A Thought on Empathy

Life is about perspective. It’s how we experience situations and the lens through which we view things…good, bad, or indifferent. Empathy is a powerful attribute for us all. Being able to relate to each other is what makes human beings…human.

I just watched the movie The Forgiven starring Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana. This movie is based on real events that took place in S. Africa. It is incredibly moving and serves as proof that it is possible – even under the worst circumstances – that we can all find common ground, forgive when needed, and find a positive path forward. Rarely have I seen something so powerful in a film.

#Empathy

#Coaching

#Selfimprovement

#SelfAwareness

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The Customer Mindset

MyBook

Developing strategies to grow revenues really excites me.  It’s what gets me jazzed.  Ideating, innovating, and brainstorming, mixed with good old fashion common sense usually always provides the best path forward.  The key is listening.  Listening to the business, the market, the employees, and most importantly listening to your buyer.

I’ve spent the last decade studying, observing, learning, testing, and monitoring results that are achieved with various go-to-market strategies.  Many companies spend too little time developing the strategy and plan to take their product or service to market.  They make or produce something, price it, and give it to Sales to sell.  Make it, and they will come.  Not really.

The Age of the Customer has arrived.  No longer does the sales person control the sale.  If you believe your sales team is in control think again.  The buyer has all the control.  Many well-respected sources indicate up to 70% of the buying process being complete before a buyer meets with a sales person.  Your buyers have looked you up, researched you, watched you, and asked about you before you even knew they existed.  Do you know where they found you?  Do you know who they talked to along the way to ask for advice or opinions?  Do you know what they read to educate themselves on this purchase?  This is all very important work.

I am proud to announce my new book The Customer Mindset: Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results.  I wrote this book to provide an actionable roadmap for those charged with growing revenues. The book is filled with real-life stories, frameworks, and methods for mapping your buyer’s journey.  By creating a visual map of the journey your buyer takes on their way to the cash register, you will be better able to create a sales and marketing process that assists in this journey.  Remember, the buyer is in control.  Once you recognize and accept that, then you can get started focusing on how to help them through their journey versus spending your time trying to figure out how to sell them.

I want to thank the more than 5,000 readers of my blog who inspired me to go deeper.  To provide more detail.  To be more prescriptive.  Thank you so much.  I also want to thank David Moncur who has been a great friend and inspiration, not to mention the best creative mind I’ve ever worked with.  It is his firm, Moncur, that designed the awesome cover – front and back – of my book.  Thanks David.

I hope my blog, my book, and my stories continue to help you grow your business by providing strong leadership, innovative thinking, and a discipline to focus on doing the right things that maximize your results.

Be a Tour Guide Instead of a Sales Person

 

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In 2015 I took my first trip to Yellowstone National Park.  To be honest it wasn’t my first choice, but it was solidly in my dad’s bucket list and so we made it a “guys” trip.  Three generations of DeRosa’s (father, son, grandson) traveling to where the buffalo roam, to see exploding geysers, breath-taking views, and to take in the simple beauty of the land.

Of course, the sales and marketing geek inside of me looks for every opportunity to observe, study, and ponder how each experience plays into how people make buying decisions.  Yes, even at Yellowstone I was on the prowl for insights into how sales people can better connect with the buyers journey.  Our Yellowstone tour guide unknowingly provided a powerful example in navigating the changing scenery of the buyers journey.  But first a little context…

If you’re in Sales, or any position charged with hitting a revenue number, you’ve got to sell.  You need to find buyers, and you need to sell them.  Sell them as much as you can, as quickly as you can, to reach your number, celebrate briefly and move on to the next.  Right?

WRONG!

Buyers have become increasingly sophisticated whether buying a pair of shoes, or selecting a payroll provider, or choosing Tom Ford over Hugo Boss.  If you think selling hard, and selling fast is your best chance of success you may want to consider a different career.  Today’s buyer wants to be courted.  They want to feel special. They want to feel important.  They want to believe the option they have chosen is the best option for their need.  Notice I didn’t say the buyer wants to have confidence in the solution you sold them.  No.  They are not to be sold.  They are doing the buyer.  They want you to be their tour guide.

I watched as Kylie, our tour guide welcomed us to a small group tour setting out to see Yellowstone in all its majesty.  Her welcome was warm and genuine.  She was quick to point out the creature comforts we probably would need for this journey.  Blankets, water, soft drinks, snacks, distance between rest stops.  She had anticipated our questions and addressed them before they were asked.

