The Most Important Question Never Asked


Do you help small businesses in any way, shape or form?

If you do, my guess is you aren’t as helpful as you think you are – especially when that small business reaches out to you for help.

Let’s back up.   I’ve witnessed in the field (trade shows especially) and on the phones, thousands of interactions between small business owners and providers of everything from office vending services to website creation to customized printing over the years.  Nary do I hear the right kind of question asked when that glorious opportunity arises.

Usually I see or hear a face palming like fail (though few realize it till it is pointed out to them).

When that small business person inquires about a product: the sales/ service/ company rep will often say something like:

“That’s great, it’s a very popular widget as you know, is there a specific model you’ve been thinking about already?”  or  “Sure, let me fill you in – most clients choose from 1 of 3 types,  each with its set of services….”  Or  “OK – it’s time for a new vendor you’ve said – you are looking around and you are probably wondering what sets us apart…”

Ugh.  Even worse is that the above examples are trained still today as good things to say in some organizations.

Here’s how to stop doing that.  And actually help your small businesses better 🙂

When a small business owner calls you, emails you or stops by looking for some help, information or assistance, you must first ask:

“What’s happening in your business that is driving your interest in ________?”

There are variations of the above but here is the point:. Whether you represent payroll services, website development, custom printing, insurance products, widgets or trinkets;

Knowing the businesses’ motivations helps you match your product or service exactly to those motivations (improving immediate sales success) and can help you articulate any expanded portfolio ( now or in the future) of your products/services that truly help that small business. 

Here’s an example done right;

  • Prospect: – “I’m curious. I know you build widgets and I’m looking for some pricing and info..“
  • You: “Sure – let me ask you first, what’s happening in your business right now that is driving your interest in the widget?”
  • Prospect: “. Well we’ve added a whole new group of products nobody knows about yet and I’m breaking into 2 more states is the plan – so I’ve got to look a little more professional I think too…”
  • You: “Perfect.  Let’s take a look at some widgets that get your name out faster and wider and there’s a couple of widgets that give a customized look too..”

It sounds obvious.  It’s not.

It’s not about what product or service the prospect is interested in; it’s about what is driving that interest that matters.  The motivation, the challenges, the dreams and the drivers are what you must discover, remember and leverage in the selling process.

Challenge yourself, your business or your team to do better with these opportunities.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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I Don’t Care What You Want


I don’t care what you want.    What I do care about is why you want it.

In sales today, it is more important than ever to get after the why because it is so dang easy to skip it.

You see, buyers of all types today walk into your business, or ring your phone, or fill out that form online, or open a chat box, or saunter up to your trade show booth or  even drive onto your car lot and tell you what they want.

They do that because they’ve done so much advance research online that they know (or think they know) exactly what they want.

Some of us think that is so cool, that this internet thing is doing the selling for us and by the time the buyer comes to us in our office or in our store – it’s a done deal.

But it ain’t.  And you know it.  Never before have buyers come in droves telling you what widget they want and then walk away, don’t call back,  don’t take a sample, don’t take a test drive and just don’t buy – let alone become a long term fruitful customer.   And we throw up our hands and say “What the heck, they wanted this thing!”   Some of us think it’s because of fierce competition, or that the leads are weak, or that the same internet that drove the prospects to us is making them too choosey.

But I’m here to tell it’s because you’re so enamored that the customer knows what they want that you are likely forgetting to take the time to ask why.

  • If I know why you want this widget and what good it will do for you or what problem it solves, then I’m going to be better at articulating why my business will be the best at providing it today and in the future with additional products and services I can provide.
  • If I know why you want this widget and why you’ve chosen me to bring this request to and what inspired you to swing by my doors or ring my phone then I’ll have a better sense of what is important you in a partner or provider – not just today but in the future as I look to retain and enhance your business with me.
  • If I know why you want this widget and how comfortable you are with this technology or space and perhaps who you admire who uses this widget then I can tailor my language, my sales approach and tell stories a lot better not just today but in the future when we are working together to expand your services with me.

There’s a lot more and different why’s to get after based on what you do – take the time to think them through and apply in your buyer interactions.

