December 22, 2008

Move Beyond "Tell Them Thrice"

People don't believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.
--- Seth Godin

Here's a classic presentation structure:
  1. Tell them what you're going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you told them.
You probably already do. Instinctively. What if your audience isn't all ears?

Improving Results
Here's a better way
  1. Tell them why it's important to them.
  2. Tell them how they should feel about it.
Intriguing. This idea comes from Frank Maselli in Seminars: The Emotional Dynamic. This book (which appears to be out of print) is packed with gems. I'm reading carefully and planning to incorporate many ideas. As usual, I'll share what works.

Other Books
When the going gets tough, the tough get rowing.

2009 looks like a tough year for our clients and us. To row against the current, we need to strengthen our muscles and improve our techniques. We'll then make progress rather than drift backwards.

Here are other books waiting eagerly on my bookshelf to help us.

Can't Put Down
  1. Dan Kennedy - No B.S. Sales Success
  2. Malcolm Gladwell - Outliers: The Story of Success
Planning To Read
  1. Stephan Schiffman - Sales Presentation Techniques
  2. Paul Leroux and Peg Corwin - Visual Selling
  3. Alice Schroeder - The Snowball: Warren Buffett And The Business Of Life
Planning To Re-read To Extract Snippets (all recommended)
  1. Chris Anderson - The Long Tail: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More
  2. Seth Godin (editor) - The Big Moo (33 authors): Stop Trying To Be Perfect And Start Being Remarkable
  3. Seth Godin - Free Prize Inside
  4. Seth Godin - Permission Marketing
This is my last post of 2008. Thank you, dear readers, for your precious attention.

All the best to you and yours during the holidays.
May your 2009 be really fine!

December 15, 2008

Marketing With Video: Learn From An Amateur

We get bored easily. Movement creates interest. Sound creates interest. Yet few advisors use video. Here's how you can.
Disclaimer: I'm new to video and don't even have a video camera. Some steps may be "obvious"  and you may have better ideas. 
Here's what you need to make a video
  • equipment
  • script
  • video host
If you're in a large organization, you may have access to high quality equipment and experts to use it. If not, you can get equipped for a few hundred dollars. I started with the webcam in my notebook computer. The results were not good enough. I thought this was due to lighting. So I upgraded my ceiling lights to 250W of bright halogen power (five 50W bulbs). This helped but not enough.

Next, I explored external webcams. I settled on the high-end Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000. It works better but not quite the way I want. Sometimes the audio and video get out of sync, especially with inadequate lighting. I'm getting reasonable results at 320x240 pixels and 30 frames per second. However, I'd like to record at 640x480 eventually. 

For video editing, I used Camtasia Studio 6. I started using it a couple of months ago to turn PowerPoint presentations into video and do basic editing. I haven't officially released a recording  since I'm facing challenges with corporate firewalls (see post).

I love audio. That means I hate webcam sound. There was always noise in the background. Attempts to remove it degraded the quality. I researched USB microphones and and eventually settled on the Samson C03U Podcasting Pak. The results are amazing, even by my exacting standards. The mic works beautifully with productivity-boosting speech recognition too,

Can you express yourself articulately and succintly without practice. I can't. So I wrote a script which I printed in a large font and placed beside the webcam. I tried reading it like a talking head on TV. Since I don't have a teleprompter, my eyes wandered down the page. This was visible in the recording and looked unnatural. Much better to look straight at the camera.

What to do? I memorized the key parts of the script and then recorded myself. Again and again. So much can go wrong with video. You need an uncluttered background --- a hassle if you're untidy like me. Your wardrobe matters. Your phone or doorbell can ring at the wrong time. Your family can barge in. 

Watching yourself can be painful. Do I look/sound like that? Actuaries are considered dull and I easily met that standard. The result was boring. I re-recorded with more energy and a faster tempo. This felt forced but the results finally looked good enough to publish.

Video Host
There are lots of places to host your videos. I picked YouTube for the sake of convenience. Here's the result, an introduction for this blog. 

(If you don't see anything, your corporate firewall is probably interfering.)

Video opens a new world of marketing possibilities for you and is relatively easy to use. Even for absolute beginners. There's still time to ask Santa for equipment and you can practice during the holidays.


December 10, 2008

Creativity vs Control: Beating Your Larger Competitors

Our distrust is very expensive.
--- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm behind a corporate firewall attempting to access websites. I say "attempting" because so many family-friendly sites are blocked. A subversive actuary?

Here are some forbidden sites:
  • I've been experimenting with ways to share my presentations with you by storing HD video, MP3 audio, PowerPoints and PDFs (worked last week)
  • another site for hosting PowerPoints
  • an excellent way to market yourself if you don't have a website (see post)
  • where Google hosts this blog
  • where Google stores the family-friendly images used on this blog
  • another experiment to help you (also Google-owned)
Why Block Access?
The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.
--- Henry Stimson
Why trust employees when you can block them instead? Naturally, there are good corporate reasons for controls, especially in financial institutions. We won't debate them here. We'll look at how you benefit instead.

There are apparently ways to bypass corporate control with proxies but this risky. You can probably be tracked. How would you justify your actions? I can't tell you what's involved because those sites are also blocked ...

