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Ira Koretsky
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True or false? Social media conversations influence purchases.

True. A May 2010 chart from Internet market researcher eMarketer identified the sources that most influence purchases by social media users. Here are some of the findings:
• Friends – 55%
• People like them – 55%
• Brands – 38%
• Retailers – 35%
• Influential Bloggers – 26%

If you subscribe to the view that the majority of Internet users regularly use a social network, odds are the next purchase your prospects (and your customers) will make is being influenced by a social media conversation somewhere…even as you read this post.

If your business is not engaged in these conversations, your story is being told by someone else. It could be your competition. Or it could be someone who is contributing to a less than positive perception of your brand. In either case, it’s not likely those conversations will influence anyone to purchase your products and services.

Why not join the conversation and engage your customers?

The July issue of Consumer Reports includes the results of a nationwide survey listing the most annoying customer service problems. Among the top 5 problems are rude and pushy salespeople.

Think about the last time you shopped for a new car. Or maybe a new appliance. What was your experience like? What is it that you remember most about your salesperson?

If you’re like me and a good number of those who were surveyed, you’ve probably encountered your share of rude, pushy salespeople. I cycled through two salespeople (and dealerships) before finding one I felt comfortable enough to buy a new car from. What made the third truly unforgettable were the following behaviors:
• A helpful yet laid-back approach. He made it clear from the outset his goal was to help me find the car that was right for me, even if it meant not closing the sale on the first, second or third visit.
• A polite and welcoming attitude. Each time I visited, I was told to make myself comfortable and offered something to drink.
• Superior product knowledge. I learned something new every time I interacted with the salesperson and his colleagues at the dealership.

How do your salespeople compare? Are they interacting with your customers in a way that will make them unforgettable?

I ordered take-out pizza for the family the other night. It was late, I was in a hurry and we were all really hungry.

When I arrived to pick up my pizza, I paid my bill and was handed my receipt. The first thing I noticed was the spelling of my name – Dwan. It wasn’t even close to being right. I was in a hurry and didn’t even give it a second thought.

The cashier handed me my pizza. I grabbed the pizza, got in my car and drove home.

It wasn’t until I got home and my son opened the box that I realized I had been given the wrong pizza. I drove back to the restaurant and told the cashier what had happened. Strangely enough, they acted as if this happened all the time. No big deal, they said, as they took back the one I was returning. As it turned out, the pizza I had ordered was still there.

For a family-run restaurant whose website touts their dedication to excellence in service, I was a little surprised at the response I had received. It wasn’t until I had mentioned the inconvenience of having to make two separate trips before the manager had apologized and offered to pay for my next pizza. I accepted his apology – and the credit – and still left feeling less than satisfied with my experience there.

It got me thinking about another recent experience I had with a local restaurant. To be sure, mistakes happen...all the time. What differentiates the truly remarkable businesses from the ordinary ones is how they recover from their mistakes. The truly remarkable organizations empower their people to make things right before the customer even has a chance to ask. Even when mistakes are made, their customers still manage to leave with a satisfying experience.

A few days ago All Things Considered (National Public Radio) ran an article and radio piece on how many people we have in our network. NPR's journalist, Rachel Martin, cited Robin Dunbar and his "Dunbar's Number."  

Robin Dunbar is a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford.

A few points stood out for me:

"Dunbar has found 150 to be the sweet spot for hunter-gatherer societies all over the world. From the Bushmen of Southern Africa to Native American tribes, a typical community is about 150 people. Amish and Hutterite communities — even most military companies around the world — seem to follow the same rule."

"Dunbar says there are some neurological mechanisms in place to help us cope with the ever-growing amount of social connections life seems to require. Humans have the ability, for example, to facially recognize about 1,500 people."

"Friends, if you don't see them, will gradually cease to be interested in you," he says. "Family relationships seem to be very stable. No matter how far away you go, they love you when you come back."

I recently became a fan of Das Auto, a phrase Volkswagen aptly uses to describe the attitude of its brand. Das Auto is all those little things that go into making a Volkswagen. In its English language translation, it simply means the car. For me, Das Auto is more than just a car. It's a Volkswagen Jetta and the good clean fun it delivers.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2011 Jetta as a”Top Safety Pick”, with good performance in front, side, rollover, and rear crash tests. That means I can sleep better on those nights when one of my family members is out with the car. And that's a good thing for any parent of a teen-age driver.

My Jetta includes a turbocharged clean diesel engine. An impressive fuel consumption rate of 42 miles per gallon on the highway and a 90% reduction in emissions from earlier diesel engines make this car good for my wallet...and the planet. I can feel good while driving, knowing that in some small way I am doing my part for cleaner air.

And did I mention it’s fun to drive? With its low profile and six-speed manual transmission, it reminds me of the NASCAR driving experience I had a few years ago, particularly when I’m accelerating on the straight open road.