The point is this: More than ever, the prospect has something specific in mind when they come to you but that does not lesson the need of figuring out, as all great sales people do, the why behind the request.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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It Comes With What? “Well La-Dee Frickin’ Dah!”


Gotta step it up a bit folks.

Your company (or maybe it’s you) likely spends a lot of time and effort adding values to products and services that you sell.  Try not to underwhelm your clients or prospects with your lack of focus and skill in articulating them.

If you don’t give enough attention here it’s a missed opportunity to impress or differentiate.  And worse, you can blather so boringly about some of this pretty cool stuff that the client does a mental Matt Foley (the iconic Chris Farley SNL character) and is so underwhelmed they say   “Well La-Dee Frickin’ Dah!  .  Your customers may not yell it like Matt Foley in the  5 second video but they sure as heck are saying it in their heads and all that work and investment in these added values goes wasted.

Fortunately there is a better way. 

Let’s pretend whatever it is you are selling comes with and added value of say  “One hour of free maintenance per month”. You could be like most people and just say it comes with “one hour of free maintenance per month” and then and have the client conjure up the image of Mr. Foley and “La-Dee Frickin’ Dah!”  or – wouldn’t it be better to put the client in the picture here?

  • “All we ask is that once a month, you force your busy self to sit down with one of our experts for an hour and make sure the (insert product here) is running perfectly for you.”

Now let’s pretend your product purchased comes with an added value of a “money back guarantee”.  A real snoozer because while awesome, we tend to think of it as an afterthought.   You could just say there is a “money back guarantee” (like almost everyone else does) and watch the client sleepily drool a little or – wouldn’t it be better to put the client in the picture here?

  • You expect this widget to bring in new business in and it will, but if in 3 months as you turn around and head back in from another long day on the water and you don’t feel it really has –just call me and I’ll put every dollar you spend today right back into your wallet; that’s how confident we are it’ll work.”

And finally, let’s pretend your product comes with “free fluid checks, tire rotation and oil changes for 1 year”.     In this case your product is likely a car (or a van one might park down by the river :)) .  You could just say it comes with “free fluid checks, tire rotations and oil changes for 1 year” and watch their eyes glaze over like mine do when any Friends rerun comes on or – wouldn’t it be better to put the client in the picture here?

  • Let me worry about the car maintenance – you have more important things to do.  Before you head off this summer up to Maine or NH for vacation, bring it in and we’ll check everything from rotating tires to fluids and even change the oil – all at no charge.  We’ll do that same thing before that first snow fall or just before we do the yearly inspection.  No worries and no cost to you from now till your first anniversary with this car. “

Think about added values that surround your primary products and services.  They mean something.  In fact, sometimes they are the differentiators from your competitors.  Work hard to help your clients see themselves leveraging these added values!  Use words and phrases that elicit images and mini – movies for them; it’ll elevate the value of all your stuff across the board.   And do it in a way that if you notice, compliments them as people, consumers or as business owners.  And of course,  avoid at all costs the lack of attention that results in “Well La-Dee Frickin’ Dah!”

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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What Is An A Cappella Leadership Team?


Any parent knows the huge popularity of a cappella singing these days.   In fact, at a small  college we just visited Saturday, there are no less than 5 a cappella groups on campus ( one of which sang at the opening session of the visit).  For the uninitiated, a cappella singing is a small group of people using no instruments but their voices which blend into some amazing harmonies.

It’s not a new music art form of course (in fact I always say the original a cappella hit was written in the 1630’s- have a listen here to that).  But of late, we can thank super groups like Pentatonix and others for the surge in popularity.

And it’s fantastic.  I love people singing together without “a net” or in other words, the safety of instrumentals to fall on.  When done well, it is a glorious sound of a half dozen folks who are uniquely gifted in their own ways but listen, really listen to each other blend together perfectly.

I won’t beat the metaphor alluded to in the blog title too hard, but there’s a lesson in a cappella for the very best leadership teams.   Every day it seems we are surrounded by Executive Leadership teams, Division leadership teams and more.  You yourself may be on one of them.    In the best kind of environment these leadership teams aren’t awkward, faceless or sound like a soloist performing with a couple of backup singers.  Nope –these teams perform like an a cappella group.

