LL Bean: Urban Myth or Rural Superstition?

Over at The Consumerist, there’s a snappy bunch of stories about the legend of LL Bean, the Maine-based outfitter who just wants to make you happy. As one reader tells the story, they insisted on taking back monogrammed shirts that his wife had bought in entirely the wrong size.

He tried to insist it was his fault, not LL Bean’s, but Bean wouldn’t take no for an answer. They just had to make sure that his monogrammed shirts would fit him by accepting the old ones for return. (The comments alone are worth reading for a thorough exploration of the pros and cons of having such a liberal policy. Plus they’re fun.)

But let’s talk about the larger issue. LL Bean is not the only firm behaving this way. Every time I teach an exercise on customer satisfaction, someone has a Nordstrom’s tale to tell. There’s a lunch counter in Lincoln Nebraska that uses an honor box to sell sandwiches on the sidewalk for a buck each in the summertime. And so on.

In discussing the dynamics of such policies, I’m bemused to find how many people insist, “it won’t work.” If you point out that it has worked for over a hundred years for LL Bean, they repeat, “it won’t work.” Endless loop.

Sure, it can be abused, and sometimes it is. What’s interesting is, why isn’t it abused more often? In Lincoln, reportedly the homeless people monitor each other to be sure no one takes undue advantage. (I know, I know, it’d never happen in New York. Except I bet it does).

There is an innate sense among people that will keep anthropologists, bio-ethicists, animal intelligence students and other social researchers busy for years to come trying to “explain” it. Meanwhile, it clearly “is.”

And you can make book on it. This is the principle that underlies trust-based selling: if people trust you, they will strongly prefer to give you the business. There’s no better way to get people to trust you than to trust them, by putting yourself at risk.

David Maister always put an explicit guarantee on his work: 100% satisfaction or just pay him what you thought it was worth, including nothing.

Takers? None.

The act of the offer ensures it will rarely be taken up–as long as the offer is genuine.

This is reciprocity in the sense that academic Robert Cialdini writes about as the number one source of influence. If you treat me right, I’ll treat you right. If you listen to me, I’ll listen to you. If you trust me, I’ll trust you.

The wonder is not how often our trust gets abused; it’s how few Bernie Madoffs there are.

I remember hearing of a pizza chain that offered a satisfaction guarantee—if you didn’t like the pizza, you’d get one free. One nasty customer kept saying he wasn’t satisfied, and demanding another new one each time he ordered.

Finally the owner went to the customer and said, “I’m really sorry, but it appears we have failed consistently to meet your high standards. It frustrates me no end, but I have to confess, we just don’t seem to be able to make a good enough pizza. I wish we could, but we have no choice but to reluctantly stop selling you our inferior pizza. Please accept our apologies.”

Selling Problem Solving by Solving Problems

One thing about accountants I really like. They learn awfully fast.

I had breakfast the other day with an old friend, a forensic accountant—call him Joe the Accountant. He’s a bit of a loner, motivated by achieving results, and impatient with what he sees as bureaucratic and procedural focus. And he is very sharp.

He’s a bit like a bloodhound; don’t point him toward the scent and expect him to back off. Perhaps that’s why he tends to rotate employers every 6 – 8 years.

“Maybe I should just do free-lance work,” he mused to me. “I don’t mind selling. I just don’t know how to do it well. I could get appointments with several well-positioned past clients. I could just ask them if there’s some work I could do for them, I suppose.”

“No,” I said. “Talk to them about what problems need solving.”

Joe: Of course, silly me. Then I can pitch how I might be able to solve them.

Me: Congrats, you just went from weak salesman to average salesman in ten seconds.

Joe: So–how do I get to the next step? (Joe’s pretty impatient too).

Me: Pick one problem and solve it in that meeting.

Joe: Hmmm. I like that. But will the client do anything if I just give him the advice?

Me: You just went from pretty good to almost really good. So answer your own question.

