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- Body Language and Gestures,
- Career Development,
- Customer Service,
- Elevator Speech or Mission Statement,
- Human Behavior,
- Marketing Communications,
- Messaging and Content Development,
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Today is the third year people can say to me, "Happy Father's Day." As an older parent, having children makes you (I believe) more acutely aware of your personal and family life. For me, it also makes me think of how grateful I am for my good friends, trusted colleagues, and loyal clients.
What positive things does it make you think of?
In an instant, I can always tell what my experience is going to be with a brand, company or organization I am interacting with for the first time. In most cases, I can see it. Where I cannot see it, I can hear it. And regardless of whether I can see or hear it, I can almost always feel it. In a word, it’s a smile.
A smile is contagious. It starts with your employees and how they greet one another at the beginning of their work day. It extends to how they greet your customers at every touch point in their experience with your brand, company or organization. You don’t need a magnifying glass to observe it. And you won’t see it measured on any report. You will, however, know it when you see it.
So the next time someone asks you to look into improving your customer experience, start where it matters…at the beginning. How are your employees greeting one another? How often do they smile when they are at work? Can you see the smiles on their faces? Or hear them in their voices? Or feel them by their presence?
Remember, all great customer experiences begin with a smile.
I read an article by best-selling author and syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay (“Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive”) in the Washington Business Journal the other day where he cited research that shows “buyers are not reaching out to contact salespeople and sales organizations until they’re 60-70 percent along in the decision process.”
The simple truth is customers are doing their homework. They are going online and researching the answers to their needs and problems. They are forming opinions on who they think can best help them. Then they are reaching out to sellers for the one thing they cannot get online – a better price.
This is where the value of preparation comes into play. In today’s selling environment, salespeople need to provide value by telling buyers something they don’t already know…answers to questions like:
• What makes you and your products different?
• How can you and your products help me?
• How do you know you can help me?
The sellers who can answer these questions with thoughtful and relevant responses are the ones who are most likely to make the sale, often commanding a price premium even in today’s market. Those who cannot are the ones who will most often find themselves responding to RFPs, attempting to sell highly commoditized products at the lowest price.
In a few weeks, I will attend my 30th college reunion at Fairfield University. It’s hard to believe so many years have gone by since I received my undergraduate degree in Marketing and said goodbye to the place that had been home for four great years.
As I scanned photos of this year’s commencement activities on the University’s Facebook and Instagram pages the other day, it was easy to take myself back in time. I remember thinking on graduation day I had made it. I did it. I had become one of my family's first-generation college graduates. I had no idea what the future would hold. All I had at that point were fond memories, lessons learned from my undergraduate studies and the promise of an uncertain future.
Thirty years later, the feeling I had on graduation day remains with me. I did it. Along with my wife, I have since raised a family, earned an MBA, built two successful careers in business, given back to my community in countless ways and have reconnected to many of my college friends and the place I once called home.
I’ve applied many of the lessons I learned at Fairfield over the last thirty years. Of these, I think the most important is this – in everything you do, always remember to make it about “them.” The people who tend to be the most successful in life are the best listeners. They are sincere, open, honest and responsive to others. They are team players and treat others the way they would like to be treated. They respect the people in their lives and spend time getting to know, understand and appreciate them.
As I look back now and think about it, this is probably the one big lesson the Jesuit Fathers and my other college professors hoped I would take away from my undergraduate experience. You see, making it about “them” is not only the foundation of great marketing, it’s a big part of the Jesuit commitment to service and social justice.
Irrespective of your accomplishments or years of experience, everyone should personalize a LinkedIn request.
Here is a great example. Yesterday I received this request from a recent graduate. It was to the point, personalized, and short.
I gladly and quickly accepted.
If you can help Jimeisha, please reach out, especially if you in the Wash, DC area. She is seeking opportunities in disability services, education, outreach programs,and health care.
Jimeisha's profile: www.linkedin.com/in/jimeishamcbride
I am a huge fan of audio books. On the plane, in the car, and on the subway I am catching up on my favorite business books and for pleasure books. A colleague introduced me to John Scalzi, who is primarily a sci-fi writer. As I do every time with new authors, I read reviews on Amazon, biographies on Wikipedia and Amazon, and ask the referrering person more about style and substance.
Reading John's bio on Amazon really piqued my interest. Reading the bio shows me he's a bit wry, funny, well-liked (he's won several awards), and has an interesting call-to-action at the end.
John Scalzi writes books, which, considering where you're reading this, makes perfect sense. He's best known for writing science fiction, for which he won the John W. Campbell Award (2006) and has been nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel (2006, 2008, 2009). He also writes non-fiction, on subjects ranging from personal finance to astronomy to film, and was the Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series. He enjoys pie, as should all right thinking people. You can get to his blog by typing the word "Whatever" into Google. No, seriously, try it.
I indeed typed "Whatever" into Google and John's blog came up first. I'm convinced. Now I have to figure out which book to read first.
