Monday, November 14, 2011

Your Old Chevy

In the '70s, my parents had an affinity for American cars.  One of our cars was a '79 powder blue (!) faux wood paneled (!!) Caprice Classic station wagon.  We took innumerable road trips in that car (New York, DC, Smoky Mountains, Wisconsin Dells, etc.).

And this affinity is not reserved for those who live in the U.S. alone.  In Iran, Amir's dad drove his beloved (manual transmission) Chevy Nova for easily 30 years.  He treated it like his third child.  And it was.

I was too young to know if my mom's car was a good performer - all I know is that I spent a lot of time in it and have warm fuzzy memories of it much like I have warm fuzzy memories of going to a Sears store as a child though I may not have those same feelings today.

I love this commercial.

I was half paying attention to the TV this past weekend when this spot caught my eye and within a moment, I was in love.  I've seen it many times now.  Please watch it and we'll continue our chat.

What's the big deal?

In this post, I told you of Amir's love of porridge and that every time I make it, he's instantly transported to a happy place. The effect is instantaneous and I'm never tired of how this very simple food causes such a transformation.

I love the story of the father's old Chevy because his reaction and transformation is like Amir's. The father's reaction was about more than just the car. It was his history, it was his identity, it was his freedom and a host of other things.  Just seeing him grab his heart (which, between us, concerned me) shows that his connection to the car and to the brand is more than just it was a vehicle that helped him get from A to B.

The car and the Chevy brand are inextricably linked to his identity and when both came back into his life, it was extremely emotional. And not just for him... his children took five years to find the car which shows an obvious love for their father but, also, just as deep an emotional connection to that car.

Don't be afraid of your softer side.

I love this commercial because it did not display one new Chevy model.  I love it because it didn't directly talk about Brand Chevrolet all that much either.  It didn't need to do that.  It was a narrative of long standing love, legacy and loyalty.  It's as if Chevy was secure in its legacy (without hubris) to shift the focus from itself to the love affair between a man, his children and his car.  

And they told the story better than any manufactured family centric commercial could.  How do I know?  I instantly remembered every single road trip and adventure in our old station wagon.  Powerful stuff.

What's the lesson here?  

Be an emotional brand.  Be a brand that creates strong bonds that go beyond the nuts, bolts, features and benefits of how you serve your customers.  Be a brand that showcases our customers while you stand in the background.  It pays off.

Please share your thoughts - I'd love to hear from you.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Are You A Pomegranate?

There hasn't been a time in my life where pomegranates weren't a major part: either raw, its molasses as a key ingredient of Persian cuisine or in juice form.  They're in season for only a few months and we enjoy them fresh as much as we can.

Culturally, pomegranates are significant, too.  They're a symbol of love and fertility so they are prominent at Persian weddings.  They also play a role during the winter solstice where we celebrate rebirth and the shift of the sun towards longer days.

They've been around for several thousand years and my people have been enjoying them for nearly that long, too.

Featured image courtesy of xamonster licensed via Creative Commons 

Where exactly is this going?

I read this post yesterday by Margie Clayman and it reminded me of pomegranates.  For me, it's comical to see them become SO popular in the U.S. recently and treated in the domestic media and cooking shows almost as if they were just discovered while they've been enjoyed by many others for thousands of years.

That said, with knowledge and experience comes responsibility which is Margie's point.  She has it exactly right when it comes to sharing what you know in the social media space as opposed to behaving dismissively.  I could be smug about pomegranates but what I should do is share why I love them so (as I have above).

Equilibrium is the name of the game.

Whether trying to win new business or keeping current customers happy, there has to be equilibrium.  This means that we live in a perpetual circle of good where we share either what's new to someone or reinforce a concept already known but perhaps stated in a different way.  Essentially, it's never what we share as it is that we're sharing it in the first place to maintain equilibrium.  Most importantly, it's how we share it that sets us apart from others.

Why?  Let's remember our school days.  The teacher was at the front of the classroom sharing new concepts and was in a position of authority.  Some teachers loved power and could make life miserable if we "didn't play by the rules" in the classroom.  It felt like teaching us was their way of extending a favor which created fear (and loathing).  The lesson wasn't the content but that of leverage.

Other teachers created a community and shared information that fed our curiosity and flamed our passion for more knowledge.  The lesson also wasn't the content but the spirit of asking for and receiving tools to further our success.  We were grateful for what we learned and asked for more.

Be a pomegranate.

Today as we're trying to win new or retain business, let's keep that schoolroom image in mind.  Do we really want to approach business development with an obvious addition to power with a dash of smug?  Do we really want to be the business that loves power and uses our product/industry knowledge leverage over customers?  I didn't think so.

Like the pomegranate, we should be a symbol of love and fertility to new and existing customers.  How we engage with others should be based on sharing what we know to help them become more successful.  It will flame the passion for more which we should gladly provide.

What say you?  Please share below and, if you've enjoyed this, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, October 31, 2011

1 Tweet Quoting Aristotle

Featured image courtesy of Lawrence OP licensed via Creative Commons.

Muses have been on my mind quite a bit recently as I'm battling a bit of writer's block.  I've been seeking inspiration, that bright lightbulb above my head, that bit of Marketing Platitude that I and only I alone can deliver.  The stakes have been high and I've almost buckled under the pressure...  

Truly, I've been feeling like one of the characters in Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron complete with weights and other things that make us slow, dull or listless...  I've felt that genius and creative thinking is the lot of others and not mine...  until I came across a tweet this afternoon.

Back to life, back to reality.

@MamaBritt: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit." -Aristotle #quote

So, that's what I saw today and I promptly retweeted it because it spoke to me.  And the reason why it spoke to me is because of an article I read this very morning about innovation myths and realities.  Have a look - those HBR folks publish some great stuff - but after you've read today's missive from moi.

It turns out that we all have the capacity for magic within us.  It turns out that with a bit of elbow grease that we are all inventors, R&D scientists, product managers, market researchers, trend forecasters or what have you.  Our capacity for whatever magic we manifest is... wait for it...  based in process, how much we are committed to that very process and how much passion we have for it.

Repetition isn't a bad thing.

We've all heard that practice makes perfect.  Yes, it does.  Anything exquisite be it Innovation, Marketing, Sales, Product Development, Operations or Customer Service doesn't happen randomly.  It happens because we've worked at it enough to get it right and because we care to work at it enough to get it right.

So it turns out that there is no such thing as Marketing Platitude that I can deliver so much as there are a series of activities I can passionately pursue and repetitive behaviors I can demonstrate to get to that piece of nirvana I've been hoping for.  And, perhaps I'm not really a character in Harrison Bergeron after all... unless I'm the one putting the weights on me.

Need an example if repetition delivering excellence?  This post about Intelligentsia.  Their focus and drive in delivering an excellent cup of coffee each time has fundamentals in process and protecting that process like a jealous lover.

Be a jealous lover.

Yeah, I think we should all be jealous lovers of process, repetition, focus and a clear view of your end goals.  Without this passion, we'll all end up characters in Harrison Bergeron.  What say you?  Share below and, if you'd like, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Miss Piggy, Apple And Muses

Many of you know that there is another Muppets movie headed our way...  You've seen some of the movie trailer spoofs, certainly.  And, if you're like me, you're wondering if you should tell your friends you want to see it and wondering how many times you can see it without losing your street cred.

