BE CLEAR: Drop the Buzzwords

Do you want your customers to be dazed and confused? All you have to do is cloak your message in a blizzard of buzzwords.

Obviously, I don’t recommend that. We all want to reside in the memory box of our (potential) clients. More words = more fog.

Instead, use simple, clear words.

See what I mean in this one-minute video:


It’s always tempting to adopt the impressive-sounding biz language that buzzes around us like a pack of mosquitoes. Swat them away and use clarity of speech if you want to have a memorable impact!

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> BE CLEAR: Narrowing Your Focus

People Buy Your Story

Recently, I was sitting through a capabilities overview from an agency in my pharma network, and it was filled with all the usual elements – we do this, we do that, customer logos, etc., etc. There was actually one potentially distinguishing message buried in there, which was encouraging; but then, toward the end, mention was made that the company has been in business for 20+ years.

And…and…nothing. The ball was teed up, but the 3-wood remained in the golf bag. There was the chance to tell a story – the company story – and it was missed. Any company in business that long has a lot of success, a interesting pathway of evolution, and a great way to build a bridge with the listener by using corporate history to be memorable.

Some years ago, I was evaluating a training company’s marketing and website, and was seeing all the typical verbiage and bullet points – just like everyone else, we do this and this and this. But buried in the web copy was a key point – one of the principals of the company had long experience on the pharma client side of the fence. I told them that their story was the distinguishing message: “We’ve walked in your shoes.” Most of the competitor companies did not have that same story.

When people are evaluating potential providers, one of the distinguishing elements that they subconsciously want to know is the story – why you exist, how you got to where you are now, how you’ve succeeded and evolved. This isn’t just customer case studies – it’s your profile, neatly wrapped with a bow of purpose and progress. People forget bullet points. They remember compelling stories.

There is a story behind my business practice of Clarity Therapy: it is an “accidental” business. I was helping partner companies figure out their professional DNA and message for years as part of my pharma client-vendor matchmaking service (Impactiviti), and I finally came to realize that this analytical ability was a unique skill that met a vast market need. To lead people and companies to an epiphany of their identity in a few hours time? How valuable is that? Yet it came about organically, not as part of pre-planned strategy.

Three entrepreneurs whom I deeply respect (Anthony Iannarino, Lisa Petrilli, Greg Hartle) all have great business stories that happen to be woven in to remarkable medical histories. Carrie Wilkerson (The Barefoot Executive) masterfully weaves her life story into her constant “you can do it, too!” entrepreneurial message. This past weekend’s winner of the Master’s golf tournament, Bubba Watson (pictured above – emotion is a powerful element, no?) has a wonderful story – he’s never taken a golf lesson, but just does what he does as a self-taught athlete.

Apple, Dell, the 3-M Post-it Note, WD-40 – all have memorable stories behind them. And we like to buy into something bigger than ourselves, something that transcends the ordinary, something that is a non-commodity.

Do you have a personal or corporate story? You do – but you may be so close to it, you may take it so much for granted that you haven’t teased it out. It’s one of the first things I do when I sit down with a client to help them get clear about their message – I pull out the story and help them see it.

Yes, people buy what you’re offering. But they also buy the story behind it. Don’t deprive them (and yourself!) of one of your most powerful marketing tools!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Part 1: Your Distinguishing Offering

>> Part 2: Your Go-To Market Message (in 10 words or less)

“Follow Your Lead? What’s In It For Me??”

We all know the expression (where did it come from, anyway? Anybody know??) – “Let’s not go there!”

If a topic for potential discussion touches a painfully raw nerve, we’d just as soon bypass that destination. Don’t go there! Why? Because we see only pain, no gain.

To “go there,” we need a compelling WWIFM (What’s In It For Me). And it’s the same with leadership of others. People will follow a leader – if the destination looks like gain that will outweigh any anticipated pain.

I hate to go all non-idealistic on you, but my buy-in to any vision and direction is correlated to my sense, my agreement, that the goal, and the leader, are aligned with my best interests.

However skillfully we paint the picture and seek to rally support, if those that are to follow us don’t want to “go there,” we’re not going to lead them there.