Moral of the story: If you have a personal bio on your website, LinkedIn profile, speaker one sheet, etc., have you considered, seriously considered changing it? Most bios are factual and chronological splashed at the end with the "Ira's married to the love of his life, has a wonderful daughter, and enjoys photography in his spare time." When I thought conservative was better, I didn't stand out. Today, my bio helps me more memorable and more engaging. My bio gives people reasons and opportunities to talk with me more about my background.
Try changing your bio....even if it is just a little.
Postscript 1: I just looked at his LinkedIn page and this is his first sentence in his Summary: "I write. I edit. I get paid. I fight crime! I lied about that last one."
Postscript 2: Some people asked that I include my bio. The bio is available as a PDF on The Chief Storyteller website, is included with my speaking engagements, has a variation on social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, is included in proposals, and the list goes on. People always ask me about something in the bio.
“Think deliberately.” The mantra of a person who has made improving communications his life’s work.
It all began some 30 years ago, at a high school science fair. Ira had presented his computer program on the heart and the circulatory system. One by one, the prizes were announced...third...second...first place. After nearly 100 hours of programming evenings and weekends, he slumped his shoulders and thought to himself, “I lost.” Then...Ira heard the chairwoman announce, “We are awarding the grand prize to a young man who could sell me my own pair of shoes!” And his name was called.
For more than 26 years nationally and internationally, Ira has been building his communication skills into a well-honed set of precision instruments. Within minutes, he will fundamentally change the way you communicate.
His most pivotal experience was serving as a public affairs officer in the United States Army Medical Service Corps. Trained in giving and preparing presentations for military and civilian executives, he gained invaluable insights into messaging, communications, and storytelling.
Living on both coasts, Ira has held various leadership roles in marketing and product management. After earning his MBA from the University of Maryland in 2000, Ira entered into the world of leading edge technology. It was while working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley he began to adapt his skills for use with the new, technology-driven tools today’s professionals have come to rely on.
And like all good communicators, Ira loves the stage. He performed improvisational humor professionally with ComedySportz in a career spanning 12 years and more than 1,000 shows. While performing, Ira had this epiphany: “improv mirrors life.” Life experiences stem from random and planned connections with people, and it is these experiences that help us to bond quickly with audiences.
Ira is an active blogger and writer, was a guest columnist for the Washington Business Journal, and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland. He helped the a US government contracting firm win a $94 million multi-year project; Altum develop a proposal that had a 100% success rate in going to the final decision round; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) secure Affordable Care Act dollars and $6.2M for the National Youth Fitness Survey.
If I were to ask, “What Makes Your Company Different?” how would your employees answer? How would your customers answer? Would their responses be the same?
This question is at the heart of your company’s marketing strategy. As noted author and Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter notes in Competitive Strategy (The Free Press, 1980), “differentiation…creates layers of insulation against competitive warfare because buyers have preferences and loyalties to particular sellers.” When companies lack differentiation and a product or service is viewed as a commodity, “choice by the buyer is largely based on price and service, and pressures for intense price and service competition result.”
So, what makes your company different? Is it price, service or something truly unique and innovative? Now may be a good time to re-engage your employees and customers to see what they have to say.
For more on marketing strategy, please see:
• Low Customer Retention? Maybe You’re Just Selling Mulch
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
LinkedIn looks to be launching a major game changer in social media. I have not used it nor seen a demo. My opinion is based on the press coverage, release announcement, and screen shots. Google was very successful in creating hyper buzz with limited gmail email accounts. LinkedIn seem to be doing the same with a waitlist (see the bottom). We will see...
Here is the information from the blog post announcing the new, LinkedIn Contacts.
Have you ever wished for a personal assistant who reminds you when your colleagues are celebrating new jobs or birthdays? Or have you wanted to quickly pull up the last conversations you had with people before you head out to meet them?
Today we’re proud to announce the launch of LinkedIn Contacts, a smarter way to stay in touch with your most important relationships. With this new product, we bring all your contacts from your address books, email accounts, and calendars together with the power of your LinkedIn network. Contacts is available both on LinkedIn.com as well as a brand new app for iPhone. Over the coming weeks, we’ll start sending invitations to try LinkedIn Contacts to a limited number of members in the United States.
With the new LinkedIn Contacts experience, we’ve introduced features in three areas:
Bring all your contacts to one place
LinkedIn Contacts brings together all your address books, emails, and calendars, and keeps them up to date in one place. From these sources, we’ll automatically pull in the details of your past conversations and meetings, and bring these details directly onto your contact’s profile.
Never miss an opportunity to say hello
Get alerted on job changes and birthdays in your network, a perfect opportunity to stay in touch. Also, you can set reminders and add notes about the important people in your life.
Take it on your mobile device
Stay connected on the go. LinkedIn Contacts is available as a standalone app for iPhone, so you can stay in touch with your contacts wherever you work.
If you’d like to learn more or be one of the first to check out this new experience, visit http://contacts.linkedin.com to join our waitlist.
