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Ira Koretsky
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If you’re looking to become a market leader (and who isn’t?), why not consider Twitter as a tool for helping to extend your brand’s reach among customers, suppliers, and partners?

Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has evolved from a free microblogging and messaging service whose sole purpose was to answer the question, “What are you doing now?” (in 140 characters or less), to one of today’s most powerful social media branding tools. Twitter is now as much about sharing valuable content with communities of interest as it is about interacting with others and building relationships. By Twitter’s own estimate, its popularity had grown to 175 million registered users by September 2010.

As a branding tool, Twitter makes it easy for you to define your brand and extend its reach. Your profile includes your handle, avatar, brief bio, and website link – all of which you determine.  From there, you engage and attract followers from around the world by sharing unique and compelling content – your business stories, as an example – that reinforces your desired brand perception.


As you attract new followers (also called peeps or tweeps), you’ll notice some of their followers will begin to follow you. In turn, you’ll learn new things about your peeps by interacting with them – like what they think is important or how you might be able to help with the challenges they face. In the process, you’ll even discover others you may decide to follow.

Help turn your business stories into results by extending your brand’s reach on Twitter. The messages and content you share will drive business relationships within your community of interest.

Learn more on how you can use Twitter to extend your brand from these articles:
- When You Tweet, Think About What You Want Your Followers to Do
- If You Tweet, Consider Using Categories
- Business Storytelling for Social Media

What do CEO's and Generals have in common? That's a question I always seem to ask myself because I have one foot in both worlds. I served in the military and I am now making my headway in the business world. Instead of leading a small squad of troops, I now lead a small group of young marketing employees. 

I'm finding that leadership stays true no matter who you're leading. You need to have a strong presence, be a mindful tactician, and play the role of teacher and superior. 

Here are some tips from the military that I've transitioned into my management style. 

Generals Grow Armies
In the military, this is called enlisting and boot camp. In the business world, this is known as hiring and training. The first step is to be a discerning interviewer – you want to look for existing skills and long-term potential as well. I'm naturally more inclined to hire someone who has shown a history of being "hungry," i.e., someone in school or someone who has been promoted multiple times.

These are individuals who will only prove more valuable with time. Also, there is no consideration for late interviewees - if that's their best behavior on the first meeting, then I certainly don't want to see what it's like during high pressure times.

During boot camp, strengths and weaknesses become apparent and natural leaders come out. When you're training new employees keep a close ear to the ground and see which ones take initiative. These are potential lieutenants, or trusted aids, which will help you, run your operation.

Training helps employees not only learn new procedures and protocol, it also is about teaching self regulation and self correction. In my marketing team, I actually have employees check each other's work before providing it to me for submission. This way I know it has gone through a few sets of eyes and minor errors are eliminated. It is a leader and manager's job to see the big picture and not get distracted by the small-scale mistakes. Those self-regulated status checks along the way save time in the end.

Generals Plan their Strategies
“Watch, listen, and learn. You can't know it all yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity,” Donald Trump.

A great leader is predictive and responsive. First, you need to find information on your opposing force. Be honest with yourself and evaluate your operation in comparison to your competitors. Hire outside contractors or send over your own employees to be "test customers." For example, if you're a retailer, find out how their customer service works, how they lay out their products on the shelves, and what coupons or sales they offer. You want a large set of honest objective information - because it is that information that allows you to evaluate where you lead and where you fall short.

A great leader also needs to be flexible. In my line of work, it's fairly easy to be flexible, as we're competing directly with marketing teams from other companies for the same set of customers. We can see their campaigns on their websites and Facebook pages. From there we can determine how to improve our offers and outreach. What you need to be careful of is the difference between being adaptive and being reactive. A reactive leader waits for the other side to make a move first, while an adaptive leader changes and adjusts their stratagem on the fly.

Generals are First into Battle
“The company is definitely set up in a way where myself and the other founders have a lot of control over it,” Mark Zuckerberg.

When spearheading a campaign, responsibility and consequences fall to me because every previous decision and aspect of my force has been chosen, trained, determined, and implemented by me. To be a leader is to be constantly tested against your choices. Not every choice is the best way or even the right way. 

A great leader is one who can admit a shortcoming and improve upon it quickly. Bill Gates is well known for saying, “behind most great and successful products or businesses are entrepreneurs who were turned down a hundred times.” Risks will need to be taken. It's a great leader who calculates the least amount of risk for the highest payoff.

John is an Operation Freedom War veteran and a manager for Airsplat, the nation's largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.

We have various guides and templates in the office. Guides for writing blogs, articles, and tip guides. We have a brand guide for color, font, format, and logo use. What we don't have is a consolidated list, in one place, of all our mantras--the phrases, statements, aha's, rules, etc.--that "guide" us as we create and deliver content, messages, and great business stories.

Here are our top 50. Think about this list and how it can help prompt new and fresh approaches to your business stories. We would love to hear your mantras...please leave them in the comments.