Like a good actress, Miss Piggy has been a part of the PR machine (read this) in advance of the premiere which includes a feature in InStyle Magazine.  Here's an interview of Miss Piggy from InStyle's Facebook page below.  Hilarious and full of her trademark sass and jambon de vivre...  I mean, joie de vivre.

Memory Lane

Now, I didn't share all of this with you so that we can end the week in a fit of giggles (though that's admirable).  Remember this Sesame Street post from a few months back?  My love of Sesame Street, and The Muppets, is constant because they always find ways to say they acknowledge me as a longstanding fan.  Or, more significantly, they're successful at getting me to feel that they are acknowledging me though I know they are addressing everyone.

I'm still a customer no matter my, ahem, age because they treat me as if how I feel about them still matters to them.  Both Sesame Street and The Muppets are successful because they always want us around.  They deliver things to us as adults to reinforce the connection we had with both as children.  It's frankly the reason why Marc Jacobs, Brian Atwood and others are willing to create outfits for Miss Piggy.  It's an affinity beyond the business transaction.  They don't discard us so we don't discard them.

Muses and Musing

Why the special relationship?  It's because we are their constant yet everchanging muses.  As society and we have changed, so have the ways they engage with us.  What's the most remarkable thing about this ever evolving and ever constant love affair between Sesame Street, The Muppets and their customers?  It's that Jim Henson passed away in 1990.  Yup, it's been that long.

And so, it gets me thinking about another creative genius that's been on our minds of late and the impact his passing has on the company he built.  I've seen many suggest that Apple can't succeed without Steve Jobs, among other predictions of its demise.  I can appreciate why people would put forth the argument...  but I think the predictions of its demise are a bit drastic.

I go back to that Miss Piggy video, other Muppets tidbits and of course lovable characters like Elmo, Grover and Big Bird that still thrive without Jim Henson's touch.  They thrive because those who carry Jim Henson's legacy understand the concept of customer as muse.

Steve Jobs succeeded because we were his muses.  He was always inspired by how we live, what we do, the ways we engage and he created things that were complementary to how we were evolving...  not unlike how Sesame Street and The Muppets relate to us as we get older and older.  The trick for our friends at Apple, I believe, is to see that the magic didn't reside in Steve Jobs so much as it resided in his muses.

Sappy?  Maybe.  But, it's my two cents.  Please share your thoughts below and, if you've enjoyed this post, please share with friends.  I'm thankful.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What? Xerox Does More Than Copiers?

I'm totally loving these Xerox commercials and I'm sharing a sampling with you.  Feel free to watch one or all (thought I do hope you watch all of them) and then let's chat.

Subject Matter Expert

One thing I particularly love is that Xerox is giving credit to each of its clients: Virgin America, Marriott and Ducati for being very good at what they do.  And, Xerox gives them further credit because they want to focus on doing the things they are good at as opposed to the things that, to them, would be distractions.  So, these very smart businesses delegate to Xerox, which is the business process subject matter expert.

Why is this clever?  It's clever because by showcasing its clients, Xerox brings the attention back to themselves.  The best in airplane travel, hotel and motorcycles would of course select the best in outsourced business processes and perhaps their competitors would want to also.  Xerox uses their client examples as de facto examples and endorsements of their services.  It's a lot like someone saying, "But enough about me...  what do you think about me?" 

Spending = Earning

What?  Yes, spending = earning.  At least, that's what Xerox is suggesting here.  In this awful economy, we've all heard how cash rich companies are these days and they all cut their budgets where and when they can.  So, it can be rather a tough sell in the B2B space to outsource functions that can reside in-house because the norm is to decline spending on anything other than things that drive (profitable) revenues.  

Another reason why this is cleverly done because it is, like the subject matter expert point, delivered ostensibly focused on the client but really all about Xerox.  When smart subject matter experts, like Xerox client Virgin America, outsources its call center to Xerox, it earns money because it's training its focus on making flying an enjoyable experience...  When they do that, they'll have more customers who will tell their friends and...  well, you get it. 

Net net: when delivered from the point of view of the client, it becomes less of a sales-y pitchy thing.  It's saying, "Virgin America, Ducati and Marriott are already doing it, so you can do it, too.  Jump on in... the water's fine!"

Who knew?

The best thing about these commercials?  A lovely (and funny) education on how they serve their clients without sounding to education-y.  There is value in teaching but there is danger in being too professorial.  By using humor, they've escaped professorial and they've created memorable.

What say you?  I'd love to hear your thoughts so please do share below and, if you've enjoyed this post, please share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Are You A Copycat?

So I saw this commercial today...

And, if you're a child of the 70s like me, you'll think it's a lot like this golden oldie...

Hmm.  Awfully similar.  I'm going to assume positive intent and say that the older Dunkin Donuts commercial was some sort of indirect inspiration for the Panera commercial.  After all, neither of us were sitting in the room during the Panera creative meeting to suggest anything untoward.  

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

but I don't always like it for brands.  As I shared with you in this post, Esurance's commercials make me think of Progressive Insurance which may or may not have been a desired outcome.  I found that to be a bad move for Esurance, as you recall, though some may say that insurance is so commoditized that it's to Esurance's benefit to confuse.  

I get what Panera's trying to do -- they're suggesting that other bakery cafe formats do not make their bread fresh and on-site everyday.  They also suggest that Panera has the customer in mind by committing to a quality product.  It's this customer focused passion for quality that sets them apart from the rest.  And, Panera wants you to think of one thing regardless of what you purchase: quality.

Yeah, so what Panera is doing in store truly does work for them.  It's a good experience, the food is good and the bread is fresh (I've tried it).  Not only have they done better than their competitors, particularly in a down economy, but it's also a stock market favorite.  So, really, there's nothing for me to criticize per se.

But I still think of Dunkin Donuts, specifically Munchkins...

and I think Panera deserves better than that just as Esurance deserves better.  I've got to believe that their marketing and creative teams can do better at communicating "fresh" and "quality" beyond what appears to be a 21st century version of a Dunkin Donuts commercial.  Panera shouldn't ever have any marketing collateral or campaign that conjures anything else but Panera.

It's hard to be original.  But if you respect your brand, you recognize it's the right thing to do.  What's your take?  Share below and, if you've liked this post, share with a friend, please!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Praise Of The Exquisite

Apple MacBook
Featured image courtesy of Erik Eckel licensed via Creative Commons.
Last night, like many of you, I heard of the sad news of Steve Jobs passing and was glued to the TV (and Twitter) for most of the night.  And, like many of you, I first learned of the news while on my MacBook with my iPhone to my left and my iPod close by.

I'm no Apple nor Steve Jobs expert.  What I am is an everyday consumer of product and consumer of experience.  And it's really the story of experience that is my "lessons learned" as his customer.  My love affair with his products started when my dad bought an Apple II+ way back in the day...  we graduated through a series of Apple products and, embarrassing to say, strayed to the other side for a long while.  It was later on that I realized that the straying occurred after his departure.