These solutions are easier:
  • do your creative work from home
  • go to a coffee shop with free Internet access
  • use your own mobile broadband Internet, which has other advantages (see post)
To safeguard data, some organizations will even
  • disable USB flash drives
  • install CD/DVD drives that read but not write information
Again, there are good reasons for this. Again, there are workarounds like emailing files (e.g., through Google Mail, which allows attachments up to 20 MB) or taking printouts. If you don't have a corporate IT department, you may not have known that your competitors in larger organizations face restrictions.

How You Benefit
Think of what imposed controls mean: you have a competitive advantage against your larger competitors. You can send your clients timely links that competitors can't even access. You can create an interesting recording (video or audio) describing your services and place it online for prospects to find and share. This can warm them up enough to contact you. What can your competitors do? They've been locked out of large, popular parts of the Internet.

In The Meantime
In the meantime, I'll look for places where you can access the stuff I'm posting to help you increase your revenue. I've got new ideas. You know how subversives are.

Did you hear that knock at the door. Gotta go. Might be the authorities. Here to offer me unfettered Internet access ... in prison.


November 25, 2008

Tips For Setting Priorities And Organizing Your Time

I am invariably late for appointments --- sometimes as much as two hours. I've tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing.
--- Marilyn Monroe

I invested today in a workshop called Priority Setting And Organizing Your Time, facilitated by Dr. Gail Levitt. 

I can hear you quipping that I should have taken this course ages ago. I'm not so sure. I've developed skills over the years and augmented them this summer by
Even so, we all need reminding and fresh perspectives. Gail asked us to complete a questionnaire in advance, which is rare. She clearly read the results which had two advantages
  • no time wasted asking each attendee "What do you want to get out of the day?"
  • content further finetuned to our requirements
This additional preparation is worth an experiment (and serves as a reminder of an event).

How You See Time
I've been on a calendar but never on time.
--- Marilyn Monroe
We completed analysis which categorized our approaches to time as
  • Direct: quick, results-focused decisionmakers but overlook the human element
  • Spirited: creative, inspirational multitaskers but not concerned with deadlines
  • Considerate: put the boss first, help others but take on too much themselves
  • Systematic: deliver quality but get mired in details
Naturally, each category has advantages and drawbacks. We can belong to more than one. I'm primarily Direct and Systemic. Since we see as we are, I benefited by talking to those highly Spirited or Considerate. Just being aware there are differences can help us in dealing with our clients and colleagues.

The Best System
I thought we'd learn of the one system that solves all prioritization and organizing woes. No such luck. Since we're different, we need different approaches. That's fair but takes effort. 

Stress Tips
As a bonus, we got tips on dealing with stress. These three resonated with me
  1. Do something special for yourself every day (e.g., go for a walk)
  2. Remember there's always work left for tomorrow
  3. For paperwork, out of sight means out of mind
We covered lots. The usual challenge remains: applying what we learn. Better schedule that.


November 20, 2008

Four Lessons From The IFB 2008 Fall Summit

You can observe a lot by watching.
--- Yogi Berra

I attended portions of the Fall 2008 Summit from the Independent Financial Brokers (IFB) on November 4-5. By watching the presenters, I spotted four ways to improve our marketing and presentations.
  1. use subtle self-promotion
  2. have handouts
  3. stand apart
  4. write a book
Use Subtle Self-Promotion
Each presenter was introduced, which is courteous. Then bios were read, which is boring. Many presenters praised themselves, which is blatantly self-serving. You can't boast about yourself. Being part of a team helps because members can build up their colleagues. If you're solo, compelling content with a captivating delivery will make you memorable. The keynote speakers who started and ended the conference used this technique.

Since your attendees can read, why not rely on a printed biography instead? Interested attendees can find out more if you make an impression. This was done at the CALU Associates meeting two days later on Nov 7th. 

Have Handouts
Very few sessions had meaningful handouts. This continues to puzzle me because giving creates a positive impression and invokes the first universal principle of influence: reciprocity.

When handouts are used, the content is often too small --- three PowerPoint slides on a page with lines for writing at the side. We're aging and some rooms have dimmed lighting. Two slides per page works better. Recently, I've switched to 
  • one slide per page for readability 
  • printing on both sides to save paper
  • premium paper for quality
  • three-hole punched for insertion into binders
  • colour for impact
These handouts go into nice folders, stand out and seem to get kept. Well worth the extra cost. 

Stand Apart
Branding gurus and personal coaches tell us we must be different in a memorable way. How odd to see these experts touting similar, overlapping messages. They did not stand out in the sea of sameness. 

It helps to be where your competitors aren't. At a different conference, I sat with attendees at a table. I looked like an invited guest, not an annoying pest. This lead to better, longer conversations in a nicer environment. 

Write A Book
Several presenters wrote books. This is no longer seems to be a point of differentiation since you can self-publish. None of the titles were best sellers. I've read a couple in the past and haven't been impressed with the content. You can buy a book from an international thought leader like Seth Godin instead.

Writing helps you think better, which is very valuable. Putting meaningful ideas into a free ebook could be useful in marketing since advisors don't generally do this. 

October 28, 2008

Three Secrets of Presenters: Repetition, Illusion and Self-promotion

Last week, I saw two professional presenters I saw last year last year: Wayne Cotton and Anthony Morris. They're both entertaining, knowledgable and experienced. That's why I wanted to see them again.

