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Authors

Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
(click for all of Duane's posts)
Guest Bloggers
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Monday, April 18, 2016

Just Be Nice with Your Words

speaking, leadership, leader, ceo, cxo, employee, language, positive, words

Negative words, whether used on purpose or by accident, can have a big impact on your audience. Potentially, an impact you did not want or plan for.

Imagine you are work. Think about when you hear someone say something negative about a co-worker? Or when someone says something critical about a work product such as a report? How does the negativity color your world about the person and the organization? Do you ignore it? Distance yourself from the person? Or even, offer excuses for him/her?

Whatever you say or write, we believe at The Chief Storyteller that whenever possible, be positive. In many cases, you can indeed turn negative words and phrases into positive ones, while still getting your point across.

Often people write sentences such as, “Bill, this is a great idea, but I don’t like xyz.” As such, everything after the “but” is negative…everything. Instead, make it positive with “Bill, this is a great idea. Let’s talk more about xyz to better understand your ideas.”

Examples of negative words include:
- But
- However
- Although
- Except
- Even though
- Unfortunately
- Let me be honest
- This is simple to do

Here are some suggestions to improve your interactions and relationships when it comes to using words:
- Eliminate “but.” Replace it with “and” or a “.” (period)
- Think about the negative aspect of what you are intending to say. Does it really have to be said? If you must communicate a negative idea, re-phrase it to make it more positive.
- Do not write/email while angry or upset. Wait at least 10 minutes.
- Read what you wrote aloud (not in your head). It helps you to “feel” the emotional level of the words.

speaking, pause, pausing, art of the pause, presenting, presentation, motivational speaker

The art of the “pause” – knowing when to use a short pause or long pause – offers a lot of benefits to speakers, presenters, and trainers alike.

Everybody reads at a different speed.
Everyone listens at the same speed.
Everyone comprehends in a different way.
Pausing helps smooth out the learning speed bumps.

Here are a few benefits of employing effective pauses. Pauses…
a) Are an elegant way to emphasize points
b) Give your audience important moments to process what you say
c) Enable your audience to catch up, especially if you are a fast talker
d) Make you appear more confident, as you don’t need to fill every second with words
e) Can add tension and suspense
f) Are very effective with international audiences. They allow your audience and translator to catch up to you (similar to C)
g) Keep your audiences engaged

People frequently ask us, “Won’t my audiences notice I am pausing on purpose? It doesn’t seem natural.”

Our answer, “Used appropriately, no one will know you are deliberately pausing. What they will think is that you are an effective speaker.”

If you are new to pausing, start using short pauses in your next conversation. Test out your effectiveness until you are able to master the pause. Then move on to public speaking and training.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Write it Down Before You Forget

writing, memory, forget, forgetfulness, recordOur short-term memory is very short. Experts vary in their opinions sharing a range of 20 to 30 seconds. Whatever the right number of seconds, it really does not matter.

If you are like us, you forget the unimportant to the important. Think about when you are a in a meeting and an idea pops into your head. How often do you forget the idea? Or forget that important item your client asked about? Or…you get the idea.

Anytime you have an idea/thought you know you want to remember, write it down. To aid in recall, remove all judgment, your desire to analyze, your need to evaluate, etc. – this eliminates mental clutter competing with memory recall.

Use a sticky note, a napkin, text message yourself, email yourself, or call yourself and leave that important message.

Confucius, a famous Chinese philosopher (c. 551-c. 479 BC), said, "The palest ink is better than the most retentive memory."

speaking, training, presenting, practice, practicingThere isn’t a prospect or client that tells us something close to “I really don’t have time to practice my [blank] like I should.” [Blank] is a presentation to the board, a story to inspire action, a sales presentation, an investor pitch, and so on.

Our response is something like, “There isn’t an Olympic athlete, celebrity actor, famous musician, and New York Times best-selling author that doesn’t practice his or her craft—and some practice daily. Not one.”

One of the more well respected researchers in expert performance, K. Anders Ericsson, PhD, has published numerous papers and articles. One paper is “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” (link here). According to Dr. Ericsson, at the intersection of expertise and habit is deliberate practice.