Fast forward to 2008... I had reached the end of my tether with "the other side" and felt that I was throwing so much good money after not so good.  After my PC laptop blew up for one more time, I timidly walked into the Apple store not knowing what to expect but knowing i loved my iPod and iTunes.

I got some mad love.

After I shyly and sheepishly admitted my intentions, I was taken on a magical mystery tour of Apple love.  He told me that I was perfectly okay.  In so many words, He made me feel okay that:
  • I had made another choice previously.
  • I had made another choice because seemed a good idea at the time.
  • I was exploring a new choice and would be timidly asking questions.
  • I would ask they hold my hand through the transition.
  • I was a little late in coming back to the fold -- they loved me anyway.

This wasn't a sale so much as it was therapy.  And I have to say that I wasn't buying the product so much as how I felt about myself buying the product.  I felt smart, I felt sophisticated, I felt that I was... wait for it...  SAVING MONEY by paying a higher price than competitor laptops because I wouldn't worry about pesky viruses, hackers and costly repair.  When I brought it home, I left the box on my desk much like the picture I shared with you at the top of the post.  It felt a bit religious.

Since that fateful day in 2008, I've purchased an iPhone and also brought my dad back from the other side.  What's interesting about these later purchases is that the experiences were IDENTICAL to the first one.  In the case of the phone, I was sheepishly converting from Blackberry and, the woman who helped me made me feel okay for the same reasons I outlined above.  In the case of my dad, the tattooed specialist 50+ years younger than my dad successfully related to him and his needs...  and upsold him to MacBook Pro.

You catch more flies with honey....

is my "lesson learned" to share with you.  A lot of times, the typical sales behavior is to hound you with features and benefits.  If you've ever been shopping for a new car, you know the high pressure tactics they typically use.  You always walk away wondering if somehow they "got" you.

My tiny anecdotes are the complete opposite.  I was welcomed, I was encouraged, I was supported and, critically I was never pressured.  These "soft" approaches to experience are what keeps people like me coming back to Apple over and over again.  And my hope is that in the post Steve Jobs years, this vibe continues.

What's your take on your Apple experience?  If you've had a bad one, I'd love to hear about it.  Please comment below and please share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Friday, September 30, 2011

I Hate Working Out

My daily habit, like many of you, is to visit the gym at least once a day.  We all have our favorite routines, songs to motivate us, shoes and other equipment that help keep our bodies fit.

Featured image courtesy of Caleb Phillips licensed via Creative Commons.

But, I'm not going to lie to you that some days, it's really hard for me to tie those laces up and hit the elliptical.  And today was no different.  I've had a stiff neck the past few days and I was dying to use that as an excuse to not go...  But, then I remembered the awesome meal I had on Wednesday with S. and S. (hi!) and also on Thursday with Amir so off I went to face the music.

As I was plodding away and watching the Today show it occurred to me that this very effort, as unwanted as it was, was the key to making all other efforts possible.  Though it is, at its best, a repetitive and iterative (not redundant) experience, it is a must do to be in it for the long haul.  And a repetitive and iterative process is required for business, too.

Yeah, it hurts sometimes.
Anytime you try a next exercise, you'll likely "feel it" the next day because you've worked something that normally doesn't get worked.  It does get easier, though.  So too with our business lives, we've got to stretch our boundaries with ourselves, our brands, our customers or our products to see how we can improve our business conditions.

You're not alone.
I work out with my sister on Saturdays and it's great bonding time for us.  That sense of camaraderie should be infused within our work teams, as well.  As I mentioned in my last post as well as many others, the level of employee engagement can be correlated to level of customer experience.  Why wouldn't we want to work together for the greater good?

We need a north star, sometimes.
So, I should mention that my sister and I work out with a trainer on these Saturday mornings.  Sometimes we have to look to others to see what we can't see for ourselves.  This is why reading other blogs, commenting, participating in tweetchats, going to conferences or whatever your favorite way is of learning new things is so critical.  We can't afford to sit in our own echo chambers 24-7.

It's not rocket science.
You don't always need complex expensive equipment at the gym.  A ball, a band and some basic weights can do the trick.  It's the same in business.  There's nothing complex in checking in with your customers, asking if we are making them happy and finding out if there are new or different things in their business dynamics which impacts how we help them.  Ask good questions and put your thinking cap on.  Effective tools and - bonus - free!

Someone changes the channel.
Nothing irks me more than when someone changes the channel on the TV I'm watching without asking.  One man used to change it to Price is Right all the time.  This happens in business (late delivery of product, etc.) and you've got to protect your customers from any negative effects.  Take it in stride, learn from it and adapt.  It's about being quick on your feet.  It's not the situation but how you react to it that matters.

Make your heart go pitter pat.
Cardio is for boosting up your heart rate.  You want that to happen.  Similarly, you should demonstrate your passion for what you do and how you help others.  Let people see you sweat and let them see the time, effort and energy you put into your exquisite brand, product, service, etc.  Careful, though, showing passion is different from showing emotion.  You should never be emotional about business - guaranteed to result in some sort of error.

What would you add to this business exercise list?  Please share below and, if you've enjoyed this post, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

p.s.  This post was inspired by this originally published on

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Customer Experience Oasis

Hi!  I was on vacation last week celebrating my parents' 50th anniversary.  They took us on Oasis of the Seas which is, in a word, gobsmacking.  You've got to see it up close to believe it.  Have a look at this video and you'll understand why.  But, truly, you need to be on the ship to appreciate it.

Why Not?
Do you know what my favorite part of this video is?  It's their stated commitment to bring more and more "why not" experiential moments to their customers.  After all:
  • Why not have the first living park at sea?
  • Why not have the first Atlantic City style Boardwalk at sea complete with hand carved carousel and an aqua theater?
  • Why not have 2 story loft style staterooms?
  • Why not have 25 different dining options?
  • Why not have a full size basketball court and two flowrider simulators?
  • And there are so many others...

I won't cover the actual service displayed by their employees nor the fact that this is actually a logistics company operating under the guise of a cruise line (that will come later).  We both know that it's an occupational hazard of mine to pay attention to service delivery and execution of fine details -- I'd say they knocked it out of the park during this trip.

It's the experience, stupid.
So, of course that's a riff on Bill Clinton's 1992 election strategy...  The point is that as the economy was in '92, so is experience in this example today.  Anything that deviates from focusing on brand promise and the actual delivery of the brand promise in the form of exquisite customer experience is a waste of time.

As you know, I'm a big fan of #CXO tweetchat.  Yesterday's was about the blending (or sometimes not) of marketing and customer experience.  We talked about when customer experience begins, who owns it, if marketing initiatives impact it and the relationship between the brand promise and experience.  During the chat, it occurred to me that my trip was a living example of a perfect symbiotic blend between the brand promise, the marketing and the actual customer experience.

There's the courting...
Royal Caribbean has created a vibrant, interactive site and has presence on most social platforms to create a pre trip experience.  Their YouTube channel has their own content and they also encourage fans to upload their own as well as part of the "Nation of Why Not" site.  This smartly complements traditional marketing to stimulate purchase, helps stem buyer's remorse post purchase and encourages excitement for your upcoming trip (also helps keep the magic alive when all you have is memories of your past trip).