I unlocked three secrets:
  1. Repeat What Works
  2. Fake Uniqueness
  3. Promote Yourself
Luckily, we can easily apply these techniques.

Repeat What Works
The topics Wayne and Anthony presented this year were essentially the same as what I'd already seen. Even though the descriptions looked different. Others who saw them before made the same comments. Yet the attendees accepted the reruns. This shows that the importance of the delivery, entertainment, and how little we remember. 

Thinking  back, I've seen Stephen Covey live several times. Each time, there was plenty of overlap in the content. Some of the same videos were replayed (e.g., Max and Max, Stone).

Earl Nightingale said that if you asked him to speak, you got his choice of topic. Maybe that happens with professional presenters. They choose or influence the topic. Or they tailor a standard presentation slightly. Why not? Once honed, why tinker drastically with a presentation that works?

Fake Uniqueness
Presenters make ideas seem unique when they really aren't. Yes, there are differences but the general ideas are similar. Think of alternatives to cold calling: Precision Marketing (Wayne Cotton), Magnetic Marketing (Dan Kennedy), Guerilla Marketing (Jay Levinson), Permission Marketing (Seth Godin), attraction marketing, pull marketing, laser marketing. These different systems achieve similar results: appealing to the right clients and repelling the wrong ones. So does viral marketing (what Seth Godin calls "sneezing" an ideavirus).

Trademark your approach and you've got something that looks unique but isn't entirely. We can do the same. For example, the Financial TRAIL to taming your financial risks starts with Trust and uses experts in Risk, Accounting, Investment and Law (TRAIL). Using a team of specialists to help a client with their financial risks is hardly unique, but this particular description is.

Promote Yourself
A top advisor sells in this order
  1. Sell yourself
  2. Sell your company
  3. Sell your product/service
  4. Sell your price
A mediocre advisor does the opposite, selling price first and themselves last. I can't remember the original source. Probably someone like Brian Tracy. 

The presenters I saw sold themselves first. Through their introductions, examples and stories. You felt they were different and you would benefit from their approaches ... even if delivered by others in their organizations. We can too.


October 20, 2008

Three Lessons | Eight Cities | One Presentation

My eight city roadshow (Have You Seen IRIS Lately?) ended last week. Maybe you attended? I was helping advisors across Ontario learn more about "10-8" financial leveraging. Now I can look back and share three lessons with you.
  1. Online registration rules
  2. Expect the unexpected
  3. Attendance varies
Online Registration Rules
You may recall that I never organized a roadshow before and worried about low attendance and that online registration could flop.
I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. --- Mark Twain
Many more registered than expected and 64% attended.

Over 94% of attendees registered online, rather than by fax or phone. Last week at home, we received three invitations to seminars that advisors are hosting to attract new clients. They all rely on registration by phone. Why don't you let your clients register online too? Online tools like EventBrite make this professional and painless.

Here are the advantages
  • convenient for registrants
  • instant confirmation by email (which confirms that the email addresses are valid)
  • instant database and reminder emails and followup
  • scalable for larger events and multiple locations
Expect The Unexpected
When will Murphy retire? Many little things went wrong. A colleague arrived early and had many of the shortcomings fixed before I arrived. Here are examples
  • screen in a corner rather than at front in the middle
  • table too small to hold both a projector and computer
  • noise from outside the room
  • no soap in the washroom
  • change in rooms (not even the front desk knew)
Inconsistent Attendance
In Toronto and Barrie, attendees arrived early and sessions started ahead of schedule. In London and Windsor, last minute registrants attended. In Ottawa and Markham, less than half the registrants showed up but that allowed more interaction and discussions.

Overall, the tour got results. Lots of requests for followup. No time for even a short break.


October 6, 2008

How To Reassure Your Nervous Clients

This is Captain America calling.
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I'm falling
--- The Kinks, Catch Me Now I'm Falling

I continue to ignore the daily mass media and live a low noise life. Even so, bad news seeps in. I keep getting reassuring emails from one of my two Investment Advisors. The other is completely silent, which is worse.

Life insurance clients are getting jittery too. What can you tell them?

Calming Your Clients
I remember, when you were down
And you needed a helping hand.
I came to feed you
But now that I need you
You won't give me a second glance.
--- The Kinks, Catch Me Now I'm Falling
To help you calm insurance clients, I wrote three articles for Riscario Insider about:
  1. what happens if a life insurer collapses: in response to emails from worried readers
  2. corporate governance (Globe & Mail)
  3. the largest insurers (Financial Post 500)
Feel free to use the content. The last two articles have tables that enlarge when you click on them.

The Term vs Perm Battle Continues
Have you been following the debate on Does Warren Buffett "Buy Term and Invest The Difference"? It remains my most popular post ever and shows the power of a good headline. The newest comments have Invest-The-Difference crowd more silent than usual.


September 18, 2008

Get Discovered While Slacking Off

I wanted you.
And I was looking for you.
But I couldn't find you.
-- Laura Anderson,
Walking And Falling

Another place without a bath robe? Maybe I should bring my own. Unlike last week's packing disaster, I'm prepared. I remembered everything. Well almost. I meant to bring walking shoes. 

