What's Your Story?

Posted by Tom Smith on Wed, Mar, 28, 2018 @ 09:03 AM

What's your story?


Whether you’re a B2B, B2C, or not-for-profit organization, you need a story to help people remember where you came from, what you stand for, and your commitment to providing an outstanding customer experience.


People remember stories better than they remember features and benefits, numbers, or product facts.


Stories are a great way to add emotion to your brand. Emotion is important since more than 90 percent of the decisions we make have an emotional component to them. Organizations need to consider the feelings they want to evoke in their target personas when developing their brand story.


I worked for the largest professional services firm in a large vertical industry. I researched the history of the organization and came up with a powerful two-minute story that would help clients and prospects understand everything the company offered and why.


None of the employees wanted to use the company story because they were focused on selling only their particular services. This company suffered through the recession when it could have had a much larger portfolio of business from clients and prospects who understood everything they had to offer and how those other parts of the business could help their company through the recession.


I also did work for the largest health insurer in my home state. We created a series of emotionally-driven testimonials that drove down negative perceptions by 39%, increased positive perceptions by 18%, and doubled inbound leads.


Stories can be retold by customers and prospects across any media channel. In fact, stories from customers (i.e. testimonials) are more powerful than those told by the company and create a greater emotional connection to the brand.


How do you create your brand story? Ask senior members of the organization:


  • How did the company get started?


  • How has it evolved as the market has evolved?


  • How has your brand story evolved with your company?


  • What is the company most proud of?


  • What’s the most extraordinary customer experience the company has provided?


Stories are powerful tools for empowering and engaging employees. Consistency builds trust. Inconsistency builds confusion and distrust. Your employees need a compelling story to tell when someone asks who they work for and your employees need to tell the same story regardless of if they’re in sales, finance, or production.


Ideally your brand story will communicate the vision, mission, values, and strategic positioning of your company exemplifying what makes you “different and better” in a consistent and compelling way.


So, what’s your story?


Click Here To Schedule a 30-Minute Consultation  to Discuss Marketing or Sales Issues

Tags: emotional connection to the brand, trust, connecting emotionally with customers, vision, mission, values, strategic positioning, brand platform

Top 25 Companies for Culture and Values in 2014

Posted by Tom Smith on Wed, Aug, 27, 2014 @ 10:08 AM

Align along vision, mission and values
Thanks to Glassdoor for sharing their findings.




If you've read any of my previous posts, you know how strongly I feel about companies empowering and engaging their employees.


It all starts with having a powerful vision, mission and values and a management team that is in total alignment so they're consistent in what they tell those they manage, as well as how they manage.


Where trust is an issue, there is no trust.


Values lead to alignment and empowers team members to overcome any disagreement.


Clearly the following firms do not have trust as an issue.

Top Companies for Culture & Values 2014

Want to work for a company where employees are satisfied with the culture and values? Glassdoor has announced its report of the Top 25 Companies for Culture & Values, based on workplace insights shared by the people who know companies best — the employees. The following companies stand out for high culture & values ratings and insightful reviews.

Top 25

Ratings Scale: 3.51–4.0 = “Satisfied” 4.01–5.0 = “Very Satisfied”  
Is your management team in alignment with regards to the vision, mission and values of your firm?

Don't assume they are.


I worked for a firm and suggested they let me do one-on-one interviews with the management team to ensure everyone was in alignment.


The president, to whom I reported, said that wouldn't be necessary since they had just completed a strategic planning session.


Sadly, I quickly saw how out of alignment, not only the management team, but the entire staff was and I was powerless to do anything about it.


While the company was doing alright, it could have been performing at a significantlly higher level if employees were on one team rather than several different, frequently competing, teams.


Ask the members of your management team, independently, about the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning of the firm and see how much the answers vary.


I assure you the insights you get will be invaluable to the firm, and may save your job.


Need More Insights From Your Analytics? Download the Free e-book "How To Get Insights From Analytics" to Accelerate Sales

Tags: transparency, trust, alignment, vision, mission, values, strategic positioning

5 Questions to Ask That Will Reveal Your Corporate Culture

Posted by Tom Smith on Tue, May, 13, 2014 @ 10:05 AM

align vision, mission, values and strategic positioning








Is your management team in alignment with regards to the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning of your firm?


How about your employees?


Do they even know what your vision, mission, values and strategic positioning are?