Joe: I see, he’s got to be involved in getting the right answer in order to act on it it. So—you’re saying just do the work right there in the meeting?

Me: Pretty much.

Joe: So when do you make the sale?

Me: After you solve the problem together, you say, “This is great fun. We ought to do more of this. Though after one more session, you need to pay me. I can’t just be having fun for free. So how shall we set this thing up?”

Joe: Hmmm. Yes, that works, doesn’t it? Give ‘em a taste of your wares, so to speak. Just do it–then ask for the sale. Right?

Me: That’s about it.

Joe: Great, thanks. Gotta run; this breakfast is now interfering with scheduling my first sales call.

One thing about accountants I really like. They learn awfully fast.

Zen and the Art of Trusted Advisorship

In our Trusted Advisor workshops and coaching engagements, we spend a lot of time on listening. Why? Because not listening is one of the top two causes of trust breakdown. (The other — accelerating too quickly to a solution – is another form of not listening.)

Listening is critical to advice-giving because it’s through listening that we earn the right to offer advice.

There are many reasons we humans do a crappy job of listening. One of my favorites: the little internal voice that clogs our brain with incessant chatter.

(Don’t have a little voice in your head? Your little voice is the one that says, “What little voice? I don’t have a little voice.”)

A 30-second snippet from a typical internal dialogue:

Client: [insert reasonable work-related comments here]

Your little voice: “Uh oh. I should have spent more time preparing for this meeting. You know, I’m not sure I like this guy.”

Client: [insert reasonable work-related comments here]

LV: “I do like his tie. The suit, not so much.”

LV: “Did I remember to take my black suit to the drycleaner?”

Client: [insert reasonable work-related comments here]

LV: “I wish he’d hurry up and finish so I can re-focus this conversation. He’s taken us way off course.”

And so it goes. Like static on a radio station, the little voice interferes with our ability to tune in.

Which begs the question: How to reduce the static to improve our listening so that we, in turn, will be listened to?

Unfortunately, that little voice will never go away – it comes with being human. But there are ways to minimize it. Here are my Top Three:

1. Prepare your mind. This suggestion comes directly from The Trusted Advisor (page 200, if you must know). Train your brain to notice random chatter, and substitute some wry wisdom of your own choosing. Examples:

“I am not the center of the universe.

"It’s a ‘we’ game, not a ‘me’ game.”

“A point of view doesn’t commit you for life.”

“Knowing the truth is better than not knowing it.”

You can also make this part of your pre-flight checklist before your next big client meeting.

2. Get a little Zen. When the chatter arises, notice and observe it; raise your consciousness about it in the moment and gently but swiftly return your focus to the real conversation at-hand. This is similar to the practice that experienced meditators use of returning to the breath when “monkey mind” (a mind that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree) takes over.

3. Think out loud. Get the chatter out of your head and into the conversation. This is especially valuable when your little voice is expressing a concern. Here are some examples:

LV: “He seems distracted.”

What you might say: “Let’s take a time out to be sure we’re going in the right direction with this conversation.”

LV: “I’m not sure she understands what I’m getting at.”

What you might say: “At the risk of appearing a little assertive here, may I be blunt?”

LV: “I am doing a lot of talking; someone shut me up!”

What you might say: “I’m hearing myself doing a lot of the talking here. What haven’t I asked about that’s important for me to know?”

This one requires some risk-taking. As does all trust.

You’re not crazy for having the little voice; you’re human. Do your clients – and yourself – a favor by training your brain to tune chatter out, client in. By listening, you earn the right to be listened to.

Do People Trust Rationally?

In the Q&A session of the webinar I gave yesterday, someone asked an interesting question: do people come to trust in rational ways? He didn’t mean “is it rational for people to trust the things they trust?” His question was about the ways in which we come to trust, not the choice we end up trusting.

The answer at first blush seems “clearly not.” After all, look at the success of con men, the concept of love at first sight, and, for that matter, the charisma of some politicians. Rational? Hardly.

