Why conversations create sales

Rather than the usual Caffe Nero/Costa visit today, I took my Sunday latte-with-a-cake business elsewhere to a little independent bistro called Antonio’s. Oh dear…!

It’s such a shame as they seem nice people, but the owners have totally failed to create a distinctive customer experience (other than a non-experience). What do I mean?

  • Uninspiring shop front. No clear identity or brand.
  • Dimly lit, but not so it creates mood – just blah.
  • Style-less furniture, flooring and decor. No colour. Nothing remarkable on the walls.
  • No mouth-watering cakes on display – just a few mince pies covered in clingfilm.
  • Background music you can just about hear, but not so you can tell what it is.
  • Old-fashioned laminated menus on tables, chalk board 30% full.
  • I was the only customer there (not surprisingly), although 3 tables came in as I was there.
  • No attempt to open a conversation, purely re-active order taking by the staff.
  • Very pleasant, very polite but absolutely NOT creating an experience.

A couple came in, sat down and looked at the menu.

Waitress:  What can I get you?
Couple: 2 coffees please
Waitress: Anything else?
Couple: No thanks.

Another couple entered (bit of a rush now), both about 55 with a cheery disposition and hope in their eyes – clearly there for the first time.

Waitress asked them what they’d like. They asked about the special advertised in the window. She reeled off the details. They thought about it, and ordered the lasagne and a pizza and the wine that came with the deal.

Waitress smiled and walked off.

Now I’m sure the food is very nice, maybe the wine too. My coffee was perfectly acceptable. But what’s missing here (apart from a decent infrastructure) is the creation of an enjoyable EXPERIENCE. And that comes partly from the staff engaging in conversation with the clients. Just a bit of gentle banter from the waitress:

“Cold outside today!” (you create warmth in the cafe – the antidote)
“Isn’t it nice to take the weight off your feet” (clients have heavy bags after some hard shopping).
“Now what can I get you to warm things up a bit?”

It might continue…

Clients: Mmm, not sure really. We haven’t eaten yet…What do you recommend?

Waitress: Well, the chef’s just cooked a delicious lasagne and we have a lovely Tuscan wine that goes beautifully with it – it’s part of the lunchtime deal for weary shoppers! Sets you up for the day.

Something like that…it’s easier when the staff are genuinely interested in people. Making a bit of a fuss about them, making them feel welcome, taking an interest in them – all this contributes to creating a customer experience. It’s even better if the staff appear to enjoy working there and have a knowledge of (and passion for) what they’re serving.

If there’s some points of interest in the cafe too, that helps. An unusual print on the wall, something quirky on the table – some talking point to trigger engagement with the customer.

These cafe/restaurant visits are so much more than just the consumption of food and beverage. It’s about how you make the customer FEEL. Did you leave them with a positive memory? Are they in a better place now than when they walked in? Have you really enhanced their day? Have you done something that’s worth them talking about to others?

Our Speakeasy concept was originally designed to help people develop a more natural, conversational style of presenting. But it’s also a really powerful principle in the customer service world, opening up a customer, making them feel valued and generating new opportunities for BOTH sides to profit.

Mary Portas isn’t the only one who gets exercised about such matters!

MojoLife – a response to redundancy?

Recently, I co-created a concept called MojoLife as a response to the economic downturn and the swathe of redundancies sweeping the nation. I’d like to know what you think.

MojoLife is a philosophy and a mechanism for helping people find their purpose, re-ignite their spark and move their life forward. We’ve all lost our ‘mojo’ from time to time, and through redundancy a lot of people end up feeling flat, under-valued, disengaged and pessimistic.

At the heart of MojoLife is the notion that we ALL need to think more entrepreneurially in the 21st century. That means CREATING opportunities, instead of putting our destiny in the hands of others. It doesn’t necessarily mean starting a business, but it DOES mean starting to think like a self-employed person.

Firing off endless CV’s in a world of fewer vacancies and more job seekers is a soul-destroying task. It’s the equivalent of ‘push-marketing’ in the business world, and the continual rejection takes its toll. MojoLife takes a different approach – a PULL approach to marketing YOU.

The advent of social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, etc) means it’s never been more within our reach to find and dominate our own preferred niche. We don’t have to wait years for someone else to move us up the ladder. The key is to re-discover who we are, the value we can bring, package it, and communicate it really, really well. Easy? No. Possible? Most definitely, but not without some help. Let me show you how.

