The right tools and resources. Choose your resources wisely. Use tools like white papers, email, direct mail, websites, testimonials and social media that demonstrate a record of quantifiable success.
• A relentless pursuit of excellence. Strive to exceed your customer’s expectations. Outperform your competitors.

Here's another insightful, thought-provoking video from TED by a fantastic presenter and storyteller Benjamin Zander. A quick bio note states that he is "a leading interpreter of Mahler and Beethoven" and he "is known for his charisma and unyielding energy -- and for his brilliant pre-concert talks."

He weaves in his ideas brilliantly and seamlessly with authentic, passionate words.

From the TED Talk Description:

Benjamin Zander has two infectious passions: classical music, and helping us all realize our untapped love for it -- and by extension, our untapped love for all new possibilities, new experiences, new connections.



Is your organization looking to become best in class? Are you striving to achieve breakthrough performance in business results – like sales, customer loyalty or brand differentiation? If it is, then it may be time for some decisive leadership.

I recently read an article in The Washington Post that talked about recent personnel changes by the Washington Redskins, our local NFL franchise. In this highly competitive world where coaches and players are held firmly accountable for their performance (i.e., where careers are made or broken by the number of games won in a single season), I was struck by the leadership perspective offered by Mike Shanahan, current head coach and 3-time Super Bowl winner (twice as a head coach): “A lot of people are afraid of being second-guessed. They make their decisions based on what other people say, rather than what they see with their own eyes, on general consensus. They don’t see it themselves; they ask other people’s opinions.”

Are the leaders of your organization behaving like this? Are they afraid to make decisions for fear of being blamed if results are less than expected? Are they relegating important decisions to general consensus? If this decision-making approach is failing to deliver the results you are expecting, then perhaps more decisive leadership is in order.

Sure, every decision entails some element of risk and not every decision will result in the desired outcome. Breakthroughs in performance often come from new ideas and almost always require leaders to assume some level of risk…and accountability.

Confident, informed and inspired leaders like Coach Shanahan know what it takes to drive breakthrough performance. What they need from you and the other members of your organization is a culture that rewards decisiveness and accountability.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tips for Winning at Sales

As I reflect back on my experience in large commercial Information Technology (IT) sales, the one constant that keeps coming to mind is the presence of formidable competition on virtually every deal.

Since my price was rarely, if ever, the lowest, I learned to work harder and smarter than my competition to win deals. I learned to sell beyond price.

Here are 5 helpful tips for winning at sales:
1. Get to know your customer.
 Understand why your customer is buying and how you can help him or her to be successful. Position yourself as a consultant. Strive to become their trusted advisor.

2. Focus on your positive attributes.
 If you are a small company competing against a larger one, emphasize the higher level of personal service your customers will receive. Conversely, if you are a large company competing against a smaller one, focus on the resources that are available to support your customer.

3. Get in front of your decision makers.
 Show your decision maker(s) through personalized service and tactful persistence you are interested in earning their business. Find reasons to engage them in conversation often – over the phone or in person.

4. Introduce your team early.
 Help your customer feel comfortable with the people who will be working with him or her after the sale. Introduce your team members early in the sales process and showcase their expertise.

5. Provide a list of satisfied customers.
 Have a list of enthusiastic customers who are willing to share their positive experience with you and your company. Be sure they can speak to the tangible results they’ve realized by implementing the product or service you are selling.

For more tips on how to win at sales, please see:
• B2B Sales Tip: Friend Your Customer
• Are Your Salespeople Unforgettable?
• Trusted Advisor or Vendor: How to Tell the Difference

Join NBPCI and The Chief Storyteller for a roll-up-your-sleeves workshop to make your three most important documents unforgettable to prospective government clients. They are your elevator speech, capability statement, and capability presentation. Turn your Big 3 into memorable, powerful packages inspiring prospects to say, “We need you.” 

The event is Tue, July 26, 8:30 - 11:30, Fairview Park Marriott Hotel, 3111 Fairview Park Drive, Falls Church, VA 22042.

*** We have secured a special rate just for friends of the The Chief Storyteller. Register today.

Detailed information is below...

The Big 3:  How to Grow Your Revenue with a Compelling Elevator Speech, Capabilities Statement, and Capabilities Presentation

Learn how to develop high impact messages with supporting talking points, content, and win themes through easy-to-follow processes. Your program is rich with practical ideas and thought-provoking exercises you can implement immediately.