Whatever you do, make practice part of your planning. Practice at least a little. We suggest for really important events, three to five times.

Deliberate Practice helps you.....
- smooth out transitions from slide to slide and big concept to big concept
- identify "bumpy" areas--areas that sound awkward, cause you to hesitate and stumble, etc.
- feel (much) more confident, which then allows more authentic passion and the real you to shine

Everyone at The Chief Storyteller® wishes you a warm, safe, and relaxing holiday season. Here's a little storytelling humor.

secret-formula-for-great-storytelling

An organization's vision statement proclaims its desire to be the very best. Its top leaders are the personification of excellence in everything they do.

Yet, many of its employees are content with mediocrity and the lackluster performance that invariably follows. It can be a frustrating experience for the movers and the shakers in any organization – who must confront a wall of indifference, a lack of engagement and an omnipresent sense of laziness at the office on a daily basis.

Why is this?

It all starts with attitude. Some years back, I wrote a post on the importance of attitude. When my youngest son, who is now a first-year student at the University of Virginia (UVa), was playing basketball in junior high, I noticed a poster on the wall of the gym that read, "Attitudes Are Contagious. Are Yours Worth Catching?" He took that idea to heart that day and let it guide him as he pursued his dream of gaining admission to Virginia's flagship university over the high school years that followed.

Attitude cannot be taught. I suppose that's the reason the Walt Disney Company is known for its practice of hiring more for attitude and less for experience. So, yes, a culture of excellence begins with attitude...at hiring time.

Beyond the initial hire, however, attitude can be cultivated. It takes a commitment from management to set measurable performance objectives, to be engaged and to hold people accountable – "inspect what you expect," if you will. It takes a realization that there are consequences – both positive and negative – to how employees perform or fail to deliver. Even my college-aged son knew early on in his high school career that unless he built sufficient rigor into his schedule, worked hard to earn a competitive grade point average and achieved an SAT score in the top percentile, gaining admission to UVa wasn't going to happen.

If you're a senior manager, my challenge to you is this: take stock of your organization as you begin the new year. Are the attitudes of your employees contributing to the culture of excellence you aspire to? Or, are they holding your organization back?

Remember, a culture of excellence begins with attitude.

active listening

Children say the most honest things, don’t they? Over the weekend, my family went to Washington, DC National Zoo for a child’s birthday party. We walked visiting various animals like the elephants, sea otters, and lions.

After eating tasty cake and ice cream at the end of the party, we ended up walking with some friends. They happen to have an inquisitive, bright-eyed three-year old son. As we were almost to the exit, I overheard the little boy say to his mother, “We can’t go. It’s jail. We have to let them out.”

Wow! What a powerful statement. My wife and I talked about it. We take for granted the animals are in cages—it’s a zoo afterall. How insightful, how raw, how eye opening was that statement?

As we continued to walk to our car and for the ride home I thought more about what I don’t pay attention to as much as should, personally and professionally.

And I’ll ask you the same question I asked my team:  “Are we listening to our audiences enough?”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Master the Art of Active Listening

active listening

James Nathan Miller made an interesting observation some 50 years ago—“Conversation in the U.S. is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener” (The Art of Intelligent Listening, Readers Digest, September 1965).

Don’t let Miller’s observation describe your conversations. Master the art of active listening.

Whether you are a government agency, association, charity, education institution, or corporation, we all have stakeholders—both internal and external. And what each person or persons needs, changes. Depending upon due dates, unforeseen events, new priorities, and the like, the needs can change quickly or slowly.

Whatever your situation, you really have to listen to “them” to really know what is important to them.

Effective listening benefits you in many ways such as: 
- Improves bonding and rapport building
- Reduces communication misunderstandings
- Reduces interpersonal conflicts
- Increases quality of work-related activities

Here are some suggestions to master the art of active listening:
- Use Non-verbal Body Language: Nod your head, smile, and lean forward are good ways to demonstrate your attentiveness. On the telephone, say words like Right, Sure, Understand, and Yes to demonstrate your attentiveness.
- Paraphrase: Summarize and repeat back to the person initiating the conversation the key points. This ensures common understanding. Use this suggestion for the more important discussion points.
- Communicate: Based on your mutual goals with your stakeholders, communicate in person (e.g., coffee, lunch, drinks, dinner, and meetings). Communicate in other ways such as by telephone, email, text message, and postal mail. 
- Wait Your Turn: Resist the temptation to interrupt and interject. Let your communication partner finish sharing her/his thoughts.

personalize linkedin profile

A few days ago I received this form-letter LinkedIn invite (see picture below).

