August 31, 2009

Creating a Wow!: B+H Photo/Video Manhattan

How do you create an ever-too-rare Wow! moment? So remarkable that observers spread your story. You can't buy this publicity. You can only get it for free.

Here's an example from B&H, specializing in photo, video and professional audio. We first learned of this visit-worthy Manhattan store from native Pauline Frommer's New York City guide (2006 edition).

What Makes B&H Special?
Just speed, service and selection.

You've heard those words before. What's different here?

The speed is zippy. You may wait for a consultant if you go at a busy time, but that's fine since there's so much to see. The service is exceptional because you'll find knowledgeable staff within steps. The vast selection is something you need to see to believe.

The Process
You leave your bags with an attendant when you enter and get a receipt. While theft seemed unlikely, we still took our valuables out. You wander around to drink in the atmosphere. You notice the crowds. You spot the automated conveyor belts rushing green baskets just below the ceiling. Are they just for show?

The array of choices overwhelms you. How do you find what you're seeking? You ask at the help desk and get clear directions to the right department. As you walk, notice the well-stocked bowls and sample the Starburst-like candies. They give your fatigued body a welcome boost after a long day of sightseeing.

Ask for help from the specialist in area of interest (we were looking for a monopod to use with our new video camera and ended up getting a more versatile Manfrotto 585 stabilizer instead).

After you make your decision, the consultant verifies availability and prints a product page which you take to the order processing line. We waited for several minutes. Your item arrives by conveyor belt in moments (45 seconds for us) and gets inspected. You get a printed order form and head to the checkout. By the time you finish paying, your bagged order is already waiting for you.


You've got to see the process yourself. In words, it's difficult to convey the impression this form of shopping creates. You don't lug your purchases around the store. This reduces shoplifting too because you don't have physical possession of anything until you've paid.

Did we save any money? We didn't know but left happy and felt compelled to tell others. You can't buy publicity like this.

What About You?
When your clients or prospects say "Wow!", they aren't comparing you with your competitors. They're benchmarking you against with their whole range of experiences. If you focus only on your direct competitors, you'll make incremental improvements at best. And you won't stand out.

Instead, think back to what created a Wow! for you. Perhaps at Walt Disney World, a well-organized event, the first hotel that left a chocolate on your pillow, an executive physical, a courier delivery service, an especially attentive waiter or B&H. How can you do something similar? And get the kind of publicity that you can only get for free.


August 17, 2009

Do You Fail Like Apple?

I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.
Robert H Schuller

If you fail the first time, do you
(a) quit
(b) refine and experiment again

Failure teaches in ways that success can't. Even so, we don't want to be tagged as failure-prone. Since our #2 fear is criticism, we can protect ourselves by doing little. Nothing ventured, nothing lost.

Inertia puts us at a competitive disadvantage and can lead to a downward spiral.

Fail Fast And Cheap
Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless. Thomas Edison
There's nothing wrong with failing often, provided we fail cheaply and quickly. That's where we have an advantage over larger competitors.

When you think of Apple, what comes to mind? iPhone? iPod? Mac? iTunes? Innovation?

Faded Away
One who makes no mistakes, never makes anything.
English proverb
What about Apple's failures? Here's a partial list in chronological order.
  1. Apple Lisa (1983); $9,995; overpriced
  2. Newton organizer (1993); $999; poor handwriting recognition
  3. Macintosh TV (1993); $2,097; lousy TV, lousy computer
  4. Pippin video game console (1996); $599; under-powered, over-priced, too few games
  5. 20th Anniversary Macintosh (1997); $7,499 US; overpriced
  6. G4 Cube (2000); $1,599; overpriced
  7. iPod Hi-Fi (2006); $349; poor performance, high price
  8. Apple TV (2007); $299; limited content
That's quite a list. Yet Apple keeps going. Learning and innovating. So can we.


August 10, 2009

Do you market like a chimney repairer?

Who ya gonna call?
--- Ray Parker, Ghostbusters

Small chunks of brick fell from both our chimneys.

Let's say this isn't your idea of a Do-It-Yourself project. How do you find someone you trust to
  1. diagnose the real problem accurately
  2. solve the problem properly
  3. charge a reasonable price
  4. stand behind the work
We asked neighbours but knew how referrals lead you astray from our leaky basement this spring. We asked tradespeople we knew for referrals. We looked at ads.