And yet—if the way we come to trust isn’t logical, careful, thoughtful, cognitive and evaluative—then why do we act otherwise? Why do lawyers focus so much on briefs, consultants on proposals, and politicians on platforms? For many in business—particularly the professions—the belief that trust comes from rational argument is so deeply held that it’s enough to prove the opposite.

From a bastion of rational argument—Science Daily—comes more fuel for the non-rational side. In Extreme Appeal: Voters Trust Extreme Positions More Than Moderate Ones, Study Finds
we read:

Trying to appear moderate is not always the best strategy for capturing votes during an election, reveals a new study. Extreme positions can build trust among an electorate, who value ideological commitment in times of uncertainty.

[this is a] challenge to the widely accepted median voter theorem…in which voters who are fully informed will…choose the platform that is closest to their own beliefs. Thus…to attract the majority of votes, parties should try to appeal to the majority of voters.
The researchers argue that in the real world, few voters are “fully informed” or anywhere near it—thus the real persuasion happens not through individual voter policy analyses but through a comparison of the relative attractiveness of competing ideologies.

However, I think even this understates the non-“rational” approach to voting. Sure, to some extent we think “I’m more of a lib-social-democrat-cum-conservative-economics.”

But there’s more. There’s the power we all feel in the face of someone with certainty. Like confidence, it’s catching. It’s compelling. We may deplore sound bites, but they work—the war on poverty; government’s not the answer, government’s the problem. The Big Lie works because it’s simple: Saddam was behind 9/11, Obama is a Muslim. The less we know, the more awed we are by those who do know—or seem to.

Want to win an election? A (very) few voters swill tudy platform planks. A few more will “vote Democratic.” But more yet, I suspect, will vote for the guy who sounds like he’s got a simple answer to a complicated question.

From the same article:

"The current political advantage of the Republican Party stems from the ability of its candidates to develop ‘signature ideas.’ This strategy is rewarded even when the electorate has ideological reservations," says University of Southern California economist Juan Carrillo, adding that this poses a challenge for the Democrats.


Years ago, Herman Kahn of the Hudson Institute articulated the role of hypocrisy in social situations. A father in a small town, he said, doesn’t want his daughter to have access to pornography. And—if she finds it anyway—he wants to be able to say he didn’t know about it.

How can you talk about rational decision-making in a species that lies to itself?

The human mind is certainly complex. We like simple answers, but for complicated reasons. Sales author Jeffrey Gitomer says, “people buy from the heart, and then rationalize their decisions with the brain.” Often our brain arrives at rational decisions by bypassing “rational” thinking.

Do we come to trust rationally? No. It’s far more complicated than that. To describe human decision-making in purely rational terms is to under-estimate human nature.

Which means—if you want to be trusted, you won’t get there on powerpoint slides alone. Unless it’s just one slide. And real simple.

And you read it like it’s Revealed Truth that only you have access to.

Misconceptions about Trust-based Selling: It Doesn’t Work

This is the third in a series of three about misconceptions regarding Trust-based Selling™. The first was about naievete; the second, about time.

The third misconception is that it doesn’t make sense, it just doesn’t work.

Not unreasonable, since trust-based selling rests on some apparent paradoxes. For example:

a. managing your sales with short term metrics will drive your short term metrics down;
b. the best way to be credible is to admit where you’re not;
c. you have the most influence over customers when you stop trying to influence them;
d. the best way to improve your closure rate is to stop trying to improve your closure rate;
e. to gain control, give up control.

This shouldn’t be surprising. For an elegant statement of how this paradox plays out—nominally in golf—see Phil McGee’s post The Putt.

The thing is, buying is still a very human phenomenon—and we humans are obstinately perverse. We do not like being hustled. We do not like being told what to do by those who we don’t think understand us. And we do not buy from people we think are using us for their own ends.

That’s the heart of the paradox. A salesperson who puts his sale ahead of his customer will lose both. A salesperson who puts his customer ahead of his sale will win both. You have to care about the customer—for the sake of the customer, not for what the customer can do for you.