I'm sure you get these...while sometimes fun to read, they have a variety of "bad" characteristics, some more than others. And to me, they really hurt your credibility. And always end up being deleted.

At The Chief Storyteller®, we often find if there is one error, there are at least three more errors.

The "Hi Ellen" greeting is what first caught my attention. Second, where was the personalization and more specifically, the relevance to me? What does "mutually benefit from connecting" mean?

Here is a list of the most common "bad" characteristics we see.

- Lacks personalization - overall, obviously a form-letter
- Lacks personalization - greeting - absence of a name (e.g., "Hello,")
- Generic subject line / irrelevant subject line
- Typos - misspelling, poor punctuation, poor grammar, bad word choice
- Lengthy - sentences and/or letter
- Poor organization of points and supporting points
- Lacks a strong and relevant call-to-action
- Inappropriate greeting and closings
- Far-fetched claims / chest-thumping
- Wrong names used (like this example) / misspelled names

For this invitation-to-connect form letter there are 5 bad characteristics:
- Lacks personalization - overall, obviously a form-letter
- Generic subject line / irrelevant subject line
- Unspecific body copy / irrelevant body copy
- Lacks a strong and relevant call-to-action
- Wrong names used

 alt

If you've ever been to a live show at Radio City Music Hall, a performance on Broadway or an improv performance at a local comedy club, you've undoubtedly seen the different ways performers use their stage presence to connect with their audiences.

Great performers are masters at making each and every audience member feel special and appreciated. They do this by reading their audience – watching, listening and taking their cues from the feedback they receive. Some acknowledge the audience members for coming out to see them, interact with them by asking questions or simply thanking them for their applause. Others work the stage, using movement and gestures to engage their audience. All of this is possible because the performers are spending time on stage before live audiences.

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Like great performers, brands that offer extraordinary customer experiences are masters at making each and every customer feel special and appreciated. I recently attended a customer experience forum in New York City where one of the recurring themes was the importance of talking with customers.

Focus groups and surveys are two common market research tools that are used to understand customer needs, preferences and motivations. However, they often fall short as predictors of customer behavior since participants and respondents do not always follow through on their stated intentions. As one presenter explained, the only way to really know what your customers are thinking is to spend time talking with them.

In short, spending time with your customers and talking with them is like performing before a live audience – not watching a scripted performance from behind a two-way mirror. Executives from the best brands are not afraid to engage customers (and their employees, for that matter) in an interactive setting and, as a result, will often uncover innovative ways to differentiate their brands with a superior customer experience.

 

For more insights on customer experience, please see:
Customer Experience: This Is What It's All About
How One Brand Is Growing Sales In a Weak Economy
• Apple's Genius Bar: Where the Extraordinary Happens

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[Imagine you hear Walt Disney’s “It’s a small world after all” playing in the background] Everyday, we are meeting people from around the world. We are building relationships through email, telephone, Skype, Conferences, Webinars, and so forth.

One of the most important aspects of great relationship building is being appreciative of culture and traditions. Part of this appreciation is the diligent effort to learn a person’s name and how to pronounce it.

With Google Translate, it is super simple. 

1.  Visit Google Translate
2.  Copy and paste the person’s name into either field box
3.  Select from 90+ languages from the drop down arrow (see blue arrows)
4.  Press the “sound icon” (see the orange arrows)
5.  Listen to the pronunciation as many times as you need

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Note:  Thank you to Brandy Schantz from Synergy Home Sales for this terrific suggestion.

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Yesterday while meeting with a client and reviewing his LinkedIn profile, we were talking about how he can demonstrate his skills and, past performance. And how to do so with recommendations, which he only had two. While we were strategizing on a plan to request tailored recommendations, he asked, "Do you know how to send these recommendations easily?" I smiled and said, "yes I do."