Less Posts Without Less Readers
Because I've been on the road, I've fallen behind in my blog posts. Here's the puzzle. Readership has stayed steady even without new content. That's good. Relatively more readers -- 77.22% -- found articles via search engines. Here are the top 5 search terms this week:
  1. influential words
  2. marketing actuary
  3. communication jokes [?!?]
  4. actuary linkedin
  5. most influential words
Surprisingly, readers who explored the deepest used keywords "milevski CALU 2008" (see CALU 2008 - Sharing The Wisdom). If you take a look, you'll see I only mention Moshe Milevsky as one of the best speakers (winning my coveted Most Actuarial Presenter award). Even so, those visitors stayed here 9:33 minutes on average and explored 14 pages. Maybe they've become regular readers.

Here's the lesson. If you're online, you're accessible all the time. Old articles get rediscovered. You leverage both your time and your old work. People can find you. Doesn't familiarity breed business?

Update on LinkedIn
A meaningful profile on LinkedIn can help you get found (see Get Foundin Linkedin To Keep Growin). My network has grown and I'm showing up in over 5 searches a day. Here are the latest statistics
  • 41 connections (was 10)
  • 14,700 friends of friends (was 180)
  • network of 2.2 million (was 18,200; may be useful for direct marketing)
You can achieve results like these and increase your revenue --- even while you're far from home. A bathrobe is optional.

September 10, 2008

$499/Night But No Bath Robe

Do you remember the first time you stayed at a hotel with bath robes? Even if you wouldn't wear a bath robe at home, you put it on to enjoy the thick, comfortable warmth. Getting hot? Rather than taking off the robe, you lower the temperature. 

At some point, you put your hand in a pocket and pull out a card which says the robe isn't yours to take and if you do, you'll be charged. Really? Luckily, the towels have no such warning. So you stuff them in your suitcase. You like the desk lamp but fearing damage in transit, you leave it behind.

My hotel room doesn't have bath robes. I need one. I packed badly for this overnight trip. I forgot essentials from my travel checklist. Last night, I packed the following
  • dress shirt
  • tie
  • dress socks
  • shaver
This morning, I thought my luggage was too empty. What's missing? I know. My toiletries bag. I check that the toothbrush and toothpaste are inside. They are. I wear my suit and leave on my trip.

The day's meetings went well. I'm now in my hotel room, ready to change into my casual clothes. But I forgot to bring them. My pyjamas are at home too. Here's all my clean clothing
  • underwear
  • socks
  • tie
Wonderful. That's why I need a bath robe. Luckily, no one will see my predicament. Unless the fire alarm rings overnight ...

August 26, 2008

Learning The Language Of Investment Advisors

I said, do you speak-a my language?
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich.
--- Men At Work,
Down Under

How do you get investment-oriented advisors interested in life insurance? This is a great question if you're an insurance specialist. A 15 month experiment gave an answer.

An organization wanted to help their investment advisors incorporate life insurance into their business processes. Intrigued, I volunteered to help them for free.

Getting Started
I started with group meetings, showing how life insurance was used according industry research. Most strategies are simple, solid and change little over the years. This meant a small learning curve. I showed sample compensation for different ages, face amounts and deposits. I figured compensation would drive interest.

Next, I privately met interested advisors to understand their unique goals and concerns. Then I tailored confidential, individual strategies. Finally, I started visiting regularly, generally once or twice a week. I even got a nice large office with a nice view.

Long Lineups
I figured advisors would line up outside my door, clamoring for advice. Wrong! Advisors did visit --- then again, I was on the route to the espresso machine. This didn't lead to sales, though. I quickly learned that even volunteers need to actively market their services. I turned to blogging as a low key way to stay in touch.

Even so, cases were relatively small and infrequent. What could I do? I didn't want to play Solitaire.

One Day
During construction for expansion, the boardroom table was moved to an open area near my office. One day, the table was packed for a presentation about an esoteric investment product. I observed the investment advisors undetected. I heard numerous questions. I saw enthusiasm. The advisors were animated and captivated. Why?

The Spark
A different language is a different vision of life. --- Federico Fellini
I instantly realized that we spoke different languages. They spoke investoid and I spoke insuranch. While life insurance allows tax-sheltered growth, investment advisors

  • don't like the limited investment choices
  • don't like investment dollars going "off book" into life insurance

I knew the solution. Investment advisors have clients who are active investors, comfortable with financial leveraging and looking for tax deductions. That's what "10-8" leveraging by squeezing more benefits from the client's existing investment dollars.

Investment advisors get three three important benefits:

  1. continuing to make the investment decisions
  2. assets stay "on book"
  3. revenue increases

This appealing combination grew sales to record levels. The experiment ended in success.


August 19, 2008

Mastering The Five Relationship Styles

I know you know what you know
but you should know by now
that you're not me.
--- The Rutles,
Piggy In The Middle

There are many ways to categorize your clients. Net worth, business ownership, age, lifestage. How about by the type of relationship your clients want to have with you? The Ameriprise New Retirement Mindscape Study conducted by Age Wave found five main categories.
  1. Guide
  2. Motivator
  3. Teacher
  4. Partner
  5. Friend
Naturally, you'll be more effective if you can identify the style of relationship your clients want and adjust accordingly.


Looking for A Guide
These clients want you to help them explore choices and assist them along the path. They value recommendations.

This is the most popular style, which makes sense given the complexity of life.

Looking for A Motivator
These clients need help sticking to a plan. They want you develop a suitable plan and assure them that they can follow it.

