June 29, 2010

A Dentist Shows How To Raise Client Expectations

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Here's an easy way to get and keep clients: deliver more. They'll notice and expect the same elsewhere. When they don't get it, they'll be disappointed. They're more likely to stay with you, return to you and recommend you.

There's a problem: your competition can copy you. So you need to stay one step ahead. That's not so bad. Constant innovation keeps life interesting. Wouldn't you rather make improvements voluntarily and on your own schedule?

Let's look at a case study from a tough business: dentistry.

The New Dentist

I had a dentist in a high profile location in downtown Toronto for over 10 years. The basic cleaning was fine but nothing improved. For instance, X-ray machines probably give better results with less radiation yet the machine was never upgraded.

Staff turnover was high. The hygienist who did most of the work would change every 1-3 visits. Several times, none of the three dentists even checked the cleaning. Clients are such a bother. And no, the prices weren't reduced to match the services actually provided.

My wife and son switched to a dentist closer to home. They now enjoy going. They like the refreshments (none at mine). They come home with bags laden with goodies like hand cream, nail files, toothpaste and dental chewing gum. You'd think they went trick-or-treating at a dental convention. Mine only gave a toothbrush and floss --- no bag. Mine only started electronic claims submission a couple of years ago. There's still no website or email reservation confirmations. I was never given pricing for treatment in advance.

I switched too. What a difference! Beautiful facilities, friendly staff and an inviting atmosphere.

New Expectations

Here's how this new dental office raised expectations. During your first visit, you get a tour, answer basic dental questions, have a photo taken of your smile and get a free preliminary examination by the chief dentist. This process takes about 30 minutes.

Next time you get a detailed examination using modern technology. This process takes 90 minutes. You're asked about your personality type and tolerance to pain. An Expressive person reacts differently than an Analytic like me. Photos are taken of the outside and inside your mouth. Your teeth get a panoramic digital X-ray with half the normal radiation (but lower resolution). The results show instantly and you get to see them.

For the first time ever, I got an explanation of dental jargon like "occlusal" and "4-2". I instantly forgot but now know when measurements are good/bad. The explanation only took a couple of minutes but no one ever bothered before.

I've brushed for decades and flossed for years but learned new techniques. For example, I was told to hold my electric toothbrush lightly with my fingers rather than firmly like a screwdriver. How did they know what I did and why didn't anyone tell me before?

The Wow

Here's the unexpected surprise: a mini video camera was placed in my mouth. For the first time, I could see the work done in the past. Now I know how a filling between two teeth looks and where additional work is needed.

For the first time, I understand my dental care. The next step is carpentry (minor repairs) and then gardening (regular cleaning)


This dental office now has an ongoing stream of revenue from three new clients. Maybe other dentists offer similar enhanced services. So what? They'd have to offer much more to encourage us to switch. We're betting our dentist will upgrade too.

Isn't that the way you want your clients to feel?

I don't even know how much this dentist charges. I'm guessing rates are competitive.

Back To You

You may have had wonderful experiences that raised your expectations forever. Perhaps at a hotel, restaurant, airline, car dealership, post office, bank or investment firm. Or maybe elsewhere.

Do you know how your clients feel about what you offer? What would they like to experience? What do your competitors do?

There's a shortcut if you have high standards: ask yourself what you'd like to experience. Next, work toward that goal over time. For now, can you create an experience your clients will see as superior than your competition? That's a great start to becoming remarkable.


June 22, 2010

Seven Questions To Describe Your Business

Question marks (250x229)(Actually, your answers describe your business.)
A prudent question is one half of wisdom.
— Francis Bacon
Most businesses can't answer the tough questions their prospective clients harbour. The questions may go unasked, but that doesn't mean they aren't lurking.

The Magnificent Seven

Here are seven questions worth answering
  1. Who are we?
  2. What do we do?
  3. How do we do it? (describe your process to build comfort)
  4. What won't we do? (don't skip this one)
  5. What makes us different? (have an answer your competitors can't also use)
  6. When would someone need us?
  7. Who do we serve?
An answer needn't be long. A few sentences will do. Brevity beats verbosity. You'll need time and concentration to think, though.

If this list is too long, maybe the three questions for your 10 second commercial fit you better. Notice the overlap?

Get Help

If you're stumped, ask someone who's good at listening and probing.

If you aren't sure your answers are good, ask others. Ditto if you think your answers are great. We can't be objective about what resonates with clients. It's too easy to develop generic answers that your competitors could --- and do --- use too.