And then you fall in love...
When on board, you have the marriage of the magic of what is promised to the magic of what is.  I won't lie - I knew it would be good but couldn't guess at the volume of goodness.  And, it would be impossible to do it justice by writing it all down which is why I shared the video.  Suffice it to say that from beginning to end, I was constantly amazed by all of the (not so obvious) things I discovered thanks to their choice of a "why not" mindset in their customer experience design and delivery.

Why not ask why not?
The lack of boundaries (in a good way), the pushing of limits, the asking of "why not" helps to create the magic of what is promised that is paid off by the magic of what is.  It speaks to focus on knowing your product, where you succeed in delighting others, exquisite marketing and (most importantly) exquisite delivery.

The point: it is possible to have a symbiotic relationship between the promise and delivery.  We can all do better.  How are you going to do just that?

If you liked this post, please comment, tweet and share with others!  I'd love to hear from you.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are You a Business Superhero(ine)?

Amir and I have made a study of learning from and about Trusted Advisors over the last few years. We’ve spoken to many a client and colleague to see what separates Trusted Advisors from the rest of the pack. All in all, we’ve learned that success springs more from design and not by luck, mainly due to a consistent set of behaviors. We thought our observations were worth sharing with you. You no doubt have spotted some of these super hero qualities in your business meetings.

1. Trusted Advisors are not self referential.
We see many LinkedIn profiles these days with the Trusted Advisor title which is rather like calling yourself beautiful. Trusted Advisor is an earned title and one should never refer to one’s self as such. Just as Lois Lane looked to Superman as her hero, your audience/network/clients determine if you really are one.

2. Not everyone is a Trusted Advisor.
Not everyone is Captain America and not everyone actually is a Trusted Advisor. Some people have it in their DNA and yet others go through intensive training to break their bad habits and learn some of the Trusted Advisor fundamentals.

3. Listening is an underrated skill set.
Trusted Advisors are awesome listeners. If this were a super hero talent, it would be in the form of an enormous ear. They listen so well for the obvious cues and the very subtle cues that they are able to repeat both verbatim. And it’s hearing the subtle cues that set these people apart from the rest.

4. They ask insightful questions.
If Amir had his way, Columbo would have been classified as super hero for his questioning skills. Trusted Advisors ask great questions and are like a surgeon diagnosing and locating the problem area. Their ability to ask a series of questions to get at the root of the problem quickly set them apart from the mortals.

5. Problem solving is second nature.
Like Batman, Trusted Advisors are caped crusaders in the pursuit of wiping out business problems. Thanks to #4, they separate themselves from the pack by solving the problems their questions have identified. Bad advisors ask terrible or irrelevant questions that can get annoying. Batman may have been overly serious, but he was never annoying!

6. They make it rain.
Thanks to #3, #4, and #5, their super hero skill is a welcome refreshing rainshower that makes flowers grow and rainbows appear with pots of gold. Because they efficiently separate wheat from chaff, they become very successful very quickly.

7. Trusted Advisors are niche-o-holics.
You can’t make Spiderman do what Wonder Woman can do. What made Super Friends an awesome Saturday morning cartoon was that they all banded together to leverage their individual strengths. Trusted Advisors know their #1 skill and leverage it to everyone’s benefit. If someone says they can do it all, we say they might be The Joker! Beware.

8. Behind every Trusted Advisor is a key mentor.
Trusted Advisors like to pay it forward. They typically have at least one person who helped guide and mold them. You’ll recall that Superman always held his father as a role model. And, though not a superhero, Mork had Orson. Trusted Advisors have mentors because they welcome feedback and want to constantly improve their game. It explains why they are very good at what they do.

9. They could eat strategy for breakfast.
They strategize a lot almost and we mean a lot. Prior to calls, meetings, they really understand what can impact the deal (both in a positive way and also in a negative way). They understand that planning is a key element of a high success ratio. They dont get in front of a lot of people but when they do, their chances are in their favor. Spiderman didn’t do things blindly!

10. They have bionic vision.
Steve Austin had a bionic eye and so do Trusted Advisors. Some of the most successful ones we have worked with see almost immediately whether they can help the customer or not. If they can't, they quickly disqualify themselves and move on which saves a lot of time and energy! This also helps with finding simpatico colleagues.

11. They have sidekicks!
Thanks to #10, they are very good at putting together a list of strategic providers and other complimentary vendors. Bruce Wayne had Alfred and Batman did have Robin, after all!

12. They like to help!
Trusted Advisors accept their roles gladly. Like a super hero, you never hear them resent the awesome responsibility they have. Also like your favorite super hero, they never do it for the accolades. A simple thank you suffices.

Are you doing any of the above? Do you have a person in your network whom you think embodies super hero qualities? If so, send them this post with our compliments! And, please introduce us to them. We’d love to shake their hands.

If you've enjoyed this post, our other 12 Most posts can be found here.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Friday, September 16, 2011

Does Your Business Need Parking Sensors?

My parents were kind enough to lend their SUV to us for a few days. We had quite a few things to haul hither and yon so it was a great and much needed help.

When you drive someone else’s car, it takes some getting used to. The buttons are foreign looking, the switches are in different places and you always set the car alarm off at least once – and not for entertainment purposes!

This SUV is fun to drive for a host of reasons. The seats warm in the winter and cool in the summer. What’s not to love about that? The other nifty thing is that this SUV is also equipped with a parking sensor gadget which means that if you get too close to something, the car will let you know about it. It also has a funny little camera that helps you when you drive in reverse.

It occurred to me as we were driving that there were many interesting lessons about business (and life) that were to be had thanks to this parking gadget. And with that, I'd like to share this list with you (co written with Amir and originally published on 12 Most).

1. Watch your back.
We always talk about being forward thinking and innovative – all good things. We’d suggest that looking at the past and absorbing lessons learned then so that we can be better friends, spouses, partners, colleagues or what have you. And, oh yeah, watch out for that car.

2. You're too close.
Sometimes, if we’re so enmeshed in something, we lose objectivity. The temptation’s there to keep working at whatever business problem we seem to be facing. We say resist it, move away and take a cleansing breath. When you come back, you’ll see things in a whole new way. And you won’t hit that garbage can either.

3. Sometimes, other people see things better.
Like #2, this is about objectivity. Let a different perspective inform your thinking and help you process information, ideas, etc. You don’t always have the right answer – and that’s okay. That rear facing camera can let us know how far that bumper is – and that beeping noise will too!

4. It’s okay to ask for help.
There’s no shame in asking for help. It’s the courageous ones that recognize that outside assistance may be needed to be successful. The ancillary benefit: you just may learn something new! You don’t always need that rear facing camera. But it’s okay to use it.

5. It's okay to accept help.
Sometimes, we don’t know when or how to ask for help. It’s the tragedy of the human condition. If someone comes along and offers a helping hand, accept it gladly. And if it appears they need your help in future, please return the favor.

6. You're still a free thinker.
We love gadgets and we love talking about them. It’s knowing when to stand on your own two feet and putting a stake in the ground that matters. You’ve not lost your sense of reason nor analytical skills. Use them or lose them! You don’t need that beeping noise to know that you’re about to hit that bike.

