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Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
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Guest Bloggers
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At lunch today with a colleague and friend, Bob and I talked about a variety of professional and personal topics. Being that we have known each for a while, some of the personal topics, were, well...definitely personal. I laughed so hard at one little story that a good number of people around us stopped their conversations to look. I shrank a little in my seat to avoid being noticed (doubt it).

One thing I thought to share was the concept of "Planned Randomness." It came out of our discussion about networking at the right events. The only way to know if an organization's event is right for you is to do your homework.

- Ask friends and colleagues
- Do an Internet search on the organization's name
- Examine the website. Are the benefits clearly explained?
- Review the LinkedIn profile. Determine if this is the organization you want to be associated with
- Look at the the Facebook pages. Are there a lot of followers and activity on the site?
- Read the Tweets. Are these the types of messages you like?
- Do research on key members. Are these the types of people you would like to network with and building relationships with?

Now that you know the event is right for you, you can make serendipity happen. You'll be at the right event with the right people sharing and learning. This is how I met Bob some three years ago...

One of the reasons I’ll drive out of my way to shop at Lowe’s is the customer experience I have while I’m in the store. For me, Lowe's has become the neighborhood hardware store, where the associate behind the commercial sales counter really does know my name. The customer experience he and his fellow associates provide is friendly, positive and inspiring. 

The Brand Manager in me is especially attuned to the ways in which brands like Lowe's deliver their customer experiences. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a variety of approaches, including the use of “mystery shoppers”, catchy slogans (e.g., “People Pleasing People,” “Easy to do Business With,” etc.), Process Quality Management and Improvement methodologies, customer outreach and appreciation days, and exercises in mapping and analyzing the customer journey.

While each of these approaches can certainly help a brand deliver an improved customer experience, the brands who excel at delivering a superior customer experience know the return on these investments is dependent upon one critical success factor – the degree of ownership your employees assume in delivering the experience. You can have the most engaging “mystery shoppers,” the catchiest slogan, the highest-quality and most customer-focused processes and, unless your employees take full ownership in all aspects of its delivery, your customer experience will fall short of your customers’ expectations.    

Experience Lowe’s.  Find out what it’s like to “build something together” with the folks at your neighborhood hardware store. Then ask yourself what actions you can take to ensure your employees are taking full ownership of delivering your brand’s customer experience.

I recently wrote about summer lifeguards, and the various roles they play in shaping your summertime experience around the water. Whether you’re at the beach, the pool or water park, the lifeguards you encounter are just one group of employees who help define your overall “customer” experience. The other employees you encounter – wait staff, beach attendants, parking attendants, cleaning staff – all have as much influence over your customer experience.

So, the question is…when it comes to your customer experience around the water, which of these employees matters most? The short answer is they all matter. Each and every employee you encounter, from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, has the ability to define your customer experience. Typically, it’s the ones who do something extraordinarily good or bad during your visit that causes them to stand out. Or, maybe it’s the person who greeted you when you arrived. Or it’s the last person you interact with before leaving.

If you’re looking to improve your organization’s customer experience, make sure your employees know how important they are. If just one of them is having an off day, chances are the interaction that one employee provides will do more to define your customer’s experience with your brand than the sum total of all the other interactions your customer has with your staff.

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

The event is Tue, June 12, 7:30 - 10:30, The Tower Club, 8000 Towers Crescent Drive, #1700, Vienna, VA 22182.

Detailed information is below...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete biography chiefstoryteller_pdf

“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence”
        The Sound of Silence
         Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel, 1964)

 

Do the lyrics to this popular song describe your brand’s online presence and its relationship with your customers? Is your brand talking to thousands without speaking? Is it hearing without listening? If it is, the focus of your brand’s communications needs to shift from “you” to “them” because, in an online world where transparency and engagement are increasingly relevant, all customer relationships are personal.

There is nothing new or magic to building mutually satisfying, long-term customer relationships. Think about the personal relationships you have with others.  The relationships that continue to thrive over many years are built on trust and intimacy.  Where talking implies a one-way conversation about you, speaking implies an exchange of views. Where hearing implies an awareness of what was said, listening implies an understanding.