1.    It’s all about them.
2.    Business stories are the engine of relationships and relationships are the engine of continued success.
3.    Write to the 10th grade level.
4.    Be memorable.
5.    Use humor if you want to.
6.    Content is king.
7.    Relationships matter.
8.    Credibility is more important than expertise in the beginning of relationships.
9.    Know your elevator speech / elevator pitch / mission statement (core business story).
10.    Ensure your core business story is unified throughout all communication materials.
11.    Your brand story is everything.
12.    Success stories are key to differentiation.
13.    (Good) blog and article content matters the most.
14.    Strive for “interest” questions. Avoid “understanding” questions.
15.    Social communities are built on personal and business stories.
16.    Everything you write, speak, and record online is a business story.
17.    Content first. Design second.
18.    Always have a second person read your content before publishing.
19.    Design your website for your target audiences (not your employees).
20.    Everyone builds relationships through networking.
21.    Send hand-written thank you notes, especially job hunters.
22.    Audiences are hungry for original thought-provoking content.
23.    Blogs are for sharing, educating, and inspiring…not selling.
24.    Get yourself known (e.g., LinkedIn questions and answers, post to SlideShare, and Tweet good information).
25.    Generating genuine interest in your product/service is the first step in building a relationship.
26.    Active listening is key to building great relationships.
27.    Write in your authentic voice.
28.    But is the worst word in the English language (and many other languages).
29.    Words really, really matter.
30.    Treat everyone like a CEO.
31.    Stop listening to your Mother. Talk to strangers at networking events.
32.    It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
33.    Speak in headlines.
34.    Write and speak conversationally.
35.    Treat every client like your best client.
36.    Maintain a detailed Ideal Target Profile for your key target audiences.
37.    Have positive self-talk conversations.
38.    Change is a choice.
39.    Deliver on the expected experience.
40.    Create your own success momentum.
41.    Be a student everyday.
42.    Be a deliberate networker.
43.    Be a deliberate communicator.
44.    Be a people bridge and make referrals.
45.    Be a mentor.
46.    Be a whole body communicator.
47.    Write emails as if they will be read on a smart phone.
48.    Inspire Action: facts do not persuade and inspire, people do.
49.    First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions: offer a warm smile, firm handshake, and good eye contact.
50.    People are at the heart of every great story.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou, American Poet

“Your first 10 words are more important than your next 10,000.”
— Elmer Wheeler, “Tested Selling Institute,” Late 1940s

“Remember that the person you’re about to meet can become as important to you as someone you’ve known for years.”
— H. Jackson Brown, Jr., Life's Little Instruction Book, 6/2002 Calendar

“I have no use for engines.  Give me the right word...and I will move the world.”
— Joseph Conrad, Novelist, 1857 – 1924

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
— Plato, Philosopher, 427 BC – 347 BC

“The character of a man is known from his conversations”
— Menandros Chiaramonti, Greek dramatist and comedy writer, 342 BC – 292 BC

"Le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés"
"Chance favors only the prepared mind"
— Louis Pasteur, Chemist and microbiologist, 1822 – 1895

“The customer rules”
— Turkish business credo, as shared to me by my friend, Ilbay Ozbay

“Conversation in the U.S. is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener.”
— James Nathan Miller, “The Art of Intelligent Listening," Readers Digest, vol 127, September 1965

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."
— Mark Twain, American humorist, lecturer, writer, 1835 – 1910


I'm a huge fan of great quotes. I use them all of the time in my articles, blogs, and presentations. Would love to read yours. Please take a moment and add your favorites in the comments section below.

Back in January, I wrote about A New Year’s Resolution. It was about a resolution many of us could embrace. It was also an example of turning a story into action. Now that we’re fast approaching the start of a new calendar year, it’s time to see how we did with last year’s resolutions.

The story of my resolution was how I planned to go to the gym on a regular basis. The action was building memories with my kids. The results? I’ve had many. The one I’m most proud of is running a 10K with my son, who happens to be a high school swimmer and X-Country athlete, and keeping up with him.

I’ve applied this formula to my business life, as well:

  • Start with a business story (e.g., how I was able to help other organizations acquire new customers).
  • Take action (e.g., embark on a new career path by broadening my focus to marketing communications).
  • Turn your business story into results (e.g., landing a job doing what I like to do, here at The Chief Storyteller®!). 
  • So, how did you do? What results did you achieve from your business story? 

    Does your marketing staff include "lone rangers," or people who prefer to go it alone? If so, it may be time to take a second look at how well they’re working with your advertising agency.

    There are many reasons why people might prefer to work in isolation, among them: “pride of authorship” (i.e., the mistaken notion that their work is somehow superior to that of others), inexperience in a team environment, a fundamental distrust of others, undue concern over the cost of services, or perhaps a hidden agenda. Whatever the reason(s), their failure to collaborate can impact your ability to work smartly and efficiently with your organization’s advertising agency.

    For starters, get everyone in your organization to view your advertising agency as a trusted advisor. Ensure the communication between your marketing staff and the agency is transparent and two-way. Encourage the free flow of ideas and opinions during the creative phase. Select options for proceeding on the basis of a mutual respect for the experience and expertise each member brings to the table. In short, trust in each other's good judgement. Once a direction is set, make sure both sides climb on board and move forward together.

    Share results…and accountability…on a real-time basis. Your success, or failure, is your agency’s, as well. Allow your agency to help interpret your results. Their experience will often allow them to see things your team may have overlooked. The best ideas for improved results are often born out of these kinds of analyses.

    If your marketing staff still includes lone rangers, remind them that even the title character in The Lone Ranger eventually found an equal, faithful sidekick in Tonto.

    During lunch today I asked the waiter his thoughts on the glazed salmon entrée. He enthusiastically recommended it. He began describing the dish. As he did so, he mentioned "wilted spinach." 

    Mentally, I stopped listening.

    I wanted to be a bit of a wise guy and say, "I'd prefer my spinach fresh and crisp." I held my tongue (smile).

    Words are interesting, aren't they? To me, wilted spinach is not the best choice of words. Now of course, I know what wilted spinach is and what it means. It means preparation, timing, and passion. 

    Ask yourself these three quick questions to see if you need to tweak or revise your content and messaging?

    1. Do we have content or messaging in our various internal and external communications not generating the results we want (e.g., website, employee handbook, elevator speech/elevator pitch, mission statement, blog, newsletter, and magazine)?
    2. Are we aware of content or messaging that might be confusing?
    3. Have any of our audiences expressed confusion or misunderstanding? Did we deliberately address the issue either to leave the content as is or change it?

