Tag Archives: sales pitch

Elements of a Good Corporate Story

My Family tree has it’s roots somewhere back in Scotland, or so we’ve come to believe. The Scottish clans, way back in the day, were not only identified by their tartans, those color full patterns seen on their kilts, but also by there clan motto.

The Fletcher clan, at least the branch to which I belong , has as it’s motto: Alta Pete which is translated as “Aim at High Things.”

Good words for folks who made arrows for a living. But a little lean in terms of a story.

Corporate mission statements and marketing tag lines are similar to clan mottoes. They look good on a letterhead but they can fall a little short in terms of really identifying, and differentiating, a company.

In my last post I looked at some reasons why it is important for any corporate entity, and by corporate I mean any group, too understand and articulate its story. Today I want to suggest three of elements that make up a good corporate story.

Southwest Airlines is a model company having maintained profitability and growth consistently for more than 30 years. Their mission statement, boiled down to it’s simplest form is “We’re the low cost carrier.” But, go a step further and look at how they expand that statement into a kind of story:

“If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline”

Not THAT starts to have meat on the bones.

Michael Hyatt, who is the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers…and all round good guy, was kind enough to send me a link to a piece of the Thomas Nelson story.  If you read the article you’ll find mention a kind of vision statement originally articulated by their founder:

“honor God and serve people.”

Go a little further back though and you’ll find a sentence that, in a very short story, puts meat on those bones as well:

Unlike other publishers who catered to the wealthy, Thomas Nelson had a vision to make the world’s greatest books affordable to “common folk.”

These two example, and there are hundreds more, provide some insight into the make up of a solid corporate story.

1. It needs to tap into why you exist. 
This sounds simple enough really but too often the story starts off muddy. For example a company that claims they are the “leading provider of enterprise software” isn’t really telling a story so much a providing a descriptor. Words like “leading” and “enterprise” and fine but they lack personality.

Thomas Nelson’s version of the same type of statement might have been something like: “We’re the people who make the classics available to the common folks”. There already seems to be a story in the making there.

2. It needs to have a customer focused element.
Both the Nelson example and the Southwest example are clearly pointed in the direction of their customers. It is this customer element that makes the corporate story start to tick as a differentiator.  This is where you are able to begin setting customer expectations.

What would you have expected from Thomas Nelson? Affordable classic literature. What would you expect from Southwest Airlines? Affordable FUN travel.

(Point to note here, your story doesn’t ALWAYS have to include “affordable” Apple has a great story but “affordable” isn’t a part of it!)

3. It must be something that influences decisions
Southwest can always bump new ideas against the question: How does this make us the low cost carrier? Thomas Nelson can run new ideas up against: How does this honor God or serve people?

Your corporate story, the story of your committee, company, church, or clan helps set you apart. It helps defines you. It helps people understand what to expect from you. It helps guide decisions and influences direction.

Stories help us interpret the world around us and your corporate story helps you create the space in which you fit rather than allowing others to fit you into the place they want you to be.

Think about your team at work. Your running group. Your family. What is the story that defines your purpose, focuses externally, and helps guide decisions?

What is Your Corporate Story?

Image courtesy of ButterflyPromQueen at DeviantArt.comI’ve been doing a LOT of work lately on the “how-to’s” of creating better customer experiences. Well, I really shouldn’t say “lately” as it has been a part of my work for more than a decade.

What has struck me afresh though is the notion of context. Customers have experiences in a context of some sort and that context typically is derived from expectations which are majorly influenced by story. Your story.

Which got me thinking…

The idea of a “corporate story” applies to ANY group. It applies to the company from which you receive a paycheck. It applies to the group within that company where you do your daily labor. It applies to churches. It applies to teams. It even applies to families!

Far too often though we allow those stories to be created by circumstances.

  • “Oh you guys are that company that acquired so and so.”
  • “Oh yeah, that’s that church that does the big Easter drama.”
  • “Your group is the one that did the cool power point at last years annual meeting.”
  • “You guys live over by the school right? Friends with the Jones?”