Case Study: Geoff

Geoff is 53 years of age and has worked as an IT project manager in the financial services industry for 12 years. He was made redundant 6 months ago and has had very little success finding employment since. He’s received some guidance on putting together his CV and some help on job search/interview techniques, but to no avail. He’s fired off at least 350 CV’s, had 6 interviews and still no success. Needless to say, his confidence is low. His relationship with his wife and kids has suffered, he doesn’t go out with friends any more and he’s beginning to resign himself to a future of shelf-stacking and economizing.

An alternative scenario?

Geoff comes along to a MojoLife group and meets other talented, but under-employed people. He’s introduced to a new way of thinking about creating opportunities rather than putting his life in the hands of others. He’s asked to put together a ‘manifesto’, rather than a CV. He starts to reflect on who he is, what he can do, how he’s helped people and the value he can bring. He’s asked to consider what he really loves doing…what he’s really interested in…can he recall a time was he at his best?

He remembers an occasion 8 years ago when he organised a wine-tasting trip for some friends to France. He’s always loved wine and he wrote up a diary of the trip at the time and shared it with his friends in the form of a short, self-published book. They loved it and to this day still talk about the experiences they had.

Geoff re-reads the book and gets in touch with those friends again.

They ask him if he’s still doing that kind of thing. “Not sure,” he says, explaining his predicament. They all encourage him to do it and it gets him thinking. His fellow MojoLife members encourage him too and he starts reading up on the wine industry – people who are making a living from it. (He never knew there were so many people involved in so many ways). He reads the Oz Clarke story, takes a greater interest in wine journalism and attends a few events in his region. It seems he’s not alone in having an interest in this area.

He attends a MojoLife workshop on personal branding and using social media, and starts writing a blog about wine. He enjoys writing, especially about something he’s interested in. His (middle-class) friends start asking him which wine they should serve at dinner parties. He starts to circulate and begins to enjoy himself. The editor of the local newspaper asks him if he’d write a short column about wine. A local restaurant opens and the owner asks Geoff if he’d like to come along as his guest, and talk about the wine list.

He discovers Meetup (an on-line platform for encouraging get-togethers for like-minded people) and forms a wine appreciation club. He attracts followers from throughout his region. He does the same on Facebook (more followers, some overseas), starts a YouTube channel and does a few videos, showing him and the same restaurant owner discussing what varietals are in or out this month. He starts to engage in on-line conversations about wine – on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. He writes more articles. He’s starting to get noticed.

Then, out of the blue he gets a call from one of his old friends, someone who came on the original wine trip he organised. It turns out his friend runs a corporate hospitality company. Wine trips are on the agenda and he asks Geoff if he’d consider running one to South Africa, and maybe writing some materials for their blog.

Now I could go on, but you get the picture?

Even though Geoff has IT project manager all over his CV, he wasn’t getting anywhere because his sector was contracting and more people are chasing fewer jobs. His age probably counted against him too.

But through the pursuit of something he’s passionate about, he’s:

  • Become pro-active, purposeful, energetic and enthusiastic
  • Created a reputation in a niche market
  • Widened his network
  • Shown he can write, speak and build relationships
  • Shown organisational expertise and a willingness to collaborate with others
  • Developed some skill in using social media to develop his new ‘brand’
  • Started to PULL IN opportunities

In short, he’s a great deal more marketable in every way than he was before. But it’s not just that. He’s also a much happier and more fulfilled person than previously. And of course that has huge implications for those around him – friends, family, etc.

This is an imaginary scenario, but it’s entirely achievable. It’s the MojoLife way of doing things, an entrepreneurial response to redundancy or simply being dissatisfied with your current situation.

That doesn’t necessarily mean starting a business. But in a way we ALL need to think like a self-employed person in the modern age. It’s the most effective response to economic ups and downs, and helps US keep control of our destiny instead of putting it in the hands of others.

The interesting thing about Geoff’s example is that although he really got into something he loved, he reached out to others and communicated his passion and expertise. This is a mistake people often make when they find solace in a hobby after a fruitless job search. They enjoy it but don’t monetize it.

Lauren Luke stayed in her bedroom and showed how to put makeup on, but because she video’d herself doing it and shared it with others via YouTube, her expertise became MARKETABLE and she’s a terrific internet success story.

Tom Peters, the god-father  of management guruism points out that linear careers are a thing of the past. It’s all about projects now, and the beauty of the internet age is it’s never been easier to create and nurture your own project.