The language of paradox is alien to modern sales. Big corporate sales is all about linear process management: break it down into ever-finer pieces, and micro-manage each one. Fine-tune the sales pitch; tweak the yield rates by tighter lead qualification; get the close in this quarter; and measure everything by the effect it has on sale and the cost to get there.

That’s all about the sale—not the customer. The term “customer focus” itself is turned inside out when we evaluate “focus” by whether or not it produces the sale.
Trust-based Selling is not a process—it’s a set of principles consistently applied. They are:

1. customer focus—for the sake of the customer
2. an instinct for collaboration
3. a default toward transparency except where injurious or illegal
4. a medium-to-long term focus on the relationship, not a short-term focus on the transaction.

If you had to put it into one word, it would be “care.” The more complex, long, and specialized the sale, the more we buy from those who care about us more than they care about getting the sale.

Doesn’t make sense? On the contrary, it makes all the sense in the world.


If you’d like to learn more about Trust-based Selling™, why not join me for a Webinar tomorrow, Thursday, August 21, titled How to Build Trust in Sales Conversations. It is from 2PM to 3:30PM, Eastern time. See you there.


Why Influence Is Only Halfway to Trust

I was interested to read, in the Wall Street Journal  that persuasion is taking the place of old-style command and control managemen

True—and yet only half the truth.

The author, Erin white writes:

Managers say they increasingly must influence — rather than command — others in order to get their own jobs done. The trend is the result of leaner corporate hierarchies and the erosion of division walls. Managers now work more often with peers where lines of authority aren’t clear or don’t exist.

Historically, each business-development staffer worked with a specific engineer in Mr. Martino’s group [at IBM]. He wanted to create teams of engineers to work with business-development staffers. Business-development managers feared the move might lead to confusion and missed connections. So Mr. Martino agreed to appoint team leaders to help coordinate. He says the system is working well.

"The more we operate as a global company, you’re going to be faced with dealing more" across group boundaries, he says. "It’s just the reality."

That’s the truth part: that as organizations become more global, they must get more horizontal, matrixed, and team-based.

Now here’s the half-truth part: that isn’t the half of it.

Marry globalization to business process outsourcing, and you have a massive replacement of clear vertical management not by indirect management—but by commercial contracts with third parties.

Think it’s hard coordinating business development managers in Armonk with engineers in Tennessee? Try coordinating them with an engineering subcontractor in Bangalore.

The difficulty is not just about lines of authority—it’s about horizontal, commercial, supplier/customer relationships with the companies that now handle the work you used to handle internally across those corporate boundaries—which you used to think were complex!

Handling vague lines of authority is merely a way-station on the road to globally outsourced supply chains.

Jack Welch had it half right when he talked about the need for boundaryless companies. The half he missed was to get rid of the word “companies.”

Courses on influence are indeed taking over the corporate agenda from courses on management. But it’s a half-step and change is hampered because “influence” is still chained to an us vs. them paradigm.

The value of “influencing” skills is harshly limited if they are applied only to the achievement of sustainable corporate competitive advantage. If I’m on the same team as you, I might not mind being influenced. But if I’m the outsourcing partner you’re trying to influence, in order to increase your bottom line at the expense of mine, then every attempt at influencing me just makes me more cynical about your motives.

When applied to outsiders, when we say "influence," we mean “getting you to do what I want." Until we see customers and suppliers as on the same side of the table as we are, we cannot move to trust—helping us both get what we both want.

Carnival of Trust for February is Up

Carnival of TrustThe February 2008 Carnival of Trust is now online, hosted by Michelle Golden and her blog Golden Practices.

Each month, the (rotating) host selects the Top Ten trust-related blog postings from across the web during the prior month. Subject areas include Advising and Influencing, Sales and Marketing, Leadership and Management, and Strategy, Economics and Policy.