If the goal of your brand’s online communications is simply to sell your brand or your products, then all you’re really doing is talking. While your customers may hear you, over time they will stop listening to what you have to say.  They will stop buying from you and, more importantly, they will end their relationship with your brand.

Start speaking with your customers. Look for ways to engage them – over the phone, on social media or face-to-face. Being in front of customers isn’t just for sales, it’s a requirement for anyone in marketing who truly wants to understand their customers. Start listening to your customers and what they have to say about your brand and its products. Develop a deeper understanding of what people are saying about your brand and why, along with a sense of who your strongest advocates are.

Because when it comes to people, all relationships are personal.

I received my Klout perk in the mail the other day – an envelope filled with ten samples of Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea mix. Lipton describes it as “a refreshingly new tea experience.”

As an influencer, I get first access to the perks that are awarded to me. Brands like Lipton who award Klout perks encourage me to share them with my friends and followers.  If I decide to talk about the perk, Klout asks that I disclose the fact that I received a sample and that I am neither obligated nor receive any benefit for talking about it. My relationship with the brand is completely transparent and I am in complete control of the feedback I provide.

Some traditional marketers might see this as a risky strategy. After all, what does Lipton really know about me? Sure, my Klout score indicates I am an influencer. My influence extends to topics like brand management, crossfit, relationships, health, branding and social media.  What Lipton doesn’t know is what, if anything, I might say about this “refreshingly new tea experience.”

As a social media marketer, I see it as a brilliant strategy for building brand awareness for this new product. The opinions I and other consumers like me share are sincere, genuine and unfiltered. Customer testimonials like ours establish credibility and may even get others in our network to try this “refreshingly new tea experience.” 

From which perspective do you view Klout perks? Write me back to let me know or to find out what I thought of Lipton's Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea mix.

Sales people, from the dawn of time (okay, I'm exaggerating), have received a bad wrap. The best way to sum it up is "used car salesman." Nothing ticks people off more than disengenous sale people who focus on the sale at the expense of the person.It's unfortunate that a few bad apples have spoiled the barrel.

Well, today I received an email from such a person. Here's the original followed by some commentary.  What do you think?


IRA

I just tried to call you this AM and I thought an email might be easier for you to respond to. Did you know that last week Maryland became the first state to enact a password privacy protection bill going into effect October 2012?  What does this mean to you and to the hundreds of other government contracts here in Maryland? More Compliance!

How do you manage your business and employees day-to-day when increasing levels of compliance are being requested by the State, OFCCP, DOL, DCAA, IRS, etc?  

Resources such as people and technology can help you manage these complicated pieces of your business and Automatic Data Processing with offices in Rockville can potentially assist you.

Please feel free to extend an invitation to me to visit your office; I would be more than happy to share with you some success stories. I have some time this week before the holiday weekend so please contact me with a good time.  

Regards,

William LastName
(###) ### - ####

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

Comments and Suggestions follow:

IRA
> Why is my name capitalized? In email William, this is called shouting. Also, where is the punctuation?

I just tried to call you this AM
> Here's the part that really rubbed me the wrong way. No you didn't William. And I know and you know this is manipulative and untrue. Instead, get right to the point which starts with "Did you know."

I thought an email might be easier for you to respond to.
> Bad grammar. And you're presuming you know what is best for me.

Did you know that last week Maryland became the first state to enact a password privacy protection bill going into effect October 2012?  What does this mean to you and to the hundreds of other government contracts here in Maryland? More Compliance!
> Several misspellings/grammar mistakes. Also, did you mean "contractors" vice "contracts?"

Resources such as people and technology can help you manage these complicated pieces of your business and Automatic Data Processing with offices in Rockville can potentially assist you.
> Make "can potentially assist you" active. Improve readability by shortening/rewriting

Please feel free to extend an invitation to me to visit your office
> Passive request...again, convince me you're worth my time.

