Be different or die

Imagine that you go to the weekly Chamber of Commerce lunch. Everyone eats the chicken except for the real estate agents.

For some reason, every real estate agent eats fish. Sadly, they all get food poisoning and die the next day.

The next week, how many real estate deals fail to close?


This is NOT limited to real estate agents.

Now, store that away for a moment and think about how you need to differentiate yourself.

If you are a real estate agent, consider your relationship with everyone who has ever bought a house from you, whose house you’ve sold, whose business you’ve helped them buy or sell. Every one of them is being chased by another agent.

If 100 carpet cleaners closed next week in Chicago, maybe people would have to wait a day or so, but generally speaking I’ll bet you that no one outside of friends and family of those businesses would even notice. Someone else would get the business without much of a second thought by the customers with dirty carpets.

This is NOT limited to carpet cleaners.

One of the things we help small businesses do is something that Dan Kennedy calls “Putting a cage around your customers”. IE: locking out the competition by making them irrelevant. You have to do things to make this happen, but look at the payoff.

Are you willing to be different?

And maybe, just maybe, reconsider eating the fish:)

Compass needed Strategy

Why thank them?

It’s ok to say it. Really. It’s not that hard at all.

Can you remember the last time you received a thank you note from someone that you do business with?

I can.

I regularly get a mass-printed corporate looking thank you postcard with the business person’s picture on it. It’s laser printed, including the guy’s signature. I figure that he knows I got his card, but he was involved in paying the bill to have the card mailed and that’s about it.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place for those kinds of cards – marketing and random, fun customer touches. However, THANK YOUs are NOT the time and place for that kind of card.

I understand he may think he has better things to do than write cards, but let’s talk about it, then you can decide.

Feeling appreciated
Do I think this guy appreciates my business? I think he probably does, but that’s because I know him from elsewhere. He’s in a price-shopped industry that isn’t known for “I stand out in a crowd”. He could stand out easily with some effort, but in his industry, the “industry norm” (ie: what the sheep do and say) is that you will eat beans and rice for 5 years as you grow your customer base, and after 5 years, you are pretty well set for life.

Does the card show his appreciation? Not even close. Maybe the laser printed signature gave it away.

People tend to be annoyed with the guys that sell what he sells. We assume they are impersonal, distant and generally don’t give a crap….just because of what they do. It’s easy to clear that assumption away with a hand-written note.

Does this card tell me “That’s not true about me, I really care!!”


Does this card tell me “It’s my job to take care of your business and keep your out of harm’s way”


Do I think this guy is a friend because I get laser printed cards from him?


Friends don’t send friends thank you cards with laser printed signatures.
Can you remember the last pre-printed thank you note you got from a friend? I’m guessing you don’t.

You get hand written cards from friends. Sometimes cards picked out just for you. Sometimes, cards from a set they bought or had printed. Sometimes, cards they made by hand. Think about the “map” that the leading man in the movie Elizabethtown received to lead him from his father’s little town back to the big city. Do you think her card showed that she cared? No question about it. Who wouldn’t want to get a map like that?

Can you remember the last hand written thank you note you got from an insurance agent, the lady at the dry cleaners, your financial planner or the nice guy at the oil change place?

Can you remember the last time you sent a thank you card or note to a customer – and that card or note wasn’t pre-printed? When you’re at home watching The Apprentice (and I hope you are, we’ll talk about that sometime), why can’t you address and write a brief note on a few cards?

Isn’t my business worth 10 or 15 words, 39 cents and a card? Don’t you want me thinking about your business when I open my mail, rather than thinking about the businesses who I *do* get mail from?

Now back to my original question. Can you remember the last time you received a thank you note from someone that you do business with?

Be smart.

Book Reviews


For those of you who didnt take any psychology classes in college or somewhere else, this is the book you need to have read before buying a car:)

Seriously, this book is a gold mine for understanding the sales process, commonly-used (but often not understood) ways to influence or motivate decisions, etc.

A few dogears here and there, but this one gets a different grade because its a different sort of read. Recommendation: Read it at least once a year just to remind yourself. If you happen to be in sales or marketing, well, all the better. You’ll definitely get your time and money’s worth. This is one of those books you might be tempted to keep to yourself.