I have been a mentor and traveler with CRDF Global for many years. CRDF/Department of State have brought together (and continue to do so) some of the brightest minds from around the world in global innovation and entrepreneurship. If you are near the DC area, the event is on the GW Campus. Otherwise, enjoy the live streaming webinar. Register here.
Here are the details and links.
The Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Initiative, a partnership led by CRDF Global and the U.S. Department of State, invites you to join us for a lunchtime panel discussion on global innovation and technology entrepreneurship. This luncheon will provide an opportunity to celebrate successes achieved by entrepreneurs from emerging economies and hear from speakers who work to enhance entrepreneurial communities around the globe. Participants will learn about innovation and entrepreneurship and how diaspora groups can take these tools to help bridge communities and create new opportunities. Register here.
12:30-1:00pm Registration and lunch
1:00-2:00pm GIST panel discussion
2:00-3:00pm DC-based live Q&A period and networking
How to get involved?
Join our 159K+ Facebook Community: http://www.facebook.com/GISTinitiative
Shari Loessberg, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan. LinkedIn
Shari is a seasoned entrepreneur in the US and emerging markets. She has lived five years in Moscow building leading Russian equity house. Shari has been at MIT Sloan for ten years, teaching about US venture capital investment and emerging market entrepreneurship. She also consults on domestic and international startup issues. Her specialties are in emerging market entrepreneurship and investment, US venture capital investment, strategy and negotiation in funding US high-tech startups, domestic and international corporate governance and Russian capital markets.
Catherine Cook, Founder of Meet Me. LinkedIn
Catherine Cook graduated from Georgetown University (B’11), where she majored in OPIM and marketing. Catherine has been reported on extensively by CNBC, MTV, ABC News, Fox News, CosmoGIRL, BusinessWeek, the San Francisco Chronicle and CBS. She has spoken at a number of high profile conferences, including the Foursquare conference, and spoken at events at Princeton University, Boston College, and Georgetown University.
Wissam "Will" Yafi, Founder & CEO of TidWit Inc. LinkedIn
Wissam "Will" Yafi is the founder of TidWiT Inc. For the past 10 years, together with his team he has been responsible for launching worldwide e-learning and ICT initiatives to non-profits, high tech firms, and government organizations. With more than 20 years in the industry, Wissam often shares his experiences through workshops and planning sessions all over North America, Europe, LATAM, Asia, and Africa. Wissam and his team have successfully delivered hundreds of online courses using TidWiT's recognized Social Learning platform. Wissam balances work with community orientated activities such as training youth on entrepreneurship and technology and helping developing countries on incubation and ICT initiatives. His volunteer work earned Wissam recognition with VEGA in the US. Wissam is a published author of two books and is a regular contributor to several global media outlets.
Ovidiu (Ovi) Bujorean, Sr. Manager of GIST Initiative. www.ovibees.com
Ovidiu Bujorean manages and directs the GIST Initiative. Mr. Bujorean is a professional speaker on topics such as professional networking, innovation and entrepreneurship and partnerships building. Previously, Mr. Bujorean was the Senior Associate at Rudyard Partners, a private equity firm focused on investing in consumer technologies. Mr. Bujorean serves as Chairman of the Board of Advisors of AIESEC DC and Vice-Chairman of MIT Enterprise Forum of Washington DC. He founded LEADERS, an organization that impacted the lives of approximately 10000 young leaders and entrepreneurs in Romania and Southern-Eastern Europe and is a graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management (MBA) and Harvard’s Kennedy School (MPA).
I celebrated a personal milestone this week when I reached the 3,000 follower mark on Twitter. Later that day, a friend and I were having lunch when he asked me to tell him about my success. Without hesitation, I gave him this simple explanation. It's all about branding.
My experience with social media has provided me with some powerful insights. One of those insights is that developing an engaging presence on social media is a lot like building a brand. I started by defining my brand, a promise and an audience. The next step was to deliver on it. Consistently and regularly.
Let me share with you ten branding lessons I've gained from my experience with social media over the last four years:
1. Be yourself.
Your friends and followers will like you for the person you are, not the person who you think they want you to be.
2. Always be true to yourself.
Actions speak louder than words. Your followers will see through actions that are inconsistent with your identity.
3. Make it about them.
Share content your followers will find helpful, valuable or meaningful.
4. Engage them.
Embrace the notion that you are managing relationships with people, not selling something to them.
5. Be present where they are.
Establish a consistent presence across multiple social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, weekly blog, etc.).
6. Avoid unexplained absences for extended periods of time.
Stay active and let your friends and followers know when you decide to take a break (or pre-schedule your posts).
7. Listen to your followers.
Your followers are smart. Listen and learn from them. Share their content. Exchange ideas with them.
8. Know that real engagement is more than just the number of followers you have.
Large numbers aren't everything. It's how you well you engage that matters. Kred (shown above) and Klout provide some measure of engagement in areas like reach, amplification, network and influence.
9. Never buy friends and followers.
Followers who are bought tend to be less engaged and are far less likely to stick around.
10. Respect and value your friends.
When it comes right down to it, they are the reason for your presence (and success) on social media.