The a cappella Leadership Team members aren’t the same cookie cutter images of each other.   They look different and sound different and each has his or her unique gift of range, talent and responsibility – and would never be confused with one another.  Yet each sings from the same strategic score and must listen to each other equally – for if just one of them is dissonant, the whole thing falls apart.

These a cappella Leadership Teams are genuine and transparent.  There’s little in the way of policy, history, or hiding behind “the way we always do things” that an a cappella Leadership Teams lean on.  They are open, exposed and work without the trappings of a score recorded years ago or being played today by someone other than themselves.

Done beautifully, the a cappella Leadership Team knows their sound and messages must stir the people who look to them for direction and guidance.  They know they have to work very hard to impress, retain and attract followers based on their performance.

Take a look (and a listen) at a cappella from every angle and consider the lessons throughout.  It makes perfect sense and perfect pitch to me.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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How to Better Respect Small Business


How to Better Respect Small Business

I had two recent experiences that made me think differently about respecting small businesses.  And if you are in the business of marketing, selling, servicing or supporting small business that’s an important thing.

The first was while reading some research. The research said that Small business owners overwhelmingly see themselves as unique and define themselves additionally by their unique contributions to society. 

And I thought why do we so rarely acknowledge and respect small business owners for how they respect themselves?

Sure we respect them by acknowledging their value as a customer, their membership in an industry, their work ethic, their entrepreneurship, their common pain points, their challenges, their contributions to job creation as a whole and blah blah blah…..but don’t you see it?

There is little unique about that to the Small Business owner, instead it’s a wide swath acknowledgement of them as a group which exactly not how they see themselves individually.  And there is nothing respecting their unique contributions to society.

Last week I tagged along with my wife to a local business association gathering at a new restaurant that recently opened in town.   There had to be near 40 local businesses represented sipping on wine and appetizers.

This was not how I remember these meetings way back when I used to attend in another life.   This meeting was about toasting to the “Alan’s business that is driving the benefit tomorrow night for the family who lost their home in the fire last week.” It was about the “needed sponsors for the summer band series”.  It was about how proud the association was for being the “sole group responsible for installing a landmark historic clock in the center of town”.   So little of the time was promoting their business and when they did – 80% of them shared how “different” they were than any another accountant, or restaurant, or mortgage broker, or Mary Kay representative they knew.

So why do I (and I suspect, we) forget so often what our eyes see, our ears hear and our research tells us about acknowledging and respecting a small business?

What if we were to ask more often “What are you most proud of”,  “What defines you” or “What contribution as an Small Business owner inspires you?” when we talked with small business owners? What could we do with that? What would we learn?   What if we identified their perceived or real unique differentiators and societal contributions and embedded those into our variable data printing or emails or CRM data or Facebook pages we build for them?  The leverages are infinite.

Respect anew the small business owner in the ways they respect themselves. It just makes sense.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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Book Review: Effortless Experience [Matt Dixon, 2013 Penguin Books, CEB]



Book Review:  Effortless Experience [Matt Dixon, 2013 Penguin Books, CEB]

Delighting your customers are you?  Waste of time.   Focusing on First Call Resolution?  You don’t get it.    Worrying about what channels customers prefer to communicate in?  Don’t be silly.

I couldn’t put this book down; read it in two chairs and one plane.

And what’s not to love with another Matt Dixon book (think The Challenger Sale) that is steeped in research from Corporate Executive Board and real life company examples of what you could truly do in the world of Service that improves loyalty, advocacy and profitability.

Dixon says and I believe him; “Service is the crucible of customer experience where all the companies’ claims, missions and values are tested.”  Gulp.

The secret though has nothing to do with service levels, getting higher satisfaction scores or striving for legendary service experiences (ya know, like the Nordstrom folks).

It’s simpler but not nearly as sexy; Reduce the effort. Don’t aim for delight, aim for relief.  Don’t dazzle customers, just fix the darn problem.   Reduce the customer effort before and after and you mitigate the rampant disloyalty that exists today.

Dixon and co. dismantle some beliefs for us too:  We have this illusion that our service departments are moments where we can inspire great trust and deeper loyalties with customers, yet data shows ANY customer service action is four times more likely to drive disloyalty than to drive loyalty.