Whether it’s wine tasting tours, makeup tutorials or building windmills, our advice is this:

MAKE THE FIRST PROJECT A SIMPLE ONE…YOU!

Invest in this process and see what happens, but don’t do it alone. Come and speak to us at MojoLife.

An insight into word of mouth marketing

About 3 years ago I was really getting into some of the amazing business literature on the marketplace. Recovering from a very tough spell in my life, I found inspiration in the work of Tom Peters, Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson, Malcolm Gladwell (pic) and the like.

What really resonated with me was the ‘small is the new big’ message (Godin) and the potential we all have to re-define ourselves, and start attracting people IN rather than pushing our message OUT. And it takes very little capital outlay (social capital is now your currency).

Social media is a big part of this of course, but a lot of it is having the right mind-set and pursuing something with passion. Having a purpose is seductive and compelling for others.

Sat in Starbucks (Manchester Piccadilly Station), I was sat with a fellow trainer sharing notes on who we admired and how famous they’d become by living out this principle. All the above names came up, international travellers with a huge following – giants in their field. Then something weird  happened…Malcolm Gladwell walked into Starbucks and ordered a latte! Talk about getting what you focus on, law of attraction, etc. It was a light bulb moment.

Cajoled by my friend, I went over and introduced myself (trying not to come over all Kathy Bates “I’m your biggest fan” type of thing), and Gladwell explained he was in Manchester to speak at the Business School along with Daniel Goleman (Mr Emotional Intelligence).

Now I’ve mentioned this in a blog before, but relating it to a lawyer friend of mine yesterday, he surprised me by finishing off my own story. “I know,” he said, “I tell that story to my staff frequently.”

That’s word of mouth in action, but the interesting thing is this – it started with ME telling the story but it became more powerful when it was forwarded on by others.

And social media makes this a whole lot more powerful now.

Stop presenting and start having conversations

I believe there’s a difference between above the line ‘mechanics’ and below the line depth. What do I mean? Well take presentation skills for example. You can tell someone to project their voice to the back of the room, to use fewer bullet points on slides or include a story. This is good mechanics. But how you connect with people? How do you come across as being likeable, credible and authentic? How do you take people on an emotional journey?

The same applies to networking. Yes, the mechanics are important. You can teach people to dress appropriately, work the room, enter a conversation politely, ask good questions, present their business card at the right point and follow up leads promptly. But can you develop a conversation? Can you improvise and be spontaneous? Can you come across as being interested in the other person without appearing false or ‘coached’?

This is what I mean by below the line skills. It’s the difference between going through the motions and truly making a natural connection. It’s about the psychology of communication, about how you make people FEEL, about being interested in people.

I took my two youngest kids for a pizza the other day, to a local cafe bar. The staff are always polite and reasonably efficient, but there’s no spark. They’re not having fun or creating fun for their clients. You order at the bar (there’s much tapping on a computer screen – no eye contact). You pay your money (more tapping). You sit down and wait for the food to arrive.

The young man comes over (slightly nervous). “Margherita?” “Oriental?” Pizzas are placed on the table, cutlery handed over, then….nothing. A big, round nothing. Not even a “can I get you anything else?” or “Enjoy your meal”. He just melted away.

Now for me those little questions are more than just a pleasant nicety. They’re permission to start, a kind of closure. Starters orders…and you’re OFF!

The other day my son and I are in Nando’s. “Have you been before?” asks the waitress. “No”. “Ok, let me go through the system with you.” If I’d been diffusing a nuclear bomb maybe I’d need the degree of instruction I received, but not for ordering chicken and chips! It was absurd. But she’s told to do it, possibly even coached a bit.

Contrast that with a story my business mentor Chris Allen told me. He and his wife were dining out with another couple. The waitress had been very pleasant, a real ‘natural’. The mains were cleared away and she asked about dessert. Stomachs were patted and the diners said “No thanks, we’re a bit full.”

Then the girl surprised them. “You know, we all have 2 stomachs – one for savoury, one for sweet. These desserts are something special and maybe you’ll find room in the sweet space?”

Guess what..they ordered desserts!

My point is that we shouldn’t train the personality out of these people by insisting on a mechanised procedure. We have to encourage people to let their natural flair come through, to be authentic, while coaching them to produce commercial wins. Human beings are designed for conversations, not presentations.

The role of the story in persuasive communication

How many stories do you have?  My friend Ian Berry, a renowned speaker/coach/mentor based in Adelaide, once told me he had a mental library of about 95 stories (if that’s not the precise number, it was lots – believe me!).

This came up at a recent Speakeasy session and we got talking about the power of the story and the many uses we find for storytelling in the business world. Here’s a few:

Elevator Pitch

The 30-60 seconds or so you have to explain to someone what you do. Here’s a dilemma – keep it the same or vary it? I belong to the latter school. Those who recommend you keep it the same claim this helps to cement others’ understanding of what you do, helping them recognise an opportunity for you when it arises.

The problem here is that by continually repeating the same old phrases, YOU sound bored with it and if the audience has heard you say it before (common with regular networking groups) THEY get bored with it too. The analogy here is a business blog. Imagine a blog that always had the same article in it, the theory being let’s cement people’s perception of what we do. It would be the world’s dullest (and least read) blog.

My view is you should vary it, but always so it relates to your core theme. For example, I did my 60 seconds as a guest at BNI a few months ago and asked the group if they’d heard of James Alexander Gordon. He’s the chap who’s read out the football results on the BBC for years and his vocal delivery is very distinctive – Manchester United 4 (high pitch), Arsenal 1 (low). The group had a guess at the score with the next result, but the meaning of the story (the importance of vocal tone and HOW you say things) relates to what I teach people through Speakeasy.

So keep it interesting by varying it. Pick up on something in the news that day – the Wikileaks story if you deal with data security, the floods in Australia if you’re into insurance, etc. The consistent element is what these stories relate to (your core message/competence). But variety keeps it fresh and enhances your credibility and impact.

Stories in conversations

It’s really useful having a few stories to trot out when the occasion arises. If you meet someone at a networking event, finding common ground will help build rapport. If you’ve had a similar experience or read the same article or seen the same movie, you’ve got an opportunity to build rapport by sharing your story.

But be careful of playing ping pong – batting stories back and forth. That just implies you can’t wait for them to shut up so you can have YOUR say! It helps when you enter their story by asking for clarification, referring to an earlier section or just giving signals that you’re engaged and interested.

Being tuned in

A lot of comedians use observational material – stuff they see in everyday situations (an argument in a restaurant, a queue in the supermarket, etc).  They see significance in these incidents because they’re mentally tuned in and can craft these things into comedy gold. And of course they come out as stories.

We can learn from this in business, not only by seeing opportunities where others see nothing, but by getting our employees/team to be on the lookout too. Get into the habit of ‘pooling’ stories that can be shared, analysed and used to good effect. You might learn some lessons from this shared intelligence, or find some terrific material that enhances your reputation in the eyes of your clients/network. It also gets your staff into the shoes of your customers.

The narrative arc

Human beings like things in 3’s – and in the story world that’s beginning, middle and end. So when you’re putting across your message a nice 3 part structure works well. That might be PROBLEM, SOLUTION, LEGACY. In other words, this is the issue or pain, here’s our answer for getting rid of it, and this is why life will be better as a result. Movie directors like Steven Spielberg are good storytellers. Remember Jaws?

(Set the scene – nice seaside resort approaching the main holiday season).

Problem – dirty great big shark starts eating tourists.

Solution – mayor hires a fisherman, policeman and marine biologist to hunt it down.

Legacy – although one of them gets killed, they terminate the shark and get the tourist business back on track.

A similar approach to explaining your ‘story’ helps gets the message across.

Case Studies

The Big Society is a difficult concept for people to grasp. It’s a bit fluffy, a bit abstract. But when you give an example of how it works, people start to ‘get it’. You need a bit of big-picture scene setting at first, but it helps to occasionally ‘zoom in’ on something smaller (a specific case study) to really get your message across.

The other aspect of case studies is it establishes your credibility with your audience. You might CLAIM to be no.1 for customer service in your industry, but where’s the proof? Without it you’re expecting the audience to take your word for it. But a story that’s relevant and well told allows your audience to make their OWN mind up about your standards and values. And it’s a lot more enjoyable and memorable too.

ALL these examples underline the importance of the story in positively influencing people. This “once upon a time” stuff isn’t just for kids – it’s the bedrock of persuasive communication.

What can we learn from Obama’s Arizona speech?

The media are claiming President Obama’s speech in Arizona last week was his best yet – and it had to be. After the horrific shooting incident on 8th January that left a Congresswoman needing brain surgery and a 9 year old girl (and 5 others) dead, Obama’s address at the Tuscon memorial service needed to hit the right tone.