For more insights on brand building and social media, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• How Social Media Is Making an Impact on Marketing
• Why Social Media Should Be Part of Your Marketing Communications
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand on Social Media
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships
How do you really know what your customers want?
One of the most common answers I hear is, “Because they told us….” Yet, for me anyway, this answer only invites more questions. Who? When? What did they tell you? How did they tell you? Was it an interactive conversation? Are you sure you really understood what they were telling you? Have their wants changed?
If understanding what your customers want is the foundation of your marketing strategy, listening to customers is going to require more than a one-time investment in classic market research tools like focus groups and customer surveys.
The markets in which you compete are evolving. Customer preferences and wants are continually changing. New competitors are emerging. The one constant is your customers are talking. The key to truly understanding what they want is continual engagement – through social media, one-on-one interactions, public forums and even sales calls. Getting in front of customers and engaging them in conversations should be a required part of every marketer’s job – from the CMO down to the marketing specialist.
Your customers are still talking. When was the last time you listened?
Last week I had the honor of being a semi-finalist judge for the The George Wasington University Business Plan Competition. About 35 judges discussed the merits and potential of some 30 business plans. Our focus was to select the eight lucky finalists. These finalists would then pitch on April 19, competing for over $60,000 in cash prizes. We had some passionate discussions, laughed a bit, and in the end, chose some really interesting ideas. I am really looking forward to the presentations next week. If you are interested in attending, the link is at the bottom.
The GW Business Plan Competition, founded five years ago by Florida Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Annette Scott, awards over $60,000 in cash prizes to teams of GW students, faculty and alumni who have innovative ideas for new products and/or services. The Scotts' daughter, Allison Scott Guimard, is an alumna of GW's School of Business, class of 2005.
With 109 submissions from 12 schools at GW, participation has increased significantly over the years. From those initial submissions, 35 student-based teams were invited to write full business plans, and from them, eight teams made it to the GW Business Plan Competition Finals. These eight finalists will present their business plans and ideas to a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and GW alumni.
Eight student-led teams will present their winning business ideas and compete for over $60,000 in cash prizes during the GW Business Plan Competition. The GW Business Plan Competition Finals are the culmination of a year-long series of educational workshops and active mentorship on new venture creation. Finalists will present their business plans and ideas to a panel of distinguished entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and GW alumni. In addition, winners from previous years will be present to talk about where they have taken their businesses since securing funding in a previous GW Business Plan Competition. Registration and a full schedule are available here.
Final presentations and awards will take place from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 19. The event is open to GW students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the general public.
The George Washington University
School of Business
Duques Hall, 6th Floor
2201 G Street, N.W.
If you are planning to attend let me know, we can meet up there for some coffee.
One of our blog readers emailed me to let me know that Matt of "Where the Hell is Matt?" fame had a new video. I posted a blog in August of 2006 sharing a bit of background on Matt. This was before his three other videos and as it calls it, his "not-entirely-un-famous" status.
Once you read the About Matt page, you will really appreciate the storytelling behind his videos. The accompanying music in the 2012 video is fantastic. I even "Bought" the video from his home page despite being able to find it on the Internet. Why? Because Matt started out and I still think through today, to be genuinely selfless. He is honest, his videos reflect this, and the worldwide enjoyment is testament to his beliefs. With all of the messaging and organizations touting story this and story that, I truly believe the absolute genuine stories will be the ones that stand out.
Here is an excerpt from his About page:
He mostly just danced in front of iconic landmarks, but along the way he went to a country called Rwanda, and since there aren't any landmarks in Rwanda that you'd want to dance in front of, instead he just went to a small village and danced with a bunch of kids. The kids joined him immediately and without hesitation. That ended up being the best thing that happened to him on the trip. The kids taught him that people are a whole lot more interesting than old landmarks and monuments.
Matt went back to Stride and told them he did it all wrong and they needed to send him around the planet again. They said, "Okay," and in 2008 he put out another video that showed thousands of people laughing, smiling, and goofing around together. It took him five years and three tries, but he finally got it right that time.
Where the Hell is Matt 2005 video ~3,000,000 views
Where the Hell is Matt 2006 video ~18,300,000 views
Where the Hell is Matt 2008 video ~45,500,000 views
Where the Hell is Matt 2012 video ~9,700.000 views
If I were to ask who your biggest competitor is, who would you say? Now think about your changing competitive landscape and where you would like your business to be in five years. Who will be your next big competitor? How will you compete?
The world is changing. Your customers are changing. The competitive advantage that made your business successful in the past may not be an effective source of differentiation tomorrow. Businesses that thrive over the long term understand their current competitors and how customers respond to them. They also seek to identify emerging competitors before they become a threat. Early identification of emerging competitors provides companies with an opportunity to modify their existing marketing strategies in ways that allow them to acquire and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage.
Astute marketers are always on the lookout for the next big competitor. What are you seeing when you look across the horizon? Are there any relative "unknowns" who might be threatening to disrupt your industry with powerful innovations? If so, how will you prepare to meet this challenge? Will you be ready?