Looking for A Teacher
These clients want to be educated. Unlike clients looking for a Motivator, these ones don't want to be told what to do. They want to make their own decisions.

Looking for A Partner
These clients want you to introduce new ideas or review their ideas. They expect you to have the same goals they do.

Looking for A Friend
These clients want more than a business relationship.

Style Mismatch
See, man, that's the difference between us. You think we're fighting, I think we're finally talking! --- football player Rod Tidwell to his agent Jerry Maguire
Naturally, there is overlap among categories and clients change. We are more comfortable adopting certain styles. You may even have a particular style you use all the time without even knowing. As a writer, I have a bias towards providing education and suitable guidance.

If you describe the styles to new clients, they can choose the one they prefer. You both benefit.


July 29, 2008

Eventbrite: How To Organize Events Like Harvard University and IBM

And American Airlines, Best Buy, Dell, Facebook, IRS, NASA and Progressive Insurance, US Homeland Security and others.

Don't you love planning seminars?

I'm planning my biggest tour yet --- 8 cities in Ontario in September. Unfortunately, I'm organizing too. That's a new experience. I'm most concerned about sending out invitations, getting replies and following up. The process looks time-consuming, labour-intensive and error-prone. And hard to scale up for my world tour :)

Three Big Challenges
There are three challenges
  1. getting an updated email list
  2. send invitations to the right people
  3. automating registration
This looks like a job for re-engineering.

An Updated Email List
Sending individual emails can work if you have up-to-date email addresses. What if you want to invite people who aren't currently doing much business with you? That's tricky. Even if delivered, your email may get deleted without getting read. There's a way to solve both problems: get a trusted party to send the emails.

I support advisors who work for organizations. Here's the plan. Emails go to the organizations which then forward the invitations to their advisors. This means
  • fewer points of contact
  • up-to-date email lists
  • an endorsement of sorts
Sending Invitations To The Right People
How do you easily identify people to invite to the event in London, Ontario? You need a good database. What if someone who works in Mississauga would prefer to go to the London event because they'll be there that day anyway? You have no way of knowing. The solution is self-service: everyone gets the same invitation with all dates. They choose.

Automating Registration
The actual process of registering can be onerous for the organizers whether by fax, email or phone. Ideally, you want a form completed online. This eliminates incomplete fields, retyping and typos.

I searched online for a low cost solution. Within minutes, I found which charges 2.5% of the ticket price (minimum $0.99 per ticket). Luckily, there is no charge for free events.

Within an hour, I created a basic invitation that includes nifty features like a map to the venue. The process is straightforward and well-designed. You can upload your logo and edit your invitation with an online editor that's more powerful than the one Google provides for this blog. The results look professional, which adds to your credibility.

Fingers Crossed
What if the online registration doesn't work? I won't be very popular. Since Eventbrite is used by many major companies, I'm betting they are reliable.

At this stage, I've drafted the invitation and tested the registration process. A few volunteers have too. Registrants get a confirmation email (you do too) and information is automatically recorded in the event database. The whole process is smooth and requires no manual effort. That lets you focus on other aspects of your event. And almost makes you feel like hosting more.


July 22, 2008

The Six Most Influential Word Groups

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter --- it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
--- Mark Twain

Words affect results. So better words mean better results. The influencer's dozen has 18. That's enough to give variety without getting overwhelming. I don't know the source. Do you? If so, please add a comment so that credit can be given.

The influential words fit into six classes with different purposes:
  1. describe
  2. create awareness
  3. establish a sequence
  4. create connections
  5. show causality
  6. command
Ideally, we'd combine words from different groups.

These are adjectives and adverbs
  1. naturally
  2. easily
  3. unlimited
Create Awareness
These words start mental processes that you have initiated
  1. aware
  2. realize
  3. experience
Establish A Sequence
These words help create a sequence in time.
  1. before
  2. during
  3. after
Create Connections
These words create relationships among items
  1. among
  2. expand
  3. beyond
Show Causality
These words show cause and effect
  1. and
  2. as
  3. causes
  4. because
These verbs tell the person what you want them to do.
  1. now
  2. stop
That's the list. Since these words get used in everyday speech, you can easily include them. You probably already use some naturally without realizing. Now you can stop to choose because words matter.


July 15, 2008

Why You Need A Weak Link To Give Excellent Service

"Service excellence can be defined as what a business chooses not to do well."
--- Frances X Frei

Contrarian ideas intrigue. In the Harvard Business Review, Frances X Frei makes interesting observations. We know we can't be everything to everyone. So we specialize to succeed (see Thoughts on The Dip by Seth Godin). How much thought do we give to the side effects: things we've chosen to do poorly, perhaps unconsciously? Frei finds that most successful companies "perform badly at some things in order to excel at others". We'll look at lessons from three companies in the worlds of banking, car insurance and software.

Commerce Bank
"The world did not need another 'me-too' bank. I had no capital, no brand name, and I had to search for a way to differentiate from the other players."
--- Vernon Hill, founder of Commerce Bank
Since 1973, Commerce Bank has grown "its retail customer base dramatically even though its rates are among the worst". A portion of the market prefers convenience (longer opening hours) and personal attention in exchange for higher prices and fewer products
  • benefit: longer opening hours and personal attention
  • cost: higher prices and fewer products
The bank probably doesn't advertise that they are less competitive. Progressive Insurance does.

