Seven Steps to an Effective Client Nurturing Plan

Sprinkling canThe Journal of Accountancy reported in their annual survey that marketing and practice growth appeared in the top five issues list for the first time since 2005, across all five of the firm sizes surveyed. My guess – it extends well beyond the accounting world.

Let’s face it; survival mode prompts difficult client decisions that include changing long-time providers–possibly YOU.

Misreading Client Loyalty

According to a study by three Harvard professors (The Value Profit Chain, Heskett, Sasser, and Schlesinger):

• 73% of our clients are Mercenaries; “regulars”…but will switch if something better comes along
• 17% are Loyalists, engaging all of your offerings and broadcasting your praises
• Apostles (3% of your portfolio) also referred to as unpaid sales reps, behave much like Loyalists, but also provide constructive criticism so you can better meet their future needs.

Did you catch the scary part? Yup, statistically speaking, nearly three in four of OUR clients are Mercenaries. Indeed, we tend to overestimate client loyalty levels. Recessions don’t help.

Quietly Losing Adhesion

Like a band-aid that’s losing its glue, client losses, except for special cases (e.g. – government bids, mergers, closings, etc.) result from a gradual detachment, a sliding down the curve from apostle to loyalist and then from loyalist to mercenary. The key ingredient in the glue is relationship strength, not institutionally, but at a personal level. The less clients feel attached to us, the easier it is to rip the band-aid completely off.

Create Value

We must create value from the client’s perspective. In turbulent times the status quo isn’t enough.
But how? Its starts with a spirit of GIVING, not quid-pro-quo, but giving with no strings attached. And, as Michael Port (Book Yourself Solid) implores, the value you give must be RELEVANT.

Here is a seven step client nurturing plan designed to cultivate Apostles and improve client retention rates:

1. Be Proactive – Call them before they call you. For example, one of my coaching clients surprised his contact with news of an $83,000 refund check (they scrub every client file seeking losses they can back-apply NOL’s resulting from ERA legislation). That’s apostle behavior!

2. Make introductions – Whether it’s a referral source or a prospective client, your clients love to get introductions, don’t you? Commit to making a minimum of one introduction per day (via email, linked-in, twitter, facebook, etc.)

3. Sampling – Anything free and relevant adds value (see my blog “Free Medium Coffee – No Purchase Necessary”). Send them links to blogs, podcasts, articles, webinars, white papers or books.

4. Compassion – Send them handwritten thank you, congratulations, and condolence cards. Include a Starbucks or Amex gift card for achieving something special. automates the process. Remember, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

5. Business Reviews – Set up periodic meetings to review your relationship together. It’s a real opportunity to reach higher level contacts and ensure you’re truly serving them. Tip: make it THEIR meeting.

6. Face-time – Nothing beats live and in-person. Email is ok. Phone is better. In-person is the best.

7. Schedule it – whether you still use a paper calendar or an automated CRM program, decide how frequently you want to touch each client, then schedule your touches.

How would your clients categorize you? Mercenary? Apostle? You sure?

Good news – not only will your nurturing program improve your retention rate, giving makes us feel good and inspires more giving. Think about how you feel when someone gives something of value to you.

Clients don’t leave their Apostles.


Elton John, Billy Joel and the Likeability Factor

39,000 fans witnessed a bizarre and unexpected series of events unfold at the Billy Joel/Elton John Face to Face Tour Concert in Washington, DC Saturday night.  After the first two songs, the stage went silent.   

Good or bad, live performances, where the risks of hiccups abound, can shape other’s perception of us.  This glitch, of major rock and roll proportions, revealed a dichotomy in personalities between these two legendary stars.

Let me rewind.

My daughter, now reaching those ever-increasing independent teenage years, asked me to go to the Billy Joel/Elton John concert.  As the melody of Cats in the Cradle played in my head, I didn’t blink.

The night was filled with anticipation; we settled in our seats at the newly constructed Nationals Park.  Here’s how the events unfolded:

7:30 PM – Scheduled start time – huddled masses finding their seats.

7:53 PM – Two black grand pianos emerge from beneath the stage like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

7:54 PM – The crowd roars as Billy Joel enters stage-left, followed by another roar as Elton John enters stage-right.  The two hug at center stage and retreat to their pianos.