I want to say pointedly how great this Carnival thing is.  Maybe you never heard the word "carnival" applied to blogs before.  All it means is a compilation of other blogs.

But as with all things internet-related—there are compilations, and there are compilations.  If you like casually searching the web for interesting stuff, the best click you can make is onto a really good Carnival.  And here’s why this one is turning out so well.

First, we limit the posts to 10.  This is the Top 10 list, the very best of the blogosphere, for anything vaguely related to trust last month.

Second, we get great hosts.  It’s not me that picks the Top 10, it’s the fine people who bring their own special expertise—marketing, consulting, intellectual property, selling, communications—and apply that expertise to the selection.

Third, those great hosts have a Point of View.  They add zing and zest and perspective to the already-good material they’ve selected.

Think of reading the Carnival of Trust as like skimming the NYTimes Book Review, if you like that; or the category leaders in Amazon; or some kind of Google-scanning with mind-reading software that filters out everything but what is Really Great for You and You Alone (if you like trust, that is).

If you can’t tell, I’m excited about the way the Carnival of Trust has been evolving.  Do yourself a favor and pop over to the carnival, hosted by Michell Golden this month,  and treat yourself to a good quick  read.

Americans, Travel and Rushing to Judgment

I travel internationally; less than some, more than many. These last three weeks I’ve been in three countries (the third visit for one, 10th and 20-something-th for the others).

Travel is good for everyone, I think, but especially for Americans. All right, OK—for me.

(On Monday I’ll have a tongue-in-cheek self-diagnostic test: find out just how American you really are!).

I know a few who love foreign travel. They assume that people are fundamentally the same, and delight in finding the superficial differences, the spices that make the human stew an infinitely varied source of nourishment.

I admire the hell out of them. Because unlike them, my first reptilian-brain instinct is to go to fear-based judgment. An all-too American response, I think. All right, OK—maybe it’s just me.

Here’s what I’m re-discovering on this trip:

• Judgment feeds on fear.
• Fear feasts on ignorance.
• Ignorance fades when one can hear others—in their terms.
• Our ability to influence depends on our willingness to be influenced.
• Our similarities far outweigh our differences.
• Our behavior in groups mirrors our behavior as individuals.

My personal road to growth has been exposure to others. For me as an American, the benefit of international travel is enormous. Yet only something like 20% of us have a passport. Absurdly few of us speak another language—usually poorly at that.

But what’s the link between individuals and groups? Does the road to corporate trustworthiness go through the individual?

Some see trust issues mainly as group issues. I’m more inclined to see groups as aggregations of individuals. Let’s assume and explore—at the risk of touching on politics—the latter.

Marriage-researcher John Gottman says marriages work best when we are vulnerable to and influenceable by our mates. They’re worst when we judge, shut down, and insist on changing the other.

Might nations be the same? Mark Twain says, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness."

If Gottman’s observation extends to group behavior, then exposure to the world influences us. And, thereby, gives us influence.

Consider foreign student exchange programs, and how deeply they promote understanding. We could afford to spend $10,000 per head to send 500,000 Americans abroad to be influenced, and the same amount to bring 500,000 influenceable foreigners here—all for the cost of about two months’ spending on the Iraq war. With, arguably, better results. In any case, we could use a bit more of that perspective.

One of our presidential candidates said, “the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.” It is no accident that this candidate “has a grandmother living in a hut on the shores of Lake Victoria and a sister who’s half-Indonesian, married to a Chinese-Canadian.” (Hint: it’s not Giuliani). We could use a bit of that kind of perspective too.

Peter Jennings—famously traveled—said, “Whenever I see a coin, I’ve learned to turn it over to see the other side.” We need a bit more of that view, I think.

My suggestions for travel in a new country or city:

  1. First, go walking. A lot. For hours. With no goal but to experience.
  2. Invest a few hours in the national historical museum.
  3. Find a local restaurant without using the concierge or guidebook.
  4. Be curious, not judgmental.

We need a bit of that too. Well, I do anyway.