7. Look before you leap.
We like it when people embrace chance and risk. We admire that level of courage. But, those mirrors, beeps and cameras can stop you from an “oopsie” moment.

8. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
A lot of times, we like to do the same things in the same way ad nauseum. We can’t argue with it if it works. But when new gizmos come along that help you look and do things in new ways, we should embrace it. Similarly, if someone wants to share new things with us, let’s spend that extra moment to listen.

9. Humility never gets old.
It’s okay to be gobsmacked by the new and different. The more we learn, the more we realize we have to learn. When we play with all of these new toys, we grow even more impressed with the creativity and genius of the engineering mind. And it pushes us to work harder to test our own limits.

10. It’s okay to be old fashioned.
Like #6, you can get by without new gizmos. Be immune to others’ judgment if you prefer to do things (sometimes) that hearken back to a simpler time… like a few years ago. Be careful though as this should not be mistaken for being resistant to change. That’s typically not a successful strategy.

11. Don’t lose the forest for the trees.
At the end of the day, the purpose of the car is to get you from point A to point B. Similarly, in business, we have objectives that we are tasked to hit. Getting caught up in the minutiae of tactics instead of the big picture confuses the issue. The new and flashy stuff is great – but make sure you have the eye on the prize.

12. Be open to change.
The first month my parents had this car, my mother didn’t drive it at all because it was a bit overwhelming. We sympathized because it did look a mess of buttons and knobs on the inside. Now, she can tell you all of its intricate details. By accepting change and being open to learning even when it does seem overwhelming always leads to something new and positive.

This parking thing-a-ma-jig is just an example but really, anything that is new that forces you to see things in new ways can test limits we didn’t know we had. Alternatively, when faced with things that are now “obsolete” our minds have difficulty in absorbing how it was used and why it was so loved. Ultimately, it’s a “use what works for you” type of thing with a dash of willingness to step out of your comfort zone.

What would you add to this list?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Social Media Half Life & A 50th Anniversary...

My parents will be celebrating their golden (50th) anniversary next week.  It's quite an accomplishment for anyone who makes it this far because marriage requires a lot of hard work.  I'm biased, of course, but my parents make it seem rather easy breezy.  Here's how I think they do that:
  • They like each other.
  • They celebrate each other's strengths and complement the other stuff.
  • They respect each other.
  • They listen to each other.
  • They enjoy each other's company.
  • They can spend some time apart.
  • They appreciate one another.
  • They compromise.
  • They apologize.
In other words, they are in constant pursuit of a life together that's well lived and meaningful on their terms.  They share the good times with each other and try to forget the bad ones.

What of Social Media?

Our friends at Hubspot published this blog post last week covering's research on the relative "half life" of a shared link across social media platforms.  The gory details are as follows:
  • The mean half life of a Twitter link is 2.8 hours.
  • For Facebook, it's 3.2 hours.
  • It's 3.4 hours if delivered via email or instant messaging.
  • On YouTube, it's a whopping 7.4 hours.
The research goes on to conclude that it's not where you decide to share the content but it's the quality of the content in and of itself that matters.  Hooray!

If a social media tree falls in a forest...

and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?  Look, I'm happy that the research shows that it's not where but what it is that gets shared...  So, whatever channel you choose to receive information is no less worthy than another channel.  However, I find it depressing that a link only lives for a few hours until the next bon mot type of link comes along because we're all fighting for share of eyeballs.

The replacement rate of all of this quality content boggles the mind.  It's not that I doubt the quality, it's just that it's impossible to appreciate the quality truly and it makes me wonder:  
  • If it is true that it's quality that rises to the top, why do we need so much of the quality all the time?  
  • What do we miss when the mean half life of a link is only a few hours?
  • What's the opportunity cost of this short period of time?  
  • What if the best people to read what you share aren't online that day?

What does this have to do with an anniversary?

Relationships last because we take the time to celebrate the details and intricacies of one another.  We remember favorite things, eye colors and bucket lists.  We talk, we ask questions and yes, sometimes we even bicker.  All of these things take time to appreciate truly.  All of these things are, though small, not fleeting. 

Instead of fighting for share of eyeballs, let's fight for share of mind or even share of thought.  I realize it's a romantic notion and I might look a little foolish for suggesting it.  But, given the amount of information overload these days, it may just be that what I'm asking for is not so silly after all.

What's your take on the social media half life?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Child of the 80's...

So, my sister and I took a road trip to scenic Door County, Wisconsin.  Good times were had and I do recommend a trip to Wilson's in Ephraim.  The ice cream is homemade and top notch.

On the drive home, we listened to an 80's CD which included The Fixx, Level 42, Soft Cell, Culture Club, you name it.  For the next hour, we sang every song word for word and knew exactly how old we were and what we were doing when those songs were popular.  We had smiles on our faces and fond memories dancing in our heads even though we were teenagers then with all of the awkward trappings, thick glasses and bad hair.

To get you "in the mood" for this post, I've shared an "oldie but goodie" video.

True love has no ending.

In my last post, I quoted a Rev Run tweet which suggested that true love has no happy ending, rather it is that true love has no ending.  And I've suggested before that we have an obligation as product/service providers to let our customers know how much they are appreciated regardless of the size of business they've given us.

So, this means that at a moment's notice, if a customer should happen to think of our company or one of our employees, it should be with a fond smile and happy thoughts.  Our customers should be able to recount the number of different ways they are made to feel "special" because we listen and offer solutions that help their wallet instead of thinking of our own.

What does this have to do with Depeche Mode?

You could swap in a hair band in place of DM if that was more your thing.  Regardless of the genre, these bands and their music videos were a seminal part of an 80's child's growth and history.  They fed the environment, contributed to experiences and allow us to bond with others today (A.G. and B.P-S.).  Without these iconic images, we may not be able to recall ourselves at a particular point in time nor will we have a framing of sorts for how we react culturally (or otherwise) to things today.

And so too, we should be thought of as a key part of our customer's growth and history.  They should be able to think of significant milestones and link our activities to the accomplishment of those milestones.  They should be able to set goals in the future that include our participation in helping them achieve those goals.

If we continue to do right by them, we will be inextricably linked just as those 80's jams are inextricably linked to me today.  What's your perspective?  And if you are a child of the 80's, what was your #1 tune?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

@RevRunWisdom and Retail Revenues

"In relationships::: True love doesn't have a happy ending,, TRUE LOVE doesn't have an ending" -- @RevRunWisdom

Many moons ago, I saw that tweet (complete with multiple weird forms of punctuation) from Rev Run and, true to form, saved it for a future blog post.  My friends, this is that future blog post.

A dose of retail therapy.

This past Friday, I was dangerously close to Bloomingdale's (with whom I've had a true love relationship), I decided to pay homage.  It was "safe" of course to do so, I reasoned.  Even if I were to purchase anything, it would be on sale and I had a coupon, too.  Virtually guilt free!

I said hello to the pretty shoes, winked at the David Yurman counter, and innocently, happened upon a cute little dress which, after multiple discounts was roughly 25% of the original price.  It had me at hello.  I didn't have my Ultimate Premier Insider card with me but, no matter, I knew they could look up my information at the register.

Gone are the halcyon days of service.