Let me suggest a couple of reasons why you ought to be intentional about creating your corporate story:

  • If you let others create your story you allow them to define you.
  • Because the world LOVES story, if you don’t have one, one WILL be created for you.
  • Circumstances will often act as an introduction to your story. It is up to you to be sure there are chapters to follow.
  • Creating your story helps you define your place in your industry, your company or your community and serves as a filter for circumstance.

By way of experiment let me suggest four NFL teams. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see each name:

  • Denver Broncos
  • New York Giants
  • Oakland Raiders
  • Dallas Cowboys

Now, unless you’re a fan of one of those teams or a storied NFL aficionado  you probably thought something like:

Broncos: John Elway, the team that got Manning, the team that traded Tebow” Circustances
Giants: Won the Super Bowl, Manning’s brother” Circumstances
Raiders: Man I hate those guys, bad boys of the NFL, use to be good, now just thugs” and THAT is a carefully crafted story. A mythos that Al Davis built around his team for years.
Cowboys: America’s team, Romo, Super Bowl, Big BIG screen” Circumstances in there for sure but this is another “storied franchise” we think of them as perennial winners.

Let me ask you this. Who was more recently in a Super Bowl, the Cowboys or the Raiders? Funny, we tend to think of the Cowboys, America’s team (and I am NOT a Cowboy’s fan) as being the one who had to be there more recently right? Nope, the Raiders played in the big game in 2003. The last time the Cowboys were there was 1996.  But their stories tend to make us believe otherwise!!

There is an interesting philosophical exercise that is right in the ballpark of what we’re talking about. The prof asks the student: “Who are you?” The student answers, “Curtis Fletcher”.  The prof replies, “No, that is your name. Who are you?”  The student tries again, “I’m the guy sitting in this seat”. The prof replies, “No, that is your location. Who are you?” Fletch takes another go, “The guy getting frustrated by these questions who’d really rather be outside drinking a beer?” The prof, “Nope. That is your current circumstance. Who are you?”

The exercise typically creates frustration for the students. If you’ve ever seen it done you understand that the frustration comes because the students answer with descriptors and circumstances rather than story.

Later this week I’m going to talk about the elements that make up a good corporate story but for now let me ask you this:

If you were allowed a max of two paragraphs how would you tell YOUR story? The story of your company, your team, your church, your family?

Four Tips for Helping People Understand You Better.

How often have you heard someone say, “I know that’s what I said, but what I meant was…” or some variation thereof?

Communication is an interesting animal. We use words to convey ideas and often struggle to find the right ones. Speaking of course is the worst because it is real time. All the editing typically happens between the head and the mouth.

Now, if you’re a poor conversationalist the tips I am about to provide probably won’t help you much. You’re better off renting The King’s Speech. What I want to work on here is how to be better understood in a more formal speaking setting. That being said, three tips:

1. Have a point.
Your point is NEVER “to provide information”. You always provide information FOR A REASON…and that reason is your point. If I just say, informationally, “You know you should always have a point when you open your mouth to speak”, you would nod and agree and still often be pointless.

My point here is to help you be a better communicator. To be clear here, when I say ‘have a point’ I mean something you can articulate in a single sentence. “The reason I am speaking to these people is…”

That sentence will become the anchor to which I attach all the information you are about to provide. Without it the information becomes overwhelming and floats off into the sunset like a boat one the waves.

2. Stick to the point.
If you’re being asked to speak you have information. You probably have enough information to speak for hours. But how much of that information supports your point?

In business setting I typically find that something like 50-60% of the information in any presentation really belongs in an appendix, stuff that supports the talk but isn’t directly connected to the main point. Leave all THAT stuff out. Save it for the Q&A at the end.

3. Consider you audience.
Whatever it is you’re communicating should have some relevance to why the audience is there. Otherwise your point becomes one of trying to prove how smart, or funny, or important you are.

I was struck by a thought today, and I confess I may have read this somewhere but if not then I want full credit:

“No one cares what you know until they know that you care.”