Good. Clean. Fun. Brand with an attitude. That’s how I perceive Volkswagen. How do your customers perceive your brand?

To read more unforgettable stories about cars and branding, please see:
• Building Brand Loyalty One Generation at a Time
• Maximum Fun Meets Minimal Impact
• Chrysler TV Commercials Are a Winner

Looking for a way to inspire greater employee loyalty? Boost overall morale? Or make your employee experience unforgettable?

Celebrate your employees. Share good news. Engage them in the conversation.

A friend of mine was recently promoted. Promoting from within is good news, whenever it happens. It’s even better news in organizations where a majority of the newly created positions are filled from outside. And it’s really great news in an economy suffering from an unemployment rate of about 9%.

I was fascinated with the story of what happened when her employer released an organizational notice announcing her promotion. Almost immediately, congratulatory emails began pouring in. People whose names she couldn’t recall congratulated her as they passed in the hallway. Well-wishers came by her desk and offered kudos. Everyone was smiling.

The news of her promotion had become a celebration of sorts. It is a story that speaks to the hopes and desires we all aspire to in our careers. It is a story that makes people feel good about the organization they work for. And it is an unforgettable story that will be told to job applicants and candidates for months to come.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” When you’re looking to drive improved business results, one of the greatest joys can be truly understanding your target audience – their wants, their needs, and their motivations.

In conjunction with the national effort by the same name, I recently organized a Bike to Work Day event for my friends and colleagues at the office. I was looking to increase our participation rate from last year’s event (myself and one other) to something more significant. Before I even announced my plan, I started asking people I knew some very basic questions:
  • What would motivate you to ride your bike ten miles to work on a Friday in May?
  • Is there anything in particular you would want to happen before, during, or after the event?
  • Is there anything in particular you would need to make the trip more comfortable and enjoyable?

The list of responses included some basic things like a place to shower and change, a healthy snack, a safe place to store their bikes, pleasant weather conditions, and a chance to win a prize. Armed with this information, I proceeded to organize an event that would deliver on as many of these needs and wants as possible.

What followed was a 200% year-over-year increase in participation. I went from 2 to 6 participants simply by understanding and addressing the wants, needs, and motivations of my target audience.

If you’re looking to drive improved results in your business, make the effort to understand your target audience. Use that understanding to deliver elements of perceived value that will compel them to act.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May I Help You?

I had an extraordinary customer experience this past Saturday at my local Home Depot.

I walked in with a small list of materials I needed for the day’s home improvement projects around the house. As I walked around the store, I encountered Home Depot associates at every turn. Without exception, every one of them greeted me with the words, “May I help you?” 

I was most impressed with Tom, an associate behind the counter in the kitchen design area. You see, I wasn’t standing in front of him when he asked if he could help me. I was actually in an adjacent area looking for a wooden shelf rod for one of my closets. Tom greeted me from across the room and then proceeded to walk me to the other side of the store, where the wooden shelf rods were.

I got the feeling these Home Depot associates viewed me for what I was that morning – a customer. To them, I was more than just another handyman “wannabe” or an interruption of their work. I was the reason for their work. Each of them took the initiative to ensure my experience was a good one.

“May I help you?”

Four simple words. A consistent message at every touch point. Personal accountability. And an extraordinary customer experience.

Imagine you’re organizing an event and you’re asking people to participate. You’re trying to persuade them to join you. The story you tell them should include one or more personal benefits each of them may realize by participating.

In his latest post on business storytelling, Ira shared three tips for inspiring others to action through our stories. Including personal benefits in your story falls under his third tip, “Make the journey relevant.”

You can do this by including elements in your story that answer questions like “So what?” and “What’s in it for me?” Your target audience is more likely to act if you can show them how each member might gain something of perceived value from participating. In other words, make the journey relevant to them.

Take, for example, the upcoming Bike to Work Day event on May 20th. If I positioned it as a healthy and clean way to get to work, it’s not likely I would garner a lot of attention from commuters who fear the hassles of dealing with rush hour traffic at busy intersections and working up a sweat on their way to work.

On the other hand, by appealing to their dislike of sitting in rush hour traffic, I might be able to persuade more of them to join me. I wrote a similar post last year, where I included the view of the road from my bike and asked readers to compare it to the view from their windshield that day. The “so what?” was implied by the image – take your bike to work and avoid sitting in rush hour traffic.

If you’re looking for a way to avoid sitting in rush hour traffic on May 20th, have I made the bike to work journey relevant to you?

I went for a trail run the other day. The air was warm and the sun was shining so I opted for an outdoor experience.

I brought along everything I would need – my Vibram FiveFingers® shoes, Nike Dri-Fit running apparel, Oakley sunglasses, Coppertone sunscreen and Apple iPod. Although I had purchased these products from five different retailers, I brought them together to form an ensemble that would play well with my planned adventure of exploring a cross-country trail on a warm summer-like day.