Recently I purchased an item from the online Disney Store. A few days after delivery the email pictured below, arrived.
Here is the text of the email:
Title: THANK YOU FAIRY MUCH
How can we make it even better?
We want to hear all those thoughts flying around about how we can make your DisneyStore.com experience the best ever. Please fill out a brief survey - it will help us make sure that your experience was everything you wished for.
It will only take a few minutes of your time and no one will see your answers but us.
Thank you for your purchase. And thank you for letting us know what you think!
It about 80 words or ~15 seconds to skim/read Disney gets across a) They care; b) My time is valuable; and c) Brand consistency. On the bottom of the email, you can see all of the social media links, sign-up for the newsletter, and event alerts. Very well done.
I remind people that networking is hard. It is like a big blind date for professionals. And you should expect lots of no's and few yes's. I always quote Richard Bolles in "What Color Is Your Parachute?" "Think of every "no" as bringing you one step closer to a "yes."
During a recent "how to networking" program" I was asked one of the more frequent question, "How do I know if I should exit a conversation?"
Here are five sure-fire indicators that your conversation partner is ready to move on. He/she...
1. Stops asking questions. This is a direct way of letting you know. The awkwardness alone makes you cringe. Exit quickly.
2. Starts glancing around frequently. Many people do not realize they are doing this. This is not an absolute, more of an indicator as your conversation partner may be looking for a specific person.
3. Stops smiling. This is generally an unconscious way of displaying disinterest. It could also indicate the person is unsure of how to proceed or may need further explanation on something you just said.
4. Shifts weight from foot-to-foot or side-to-side. Another generally unconscious way of showing you disinterest. Most of the time this body language is clear, time to exit.
5. Introduces you to someone else. If you are introduced to someone else quickly, there are two reasons...a hand-off (read "get rid of you") or an in the moment referral. Based on the conversation thus far, it should be easy to know which reason.
In last week’s post, I spoke of the importance of providing a great customer experience across the various business processes that define your customers’ interactions with your brand.
I started with an assumption of customer dissatisfaction and the need to improve your customer experience in response to this feedback. I talked about the benefits of a great customer experience – increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins. And I left you with a challenge – how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand’s customer experience.
The idea of looking at all of the various business processes across an organization – digging deep into the complex sets of activities that comprise their respective processes, identifying root causes of breakdowns, implementing improvements and measuring the impact of your efforts – can be overwhelming. To simplify, try looking across the various processes for areas of commonality (e.g., are there one or two things that can be done better across all processes to achieve your desired results?). These areas of commonality are foundational elements. Addressing these foundational elements early on often yields the biggest gains.
One such foundational element is communication – who, what, when, where and how you are adding value to your interactions with customers – at every process during the customer experience. Too often, organizations do great work and accomplish extraordinary things in service to their customers. Their customers just don’t know it because no one is communicating with them regarding expectations, status updates and resolution. As a result, your customers are left with an unsatisfactory customer experience that leaves them feeling unappreciated and undervalued.
In this sense, communication really is the foundation of a great customer experience. Finding ways to do it better across the various business processes that define your customer’s interaction with your brand will likely have the greatest impact on your customer experience.
I was at an all-day conference a few days ago. Each of the sessions was a panel. During the second session, one panelist said "That's a great question." Then it became a contagious virus. The second panelist said "That's a great question." And of course, the third panelist followed. Subsequently, EVERY single question was followed by "That's a great question" or something very close. The woman next to me leaned over and said, "I bet that's a great question" and we both laughed and cringed.
This prompted me to write the Tip of Week with the same title. I included the tip below...
Saying “That’s a great question,” detracts from your credibility, no matter what. If you are like some, you use it all the time hoping to make everyone feel positive about asking questions. In this case, no one feels special as it is used every time. And by the third or so time you use it, “great question” sounds disingenuous.
If you say it occasionally, then you alienate those that did not receive a “great question” response…immediately.
Instead, remain neutral throughout your time with your audience. Respond and acknowledge points without tipping the emotional balance.
Here are a few suggested responses after receiving a question:
- Thank you for your question
- Please (and gesture/point to the person encouraging him/her to begin talking)
- Thank you for asking that question
- Yes (and gesture/point to the person encouraging him/her to begin talking)
Your customers interact with your brand in a variety of ways. These interactions may include some or all of the following business processes: pre-sales, sales, support, billing, and customer service. The customer experience you provide at each and every one of these phases in the customer lifecycle forms an indelible impression of your brand and what it means to do business with you.
Now, suppose your customer feedback reveals dissatisfaction with the customer experience that occurs during a number of these business processes. How would you improve your brand’s overall customer experience? Where would you start?
Best practices suggest starting with the big picture. The big picture includes a vision of what success will look like if the business process improvement efforts achieve their desired results. It also includes the new skills and other tools your employees will need to succeed, as well as a clear and consistent communication of goals and milestone targets. Finally, it includes rewards – bonuses and other forms of recognition – for members of the business process improvement team when goals are met and exceeded.