Following his ‘shellacking’ at the polls last November and a weakened position on Capitol Hill, the Commander-in-Chief needed to show strength in the face of a hostile Right led by Sarah Palin. But whereas Palin opted for vitriol when asked to comment on the shootings (and her alleged role in creating a toxic political environment), Obama chose to be, well…presidential.

While admired as a skilled orator, it’s often been observed that the American leader is a cerebral figure. Reflecting on his presidency, some have claimed that he, “lacked empathy…was a slightly aloof figure, that he struggled to connect emotionally”. (Jonathan Friedland, The Guardian 14/1/2011). But he began to unravel this reputation with a memorial speech that described the individuals who had died, including young Christina Taylor Green, the 9 year old who was born, of all days, on 11 September 2001. In this respect, claims Friedland, he, “spoke less like a politician than a pastor comforting a grieving community”.

Several points here:

First, at times of crisis people look to a leader to provide spiritual guidance, not just practical solutions. They have to speak well and hit the right tone, capturing the mood and most importantly empathising with their audience. Clinton was a master at this, in a league of his own.

Second, audiences respond well to people-related speeches – after all, they’re ALL people so you’re bound to find common ground if you talk about emotions, conflict, personalities, highs and lows. Even technical presentations can benefit from an injection of the human element – it adds colour, aids understanding and makes it more likely the audience will buy YOU.

Third, if you’re going to give a speech or presentation you’ve got to understand your audience and the context in which you’re delivering. Imagine if Obama had gone for out-and-out attack on Palin. How would that rancour and bitterness have sat with an audience grieving for the loss of loved ones? He could have used the occasion to stoke up anger against the Right. But instead he opted to be, in the words of one analyst, the “adult in the room”.

The art of public speaking – reflections on The King’s Speech

Tom Hooper’s film starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush has been eagerly awaited by me and other speakers/trainers – and it didn’t disappoint. Public speaking generates fear in most people at the best of times, but to be a king with a stammer in a country about to go to war places extra pressure on the performer!

The 2 leads are played beautifully, Firth playing King George VI (newly crowned following the abdication of his brother) and Aussie actor Rush playing speech therapist Lionel Logue.

Having seen it only some 2 hours ago, some early reflections…

It underlines the importance of effective oratory in leaders.

The film’s narrative arc mirrors what makes a good business pitch – problem (a stammering leader); solution (Logue’s coaching); legacy (a king who can finally communicate and lead).

Qualifications don’t necessarily make a good trainer (Logue has none and more conventional trainers are recommended by the King’s advisors). But he’s learnt from experience and gets results!

It says much about the client/coach relationship

Logue insisted they treated each other as equals (“Bertie & Lionel”).

Logue consistently challenged the king (pushing things too far at one stage).

Logue observes that a client has to want to change for change to be possible.

Logue works hard to build up trust with his client, eventually getting him to reveal the possible traumatic origins of his impediment (perhaps being forced to switch from left handed to right, or being fitted with a leg brace?).

Speaking technique – the importance of breathing, relaxing the jaw, strengthening the stomach muscles, the ‘flow’ that comes from swearing and the influence of music on fluid speech (the King’s stammer disappears when he sings the words).

Pacing of the speech – the King has to speak more slowly (with pauses) to overcome his stammer, but this adds gravitas and solemnity. It’s more common for people to speak too quickly in these situations and in most cases, taking longer to read a passage makes it better. But sometimes going too slowly means a lack of energy and persuasion.

Have a conversation - alone with the monarch when the all-important broadcast is about to start, Logue asks the King to imagine he’s just saying the words to him.

The importance of clear enunciation (marbles are used unsuccessfully in the film, but a pencil held lengthways in the mouth has dramatic effects on one’s enunciation). So many business ‘elevator pitches’ are mumbled and lack impact.

And finally, as film critic Mark Kermode points out, the irony of making a film whose happy ending also involves the declaration of war!

A quick aside…

When searching for the right actor to play Logue, the producer took the direct approach by dropping the script through the letterbox of Geoffrey Rush’s house in Australia (a contact of his lived three doors away). Rush’s agent sent a furious letter lambasting such an impertinent approach, but fortunately the actor liked the script and, well…it pays to be bold in these situations!

If you’ve not seen it yet, go and see this movie – and see what lessons you draw about the art of effective communication!