    Microsoft recently launched its new lines of smart phones to compete against Apple's iPhone and Google's Android. Microsoft has been effectively using YouTube to showcase its advertisements, functionality, and feedback.

    It is employing the concept of "Really" throughtout the ads. It is simultaneously poking fun at current mobile fun usage and pointing out how some people are using their phones shall we say, a bit too much. While the ads are clever and engaging, sometimes they try too hard or seem not to make immediate sense. See if you agree...

    Click on the pictures below to see the various commercials.

    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever


    One of my favorite literary works is John Keats’ Endymion, a masterful poem about the myth of a mortal loved by the goddess of the moon. The first line, “A thing of beauty Is a joy forever,” almost always comes to mind whenever I find myself outside enjoying the sights and sounds of the unspoiled wilderness.

    As a hiker, I have experienced breathtaking views of waterfalls, vistas, fauna, and flora from vantage points accessible to few others. Memories of nights spent sleeping under the stars, hiking to Shenandoah’s Dark Hollow Falls, reaching the snowy summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, immersing myself in the lush jungle along Kauai’s Kalalau Trail, or swimming at secluded Hanakapiai Beach on the Na Pali Coast are the only reminders I need of how important it is to be a good steward of the environment.

    And yet, I’m amazed at how difficult it is to “sell” many people on the importance of conservation and other steps to protect our environment. I’ve seen too many instances where well-intentioned people resort to complicated and often-confusing explanations of what’s wrong and what needs to be done. I’ve heard the arguments from both sides on controversial issues like global warming, carbon offsets, and greenwashing. In all of this noise, the simple message of "help protect the beauty of our world" is invariably lost.

    It’s all quite simple, really. Where words betray, images empower. Where words merely describe, images show. The right images can take you there and help you to experience the wonder and awe of nature’s beauty. The right images can help your target audience connect with your cause or message.

    Think back to the memories I described earlier and the images of beauty they evoke. These are the images of joy, peace, and a oneness with nature. Why? Because the words written 200 years ago by an English Romantic poet still ring true today: “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

    Holiday and dinner parties, business networking events, and visits with family and friends all present opportunities for people to pitch their brand and tell their story in 30 seconds or less.

    I'd like for you to take a simple test. Select the best answer to the statement: Elevator speeches are for people with the following job responsibilities:

    a) Sales
    b) Marketing
    c) Sales and Marketing
    d) Everyone
    e) No one

    While the obvious choices may be a, b, or c, the correct answer is d. From the CEO on down to the most junior entry-level member of your team, each and every one of us encounters opportunities where we are called upon to talk about our job, our brand and the organization to which we belong or represent. Very often, these opportunities begin with the question, “What do you do?”

    The answer to this question is your organization's elevator speech. Your elevator speech must quickly convey the qualities of your brand that attract the right target audiences. It must be memorable, compelling, and deliverable within 30 seconds or less.

    A well-crafted elevator speech can be an effective way for increasing brand equity. A unified brand story, where everyone is literally singing from the same songbook, will lead to increased reach and frequency of your brand message in the marketplace. This, in turn, will lead to more sales, more clients, and other top line business results.

    Additional resources on brand storytelling:
    - The “What Do You Do?” Answer: A Key Tool in Your Sales Toolbox (article)
    - Wow! Tell Me More - An Article for United Kingdom Charities (article)
    - Elevator Speech – Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

    EIZO Nanao Corporation (EIZO) desired to grow its business. As a company with a niche product line in medical imaging and monitors, it needed a creative and novel approach to generating interest to help it stand out from the competition in a small market. EIZO hired the advertising agency Butter. Butter is from Berlin/Duesseldorf in Germany.

    Nadine Schlichte, Art Director at Butter, concieved of the idea for a unique pinup calendar. The calendar would be offered to prospective and current physician clients. Each picture of the month shows a naked skeleton image of woman. The developed slogan is "The EIZO Medical pin-up calendar — just like EIZO monitors — really does show every detail." The calendar was released in May 2010.

    “Our actual intention was to stimulate more interest for what is the highly complex, technically sophisticated area of EIZO monitors  for diagnostic purposes and viewing of x-ray images,” say Butter, “As you can imagine, the target market for this kind of specialist, highly-priced monitors is very small.”

    While most people believe each month to show a different woman, the creative team at Butter developed the monthly models from computer CGI illustrations.

    The EIZO calendar description includes "Whereas craftsmen are showered with pin-up-calendars at the end of every year, this kind of present is less popular among physicians. EIZO breaks this taboo. This pin-up calendar shows absolutely every detail.

    The calendar and the pictures went viral quickly. Additionally, Butter and EIZO garned several advertising and related creativity awards.

    In fact, the calendar was so successful, EIZO is now taking orders for the 2011 calendar [which looks to be the same pictures from the 2010 version].

    What kind of novel ideas have you considered? Implemented?

    Additional Resources
    - Purchase the 2011 calendar here for ~€70 Euros or ~$95 USD
    - Eizo Nanao Corporation
    - Butter, Berlin/Duesseldorf, Germany
    - View all of the 2010 calendar pictures from the Butter website

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Achieving Relevancy in eMarketing

    With three email accounts, I receive a large number of email solicitations. I typically begin each day scanning through the subject lines to determine which are the most relevant to me and, subsequently, would warrant a further look. The less relevant emails are saved, while the totally irrelevant ones are simply deleted. Luckily, for me, it takes me less than 3 seconds per email to make this determination.