Now, if know me, you know I’m an idealist. And I firmly believe that people operate best when they are involved in a cause, a mission, much bigger than themselves. But I also know that, whatever the cause – however grand and sweeping and even sacrificial it may be – the engine that will drive a group of people to follow is alignment of interests that includes a clear WIIFM.

So – how do we get others to follow our lead? Bluntly put, it’s sales – not slimy, sleazy, lying sales, but selling nonetheless. It’s selling the vision – AND selling the benefits to the customer. If you’re a leader, you’re in sales – simple as that.

What was Steve Jobs of Apple, if not a consummate salesperson? He had to sell his entire organization on his vision of supremely great user experience – and, when it was time to step down, he also had to achieve buy-in that the next leader would carry on the vision. No small task!

Take everything my LeadershipChat co-host Lisa Petrilli wrote in her prep post for our discussion this week (Leadership Advice – Getting Others to Follow Your Lead). Package together Vision, Trust, Communication, and Energy, and what do you have? Effective selling (the kind that exists with integrity).

What do you think? How do you enable others to follow you? Join us for the discussion on LeadershipChat (#LeadershipChat on Twitter) at 8 pm ET Tuesday night, November 8th as we tackle this topic. You’ll find a group of warm, smart, and motivated friends who will welcome you to our weekly chat at the leadership table!

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Selling You

>> Choose Your Lane

The Few. The Proud.

marinesIn less than 2 weeks, one of my sons begins boot camp with the Marines. Let me say right off that I’m as proud as I can be of him. He’s joining for the right reasons; it’s been his decision all along and it was not made lightly.

Gladly, and with a full heart, we let him go, into the service of his and our country. Did I mention that my wife and I are immensely proud of him? Oh, yeah, I did.

Eighteen years ago he was learning to walk. Now he’s going to take on one of the toughest challenges anyone willingly shoulders. Becoming a U.S. Marine.

Now, how did the Marines “sell” him on entering their branch of the service?

I got to watch the process up close and personal. And let there be no doubt – presenting an elite challenge is a strong message, especially to a young man.

For a certain slice of the population, striving to be the “cream of the crop” is an almost irresistible goal. The top. The elite. The first. The few. The proud.

We all know how companies (like Apple) succeed by getting people to possess and use a “cream of the crop” product. It’s borrowed status, and it’s an incredibly effective marketing strategy. But the Marines present people with the opportunity to become the elite (see this ad for their brand position – thanks for pointing it out, @TomMartin)

And for parents who want to see their children excel, yes, the idea of them taking on an elite challenge is also compelling. I’m sold. What parent doesn’t say to his/her child, in one form or another, “Be all that you can be!” (I know, that’s Army, but still…)

Of course, there are risks and dangers in the military, just as there are in any drive here in the battlefields highways of New Jersey. But there are no ads during football games in the fall extolling the elite status of urban commuters. I don’t see young men hungering to prove themselves as just one of many in a faceless crowd. Some people are driven to reach the top, and…putting on my marketing hat now…those may be the customers you should be pursuing most vigorously. If you have something elite to offer.

The Marines look for the ones with that glint in their eye, the ones who want to be the cream of the crop. Do you? Do your customers see themselves as the few, the proud? Or, perhaps even more importantly, do your employees?

Some people just want everything easy. Others want to excel. They’ll tend to be the faithful ones.

Semper Fi.

DaveNateDadsmThe Marine recruit, lined up with brother and Dad sporting “solidarity” military haircuts!

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Two Successful Calls to Action

tacoversmallToday, I did two things that I’d been putting off. However, good marketing – effective calls to action – put me over the edge in each case.

I’ve been intrigued by the new book just released by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith called “Trust Agents” – I figured, in the murky intentions of my mind, that I would buy it eventually. But then Chris put out this blog post, and it was the motivation I needed to finally take action. Why? Because it was Chris, and it was important to him, and I knew I wanted that book anyway (plus, it gave the the ‘Amazon Free Shipping’ excuse to make the long-overdue purchase of a David Meerman Scott book I’d been putting off). If you want to order a copy, here’s the place to go.