As we started our journey from the Grand Teton’s into Yellowstone, Kylie provided a history of both parks in a way that only a master-storyteller could do.  Her story was highly engaging, edge of your seat, filled with suspense.  She educated us on the wildlife ecosystem and how everything was interconnected.  I’m embarrassed to say I probably learned everything I know about biology and the circle of life from this tour.  Up to this point in my life I hadn’t taken time to think about how life and nature were interconnected. She led us on this journey of enlightenment through her personal passion for the landscape and wildlife within these two parks. It was amazing. In fact, so much so, that we embarked on a second tour a couple of days later with a different focus, in a different part of the park.

I’ve often thought about my experience on this Yellowstone tour.  I’ve thought about how I was educated in a way that allowed me to fully grasp the concept of a wildlife ecosystem.  I think about how my interests in conservation have since grown as a direct result of this new knowledge.  I ponder the impact personal passion has on the transfer of knowledge.  I do believe that if Kylie simply read a script, or ran through the motions, I would have left Yellowstone feeling quite different…less connected.  Her passion created questions of my own.  Her stories have become remarkable memories for me, my father, and my son.

As a revenue leader it is important to have a true passion for what you do.  It’s not enough to be a VP of Sales.  Kylie could have been a tour operator for a double-decker bus in Manhattan, but it wouldn’t have served her passion.  You’ve got to have passion for what it is you’re selling.  What is the ultimate purpose for what you do, what your product does, what improvement it makes in the buyers life.  Too many people are occupying positions for a paycheck, not really believing in what it is they are selling.  We’ve all done it.  The problem is, your buyers can spot a scripted seller miles away and today they vote with their shoes by either walking toward you or walking away.

View yourself as your buyer’s tour guide.  Anticipate their questions and provide answers before they ask.  Make the journey as comfortable as possible.  Be warm, be kind, be generous with your time.  Study and learn…I mean really learn about what it is you’re selling.  If you can’t get excited or enthused about it find a new product to sell.  Your goal is to help your buyer through this journey at their pace, not yours. Be the best sales tour guide you can be.

Applying Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits to Your Buyer’s Journey

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In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents seven habits (and one bonus habit) that he observed made some people more effective than others.  Since his passing in 2012 I have revisited my copy of this book on a number of occasions.  I have found overwhelming similarities between how these 7 Habits, if practiced consistently, not only produce more effective people but also more effective companies.  Over the next week I will highlight each habit and how it can translate into helping you understand your buyer’s journey.

Habit 1 is about being proactive and taking responsibility.  In business, the leader’s job is to provide the vision for where the company is headed, and is the owner and nurturer of the company’s culture.  Many companies delegate cultural ownership to the head of HR or some other executive.  But culture is much deeper than simply finding a champion or cheerleader.  Culture is about setting a tone, establishing expectations, accepted behaviors, and perhaps the most difficult ingredient of the culture, which is the creation of confidence.  The ultimate leader of the company sets the culture even if he or she doesn’t want to “own” it.  It just happens.  Employees look to THE leader as both watchers and witnesses to behaviors. How THE leader acts and behaves is how the entire organization will act and behave.  If the leader is proactive, the company will be proactive.  If the leader hides behind walls, doors, and desks, the entire company will hide from its customers’ behind walls, doors, and desks.

To be proactive requires a great degree of curiosity.  It’s the ability to wonder what if, what could be, or how could we?  The ultimate one word that demonstrates just how proactive someone is – “why”.  When you ask “why”, you’re being proactive. Think about it.  If Thomas Edison never asked why, would we have lights? If Steve Jobs hadn’t asked why, would we have many of the modern-day conveniences and access to information that we have today?  There are thousands of examples of how asking why delivered major inventions or innovations to our society.  If no one took the time to ask why, we’d simply all be sitting around, idle, stagnant, and unchanged.

As you look at your buyer’s journey ask why?  Be proactive.  Don’t wait for a major disruption or crisis to force your evolution.  Get out in front of it. Take every opportunity to talk to your customers and ask questions, get their ideas, opinions, emotions.  Don’t rely on paper, or automated survey’s.  Engage them live, in real time.  Be bold, brave, and most of all be proactive in understanding what’s important to your buyer.

 

 

What Happens When The Suits Meet The Customers?  3 Outrageous Stories.

Suits

As a self-proclaimed buyers journey geek, I love watching and observing buyers during their buying process. In fact, there’s only one thing I enjoy more than watching the buyer, and that’s watching “the suits”. The suits are the folks that work for corporate. They arrive either on their magic carpets or white horses. Decked out in flowing robes, the suits have arrived to pass the ultimate judgement on how things are going with the business. They travel in packs, Starbucks in hand, and armed with Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility. The moment they walk through the door all activity seems to go into suspended animation. Time slows…painfully slow.

Just what does an experience with a suit look like? Below are 3 recent examples where I have observed the suits in their “unnatural habitat”. I ask you think about these examples and whether you, or your company operates in a similar manner. Next week I’ll provide alternative strategies that demonstrate how you can turn the time the suits spend at the business into revenue.