    I’d like to show you five of what I consider to be the most intriguing subject lines I saw in my inbox over the last two weeks:

    1. “I took your advice!”
    2. “Train Less, Stress Less, Run Faster!”
    3. “Opportunity Knocking!”
    4. “You’re Invited”
    5. “Here are your questions…”

    As you look at these subject lines, can you see what they have in common? They’re all about me! They are acknowledging me, offering to help me in some way, or inviting me to be a part of something. None names a product or service, nor does any mention price…or discounts…or savings! And yet, I opened each and every one of them.

    eMarketing relevancy begins with the right message. The right message, or subject line, keeps the focus on your customer and, in so doing, leads to higher open rates. Higher open rates can lead to higher click rates, which can lead to new or stronger relationships and top line results.


    The iconic seven-slot grille is the symbol of one of the world’s most recognized brands. The spirit of freedom and adventure it stands for has defined the Jeep brand throughout its 70-year history, attracting generations of loyal customers. Few brands command a following so loyal that Jeep designers have resisted major changes to the design of the grille for fear of alienating a devoted customer base. To what, then, does Jeep owe this enviable customer loyalty?

    It’s the unique experience of freedom and adventure you get with a Jeep. Plowing through foot-high snow drifts before the light of day, crossing a stream on a rutted dirt road en route to an overnight camping destination, cruising along the beach with the wind in your hair, sitting under the stars watching Fourth of July fireworks, driving through an orchard on a quest for the perfect apple, and exchanging the “Wrangler wave” with other Wrangler drivers are all part of the Jeep brand’s unique selling proposition. These experiences make the brand different from any other.

    I bought my Jeep Wrangler nine years ago. My boys, then ages 5 and 7, were with me from the very first test drive. I can’t remember who wanted the Jeep more – me or them. I purchased mine off the lot and theirs, miniature Matchbox® models of mine, from Toys ‘R Us. A Jeep Christmas tree ornament – a gift from my boys – followed soon after. Over the years, we’ve travelled many miles together and have accumulated lots of fond memories in our Jeep.   

    My seven year-old is now 16 and will soon have his driver's license. The spirit of freedom and adventure is alive and well, even within him. Driving to and from swim practice, manually shifting the gears as he heads west  toward the mountains on an open highway, and cruising around with the top down on a summer evening are already ingrained experiences in his psyche. And so, another generation of Jeep Wrangler owners is born. Brand loyalty endures.

    How unique is your brand’s selling proposition? Is it compelling your customers or members to yearn for more? Is it helping you to build brand loyalty for generations to come?

    When I was younger, I always thought the easiest job in the world was being a salesman. I loved to talk. What could be easier, I thought, than to take that new toy I just got for my birthday and tell everyone how great it was. Heck, I always did that anyway. I could pester people and talk to them forever about something I liked. And if I ever did run out of words, I could follow up by spending twice as much time showing them how wonderfully it worked.

    When I got older, guess what happened? You guessed it; I became a salesman. But I soon learned that I could not have been more wrong about the best way to go about making a sale. My preconceived formula for selling (talk about the product, show them the product, and then watch them happily walk away with the product while I count my money) was not only ineffective but a recipe for disaster for someone who really wanted to become a good salesperson.

    I started to notice that some of my peers were a lot more successful than others. When I watched various sales techniques, I began to see a common denominator among those who made the most sales: questions! The best salespeople were asking questions. But these were not just any questions; they were thoughtful ones. They were not simply a long series of questions requiring "yes" answers in the hopes that the final answer would also be "yes". They were good quality questions.

    So what exactly are "good quality questions?"

    Well, I started to use some common sense. How can you sell something to a customer without first finding out what makes the customer tick? The more I actually began dealing with real customers, the more I realized the importance of establishing an initial bond with them. I asked them questions about questions which did not require simple yes or no answers, but instead engaged the customer in a dialogue where the customer was an interested participant instead of a passive sales target. And then, most importantly of all, I shut my mouth and listened to their answers.

    As I did this, I realized the gold mine that lay in front of me. I was not only building a foundation of trust between the customer and myself but at the same time I was learning a lot about my customers:  what motivated them, what they were feeling at this particular time in their lives, and what they needed.

    This strategy has the customer reaching the point where he is telling both of us, me and even more importantly, himself, what his problems are. In many cases these are problems which my customer never really articulated before. If I had articulated them to him, it could have been perceived as me giving a sales pitch. But the fact that the customer himself is doing the talking increases the value ten-fold.

    This is where my job becomes easy because all I need to do now is gently guide the customer towards the solution to his problem. But once again, instead of making statements, I ask a few well-formed questions! And, of course, I supplement them with a heavy dose of listening! These questions simply plant a seed in the customer's mind; an image of the customer's problems being answered and the product I happen to be selling being the main ingredient in the solution.

    Most of the time I not only get the sale, but also the gratitude and lasting trust of my new client for helping him/her find the right answers.

    To summarize my simple strategy:

    • Ask questions to find out as much as possible about the customer.
    • Let the customers to do most of the talking; simply reinforce and gently steer so they articulate their problems.
    • Listen! And then listen some more!
    • Lastly, ask questions which cause the customer to visualize the solution with the product I am selling as the solution's centerpiece.


    Art Gould is a division manager with Self Storage Company, which operates a group of websites, including one for California self storage.  Art works with a number of sites including those in Texas as well as Illinois self storage sites.  In an effort to boost sales, he has tried many different sales strategies and has found that those that create the most dialogue with consumers are often the most successful.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Are You Really Sure We Should Print This?

    One of our readers emailed me this advertisement from a popular men's magazine (see below - click on the picture to view a much larger version). Head & Shoulder's Polamolecule ad offer is "Formulated to give you fuller, thicker-looking hair in one week. Guaranteed."

    Head & Shoulder's should be congratulated on its excellent tie-in with a celebrity like Troy Pola, who obviously spends a lot of time and money on his hair. The many challenges facing them is the execution of the ad...Here are five quick review items.