Business process improvements that result in a great customer experience can be a source of competitive advantage for your brand. Brands that provide a positive customer experience enjoy increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins than their competitors.
Visit us next week for ideas on how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand's customer experience.
All marketers should have a resume that includes sales experience.
I’ll admit, sales is hard work. It’s one of the toughest jobs in any organization. For those of us who have ever been paid on performance, it’s high risk - high reward. There are quotas to be achieved, customers to be served and forecast commitments to be honored. And yes, there are pay-impacting rewards for individual success and personal consequences for failure.
Sales is not a spectator sport. It teaches us to be accountable for results. It’s where we learn about customer wants and needs, how to achieve competitive advantage, the value of business storytelling and the difference between a well-intentioned marketing strategy and one that actually works. It’s where we learn interpersonal and communications skills that lead us to trust, respect and value the contributions of others.
These are, after all, the skills that will drive success in marketing, too.
For more on the dynamic relationship between sales and marketing, please see:
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• The Purpose of Marketing Is to Drive Sales
• How to Tell the Difference Between Sales and Marketing
I was at the gym the other day and couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between two C-level executives. The exchange went something like this:
“How is that _____ working out for you?”
“We think we’re paying too much so we’re looking for a better deal. I’m talking to a rep from a firm down in ______, who says she can get me a lower rate.”
“Let me know when you find one. We may want to give it a try, too.”
As a seasoned salesperson and an experienced brand manager, alarm bells immediately sounded in my head. Wow, I thought, the incumbent salesperson has no idea his or her customer is out “looking for a better deal” and is about to leave. What makes customers get to this place?
Here are some observations:
• On an individual basis, it would appear neither the incumbent salesperson nor the brand has successfully engaged this customer beyond the initial sale.
• On a larger scale, the incumbent’s marketing team has failed to differentiate its product or service on anything other than price, effectively positioning it as a commodity and needlessly exposing it to price competition.
• Finally, testimonials from other customers can be strong influencers. These C-level executives clearly value each other’s opinions and one of them is likely to influence the other’s future purchase decisions more so than any salesperson might be able to.
And here is what my experience tells me:
• If you are not in front of your customers, somebody else is. The key to a successful engagement plan is regular and interactive communication...beyond the sale.
• With few exceptions, selling on price alone is not a sustainable long-term strategy. Find ways to differentiate your product, service and brand. Make them worth paying more for. Give them a reason to stay. Customers whose only purchase criteria is lowest price will leave when they find a better deal.
• Establish yourself as a thought leader and develop an integrated marketing strategy that allows you to join conversations your customers are having (those conversations aren’t just happening at the gym, by the way…they’re happening online in social media apps like Facebook and LinkedIn, in college classrooms and in other professional forums and events, as well).
For more on the relationship between customer engagement and loyalty, please see:
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• The Power of a Personal Connection
• All Customer Relationships Are Personal
Everyone likes a success story.
I picked up a recent issue of Fortune magazine and found one hundred of them, under the story line, “100 Best Companies to Work For.” These stories were compiled on the basis of feedback obtained from what Fortune calls “the most extensive employee survey in corporate America.” The survey asks employees for their feedback on management credibility, job satisfaction and organizational culture.
Not surprisingly, each of the companies chosen for this honor has a unique story of what makes it a great place to work. The stories they tell evoke images of employee wellness, creativity, innovation, shared wealth, trust and respect, community service, passion, transparency and appreciation. Some of my favorites included stories about Wegmans, Recreational Equipment (REI), Men’s Wearhouse and Marriott International – all brands I frequent and ones I have highlighted in previous blogs.
Do you have a favorite success story from this list?
Click here to see the full list of this year’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
Today I was working with an executive client on her storytelling. Tanya wants to use more stories in her meetings, presentations, networking, etc.
As part of the first step of developing engaging business stories, we develop a story list. This is simply a list of Tanya's favorite stories and a few notes beside each story title.
After sharing a variety of stories, I asked her to rank her favorite ones. When she identified her all-time favorite, I prompted Tanya to share it.
Nearly three minutes into telling it, I identified the "make me care" moment.
During our discussions Tanya agreed that yes, this was the most important part...this was the business take-away.
For you, two suggestions:
1) Shorten your business stories, generally to a max of two minutes. Three minutes if you are able to keep your audience's attention the entire time2) Message/craft the words of your stories around your "make me care" concept. Be deliberate
I walked into the dry cleaners the other day to drop off a new dress shirt and a pair of slacks. I am a regular customer and, as you might expect, am frequently greeted by name when I walk in. By the time I had arrived at the counter, the assistant manager had already pulled up my account in their database. He was able to retrieve my account without my having to provide my phone number (an impressive feat, given the large number of customer transactions they process in a given day). He also knew how I liked my shirts (lightly starched, on hangers) and didn’t have to ask me.