A lot of the book focuses upstream before a customer even gets to you the service department, and delves into systems, websites and the need for simplicity.  Focus on Customer Effort Scores (CES) and not satisfaction scores.  Do that and you’ve mitigated the ease to jump ship.

Arguments and research abound about how incentivizing self-service vs. discouraging live service makes more sense.  How new hires should start their day 2 searching your websites and FAQ’s for jargon that confuses them and therefore complicates the customer experience.  How focusing on First Call Resolution misses the point that service issues are usually far more than that call but are “events” that may have begun weeks before ( like the purchase of a new service) and could continue weeks after.  How Delight based on corporate data, does not pay and how opening new ways for clients to reach you isn’t a real advantage as people will go wherever they get the best help.

I loved the robust chapters on teaching people to use “carefully crafted and thoughtful language” to engineer an experience that “actively guides a customer through an interaction”.   There is much neuroscience research there as well as in- the-trenches proven tactical applications that will have you rethinking your customer call approach.

I can’t do the book justice in less than 500 words but more than that and this post becomes an Article and not a blog.

Go get the book.  Take notes, highlight and/or export.   Study and then apply accordingly.   Here is a link to the book on amazon.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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Don’t Worry About Your Customers!


no customer

Don’t Worry About Your Customers!

Are your customers perhaps small or large businesses? If so, just forget about them.   Don’t waste your time focusing on them.  Quit obsessing and trying to impress, help, sell, service or support them.

It is a colossal waste of time.

Yet it’s what we’ve all been trying to do for so long we can’t think of any other way to think.    We love our customers.  We study them, observe them, train on their industry, study their social footprints and websites and basically stalk them hoping to learn what makes them tick and hence how to talk, market and generally influence them to love and buy from us.

And we wonder why the open rates are low, the quotas seem too high, the service levels sketchy and the NPS scores kinda meh.

We should think differently.

We should worry about your customer’s customers.   When you able to do that and do it gloriously; then you truly mean something and can influence them.

  • Is one of the clients you supply a small Sign& Painting company? Go and understand – better than they do – how local and state governments work their bid processes when they are looking for a client like yours.  Then you are different than any other supplier because you are worried about your customer’s customer and that is what they care about too.   And guess what – your sales go up along with theirs.
  • Is one of the clients you supply an automotive shop? Go and understand – better than they do – how consumers really shops online for service when they are looking for a client like yours.   Then you are different than any other supplier because you are worried about your customer’s customer and that is what they care about too.    And guess what – your sales go up along with theirs.
  • Is one of the clients you supply a small 3 chain restaurant? Go and understand – better than they do- the how consumers leverage social media in driving business to and from restaurants for a client like yours. Then you are different than any other supplier because you are worried about your customer’s customer and that is what they care about too.    And guess what – your sales go up along with theirs.

It is not semantics.  It’s a paradigm shift.   Think first about your customer’s customers.  How do they act? What do they think?  What’s important to them?  What influences them to work with your customer?

When you bring that to the party in new perspective, ideas and insights, you bring what really matters to your customer and regardless of what you sell, service or support, you’ve strengthened the partnership and profitability for everyone involved.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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Not Even A Dog’s Year Old


number six

Not Even A Dog’s Year Old

A small trip down memory lane today.  6 years ago on this day, this blog began.   I started it to help 10 sales folks I was working with at the time and it has become something different than that – but not really.   It is an effort to write something short, perhaps interesting but most importantly, something you can use that day to help you be better at what you do, and to grow the business.

Though not even a dog’s year old, there are more than 350 posts (and over 50 others in draft form so awful that you will never see them) and 180,000+ words blathered in blog form.  Thought it would be fun to share the most popular posts based on the stats as well as some of my favorite posts and a few more of my favorite posts today.

Have fun rereading or reading these today (I did).  And thanks as always for reading and sharing.