    1. Key Message: Western hemisphere visitors will always look to the top left first when viewing just about anything. The top left here should have the Head & Shoulder's key message or headline here.

    2. Picture is Not Compelling: The picture is well, a bit strange. It's not really a molecule and the ad states this at the very bottom. Then when you get past the initial strangeness, you start deconstructing the image and focus on the many mini heads. They are distracting and take you away from the key fact and benefits of using the shampoo.

    3. Headline at the Bottom:  As mentioned in #1, here is the key message. What is missing here is the tie-in with and to Troy Pola. The ad should specifically talk about how Troy enjoys Head & Shoulders and what it does for his scalp and hair.

    4. Muddled Message: The bottom paragraph should also tie-in the shampoo with Troy. Instead the text is trying too hard to be clever and humorous. Where is the call-to-action of trying and buying the shampoo? Such a call-to-action is on the website!

    5. Fails to Leverage: One of the supporting messages is "Official shampoo of the NFL." Again, specifically tie this in and to using and the benefits of the shampoo.

    “Tell me about your pain and I’ll see if I can help you.”

    It’s one of the most overused opening sales lines I’ve ever heard. A colleague of mine asked me to sit in on a vendor’s sales presentation the other day and I thought, why not?  After all, I had a vested interest in the product she was looking to purchase and was thrilled she asked me for my input. Immediately after we had introduced ourselves to the salesperson, he laid his opening line on us. It was, no doubt, well-rehearsed. I responded with silence and a blank look. I thought, “If you’re not my doctor, why are you asking me about my pain?”

    As a prospective customer, all I was really looking for was an informal two-way conversation about my business, the objectives I was trying to accomplish, and any ideas the salesperson had on how he could help me to be more successful. While he subsequently went on to provide a fairly interesting product demonstration, I couldn’t stop thinking about his opening line and what a huge turn-off it was to me.

    If you’re trying to sell a product or service (and who isn’t these days?), let me offer 4 tips for gaining a better understanding of your customer’s needs:

    •  Do your homework. Walk into your sales presentation with a basic understanding of your customer’s business in hand.

    •  Engage your customer. Have a conversation. Use thoughtful, open-ended questions to gain a clearer understanding of what your customer is trying to accomplish and the challenges he is facing.

    •  Listen. When your customer starts sharing information, talk less and listen more.

    •  Summarize. Restate your customer’s business objectives to confirm you understand them.

    As Steven Covey reminds us in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If you make the effort to truly understand your customer, you won’t need to ask about their pain. Instead, the only thing you’ll be asking for is the sale.

    I’ve been following with great interest Frito-Lay’s experiment with “green” packaging for its Sun Chips brand of multigrain snacks. This past January, after four years of R&D, the company introduced a biodegradable bag made from plant material instead of plastic. The bag was intentionally designed to fully decompose within 14 weeks. What consumers really cared about, however, were the loud crackling sounds the bags made whenever they were opened or handled. In February, sales of Sun Chips began a steady decline. Customers took to Facebook to post their complaints against the bags. In response, the company placed signs in stores that read, “Yes, the bag is loud, that’s what change sounds like.”

    After months of declining sales, the company announced in early October it was pulling most of the biodegradable packaging it uses for its Sun Chips snacks.  What took so long, I wondered? The sounds of change were all around them, for months – declining sales, consumer videos on the Internet ridiculing the new bag, tens of thousands of complaints from angry fans on social networking sites like Facebook. Did they not hear these sounds? Why wasn’t anybody listening?

    Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen where an organization was slow to embrace the desires of their customers. After all, Frito-Lay had invested a substantial sum of time and money into the new biodegradable bag. The company, no doubt, believed it was acting responsibly as a steward of the environment by introducing “greener” packaging. Some may even have believed it would help increase the overall sales performance of its Sun Chip snacks, by appealing to a demographic of socially responsible and eco-friendly consumers.

    Lost in the noise of loud packaging, customer complaints, and declining sales were the differentiators that made this brand successful in the first place. As a consumer committed to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, these multi-grain snacks appealed to me because I perceived them as a convenient and healthy alternative to potato chips.  I stopped buying Sun Chips when it was no longer convenient to eat them while watching movies at home, because the other people in the room kept telling me to be quiet.

    I’m glad Frito-Lay is finally listening to customers like me. I’ve gone without Sun Chips for too long, now.

    I recently spent a warm October Saturday at an amusement park. It was something my son and his friends had wanted to do during the summer and we just never seemed to find the time.

    Despite sunny skies and warm temperatures, attendance at the fully-staffed park seemed surprisingly low for most of the day. The parking lot was empty and, for the most part, the lines for the major attractions were relatively short. For a while, it seemed, the large crowds of summer were gone and it was time to close the books on yet another season.

    And then something magical happened. As dusk settled over the park, King’s Dominion readied for its annual Halloween Haunt – one of the Mid-Atlantic’s most popular Halloween-themed events. Fog and haunting sounds filled the air, monsters suddenly appeared from nowhere, and visitors arrived in droves. Scary times had arrived. With a front gate admission price of $56.99 for ages 3-61, it was clear seasonal discounts weren’t needed to attract visitors during this off-season period.

    With a tag line of “All You Fear is Here,” King’s Dominion has found a way to extend their summer season well beyond the Labor Day weekend.

    Are scary times defining the end of your seasonal business or are they opening the door to longer selling seasons and more revenue?


    I met an acquaintance over a cup of coffee at the local Panera recently. He ordered his coffee with cream, I ordered mine black. We each paid $1.59 for a small cup of coffee. When we sat down, he asked me if I thought he should have paid more for his coffee. After all, he said, he added cream to his and surely Panera incurred an additional cost in supplying the cream he used. This raises an interesting question: how much does the cream with your coffee cost?