Granted there are exceptions to this. If the plane is going down and you know where the parachutes are I don’t care if you care about me, I just want to know what you know.

4. Sharpen your message to match.
Case in point: I hate the title of this post. It started as “The Power of Clarity” the morphed into the grammatically poor., “Four Reasons Why You Need to Be More Clear”.

Here’s what I know about my audience at this point. In general a phrase like “The Power of Clarity” is interesting, but it does not generate page views. If I want my audience to benefit from what I think I have to provide I have to start with a hook, something that will prompt YOU to read the post.

“The Power of Clarity” is informational. “Four Tips” conveys the notion that I care about helping you be better. Same information, same point, better connection to the audience.

What do you find to be the biggest challenge in being completely understood?

Qualifying a Customer? Give Something Away

I was asked an interesting question at lunch today:
“Curtis, when you’ve been in charge of managing sales process has there been a set of questions you use to qualify customers to figure out if they’re a legitimate prospect or not?”

I had to pause and think about that one. I’ve been in places that have deployed nearly every sales methodology known to man and some invented by alien beings. I’ve created branding, campaign messaging, and go to market strategies. I have certainly created marketing pieces designed to generate interest and response but qualifying questions? Hmmm…

In sifting through the nearly non-relational, free associated, database that is my mind I lit on the answer I was searching for:
“Free Bagels”

Years ago, when Einstein Brothers Bagels opened in Denver they had a policy of giving everyone who came into the store a free bagel. Not sure if they still do this today or not but back IN the day they did. At the time I was just building a web design business and my partner and I decided the notion of the “free bagel” would be a part of every site we designed.

If we were doing a web site for an author we suggested giving away a sample chapter. If we were doing a site for  a speaker we wanted a sound or video file available (This was the early 90’s so video on the web was virtually unheard of kids). When we did a site for a builder of custom golf clubs we suggested a free putter grip replacement. Why you ask? Because of the 3 mystical benefits of the free bagel.

1. You find out who is interested.
People who don’t like bagels won’t even take one for free so there has to be interest on their part enough to make them take one. In distributing your free bagel you want to be sure you capture contact information, a minimal ask in return for something of value. If they won’t give you that then they aren’t really interested.

If they do give you that contact information they’ve as much as said, “I’m interested enough to tell you who I am and I have opened the door to conversation at LEAST about the free bagel you just gave me.” Open doors are good, conversations are even better.

In effect the taker of the free bagel is self qualifying.

2. You whet the appetite.
The free bagel allows you to establish credibility with a sample of your product or service. You’re no longer trying to hawk what you do, you’re putting the proof in the pudding, even if it is only a small sample pudding.

By attaching a clear secondary response mechanism to your free bagel, contact us, come into the store, come get your free grip etc you create a channel through which your prospect can continue to self identify.

If they’re NOT self identifying your bagel is no good, or they don’t know it is there.

3. You establish a foundation for relationship
Too many purveyors of goods and services want to talk about themselves. By giving something away at the front end you establish that you’re more concerned with the customer  and meeting their need than you are about “differentiating yourself through a unique set of features and functions”.

You’re providing customer service before they are even a customer. It does set the bar high sure, and you need to be ready to live up to the commitment, but you’re building relational capital right out of the shoot.

People love to try before they buy, free bagels let them sample the goods.

What opportunities do you have to provide free bagels that will help qualify potential customers?

Three Pitfalls to Avoid in Preparing Corporate Communications

The forecast said the year ahead would be a fairly decent one. At the annual get-people-excited-about-the-year-to-come-all-company-meeting the senior sales exec gave a rousing speech all about the specific product lines that would be the tip of the spear for growth in the coming year. He had great market research information, forecast and pipeline data, and competitive analysis to back up his strategy. He wanted the troops to get excited about what they could achieve. The meeting finished on a high note and there was an n excited buzz in the room as the folks disbanded. It seemed the speech had done the trick, until the following day.

The support team called a meeting to discuss when they would be announcing end of the life on the product lines that hadn’t been discussed. That information wasn’t readily available so several more meetings were needed to get it, and then to try to formulate a strategy from it.

