Category Archives: Leaders

Seven ways to turn customers into advocates

Let's assume the product or service you sell is of high quality and holds significant competitive value.  

You can add another important competitive barrier, and a differentiator, by turning your customers into advocates of your company.

Companies like [my client] are supplying technology that enables companies to share information, solve problems and consult with customers in real-time.  By example, Salesforce is now showing us how the pursuit of advocacy brings you even closer to your customers — and augments traditional sales and marketing powerfully for this new age.

Essentially, when your customer is your advocate, he or she shares the good news with others.  Also important:  your customer advocate tells you first how well your product works and what will make it even better.  A customer advocate is as committed to your company as you are to the relationship — giving you, as Salesforce likes to say, a customer for life.

Rome-roma-italy-2624701-l Imbed these seven actions into your customer relations activities and you'll be on your way to recognizing your customers as advocates.

Show your customer you are listening.  When a customer contacts you, respond immediately.  Use the words your customer uses to describe a situation or to answer a question.  Talk about the business and customer challenges.  Ask about the team. 

Be useful to your customer in a variety of ways.  Read periodicals and blogs about his industry.  Send her articles and site links that will help her do her job.  Share stories about other customers that will spark ideas. 

Connect to your customer beyond the sale.  Send a one-line email or leave a short voicemail just to say hello.  Follow the customer's blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page.  Connect on LinkedIn.

Embrace your customer's culture.  Pay attention to the office environment when you visit.  Bring a small food gift that you know will be put to use in the kitchen.  Acknowledge a dress code not by matching it exactly but by a slight adjustment to your own style.  If the customer communicates only by email, use that; same if it's voicemail or text message.

Take up as little of your customer's time as possible.  When you have a meeting or conference call, stay on point and only address product features if they relate to a specific topic.  Stick to the agenda.  Keep meetings under 45 minutes.  Be on time.

Leave your customer wanting more of you and still blown away by your product or service.  Be available and free with information, but be careful about sharing too much extraneous detail about your process.  Share your successes and acknowledge that you couldn't have done it without him.  Connect your experience with her — and what you've learned from her — to the success of your company. 

Be where the customer is.  If your customer is holding an event, buy a ticket.  Buy his products, if appropriate, or share stories of people you know who use them.  Make a business connection for her.  Always demonstrate that the customer is front-and-center in your priorities — that you appreciate the relationship — and that the business you conduct is more than a transaction.

Beyond bookmarking: Sharing five articles I Stumbled, Google-read and stored

One of the best aspects of living life digitally is being able to share what I read in a millisecond.  I remember copying, faxing and mailing articles to clients.  Then I remember emailing them.  The tools we have now are an article clipper's dream.

Today, I use StumbleUpon and Google Reader both to catalog my favorites and to share them with followers on those sites.  I'm starting to do more on Facebook and LinkedIn as well, mainly through a standing link from my Twitter feed to those networks.  My goal is to wean myself off saving things to my computer.

As part of this process, I'm attempting to share five articles, saved and shared to my various networks, here on the blog every week, too.  So here they are.

  1. The obituary of Edward Stobart in The Economist.
  2. How to hold attention, by the brilliant John Hagel, with John Seely Brown, on Harvard Business Review.
  3. Figuring out where your buyers are, from the blog by Content Marketing Institute.
  4. The backlash against the academic Mafia [my phrase!], in The Atlantic.
  5. Mitch Wagner's take on Don Tapscott's view of capitalism, on The CMO Site.

Of King Coal and Cleopatra, and icons and leaders

Geraldine Ferraro.  Pinetop Perkins.  Lanford Wilson.  The gifts they, and many other Americans, have shared are almost too much to ponder.  Their presence and passing through this age?  A reminder to appreciate the many forms leaders take and the elements that turn them into icons.  

One look at Elizabeth Taylor and those elements were abundantly clear.  Or so one thought.  It turns out that things went a bit deeper than incandescent looks and a lust for life that shot through every performance.  There were loyalty and empathy, two traits that can, but should not, be hard to come by in a leader or an icon.  

As a young Virginian exposed to Miss Taylor's charisma during a whirlwind political campaign, on a night when it seemed every man left every woman's side just to catch a glimpse of her, I witnessed not just the power of glamour but the pull of celebrity.  Standing in front of her, though, I wondered what she was thinking about all of us.  Turns out that evening was probably one of many during which she sacrificed her own comfort to support her spouse.  Yet Miss Taylor not only made it look easy, she seems to have put this quality to use later in evangelizing the importance of compassion for others.

Sacrifice is not an element usually associated with stardom, God-given beauty, serial monogamy — or being a corporate CEO.  When it is, though, it's noteworthy.  

The March obituaries told us the story of another onetime Virginian who had as elite a pedigree as any of today's CEOs, if not moreso, but chose to hone his leadership style from the ground up.  Literally.  

Ted Leisenring was the easy heir to the mighty Westmoreland Coal Company throne, but he worked as if that throne were someone else's to steal.  Upon his graduation from Yale, he headed to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, to labor underneath the ground, side by side, with the people who would be his employees.  Years after that, Mr Leisenring represented the coal companies in a long labor negotiation with the miners.  

My guess is that, for someone who respected the union, Mr Leisenring's negotiating position was reached with clarity of conscience and purpose.  According to Dan Rottenburg, author of In the Kingdom of Coal, Mr Leisenring dedicated the company to opening the lines of communication inside it after the strike was over.  He didn't revel in the victory over wildcatters, he sought to anticipate the concerns that gave rise to action which hurt the miners as much it hurt the companies.  The miners were not remote entities or heads on a spreadsheet; they were people, like him, who had a job to do.  

Here's to the leaders who don't try to be icons.  And the icons who lead.




Linwood Holton: How to make politics personal

I grew up in a very small town in a remote corner of Virginia.  Big Stone Gap.

How we got there from an Italian-American enclave in northeast Pennsylvania is a long story.  When we got there, Virginia was dragging itself kicking and screaming into an age of enlightenment.  What I like to think of as an entire society understanding that being reasonable is a continuous learning process.

One of the lights of the age, and there were many, was a native of Big Stone Gap who became the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.  As this article tells us, he now has an autobiography.

Its timing is excellent, as the brief interview in the article demonstrates.  For example.  Governor Holton’s son-in-law, Tim Kaine, is Virginia’s current governor.  And he’s a Democrat.  Both former and current governor have come out for Barack Obama.

Linwood Holton flies out of the pigeonholes that our society so often wants to use for labeling and digestion purposes.  He did it in 1970, and he’s doing it now.  His story reminds us that the most important things are ideas and actions, and in American politics, that the focus should be keeping our nation’s founding principles not just alive but relevant to our daily lives.  Whatever your political philosophy.

In this article, the writer recounts the story of how Governor and Mrs Holton made the decision to send their children to Richmond’s public schools during the big integration ruckus in the state at that time.

Those who knew the Holtons understood this to be neither a political olive branch nor a grandstand.  Like many Virginians, some of whom had to learn it the hard way, the Holtons understood that fairness is the hallmark of a healthy society.

Thumb_holtonAnd something else you should know:  in this famous photograph, Tayloe Holton is wearing a dress made by the people of Miss Virginia, Inc, a garment manufacturer in Big Stone Gap.  Where I worked a couple of summers in the finishing department.  A business my dad started and lost, but one that still managed to produce some winning moments.

Including having the governor of Virginia remember the folks back home as he made a point to a larger world.