    The answer to this question has as much to do with the economics of setting a price as it does with how a product feature is marketed. No doubt, Panera does incur a cost in supplying cream for your coffee. If I had to guess, I would surmise the average amount of cream added to an 8 ounce cup of coffee would equate to one tub (food service parlance for the volume of a single creamer), or a little more than one-third of an ounce. This equates to 5% of the coffee in a small cup. Given the small amount of cream used, my guess is this cost is fairly insignificant – especially when compared to the other costs that go into setting the price for a cup of coffee.

    At Panera, as with most other eateries in America, cream is marketed as an optional feature that comes with your cup of coffee. There is no extra charge for cream; nor is there a discount if you don’t use it. It’s simply part of the experience you get when you buy a cup of coffee. In fact, it’s become so much a part of the experience, most Americans don’t even ask about its cost.

    Product marketing managers looking to enhance existing products with a new feature can draw a useful lesson from this story. Position the new feature as an inherent part of the product, communicate how it will enhance your customer’s overall experience (e.g., more choice, improved functionality or attributes, greater social benefits, etc.) and watch customer demand follow, even at a potential price premium. Focus too much on the feature itself and customers will want to know if they really need it and how much extra it will cost them. 

    So, how do you take your coffee – with cream or without?

    Tuesday, October 05, 2010

    Fundraising Through Social Media

    My son and I decided to team up with a mutual friend to raise money for a non-profit scholarship fund this month. We decided to conduct our fundraising campaign through social media because we think it will provide us with a better, faster, and cheaper means of reaching our financial target than traditional media.

    Better Reach
    Social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, and LinkedIn provide us with a national – and even global – reach to a pool of potential donors and stakeholders. Traditional media like direct mail, phone calls, and word of mouth are much more limited in reach and require larger investments of time per potential donor.

    Faster Connections
    Like any good fundraising campaign, our ability to develop and communicate a personalized message that resonates with our donors will have a direct impact on our success rate. Social media applications allow us to quickly compose and disseminate personalized messages, updates, and photos of our progress. The speed at which we can connect with our donors and stakeholders is not possible with traditional media like direct mail.

    Cheaper Cost
    Facebook events and email invitations, Tweets, FourSquare checkins, and LinkedIn updates carry virtually no monetary cost and help to reduce administrative overhead. Online payment processing systems free us from the burden and cost of tracking and managing contributions. The money we will save on postage, envelopes, letters, phone calls, and even accounting functions will go directly to the scholarship fund we are supporting.

    If your non-profit is considering a fundraising campaign this Fall, why not go social? You may find it’s a better, faster, and cheaper alternative to traditional media.

    The New York Times recently published an interesting article on participating and leading virtual meetings. I thought the most telling part was in the beginning:

    Participants in virtual meetings often feel a lowered sense of accountability, Mr. O’Brien says. “In face-to-face meetings people really show up, not just physically but also mentally. They come to the meeting prepared and actively participate,” he says. In virtual meetings — including the telepresence variety, where images are highly realistic — that’s often not the case.

    For someone who has been doing virtual meetings for are a few humorous anecodtes that are unfortunately true (on multiple occasions I've experienced all three and could add several more).

    Generally, though, it’s better not to do other things while you’re in a virtual meeting, because you could miss important information. “If you keep asking to have questions repeated or for clarification of what’s being said, you are essentially announcing to everyone: ‘I’m not really paying attention’ and risk looking very unprofessional,” Ms. Stack says.

    And use the mute button to block background noise. Mr. Preston recalled a teleconference in which someone was eating a bag of potato chips. “You could hear it rustling during the meeting, and finally someone said: ‘Whoever is eating the potato chips, could you please mute?’ That’s embarrassing.”

    The mute button is also important if you use a headset. “I’ve had meetings where someone went into the bathroom and forgot their headset was on,” Mr. O’Brien says.

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Back to School: Collaboration Is In

    I attended two Back-to-School nights this week, one at a high school and the other at a middle school where I live.  It’s going to be an exciting year for the students at these schools. Our educators used Back-to-School Night to kick off the school year with a strong emphasis on a welcome theme: “Solo is out, collaboration is in.”

    I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. It's always struck me as somewhat ironic how the focus of my education, from elementary school through undergraduate college, was on solo achievements. It wasn’t until I had attended graduate school that the focus had changed to collaboration.  If success in the business world relied so heavily on collaboration, I wondered, why didn’t our schools teach us to work together at an earlier age?

    Welcome to 2010. I learned last night in Ms. Brown’s 8th grade Honors English class there are no “lone rangers” anymore. Everyone is invested in the success of each other.  The way to this success, she said, was to start by observing three simple rules posted on the board:
    1. Be an active listener.
    2. Use effective communication skills.
    3. Show respect and tolerance for others.

    Now, imagine your workplace. Think of how easy and effective collaboration would be if every employee observed these three simple rules. There would be no “lone rangers”.  Co-workers would be invested in the success of the entire organization and each other. Ideas would flow freely, productivity would rise, and so on.

    Our schools are on the right track and, thanks to their emphasis on collaboration, our  collective future is bright. As Henry Ford once observed, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

    Yahoo had an interesting news link I had to click--"What Not to Say When Pulled Over by a Cop."

    The article starts:

    Citizens who are generally law-abiding are likely to come into contact with the police only under two circumstances: If you're a crime victim or you get pulled over for a traffic violation.

    Police officers are not out to make your life miserable, but to make sure you're following the rules of the road and not endangering yourself or those around you.

    With a few exceptions, and an egregious traffic violation is top among them, cops aren't mandated to write tickets. Most would rather send you on your way with a friendly warning -- that can save you time and money.

    But handle the situation with an aggressive or arrogant attitude and you can expect to squeeze an expensive court date into your busy schedule.