5 Most Popular (based on your views and shares)

“Piano Man” is a Bad Song

My 25 Secrets for Selling To Small Businesses

The 6 Rules of Marketing and Sales

Treat Your Boss Well


Some of My Favorites

I am Joe’s Lead

6 Questions Never To Ask a Customer

The Perfect I’m Sorry

Angela’s Assist

Platinum Questions Are Better

My Other Favorites (a bit closer to home- but lessons nonetheless)

My Great Pumpkin Lesson


The Luckiest Man in the World

A Wii Bit of Advice

4 Minutes with Little Miss Dangling Arms

Fixing a Throwback Problem

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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Role Players


image from

Role Players

The New England Patriots are going about it differently this year.  The players have only received Playbooks; they are not practicing.  Sure, they’ve had lots of meetings at camp discussing and talking about the plays, why they are constructed as they are and why the plays will work.  But not a single player has practiced the routes, the blocking schemes, the throws or the running plays.

Why would they bother?  It’s not real.  Heck most of the time in camp they are playing against each other on the same team!  How silly is that? Nothing counts and someone could get hurt and what’s the point of that?  Besides, they’ve studied the plays; they get it.


Of course the Patriots are practicing this year.  Of course the Patriots are learning their roles by practicing these routes, those blocking schemes, the throws and the running plays.

But we either hate doing that stuff or just don’t care about doing it.

The day I walk through a sales site and see a coach and a sales rep leaning up against some old file cabinets on a sidewall spontaneously practicing a customer scenario about objection handling; I’ll just about have my coronary and end it right there.  I have never ever seen that in real life.

The day I can go to 3 training sessions in a row (live or virtual) where the role play portion wasn’t cut off, or skipped due to time or just wasn’t part of the session – I’ll have that second coronary (well hopefully not with the medication I’m on now and the life changing behaviors I’d have adopted) but—you get the idea.

The day that sales manager from half way across the country Skypes his sales executive and forces her to go through the competitive differentiation portion of the conversation that’s going to soon happen in the C-Suite with a real customer, I’ll have that 3rd myocardial infarction (metaphorically of course).

Maybe I need to get out more often and this stuff happens all the time now.  But maybe it doesn’t.

The sad part is I have a lot of memories when people do some intense role play and apply that Playbook in sessions with their coaches or in war rooms or in “bull in the ring” sessions.   I have lots of memories where those people said, out loud, that that was the best part of working their boss or in the team meetings or in the training classes.

The Patriots aren’t fools.  They know they have roles to play.  And they know they need to play these roles and practice even when stuff ain’t real.   They know because when the time comes; they need to be ready.

And so do we.  Hut! Hut!.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.


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Dear Business Owner


Dear business owner,

It’s sketchy out there.

But you know that.  It’s been like this for a couple of years.  In my job, I get asked for advice about the marketplace and about business and about turning things around.    

Hope it’s OK I’m going to share my advice with all of you now.  The advice is real good I promise.

  • When you own a business today, taking a lot of risks probably feels crazier than ever.  Except that it’s not.  Risk taking right now is what you have to do if you want your business to survive and thrive.  It is riskier right now not to do anything or to just do what you always did.


  • When you own a business today, you have to step out.  Be noticed.  Look for new ways, not old ways, to sell your products and to get and keep customers.  The rules have already changed.  The basics you might think you should fall back on: the “tried and true” so to speak, are pretty much the “tried and failed”.  They don’t work anymore.


  • When you own a business today, you have to be indispensable to those who pay you. You have to add value and be a difference maker.  There is no “under the radar” anymore or just trying to keep on keeping on.  You must get on the radar.  


  • When you own a business today, even the “givens” don’t seem to be as reliable anymore. Sales are off.    Everyone is judging you no matter how long you’ve been at this game in this tough economy.    Seems like the “business” has to be earned all over again and again.  Everyone is watching you and all your touch points need to have a “wow” factor. 


  • When you own a business today, it’s clearer that innovation and creativity is going to rule the day.  Getting out there and doing that and actually investing in yourself, changing and updating your image and your brand, that’s going to take some serious work.  You better start now.


Of course, even if you don’t own a literal business; you actually do.

That business is you.

You are president and CEO of You Corp and quite frankly, the advice above is as much for you and me the individual, as it is for any traditional business right now.

Have at it. 
Till next time,


Grow The Business.