As I neared the completion of my run, I marveled at how perfect my experience had been. While I was clad in gear representing five different and sometimes competing brands, it was almost as if they had all come together in perfect harmony. Without conflict or duplication of effort, each had performed their assigned function as expected. If I had to describe my experience in a single word, it would be "comfort."

Now, pretend for a moment I was able to buy all five of these products at a single retailer. How might my perception of that retailer differ from those of the five separate retailers I had visited? It's possible I might perceive the one who could provide me with the right mix of products as an organization that specializes in comfort, instead of a single product. I might have been willing to pay a premium for the convenience of being able to find everything in one place.   

If you’re in the business of selling products and services from multiple brands, what steps are you taking to ensure they are working together in perfect harmony to provide an unforgettable customer experience?

To view more fitness metaphors for business, explore these posts:
Marketing Muscles and Sales Sprints – What Getting Fit Taught Me About Business (Guest: Pam Greene)
Online Marketing: Good Landing Pages Are Easy to Follow
A New Year’s Resolution

My oldest son and I attended a ceremony for newly licensed drivers at the County courthouse the other day. Like any other parent-son activity, I seized the opportunity to use it as a teachable moment – this time on dressing for success.

When I was growing up, business suits were reserved for special occasions. My dad is a retired factory worker and rarely wore a suit and tie. Etched in my memory is the one instance when he attended a court proceeding. I remember his telling me how important it was to wear a well-pressed suit and tie. It was a sign of respect, he said, for the authority of the court and the people who worked there.

And so it never occurred to me to show up to the courthouse in anything less. As we stood in line at the entrance, we were amazed at what we saw – there were teens in shorts and t-shirts, parents in blue jeans and polo shirts and only a handful with a tie and no jacket. I told my son not to worry. As I learned in sales, there is no such thing as over-dressing.

As the judge entered the room, we observed the usual protocol of rising and then sitting when told to do so. The judge addressed us from the Bench, reminding the teens and their parents of the seriousness of the responsibility they were about to undertake. The ceremony concluded with her presenting each parent-son couple the teen’s new driver’s license.

When our turn came, I and the young man who came dressed for success politely thanked the judge. I could tell by the smile on her face she sensed my son was ready to assume his new responsibility. I know I did. I could tell by the way he was dressed.

I just stumbled upon Volkswagen's contest initiative called, established around 2009. The "site is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better."

There are four videos available, including the winner, "Speed Camera Lottery."

The video I first found was called "Piano Stairs," filmed in Odenplan, Stockholm. Its theme is "Can we get more people to choose the stairs by making it fun to do?"

Talk about creative ideas!

Additional Resources:
- Facebook
- FunTheory Website


I was recently in the market for a new pair of running shoes. Like most runners, I was looking for a way that would help me run faster and farther. I had been considering minimalist footwear for some time and was ready to make the leap to barefoot running – or at least the feel of it.

In short, I was looking for a new running experience.

I purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers® minimalist shoes. In the short time I have owned them, they have provided me with an experience like no other shoe. When I run outside, I can feel the grass under my feet. I’m feeling more connected to nature and the environment. At the gym, it’s as if I’ve been given the freedom to wander around barefoot. No wonder the gym is feeling more like home these days.

I don’t know if the movement toward barefoot/minimalist running will turn out to be another fad...or what it will do for my time or distance. What I do know is Vibram has found a way, through product innovation, to differentiate itself with a rich and unique customer experience. When it comes to Vibram’s FiveFingers® running shoes, less really is more.

Are your customers telling you your products and services are the same as everyone else’s? Is your customer experience virtually identical to those of your competitors? Perhaps it’s time to start innovating. What can you do to make your customer experience richer and more unique?

For many of us, our first impression of a brand comes in the form of our initial sales experience. An integral part of that experience is our interaction with the salesperson.

I recently purchased a new car. After a couple of false starts and unremarkable first impressions, I ended up buying the car from the third salesperson I met. What made my experience with him remarkable was how he made me feel during my first visit to his dealership. He took a genuine interest in me and what I was looking for. Instead of trying to sell me what he thought I wanted, he found a way to sell me the car I actually wanted. 

I’m now not only a customer; I’m also a brand advocate – I’d recommend him, his dealership and the car to my friends and colleagues.

If you’re in sales, either in the B2B or B2C space, here are five tips for making your customer’s first impression a good one:

1. Greet your customers and make them feel welcome. They are the reason you come to work each day.
2. Ask questions and listen. Find out what’s important to your customers and why.
3. Be creative and find solutions to your customers’ needs and wants. Resist the urge to sell what your customers don't want, even if it is the only thing you have.
4. Assume your customer knows more than you do. Anyone with a smartphone or a PC can become a self-educated expert on your product.
5. Build and nurture trust. All lasting relationships are built on trust. Break it early and you’ll never have the opportunity to rebuild it.

Brand advocacy starts with a good first impression. What kind of impression are your salespeople making on your customers?