Progressive Casualty Insurance
"People are pathologically price sensitive about car insurance and almost never select anything but the rock-bottom quote."
Progressive includes competitors' prices in their car insurance quotes even though they get beaten half the time. Why? Their actuaries feel they have accurately estimated the probability of a claim. If another company gets the client, Progressive wins in two ways
  1. avoids an unprofitable client
  2. saddles the competitor with an unprofitable client
In essence, they fire expensive customers.

DIRST: Do It Right The Second Time
--- Scott Cook, founder of Intuit
Software companies rarely provide free customer support due to the cost. Why does Intuit? They see customer calls as an important input for product development --- an investment rather than an expense. Intuit wants to know "what users are trying to accomplish and how they are being frustrated". Paradoxically, producing better software reduces the calls. And makes calls more important.


July 8, 2008

Three Lessons From My Third Year In The Field

Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event. --- Oscar Wilde

On June 30, 2008, I finished my third year in the field. My years as a head office marketing actuary seem so long ago.

The past year taught three valuable lessons
  1. Simpler in Alberta
  2. Office 2007 matters
  3. Make concepts legible
Simpler In Alberta
I spent weeks in Alberta over different trips. The visits started last August with a presentation in Banff just before the Advocis Banff School (which I attended for the first time and described here) and ended in Calgary in late May.

While feedback confirms that my presentations (verbal and written) are effective, I knew they could be improved dramatically. But how? I reached what strategic coach Dan Sullivan calls a Ceiling of Complexity. Alberta showed how to crash through. There I learned that despite ongoing tweaking, I still provided too much education. With guidance, I chopped a 48 minute presentation on "10-8" leveraging down to 29 minutes and then 16 minutes. The audiences? A mix of investment advisors, accountants, clients and prospects. The shorter the presentation, the more questions and the more engaged the audience. Sales improved and lead to repeat trips.

Cutting away gets to the white hot centre which is more compelling, easier to understand and easier to spread. I didn't have the nerve to try a new presentation style close to home. Luckily, I had the chance to experiment in Alberta with no colleagues around. I now use this style in Ontario, except with very technical audiences.
I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. --- Mark Twain
Paradoxically, simplifying takes more skill and more time. What can you leave out without misleading or distorting? A solution is to provide details separately via handouts (e.g., FAQ or Appendix) or links to online resources.

Even if you have a compelling message, you need tools to communicate it. That is where Office 2007 helps.

Office 2007 Matters
Office 2007 can be daunting the first time you use it. I spent 20 minutes just finding the Print button. Now I much appreciate the capabilities and ease of use that this major upgrade offers. In particular
  • eye-catching visuals (SmartArt, 3D effects, nicer shading)
  • harmonious colours and fonts (new, well-integrated Themes)
  • greater consistency between different applications
With PowerPoint 2007, you can create much more interesting presentations with professional-looking visuals (called SmartArt) and better animations. Excel 2007 is easier to use for features you don't know well and creates outputs that look look consistent with PowerPoint.

Make Concepts Legible
The relentless quest for simple and the power of Office 2007 has lead to new rules to refresh classic concepts
  • use legible fonts (large enough to see), which means less information on a page, which means more thought in deciding what to show, which means more white space, which means a more compelling messages
  • landscape layout for consistency among concepts and a "widescreen" look
  • reuse content in different applications (e.g., Excel and PowerPoint)
The Year Ahead
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. --- Albert Einstein
In the year ahead, my passion for simple will continue. As always, I welcome your suggestions. I will continue to share ideas with you. As always, you are free to use use whatever you wish --- my anniversary gift to you.


July 2, 2008

Get Foundin Linkedin To Keep Growin

Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it. --- Anais Nin

You'll get more business if people can find you and find out about you. When they want. That means online.

Can a search engine find you? Do you have a website? Even if you answered yes to both, there's no harm in becoming easier to find. If no, you can easily create a profile on a social networking site.

I joined FaceBook a few months back, but it lacks a professional business feel. This week, I came across, LinkedIn, which happens to be a well-established business-focused networking site with 23 million members. Chances are you will find people you know there.

Linking To Others
Once you setup your profile (e.g. like mine at, you have an online biography/resume for others to find (clients, prospects, potential employers) and you to promote. That is just the start.

The real power comes when you connect to others. You can easily upload your contacts and see who is already there. You can then have an email sent to people you know well and ask them to connect to you. Once they accept, you have a network of contacts and you are connected to their contacts too. The numbers get crazy fast. Here is my situation after a few days
  • 10 connections (trusted friends and colleagues)
  • 180 friends of friends (each connected through a connection)
  • 18,200 users through both a connection and one of their friends
Be Selective
You are judged by the company you keep. For your network to have value, you need to be selective about your connections. Especially when you give or get recommendations. This endorsement process is how you gain and share your credibility.

If you know of other networks worth joining, please share them. In the meantime, why not get LinkedIn?


June 24, 2008

Universal Principle of Influence #6: Liking

The first law of sales is to come to like the people you're dealing with. Because once people recognize that we like them, everything changes in their reaction to our proposals and recommendations and suggestions. They [recognize] they're safe, in the hands of somebody they know likes them. --- Robert Cialdini

Professor Robert Cialdini identified six universal principles of influence: Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Consensus and Liking. This time, we're looking at #6: Liking.

We are influenced by people who like us and are like us. Clients want authorities who like them.