Ask these five questions and see how consistent the answers are across your organization:


  1. What one thing would you change about the company and why?

  2. What makes us "different and better" than our competition?

  3. How do we reward success? Small successes? Major successes?

  4. How do teams and individuals work with each other and how does information flow through the organization?

  5. How would you describe the corporate culture?


Answers to these questions will give you very solid insights into the amount of alignment in your management team, as well as among your employees.


Remember to focus on the things you are doing well and build off of them.


Work to correct the things you are doing less well.


Firms that are in alignment are more efficient, productive and deliver a more consistent, and hopefully positive, customer experience.


Need More Insights From Your Analytics? Download the Free e-book "How To Get Insights From Analytics" to Accelerate Sales 

Tags: alignment, vision, mission, values, strategic positioning, corporate culture

10 Reasons to Ensure Your Management Team Is In Alignment

Posted by Tom Smith on Tue, Feb, 18, 2014 @ 10:02 AM

align your management team for greater productivity







Having worked with more than 80 companies over the course of my career, I've had the opportunity to see how companies function, communicate and empower employees.


It is rare to see a company with a management team in alignment with regard to vision, mission, values and strategic positioning.


I daresay most senior managers don't understand the meaning of the words, let alone their importance to the company.


Following are 10 reasons why the management team needs to know what these words mean, as well as what they are for their company:

  1. Misalignment leads to miscommunication -- internally and externally. 

  2. Lack of a vision results management and staff not working towards the same end state since no one knows what they are working towards.

  3. No values, or unclear values, results in lack of understanding, or ground rules, about how to treat each other and customers.

  4. An unclear, or no, mission means no one understands or agrees on the purpose of the company beyond profit or market position.

  5. Lack of a strategic positoning leads to no clear story about what makes your company "different and better."

  6. Employees who are receiving conflicting messages from management are confused, unempowered and disengaged.

  7. Inconsistent messages and stories lead to confusion among prospects and customers. Confusion leads to loss, or lack of, trust. Loss of trust = loss of customers.

  8. Misalignment results in tremendous inefficiencies as employees and departments fail to work together as a cohesive unit or team.

  9. Silos will develop as each department head creates his or her own messaging in an attempt to fill the void.

  10. The conflicting messages that are created to fill the void will lead to greater confusion, inefficiency, miscommunication with customers and dissention between departments.

Have an independent third-party have an in-depth interview with each member of your management team to get their understanding of the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning of the firm.


Understanding how they are communicating these to their department heads and how the department heads are communicating to the rest of the staff.


The insights you get from this research will be invaluable and rewarding.


If you find that everything's in alignment, congratulations, well done, keep up the good work.


If you find discrepancies, clarify and rectify them and get everyone on the same page.


If you need any help, give me a call.


Getting your management team aligned will help your company be more productive, your employees will be more empowered and engaged and your customers will be getting a consistent message about what your company stands for and believes in.


Need More Insights From Your Analytics? Download the Free e-book "How To Get Insights From Analytics" to Accelerate Sales

Tags: alignment, consistent messaging, vision, mission, values, empowered employees, strategic positioning

6 Rules of Customer Experience (#cx)

Posted by Tom Smith on Wed, Feb, 12, 2014 @ 10:02 AM

improve customer experience to accelerate sales


Thanks to Bruce Temkin (#btemkin) for his insights in a recent edition of Customer Relationship Magazine.


Bruce's six rules of customer experience, along with my own thoughts, are as follows:

  1. Focus on journeys, not interactions. Understand the big picture of what your customer is trying to accomplish and help them accomplish it. If a USAA member calls to change their address, reps are trained to understand why and deal with bigger issues. If the call if from a soldier about to be deployed, the rep might inquire about power of attorney and life insurance, as well as the opportunity to put a hold on the member's car insurance to save the soldier some money. Do what's in the customer's best interest in the long run to earn their trust and their long-term business (#trustability).

  2. Treat employees as assets. Engaged employees are more than twice as likely to work late is soemthing needs to get done, help someone at work, even if they're not asked and do something for the company even if it's not expected of them. They are nearly three times as likely to make recommendations about improvement and more than six times as likely to recommend a friend or relative to apply for a job. I like using a Net Promoter Score survey with employees, just as we do with customers, to understand their level of engagment and satisfaction with the company.

  3. Build your brand from the inside out. Do your c-level executives know your vision, mission, values and strategic positioning? How about mid-level managers? If your management team is not in alignment and telling a consistent brand story, your employees will not be in alignment. Each department is working on what their manager deems to be most important rather than what's most important for the company. This lack of alignment is obvious to prospects and customers and results in confusion, a lack of trust and lost business.