Once the answers seem right, polish them. You may need help with the editing.

Other Uses

Once finished, share the results with co-workers and new hires. This helps build shared commitments. You also have the seeds of a mission statement.

Why not post the answers on your website under Frequently Asked Questions? Your marketing material can pose questions to which your company is the answer. In networking meetings where you have 30-45 seconds to introduce yourself, use one or two points and make them memorable.


What if you don't like your replies? Write the ideal answers and work to make them true.


June 16, 2010

The BMW Innovation Drive And The New 5-Series

BMW Innovation Drive trackBMW occasionally let's you experience their gleaming new metal on a test track. You get to drive you the way you (probably) never do on the road: maximum acceleration followed by maximum braking. You learn how well the cars handle, which builds confidence and a tribe of True Fans. You have fun too.

Currently there are only six all-new 5-series on the road in the whole country. All here.

Then And Now

In Toronto, BMW previously used the runway of the abandoned Downsview air force base. The surfBMW lD lineupace has deteriorated. That may be good for SUVs but no longer suits cars.

There was lots of space and only one driver per car. You could drive the same car over and over if no one else in line. While waiting, you got to talk to the BMW driver-training driver for that queue. This was a great way to get questions answered from an expert. Pierre Savoy, BMW's charismatic chief driving instructor was available to answer the tough queries. Those discussions were excellent marketing: the drivers felt more credible than the commissioned sales reps in the dealerships.

This time, we drove on a parking lot at the Toronto Convention Centre. Each vehicle had two drivers. So you wasted half your time as a passenger. The track seemed shorter. So you didn't get to drive for long. Also, your car was queued behind several others. Who knew there'd be gridlock on a test track? We were not driving for the promised two hours.

Here's the big shocker: you were told what to drive. It was like being on a class trip. I especially wanted to compare the 535i and 550i but couldn't. I had no real interest in the 1-series and 3-series but we "forced" to test them. That's hardly torture but all six 5-series sat unused on a separate track. What did this accomplish?

New 5-Series

BMW Innovation Drive - 5-series
The new 5-series looks great again. The body has more lines, which makes the cars look more powerful. There are nice technological advancements. The display has very high resolution and is very wide. With cameras mounted above the front wheel wells, you can see obstacles clearly. There's a backup camera but I didn't get a chance to go in reverse. If you have trouble parallel parking, the car will find a suitable spot and park for you. We couldn't test this. This feature is probably an extra cost option.

The new 5-series feels scrunchier than the Mercedes E-class.

The 550i Gran Turismo looks like an interesting multi-use vehicle. Mercedes tried but came up with the R-Class, which looks like a station wagon, minivan or grownup B-class. The result? Poor sales.

In contrast, the 550i GT looks like a cross between a 550i and X6. There's lots of space with the seats down. You're seated higher than in a car but lower than in an X5/X6. This design shows promise and will probably appeal to more buyers than the X6.


The 1-series is lots of fun. It's so compact, powerful and manoeuvrable. Perfect for zipping around. A real BMW. Compare that with the uninspiring Mercedes B-class which looks like a copy of the cheaper Toyota Matrix.

The 335d is a the first diesel I've driven. It was the biggest surprise. You get lots of torque to blast from 0-100 km/h incredibly fast. You then slam on the brakes as hard as you can and stop almost instantly. You get great fuel economy but we weren't testing that. Add the legendary handling of the 3-series and you've got a winner if you're looking for a car of that size.

My negative perceptions of diesel vanished instantly. That's the brilliance of a test drive. What do you let your clients sample to overcome their biases?


If you're looking to make a buying decision, you want to drive different cars. Last time the focus was on the 3-series. You got to drive different configurations and compare them with Audi and Lexus. I was especially surprised at how well the X3 SUV drove. That's very helpful in making a buying decision.

This time we couldn't compare with competitors. So we couldn't make an instant buying decision. We also wasted lots of time waiting. All revved up but no car to drive.

Next Time

As usual, BMW organized the event very well. Signs were large and well-placed. Registration was snappy. My stomach was queasy by the end but I'd gladly go back.

The Innovation Drive is further proof of BMW's commitment to performance. Memorable events like this set them apart. That's excellent marketing.

What will you do for your product or service?


June 8, 2010

The Six Elements Of Credibility

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"Credibility is the only currency in the vast and noisy marketplace"
--- Pete Blackshaw

Consumers can now make themselves heard for free and permanently via Consumer Generated Media (blogs, videos, photos, comments, Facebook, Twitter,…).