Account managers started asking for details on what they should tell customers who were on some of the product lines that were now “out of focus”. They needed to know if there was a migration path that would be made available to the product lines that were the new focus and so multiple meetings were called

Developers and technologists on the lines not mentioned were honing resumes and querying other groups to see if they had openings. HR suddenly felt the need to meet to discuss what seemed like unrest in product groups that had always been stable.

After two weeks of churn and close to two-dozen “what do we do now” meetings the senior sales exec called another company wide meeting. He explained that there were NO plans to retire ANY product lines but that the coming year would see additional focus on the lines previously mentioned. No one was at risk for losing a job, no customers needed to be given bad news, and no support policies needed to be changed. This time the meeting ended in relief, if not mild annoyance.

Sadly this is a true story. The staff at Dynamic Communicators was asked to come in and provide communications training to help this company avoid the madness in the future.  I’m not sure if we ultimately achieved that goal or not because, while we did meet with a couple of groups, the executives didn’t think they needed help.

Even sadder is the fact that this sort of thing happens all the time and being diligent to look out for three pitfalls in corporate communicating could easily squelch half of it.

Pitfall #1: FYI-tis

Giving information is great. We all like to be informed. At the end of the day people care much more about “why” they should know something than they do about the “what”. Just passing information without a word as to why you’re passing it, FYI, leaves people to interpret the “why” on their own. As seen in the case above that interpretation may be quite different than what was intended. If you find yourself saying, “but they need to know this” without answering “why” in the next sentence you’re at risk of falling into the pit.

Pitfall #2: Confusing Content and Context

In the case above the senior sales exec thought he’d rouse the troops by providing strategic forward thinking based on the numbers by which he lived everyday.  He’d interpreted the data and presented it at the annual get-psyched meeting, a context in which people expected to get direction for the coming year. By giving incomplete information based on an FYI approach the meeting spawned two weeks of unnecessary mania. The context in his head was not the context of the meeting. Ask yourself what the audience is expecting in the context of the presentation.

Pitfall #3:  Audience Amnesia or Passion sans Perspective

In the example above the senior sales exec presented with passion. He had good, exciting information and he wanted to share it but he forgot that the audience almost always starts from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” Unless you know what your audience is looking for you can’t address their need, you can’t answer the question “why” am I giving this information from the audiences perspective. Oh, you can answer it for yourself, you know why you want to GIVE it but that may not be why they want to receive it. What is the need that they have that your information meets?

You have the info, the 411, you know you need to pass it along, whether in a meeting or an email, or a white paper. Start by asking yourself why, why does my audience need this? Then pause and check their contextual expectation, what do they expect out of the context in which they’ll receive this information? Then pause again and ask why, why would THEY say they’re interested in this information? What is THEIR purpose for listening?

Answer these questions BEFORE you deliver the info and you’ll find you’ve wended your way successfully through the pitfalls.

What’s the worst you’ve experienced? How could the problem have been solved by better preparation?

The Power of Analogy, Story, and Illustration

It was two years ago I suppose, though it seems much longer ago. We were preparing to meet with several executives to discuss matters most serious and teasingly technical.

On the one side of the discussion were those of us who wanted to allow a “guest log in” feature to our web site that would allow even known users to begin conducting business without having to formally identify themselves.

On the other side of the discussion was the party that wanted known customers to continue to have to provide their customer number. Something every customer had but few knew and even fewer ever used for anything other than logging in to the web site.

On our side we had numbers, good numbers, interesting numbers. Numbers that showed abandoned transactions and numbers that showed potentially lost revenues and numbers that showed opportunity for growth.

On their side they had numbers, numbers I wanted to call bad but couldn’t, numbers that showed the amount of additional work in hours and dollars that spawned every time a known customer transacted  as though they were new ie: without using their customer number.

Ever have to go into one of those showdowns…er… meetings? In the worst instances voices raise, emotions boil and conclusions scamper out the window like so many scared rabbits. In the best instances they’re tedious affairs that result in begrudgingly compromised half-measures that wind up satisfying no one, something akin to rice pudding.

To make matters worse this conversation had been had before, several times. Each time each party brought new, more compelling numbers to bare and yet no one was compelled. So I suggested something new, devious perhaps, but new.

As each person arrived at the appointed meeting room a polite and warm representative greeted them outside the door.  “We’re glad you’re here!”, they exclaimed, “As a new measure of security for this meeting we’re asking that you provide the VIN from your automobile. Now we understand you may not have anticipated this new development but as your car is just outside in the parking lot, and the weather today is quite fine, it should be no trouble for you to track down the required information. If you’ve never used your VIN before it can be found on a small plaque on your dash or, in some cases, on the drivers side door.”

The  reactions were priceless and I could see them all because the meeting room had a small window in the door. I was seated inside having actually captured my VIN with my phone that morning.

Rather than going through the minor hassle of walking a couple hundred yards to provide the required credentials the surprised attendees tried to push past as though it were a joke. When they found the way blocked and the ‘doorman’ quite serious they actually headed for the elevator in a huff, not to get the number, but to leave the meeting! Ok, ‘huff’ is too weak a word, they were really hacked-off!

At this point our staunch doorman apologized for the minor ruse and allowed them to enter the meeting, as a guest.

The first words uttered in the meeting? “Ok, we get it. How do we fix it?”

Allow me to suggest three reasons why this approach worked, reasons that are universal benefits of using analogy, story and illustration.

1. It moved them from mind to heart.

We’d talked through all the issues before. Both sides knew the others arguments and rationale and in many cases agreed with the numbers. This experienced moved the conversation from a head talk to a heart talk. The participants understood the situation in a new way, one that moved from the intellectual to the emotional.

2. It moved them from observation to participation.

Interestingly enough the way we first start learning in life is through story and the BEST storytellers make us feel like we’re a part of the story! When my children were youngsters I read them the Harry Potter books. When the first film came out the boys’ comment was: “But dad, what if they get the voices wrong?!?” They’d been a part of the story in a way that made it feel like they had it the ‘right way’.

In the case of our meeting we actually put folks into the experience of the customers. It moved the presentation from being a story heard to a story lived. They experienced the voices of the customer in a way they hadn’t before as the voices became their own.

3. It moved them from understanders to believers

Understanding and belief, on the surface, seem like familiar bedfellows. The difference is in the mind versus the heart. I always understood that a cruise vacation could be restful but never believed it until I’d been on one…and another one…and another one…and another one!

Too many ‘corporate’ conversations rely solely on the head, the intellect, the numbers. We talk about mind share and convincing and countering objections. Just winning the intellectual argument often results in failure, “I agree with your numbers but I’m just not feeling it.” But find a way to win the heart and the head follows easily.

What near term opportunity do you have to use a story approach to communicating a corporate message? What’s holding you back from trying?


Relationship Building – The Four Levels of Agreement – Creating Level 2

Last week we started to look at relationship building from the perspective of four levels of agreement.

Level 1, Cognitive Resonance, was that mental click that happens when something gets your attention. Level 2, Completed Response, is the move from thought to action. That thing you do in response to the mental click. So if our premise is that relationships build as you move through these four levels of agreement how do ensure that your “call to action” is something doable?

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone presents a 30 slide presentation FULL of information that is nothing more than just that, information? No application, no ask, no call to action.

Several years ago I was doing some communications consulting with a large technology company. They told us of a meeting that had been held by the Senior VP of sales in which he recounted which of their product lines they were going to focus specifically on in the coming fiscal year. Good information right? Problem was he didn’t provide any call to action and as a result:

  • The support group wanted to know when they were supposed to announce end of support for the lines that were not in focus for the coming year.
  • Development teams on the non-focus lines started updating resumes in fear they were going to be let go.
  • Marketing started working on messaging around migrating customers off of the non-focus product lines.
  • Multiple meetings were called to try to figure out the impact of dropping several of the product lines.