  4. Make every ending count. Let customers vent. Thank them for sharing their concerns so you can address them. If a customer doesn't complain, you don't know of the problem that needs to be addressed. Also, people who complain, and whose complaints are resolved, are significantly more likely to remain loyal customers than customers who never complain. Leaving people with a positive ending is important because people's memories tend to be heavily influenced by the most severe, good and bad, parts of the experience -- in particular, the way it ends.

  5. Focus on "why" versus "what" and "how." Leaders need to elicit buy-in by starting communications with "why." Explain the reason something is important to the company and why we're asking you to do what you do. Employees are empowered when they know how their job contributes to the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning of the firm. It reminds me of the janitor at NASA who told President Kennedy, his job was to "help put a man on the moon." Do your employees know what their job is? Ask them.

  6. Only ask if you will act. Don't ask survey questions that don't have specific action items associated with the answers. Likewise, don't field a survey if you're not prepared to address client concerns. Fielding a survey and not acting on the results creates false expectations of customers which will ultimately erode your trust and credibility. If you are sincerely interested in what your customers have to say, end the survey with an open-ended question that gives the respondent an opportunity to share their thoughts on the subject of the survey, or any other topic about your brand, that you may have missed.

Providing good customer service is not hard; however, the companies that do it well are few and far between.

Commitment to provide good, let alone outstanding, customer service starts at the top. C-level executives need to make this priority one if they want customer experience to be a competitive differentiator.

You can start by treating your employees and colleagues as customers and providing them with an outstanding customer experience.

After all, your employees will only treat customers as well as they are treated.

Is improving the customer experience a priority at your company?

Want to Accelerate Sales? Download the Free e-book  "Customer Bonding Programs:  How to Get, and Keep,Customers for Life"

Tags: outstanding customer experience, trust, customer experience, customer satisfaction, earn your customers trust, empower employees, vision, mission, values, strategic positioning

5 Questions to Ask that Will Provide Insights & Accelerate Sales

Posted by Tom Smith on Fri, Feb, 07, 2014 @ 10:02 AM

consumer insights accelerate sales









I have used analytics and qualitative research to provide consumer insights for more than 80 clients in 18 different industries.


The best insights come from having a face-to-face dialog with the respondent.


Regardless of if I'm talking to prospects, customers, channel partners or employees, there are five foundational questions that I've found will yield invaluable insights.

  1. What makes __________ (your product or service) different and better?
  2. What steps do you (or the customer) go through in the evaluation and buying process?
  3. What should __________ (your company) do to improve their product or service?
  4. What should _________ (your company) do to build a better relationship with you?
  5. What have I failed to ask that you think we need to know in order to __________ (objective of the research)

These are not the only questions to ask, but they're a great place to start.

I find respondents typically take a few minutes to "warm" to you and tell you what's really on their minds rather than telling you what they think you want to hear.

I also find that by letting the respondent know I'm not very knowledgeable about the industry we're discussing, they'll provide a lot more insights and details.

When interviewing insurance agents I provided a couple of insights to the Senior V.P. of Sales who had been managing these agents for 20 years. He was blown away. Since he was an agent himself, the agents he was managing likely assumed he already knew what I did not.

That's why I believe it's important to get down to the fundamental details of what the respondent does, why they do it and the process they go through in making a decision.

I always ask a lot of "why," or "tell me more about that," follow-up questions. These follow-up questions are usually much more revealing than the answer to the initial question.

I also find that wrapping up an interview with the "what have I failed to ask" question gives the respondent the opportunity to bring up subjects or situations that I would have never thought to ask about, as well as go back and provide more feedback on an earlier question that came to them later in the conversation.

Once, when intervieiwing fine paper merchants, the final question revealed that the CEO of our client was not able to personally visit a couple of groups at a recent sales meeting due to an emergency. While the respondent certainly understood the situation the CEO was in, He was disappointed he did not get the opportunity to meet her. By giving the respondent the opportunity to raise an issue we were not aware of, we were able to remind the CEO to reach back out to those paper merchants she may not have connected with due to the situation.


We later heard from the CEO that she had terrific phone conversations with those merchants she had missed.

An example of a seemingly insignificant event actually being a big deal.

It's amazing what you'll learn if you listen intensely. Respondents need to know you care about what they are saying before they'll open up and share specific details that didn't seem significant when the interview began.

  • Don't assume your management team is in alignment with what makes you different and better.
  • Don't assume you know your customers' evaluation and buying process.
  • Don't assume you know what the customer thinks you need to do to improve your product or service.
  • Don't assume you know what you need to to build a better relationship with your customers.
  • And, most importantly, don't assume you know all the questions to ask.