Your credibility matters ever more, but what are the ingredients?

You'll get an excellent explanation in Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World. Author Pete Blackshaw identifies the six elements of credibility
  1. Trust
  2. Authenticity
  3. Transparency
  4. Listening
  5. Responsiveness [to feedback]
  6. Affirmation [verification/confirmation]
Each ingredient is powerful alone. Since they're interrelated, each matters. We'll look at #1, 5 and 6 in more detail.


Since the Internet remembers, deception is easy to spot and impossible to erase.

For reasons unknown, the author doesn't bother to read his own audiobook. Doesn't he care? Does he sound terrible? Is he lazy? The narrator, Lloyd James, has read over 160 other books. So this book feels more like Lloyd's than Pete's.


Consumers trust consumers most. Neilson Research repeatedly shows that after word of mouth, the most trusted resource is a brand's website. Visitors arrive looking for information and to solve problems.

If you don't have a website by now, you're doing yourself a great disservice. If you don't have the right content, you're doing your visitors a disservice.

Responsiveness to Feedback

Listening is important but what's the point if you don't respond to what you learn? Quick, appropriate action is ideal. It's easy to mess up. The consequences last forever.

Here's a touching example from Ellen Roseman's blog: Widows waits 11 months for life insurance to be paid. In the first comment, the widow gives a detailed explanation of what happened. She concludes, saying the insurer "discredited the entire insurance business in Canada, the idea and meaning of insurance." Other comments echo this tone. Where is the response from the insurer? Do they even have a Google Alert to track when they're mentioned online?

In contrast, in How to cancel your fitness club membership, the COO rectifies the problem promptly. That's not the end of the story. Other commenters identify more bad behaviour at the same chain. No response. How likely are you to join that club? [Read about more fitness club options.]

Simply adding links to the above blog posts increases their relevance to search engines.


If you make a key claim, your potential client may look for confirmation elsewhere. If they don't find it, they won't believe you.

Here's an example. I'm thinking of joining a for-profit networking group. Online, the organization gets more complaints than compliments. I asked around and found widespread dissatisfaction among prior attendees. I asked an organizer basic questions and got no reply. Given that, how much faith can I place in the glowing praise on their website?

Pete makes the six elements of credibility easier to remember, hence easier to apply. The many examples in his book remind us of the benefits. And consequences.


PS The same narrator reads Nudge: Improving Decisions About Heath, Wealth and Happiness (amazon.com)

June 1, 2010


JP Morgan & Co building across from NYSE Your network is your most valuable asset. That's what Jeffrey Gitomer says in The Little Black Book Of Connections (not an affiliate link).

Do you agree?

Even if you don't, you know your network is valuable. How do you use it for your maximum benefit?

Yes: Fish In A Barrel

You might think your network is there for you to harvest. You believe in your product or service. You're doing your network a disservice if you don't tell them about it. Besides, if you won't, someone else will. So why not you?

Before you do, ask yourself whether your network signed up to receive sales pitches from you. We're in the world of permission-based marketing. You can personalize your messages but are they anticipated? If not, you're spamming. It doesn't matter how noble your intentions.

No: To Serve And Protect

If you see yourself as a steward for your network, you are there to protect them --- even from your own good intentions to help. Otherwise, you're violating their trust. Sure they can unsubscribe from your emails or let your calls go unanswered. That doesn't mean they'll have a high opinion of you.

Your network may expect you to market to them. They may not want that but they know what happens in real life. Does following bad examples make your actions acceptable?

If you've built a social network on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook, reaching out takes very little effort. Just because you can does not give you permission.

Your Network Knows

Your network already knows what you do. Simply stay visible. Every contact you make reminds them without you saying a word. They can buy from you when and if they want. They can do something even more valuable --- refer others to you. Why risk annoying them?

Planting seeds and nurturing them takes time. And leads to a bountiful harvest.

"Money On The Table"

Tall buildings fill the financial district of New York City. Across from the New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan built a building of only a few storeys. That's the photo at the top of this post. He showed he was so wealthy that he didn't need the rent.

If you serve and protect your network, you're showing you don't need to exploit them. Your generosity sets you apart. You make yourself remarkable. You attract people who value this difference.


PS The Little Black Book also says that in networking, it isn't who know you know that counts: it's who knows you. Your actions decide whether you're remembered as a welcome guest or an annoying pest.