Book Reviews


I do a lot of reading, both of books and business/marketing newsletters. I dont get rid of the books I read, unless they stink.

One of the things I noticed a while back is that the books I refer back to the most years after Ive read them are the ones that have the most pages “dogeared”. For those who are not as cruel to books as I am, “dogears” means folding over the corner of the page. Often, my reading places are in spots or at times where I cant take notes, so I dogear the pages that I want to refer back to.

The more dogears there are, the better the book, generally speaking.

Compass needed

How to keep a bookstore from being sticky

Here I am, sitting in the Hastings book store coffee shop in Helena, waiting for my son’s trombone performance with the All Montana Jazz Band.

The coffee shop has no wireless.

The clueless retailer looks at wireless as an expense. The smart ones look at it as one more reason for their customers to enter their store. People are habitual creatures. They get used to going to store A, regardless of the reason, and before long, store A is all they go to until store A finds a way to tick them off. Then the process starts all over again.

Back to Hastings…it’s mid-afternoon on a weekday before school lets out. Prime stay-at-home mom time, yet they cant even manage to keep someone at the counter. Management has them running all over the store, doing other tasks. Customers come into the coffee area, stand around for a bit, start feeling stupid, then get annoyed, then they finally make them ramble around the store until the find someone who looks like a “coffee dude”. OR THEY LEAVE.

Roughly 1000 square feet of store space, dedicated to this coffee bar and they cant even have the foresight to staff it and make it “sticky” by offering wireless (just one example of what they could do).



Pulling your hair out over no-shows?

One day last week, I decided to work at home since I had to head over to Rotary at noon. No one was home but myself and Blondie (the Golden Retriever/Husky mix), so getting work done was not a problem.

A little bit ago, a lady from the place where my wife gets her hair cut called to see if she was here. I told her she had left to go get her hair cut, then laughed and commented that my wife had indeed remembered the appointment this time.

You see, the last few times she had a hair appointment there, something happened and she forgot to show up at the right time. Rather than continue to tolerate that behavior, the hair place invested 2 minutes of their time to call an hour before the appointment to remind her.

Should they have to do that? Not really.

Is it smart business? Absolutely.

Why? Its your job as the business owners to groom your customers, train them and adjust their behavior as necessary.
How? Make them an offer that makes them want to be on time, or set things up so that missing that appointment is something they simply cant tolerate, or wouldnt dream of.
Any business that is paid for work done in appointment slots (like a hair salon or spa) has to do whatever they can to decrease the number of no-shows, or late arrivals because they cant get that time back. Sure, they can rebook that person, but the original slot still sat there unoccupied and that time was not purchased. Photography studios (a niche I spent quite a few years working in) struggled with this for years until it was suggested that they could get their customers to pre-pay for the sitting fee in order to hold an appointment. This sitting fee is not refundable if you miss your appointment, but it sometimes is credited against portrait print purchases.

Once people started paying for sitting fees (some call them reservation fees), they suddenly started showing up on time because they didnt want to lose the money they paid in advance. Now all of a sudden you have a more predictable income, because you know how much on average each family will spend on prints and other products once they’ve actually shown up and had their portrait taken – and you’ve gotten your customers to behave a lot better – because they actually show up for their appointment.
A little bonus thought
The sitting fee is an amount charged for the activity of coming in and having your portrait photographed. It DOES NOT pay for the printed pictures, just for the time (if justified poorly), equipment (ditto) and experience/expertise (BEST) to have the photographer there to make you look great.

Notice how I worded that. The photographer isnt there to take your picture, any more than the hair stylist is there to cut your hair. They are using their training, specialized equipment and experience to make you look great, not just catch you however you look that day and make the best of, uh, what you brought.
Feels different than a “hair cut” and a “picture”, doesnt it?

Train your customers to be better customers. Both of you will be better for it.

Compass needed

Corporate “I dont get it”-itis

Last week, a newspaper story recounted how a local grocery store’s customer noticed a shoplifter, chased him out of the store, pursued him for 20 minutes, and finally caught and held him till the police arrived.