  1. Large national discount retailer, selling name brands for less. I accompanied my wife to the store as she had some “things” she wanted to look at. That’s code for it’s going to be a while. I sat at the front of the store watching customers go in and out. It was busy. The cashier line was never shorter than 10 – 12 customers deep. The suits had arrived, dressed to the nines, Starbucks in hand, trying to be inconspicuous but looking as out-of-place as a surfer would in Syracuse in January. They huddled around one another, not separating more than a couple of feet from one another. After all, you never know when one of these customers may get a little nutty. In 30 minutes, I watched as not a single suit said hello or smiled to engage a customer. I think they actually thought they had Harry Potter’s invisible cloak on. As my wife finished shopping we got into line to cash out. The tension at the register was real…fear. Our cashier asked her manager if she thought they would be getting a “5 star rating”. The manager looked like she was about to throw up and said “I don’t think so.” Mission accomplished for the suits. They successfully avoided customers and proceeded to collapse employee morale…all in about an hour’s time. Perfect!
  2. Large grocery store chain operating under a number of different brands in the northeast. Call me crazy but I’ve always enjoyed grocery shopping. It was Sunday morning two weeks ago and I went to “our store” to do our weekly shopping. The store was a madhouse. Lines at every check-out lane and cashiers who looked ready to drop even though it was only 9 am in the morning and the day just started. Huddled together at the front of the store the suits had their arms folded, whispering to one another with one hand covering their mouth…as if they were calling plays into the huddle for the Philadelphia Eagles. More than half the registers were closed. It took 30 minutes to check out. The suits never moved. Never spoke to an employee let alone a customer. Mission accomplished. They now know what was wrong. Not enough cashiers on Sunday morning at 9 am…except this past Sunday nothing had changed…another 30 minute wait to cash out.
  3. Regional tire and auto service business. I took my wife’s Chevy Tahoe in for a standard oil change and tire rotation. Got there a few minutes before 8 am (opening). Spoke to Sam at the counter who told me they’d have me in and out in no time. That is actually why we’ve been going there for the last several years. They know us and treat us great. But not today. I asked for Mike and Bill only to be told that “they left in the last month”. Hmm. And so it began. The technician pulled my vehicle in at 8:10 am, put it on the lift, and then got some coffee. At 8:30 nothing had been done to the truck. He was having a donut. At 8:45 am I asked Sam for an update and he told me the tech would get to it soon. The Service Manager was hanging out in the garage area where there were 3 other techs… my Tahoe being the only vehicle in the garage. After several failed attempts to get his attention I blew past the warning sign on the door that says “For Insurance Purposes Customers Cannot Enter The Garage Without Being Accompanied By An Employee.” I called the Service Manager and he came over. When I asked him what was going on with my truck he looked as if I had asked him to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle. He went over to the tech who was now on his 3rd donut…no lie…and said something that caused them both to turn and look at me simultaneously. Awkward. At 10:05 am I pulled out of the parking lot for something that should have taken less than 30 minutes. Mission accomplished. Avoid the customer, duck and cover, and talk about them in the most obvious way.

You just can’t make things like this up.

 

 

 

Consistency: The not-so-secret ingredient to building a strong brand

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If I were to ask you to name your favorite brand what would you say?  What metric or definitions would you use to acknowledge those companies whose brands rise to the top?

Brand building is big work.  Heavy work.  Time consuming work.  It takes patience, curiosity, interest, a willingness to listen, a willingness to act, a conscious effort to deliver what you promise day in and day out.  Yes, a brand is simply that…a promise.

Chances are your favorite brands may do many things well, but there’s one thing I bet they do better than all the others.  I’ll bet your favorite brands deliver what they promise consistently.  Not 70% of the time, or 80% of the time, but 10 out of 10 times you get exactly the experience you’ve come to expect.  It’s exactly the reason you keep going back.  It’s THE reason it’s your favorite brand .

Consistency is the little, but not so secret, ingredient of successful brandsDunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Wawa deliver great coffee all the time.  Apple delivers quality products for home, work, or on the go, that are easy to use and deliver what’s promised.  The gym I go to is always so clean you could eat off the floors which says a lot for a gym!  I drive 23 miles to take my car to a Cadillac dealership when there is a Caddy dealer 4 miles from my home.  Why?  They always recognize me by name, their waiting area is ultra-comfortable with TV, work stations and high-speed internet, not to mention their  “Nordstrom-like” restrooms.  Speaking of Nordstrom, their service is remarkable each and every time.  Whether you’re buying a brand name shirt, or one that carries John Nordstrom’s name, you can rest assured you’ve purchased something of quality.