Finally the VP had to call yet another meeting to “announce” that they weren’t going to drop ANY product lines. They were just going to put specific focus in the coming year on the ones he had mentioned previously. Which, by the way, didn’t alleviate ALL the fears…it just extended the runway.

Contrast NO call to action with the sidewalk evangelist who approached a friend and I, when we were nine years old, leaving little league tryouts. This kid was probably in high school or college, all the same to me…I was nine, and he was really in to “sharing the gospel”. Having “grown up” in the church I was interested in what the guy had to say, not sure if my friend was, and listened politely. He came to the end of his schpiel, with a few leading questions along the way, and asked if we wanted to confess our sins and ask Jesus into our hearts. Hmmmm…call to action (for a nine year old): Admit that much of what you have done in your nine years is wrong, confess that to GOD, and give Him complete control of your life, right here, while we’re talking, on the sidewalk, after little league tryouts, without asking your parents. Yikes.

Let me share a couple characteristics to remember when sorting out your call to action, that thing you’re asking someone to do to move to a Level 2 relationship.

1. Make it Clear and Actionable – “I want you to consider supporting” is not a crystal clear action. “I want you to support” isn’t either, they’re both passive asks. Remember this is an action step. You want them to do something physically. “I want you to support this initiative by taking two actions…” Those two actions are your clear ask.

2. Make it Right Sized – The ask of the street evangelist to a nine year old is huge. How about asking the kid to attend a church service with his folks?  “Get up out of your chair and sign up for classes today.” Again, huge. There’s cost, schedule, class choice, a lot of decisions that go into that ask. “Come try a one day class for free.” Relatively easy. (By the way this is where offering freebies is a GREAT call to action: come try it.)

3. Make it Low Risk or at least Risk Appropriate. – Remember you’re early on in relationship here. Trust has to be earned. Think about the risk you’re asking someone to take. Give them an easy first step to build confidence in the relationship, then follow that with a next easy step.

The “risk free 30 day trial” is a great attempt at a clear, actionable, low risk call to action. Are you skeptical when you see that ask? Why or why not?

Can you think of a time when your call to action was either absent or too big? How Could you change that?

Commercial Perfection

Have you seen the new Perrier commercial?

This is really brilliant stuff, especially when held up next to much of what is being aired these days. If you’ve seen it in context, meaning on TV, it really stands out from the commercials on either side of it. Why? you may ask, what makes it so appealing? Let me suggest three simple elements:

1) It Understands the Medium:

Television is a visual medium. The visuals of all the melting landscape and props are artistic candy. Watch the actors as they interact with their melting surroundings…great stuff. There is a trend in commercials today to be more reliant on audio, the thought being that people are headed to the fridge with their back turned to the tube so we better give them an audio message. This piece is purely visual communication. Walk to the fridge with your back turned and you won’t know what the commercial is about but watch it, and you’re captivated.

2) It Tells a Story:

We’re drawn in early on to the mystery of why stuff is melting. We shown the main character with a look of confusion approaching panic. She moves toward resolution and then the story arc peaks as the bottle falls off the ledge, a moment of high tension. We get it, we know where this is headed because we’ve seen it before but the piece is so artistically done, the story so visually well told, that we follow it anyway.

3) It Resolves on the Product:

The moment we see the “heroine” drink deeply in the pool we think, or at least I thought, “refreshment”. No slogan is spoken, no print on the screen, but the idea is clear, and more importantly, it is centered on the product. Not the funny person in the video, not the comedic climax, not the tag line, the product. We’re given one word “Perrier” and we provide our own tag line, highly personalized, subconsciously.

What are the places in life where you are trying, or have to try, to convince people to do something, or try something, or decide something? Do your “commercials” understand the medium in which you’re presenting your idea? Do you have a story to tell? DO you focus on “the product”? The thing you want them to choose?

It may be trying to get your kids out of bed in the morning. It may be trying to convince a friend to start exercising with you. It may be trying to sell your boss on a new idea. How can you leverage these three elements to convince your audience in a more compelling way?