It turned out that the thief was serving a 3 year deferred sentence and a 5 year suspended sentence, both for burglary convictions.

The store promptly rewarded the man who caught the thief with a coupon for free coffee.


Did they need to write a big check? Nope.

Did they need to give him free groceries for life? Nope.

All they had to do was be a little unique. Put a little thought into what they did to thank this guy.

Instead, he gets some free coffee and they get “We’re cheapskates” publicity in the paper. They turned a positive into a negative.

The possibilities are so obvious. What are you doing to send a message that you dont get it?

Think about it, then fix it.

Good Examples

Getting it in Vegas

You are soooo bad. You never expected this to be about customer service, didya? 🙂

A while back, I took the family down to Vegas to meet the in-laws. They were at a convention, so we shacked up at Caesar’s with them. This was kinda last minute, so of course, when I made reservations I got puckered up for $800 for 5 days of hotel room. We don’t get to see the in-laws all that often and they’re pretty cool, so I got over it (plus I planned to visit a client).

So I go to check in, give the nice lady my card and we’re off to find my wife’s parents. Not 10 minutes later, they tell me that they already had a room for us right next to theirs. Paid for.

Expecting to get little or no consideration, we go down to the counter and explain to the lady (same one) that I had just checked in (not even visiting our room yet) and found out that we already had a room. At first, we got a little bit of push back when asking to check back out with no repercussions, but the lady figured out that if she forced us to accept our mistake (caused by our own lack of communication), three things would probably happen: 1) my father in law’s company wouldnt likely ever book rooms at Caesar’s again, 2) neither would I, and 3) both of us would probably tell everyone we knew about how Caesar’s screwed us around.

Neither of us threatened any of those things, but we didn’t act like we wanted 2 rooms either.

She got it. Killed the charges on my card for $800+, had someone haul our stuff to our real room and swapped keys. And smiled and wished us a great visit to Vegas. AND she didn’t feel the need to contact 3 supervisors to make it happen. Caesar’s had trained her and empowered her to make decisions to keep their clients happy.
So…I got it in Vegas:) Good, conscientious service, that is, and from an “evil casino hotel” as some call them.
Our stay was uneventful, pleasant, clean and fun. Good job, Caesar’s.

Compass needed

Upshaw and Owens: Losers no matter what the score

Someone needs to give Gene Upshaw and Terrell Owens their own personal DVD copy of “Coach Carter”. Upshaw wants to remove an approved arbitrator because he “piled on”. Peel away the rhetoric and he’s really saying that he wants to remove an arbitrator because he lost the case.

Its too bad they don’t have the cojones to keep TO on the roster, pay the $5MM roster bonus in the spring of 2006, pay his salary and sit his snarky backside on the bench for the 2006 season.


A perfect storm of follow ups

This week has been a surprising one in the land of the follow-up.

First, after noting a while back (here and here) that my local golf club wasn’t taking the steps they should be in contacting me for the upsell regarding the golf shop, the restaurant, real estate investments, etc…..I received an order form for a 2006 twilight golf membership.

Now, to be sure, there was no brochure, info about the restaurant or other facilities, but AT LEAST they sent it. Improvements are always appreciated. Lets see more.

Next up – Katrina.

A friend of mine lives about 2 hrs NNW of New Orleans. He is pretty well connected with the governor’s office, so right after Katrina finished tearing up the state, I asked him who I should contact if I had some resources to send to Louisiana. He text messaged his guy during a press conference with the governor and got a phone number for me. I called, left a message and a few days later received a call to discuss the situation (an offer of 150 helicopters based in Montana, by virtue of an associate of friend of mine).

As it turned out, Louisiana never ended up utilizing the helicopters, but I was invited to contact FEMA a few weeks later to sign up to provide further services.

The follow up? Yesterday morning, someone from the Louisiana Governor’s office called my cell to thank me for offering help AND asked for my mailing address so the Governor could send a thank you letter. Major league. Lots of things went wrong in her office (and elsewhere) during Katrina, but this was something done right.

These are the kinds of things that you do to make yourself and your organization memorable. It’s not that hard, folks.