PastDueI also made a LONG-overdue visit to the dentist, where I endured gentle ribbing for my neglect of office-visit dental hygiene. Now I have very good teeth, and in fact there were no cavities (though a thorough cleaning was definitely in order) – but what motivated me to take action was the little personalization on the reminder postcard. I was successfully able to deflect all the other ones over the years, but his one both amused and shamed me, as it was intended to, so I finally made the appointment.

Which makes me wonder – what little tactics do you employ (or should you try!) to get people over the edge, and give them a reason to do what they know they ought/want to do? What are the most effective calls to action you’ve seen? Please share in the comments!

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What’s in a Name?

Today, I received an unsolicited e-mail from a company looking to introduce themselves. Since this company at least was positioned somewhere near my sweet spot of interest, I went to the website to find out more.

And found a great way NOT to introduce yourself:

What’s in a name?
When we were thinking of what to call ourselves, we looked at both the approach to what we do and the context in which we do it. Not that earth shattering, but we think we came up with a great name. _______ covers both approach and context.

Lesson #1 – I don’t care what you think of your name, nor is the process by which you arrived at it of any significance. I’m there to learn WIIF Me. Taking these intro sentences and saying, “we…ourselves…we…we…we…we…we…” all with a note of self-congratulation, doesn’t inform me about what you do and why I should be engaged.

When you introduce your company, immediately tell me what the value is – what you can do for me. You have maybe 10 seconds to make your first impression, so give me one powerful sound bite that addresses a real business need. Save the historical explanations for a footnote. Because what’s in your name doesn’t address my pain.

Five in the Morning 022309

fivelettersThis morning, let’s talk a little bit about ego, selling, and success…

How to Sell with a Clear Conscience – This is great stuff to mull over if you’re involved in selling in any way. It took me many years to grasp my selling “style”. From the Men with Pens blog.

Self-Promotion Reluctance – Karen Swim explores the theme of hesitancy to self-promote in Caressing you Softly with my Song. Self-promotion begins with a belief that we are capable. Your dreams will never come true if you don’t take the steps to make them happen. You may sing like an angel, but no one will know if you never open your mouth and let your voice be heard.

Copyblogger discusses Jack Welch – What a Cocky CEO can teach you about World-Class Blogging. What was the key to his success? Certainly more than one factor contributed to it. But if I was to name one singular and solitary reason for his dominance I’d say it’d have to be his philosophy to cut any businesses that GE couldn’t be #1 or #2 in…How can this idea help you in blogging? Easy. Figure out what market you can enter where you are guaranteed to be #1 or #2.

From Mashable: Does Social Media make us better people? My take: It certainly can, if we use it properly – and, as the blog posts suggests, the instant exposure of social media can help throttle down bad behavior. But people are people, and I think we’ll always see a mix of goodness and folly in any method of communicating.

Here’s a minimalistic Twitter Rule Book. Is it really just…all about you? What do you think? Agree? Disagree? From Danny Brown. And while we’re thinking about Twitter, here’s how Kris Colvin is using it (7 Habits!) to succeed in business.

Finally – if you know people involved with corporate training, can you help me out with something?

Oh, and btw…Fast Company has a nice new look. Check it out.

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(Image credit – created via Spell with Flickr)

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Go Ahead. I Dare You.

I’m no junk food addict, though I enjoy the occasional guilty indulgence every once in a while. So why is it that all of a sudden I have a burning urge to try a Burger King Angry Whopper?

angrywhopper

Because they’re daring me to, that’s why. *(update – see below)

Many urges and motivations drive buying decisions. But one which (I think) is underestimated is The Dare.

I want to prove that I can handle those jalapenos, that hot sauce – I want to feel the burning sensation but show that I can take it. In short, there are 1001 different burger combos out there, but this one is Angry, and it’s throwing down the gauntlet. If Arby’s was promoting a Gentle Sandwich, no matter what the ingredients, I wouldn’t be inclined to take up the “challenge.”

One ski resort in Vermont has taken hold of this marketing angle for years, with their bumper sticker. Sure, there are plenty of challenging slopes around. But Mad River Glen is daring you. And, by turning their visitors who have “taken the challenge” into mobile billboards, they are enticing you to take the dare.

madriverglen

Is there anything daring about what you offer? Are you stuck in “pretty please??” mode, or do you have a dare to issue?

* Update:

dwhopperangrysmI did take the dare last week, and had an Angry Whopper. In fact, it was a Double (boy, did I hear about it later from my better half!). And you know what? It was pretty good. Spicy hot. Angry. Nice…

(Image credit – Whopper. Bumper sticker)

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Five in the Morning 010709

Customers. Where would we be without customers? Talk is cheap, so let’s invest a little time thinking about the people that really count…

That West Coast Diva of Customer Stuff, Becky Carroll, unveils her Top 3 picks for Customer Rock Stars of 2008. Check out these, plus the runners-up, listed on Becky’s Customers Rock! blog.

Meanwhile, back East, Doug Meacham on his NextUp blog (focusing on customer experience) does a riff on Guitar (Hero) Marketing. On that post, you will find my new favorite term. If you’re not following Doug on Twitter (@dougmeacham), you should, and if you miss the opportunity to have him chauffeur you all over Richmond with a belly full of BBQ ribs on your next trip to that fair city – well, you ain’t lived. Bring napkins.

Introducing Casey Hibbard’s book on customer case studies. Stories that Sell.

David Polinchock gets a “Five” mention 2 days in a row. I think that’s a first. But he deserves it, for this thoughtful post on how customer experience interacts with declines in retail stores.  “As we wrote in a piece for the Retail Advertising Conference last year, our walk through the luxury domain of the upper East Side showed that many of the stores up there were just ‘soulless, glorified, two-dimensional web sites; products are presented passively to consumers with no retail-as-theater.’ Who wants to spend time — and money — in a retail environment like that?”

Frank Martin over at Marketing Magic has Three Things you can do Right Now to Jump-start your Marketing. Well, there’s more than three, actually – Frank cheats by using sub-points! But he gets a pass, since this is a good reminder of the basics of taking care of ALL your customers.

Hey, a late entry. David “The Hat” Armano just posted this little blurb about a well-designed blog effort by a bank, making it easy for user interaction. I’m kinda real picky about on-line user design, and it’s nice to see a well-executed setup like this. And while we’re going late entries, we may as well add Drew McLellan‘s just-published post on MarketingProfs Daily Fix, about Dancing with the One who Brought You (talk to your customers!)

And, just for fun, a quick video laugh from Dave Taylor over at Brandgym. This is the top-rated YouTube video in the UK (and in the Top 5 globally) – who’da thunk it??

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Five in the Morning 121508

5-lit-upSocial Media Predictions 2009 – a bunch of them from top bloggers, all consolidated in one free download! Cool. Thanks for the link, Joe Jaffe!

Writer’s Toolbox – 35 best tools for writing online. You’ll be familiar with a bunch in the top half of the list, but the second half has some less familiar resources.

Brands don’t belong on Twitter! Brands absolutely do belong on Twitter! Point – counterpoint, from the Mashable blog. What do you think?

ROI and Social Media. Here’s an interesting take, from the training world – a 4-point framework for measurement, based on Kirkpatrick (I’ve been involved in the training industry for years, so this is an interesting spin). From Mel Aclaro. Plus, is it easier to measure ROI from social media as opposed to traditional media? Thought-provoking post from Jacob Morgan.

Chris Brogan addresses the whole blow-up over sponsored advertising on a blog post. Really, folks, take a deep breath. The guy practices full disclosure, he experiments with new methods for advancing on-line business – what’s the problem here? Are we chasing some mythical ideal of the pure Oracle (sorry, Larry Ellison – not your Oracle) that will speak to us from on high with no taint of personal bias, no worldly interests, no brushes with the horrible and impure practice of commerce? If that’s what you’re looking for, then you’re after some Kool-Aid that you’re not going to find anywhere in the blogosphere – or on planet Earth, for that matter. Social media (or any type of media outlet) is not populated with angelic beings practicing “pure” journalism, “pure” conversation, or “pure” anything else. I have enough to keep busy striving toward some level of personal purity of heart, let alone imposing unrealistic expectations of “purity” on other bloggers. Sheesh…!

PLUS – an example of clear communications (under 140 characters!) from a 7-year old.

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Five in the Morning 120808

green5Upgrade your brainstorming! Paul Williams over at MarketingProfs Daily Fix shows us how.

Does your brand pass the CUB test? From the good folks at Brand Aid.

Right on, Target. One smart little move by Target makes a better shopping experience – and earns them more cash.

Buyology. Ivana Taylor reviews an interesting-sounding book on why we buy.

You’re read about the Zappos (shoe retailer) social media success story. Now, take a pictorial tour of HQ, courtesy of Guy Kawasaki. Never seen nothin’ like this before!!

OVERDOSE ON WOODRUFF BONUS – if you missed it at the end of the last week, the latest StickyFigure spoof: Social Media Museum has Bloggers All A-Twitter. Plus, on my personal blog (Steve’s Leaves), a Sunday Muse: Finding Grace. (And, Ann Handley just told me that my new MarketingProfs Daily Fix post is up: I’M PURSUING (niche) DOMINATION! This is probably the only time you’ll have a “Five in the Morning” trifecta – Woodruff links on three different blogs…)

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Five in the Morning 110708

Hey! Do you think we’re stupid? Drew McLellan‘s just askin’…

Why Start a Blog and 25 Tips to make it work. From the esteemed Valeria Maltoni. Great stuff here!

Ann Handley takes off on 5 in the Morning, with a 9 in the Morning! And these are some great posts…check them out!

Straight from the Web Success Diva herself, Defining your Business Goals in Social Media. Ripe thoughts here – definitely see what Maria Reyes-McDavis has to say.

From the Idea Sandbox – Create Customer Excitement with Traditions.

FRIDAY BONUS: A quick and timely reminder, from the camera of David Armano (while you’re there, check out this lovely shot also).

Oh, and on a positive note – Lego provides a great customer service story. Close to home, for us. Way to go, Lego!

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High-Priced Hand-me-Downs

On the way to the gym this morning, I heard a new twist on an ad for the Dux bed. For those not familiar with this grandiose advance in sleep science, Duxiana has figured out how to extract massive numbers of dollars from your wallet by jabbering on about their amazing mattress design – and, of course, it’s from Sweden, so that somehow means it’s extra special!

Today, though, taking a page from the Patek Phillipe playbook, Dux wants you to think about how your mattress may well be such a fabulous investment, that you might even hand it down to your children.

OK, first of all, most of us don’t want a used mattress. I don’t know – something uncomfortable about that.

But here’s the deal – this is all a big ego sale. Like a Patek Phillipe watch and other such over-priced baubles, nobody really needs to spend thousands of dollars for such premium/luxury items. It’s all about making a statement that somehow, you’ve arrived, and your expensive trinkets display that. Insecurity and vanity are incredibly powerful buying motivators.

So how do you help people buy what they don’t need, for more than they should pay, and justify their self-indulgence and pride? By making it a “legacy” purchase! Your heirs will thank you! You’re investing in the future! Yes, indeed, this $10,000 crock pot will be the most coveted item in your will!

Sheesh. Sometimes I hate marketing…

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Five in the Morning 100808

I like this post, and the accompany video, on Rohit Bhargava‘s blog, about Chili’s-To-Go.

Jason Alba gives us some advice on How to Find a Job during a Recession.

The Hero’s Journey – A Metaphor for Video Storytelling. Fast Company column from the prolific and ever-interesting Director Tom.

Return on Whatever. MarketingProfs Daily Fix post, by yours truly, on the compulsion to try to calculate Return on too many things. Join the discussion in the Comments!

Crowdsourced Java. A great campaign by Adam Singer. And I want some Coffee 2.0!

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Sex Sells…is that a good thing?

In this well-written post over at Branding Strategy Insider, a compelling case is made for what most of us intuitively know…sex sells. Especially, sex + controversy sells.

Let’s assume that it’s true. Here’s the question any marketer now has to ask, just as they had to ask as a teenager: Should I??

The answer to that will come from the basic ethical decision-making foundation you stand upon. Choose your ground – the pragmatic approach, or the (defined) right/wrong approach.