At Tupperware parties, guests are twice as likely to buy because they like the hostess than because they like the products.

Through detective work, we can find connections that create true liking in both directions. We can use
  • similarities: they are like us
  • compliments: they like us
"Prospects were more willing to purchase a policy from a salesperson who was akin to them in age, religion, politics, or even cigarette-smoking habits" --- American Behavior Scientists (1963)
You want to create early bonds by mutually discovering common interests (e.g., hobbies, sports teams, music, etc). This creates a presumption of goodwill and trustworthiness will help you from then onwards.

We are all motivated by a keen desire for praise. --- Marcus Tullius Cicero (BC 106 - 43)

The sweetest sound of all is praise. --- Xenophon (BC 431-350)

Praise does wonders for our sense of hearing. --- Arnold H. Glasgow

Charm and disarm through genuine praise. False praise also works, but not as well.

You can find something to sincerely admire in everyone. Value something the other person values. As Cialdini says, "Ask ourselves, 'How can I come to like this person, genuinely?' then both sides win."

... a study [in 1976] of the Canadian federal elections found that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates. ...[V]oters do not realize their bias. In fact 73 percent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance. --- Robert Cialdini
Like it or not, admit it or not, physical attractiveness affects liking too. We think good looking means good. If cosmetic surgery is too much of a sacrifice, try familiarity. Repeated contact facilitates liking too.


June 18, 2008

Universal Principle of Influence #5: Consensus

If many others have done this, then I'm likely to do it too. But if those many others are similar to me too, I'm even more likely to follow. --- Robert Cialdini

Professor Robert Cialdini identified six universal principles of influence: Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Consensus and Liking. This time, we're looking at #5: Consensus.

We follow the lead of people like us. We like to do what people like us are doing --- especially when faced with uncertainty. We look for social proof. The many influence the few.

We can say things like "Our most popular choice for individuals in you circumstances is"

Small changes can improve results. Here's an example from the world of informercials
  • original: Operators are waiting. Please call now.
  • improved: If operators are busy, please call again.
The second version implied consensus: others are eager to buy. When asking for donations door-to-door, showing a list of other donors in the neighbourhood increases donations. The longer the list, the better the results.

Teenage Smoking
Peer pressure has a dark side too. Here are factors which make a teen more likely to smoke.

Factor Increase
Delinquency + 14%
Depression + 14%
Parent smokes + 26%
2 friends smoke + 1,000%
3+ friends smoke + 2,400%

You may set a good example, but that has little effect. What can you do? Surround your children by the children you'd like them to emulate.

"The best communicators realize when they're not the best communicators and get the person who is: use testimonials. --- Robert Cialdini
The more similar the prospect to the satisfied customer, the better the outcome. We like to do like people like us like to do.

June 10, 2008

Universal Principle of Influence #4: Consistency

Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.
--- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
--- Oscar Wilde

Professor Robert Cialdini identified six universal principles of influence: Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Consensus and Liking. This time, we're looking at #4: Consistency.

We want to be in harmony with our previous attitudes and behaviours. Especially in public.

The Restaurant
A restaurant reduced "no shows" from 30% to 10% by adding two words: will you.
  • Restaurant: "Will you please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation? [pause]
  • Client: "Yes, of course"
The clients now felt obligated to phone because they said they would. You want to get a small, clear commitment and then build.
We all fool ourselves from time to time in order to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already done or decided. ... In most circumstances, consistency is valued and adaptive. ...The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don't match may be seen as indecisive, confused, two-faced, or even mentally ill. On the other side, a high degree of consistency is normally associated with personal and intellectual strength. --- Robert Cialdini
Action Steps
Get commitments that are active, voluntary and public. We'll look at each in turn.

While talk is cheap, the unspoken is worthless. It's much easier to break a New Year's resolution we tell no one about. Get commitments verbally, but ideally in writing --- even if preliminary or tentative.

In my early days as a manager, I'd make notes of action steps after meeting a staff member. This took time and didn't get the intended outcomes. Results improved when I got the person to do the writing. The same works with clients.

He that complies against his will
Is of the same opinion still
--- Samuel Butler

If you've ever asked a child to clean their room (or been asked to clean yours), you know that force or coercion doesn't work over time.
You don't create a commitment inside people that they don't already have. But you can look for commitments that they've already made, and then you can align your requests with that, so what you're offering them gives them precisely what they're looking for in a business partner. --- Robert Cialdini
We want to look consistent to others. That's why small agreements can lead to big results.


June 3, 2008

Universal Principle of Influence #3: Authority

Believe one who has proved it. Believe an expert. --- Virgil, Roman poet (70 BC - 19 BC)

Professor Robert Cialdini identified six universal principles of influence: Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Consensus and Liking. This time, we're looking at #3: Authority.

We want to follow the advice of a legitimate authority. In Malcolm Gladwell's terminology, a maven. An expert provides a fast track to decisions requiring specialized knowledge.

Our clients need to see us a credible and trustworthy. There's a difference between being an authority (the meaning here) and in a position of authority (like police officer Cartman).

Establishing Expertise
Experts require credibility and trustworthiness. That's not enough. We also need to bring our expertise to the consciousness of our clients before making recommendations. But how? Tooting our own horn is not effective.
Surprisingly often, people mistakenly assume that others recognize and appreciate their experience --- Robert Cialdini
You can have someone else endorse you (see How Would You Sell Soap?). You can describe how you solved a similar problem for someone else. You can briefly mention your background and experience near the beginning of the meeting. You can mention your online presence, if you have one.