I would be more than happy to share with you some success stories.
> You missed a huge opportunity here to Wow me with a short success story.

When was the last time you conducted a marketing collateral audit? If I asked you to share samples of your marketing collateral with me, what stories would they tell? What is their purpose? Is it a singular, goal-oriented purpose? Or, are there a variety of purposes – awareness, informational, sales or entertainment?

A sales and marketing best practice is to ensure all of your marketing collateral serves a singular purpose – to advance your prospect’s buying decision process. Collateral designed for any other purpose often ends up distracting your prospect and delaying the buyer's decision-making process. The cost to produce, optimize, store and distribute extraneous marketing collateral can also erode your profitability.

If you are looking to create marketing collateral that drives sales, consider these five tips:
  • Start by understanding your Ideal Client Profile (ICP). Know the characteristics of your target audience and what drivers are motivating them to buy.
  • Keep it simple. Write at the 10th grade level or below. Avoid jargon that may be meaningless to your prospect. Make it easy to read.
  • Engage your audience with a short story. Inspiring stories bring your brand to life and help to build an emotional connection with your prospect.
  • Write with quality. Your written materials are a reflection of your brand and the quality of its products and services.
  • Experience your collateral from their perspective, not yours. Ask your customer-facing salespeople, and a sampling of prospects and customers, to review your marketing collateral. What feelings and actions is it evoking in them?

For more on marketing collateral that advances your prospect’s buying decision process, please see:
• Use Customer Testimonials to Build Trust and Increase Sales
• Every Single Communication Item Tells Your Business Story and Your Brand Story
• Online Marketing: Good Landing Pages Are Easy to Follow

How effective are you at retaining customers, donors, volunteers, Twitter followers and Facebook friends? Are you investing huge amounts of time, energy and resource on new acquisitions only to find your “customers” are leaving you at an alarming rate?

If your attrition rate is high, take a moment to think about how you are segmenting your customers – after you have acquired them. Market segmentation isn’t just a strategy for acquiring new customers; it’s also an effective way to retain the customers you have.

In my sales, fundraising, community service and social media marketing experience, I have found it far easier to acquire new customers than it is to retain them. Once you have them, retaining customers takes effort. You want them to remain as loyal customers and brand advocates, repeat donors and volunteers, and as part of your social media fan base.

You retain customers by engaging them – as individuals. By making them feel special. By anticipating their unique needs and responding to their concerns. By valuing and respecting them. By developing and sustaining a relationship with them. By marketing to each customer as a segment of one.

Now think of your experience with the brands you are passionate about. Are you a segment of one?

John's first blog post, "From Front Line to Bottom Line - A Soldier's View of the Business Battlefield," was an enjoyable read with some great customer service messages. Enjoy his newest article...

As part of my everyday marketing obligation, I do a fair share of social media posting on various outlets for our company. Not only do I help generate Facebook, Twitter, and forum content for new products and promotions, I have also started to branch out into blog writing. Blog posts are beneficial for data distribution because it helps fill a niche that other social media outlets cannot satisfy. Especially when it pertains to sharing information heavy material, blog posting is one of the best options out there.

Recently, I wrote an article for our company's blog called "Our Company Mindset, Airsplat's Team and Crew." I shared with our readers a few intimate tidbits about our company's culture that they may not acknowledge, nor do they encounter on a daily basis. The blog post generated a great amount of positive support from our followers through our Facebook page. The positive outcome inspired us to share with everyone our experience with writing a company culture article. Here are a few reasons and tips on why you should share your company's culture.

Faces of a Company
Customers often visualize companies to be a computerized structure. Though technology has blessed us with systems that can operate with minimal supervision, there are certain things that are not so cut and dry, and require a bit of human interaction. How many times have you called a large corporation seeking assistance, only to find yourself going in circles, arguing with an automated message system? This scenario be frustrating and it can be counterproductive. 

Sharing with your customers how your company operates (and who operates it) help to create an amiable persona for your business. It doesn't necessarily mean shining the spotlight on individual employees. Instead, it means for others to acknowledge that there are people working hard to keep the business going (instead of a company being run by robots). 