He must have sensed I was in a hurry because, when he discovered I was leaving new items that needed bar-coded labels (they use these to identify and keep track of their customers’ garments), he told me to go on ahead and he would take care of it. When I asked if I needed a receipt, he said, “No, I got it.”
I returned later that evening and, without a receipt, said I was there for a pick-up. The employee behind the counter quickly retrieved my shirt and slacks, I paid for the dry cleaning and was soon on my way.
I share this story about my customer experience with Crest Cleaners because it is a big part of why they have been able to retain me as a loyal customer for many years. The relationship we have built is one of familiarity – I could walk in, leave my dry cleaning on the counter without saying a word (if I really wanted to) and know it would be ready that night. It’s also a relationship of trust – after all, there aren’t too many places where I would feel comfortable leaving over $150 worth of clothes without a receipt or claim check. Most of all, it's convenient. It makes dry cleaning the easiest part of my day.
Are your employees making the extra effort to anticipate your customers' needs? It might mean the difference between customer retention and attrition for your business.
For other insights on the important role people play in customer retention, please see:
• “Refrigerator Rights” and Why Organizations Covet Them
• Be Different – Thank Your Customers
• Service Before Self: Why Strength of Character Compels Others to Do Business With You
I stumbled upon a great read the other day, "Tribes", by international best-selling author Seth Godin. The book is a compendium of short articles on leadership. The basic premise is that anyone with a passion for something can create a movement. All it takes is a deliberate choice. A choice to lead.
With experience as both a manager and a leader in a variety of not-for-profit and corporate organizations, I found this book fascinating. It spoke to the not so subtle differences between a manager and a leader. As described in the book, managers are process-oriented, reactive, defenders of the status quo, predictable, focused on employees and their assignments, and often stuck "playing today's game by yesterday's rules." Leaders are visionary, proactive, agents of change, inspiring, skilled in attracting followers, trusting, forward-looking and passionate.
My experience tells me that organizations who thrive (i.e., as measured by sustained growth in members, member engagement, revenues or profitability) are those whose top spots are occupied by leaders. Leaders use their passion and ideas to build communities of followers, or tribes. They recognize the world is changing and they respond with innovation. They lead with fresh ideas and they empower others to take risks and make good decisions. By trusting and respecting others, they accomplish the extraordinary and they move you forward.
What do you think? Are you a manager or a leader? The choice to lead is yours.
For more on leadership and its impact on an organization, please see:
• What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
• What Makes Your Company a “Best Place to Work?”
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation – Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking
I decided to rebrand myself in January 2010. I started tweeting. I did a major refresh on my LinkedIn profile. In the months and years since, I opened a Facebook account and created a Facebook Page. I also opened accounts in Foursquare and Pinterest. And I even started measuring my online influence in Kred and Klout.
Three years later, I’ve accumulated an array of quantifiable successes many small business marketers would be proud of:
• Over 2,700 Twitter followers and growing (see chart below), some of whom have been with me from the start
• Over 400 connections in LinkedIn, a cadre of loyal professional connections from before and after my brand refresh
• Over 50 friends and family connections on Facebook, some of whom go back to my undergraduate college days at Fairfield
• A Kred influence score of 664 (out of 1,000) and an outreach level score of 6 (out of 10)
• A Klout score of 52 (out of 100)
• Top positions on Google Page 1 search results
Much of the success I have had in building my brand can be attributed to a deliberate adherence to the business storytelling and communications mantras we espouse here at The Chief Storyteller®. The following are among my personal favorites:
• People are at the heart of every great story
• Social communities are built on personal and business stories
• It’s all about them
• People crave connections
• Content is king
If you are looking to build a brand – personal or business – remember these mantras and be sure to keep it social. After all, brand building is really about people, the stories you share and the connections you make.
For more on my own brand building experience with social media, please see:
• Social Media – Are You Connected?
• Are You Embracing Social Media?
• Social Media Playground Rules – Are You a Giver or a Taker?
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand in Social Media
As you look through this list, see what applies to your life or what you want to apply. Write your own list of mantras. Whatever you do, make a list (short or long) of your goals and aspirations. Every so often read, revise, and contemplate...
Here are the mantras at The Chief Storyteller. Think about this list and how it can help prompt new and fresh approaches to making your personal and organizational communications unforgettable. We would love to hear your mantras...please leave them in the comments.
Personal Storytelling & Communications
01. People are at the heart of every great story.
02. Stories are how people remember you.
03. Use humor if you want to.
04. Write in your authentic voice.
05. Write and speak conversationally.
06. Write emails as if they will be read on a smart phone.
07. Tell more personal stories with relevant business messages
08. Promise a better tomorrow.
09. 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. Social communities are built on personal and business stories.
14. Deliver on the expected experience.
15. It’s all about them.
16. Relationships matter.
17. Business stories are the engine of relationships and relationships are the engine of continued success.
18. Credibility is more important than expertise in the beginning of relationships.
19. Send hand-written thank you notes, especially job hunters.
20. Active listening is key to building great relationships.
21. Treat everyone like a CEO.
22. Stop listening to your Mother. Talk to strangers at networking events.
23. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
24. Treat every client like your best client.
25. Be a deliberate networker.
26. Be a people bridge and make referrals.
27. Be a mentor.
28. People crave connection.
29. First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions: offer a warm smile, firm handshake, and good eye contact.