I arrived early for a business meeting the other day. The meeting had been scheduled well in advance and the list of participants included about a dozen team members. When the scheduled start time had arrived, there were just two of us in the room.

Over the course of the next ten minutes, the other participants drifted in. Three of those who arrived late chose seats at the end of the table opposite the host. They spent the entire meeting pounding away on their laptop keyboards, looking up occasionally as if to appear engaged in the conversation at hand.

Another member of the team, who held a pivotal role in the implementation of the project we were discussing, left and returned twice. Sitting across from him was another participant, who despite a polite reminder from one of her colleagues, refused to silence the sound of incoming emails on her iPhone.

I began to wonder...if these participants weren't really engaged in the meeting, how could they possibly be paying attention to what was being discussed?

I’ve written before on the importance of collaboration in the workplace. Collaboration results from listening. Listening occurs when everyone is paying attention. Paying attention to the host and others who are speaking shows a respect for other viewpoints and encourages thoughtful debate. Each team member is given the opportunity for input, informed decisions are made, and everyone leaves the room on the same page.

The next time you hold a meeting, you may want to share this advice from Television Anchor Diane Sawyer, "I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention." It could mean the difference between a wildly successful group effort and a mediocre one for your organization.

For more on meeting behavior, see:
- Staying Professional in Virtual Meetings
- Attention Trainers and Presenters: Think Before Speaking
- Help Wanted: Applicants with Boardroom Etiquette

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Grow Your Network

I was speaking with a colleague the other day about one of the unpleasant side effects of business networking – the inevitable flood of phone call and email solicitations from aggressive salespeople looking to close a deal. This is hardly an effective way for anyone to grow their personal or professional network.

To me, business networking is simple. It’s all about meeting new people and getting them to engage with or, in Facebook terms, to “like” you. It’s about building trust through the establishment of a longer-tem relationship. And getting a business card from someone you’ve just met is the first step.

What you do with that business card is often the difference between growing and not growing your network. A follow-up note (e.g., “great to meet you, thanks for your time, looking forward to…”), an offer to help me in some way, or even a request to connect in LinkedIn are some great ways to continue the conversation with me. Each of these steps offers value. It shows me you genuinely care about helping others like me and, in return, it makes me more open to helping you.

If you are looking to grow your network, internalize the phrase I learned when I achieved my membership in the Order of the Arrow, the Boy Scouts of America's Honor Society: “He who serves his fellows is of all his fellows greatest.”

For more insights on growing your network, check out these posts:
- Service Before Self: Why Strength of Character Compels Others to Do Business With You
- Social Media Playground Rules – Are You a Giver or a Taker?
- Business Networking in a Foreign Land

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Simple Sells When Going Green

In my previous post, I mentioned Baja Fresh had found a simple and compelling way to promote an offer for a reusable plastic drink cup. Before I tell you what it is, let me give you two versions of the same message.  I’m going to ask you to pick the one you think Baja Fresh chose.

To help you decide, I want you to evaluate how well each of the messages I've provided answers these 3 questions:
1. Does the offer make sense to the consumer?
2. Does the offer communicate a clear benefit to the consumer?
3. Do the key sales points stand out?

Let’s start with the first hypothetical message, which could have been written by a pricing manager:

Get refills at 3.3¢ per fluid ounce, plus applicable sales tax, every time you present this 30-ounce cup at participating Baja Fresh locations.

Now consider the second message, which could have been written by a member of the marketing department:


Both messages essentially say the same thing. One is easier to understand, implies a clearer consumer benefit, and stands out more. Which do you think Baja Fresh chose? 

You guessed it, they chose the second one: “REFILLS 99¢ FOREVER”.  Take a closer look at the image I included in Tuesday’s post, and you’ll see it toward the bottom of the cup. If you look closely, you might even see a call-to-action immediately under the offer description: “Save a cup every time you refill this one.”

A message so simple, it has compelled my 8th and 10th graders to make repeated visits to the local Baja Fresh… cups in hand, $1.04 (the cost of the refill including sales tax) in their pockets, and smiles on their faces.  I can only imagine the number of cups they are saving.

You can still catch the first part of this story here:
- A FRESH Approach to Going Green

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A FRESH Approach to Going Green

I’m always fascinated when my 8th and 10th graders find an offer they are passionate about. Take the recent Baja Fresh in-store promotion, which asks consumers to save the Earth one cup at a time by refilling a reusable drink cup each time they visit.

Why would two teen-aged boys who aren’t overly passionate about the environment want to do this, I wondered, when clearly it would be easier for them to get their drinks in a disposable paper cup?

The creative on one side of the cup features a prominent headline, “Doing Our Part for Global Cooling,” between two images of birds and leafy green trees. In an interesting play on words, Baja Fresh has taken a negative consequence of pollution (e.g., global warming) and magically transformed it into a positive outcome (e.g., global cooling) their customers could experience firsthand…literally.