Boosting Your Credibility
Before delivering the strongest feature, mention a weakness. Here are three examples
  • AVIS: We're #2, but we try harder
  • L'Oreal: We're expensive, but you're worth it
  • Warren Buffet: We lost you $3.77 billion în 2001, but since inception, we've had a return of 23% per year
This is why it works:

The mentioning the small weakness focuses the client on the strength, which receives a disproportionate level of attention and credibility.

Contrast Buffett with Bill Ford who said a couple of years ago: I feel good about our plan, but we have a long way to go.

The Ideal Weakness
A good weakness is one the client already knows but doesn't expect you to mention. Here are examples
  • competitors sell similar or the same products
  • your firm isn't the biggest
  • you are new to the firm

May 27, 2008

The Car Purchase: Recovering From Bad Service

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. --- Bill Gates

Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business. --- Zig Ziglar

We can reduce mistakes but not prevent them. Since perfection is unattainable, quick recovery is the best strategy. This can increase your revenue thanks to reciprocity, the first universal principal of influence.

Here's an example with a happy ending: buying a car. Things when bad on the delivery day
  • delivery 5.5 hours late
  • obvious paperwork errors
  • extra 750km on the odometer
I kept being told the car would be ready in 15 minutes. In total, I waited in the dealership over 4 hours.

What Happened
The promised delivery time was 2pm. I arrived around 3:45pm, just after returning my leased BMW nearby. My new car, a Mercedes E-Class, was not ready. Neither was the paperwork, even though I'd answered the only outstanding question the day before to save time.

I was told the car and paperwork would be ready in 15-30 minutes. While waiting, I could enjoy a cappuccino. That sounded fine. But delay followed delay. Each time I was told the delay would only be 15-30 minutes. I left at 7:53pm, which ruined our evening plans --- a dinner to celebrate our son's report card.

The Guilty Parties
There were three guilty parties

The car was not ready on time. The waxing was underway 4.5 hours after the promised delivery time. The paperwork was not ready and needed three sets of revisions.

Why the delay? The dealership was very busy and staff were working 12 hour days. They were trying to do their best. So what? Customers don't care.
Yoda: Try not. Do ... or do not. There is no try.
The advisor
  • didn't mention the extra 750km on the odometer (2,500 km instead of 1,750 km) or reduce the price accordingly (I buy demonstrators when possible)
  • didn't give a proper estimate of the revised delivery time or advance notification of the delay
  • didn't check the paperwork for errors which would have slipped in if I didn't notice
  • didn't explain the features (try using a navigation system or tuning the radio these days) even though I asked several times while waiting
  • left me to service other customers
  • gave me the keys in a dimly lit garage :(
My biggest fear was reliability, which has been a problem for Mercedes. A friend with an earlier E-Class had various shocking problems including squeaky brakes and lights burning out. In Canada, sales have only rebounded recently after 3 years of declines. In contrast, BMW sales have grown for 17 consecutive years. Lexus sales doubled since 2002.

So I was very sensitive to flaws. The next day, I inserted my first CD and it got stuck and needed to be pushed in with another CD. The parking guidance system beeps to signal obstructions that aren't there. The navigation system gives poor directions compared to my 2006 TomTom with 2007 maps (perhaps the DVD --- dated 2006 --- is outdated).

Corrective Action
The advisor did followup with me --- which no previous advisor did. However, nothing happened.
Our relationship with you is of the utmost importance to us
--- covering letter, Mercedes-Benz Purchase Experience Survey
I got action after completing a satisfaction survey which was to "be reviewed carefully and acted upon". I specifically wrote that I no longer wanted to deal with that advisor or dealership. Guess who called? The manager of that dealership. I reiterated my desire to deal with someone else. The regional vice president called and we spoke for an hour on a range of issues. This made me feel much better because he listened and made me feel I was being listened to and that my concerns had some validity. I felt appreciated. This was more important than I expected. Immediately afterwards, I started feeling much better about the car since the Mercedes commitment to client satisfaction is more than words.

I was encouraged to follow protocol by returning to the original dealership. Since dealing with corporate-owned stores had been a major selling point I asked to go to another location. I was advised to go to the downtown Toronto location, their Canadian flagship (once renovations finish this summer). I agreed.

Here's what's to happen
  • discount to compensate for the extra kilometres
  • servicing the identified concerns
  • redelivery of the vehicle, including 1-2 hours to explain the features in details
I've since spoken to the downtown service manager who is coordinating and anticipate an excellent experience. That's why I'm posting now before the actual outcome.

The Wasted Hours
I got an apology for the hours lost waiting for delivery. Is that "fair"? Perhaps. They are doing rework to erase the bad day. That seems reasonable.

Lessons Learned
Bad news spreads fast and leaves a deeper impression. I'd rather be what Zig Ziglar calls a "good finder". To be fair to Mercedes-Benz, I didn't tell anyone about this unpleasant experience. I'm sharing it now because of the favourable outcome. Here are three lessons
  1. Keep your promises.
  2. If you break rule 1, give realistic estimates.
  3. Find someone who cares and the rest will work out
To err is human. To recover is divine.