30. Write to the 10th grade level.
31 Content is king.
32. (Good) blog and article content matters the most.
33. Strive for “interest” questions. Avoid “understanding” questions.
34. Content first. Design second.
35. Always have a second person read your content before publishing.
36. Design your website for your target audiences (not your staff).
37. Inspire Action: facts do not persuade and inspire, people do.
38. Audiences are hungry for original thought-provoking content.
39. Get yourself known (e.g., LinkedIn questions and answers, post to SlideShare, and Tweet good information).
40. Speak in headlines.
41. Maintain a detailed Ideal Target Profile for your key target audiences.
42. But is the worst word in the English language (and many other languages).
43. Words really, really matter.
44. Have positive self-talk conversations.
45. Change is a choice.
46. Create your own success momentum.
47. Be a student everyday.
48. Be a whole body communicator.
49. Avoid fillers (um, ah, like, you know)
50. Be a deliberate communicator
I was at a gathering hosted by some friends recently, which was followed by a meal at a local restaurant. I sat at a table with several others from the gathering, some of whom I was meeting for the first time. Moments after the meal began, the man across from me asked about the license plate frame on the back of my car, which proudly proclaimed my status as a Fairfield University alumnus.
I soon discovered he was retired - a Professor Emeritus - from Fairfield University and that he had taught Accounting classes when I was a student there, up until a few years ago.
The couple sitting next to him and his wife then mentioned they had a niece and nephew who had earned degrees from Fairfield and asked if I knew them - it turns out I knew the niece, who like me, was a Marketing major and one year ahead of me.
Soon, people around us were talking about Fairfield University and how much they loved the university brand! Although the school was miles away from where we were eating lunch that day, it seemed almost serendipitous that so many people with connections to the University had somehow come together and had become fast friends.
Small world, I thought. Then I realized the power of branding and how inexpensive promotional items like license plate frames, window clings, bumper stickers, car sign magnets, etc. can bring people together by generating conversation around a brand. Items like these are a great way to reward customers for their affiliation with your brand...and to bring brand loyalists together.
People like talking about brands they love. What is your brand doing to bring them together?
Every brand has a story to tell. The goal of the story is to drive deeper engagement with your customers. How well the story is told can often make the difference between fleeting and lasting customer engagement. In the online marketing world, brands tell their story by the content they post.
Brands who fill their web and social media pages with an abundance of stories about themselves are telling customers their needs and wants don’t matter. Brands whose content includes sales pitches for discounted products and promotional giveaways are conceding their products are – well, the same as everyone else’s. And brands whose only goal is simply to get people to like them on Facebook appear shallow and directionless. These stories invite fleeting customer engagement and do little, if anything, to improve a brand’s customer retention rates.
On the other hand, brands who focus more on interacting with their customers online and in communities where they live are showing customers they genuinely care about them. Brands who share information on how their products can be used to fill a real or perceived need prove their products are unique and worth paying a premium for. And brands who reward all new and existing users with incentives (e.g., exclusive content, coupons/rebates, eligibility to enter a promotion, donations to a charity based on the number of page Likes, etc.) for Liking their Page are providing something of value to their fans. These are the stories that drive lasting engagement and higher customer retention.
If content is the new currency for brand storytelling in 2013, what kind of story is your brand telling? Is it driving the customer engagement and retention results you are looking for?
For examples of brands who excel in customer engagement, please see:
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• Why @yurbuds is an #awesome social brand!
In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the story opens on a dark and bleak Christmas Eve, at the counting office of Scrooge and his deceased partner, Jacob Marley. Ebenezer Scrooge is introduced as a lonely and miserly old man who lacks kindness, generosity and compassion for others. He balks at giving his overworked employee, Bob Cratchit, paid time off for Christmas Day. While it’s easy for the reader to see how unhealthy this culture might be to an organization, it is not readily apparent to Mr. Scrooge.
As the story unfolds, Scrooge receives visits from four ghosts – Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future – who accompany him to various scenes from his life. In each scene, he is allowed to step back and observe his actions and the impact they have on others. Only after glimpsing a preview of his own woeful legacy and dark fate does Scrooge decide to transform his life, embracing kindness, generosity and compassion.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of delivering your brand promise to non-customers. In many ways, I was speaking about the relationship between your brand promise and your organizational culture. Organizations, for example, who claim to value and appreciate their customers must first value and appreciate their employees. As Ebenezer Scrooge discovered, for those who may have lost sight of this reality, it’s never too late to change. We simply need to step back and take a look at how our actions are impacting those around us. We then need to ask if they are consistent with the way in which we want others to perceive us.
Now take a step back. Think about your organization and its culture. How would you describe it? More importantly, how would your employees describe it? Is it consistent with your brand promise? If not, what actions can you take to change it in the new year?