    Three big suggestions are made to the reader: 1) Play Nice; 2) Keep It Honest; and 3) Stay Calm.

    The entire article encapsulates human behavior and communication under pressure. It almost sounds like it should be an employment test to see how people respond under pressure. Here's an insightful note: "Cops know that people are nervous when they get pulled over, and they expect a certain amount of jumpiness when they approach a car. Rittorno [one of the officer's interviewed] even admitted she's intimidated in the same situation. "I'm the police and I get scared if I get pulled over," she said."

    Forbest just published an article, "Flirting your way to the corner office." The article starts...

    Some years ago, a female manager at a large global bank based in New York received a curious e-mail. "Nice shoes," it read. Her 4-inch black suede heels had obviously impressed the sender, a male senior partner. "He had exceptional taste," she recalls with a chuckle. "I thought to myself: I'll file that away."

    The partner was a decision-maker in the company and a good person to have on her side. From that day on, whenever she had a presentation and knew he'd be in the room, she paid special attention to her footwear — never flats, always stilettos that added another four inches to her already-striking height of 5'8". "Flirting? I call it efficiency," she says.

    The rest of the article presents some differing views and adivce to answer the question, "How, then, does one effectively — and platonically — flirt?"

    You'll also find several quick Do's and Don'ts with Forbes' "Secrets Of Professional Flirting."

    Additional Resources:
    - Getting to Yes: Make Body Language Work for You
    - Evidence Little Touches Do Mean So Much
    - In all Honesty, Here are Some Ways to Spot a Liar
    - What Kind of Flirting is Appropriate?

    A client asked me about how to invite Damodar, one of his key partners and his spouse, to dinner. Damodar is originally from India. His challenge was he didn't know how to spell Damodar's wife's name. I made a few suggestions: (a) call his assistant, (b) look at Facebook, and (c) use a generic title of "wife." Above all I cautioned, is not to guess and spell her name incorrectly. Some people care a little and some people care a lot about personal name misspellings.

    The smaller and smaller our world becomes, the more exposed to new things we will become. Those not fortunate enough to travel overseas or know people from other countries may be at a disadvantage in business.
    Culture, business practices, traditions, ways of negotiating, gift giving, and the list goes on.

    One important thing is to get the spelling of someone's name absolutely correct. It continues to amaze me when I get mail and email addressed, "Dear Ms. Koretsky." And it iritates me when it is coming from a job applicant (my picture is on the website!).

    Many people from other countries often take on nicknames or shorten their names to make it "easier" for people to remember and pronounce. I disagree and in early 2008, I wrote a blog on this very subject, "We are a Global World…It’s Up to Each of Us to Pronounce a Person’s Name Correctly."

    Tuesday, August 03, 2010

    Driving Without Headlights

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about differentiation (Differentiation Is in the Eyes of the Beholder) and how important it is to ensure the things that make you stand apart from your competitors are also the things that are important to your stakeholders – constituents, members, and customers. Touting differentiators without knowing if they are important to your stakeholders is like driving at night without headlights.

    Successful marketing presupposes a solid understanding of your target audience. The only way to get that understanding is to talk to your potential stakeholders. Ask them for their opinion. Find out what’s important to them...before you get in the driver’s seat.

    Use the information you gain from interacting with your stakeholders to design a marketing message that compels your stakeholders to act. With a clear view of what’s truly important to your target audience, your sales and marketing team will have the confidence it needs to navigate the road ahead.

    You’ve succeeded in directing potential stakeholders to a landing page on your website. Now what? How do you convert them from potential to actual members, constituents, or clients?

    Make it easy for them to follow. Minimize distractions. Use short messages. Keep it simple.

    I gave this some thought recently as I was running on a trail around a lake (I like to run in my spare time, what can I say?). The trail traversed through the woods and, for the most part, was fairly well marked. Along the way, however, there were many tempting distractions – a marina, lakefront vistas, and abutting trails that lead to places other than to my intended destination.

    When I started on the trail, my plan was to run the 5-mile circuit and end up exactly where I had started, which was where my car was parked. It wasn’t long before my curiosity got the best of me and I soon veered off course...

    Is your target audience having a similar experience with your landing page? A landing page is a place where you exchange information with potential stakeholders in your association, government agency, or corporation. Your goal is to convert them to actual members, constituents, or clients by providing them with enough information to complete a transaction.

    Good landing pages need to minimize distractions, like links back to your homepage or other enticing places. These are abutting trails – they will sidetrack your visitors and lead them away from where you want them to go.

    Use short and consistent messages to direct your visitors to the finish line. These are signs along the trail. Restate your elevator speech and the message of your campaign without adding extraneous information. Make sure your clients can read and grasp your messages quickly.

    Finally, keep it simple by including lots of open space. Arrange open space so that your landing page is visually appealing. Use it to keep your audience focused, like I used the lake as a frame of reference while running on the trail around it.

    Article Summary:  Your clients always tell you what’s important to them. Sometimes they tell you specifically with words and body language. Sometimes they tell you by changes in patterns, human behavior, time to respond to emails and telephone calls, and the list goes on. If you want to ensure ongoing success, be an active listener. When used effectively, active listening can lead to fewer surprises, higher close ratios, and bigger deals.

    If you have any preferences or requests for topics, contact us by telephone, email, or leave a comment on this blog entry.

    To read other articles in The Chief Storyteller Blog, select the category, Articles.

    The Art of Listening:  5 Ways Active Listening Improves Your Sales Success

    © 2010. ThinkBusiness Magazine and The Chief Storyteller®, LLC. Used by permission.
    Ira J. Koretsky
    June 2010

    Your clients are speaking to you. Are you listening?