In store service hit a new low for me on Friday.  And it's because the register I approached was managed by a person in the middle of a personal phone call -- a call she didn't end during said purchase.  She took the dress, scanned the bar code, scanned my coupon, affixed a return sticker to the label, took my credit card and asked for my zip code while she was still on the phone.

The multitasking was impressive -- especially when she stapled her business card to my receipt while speaking to the other party.  The only time she stopped multitasking was when she realized she couldn't still cradle the phone under her ear while placing the dress in the bag.  She finally asked her friend to hold.

Frankly, this experience was hilariously bad.  

The mind boggles at the seemingly small things that people do.  I'm not so naive as to just notice that customer service in large department stores just isn't like it was "in the old days" et cetera.  The mind boggles that we sometimes forget that there are multiple opportunity costs from these seemingly small actions.  In this case, there were at least four opportunity costs (however tiny in scale) for them:
  1. I changed my mind at the last minute and didn't use my Ultimate Premier Insider card to make the sale.  It wasn't in a fit of pique - I just didn't "feel the love" at that point in time.  This is bad because stores enjoy a margin savings when you use their card as opposed to another piece of plastic due to interchange rates, etc.  The dress was 75% off and they lost a few more basis points (at least) because I chose another method of payment.
  2. I did end up going to another department afterwards and chose only one other item even though I had my eye on another -- margin hit.  And, though it was a different register, I still used another piece of plastic instead -- another margin hit!
  3. The business card she stapled to my receipt serves as a good reminder (to me) of who to avoid on my next trip given the less than stellar performance on this last trip.  It's not dislike per se but perhaps I'll avoid her department altogether next time.  Or perhaps, if I want to buy something and she's my only choice, I may not buy at all.
  4. I'm telling you this story.  No need to say more on this point! 
Wait for it...

I do have a point in all of this and it's not a sneaky ploy to get special attention from Bloomingdale's.  Rev Run is right that true love doesn't have an ending because a constant true love is continuously fed and nurtured by each person in the love affair.  It doesn't have to be tumultuous and it may even occasionally be a bit of a snooze but it is sustaining because of the care given to it.

And so this experience, however small in the grand scheme of things makes me wonder at the sin of omission/sin of commission element to how we treat customers.  Sometimes we know we're not doing right by them and yet sometimes we don't.  In the former case, my little anecdote should perhaps help you consider changing habits.  In the latter case, my little anecdote reinforces the need for checking in, sincerely asking for meaningful actionable feedback (beyond Net Promoter Scores) and then putting action plans in place.

It's about revenues, ultimately.

The opportunity costs I outlined for you all had a revenue impact for Bloomingdale's.  If we want the revenue love to be true and never ending, we've got to open our eyes and realize that the things we do and the things we don't do matter.  What are we willing to do to keep the cycle of revenue love moving forward?  That's the ultimate question.

Your take?  Please leave comments below and, if you'd like, please share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Romper Room and Customer Experience

I was procrastinating one morning earlier this month which involved some twitter banter (twinter?) with @ty_sullivan and @MeghanMBiro.  It was loads of fun figuring out what our fan club names would be...  Mine was Behnia Mania and I decided that Meghan's was Biro's Heroes.  Her response (wish I could remember it) prompted this tweet back from me:

@MeghanMBiro Heh... that just reminded me of Romper Room. Always wondered why she never said "I see Parissa" lol #usguys. 

We then both lol'd a few times more and went on to more serious pursuits.  Shortly thereafter, I received this lovely tweet from @missmollynj, the last Romper Room Host:

@parissab Romper Stomper Bomper Boo tell me tell me do Magic Mirror tell me today did all my friends have fun at play? I see Parissa!

Friends, I just about passed out with joy when I saw this tweet.  When I was little, I was glued to the television during Romper Room with Miss Sally.  I played along at home in all of the games and lessons.  And I wanted in.  I wanted to be there.  I wanted to be acknowledged.  And, as a kid, I never quite understood why Miss Sally never said "I see Parissa!"

If you've not seen Romper Room or can't remember the Magic Mirror, here's a sample clip from my adored Miss Sally remote from Sea World!  The first 26 seconds will do the trick:

No, I'm not insane.

In case you're wondering if I'm the only one who felt left out, a quick trip to Miss Molly's site and a viewing of this Miss Barbara clip will show you that I'm not alone.

We want to be seen and heard.

In this post, I talked to you about some thoughts I thanks to a great #cxo chat.  Yesterday's chat about customer feedback also gave me some food for thought.  We talked about how as a company, you receive feedback, how you gauge feedback, how you act on feedback with many of the answers including vast complex decision science type of stuff.

Being seen and heard is more than just getting a slot in a decision management tree (though I love them).  It's the attention, the acknowledgement, the validation and the respect from others.  It's letting your customer know they are appreciated no matter how large or small their size of business is with us.  This is our obligation to them once we offer and they accept our services.

Be careful.

It's the offering of your services in the first place that's tricky and not to be taken lightly.  Be careful to whom you extend this offer and be realistic about your capabilities to follow through and acknowledge their needs.  This means that qualifying yourself as a service provider is a huge first step in maximizing your relationships with your customers.  Like being a Romper Room teacher, it's a huge responsibility.

Thoughts?  Please share below and if you've liked this post, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do You Have Business Cataracts?

So, yeah, I have cataracts in both eyes. It's true. I am technically "young" (ehem!) though we won't discuss my chemical enhanced hair color.  Close friends have known about this for a while but now it's gotten to the point where I have to deal with it e.g., routine outplacement surgery. This was confirmed today.

When I was first diagnosed a few years ago, I chose to live with it because, at the time, all it meant was being careful about eye strain and wearing glasses as needed. As time passed, I stopped driving at night, my depth perception got all crazy, I couldn't recognize people that I know (some were offended), I spilled things, I bumped into things, my eyes grew tired quickly, I got more migraines... Clearly, these glasses were doing nothing for me.

Quality of Life.

So, why am I talking about this? My qualify of life (#firstworldproblem) has been affected considerably and it occurred to me as I was leaving hospital today (Hi Dr. Feder!) that as business owners, executives, managers or what have you, we deal with this on a daily basis. We accept sub optimal conditions and say we'll "deal with it" because we'd rather not undertake the time, effort, energy, resources, etc., to address a situation properly.

Oh, sure. We all have to prioritize issues that come our way just like I relied on my glasses for a while. We can't assign equal weight to all conditions in our business lives because nothing would ever get done. There's a certain amount of "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" (especially in startups) and we make resource optimization judgements all the time. There comes a point though, that we may be promising too much payment in future for the proverbial hamburger today which adversely affects our business quality of life.

Do you have business cataracts?

There's a danger in promising too much future payment because we're not seeing the situation clearly, or what I'm calling business cataracts. It takes a certain Business EQ to know that we've hit a negative inflection point in our business quality of life and to understand its impact on our operations, staff, revenues, customers, etc.