I am continually amazed by the number of online surveys I that don't any open-ended responses.

Surveys without open-ended responses tell me that the company that's doing the research doesn't really want to know what's on my mind. They just want the answers to their questions. Not a very customer-centric approach that will ultimately cost them.

Need More Insights From Your Analytics? Download the Free e-book "How To Get Insights From Analytics" to Accelerate Sales

Tags: consumer insights, dialog, earn your customers trust, listen intensely, strategic positioning

Provide Outstanding Customer Experiences to Differentiate Your Brand

Posted by Tom Smith on Fri, Jan, 17, 2014 @ 06:01 AM

outstanding customer experiences accelerate sales









Over the course of my career, I've worked with more than 80 clients and companies in 18 different vertical industries.

My goal in working with each of them was to identify their strategic positioning -- the long-term positive differentiation of their product, service or brand.

What made them "different and better" than the competition.

I also attempted to identify the vision, mission and values of the firm.

However, many clients did not share my believe of the importance of these three core fundamentals of the brand and would forgo any discussion of these items.

Vision, mission, values and strategic positioning are still important underpinnings of the marketing of any product or service.  

They must be inculcated into your brand, lived by leadership and understood and reinforced by every member of the team, especially, at every consumer touch point.

This is even more important today, because the customer experience is more important.  

Your customer-facing employees need to understand, and enthusiastically reinforce, your vision, mission, values and strategic positioning in order to deliver a consistent and outstanding customer experience that will keep customers coming back, buying more and telling their friends about you.

That is how mom and pop retailers will survive versus Walmart, it's why Southwest is more profitable than any other airline, it's why Apple keeps selling products and services at premium prices.

Nordstrom's provides their sales staff with mobile point-of-sale devices so customers can buy what they want without standing at the register waiting for the sales person to ring them up.

If you provide a superior customer service, people won't be price shopping you.  They'll be coming to you because they know you provide the best value (a.k.a., customer experience) for the money.

What are you and your company doing to provide an outstanding customer experience?

Do you know how your customers define an outstanding customer experience?

I can assure you there are as many different answers as you have customers.  Just ask them.

Want to Accelerate Sales? Download the Free e-book  "Customer Bonding Programs:  How to Get, and Keep,Customers for Life"

Tags: outstanding customer experience, alignment, consistent messaging, vision, mission, values, strategic positioning

Employee Engagement and Empowerment Starts at the Top

Posted by Tom Smith on Wed, Jan, 15, 2014 @ 06:01 AM

engaged and empowered employees will accelerate sales








Interesting post by the Gallup Management Journal on the "Five Ways to Improve Employee Engagement Now." 


Only 13% of employees are engaged at work.


If an employee is not engaged, they're not likely to provide an outstanding customer experience.


If an employee doesn't provide an outstanding customer experience, you're not likely to have many satisfied customers.


If you don't have satisfied customers, your business is not going to be successful, at least not as successful as it could be.


Gallup suggests managers can help solve the problem and reap the benefits.


However, none of the five ways to improve employee engagement addresses what I've seen as the most important step to improve employee engagement -- c-level executives need to buy into, and model, the concept.


Much like c-level executives pay lip service to providing outstanding customer service, I have not seen many  executives over the course of my career that believe in engaging or empowering employees.


I have worked for one firm that did a good job. Likewise, I worked for a firm that thought they did but did not. This firm was heavily siloed and missed tremendous opportunities with clients.


I concur with Gallup that increasing employee engagement should be a strategic priority since it affects key business outcomes -- including revenue and profitability.


If employee engagement is a strategic priority, then every member of the management team needs to ensure they are in alignment with regards to the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning of the company.


Most of the time there is not, and members of the management team are not open to the lack of alignment being exposed.


If the CEO, CFO, COO, CMO and other members of the management team are not in alignment with regards to the firm's vision, mission, values and strategic positioning, there is no way the employees will be aligned.


The lack of alignment results in lack of engagement for employees much like the lack of consistent presentation of the brand to the consumer leads to a lack of trust.


If employees are not receiving a consistent message from the management team, and their manager, they will be confused, lose trust in management and be disengaged.


As such, before a firm takes the five steps to improve employee engagement, they need to:

  1. Agree to make it a strategic priority; and,
  2. Ensure their management team is in complete alignment with regards to the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning of the firm.