    Your clients always tell you what’s important to them. Sometimes they tell you specifically with words and body language. Sometimes they tell you by changes in patterns, human behavior, time to respond to emails and telephone calls, and the list goes on. If you want to ensure ongoing success, be an active listener. When used effectively, active listening can lead to fewer surprises, higher close ratios, and bigger deals.

    About eight years ago, I worked for a technology company as the director of product management. David, one of the sales professionals, asked me to accompany him on a call. We just launched a new product and he wanted me on hand to help answer questions. 30 minutes into the presentation, David started sharing the roadmap for our company’s advanced products. His hope was to excite the CEO and her team even further. Elizabeth, the CEO, politely interrupted and said “Thank you, we are not interested in this today. Let’s focus on the basic product.”

    Instead of transitioning immediately back to the basic product, David insisted on finishing the advanced products review. I watched Elizabeth cringe ever so slightly. It had an expected ending—no contract.  

    Let’s look at several ways active listening improves success.

    1. Focus on the Person Who is Speaking
    Treat the person speaking as the most important person in the room. Focus on her words, body language, cadence, and tone of voice. Avoid the temptation to interrupt. This is especially true when you feel very strongly about something. Keep an open mind.

    With David’s story, imagine you were the sales professional. How would you have reacted to Elizabeth’s request?

    To improve your listening skills, attend a networking event just for the purpose of listening. After each interaction, make notes. Do you remember his/her elevator speech? Supporting messages? Likes and dislikes? And so forth. How well do you remember what each person said? Could you repeat it back easily? To make it more challenging, make notes after every second interaction, then every third interaction, until you can master the art of listening such that you can make notes at the end of the evening without any difficulty.

    2. Ensure You Understand What is Being Said
    Your client may say one thing and really mean another. Whether you are sure or unsure, always ask clarifying questions. For example, “If I were to summarize your two points as A and B, would they be accurate?” or “Could you give me an example or two of what you mean?” Your goal is to vector in on the true issues and problems. Asking open-ended questions is a good way of finding out your client’s true motivations.

    3. With Little Effort Comes Big Impact
    Use verbal and body language cues to show you are actively listening. These cues take little effort and have a big impact. For verbal cues, use words of encouragement and understanding like “right,” “I understand,” “interesting, tell me more,” and “sure.” For body language cues, make good eye contact. Nod your head to encourage sharing and to demonstrate understanding. Ensure your arms remain uncrossed. Consciously smile. Your overall goal is to encourage while showing positive reinforcement.

    Think back to Elizabeth’s story, how do you suppose she would have reacted if David had stopped talking about the new products and quickly returned to discussing the basic products? 

    4. Pay Close Attention to How You are Perceived
    Start with the belief that perception is reality. If your client perceives you are not actively listening, then you are not—no matter what the reality is. Common reality-changing actions include texting, tweeting, answering the phone, and responding to emails. Devote 100% of your attention to them. Lastly, if you think you are about to interrupt, write down your thought on your notepaper instead. 

    The next time you meet a friend or acquaintance for lunch, practice by applying these tips. Try making it through the entire lunch without interrupting your conversation with an external pull (e.g., phone calls, texts, emails, and tweets). 

    5. Master the Art of Active Listening
    James Nathan Miller made an interesting observation some forty years ago—“Conversation in the U.S. is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener” (The Art of Intelligent Listening, Readers Digest, September 1965).

    Don’t let Miller’s observation describe your conversations. Use these suggestions to improve your prospecting and selling success. Show your clients and prospects you understand their business better than anyone else does. Master the art of active listening.


    Ira Koretsky is the president of The Chief Storyteller®, a boutique marketing and sales consulting firm. He has delighted audiences around the world helping them achieve better business outcomes and accelerate their revenue with highly effective written, spoken, and social media communications. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, columnist, consultant, and executive coach. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn®, and YouTube.


    Friend and colleague Maddie Grant sent me a link to this really neat "spontaneous" dance at the National Restaurant Association's Hotel-Motel Show® in Chicago's McCormick Place.

    It's called a flash mob dance. While the phrase description sounds sort of scary and ominous, it really is fun to watch random people join in the fun. For four minutes, attendees could take a break from the hustle and bustle and let loose.

    According to the YouTube write up, it was an original choreographed dance routing by Christina Chen. All people had to do was watch her dance and copy her body movement.

    What do you think happened afterward?

    - The ~100 dancers along with ~150 watchers talked about those four minutes for the rest of the day and likely the next week. 

    - People were happier
    - These people were excited about the conference and it inspired others
    - Got other people talking and asking questions about the next dance
    - Inspired your organizing committee to come up with new and additional ways to add value and extend the experience to your participants

    We spend at least a third of our day at work...What are you doing to increase enjoyment at your organization?

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Home Is Where the Heart Is

    My brother owns and operates a small heating and air-conditioning business.  With the recent decline in home starts and an uncertain job market, competition for customer mind and wallet share has been tough.

    His customers tend to spare no expense for other home improvements like granite countertops, kitchen cabinets, or imported bathroom tiles. Yet, when it comes to replacing their current heating and air conditioning systems, they seem to have little appetite for spending money.

    To help him win customer mind and wallet share, I suggested he tell a more compelling story for communicating the value of his services.

    After tossing around a number of ideas with him, we decided on this story. The heat pump is like your heart. It pumps air throughout your house to keep you warm during the winter and cool during the summer. It circulates the air in your home. Circulation sustains life and activity.

    This story allows him to frame the value of his work in a more compelling and meaningful way for his customers. Think of it this way. If you were having heart trouble and needed the services of a cardiologist, would you shop around for the lowest price?

    His business now has a new, more personal headline: “Home Is Where the Heart Is.  How efficiently is your heat pump providing you with the air you need?” As for my brother…he’s now making house calls.

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