So Baja Fresh is a company that cares about our environment, or at least that’s my perception of the brand. Their main message seems to be they are doing their part to help the environment and with a little effort, I can do my part, too. I can do my part every time I refill the reusable cup. Sounds simple enough, right?

I asked my boys if this is what made them buy the cup.  No, came the answer. It was something much more basic and personal than that – it was the benefit Baja Fresh was offering to consumers like us who participate. And it made sense to them... every time I do my part, I get a large drink for half price.

By offering consumers a FRESH way to save money and the Earth, Baja Fresh succeeded in motivating two teenagers to do their part. Again… and again.

Read my next post, Simple Sells When Going Green, for more on the compelling offer description that inspired my teenagers to do their part.

How many times have you been sitting in some sort of team motivational meeting or workshop and been served up some fitness-related metaphor? “You gotta run that race!” “Get to the top of the mountain!” “Score that touchdown!” or “Ride the wave to success!”
Admittedly, sitting at your desk, making calls, sending emails, and attending meetings hardly seems athletic - even on casual Friday.  Truth be told, exercise and business have more in common than you'd think. I've found scores (no pun intended) of parallels. Everyday at work I encounter many of the same challenges and goals as I do in my workout. And the many miles I've put on my running shoes have taught me as much about my job as any book or motivational meeting.

1.  Identify What You Want
There are those who can go to the gym, five times a week, just because they enjoy it. I have never been one of those people. I have to have very specific goals and know exactly what I want to accomplish or I am not getting off of the couch. The same holds true in business. You have to identify what the client wants, or needs, or you will never be able to deliver it. 

By coming to terms with what I wanted, which included a flat stomach and an 8 minute mile, I was able to see the importance of finding out what each individual customer wanted, so that I could attain it for them.

2.  Create Desire
Once I figured out what I wanted, I had to create a deeper desire in myself to attain it. For my fitness goals, this can include bumping down a jean size for an upcoming high school reunion where I will NOT be the girl who used to be able to rock a little black dress. 

For a customer, this is sometimes creating desire that they don't even know they have. By making your product so enticing that they must have it, you have unlimited potential for sales.

3.  Create a Clear Plan
So how was I going to fit into those size 4 jeans? Well, I had to have a very specific plan. This of course, included hours of cardiovascular work, resistance training, and a very clean diet. All of this was laid out in stages, with increases in intensity, duration, and fluctuations in calories. I understood it to a tee. 

In business, you need that same clear plan every time you approach a consumer. Often accounts are lost because the sales or marketing person cannot spell out exactly what they have in mind. By giving detail and clarity to a plan, you will increase client retention and make the way much easier for you.

4.  Outrun the Competition
I'm competitive by nature. This is why running appeals to me. There is a start, a finish, and I have people to pass along the way. Staying ahead of the competition, no matter what industry you are in, is essential. It is an opportunity to always push your self to greater heights. Being just one-step ahead can be the difference between success and failure. I never thought I could place in a 10K, until my husband's ex-girlfriend showed up to the same one I was running in. Oh what a little competition can do.

5.  Re-evaluate
There have been points in my life where what I was doing was just not working and I was so busy, I barely noticed. Not just in the gym, also at work, personally, and even with my dog. 

And after a couple of weeks of endless frustration, I took a step back and began to re-evaluate what I was doing. In the gym, I completely altered my routine, starting taking a couple classes, and hired a trainer once a week. 
In business, following up with the client and constantly re-evaluating the situation is monumental to progress. Asking for help when you are stuck should not be a last ditch effort. It is something that should happen regularly.

6.  Assume the End Result
As a "Gym Rat" I am privy to a plethora of conversations that happen between trainers and clients. Most of these are from people who are frustrated with their appearance, performance, results, or their own habits. I've heard, "I will never be____" more times than I can count. 

I always assume the best end result possible with myself. I believe I can have the body of a 20 year old and can complete a half marathon this year. The idea of “assuming the sale” has been around forever, and yet, our own insecurities often get in the way of doing it. If you truly believe you have the best product for this client, that it will help build their business, and that you will follow up the sale with unparalleled service, why would you not assume the deal is done?

Start Today
Author Maria Robinson once said, "Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." This is true in the race of life, business, and your health. Start today, and create the physique and career you want to have in the end.

Pam Greene's own journey to health and fitness started when a friend suffered through some health challenges. Realizing this was a wake up call to her to focus on her own health, she started learning about Fitness, Nutrition and Healthy Weight Loss. Pam now works for Beachbody, which provides Home Fitness Programs and Work Out Dvds including the well known P90X exercise program. Pam is passionate about sharing tips to help others eat better and exercise for better health.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blogging for Higher Sales

If the success of your business, not-for-profit, or government agency rests upon how well you sell your ideas, products, or services and you’re not currently blogging, you may want to reconsider. You may be selling yourself short by overlooking this influential medium.