We all have examples of our favorite brands.  What’s funny is how many companies I’ve experienced where paying attention to those little things is viewed as more of a luxury than a requirement.  Dunkin didn’t get the reputation for great coffee by accident.  They didn’t say “it doesn’t matter where we get our beans from or what type of equipment we use to brew it”.  They are all about those coffee details.  Nordstrom’s didn’t develop its reputation as service workhorse by giving customers a hard time when an item didn’t fit, work, or hold up as expected.  And for those of you privileged enough to live in a city where Wegmans operates you know how consistent their delivery of remarkable service is.  Wegmans has been known to take back, refund, and provide other goodwill gestures for food purchased that the customer didn’t like.  Consistently consistent.

If you’re selling fast and easy, it better be fast and easy all the time.  Not just most of the time. If you’re selling fresh, it needs to be fresh at 6 am or 6 pm.  If you’re selling durable, it better last under the harshest uses or conditions.

Regardless of what you sell, think about how consistent your brand delivers on its promise.  If it’s anything shy of 100%, or Six Sigma, I suggest you reevaluate and understand not just why, but what you’ll do to correct it.  Nobody wants to buy “sometimes”.  In fact most people buy with their emotions, and as human beings our emotions are wired for a “forever” experience.  People don’t like change and if your brand is inconsistent you’re indirectly creating a situation that will bring a change to your customer.  Not a good thing.  Consistently consistent.  That’s the key.

 

 

How To Improve Boardroom Decisions

Council

Daylong meetings starting at 7:30 am behind closed doors. Continental breakfast with all the coffee you can drink. Lunch around noon…sandwiches or pizza…followed by early afternoon cookies, more coffee, and an occasional bottle of water. The day ends around 5:30 pm with a 30 minute break to “freshen up” before going out for a team dinner. Sound familiar? It does if you’ve ever experienced an executive, or Board-level meeting.

Many companies are currently knee-deep in 2014 planning sessions. Meetings like the one I’ve described above are taking place in different cities across the country…and the world. Lots of PowerPoint presentations, opinions, predictions, explanations, what-ifs, if-nots, and I-needs, fill hours upon hours of meetings. Interestingly enough one of the most important ingredients to building a successful strategy is missing from many of these discussions…the customer.

A fair number of companies execute their planning season with an inside-out view. They go into these sessions with closed minds, hindered by their narrow focus of what is, rather than what could be. This is not necessarily a purposeful or conscious approach, but it just seems to happen that way. We look at last year’s results, add 10% or whatever number we “think” sounds reasonable and build a plan around it. Again, sound familiar?

But companies that drive significant growth through innovation do it differently…they involve the customer.  Here’s some proof.

One of the best shows on television today is The C-Suite.  The show, and its host Jeffrey Hayzlett, focuses on getting behind the typically-closed-doors of some of the country’s biggest brands.  They dig around the executives thinking, ideas, philosophies and plans.  Hayzlett asks tough questions, the questions viewers would love to ask if they could – and he gets answers.

In a recent episode of The C-Suite on BloombergTV, host Jeffrey Hayzlett profiled the Seattle Sounders professional soccer team. He met with the owner and the executive leadership to understand how the Sounders have accomplished sell-outs (60,000+ seats) at every home game. In a previous episode he met with the executive team of Dunkin Donuts to have a similar conversation about what’s driving their growth. What was quite surprising and impressive is that while both these companies are in completely different industries their response was nearly identical…they both involve the customer.

Joe Roth, the majority owner of the Sounders, and Nigel Travis the CEO of Dunkin Brands, have both established customer advisory councils. The Sounders’ council consists of season ticket holders and Dunkin’s is made up of a group of their franchisees. Both councils provide ideas, thoughts, and reactions to their respective company’s strategy and plans. The Sounders go as far as involving their council members in discussions from ticket prices to player selection. They have given the brand to their customers and are reaping the benefits in a big way.  In fact their leap of faith has paid of five-fold.

It takes guts to listen to your customers.  Executive teams must also have the courage to act on what their customers tell them. Oddly enough the companies that have allowed their customers to “hijack” their brand have been extremely successful as profiled in the book Brand Hijack. Given their success it’s interesting to me that more companies don’t follow this approach. At the same time I find it unbelievable that many companies still don’t listen to their customers yet expect, or hope they continue to spend their money on their brands.

It’s great to see some companies really nailing the customer experience.  Asking, engaging, listening and acting upon what the customer says is so powerful.  Providing a forum for that exchange to take place is a best practice all companies should follow.  For many things in life there is no silver bullet.  But in business, knowing your customer is the best silver bullet you’ve got.  You simply need to do three things:  Ask, listen, and act.

Does your company do this?