I thought to share how as this week's tip.

One of the best reasons to use this LinkedIn hack is for job seekers, recruiters, and HR teams to easily view a candidate's recommendations for his/her ENTIRE profile with one click rather than having to search a person's profile, job-by-job.

A not-so-obvious reason is for organizations to demonstrate excellent customer service, past performance, etc. to prospective customers, partners, etc. Organizations should link to team member profiles with the representative recommendations.

Here's how:

1) Log-in to your LinkedIn profile
2) Click on the [Profile] menu option, top left of your screen, close to the blue LinkedIn logo
3) Scroll down to your summary information. This is the box with your picture, name, professional headline, etc.
4) Look at the bottom left of your summary box for a gray LinkedIn logo and a URL (see orange arrow below). This is your public profile URL.

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5) Copy your public profile URL, paste it into your browswer, then add #recommendations at the very end. Press and you'll see just your recommendations for all of your employement history. This is how the URL would look to view my recommendations.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/thechiefstoryteller#recommendations


Note:  If your LinkedIn profile is outside the United States, delete the country letters from your profile URL.

If you have any trouble email me.

 

Source:  I found the original article here (Showcase Imagery) and simplified it above for you.

 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day

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Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my Irish friends around the world...And to everyone, as today you are Irish (smile).

I look forward to St. Paddy's Day as it is always festive. You look for your best green to wear (today I wore my green tie and shamrock lapel pin). And people seem to be friendlier.

It also is a day that starts with an always grand breakfast event hosted by the Northern Ireland Bureau.  Having done some workshop programs in Belfast, Northern Ireland, NI holds a special place in my experiences. 

I included a few pictures from today's breakfast as well as a few from my trip to Belfast.

Norman Houston, Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau, welcomes everyone. Every year the Northern Ireland Bureau sponsors a St. Patrick's Day breakfast. Invest NI and Visit Ireland help celebrate St Patrick's Day in style. I had the honor and pleasure of conducting several workshop sessions in Belfast, Northern Ireland. John from Invest NI was kind enough to invite me a few years back and I've been enjoying it every since. The entire NI team of Norman, Stewart, Lorraine, Tracy, Bronagh, and Christopher deserve a big round of applause. @ni_bureau #StPatricksDay

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Dr. Malcolm McKibbin, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service shares important information on economic, cultural, tourism, and political activities and issues in Northern Ireland.

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This is my third breakfast with the NI Bureau. Here I am with Norman Houston, Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau. (great storyteller by the way)

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In front of the big welcome sign...

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Here's a little "Throwback Tuesday." I had the honor and pleasure of speaking in Northern Ireland several years ago. Here I am on my first night drinking a fantastic pint of Guinness. My program was with CO3, Chief Officers Third Sector (http://www.co3.bz/). Majella, Jackie, Tracey, Rachel, Tony from CO3 and Liz and Nick all made my experience one I will treasure for my lifetime.

alt

 

Here's another "Throwback Tuesday" picture from my trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland with the team at CO3, Chief Officers Third Sector (http://www.co3.bz/). 

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For Your Information:  Not sure if you have to be an active user of Microsoft Outlook Social Connector to have seen this...LinkedIn is no longer supporting the connector plugin to Microsoft. The email below is really quite vague.

I thought it was a great tool...

Here's the text of the email:

-----

Hi Ira,

As an active user of LinkedIn for Microsoft Outlook Social Connector, we wanted to make sure we let you know that on March 9, we will no longer support LinkedIn for Microsoft Outlook Social Connector in Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010.

This means that LinkedIn information about your email contacts will not be visible in those Outlook versions. Our team is working with Microsoft to build even more powerful tools to help you stay connected with your professional world.

Until then you can get similar capabilities with the “LinkedIn for Outlook” app for Outlook 2013 from the Office Store.

Have questions? Visit our Help Center for more information..

Thanks, The LinkedIn Team 

 

I've yet to take my first ride in an Uber car. I've heard so many great things about the crowd-sourced car company from my high schooler and the interactive agency I work with, I feel like I'm missing out on something special.