Bring hardcopies of your Big 3 documents and your laptop, as you’ll be making changes to your documents during the program.

* Special Offer:  For 30 days following the workshop, you are eligible for a free review of one of your Big 3 documents. Each review includes personalized suggestions.

Benefits of Attending
- Learn a powerful, internationally-taught process for developing compelling and engaging sales messages
- Make changes in real-time to each of your core sales tools
- Be inspired with proven, fresh ideas to convert prospects into clients

Your Program Includes:
- 30-page workbook filled with exercises, examples, how-to’s, processes, and templates
- Three, multi-page tip guides
- Free access to over 700 thought-provoking articles, ideas, and tips
- Copy of the presentation in PDF
- A 3-hour hands-on workshop, along with a specific action plan for improving your Big 3

We have secured a special rate just for friends of the The Chief Storyteller. Register today.

About Your Presenter, Ira Koretsky, The Chief Storyteller ®
Ira has been helping companies like yours develop strategic messaging and content management frameworks for over 23 years. He knows how to help you turn your Big 3 into documents getting prospects to say, “We need you.” Ira has delighted audiences around the world turning business stories into revenue. He is a sought-after speaker, consultant, columnist, and trainer. Be inspired with his mantra, “Think deliberately and differently.” Stay engaged with insightful exercises and actionable ideas you can implement immediately.
The Chief Storyteller helped IntelliDyne win a $94 million contract with the Federal government, TCIG quadruple its contracting revenue in six months, professionals at the EPA develop clear and compelling mission statements, and the CDC develop a complete outreach program for an important community health initiative.

Complete biography chiefstoryteller_pdf

Ever wonder which of your customer touch points is the most important?

Common answers I hear when I ask this question include the following: a direct mail piece or radio spot, website, the salesperson or ticket agent, a customer service representative, the invoice or perhaps the one who greets customers as they arrive.

Depending on the number and order of touch points your customer experiences, each of these may be right. For me, it’s the last one I touch. Why?

A friend of mine works as a gate attendant at a performing arts center. His job is to greet the patrons as they arrive and to collect their tickets. As they are exiting the venue after the show, he can typically be found at the same gate.

What amazes him is the number of patrons each night who tell him how much they enjoyed the show. Many of them will even thank him for a wonderful evening. To these patrons, he has become the face of his employer.

As their last touch point before or after the show, how he treats them has a lasting impact on their experience that evening. If his interaction with them is positive, even in the midst of the hustle and bustle that comes with navigating a large crowd, patrons will recall their experience as a positive one and will be more inclined to return.

Now think of how many touch points your customers experience when they interact with your business. Of the ones I mentioned above, which do you think is making the greatest impression?

At 6:17 am I was awoken by a loud banging noise. Well, more of a knocking noise. There is absolutely nothing in our bedroom that could make the noise!

Perhaps it was a crew roofing a neighbor's home. The thought of that premise made me just a tad upset...6am is just too early. I looked outside. Nope!

I just couldn't imagine what it was...I got dressed and went out back. Lo and behold, there was a woodpecker furiously pecking away at the wood just below the roof line, above our bedroom window.

"What did I do?" you ask.

Well, I did what every normal communications professional would do...I asked nicely.

She looked a bit startled. And then she promptly flew away (she based on my limited research. the bird was either a Hairy Woodpecker [Picoides villosus] or Downy Woodpecker, [Picoides pubescen])

It got me thinking. I could have selected any number of negative actions to rid myself of the woodpecker. Instead, I went the way of kindness--an important mantra of mine that I live by and offer in my programs.

What can you do to make an uncomfortable, inconvient, unpleaseant, etc. situation better? What positive steps can you take to diffuse a situation. My dad always said, "kindness first."

I recently returned from a 7-day cruise to the Southern Caribbean aboard the Carnival Victory. While the ship itself was first-rate and the island excursions were exciting, what really made this vacation experience unforgettable was the ship’s crew members.

My first impression of the ship was formed by the immense and magnificent 9-story Seven Seas atrium I entered upon boarding. While the ship itself was impressive, I knew then the key to an extraordinary onboard experience would be the people I encountered who represented the Carnival brand – specifically the ship’s 1100 crew members.

Once we were underway, it became obvious the entire crew was dedicated to ensuring my vacation experience was fun and memorable. Crew members I interacted with on a daily basis developed a personal relationship with my family and me, went out of their way to help us and made every effort to make our vacation experience unforgettable.