What are examples of business cataracts that could have bad results? Here are a few nuggets to chew on:
  • "You don't call, you don't write..." - In this example, not enough time is spent doing a temperature check with current customers.  Many think that as long as customers are ordering, all must be well so no need to (re)visit customer retention strategies at this time.  If we don't check in from time to time, we miss either incremental revenue opportunities or, worse, signs of switching to a competitor.
  • "Gee, this sofa is really comfy." - Let's face it, sometimes we are new business couch potatoes and we don't like to push ourselves.  It's easier to fall back on the tried and true instead of finding new channels, new customers or new revenue streams from existing customers.  The danger is that at some point, we've exhausted all of our opportunities if we limit ourselves too much.  
  • "We're only human." - A lackadaisical take on errors, especially errors that seem to repeat themselves with no correction, revised procedure, etc., is like opening the door and kicking your customers out of your business house.  It will eventually catch up to you if you prefer a band-aid style approach instead of expending resources to fix something.

Get a new lens.

What to do when you have real or business cataracts?  You get a new lens to clear up your vision and take a look at things as they really are.  Which reminds me, I need to get that procedure scheduled.  In the meantime, please comment below and share with your friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Your Four Food Groups

Yesterday, our latest 12 Most post was published.  Loads of people retweeted and shared (thank you all) and the awesome Chris Westfall left some comments as well.  It was his comments and my subsequent thoughts which I'd like to share with you today.  I know you're busy but, if you've a moment, I would ask that you read the original post and the comments if you've not already done so.

Do you have a balanced diet?

There's no need to tell me, the Idea Chef, you're ovo lacto vegetarian but you'll eat bacon among friends and can't stay away from grandma's brisket.  This is a question about your marketing diet.

There's a reason why my mom wants to make sure I've had milk, fruits, veggies and protein.  She wants me healthy.  So, too, with your marketing diet.  Not paying attention to your diet isn't good for your marketing (nor your business) health.

Here's what I mean by a balanced diet (see below).  Of course, everyone's got a different view of things.  This is just my take.

Be a marketing nutritionist.

Your business relies on consistent balanced ingestion and digestion of vitamins, minerals and a host of other goodies.  When we fail to take these four marketing food groups into holistic consideration, it's not healthy.  If we're paying too much attention to Competition and not enough to the other three, for example, we're missing key elements in making sure our marketing system is working properly.

It doesn't matter if Competition is first to market with something if you know it to be non consistent with your Value Proposition, your Product or your Customer needs/wants.  And yet, we often make this mistake of not looking at the big dietary picture with the net result of confusing ourselves (and worse, our customer) with doing things that deviate from who we are holistically.  And that does not make anyone healthy.

What's your food strategy?

These four business food groups must work in harmony with one another with each element influenced by one or a combo of the others at all times.   Think of this holistic view as no different from, complementary to or even influencer of your SWOT analysis that you do for new product development, marketing strategy development, etc.

So, I ask you, what's in your marketing diet?  How do you feed your marketing to make sure all of the systems are working properly?  Please share below and, if you've enjoyed this, please share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, August 1, 2011

Garrett's Popcorn and Culture

Have you heard of Chicago's Garrett's Popcorn?  If there was ever a time to have a smell-o-video widget, it's now.  The below video from FoodTV is about 3 minutes long but it gives you an appreciation for Garrett's history and process.

Garrett's is so popular that there is ALWAYS a line snaked outside of each shop.  If you've lived or visited here in the cold of winter or in the most humid of summer, you know that that is a loyal fan base.  It's an excellent problem to have.

You've got to admire the discipline, commitment and the pursuit of popcorn excellence down to the special moisture sensitive kernels.  I could write another post about focus like I did for Intelligentsia but today I'd like to talk about something different.

"It's just popcorn," she said.

So, my cousin H. visited from Paris this past week. Many things were crossed off the tourist checklist: boat tour, libations and views at John Hancock Building's 95th, museums, etc.  As we were walking on Michigan Avenue, the luscious smell of caramel caught her attention and she asked where it was coming from.  I explained it was Garrett's and showed her the line.

It was unfathomable to her that popcorn would draw such a devoted following hence her comment above. I tried to describe the what and why of it but I wasn't successful though she believed me when I said it was delicious and instantly addictive. She speaks 3 languages so there wasn't a language barrier. I realized that this was a blog post in the making.

How do you ignite cultural passion?

Not unlike expensive coffee, heated seats or the microwave oven, someone has to be taught or conditioned to want to stand in line a long time for a bag or tub of popcorn. This teaching and conditioning becomes a little bit more difficult when cultural textures or differences come into play.

Let's face it: a new culture is a foreign language. Expressions, jokes from old television shows and yes, food, can be a foreign language and awfully confusing to newbies whether they are new to a job, city, country or brand. And still, I see all of us making the same mistake over and over. We make them figure it out on their own and don't ever consider that we lose power over our narrative when we do that.

Fish or cut bait.

This expression means "you're in or you're out" which is what we do to those new to us. And it's also fitting for what I'm trying to convey in this post because it means nothing to a) people who aren't fisherman or b) people who have never heard it before.

Make a friend and reclaim your narrative.

Why talk about this at all?  I just sat through another great #cxo chat featuring Vala Afshar, CCO of Enterasys with the topic of how businesses can improve customer communications across channels.  As usual, it was a fast paced and edifying chat.

But I don't remember talking about how you check for "culture" when you monitor customer communications across channels.  I wish I had asked the question because I believe that if we're more sensitive to those who are newbies to us and cultural newbies, we'd all be better off in the short and long terms.

What say you?  Please share below and share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

P.S. Wanna know how vast the fan base is?  See this video for Halle Berry's joyful embrace of a Garrett's tub.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Your Local Street Preacher

Every larger town or city probably has at least one street preacher.  I'd like to tell you about one who is parked in front of Old Navy at the corner of Washington and State Streets in Chicago.

He's famous enough to have had an article written about him and folks have posted videos such as the one below.  Please be advised that the views you will hear are his and his only.  My intent on sharing it is to give you some texture.

Considering he's been out there for 40+ years, you've got to admit that the guy has energy and tenacity (regardless of your belief in his message).  And, it's this combo of energy and tenacity that I'd like to talk to you about today.

Hello?  Is this thing on?

It's clear that people "hear" him but are not always listening to him.  And I often wonder why he sticks to the same style of preaching if he's not making connections with people in the way he'd like.  And I often conclude because these are not connections in the way they'd like.

So, what of business?  Does energy and tenacity of message matter if people are walking by?  Clearly no.  Too often, as with this preacher, we're so focused on the broadcast that we forget to check if the receivers are on at all.  

This is especially serious if the broadcast doesn't ring true.  I've had major service issues with a phone company and a bank with each call yielding different meaningless answers but ending with "your business is important to us."  It's hard to believe that when service is poor and I've told them so.

Walk in their shoes.

These days, it's not enough to be present, or exactly what the street preacher is doing.  Being present is a given so we don't get extra credit points for our tenacity of presence.  But how we're present and what we're doing while we're present matter to others.

They say that the customer owns the brand which is really another way of saying that perception is reality.  It's all well and good that we tenaciously create and promote truisms about our brands/products/etc. but the arbiter of the veracity of these truisms is the customer.  We always have to ask ourselves if what we say is consistent with what customers hear.