I wasn't surprised when I recently read in a customer loyalty news publication that Uber had recently partnered with Starwood Hotels and Resorts in an effort to improve the hotel brand's guest experience and customer loyalty program. Through the new partnership, members of Starwood Preference Guest (SPG), the hotel's popular loyalty program, will now be able to earn extra points by booking an Uber ride to any destination.

alt

At their most basic level, partnerships like these are a form of cross-selling, where customers are offered related items to enhance their experience with a brand. Cross-selling offers companies like Uber and Starwood a number of benefits, including increased customer exposure to higher margin services and increased loyalty through the suggestion of complementary items of perceived value. This partnership is a brilliant example.

A truly innovative idea rooted in a basic marketing principle – now that's worth tweeting... and blogging about.

I remember when voice mail was introduced in the mid-80's. I was working for AT&T and, during a visit to the Bell Labs facility in Holmdel, NJ, I recall being awestruck by the presence of the AT&T Model 2500 answering machines on each desk. These machines were, at the time, top of the line models and allowed users to record their own personalized greetings.

At the time, my sales office had a receptionist who would take messages from incoming callers while we were out. The messages were very brief – something akin to "while you were out, Theresa P. called."

Years later, while managing a customer care center for AT&T, I got my own voice mailbox. I could record my own greeting, assuring callers they had reached the right number. Callers could now leave me longer and more detailed messages. Early on, many would zero-out, preferring to speak to my administrative assistant instead.

During much of my professional selling career, voice mail became the preferred medium for communication between my customers and me. Voice mail was ubiquitous and people became more comfortable with it. My personalized greetings were updated each day and I promised to return calls within two hours. Messages were rich in verbal content and were often longer than I would have liked. I used to keep a spiral note pad, where I would methodically write down each voice message I received (along with the time and date).

At some point during the last 5 years or so, voice mail has become irrelevant – at least for me. I no longer record daily greetings, I'm lucky if I get more than two messages per day and I haven't kept a spiral notepad in years. The preferred communication medium is now email, and the standards that once applied to voice mail now govern my email interactions (e.g., personalized email signatures, out-of-office greetings and my own personal commitment to returning emails within two hours). And when I want to communicate with someone, I'll send an email or a text.

Voice mail once played a pivotal role in shaping how others perceived our personal and corporate brands. Not anymore, I'm afraid. After all, when was the last time you left a voice message for someone?

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Did you know LinkedIn has a plug-in for Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010?

It seamlessly blends into Outlook. While in email, a person’s profile picture is automatically displayed in your People Pane View, whether they are one of your connections or not. Want to add the person, simply click on the green + adjacent to the picture, and the person will be invited to join your network.

Keep in mind, you can NOT personalize the invitation. The person will receive the plain vanilla invite.

LinkedIn Benefits include (from the site):
- Access Your Connections in Your Inbox:  See the latest LinkedIn activity and profile photo from any connection that sends you an e-mail.
- E-mail Your Connections Directly:  Just start typing a name and let the LinkedIn Outlook Connector fill in the rest.
- Keep Building Your Network:  Instantly send an invitation to connect from any Outlook e-mail.

Download it here
http://www.linkedin.com/static?key=microsoft_outlook

While a focus on improving the way your external customers experience your brand is admirable and necessary, equal importance needs to be assigned to your internal customer experience, too.

Your brand, after all, is an ecosystem – a community of people from interdependent functional areas who interact as a larger system. When one function fails to deliver on its core mission, the other functions are unable to fulfill their responsibilities and the strength of the entire ecosystem is weakened. Frustration, blame and disappointing results are sure to follow.

Marketing, sales, sales support, operations, customer service, information technology, finance, accounting and human resources are all examples of interdependent functional areas. Each function provides a service to the other functional areas – your internal customers, if you will.

How your internal customers perceive the experience you provide is influenced by a number of factors, including the cost of the service, the quality of the deliverable, the timeliness in which it was delivered, the attitude of the people who performed the service, how well the service met their needs, etc. If your internal customers feel the work you are providing lacks value, quality, effort and timeliness, it's only a matter of time until these perceptions are felt outside the organization.

People who play team sports learn early on that attitudes are contagious. Is yours (and your team's) worth catching?