Technorati, the leading blog search engine and directory, recently released its annual “State of the Blogosphere” report for 2010. As I thumbed through the report, I was struck by the increasing influence of blogs in driving consumer recommendations and purchases. When asked about the likelihood of recommending or purchasing a brand, product, or service from a variety of information sources, over 40% of the consumers surveyed chose blogs. In fact, more consumers chose blogs than those who chose Twitter and most Facebook sources.

Now, that’s not to suggest Twitter and Facebook no longer have a role in generating consumer recommendations and purchases. What it does suggest, as the Technorati report concludes, is that the blogosphere is converging with social media. As my own experience with The Chief Storyteller® illustrates, bloggers are increasingly sharing their blog posts through one or both of these social networks.

Turn your communications into results. Consider the impact blogging might have on your sales results.

It's a small world. That's what I find myself thinking almost every day. I constantly meet people who I am very glad to know even when I am just sitting on an airplane. I also make a habit to hand out business cards to most of the people I meet. 

Am I job hunting? No, not at the moment. Some of the people I meet may be looking for work and maybe I can help them out. I believe in networking and I just so happen to be a very friendly person. I truly enjoy getting to know new people and staying in touch. In addition to being professionally beneficial, networking has many other perks as well.

1. Not having to feel like a stranger in a strange land.
I travel a lot so I meet people from all around the world. What is incredible is that wherever I go, no matter what city or state I travel to, chances are that someone in my network lives there. I feel as though I have someone to turn to whether I need to know where to go to get a good meal or if I need someone to explain the city subway system to me. 

In some cases, friends I originally met on an airplane have gotten together with me for a cup of coffee a year or two later when I wound up back in their city. Sometimes friends from my network have invited me over for dinner when I was in town. 
While that may seem like a simple gesture, it makes me feel as though I am not really a stranger in the city. After all, I'm not sitting alone in a restaurant. I'm enjoying the company of friends and getting to know them better. 
I thrilled when the reverse happens and a friend from my network turns up in my city. I enjoy the chance to see the place I call home the way a stranger would see it. Visitors come with fresh eyes and notice things I have walked by everyday, without a second glance.

2. Being put in touch with resources that I didn't know existed.
I have had a long and varied work history. I have freelanced and worked as an independent contractor, had one or two part-time jobs, worked full-time, and I've found myself temporarily out of work. 

My contacts have often let me know about job opportunities at other companies or even possible opportunities at companies that hadn't even launched yet! Having a wide base of contacts in my industry has meant even when I am not actively looking for work I find that if I have a problem, people in my network are a wonderful source of information. They point me in the direction of resources I was previously unaware of. They let me know about new technology emerging in my field. They also tap their own data centers - their own memories based on their personal experiences with similar issues - and advise me based on their experience. 

It's almost like having a personal mentor, only I have a village full of personal mentors. With several mentors in every time zone, there is usually someone out there who I can bounce an idea off, even when I am pulling an all-nighter to catch up on work. It may be midnight for me, but only eight p.m. for my Alaska or Hawaii friends, who are happy to talk to me. 

My network of work-related contacts doesn't only point me in the direction of work-related information, either. When one of my kids is sick, my network may have a doctor to refer. They email me their favorite jokes and they get to know my personal interests, as I do with them. Knowing that I am a news hound, for example, friends will send me links to news magazines they think I may not know of, or to podcasts that they think will be a good fit with my interests. I've discovered some of my favorite publications and podcasts this way (plus, its a great relief during a strenuous work day).

3. Emotional support during stressful times. 
Some of my contacts have become really close friends - probably because we were looking for work, with our confidence hurting, at about the same time. We got into the habit of checking in with each other several times a week to see how things were going. When things are going well, we cheer each other on. When things are going badly, we commiserate. That sounds like a simple thing, and something that my personal support network could easily handle. Though my personal network could handle it, it is not as validating to be cheered on by friends and family (who I happen to know think the world of me no matter what I do) as it is to be cheered on by my professional peers, whose opinions (sorry, Mom!) I respect much more when it comes to work advice.

4. There is more than one way to do things. 
When I chat with people in my network, often I find that they approach the exact same challenges in a different way than I do. They structure their days differently, organize their work differently, and prioritize different aspects of the job than I do. Which way is better? 

It doesn't really matter because the fact is that when I talk to people about how they handle the same tasks, we both benefit. We learn things from each other. One of my work contacts turned me on to the GTD (Getting Things Done) productivity system, for example, which I followed religiously for quite some time.

Networking is Fun
Still, the biggest benefit to networking, in my opinion, is that it's fun. I like to talk to people, I like to make friends, and I like to keep in touch. After all, what's the drawback? If worst comes to worst, I'll end up spending a fortune on holiday greeting cards.


Brendan Cruickshank (Vice President of Client Services) - Brendan is a veteran of the online job search and recruiting industry, having spent the past eight years in senior client services roles with major sites like and He is often quoted as an expert in employment and jobs trends in well known media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Forbes and has spoken at recruiting industry events such as Onrec and Kennedy Information's Corporate Recruiting Conference.

How well do you inspire others? Do the people on your team consistently exceed your expectations? Or do you wish there was a way you could simply get them to do more?

I’ve learned over the years the best leaders do more than just motivate their teams…they inspire them! The best leaders I’ve worked with inherently know the key to inspiring others to do more is how you make them feel – about you, the task at hand, and the organization they serve.

Let me share five tips for inspiring your team members:

1. Acknowledge each and every team member…every day.
    - The simple act of greeting each of your direct reports at the start and end of each day costs little and goes a long way.

2. Manage by walking around.
    - The best leaders are visible. They invest time in getting to know their team members, the challenges they face, and the way they work.

3. Be a role model.
    - Walk the talk. Conduct yourself as you would want your team members to behave.

4. Be open and honest with your feedback – both good and bad.
    - Leaders who seek to avoid conflict by putting off unpleasant conversations are perceived as condoning ineffective performance. Conversely, leaders who fail to praise great performance are perceived as not appreciating it.

5. Treat everyone equally and consistently.
    - Leaders who show favoritism to one team member may cause others to seek opportunities elsewhere and will have difficulty recruiting and retaining new talent.

Irwin Federman described the importance of these actions best when he said, “People love others not for who they are but for how they make them feel.”

For more on inspired leadership, please see:
Nudge vs. Push vs. Shove – What’s the Best Way to Persuade?
How Business Storytelling Helps Leaders Communicate Their Vision
A Passion for Helping Others and Building Support for a Cause

In today's meeting, there were two very strong-willed executives. The goal was to select the preferred headline for their elevator speech (answer to "What do you do?").

Joan, was willing to agree to headline two if the group felt strongly in favor. Christine really wanted headline two. And boy did she let everyone know it. She nearly bullied the room to accept headline two. Can you guess who was the voice of opposition? Yes, Joan. Why? Because human nature kicked in. She become defensive and reactive.

Christine had two options to make the decision process smooth. She could have (1) met all of the key decision makers before the meeting and (b) used subtle ways of influencing and persuading during the meeting. 

When you have a project or idea you are especially passionate about, think about how you can influence and persuade...will you gently nudge, assertively push, or shove them off a cliff?

* names changed

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is it Fair to Blame Your Waiter When...

My wife and I went to a big name chain restaurant last night. It became the third consecutive bad experience. 

We thought the first "bad" experience about a year ago a fluke. Six months later, we said it's just a bad coincidence. Last night, was our decision point in deciding never to go back.

Toward the end of the evening, I asked my wife, "Is it fair to blame the waiter when it wasn't his fault, at all (add emphasis on "at all")?"  

Here are the three big gotchas occurring last night:

- The hostess was surly and a bit rude to us when we simply asked at 45 minutes the status when we were promised a 30 minute wait.

- The person who was supposed to seat us walked right by us without making eye contact or saying anything like, "please follow me." 5 minutes later he came back without one even hinting at an apology or misunderstanding.

- The wait staff who came to serve the food (not our waiter) gave us the wrong order

We have all experienced varying levels of bad service at restaurants. While the experience was unpleasant, none of it had anything to do with our waiter. 

Why then do we blame the wait staff? It's simple. He/she is our primary point of customer service. First impressions are lasting impressions. Each time someone visits the restaurant there is an expectation for quality of food and service. 

Are visitors to your website, callers to your 800 number, guests in your office, and so on having the experience you want? 

At lunch yesterday, a good friend asked my advice about her handshake. Carol said, in the last month or so, she noticed people she met often commented something to the effect, "Wow...that's a firm handshake." 

She knew something was not quite right with her handshake--she wasn't quite sure.

After just one shake, I knew what the comments were all about. Carol was (a) grasping the hand too tightly and (b) too firmly inserting her web (area between thumb and pointer finger) into the receiving person's web.

With just a few practice handshakes, Carol was back to her "unnoticeable" self again.

People should not be commenting about your handshake. It should just be a quick and natural exchange between two people.

For more tips on body language, read Getting to Yes: Make Body Language Work for You.

When I was a Scout Leader, I used to tell the story of British architect Sir Christopher Wren and how he had volunteered his services to help plan and oversee the construction of one of the world’s largest cathedrals in London. I liked telling this story because it serves as a great example of what happens when leaders successfully communicate their vision…and when they don’t.

On one occasion, he asked three separate stonecutters the same question, “What are you doing?” The first one responded with, “I am cutting this stone.” The second one answered, “I am earning my three shillings per day.” And the third stonecutter, the one who was able to articulate the vision of his leader, responded, “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build this magnificent cathedral.”

The next time you are leading a new business initiative, try sharing this story or one like it with the people you are leading. Use it to help them understand the importance of their individual contributions to the organization’s overall success. Show them the purpose behind the plan – the big picture, if you will.