So, I leave it to you.  How are you doing with "what" and "how" when it comes to your customers?  What do you think you could be doing better?  Please share below and, if you've enjoyed this post, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

1 Lesson From Real Housewives of NJ

There are a lot of things one can learn from the ladies of New Jersey and they don't include table flipping, hair pulling or drama though those are all admirable.

Instead, in a recent episode, I learned the art of the sale in action.  And no, it clothing sold at Posche though Kim D. is quite a determined salesperson.  Instead, today's lesson comes courtesy of Soul Diggaz.

Who?  Soul Diggaz.

As many of you know, Melissa Gorga hopes to be a R&B singer one day.  We've heard snippets including her famous misquote of "Amazing Grace" (... that saved a wench like me...) but it's fair to say that she can carry a tune.  In a recent episode, a meeting was autotuned engineered set up with Soul Diggaz, a production team that has worked with brand name artists, came to the Gorga home for a mini audition.

They listened to her sing intently and politely.  When she finished, Corte established his expertise by saying that as he has been singing since the age of two and he can identify singers.  And he said she can sing.  K-Mack politely agreed but then added she needs to practice up to 15 hours per day.

Both Melissa and her husband were extremely happy - though both did take note of the excessive practice time.  Solution?  He started to build a studio in their home where he wanted his wine cellar to be before she sees even $1 from her recording career.

A sale in action.

What just happened here?  It was a masterful sale.  Of course, there must have been numerous things edited out but let's play along with this for a spell.  What happened was kind of interesting.  What they did that could not be re edited or edited out was to make a few statements in this order: they agreed she had a singing voice and she needs to practice.

The reason why it's significant is the affirmation of her singing and the order in which it came... first! As you know, the typical sales/vendor behavior is to create (or play up) some insecurity or fear if you do not purchase their product/service or if you do not buy the more expensive upgrade.

You're bombarded by everything you're doing wrong with the design that you start to see the salesperson as your only way out of this mess. It's what makes the sales profession look so bad and probably why it's called "business development" these days.

Yes.   And.

What's successfully different with Soul Diggaz?  They affirmed her conclusion that she could sing.  And they offered their conclusion that she needed to practice.  They didn't attack her, her conclusion nor did they attack how she arrived at her conclusion.  

Their practice comment was a "Yes.  And." to her instead which was to dissuade her from thinking that talent and success are linked.  And it worked.  She was so happy to hear others agree she could sing that the 15 hours of daily practice was something she more than embraced.  And she wanted to work with them.

What didn't she hear? A promise that she'd be a chart topper.  All they said was she could sing but needed to practice.  And that was masterful.  

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please comment below, send an email or visit with us on the 678 Partners Facebook page.  We'd love to visit with you.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, July 18, 2011

12 Most Helpful Team Leadership Tips

We’ve all been there: the point in our careers where all of a sudden we’re presented with the chance to lead a team. We’ve earned it through blood, sweat, tears plus our skill and will are both ready, willing and able. When it actually does happen, many of us do have a moment of abject fear.

Some suggest reading books. Sure – there are a bunch of great leadership and management books out there and one of Parissa’s personal favorites is Marshall Goldsmith’s “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. As great as those books are, we find that hearing personal anecdotes of what works and why can be helpful. There’s something about people just like us sharing stories that reduces psychological distance and gives us courage to press on.

With that, we’re sharing with you some of the things we’ve used when leading teams and why they are favorites of ours. We know that you have many other useful tips and we can’t wait to learn from you.

Be available
When you’re available, you’re regularly communicating with your team and you’re attuned to team nuances. When Amir was managing and training sales teams across Europe, this meant a lot of air travel. Your team wants to know you and wants to know you care and, sometimes, communicating your care means being completely silent and hearing (and owning) your team’s feedback either about you, your style or the company.

Be a champion
To us, a championing leader means granting autonomy and trust. The best thing a leader can do is to let an individual contributor shine and bask in his or her own spotlight on stage. Giving decision making power to your team and believing these individuals act in the best interest of the company delivers great morale and great results but you must walk the talk here. You can’t say you champion them without the behaviors to back it up.

It's a marathon not a sprint 
Patience is a tricky thing in the business world and board members and shareholders don’t always have it. As a team leader, it’s important to have the EQ to recognize peaks and valleys in an individual’s performance. If the drive and will are there, it’s important to support and help people get out of their own way. Constructive feedback is a must but there’s no need to be a bull in a china shop, either.

Hit the streets
We mentioned in #1 that Amir travelled regularly to visit his teams. Go out and walk in your team’s shoes for a day or two, see who their customers are and understand critical issues up close to gain an appreciation for why there is success (and also understand some of its barriers). Sometimes it means rolling up your sleeves to help with a project to truly appreciate all that your team accomplishes day in and day out.

Love thy enemy
We all have heard “Love Thy Neighbor” but here we suggest that it’s good to teach your team to appreciate what makes your competition successful not only for product but how they go to market beyond a basic SWOT. Parissa often advise her teams to live and breathe your competition so you can beat them at their own game and infuse this within your team. It helps to focus and the indirect benefit is a bonding device.

Test limits
Sometimes, we find it’s best to take a Yoda like or even Socratic approach to team leadership and management. The answer isn’t always apparent and we must resist the urge to save the day. Parissa often says that when managing people, your goal must be that they become your peer or take your job when you move on to greener pastures. To make this happen, it sometimes has to (gently) hurt.

Say thank you - specifically
We can all agree on the importance of celebrating successes and we all like having fun. There’s something a bit missing from team fun days or outings when the heartfelt, meaningful and specific thank you goes unspoken by a leader. A meaningful word of appreciation can sometimes go much farther than a company outing – but don’t stop doing those!

Say sorry - specifically
We know that death and taxes are inevitable and we’d add making mistakes to that list. Leaders are not all knowing and sometimes we err. By making a specific apology and acknowledging the boo boo makes your team respect and like you all the more as long as you demonstrate that you’ve learned from your mistakes.

There is no "I" in team
This isn’t a new thought but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be repeated. It’s so crucial for the leader to build a karmic, virtuous circle of goodness within the team and respect contributions of all. This can mean tempering the team diva, encouraging the silent and welcoming new employees among others.

Celebrate errors - even the yucky ones
To ensure the karmic, virtuous circle of goodness in #9, it means taking hold of an error and quickly turning it into a meaningful lesson. It’s easy to devolve into the blame game but that’s an opportunistic disease which kills mercilessly. Teach your team to remove the emotion, set things right and commit to better decisions and brighter days.

Promote healthy competition
Employee of the Month reserved parking works as a motivator! It’s perfectly okay to talk about an individual’s success to the rest of the team to re energize commitment to their personal development plans. The trick here is to tie tangible behaviors directly to the tangible success. The risk for not being specific is accusations of “playing favorites” or similar.

Amir jumped out of a plane. Why? It was the fulfillment of a promise he made to his team as part of an AIDS charity fundraising drive. In this case, charity did begin at home because the team rallied around a goal that had nothing to do with business results. We don’t recommend extreme gestures like this but it was an eye opener.

Thanks for allowing us to share our list with you. We’re certain you’ve a bunch of effective techniques so please start a conversation with us! It would be a pleasure to engage with you!  Oh, and if you're curious to learn more about 12 Most (where this was originally published), please give them a visit.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef