Monthly Archives: October 2010

Turning Negatives Into Positives

It used to be that when you did a great job, customers would tell an average of three people (or six or thousands depending on the person and the study). And it used to be that if they were unhappy, they’d tell seven people (or 27 or thousands).

But today, with social media, both happy and unhappy customers tell hundreds if not thousands about their experience.

I was clearly reminded of this while waiting in an airport security line near a woman on the cell phone talking angrily. From what I could gather from her side of the conversation, she rented a storage pod and had called three times to have it picked up.

This call to her was attempting to collect rent for another month. The caller didn’t have any record of her earlier two calls, so insisted that she owed another month’s rent.

She finished with a flurry of f-words and announced loudly that she would tell everyone she knows to never do business with them, and hung up.

I don’t know the other side of the story, but I can make some guesses. It could have been sloppy customer service not making note of the pickup request. It could have been that she was lying to avoid a month’s rent. It could be the company was trying to squeeze out one more month’s income. No matter what the real story, negative promotion isn’t worth a month of rent.

When a customer is upset, it’s a great opportunity to pivot the situation into a positive outcome.

In this story, it would have been simple for the caller to change the dynamic. Just say, “I’m sorry that we seemed to drop the ball. I’ll cancel this bill and send a truck to pick up the pod right away. If you’re willing, I’ll give you a discount code for a free month that you can pass on to friends who might need one of our storage pods. Would that be alright?”

This turns the negative experience into a positive one and sets up word-of-mouth referrals.

A couple more ideas:

Create a discount code based on the customer’s name. Personalization increases retention and makes it more likely that they’ll spread the word.

Ask, “What will you tell others about us?” This lets them rehearse what they’ll say, making it more likely that they will pass on the good news.

And when you do that, you’re CompetitionProof.

Exciting or Forgettable? You Decide!

Customers, in general, are attracted to exciting situations. It’s inevitable, given the fact that the average American watches about five hours of television a day, their excitement level is set by Hollywood. (You might be thinking, Mark, I don’t watch that much TV. I know! Someone is watching your share.)

While we may not be able to compete with the latest hit show, we can bring excitement to our customer interactions. No, I’m not talking about gun fights and sirens or explosions and drama.

What I am talking about is being positively excited about your offerings, your business, your customers, and your people. This creates differentiation in ways that the competition can’t detect. For example, Rudy’s BBQ (Rudys.com) recently opened a restaurant in our neighborhood. The place is always buzzing and the people seem genuinely excited about cutting and serving barbecue. Other BBQ restaurants in the area have empty parking lots while Rudy’s is always full.

If you can’t get excited about what you sell, you become forgettable and open to competitive attack. If you really can’t get excited, then it’s time to find something to get excited about. Life is too amazing to be forgettable.

Your Offerings

Get excited about what you sell by talking with happy customers. Ask this question anytime that a customer complements you or thanks you: “Tell me what you like best about us?” This gives you the words you need to pass on the excitement and a positive feeling when you talk with your next prospect.  

You can pass on the positive energy by using this phrase: “My customers tell me that what they like best about us is…” and completing the sentence with the customer kudos that you’ve collected. By referencing your customers, you share the excitement without sounding like you’re bragging.

Your Business

Want to get excited about your business? Think about all of the good that you’ve done for your customers. Think of all the good that your business has done for the employees. Think of all the good that your company has done for the community. Think of all the good that your company has done for the economy? (For example, we were just calculating that we’ve contributed to the sale of billions of dollars of IT. That gets me excited.)

Your Customers

I get excited when I work with customers. Sure, there are those who are less fun than others, but in general, I get to work with really bright people who really care about what they do. And I bet that you do, too. Feel excited about the adventure that each customer situation brings. When you show up excited to connect with your customer, they can feel it, and often will reflect the excitement back to you.

Your People

I’m talking about is the team you work with. How can you get excited about your team? Perhaps you share and celebrate their successes. Perhaps you support their hobbies and passions. Maybe you cheer them on to a new goal. All of this contributes to the excitement in your organization and bleeds over to your customers who can feel it at every contact point.

Search for ways to find and spread excitement and you’ll never be forgettable. And this means you’re CompetitionProof.

Say Something Meaningful

Passing through the Denver airport I noticed a sign that struck me because I couldn’t understand what the advertiser was trying to tell me. I took a picture. Maybe you can tell me what it means.

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On the other hand, I saw another sign that was clear and compelling, with a value proposition that appeals to travelers. (E470 is the tollroad around the east of Denver and can knock off 20 minutes from a commute during rush hour).

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Two extremes in messaging effectiveness in just a few hundred feet.

How are you messaging to your customers? Say something meaningful and be CompetitionProof.

What do you think?

UPDATE: In Phoenix I saw a great billboard from the YMCA. Text YMCA to 30364 and get a free two week pass. That’s great response marketing. You can use a different code for each billboard to track effectiveness and your prospective customer gets a real deal.

UPDATE: For more great ideas about this topic, see Don Cooper’s blog on`14 Things Your Prospect Doesn’t Care About! http://www.doncooper.com/14-things-your-prospect-doesnt-care-about/

CompetitionProof Your Career

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CompetitionProof ideas work with your career. You can make yourself indispensable with these concepts, increasing your value and ensuring that you remain employable and well paid. Here’s an important concept for your career.

Sales is the only profession I know of where the professional demands the tools of the trade from their employer. If you were a plumber or a carpenter, you’d invest tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and years of training and apprenticeship to deliver your professional services.

Imagine that a plumber showed up at your house to make some repairs and they asked, “Do you have a wrench I could borrow?” Would you consider that professional? Probably not, you’d tell them to leave!

Yet sales professionals demand a laptop, a cell phone, and sometimes a car from their employers to get their job done. They want their boss to pay for their education. They want their boss to buy them books. They complain when the boss won’t upgrade their laptop. How professional is that?

The key to being CompetitionProof: invest in the tools you need to exceed it your job. Don’t wait for your boss to approve purchasing a MacBook if you want one or need one. (They wake up fast, stay running fast, and you won’t be hunting for a power outlet because the batteries seem to last forever.)

If you need software tools, buy them.

If you need hardware tools, get them. If your IT department won’t support it, buy it anyway.

If you want a sales book, buy it. And read it!

If you want to take a class, take the vacation time, pay for it yourself, and go. You benefit for the rest of your career and create a competitive edge making it completely worth the investment.

Act as if you’re self-employed and you, personally become CompetitionProof.

Branding Doesn’t Create Competitive Advantage, Consistency Does

My version of brand theory. When settlers came to North America in search of a new life, they brought with them cattle because they like to have a little milk in their tea in the morning, and there weren’t any corner stores or milkmen in the New Land. And some of these cattle got away or were abandoned by settlers who decided that being able to buy milk for their tea at the corner store was more important than living on the New Land.

These cattle roamed free on the range, unencumbered by fences, and doing what cattle do, they had baby calves, growing the herd. Young men from Mexico, caballeros (which became cowboys) discovered this resource and rounded up the cattle and drove them to market. As time progressed, these cowboys began to husband the cattle to increase the size of the herd and increase their profits. Without fences, the cattle would get mixed with other cowboy’s herds. So to create ownership, the cowboys would brand their cattle with a unique imprint.

The cattle buyers overtime would learn which cows had the best treatment, better food, water, and care resulting in tastier steakes. They would say, “I want that brand.”

Branding became the promise of an expected outcome, and expected experience. That’s still true today. When you buy a specific brand, you have clearly defined expectations of what that buying experience will be like. Whether it’s canned soup or a celebratory supper, you make the choice based on past positive experiences with the brand. And it only takes one bad experience for all of that hard work to be devalued.

When your repeat customers buy from you, they have a set of expectations around what the buying experience will be like. To be CompetitionProof, you have two choices: meet those expectations or exceed those expectations. Anything less, and you’re opening up the opportunity for a competitive attack.

Keep in mind that exceeding expectations can create enormous competitive advantage as long as you can sustain the new level of expectations. If you set the bar higher and then later decide to lower the bar, you become open to competitive attack. You can’t go back to the old service level without some negative impression on your customer.

If you want to be CompetitionProof, deliver consistently so that your customers get what they expect.