By using business storytelling to communicate your vision, you’ll be turning your stories into results you can be proud of.

For related posts on business storytelling, please see:
- Ignite Passion With a Good Business Story
- Business Storytelling for Social Media
Storytelling Is Essential to Great Leadership 


Like most of you, I receive a large number of email marketing messages. In about 3 seconds or less, I typically decide whether I will open or delete each email. What typically grabs my attention and compels me to act are the words in the subject line.

So when I received an email the other day from my wireless provider that said, “Exclusive customer invitation,” it grabbed my attention. I had to open it.

The email was an exclusive customer invitation to purchase an iPhone 4 before everyone else. Although it was a little copy heavy and included far too many links, I was captivated by its single message – exclusive customer invitation. It made me feel special. It was personal and it offered me an immediate benefit (e.g., the opportunity to get the iPhone 4 first). And, it actually compelled me to click-through some of the links in the email to learn more.

As an email marketer, there are some techniques you can use when writing your emails to help ensure they are opened and acted upon. One of those is to use a compelling subject line.  The subject line is one of the first things your readers will see after receiving your email. You want your subject line to scream, “Read Me!” You have fewer than 50 characters or less than ten words to write the most important part of your message. Make your headlines personal and offer a benefit. Grab the heart first, then the brain.

For many in the Washington, DC area, Wednesday evening’s snow storm presented us with some of the more difficult challenges we’ve faced in recent memory. Harrowing hours-long commutes, abandoned cars, falling trees, heavy snow accumulations and lengthy power outages are just some of the stories leading the news these past few days.

So you can imagine how refreshing it was to walk around the office on Friday, as several of my colleagues shared stories of those who put service before self by helping others to cope with these challenges.  There was the marketing manager, who made sandwiches and hot drinks for her neighbors who didn’t have power; the financial planner and the Eagle Scout lifeguard, who took it upon themselves to clear their elderly neighbor’s driveway without being asked; and the president of the advertising agency who helped over half a dozen drivers push their cars up an icy hill.

As I thought about each of these people and their professional relationship with me, a single word came to mind - trust. I trust each of them to help me succeed in the things that are most important to me. Whether it is helping me to increase sales, manage my money or keep my family safe at the pool, I know I can count on them…even in the most difficult of circumstances. Their strength of character makes me proud of my association with them and it continues to compel me to want to do business with them.  

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Ask yourself where you stand the next time your neighbors could use a helping hand.

For more on the importance of character in the business world, please see:
- When Nobody is Looking, Character Still Counts - Make Your Business Stories Credible
- Character is What You Do When You Think Nobody is Looking
- Do a Good Turn Daily 

I can still remember the poster I saw last year on the wall of the gym, alongside the basketball court. It featured a quote by Dennis and Wendy Mannering that read, “Attitudes are contagious. Are yours worth catching?”

I thought of this the other evening when I was meeting with some colleagues about a new service project we were about to undertake. The room was full of energy and almost everyone had an opinion or idea to share. All except one. She sat expressionless throughout the entire meeting, barely uttering a word and doodling in her notebook. When the group’s facilitator asked what she thought, she said she really didn’t have an opinion. Her attitude and body language betrayed her disinterest in the project.

Certainly one of the lessons we take away from team sports is the importance of a positive attitude, even when the task at hand may seem difficult or things may not be going our way. In the business world, the people who are successful are the ones whose attitudes have a positive impact on the lives of those with whom they interact. They love what they do and their enthusiasm is contagious.   

As Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

My colleague, Ira Koretsky, posted a similar story on this topic in October. Although the circumstances surrounding mine are a little different, both of our stories speak to the kind of customer experience your organization is providing to the people it serves. If your product or service is highly commoditized, the experience you provide can be your strongest differentiator.

A friend of mine, Hope, recently relayed this story to me. She works in an office building, at her firm’s corporate headquarters. One day, after almost everyone had gone home, a customer unexpectedly showed up. He had a question about the service he was receiving and did not feel he had gotten an adequate response from the company’s customer service center. So he got in his car and drove to the company’s nearest office.

The receptionist, eager to help, came to the area where Hope was working and asked if anyone would be willing to meet with a customer who had just walked in. Without hesitation, Hope said yes. Even though she didn’t officially work in customer service, Hope figured she might be able to help direct him to the right resource by spending a few moments listening to what he had to say.

When she greeted him, she thanked him for coming in. She sat down with him and tried to understand his concern and the frustration that lead him to show up at her office. Hope left him with her business card and promised to have someone follow-up with him within the next few days. Although she didn’t promise a specific outcome, she did provide him with a feeling that he was important enough to be heard.

What’s especially relevant about this story is how Hope made him feel. Had she merely referred him to the company’s toll-free customer service number, he would have felt like the company didn’t care about him or his business.  Instead, she made him feel special. In the words of American poet Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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