The pragmatist will ultimately boil it down to this: if it works, why not? Now maybe, for your target audience, it won’t work. But if you’re going after the teen fashion market (as outlined in the linked post above), and it succeeds in increasing sales, and your goal as a business is to maximize profits…well, then, why not? All other considerations can be set aside, because this is not a matter of right and wrong, but a matter of effectiveness.

However, let’s say you believe that a sex-saturated culture coarsens itself, that people should not be treated as objects, that titillation as a method of money-making is creating more cultural havoc long-term even if it boosts the bottom line short-term. To distill it down: let’s say you think it’s just wrong. Now what?

It’s the dilemma every business person faces. From the temptation to misstate financial results, the opportunity to rip off a customer, even the possibility of influencing a sale by showing a little more cleavage to the male executives in the presentation, we’re faced with short-term gain and pragmatism versus doing what’s right regardless of the consequences.

I know what side I’m on. What do you think? Is it OK to take advantage of the power of sex in selling?

There’s a Bumble in the Jumble

The announcement just came out that a new iPhone competitor, the G1 (using Google’s Android software), is about to be unleashed on the world. And this will be a coming-out party of sorts, not only for this branch of Google, but also for a contract phone manufacturer trying to make a name for itself.

Too bad they have such a memorable “name”. HTC. Blecch.

Why do companies do this to themselves? Why use obscure acronyms that simply blend into the background, and that stand out about as much as a single seed in a birdfeeder?

Effective marketing means, in part, providing a hook into the minds, memories, and imaginations of customers. And jumbles of letters and numbers are utterly self-defeating.

Just for fun, I scanned yesterday’s Wall Street Journal to gather some company/brand names that are designed to be forgotten:

CNG (Compressed Natural Gas)

CME Group (trading exchange)

CSC (technology resources)

TMI (executive recruting)

ELS (educational services)

If you’ve managed, through longevity and market penetration, to create a brand around an acronym (IBM, GM, A&P, etc.) that’s one thing. But if you want to stand out and be memorable, what is going to stick more in people’s minds – a well-crafted name, or a jumble? If you were investing, would you more easily remember a name like Fidelity (a word with actual, relevant meaning), or something like “ABX Resources”?

Companies and products should not be named by non-marketers and engineers. If I’m buying a LCD projector, I should not have to knot my tongue over a name like Panasonic PT-DW10000U. It’s a bumble to market a jumble, and a needless barrier to success.

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Pitching a Fit!

My initial blog post for Marketing Profs Daily Fix is now up: Go Ahead, Pitch a Fit!

Turning Points: How I became a Consultant

It was on I-80 Eastbound. On the way home from a little father-son getaway with my fourth at the Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos. After a day of water-sliding, a professional epiphany at 60 miles per hour.

For 9 1/2 years, I’d worked with a small company doing sales/marketing/biz dev in the pharmaceutical training field. Enjoyed it, saw the company grow, but came to recognize that I had fundamentally different perspectives than the owner on many business approaches. Though we got along in a pretty transparent relationship, there was the constant sense that we were pulling in different directions.

Suddenly, driving home through the Poconos, it came to me. I wasn’t going to change. He wasn’t going to change. It was time to go our separate ways. If I was going to fulfill my professional desires and drives, and add maximum value, I had to “create it myself,” and not vainly hope that someone else would conform their business to my ideals, or custom-create the perfect position for me.

And what I had found I enjoyed most, over the years, was not selling. It was consulting. This, after almost 20 years in sales! But now, I was finally ready. I had the knowledge, the desire, the network, and ability to market. Gradually, a niche business consulting approach emerged in my thinking.

Giving what amounted to 7 months notice, we de-commissioned my role in the company, and after 10 years, I launched out as a consultant providing training strategy and expertise, as well as a unique vendor-client “matchmaking” service. I long believed that the best chance for business success is by defining, creating and occupying a unique space, and this was my chance.

The first year was hard. After 9 months, I began really questioning whether this thing was ever going to get “wheels up.” But then business steadily picked up, and now, I am dependent only on pleasing my clients, not on fulfilling someone else’s agenda. Wonderfully liberating.

How about you? Where was your professional “turning point” that started you on your course? Write it up on your blog and share the story!

(Image credit)

(this post was inspired by Director Tom (Tom Clifford), who did a Twitter post about writing up the 7 minutes that changed his life in the direction of becoming a filmmaker [once his post is up, I'll link to it]. Tom suggested a series called Turning Points – so, here we are! Readers are encouraged to write up their own, and I’ll link to any that participate!)

Here is CK’s take on her career…

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It’s all in the Packaging – More or Less

I’d like to thank Kellogg’s for providing valuable math lessons on their cereal boxes – here is how to pretend to give extra value while simply portraying mathematical formulas for gullible consumers:

And, from the fine folks at Tree Ripe, a thinner and taller orange juice carton that is, indeed, easier to handle. Of course, unstated in this re-packaging, unless you look closely, is that this carton now holds about 6 ounces less product – but hey, it’s in all the packaging. More or less…

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The Little Spoilers that Kill a Sale

Last week, I went looking for a new vehicle for our family. We’d narrowed it down to a good-sized “crossover” SUV from one manufacturer, or a minivan from another.

As always, things look great on paper, but you have to test drive these things to see if they feel right.

I got into the crossover for the test drive, and before we went anywhere, I knew it wasn’t going to be the choice. Game over. Eliminated.

Had a similar experience some years back, when I bought a Mazda 626. One of the models I was considering was a Honda Accord – great name, excellent cars, well worth considering. But before turning the key, it was crossed off the list.

Why?

Seat belts. Specifically, the anchor points for the front seat belts could not be adjusted high enough, and therefore the seat belt tugged down on my shoulder. Game over.

I’m of average height – a little under 6 feet tall. A lot of people are my size and bigger. And do you mean to tell me that car manufacturers cannot put people my height into a driver’s seat during the design phase and check on a little thing like this??

That little spoiler has killed two car sales for me so far, and who knows how many others for drivers who have felt the same.

You can have the greatest reputation for reliability, cool design, top-notch features, but if you don’t make me feel comfortable, I walk.

User design matters. Not only in cars, but in software and everywhere else.

What are some of the spoilers you’ve experienced?

“Customer-Focused Selling”

Last week, I was sitting in a conference workshop where the theme was a customer-focused selling program.

Now I’m all for customer focus in every aspect of business – from product design to branding to marketing to customer support and service. But something was sticking in my craw as I sat through this session (which had to do with a customer-focused selling methodology in the pharmaceutical industry).

Here’s what it boils down to: is this “customer-focused” approach an end in itself? Or is it just a means to an end?

Let me explain. A pharmaceutical sales representative succeeds by promoting the usage (hopefully, by promoting the properly defined usage) of his/her company’s products. Fair enough. But how is success actually MEASURED? Is it customer satisfaction?

Actually, a few of the key tangible measures of success by which a sales rep is held accountable are the following:

    1. Increased prescription business
    2. Number of calls made per day
    3. Promotional actions correctly taken (samples delivered, dinner meetings set up, etc., etc.)

These are company-centric, quota-centric, performance-centric measures. And, in fact, these more tangible, objective activities and outcomes are more easily measured than something such as customer satisfaction.

I’m not saying that any of these are unimportant, or shouldn’t be tracked. What makes me uncomfortable is that the real goal ends up being what is measured. Teachers “teach to the test.” And reps perform to the yardstick to which they are accountable.customer-focus.jpg

All of which makes a “customer-focused” selling program seem like a means to an end, not an end in itself. There is the whiff of hypocrisy that seems to hover over the whole thing; an undercurrent of manipulation. Are companies rolling out these programs because of a core belief in being customer-centered? Or because they “work” better toward the real end, which is better numbers?

Is it a core commitment? Or just another technique?

I should conclude this post by saying that I have been in sales – in one form or another – for 20+ years. The times when I have been most uncomfortable as a salesman are when I’ve seriously questioned, in my own heart and conscience, whether what I was offering was really the best choice for the customer. Does slathering a “customer-focused” technique over that cognitive dissonance make one a better salesperson? Or just another peddlar, trying to make a buck any way possible?

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