Behind the Scenes Operations
Consumers either have confidence in a company, or they don't. Uncertainty almost counts as a "no." Providing affordable and quality products is only half the battle. Returning customers typically instill trust in a company beyond reliable product stock. Even though there are hundreds of other companies selling the same product, they return because they have confidence that the company cares about their customers.

In our company culture article, we shared with our readers how we operate interdepartmentally. Our company mainly deals with online retail, and a collaborative effort is required to thrive in this business. When we receive an order, every department is working together to make sure it is processed and shipped out correctly. When customers acknowledge the work and dedication that is put into every order, their trust in the company is reinforced.

Working Hard to Play Hard
When a company rewards and invests in their employees, customers will recognize the deed. Discontent employees often do not execute their jobs well, which unfortunately, can lead to dissatisfied customers. Showing your customers that you care about the well being of your employees can further reinforce trust. 

A few ideas you can add to your company culture article would be share your company's reward system for good performance. For example, our employees are rewarded for reaching goals and providing assistance to others. It is great to add this tidbit to your article because customers will see and appreciate the investment that the company is willing to expend on their employees.

Another example would to be share past companywide events. Reveal to your readers the cohesiveness that your company has beyond the typical eight-hour workday. As a whole, our company has celebrated achievements, holidays, and participated in extracurricular activities together as a team. Take a moment to share the fun times with your readers, and don't forget to add corresponding pictures and videos as well.


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

My youngest son is learning to drive. He sat in the driver’s seat of my Jeep Wrangler the other night for the first time and, as he began to move the Jeep forward, he smiled. It was no ordinary smile. Although we had taken many trips together in that Jeep, he had always been a passenger. This time was different. He was no longer a passenger. He was driving. He was empowered.

As he drove around the parking lot, I began to see how this story might apply to brands and their marketing strategies. With traditional marketing, customers are passengers. The brand is in the driver’s seat and its customers are merely along for the ride. As marketers, we tell them who, what, when, where, how and why to do something. Our goal is that they will jump in and stay for the ride.

Times are different. Our customers have grown up. They no longer want to be marketed to. They are educating themselves. They are using the Internet to find their own answers to the challenges they face. In many ways, they are in the driver’s seat.  They are empowered. As marketers, we need to transform the way we engage and connect with them.

This transformation begins with trust. We must trust that our customers will interact with us and each other in a way that is responsible, respectful and beneficial. Putting them in the driver’s seat means asking them for input on our future direction (products, services and even our brand positioning), encouraging them to post online reviews of their experience with our brand (good and bad), or inviting them to participate with us in our community service projects. In a sense, it requires us to put customers first and take a seat – on the passenger side of the car – while they drive.

Take a look at your marketing strategy. Are you empowering your customers?

The purpose of marketing is to drive sales. All of those other things – market research, branding, segmentation, customer experience mapping, pricing, channel optimization, product design, event marketing, social media – are just activities. Activity is interesting. Results matter.

Consider your personal or corporate brand. How much time and money have you invested in any of the above marketing activities during the past year? Have your sales results improved, remained the same or declined? Are the changes in your sales results statistically relevant? To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, are you better off today than you were a year ago?

To ensure your marketing activities are driving statistically relevant improvements in your sales results, let me offer a few insights:
  • Before any marketing investments are made, set measurable sales goals and timeframes for achieving them. Be accountable and publish them – use them as the benchmark for measuring the success of your marketing activities.
  • When sales results are reported, look for direct correlations between cause and effect. For example, if the goal is to increase market share among a targeted demographic, then it is reasonable to expect statistically improved year-over-year and higher comparative results for that segment vs. others who were not targeted.
  • Insist on transparency and collaboration in all of your marketing efforts. Be sure input from customers, salespeople and other relevant stakeholders is sought as ideas are being discussed, not after decisions have been made to obtain buy-in.

After all, the purpose of marketing is to drive sales.

For more on marketing and sales, click on these posts:
• Activity Is Interesting, Results Matter
• Change So Loud You Can Hear It – So Why Wasn’t Anybody Listening?
• How to Tell the Difference Between Sales and Marketing

It’s been three years since I found my voice on Twitter.

Of all the brands I have followed, I can recall few who do social as well as Yurbuds, the maker of sport earphones. To follow Yurbuds (or @yurbuds, to those of you on Twitter) is to have a conversation with a brand that’s been brought to life. With a “followers to follow-back” ratio of 1.2 (that’s a little over one follower for each person it follows), @yurbuds is engaging its community of followers with fun trivia questions, answers to questions about its earphones, congratulatory tweets to purchasers, retweets of user feedback and workout tips.

This is a brand who appears genuinely interested in what its followers have to say. Every tweet between @yurbuds and one of its followers is yet another touch point on their experience with the brand – a brand whose “mission is to transform the Athlete’s experience through Personalized service and Exceptional audio products….”

 

Check them out on Twitter and see for yourself why @yurbuds is an #awesome social brand.

I emailed Duane (my colleague at The Chief Storyteller) sharing that I liked his blog “Has Self-Service Finally Gone Too Far?

My email to Duane:

“Funny thing...I'm quite happy during self-service and prefer no interactions whatsoever! The interactions slow me down.

Like Sunday night when I checked into my hotel. I just drove three hours, it was 11pm. I smiled at the woman, told her it was a long drive from Washington, DC and I was glad to finally be at the hotel to get some sleep. I even told her a was a little tired and cranky. She smiled. Processed my credit card. Then as I began walking away, started to tell me about breakfast. I had to stop and look back. If it was me behind the desk, I would have asked, “Would you like some information on breakfast?”

And not five minutes after getting into my room, she called to see how everything was. Probably protocol. Now, it was a nice thing to do, unexpected, and something not even five star resort hotels do with any regularity.

Again, If it was me behind the desk, I would not have called at all.”

--------

Duane emails back…

In my blog, I was writing about two grocery stores, [NameA] and [NameB]. The difference between them was too large not to notice. The fact that it happened twice in one day was even more noticeable.

And the fact that [NameC], who went through a period of really good then really bad and now really good customer service, found a way to deliver a positive self-serve customer experience really made [NameA]’s problems stand out.

It was a smart move on the hotel's part to call you. By doing so, they effectively disarmed you from finding something to complain about (who knows? you could have taken your complaint/issues online for all to see?).

Brilliant move on their part. I would have done the same thing.

--------

And I wrote back, “This is my next blog!”

This exchange shows you the wide views on customer service. The big take-away is that Duane would have made a deliberate choice to call me in my hotel room. I would bet $1 billion Monopoly dollars the front desk person called because she was following the protocol rules…

Do consumers want a relationship with their supermarket?

I made two visits to my supermarket the other day. On both occasions, I felt like the invisible man – unseen to the naked eye and passing virtually undetected as I made my way around the store, through the self check-out and out the same door I entered.

Each time, I stopped by to pick up one or two items. I knew where they were located in the store and I was paying cash. I got what I came for. Did I really need to interact with any of the people working there, anyway?

I was disappointed by the fact that not a single employee made an effort to acknowledge my presence – there was no greeting, no offer to help me find what I was looking for, no “thank you” for shopping there, no “have a nice day or evening,” etc. Yet there were a number of employees at work in the store – stocking shelves, counting money, wiping counters, etc.

There was nothing different or satisfying about my customer experience there. I’ve had self-serve experiences with other retail brands…Wegman’s and Home Depot, to name two that are top of mind for me…where personal attention is as much a part of their customer experience as is the ability to serve myself effortlessly and efficiently.      

I won’t name the supermarket where I managed to enter and leave unnoticed (they wouldn’t know me anyway), except to say its brand is positioned around a dedication to “quality, value and service.” If my experience in this store is the intended result of that dedication, it made me wonder…has self-service finally gone too far?

If simple acts like acknowledging my presence and making me feel appreciated during my purchase transaction constitutes a relationship, I would argue consumers do indeed want a relationship with their supermarket...even self-serve shoppers like me. 

A colleague and I had a discussion the other day on the best way to measure customer loyalty. While it is possible both measures can be effective, I believe the better way is through retention.

Of the two, attrition is the more negative term (“attrition” is a reduction or decrease in numbers, size or strength while “retention” refers to the act of keeping something).  Given my tendency to view the glass as half full instead of half empty, I believe retention speaks more to the positive results an organization has achieved, rather than its failure.  It inspires us to do more, not less. It speaks to what’s possible, not what’s lost.

Consider the other popular measure of customer loyalty – customer satisfaction. When you measure customer satisfaction, how do you measure it? Are you not measuring the percent of satisfied customers? Are not the organization’s goals communicated in terms of the percent of customers who report a specified overall satisfaction level (e.g., 85%, 90%, etc.)?

And finally, how about the ultimate measure of customer loyalty – sales? Do you measure and report the revenue from sales made…or sales lost? Which revenue number is ultimately reported on your organization’s income statement – sales made or sales lost?

The next time you gather your team to report on the organization’s progress, consider an approach that recognizes the contributions they have made. Results don’t have to be negative to be actionable.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

LinkedIn Hit 150,000,000 Members

LinkedIn grows by leaps and bounds. Yesterday I was curious about the total number of members and noticed 135,000,000. Today I visited and saw, 150,000,000 (see below picture). 

I keep informal and approximate statistics that show over three million new members per month. How's that for growth?

- 2011 August: 120,000,000

- 2011 November:  135,000,000

- 2011 February: 150,000,000

I am honored to be speaking at the local MIT Enterprise Forum® here in the Washington, DC area. Thank you to my good friend Oz from InnoEngineer for setting this event up.

Here is all of the information...

Get Funded - Design and Deliver the Perfect Investor Pitch [Open Workshop Event]
It is imperative to have a clear and concise message that gets prospective investors to say, "Let’s talk!"…especially in today's economy. In this interactive, hands-on workshop, you will learn how to create a powerful, clear message that wows prospective investors. Apply five proven steps taught internationally, to design and deliver the perfect investor pitch. Receive concrete suggestions on your presentation based on individual and partner exercises. Join us as we show you how to transform your ideas into action.

 

Date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Time: 6:30pm - 9:00pm

Location: Startup Lab, Johns Hopkins University, DC Campus, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Lower Level, Room 7

Parking:  Central Parking, 1800 Mass. Ave. NW. If you click http://washingtondc.centralparking.com/Washington-DC-1800-Massachusetts-Aven ue-NW-Parking.html you can get a coupon that reduces the cost to $6 after 5:00 PM. Nearest Metro stop is Dupont Circle. 

Like many of you, I receive my share of “cold calls” from sales people who believe their product or service is the solution to what keeps me up at night. And, like many of you, I find myself declining their offers to speak or meet with me long before they even have their foot in the door.

Let’s assume for a moment you are the sales person. Let's also assume the product or service you are selling really does hold some perceived value to your prospect. The reasons your prospect is not interested may have more to do with timing, budgets or competing priorities. If your cold calls are being met with rejection, how then do you keep the door open to potential sales opportunities in the future?

For starters, differentiate yourself. Remain positive, even in the face of rejection. Thank your prospect for his or her time, add a personal touch to your message and offer to be of assistance – if not now then in the future.

Here’s an example of where this was done well. It’s a recent email I received from a sales person who was cold calling me (the name of the sender was changed to preserve anonymity), in response to a rejection note I had sent him:

Duane,

Thank you for your note and kind follow-up.

Have a terrific 2012 and please do not be a stranger. We’d be happy to help any way we can.

Mark

The tone, the content and the offer to help made me feel good about the idea of potentially working with him in the future. While I do not know if it will ever happen, what I do know is I will be more receptive to any future communications I receive from him and his company.

With increasing numbers of consumers using social media sites like Twitter®, Facebook®, LinkedIn®, YouTube® and Foursquare® to share their experiences of your brand, a new customer-centric paradigm has emerged – Consumer to Consumer, or C2C. In this new model, consumers are influencing other consumers’ perceptions of your brand or product relative to those of your competitors.

Traditional marketing efforts have long focused on the Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) paradigms, where brands typically drove the marketing process with their own positioning strategies and tactics. Prospects and customers would make buying decisions largely on the basis of tightly-controlled content provided by the brand. In those rare instances when buyers insisted on customer references, the brand would provide them.

Enter the world of social media, where consumers freely share their knowledge, impressions and opinions of their experiences of your brand. Unfiltered tweets, posts, updates, videos and check-ins are entered into the public domain, available to anyone with a smartphone, tablet or PC with search engine capability.

The brands that are most successful in this new customer-centric paradigm will be those that find new ways of delivering value to their customers. They will forge strong and enduring relationships with their customers by engaging them when and where they are most receptive – on Twitter®, Facebook®, LinkedIn®, YouTube®, Foursquare® and other social media sites. They will provide their customers with richer experiences, by interacting with them on a more direct basis and inviting them to participate in their marketing efforts in a way that creates shared value for all.

Check out the following posts for more ideas on achieving brand relevance:
• How One Brand Delivered the Unexpected to Create an Unforgettable Customer Experience
• Does Your Brand Have Klout?
• Brand Loyalty Begins at Home…With Your Employees

Are your direct mail pieces targeting increasingly skeptical prospects? Are your prospects demanding transparency and authenticity in your marketing messages? Try using customer testimonials to help establish credibility and increase sales.

Over the holidays, I received a direct mail catalog from REI, a consumers’ cooperative that sells top-brand recreation gear and clothing. The headline on the cover was, “We’ve got great gear. People are talking.” On the inside cover, REI invited readers like me to flip through the catalog to see what “your fellow outdoor enthusiasts had to say.”

 

As a consumer who shares a passion for the outdoors, I immediately felt an immediate connection to the REI customers whose testimonials were featured in the catalog. Brilliant move, I remember thinking.  People like me were actually bragging about REI, the products they sell and their prices:

"REI is the brand I know and trust."  "...Always reliable for good quality and reasonable prices."  "I'm still a fan...because of their commitment to their customers, their products and the environment."  "...Always the top of the line and priced great."   

                    - REI Members (first name and last name initial published in catalog)

Because I saw these testimonials as peer reviews, I found them to be more credible than anything any one at REI – the CEO, members of the Board or even its expert staff – could have told me.  It’s the kind of messaging that helps me to perceive REI as a brand I know and trust...and one I will buy from.

Are your customers saying things about your brand that build trust and increase sales?

On Friday, my two-year old daughter started her first class on "cutting." To reinforce her schooling, my wife and I typically purchase additional books and supplies for at home.

I went to our local Barnes & Noble and purchase the "My First Book of Cutting" book (see below). 

With my receipt, I was provided the personalization "receipt." You'll notice five suggestions all complementary to the book selection I just made.

Brilliant. 

 

Last year I shared my top 50 business storytelling mantras. As I plan for 2012, I always look to my list to light a small fire of inspiration.

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 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.

STAR WARS™: The Old Republic™ officially launched Dec 20th. It is a massive multiplayer online game that has amassed over 100 awards. Here is an excerpt from the launch press release from Electronic Arts.

"A stunning Star Wars universe. Thousands of hours of gameplay. Gripping stories. Engrossing dialogue performed by hundreds of talented voice actors. BioWare, a label of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA), today is proud to turn on the servers for one of the most anticipated games of all time, Star Wars: The Old Republic, winner of over 100 awards from critics around the world. Last night, fans lined up around the block on the eve of launch at retail outlets in New York, Paris, London, Austin and other cities across the world, celebrating the debut of the game with gatherings complete with costumed characters and memorabilia giveaways.

