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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Why Don’t We Practice Enough at Work?


On Saturday I got to hear something beautiful from one of the best saxophone players in the game.  Jaleel Shaw, a 2000 Berklee College of Music grad, came back to speak to accepted students for the fall semester but didn’t play a single note.  He didn’t even bring his saxophone.

Yet his contribution was as moving and inspirational to the hundreds of students and parents listening in Saturday as surely his music is when played.

Thoughtful, so very humble and endearing – he kept genuinely and transparently falling back on the value and need to “practice”.   He must have mentioned the word more than 20 times eventually having  said it so often he had the crowd laughing (and for sure learning).

He told of his days at Berklee being long and grueling yet each semester he would map out where and exactly when he would fit in at least 8 hours of practice each day between and around his full class load.

Surely his renowned teachers, the Berklee connections, the theory courses, the performances and the education degree he acquired were essential to his success today but practice, practice and more practice was his sincere message.

And the message is a great one far beyond the study of music. In fact practice should play a much bigger role for us in our business lives.    But what do we really do about it in our jobs today?  Do we really practice unless we are forced to?

  • How often in the cubicle aisle does a salesperson grab a colleague out of the blue and practice dealing with difficult objections or articulating better what problem the product really solves?
  • How often as trainers, do we really stand up in front of that mirror or virtually with a colleague, practice our messaging and presentation before delivering our training?
  • How often as managers and supervisors and coaches do we prepare and practice a difficult conversation with an employee or for that matter, practice a nurturing conversation to maximize the conversation’s potential?

It’s obvious that a college like Berklee should be  a culture of ardent practice and it makes sense.   I’d contend that Practice Culture has a value far wider than just at a Music school and would do quite well where you work.

Till Next Time,

Grow The Business.


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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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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