 

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Having traveled around the world both on vacation and speaking, I have come across a variety of interesting food names:

- Chicken with wilted spinach
- Stinky tofu
- Vegetarian meatballs

You may have heard, even tried some of these. By themselves, do the titles immediately make you think “yummy?” or do you mentally cringe? Personally, I cringed at "wilted spinach." Why would I order something out of date or not fresh? Because this was served at a very nice restaurant, I laughed out loud. It sparked quite an interesting conversation with my dining partners.

Quite unintended, I ended up liking the phrase wilted spinach quite a lot as a metaphor for bad messaging. As a result, I titled our approach to testing messages, “The Wilted Spinach Test.” At its core, the test looks to evaluate whether your words/messages resonate with your target audiences. At a detailed level, do your words/messages mean what you want them to mean? Words matter. A lot. To some, one word could be positive and to others, the very same word could be negative.

Do your written, spoken, and social media communications cause audiences to ask good questions, contact you, or skip right past you?

Geetesh Bajaj of Indezine.com shared a new post from Microsoft from January 22 titled, "The Next Chapter of Office on Windows."

Here's the introductory paragraph..

Yesterday’s unveil of Windows 10 showcased a new generation of experiences that will empower people and organizations to achieve more. In partnership with Windows 10, the Office team is bringing a fantastic new set of Office experiences to this platform, furthering our mission to bring the unparalleled productivity of Office to everyone, on every device. Over the past 12 months, you’ve seen us reimagine the traditional Office experience for a mobile-first, cloud-first world. The next step in this journey is the delivery of touch and mobile optimized versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook for Windows 10.

The post provides some hint at Office's “universal” apps on Windows 10 and Office 2016.

 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Words to Avoid - “Anxious”

altFor business communications, you should avoid using the word “anxious.” Anxious is a word all too often misused. You’ll hear people saying, “I’m anxious to meet Julie.” Or “I’m really anxious about xyz.”

By definition, anxious means: “characterized by extreme uneasiness of mind or brooding fear about some contingency” (Merriam-Webster Online).

For business communications, always use “eager.” By definition, eager means: “marked by enthusiastic or impatient desire or interest” (Merriam-Webster Online).

If there is a cause to use “anxious” to convey worry, we suggest using “concern” or “concerned.”

Since all of your business communications to your target audiences are related to your relationship and what you offer to them, choose your words carefully.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Selling Beyond Price

It's easy to sell on price, particularly when yours is the lowest. What happens, though, when your price isn't the lowest?

One of my go-to sales training exercises is to ask a group of experienced salespeople to imagine a world where there is no difference between their price and those of their competitors. If price is no longer a differentiator, how would they position their products and services? What would possibly compel someone to buy from them?

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This forces them to take a deeper, more introspective look at their selling approach. The best salespeople sometimes default to selling at a lower price, even when their products and services are arguably better. In doing so, they discount the value of the service they provide, the knowledge and expertise they offer, their relationship with the customer and the impact their products and solutions can have on their customer's business.

If a salesperson's first instinct is to offer a discounted price, it's a sign he or she doesn't attach much value to the things that matter most to customers. And if a salesperson doesn't believe these benefits are worth paying more for, why would your customer? 

For more on selling beyond price, please see:
How One Brand Is Growing Sales While Raising Prices in a Weak Economy
Achieving Market Share Growth in a Weak Market
What Makes Your Company Different?

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In today's go-go-go world, people want and demand information to be on point. Once you get the reader's attention, you can offer more details.

We suggest writing all of your emails smart phone-friendly. These types of emails are fewer than 100 words and take 15 to 30 seconds to read.

Need to send a lengthy email? Break it into two parts. The first part should be the short version, summarizing your key points. The second part offers the details and goes below your signature line

The New Year is a great time to look ahead and think about the things you're going to do differently in the year ahead, especially if you're a sales professional. Change is a constant in sales – the result of evolving market conditions, increasing competition and sales quotas with year-over-year growth targets.

You can embrace this change with these ten sales resolutions:
   1. Spend four more hours in front of your customers each week
   2. Learn one new fact about your industry each week
   3. Establish yourself as an industry expert on one social media channel
   4. Give your prospects one big reason to engage with you, outside of price
   5. Give your customers one big reason to expand their relationship with you and your brand, outside of price
   6. Make every customer interaction about them, instead of you
   7. Include five reasons to buy in every proposal, with a focus on value
   8. Sell high and wide within your customer organizations, with a goal of meeting one new decision-maker or influencer on every call
   9. Obtain one new customer testimonial each month
 10. Empower your customers through conversations that include words like: "and" (instead of "but"), "do" (instead of "try") and "yes" (instead of "no")

You can do this. Make 2015 the year of the customer, and your best year ever, with these resolutions.

  

For more insights on selling, please see:
Achieving Market Share Growth in a Weak Market 
If You're Selling, Are You Showing or Telling? 
The Power of the Human Touch in Sales 
If You're in Sales, Tell Me Something I Don't Know 
Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?

 

One of the most common questions/statements we receive about storytelling is "I just don't know where to begin."

Choosing the right story, turning it into an engaging experience, and practicing to be a great storyteller of course takes time. What really doesn't take much time and very little preparation, is telling a “Today Story.”

It is an experience that happened to you the day of your presentation, before you begin.

Share your experiences:
- Airplane ride
- Conversation you had with someone previously (at the opening event night before is also a good source),
- Taxi cab ride from the airport with the person sitting next you
- Conversation you had with your spouse, child, parent
- "I was just talking to FirstName" about (a participant in the audience)

In three minutes or less, YOU CAN tell a great story. One that is relevant and interesting. And one that sets the stage for a great presentation to come to your audience.

One of my favorite holiday television specials is "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It's entertaining, brief and full of timeless lessons.

As fans of the drama know, the story centers around a boy named Charlie Brown and his frustration with the growing commercialism of the Christmas holiday season. All he really wants is to find the true meaning of Christmas.

While the story contains an obvious spiritual message, I think there is one for brands here, too. Even before the show's debut in 1965, references to the growing commercialism of the holiday season are evident in American movies and other media. 1947's "Miracle on 34th Street" is one film that comes to mind.

If, as Linus tells us, the Christmas holiday season is less about commercialism and more about spreading "peace and goodwill," the takeaway for brands is the importance of putting their core values and customer needs above short-term sales and profits. Who among us has at one time or another felt our expectations were not met, after being "sold" the equivalent of a "Charlie Brown Christmas tree?" 

Talk to your customers, understand their needs and always remember your core values. Putting customers first and creating something special are great ways to show your customers a little love this holiday season.

For more marketing insights from holiday favorites, please see:
Social Media Marketing Lessons from "A Christmas Carol"
Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey 
What Ebeneezer Scrooge Would Like Us to Know About Organizational Culture 

Last winter, I blogged about the secret ingredients of an amazing customer experience. It was a story about my then recent experience with a small business called Campus Cookies. I concluded my blog post with the observation that every great customer experience starts with people. I also talked about teamwork and the role of the CEO or owner in creating a culture that enables his or her employees to deliver an amazing customer experience.

I'd like to pick up where I left off on my earlier blog, with an update to the story. Last week, I and many other Campus Cookies customers received an email offering a $5 gift certificate in exchange for a positive review on Facebook. With one finger poised on the delete key, I quickly scanned the email, using my thumb to scroll down the page.

I was about to press the delete button when this comment caught my eye: "The negative reviews keep me on my toes, but the positive ones, those keep me going." Then there was this statement: "The review pasted below, truly hits home for me."

In an instant, I felt compelled to scroll down and keep reading. I had to see for myself what was so special about "this review." To my surprise and delight, it was the blog post I had written last winter! I penned an email to the owner, Scott Davidson, thanking him for acknowledging my post and telling him to keep up the good work. Again to my surprise, I received an email back from Scott about an hour later, thanking me for my support and letting me know I, too, would be receiving a $5 gift certificate.

While this gesture of gratitude was very much appreciated, it certainly wasn't necessary. You see, writing about a brand whose owner and CEO gets that the key to success is less about providing a product and more about creating a personalized customer experience is an opportunity most people like me would embrace. I suppose the four dozen or so fans who responded to Scott's offer by posting positive reviews on the Campus Cookies Facebook page within hours of receiving his email are testimony to that.

While it's easy to find organizations whose leadership talks about the need for a culture of enabling employees to deliver an amazing customer experience, it's harder and far less common to see leaders like Scott who work side by side with their employees on the front lines to make that happen. Small companies whose CEOs and owners remain focused on serving customers are typically the ones who grow up to become the bigger companies listed among the best places to work

In the meantime, school is in session and cookie season is upon us. I can hardly wait to place my next order!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How You Treat Your Employees Matters

I've always admired how leaders in the top hospitality brands treat their employees. Follow them around a property for a while and you'll notice a very high level of personal engagement – they greet everyone they encounter with a smile and by their first names. The employees instinctively smile back and return the greeting, using the leader's first name, as well.

What you'll also notice during these exchanges is how natural the interactions are. The employees don't suddenly stop doing what they're doing when the boss appears. What happens behind the scenes in many of these hotels is evidence of a well-oiled machine. The employees are well trained in the brand's standard operating procedures. Their leaders have full confidence in them. The employees are happy to be there and it shows in everything they do.

Why does this matter?

What goes on behind the scenes invariably plays out in front of your guests and customers. If your leaders interact with their employees in a warm and genuine way, your employees will do the same with their guests and customers. If your leaders invest in their employees and value their contributions, your employees will take pride in their role of serving their guests and customers. And if your leaders empower your employees, they will go the extra mile to provide their guests and customers with an experience that keeps them coming back.

 

For more on the importance of employee relationships to your brand, please see:
Your People (Even the Volunteers) Are Your Brand
Your Employees Play a Leading Role in Shaping Great Brands
Why Family Relationships Make for a Great Place to Work
What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
Employee Retention: People Leave Managers, Not Companies

 

Sales is one of the hardest jobs in any company. There are daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly commitments to be made. And in organizations that are serious about sales growth, a good portion of the salesperson's compensation is at risk.

Sales and its sustained growth are requirements for long-term financial success in any organization. During my own career in technology sales, I lived by the mantra, "If you ain't growing, you're dying." Done right, sales drives revenue growth, which in turn drives growth in profit margins, net income and shareholder value (e.g., earnings per share). No sales, no growth.

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Yet the responsibility for sales growth is not the sole purview of the salesperson. There are many building blocks to a successful sales growth strategy. They include marketing, sales support, contract administration, finance, billing, customer service, operations, implementation and post-implementation services, and virtually everyone in your organization, from the CEO on down.

In my view, everyone is a salesperson. Everyone is accountable for growing the business. A sense of urgency, timely responses to emails and phone calls and the prioritization of customer-impacting issues over internal projects and reports are some of the ways these other functional groups can help support sales growth.

If you're looking for a simple way to keep everyone in your organization focused on your sales growth strategy, here's an idea. Invest in a set of building blocks, like the ones you see in the image above. Spell out your growth strategy (I chose "sales" in my example). Then hand a building block to a representative from each functional area. Ask each person to display their block on his or her desk as a daily reminder and to bring it with them to their weekly team meetings. During each meeting, ask the block holders to report on what they've done in the time since you last met to support your strategy to grow the business.

If your sales results are not meeting your growth expectations, take a closer look around the organization. Are the building blocks of a successful sales strategy in place?

For more on sales growth strategies, please see:
How One Brand Is Growing Sales While Raising Prices in a Weak Economy
Achieving Market Share Growth in a Weak Market
The Power of the Human Touch in Sales
Is a "Can-do" Attitude Part of Your Business Plan?
What Makes Your Company Different?

As an MBA graduate of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, I am excited about next week's presentation.  I'll be presenting "Executive Storytelling" with fellow part-time MBA students. 

It was a serendipitious meeting with Megan, the professional development program chair. We met at a Smith School Event for International Development. After chatting a bit, I learned Megan worked for the Department of the Army and I'm an Army veteran. Soon after, we talked about a variety of topics, which led to the "What do you do?" question.

A few months later, I'll be sharing some great video clips, thoughts, ideas, and exercises on business storytelling. I'm looking forward to a dynamic exchange of ideas.

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