Our waiter, Adrian, brought us our choice of beverages without being asked. He entertained us with “brain teasers” and by showing us how to dance during the dining room “show time” event one evening. Our stateroom steward, Bismarck, greeted us each time we saw him by our names and with a polite inquiry as to whether or not we enjoyed our day. He even opened my stateroom door for me (without being asked) when he saw my hands were full with two cups of coffee one morning.

While extraordinary customer experiences may begin with basic things like the physical surroundings you provide, what truly make them unforgettable are your people. The crew members of the Carnival Victory have embraced a culture of going above and beyond to please their customers. Can the same be said of your employees and associates?

A friend of mine received this email yesterday as he was finalizing plans for a breakfast meeting.

This is the word-for-word email he received in response. I only changed the name of the woman to protect the guilty party.

"Sounds great, thanks! Did you have a place in mind? If possible I will bring Carol (my attractive colleague, I believe you met) along as well."

I wonder what Carol would think and say to the guy who authored this email?

Join NBPCI and The Chief Storyteller for a roll-up-your-sleeves workshop to make your three most important documents unforgettable to prospective government clients. They are your elevator speech, capability statement, and capability presentation. Turn your Big 3 into memorable, powerful packages inspiring prospects to say, “We need you.” 

The event is Tue, July 26, 8:30 - 11:30, Fairview Park Marriott Hotel, 3111 Fairview Park Drive, Falls Church, VA 22042.

*** We have secured a special rate just for friends of the The Chief Storyteller. Register today.

Detailed information is below...

The Big 3:  How to Grow Your Revenue with a Compelling Elevator Speech, Capabilities Statement, and Capabilities Presentation

Learn how to develop high impact messages with supporting talking points, content, and win themes through easy-to-follow processes. Your program is rich with practical ideas and thought-provoking exercises you can implement immediately.

Bring hardcopies of your Big 3 documents and your laptop, as you’ll be making changes to your documents during the program.

* Special Offer:  For 30 days following the workshop, you are eligible for a free review of one of your Big 3 documents. Each review includes personalized suggestions.

Benefits of Attending
- Learn a powerful, internationally-taught process for developing compelling and engaging sales messages
- Make changes in real-time to each of your core sales tools
- Be inspired with proven, fresh ideas to convert prospects into clients

Your Program Includes:
- 30-page workbook filled with exercises, examples, how-to’s, processes, and templates
- Three, multi-page tip guides
- Free access to over 700 thought-provoking articles, ideas, and tips
- Copy of the presentation in PDF
- A 3-hour hands-on workshop, along with a specific action plan for improving your Big 3

We have secured a special rate just for friends of the The Chief Storyteller. Register today.

About Your Presenter, Ira Koretsky, The Chief Storyteller ®
Ira has been helping companies like yours develop strategic messaging and content management frameworks for over 23 years. He knows how to help you turn your Big 3 into documents getting prospects to say, “We need you.” Ira has delighted audiences around the world turning business stories into revenue. He is a sought-after speaker, consultant, columnist, and trainer. Be inspired with his mantra, “Think deliberately and differently.” Stay engaged with insightful exercises and actionable ideas you can implement immediately.
The Chief Storyteller helped IntelliDyne win a $94 million contract with the Federal government, TCIG quadruple its contracting revenue in six months, professionals at the EPA develop clear and compelling mission statements, and the CDC develop a complete outreach program for an important community health initiative.

Complete biography chiefstoryteller_pdf

How would you describe the relationship between your account executives (or account managers, client executives, etc.) and their customers?

If your business model calls for a consultative, solutions selling approach, your salespeople should have a relationship that transcends the typical supplier-customer one. They should be friends.

In one of my first blog posts, I wrote about the importance of refrigerator rights. Refrigerator rights are what customers give to salespeople when they trust them. They are the essence of long-tem relationships. And they must be earned.

To get them, your salespeople need to be continuously engaged with their customers throughout their relationship with your brand. Salespeople need to provide something of value to them – before, during and after they buy. Over the long-term. This is how relationships are built and sustained.

Ultimately, this is what will help differentiate you from the competition.

For more ideas on increasing sales effectiveness, please see:
• Are Your Salespeople Unforgettable?
• Sales Is Not a Spectator Sport
• Be Your Own Customer

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