As part of its launch, creative people from EA/BioWare thought up a "Freeze Mob" in New York City's Time Square. About 20 professional actors dueled with light sabers as Sith Lords and Jedi Knights. Then about 100 fans joined in the fun to create a very memorable and unique experience for the impromptu audience. You can view the video on YouTube

While it’s been over 60 years since the initial release of the classic holiday drama, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the story of George Bailey is as relevant today as it was in 1946.

George Bailey is the lead character in the film. The story opens and closes on Christmas Eve with a despondent George contemplating suicide. His guardian angel, Clarence, intervenes and goes on to show George the impact he has had on the lives of others and his community. "You see, George, you really had a wonderful life," reminds Clarence. "Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?"

For brands whose reputations are built on service, the actions we take on a daily basis are what makes our reputation. Reputations can be made or destroyed in an instant, sometimes with a single action. George’s fictional life provides six best practices for managing your brand's reputation:
1. Put your customers first. 
    George risks his life to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in an icy pond. Years later, it is Harry who rushes to George’s side when he needs help.  Most customers will reward a brand’s acts of selflessness with an enduring and unshakable loyalty. 
2. Do right by your customers.
    Fearful of the reaction he will get from his boss, a young George lets Mr. Gower know he has incorrectly filled a prescription. By acting in the best interest of others, George ends up saving the customer’s life – and Mr. Gower’s reputation. Mistakes are an inevitable part of our lives; how we handle them is what sets us apart from our competitors. Brands with the courage to acknowledge and correct their mistakes show they can be trusted.
3. Know your customers.
    George knows each and every one of his customers by name. He has a personal relationship with them, even helping with moves to their new homes. Brands that know their customers well tend to excel in delivering personalized service.
4. Build and nurture communities of interest.
    George develops an affordable housing community where residents can realize their dreams of home ownership. Brands that provide their customers with hope, opportunity and value enjoy higher levels of satisfaction and preference among customers and prospects.    
5. Be your customer’s advocate.
    Responding to a run on the bank, George and Mary Bailey pay worried account holders with their own money, tiding them over and saving their business from almost certain collapse.  Brands that value their customers at this level differentiate themselves by showing they genuinely care.
6. Be a leader.
    Despite his wife’s pleas to continue with their honeymoon, George steps in to lead his firm’s response to the financial crisis. His company’s open and fair handling of the crisis serves to reassure his anxious customer base, preserving his business and its reputation in the community.   

For more on reputation management and relationship building, please see:
• How to Make the Most of Your Network
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• B2B Sales Tip: Friend Your Customers

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why Team Sports Matter in Business

My youngest son is working out with his high school lacrosse team, hoping to make the team this Spring. The workouts are long and hard. The same rules apply to everyone, regardless of how well they play. And the coach is demanding. The teamwork, though, is amazing.

In drills where the success of the team is only possible when each and every member of the team is successful, everyone is pulling together and rooting for each other. Cries of “You can do it!” and “Good job!” provide the spark that each athlete needs to go the extra mile.

Even this early in the season, long before the first regular season game has been played, I can see the strong bond that is developing among the members of his team. It is a bond that will keep them together and at the top of their game, especially when the competition is tough. It’s a group where “personal bests” give way to what’s best for the team; where “All-Stars” take a back seat to a winning team.

Think about your business. What do you see?  Is the success of your business only possible when each and every one of your employees is successful, when everyone is pulling together and rooting for each other?  Are your employees cheering each other on with cries of “You can do it!” and “Good job!”?  Is there a bond among your employees that unites and motivates them to put the interests of the business before their own?

If not, perhaps it’s time to consider the lessons in teamwork that team sports can provide. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recently found TweepsMap and found it to be a fascinating application. Provide your Twitter name and password, and in less than 30 seconds, you'll have a world-wide view of your Twitter followers.

As I would expect, the majority of my followers are from the United States (~78%). Since I have done programs and consulting in Canada and the UK, I have a higher number of followers, both at about 5%. 

You can switch between a Map and List version with a click of a button.

What does your TweepsMap reveal?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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