Here's what we experienced, in no particular order:
  • no consensus (e.g., repair or rebuild?)
  • useless information (e.g., need for scaffolding, how to colour match the mortar)
  • no handouts
  • no company websites
  • no real email addresses (e.g., generic hotmail and gmail)
  • few with photos of previous jobs
  • few who went on the roof to inspect and photograph the damage: does your doctor prescribe with diagnosing first?
  • no written client testimonials
  • poor followup (eager to quote, but slow to return phone calls)
  • no request for our email address for ongoing marketing (e.g., an eNewsletter)
  • no clear differentiation (why you? in 25 words or less)
  • no certifications: can anyone repair chimneys?
  • not available when needed (except the lousy ones ... they were available the next day)
  • no mention of the home renovation tax credit to offset part of the cost
  • no offers post-repair service (e.g., annual reinspection or preventative maintenance)
Stand Out
We felt unsettled during the process. Since we couldn't gauge the quality of the recommendations or work, we focused on what we could see. And extrapolated. Even now, we hope we made the right decision. Your prospects may feel similarly uncomfortable. Maybe your current clients do too.

How different are you from
  • the chimney repairers
  • your competitors?
How easy to stand out by doing more. Just a little is enough.


August 3, 2009


Familiarity breeds business. Spread your word however you can.

Study each point of contact. Then improve each one significantly.

No matter how skilled you are, you must focus your skills.

--- Harry Beckwith

How can you be credible with commission-based advisors when you've never sold anything? How can you understand their issues? How can you help them?

These questions plagued me when I switched from an "ivory tower" product actuary to an in-the-trenches marketing actuary in mid-2005. To find answers, I started listening to audiobooks from the likes of Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Tom Hopkins, Joe Girard and Jim Rohn.

This messed me up.

Most sales-related training focuses on products. Things like kitchenware, vacuum cleaners, encyclopedias, houses and cars. I thought the financial industry sold products too until Harry Beckwith revealed we sell services in Selling the Invisible.

You can touch a product. A red Porsche 911 convertible helps sell itself. A service is intangible. A service is a promise that something will happen in the future. You can't return a haircut. The service doesn't exist until you buy it.

The Revelation
Life insurance seemed like a product because of the paper policy contract. However, you really get an intangible promise. You're selling your clients peace of mind.

This may be obvious to you but came as a revelation to me. I listened to Selling the Invisible several times and kept uncovering new insights. I never read the actual book until now. The content still compels. I've made 20 pages of handwritten notes for transcription with Dragon NaturallySpeaking for future reference.

Making The Invisible Visible

How we do anything is how we do everything.
--- T. Harv Eker
Do you feel comfortable buying sight unseen? That's what you're asking your prospects to do. They are naturally reluctant. They can't see, hear or touch retirement income, security or tax-sheltered growth. What makes you believable?

Prospects get influenced by what they can see: your business card, the fit of clothing, scuff marks on your shoes, the car you drive, your watch, your ring, your pen, your email signature, your point-of-sale material, your spelling, your washroom. Prospects also notice and expect what competitors have that you don't. For example, a meaningful website, a real email address (not generic Gmail, Hotmail, Rogers, Sympatico or Yahoo), a newsletter.
In service marketing, almost nothing beats a brand.
--- Harry Beckwith
Brands make us feel more comfortable. What does yours say? Harry asks challenging questions like this.

The fresh perspectives and revelations in Selling the Invisible encouraged me to continue upgrading what's already visible but the reasons changed. Upgrading your accessories makes you look successful, a "nice to have". Selling the Invisible points out that upgrading the visible is essential because that's all that clients and prospects can see.

Little things matter, especially when what you and your competitors offer seems similar.

You're primarily competing with your prospect's indifference to act. Making more visible helps overcome their inertia.

You'll find many ideas and "sound bites" in Selling the Invisible. You can certainly read all the way through, but you'll get more practical benefit by reading a section at a time (generally 1-2 pages), reflecting and acting. Thanks for Harry Beckwith for writing a must-have book. Yours to (re)discover.