Here are the five steps Gallup recommends taking to improve employee engagement:

  1. Use the right employee engagement survey. Gallup has a twelve question survey they sell. I prefer a three question eNPS (employee net promoter score) survey, the same one we use with customers, for several reasons.
  2. Focus on engagement at the local and organizational levels. This is where executive buy-in is critical so people in the field are getting a consistent message.
  3. Select the right managers. Do managers understand the value of employee engagement and empowerment and model best practices? Do the c-level executives buy-in? If they don't, no one else will.
  4. Coach managers and hold them accountable for their employees' engagement. This is why it's important to measure employee engagement and reward managers who have engaged and empowered employees.

  5. Define engagement goals in realistic, everyday terms. This is an incentive to keep your vision, mission, values and strategic positioning simple and concise so everyone can remember them and understand their role in bringing them to fruition. 
Is your firm engaging and empowering employees?
I think Zappos and Chipotle do a good job "walking the talk."
I'm also impressed by the message in this post: "How To Engage Your Staff At Each Stage of The Employee Lifecycle" by the folks at Advance Systems as well as Do You Understand Employee Engagement? You Need To from Cornerstone University.
What firms do you see doing a good job engaging and empowering employees?
Let me know if I can help you determine is your management team is in alignment and how to improve the engagement and empowerment of your employees.
Empower Employees to Get Insights Download the Free e-book "How To Get Insights From Analytics" to Accelerate Sales

Tags: trust, alignment, vision, mission, values, employee engagement, strategic positioning, employee empowerment

Align to Accelerate Sales

Posted by Tom Smith on Thu, Oct, 17, 2013 @ 06:10 AM









Think your management team is alignment with regards to your firm's:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Values
  • Strategic positioning (i.e., what makes you different and better)
Think again.  Odds are they aren't.
I just heard Jessica Cobbs, Global Brand Director of UPS, speak and their management team wasn't in alignment.
If your management team isn't in alignment, what are the odds your employees are all working towards the same goal?  Not very good.
What to do?  
Start by having a one-on-one interview with each member of the management team.  
Ask them to tell you what they think the vision, mission, values and strategic positioning of the firm are.
It's likely that every member of the management team will not know what the terms even mean, let a lone what they are, so have a consistent definition ready so they can answer the question.
Develop a report with all of the answers and then share your findings with the management team.
After seeing the diversity of comments, they should agree on the need to all get on the same page with you leading the way to the development of a comprehensive brand platform.
Ultimately, you can use the brand platform to cascade the agreed upon vision, mission, values and positioning throughout the organization.
If you need an independent third party to come in, do the research and report the results, give me a call.
If not, keep doing your job to the best of your ability knowing that you tried to get the organization working more effectively and efficiently and empowering employees to execute their jobs and responsibilities in a consistent and cohesive manner.
Need More Insights From Your Analytics? Download the Free e-book "How To Get Insights From Analytics" to Accelerate Sales

Tags: alignment, vision, mission, values, strategic positioning

How Consumer Insights Accelerate Sales

Posted by Tom Smith on Fri, Oct, 11, 2013 @ 06:10 AM

Consumer insights accelerate sales







Talking to customers and prospects is invaluable.

Big data is great; however, you don't really know what's driving the data until you have a conversation, either online or face-to-face, with a customer or prospect.

An open-ended conversation will help you understand how the customer is, or is not, making an emotional connection with your brand.

The findings will help you develop a clear and cohesive strategy for creating, or enhancing, an emotional connection.

The dialogue will also help you better understand whether or not your brand values are in alignment with those of your customer or prospect.

A conversation gives you the flexibility to approach problems in different ways.  To understand what the customer does and does not like about your product or service and what you can do to improve it, as well as the customer experience.

Talking to customers and prospects gives you the opportunity to explore the validity of your positioning, values and brand promise, as well as potential evolutions.

I recently completed some one-on-one interviews with customers of a small retailer.  It turns out, this company has a higher Net Promoter Score score than the industry leader and 40% of the customers I spoke to are "raving fans." These findings totally change this company's marketing strategy.

In all of the one-on-one's I've had with management teams, channel partners, customers or prospects, I have always been able to tell my client or creative team at least two things they'd never heard or thought about.

Talking to your customers is invaluable. What you hear, and learn, can change your business or your perspective.

If you're not sure how to get started, let me know.

Need More Insights From Your Analytics? Download the Free e-book "How To Get Insights From Analytics" to Accelerate Sales

Tags: dialogue, emotional connection to the brand, consumer insights accelerate sales, strategic positioning