8:05 PM – After trading verses of Your Song and Just the Way You Are, the two welcome the audience.  During the second song, however, Elton barked out orders, off-mic, in the general direction of his crew.

8:06 PM – Houston, we have a problem.  After tapping out the first two bars of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Elton suddenly stops.  His face contorted and agitated, he lashes, "You know what, this is (blanking) ridiculous, I can’t play like this."  Billy Joel, who no doubt heard him light up the crew’s headsets between songs, let the rest of us in on the secret, "He’s having a little problem with his foot pedal–it’s sticking."  While four crew members dashed to John’s piano to free the pedal, Joel smiled and filled the time with his own impromptu version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

8:07 PM Joel turns back to John, "How we doin’?" John, now in full wrath mode, did not acknowledge him.  Joel then smiled and turned to the increasingly tense crowd, "Hey, at least it’s not freakin’ raining!"  This released some tension from those of us who felt like we walked in on a father about to unleash a good whooppin’ on his son.

8:09 PM – Without skipping a beat, Joel went back to his tap dancing music with a few bars of Yankee Doodle Dandy.   Then, in another attempt to work the crowd, he snickers, "You’ve just witnessed an authentic rock n’ roll (screw up)!  You don’t see too many of those anymore."  The sellout crowd lets out another nervous laugh.

8:10 PM – All eyes are on the stage as the drama unfolds.  Next, straight from his Long Island, blue collar roots, Joel throws his jacket on the Rocket Man’s piano, and dives under it on his back in an attempt to free the stuck pedal.

8:11 PM – No luck.  Joel retreats to his piano.

8:12 PM – Joel extends an entirely unselfish gesture, "Want to switch pianos?"  To which Elton John offers a non-response followed by another, "this is (blanking) ridiculous."

He then gets up from his piano bench and exits the stage.

Classic hissy fit.

Now what?

As John makes his unceremonious exit, Billy Joel calms the bewildered masses, "You know what? Let’s just go ahead with just my guys."  So, "The Entertainer" called an audible and pulled his band’s fire alarm.

8:16 PM – After a three-minute flurry of on stage activity that appeared as if the stage manager pressed the fast forward button, Billy Joel and his band stepped up like pros and dove into his band’s first song, ironically enough, Angry Young Man.

9:09 PM – After flip-flopping the order, now it was John’s turn.  The Baltimore Sun reporter wrote, "… the crowd held its collective breath that the piano’s surgery was a success." It was.

9:15 PM – After his first song back, Elton John addresses the audience regarding his child-like self-indulgent behavior with more of a statement than an apology. "Sorry for what happened earlier. The pedal was stuck and it was as if all the notes were the same.  Thanks to Billy Joel and his band for being so gracious and professional."

This isn’t a referendum on Elton John.  On our "grand stages" there’s lot that can go wrong.  It’s our reaction under stress that shapes how others perceive us; a perception that’s impacted more by likability than performance. (See Andrea Howe’s piece on competent jerks and loveable fools).  

BTW – Which souvenir t-shirt do you think my daughter wanted to buy after the concert?

The Power of I’m Sorry: the Four R’s of a Trustworthy Apology

Do you remember the last time you felt like you deserved an apology but didn’t get one?  Maybe…

  • The waiter forgot about your table
  • They shipped you the wrong product
  • Your significant other embarrassed you in a group setting

Fill in your own blank.   What impact did that have on your level of trust?

As sure as death and taxes, we will mess up.  How we respond, regardless of fault, can have a monumental effect on our relationships, yet apologizing is rarely discussed in business development circles.  

I recall an audience member asking a sales trainer, “What do we do when we make a mistake”?  The trainer responded, “Be careful about apologizing.   If you admit to the mistake, you could have legal liabilities”.  While technically correct, that advice somehow didn’t feel right to me.

Shifts in thinking on this topic appear hopeful.  Even state governments, hospitals and insurance companies have abandoned legal posturing in favor of an apology approach.  “I’m sorry” legislation has been approved in 29 states and is gaining momentum.  To reduce the risk of litigation, New Jersey recently started the Sorry Works! Coalition.

Gaffes, slip-ups, and blunders present a fork in the road to relationship depth.  The proper apology, even in the most egregious circumstances, has the ability to strengthen relationships.   Even seemingly insignificant faux pas like arriving late for a meeting, mispronouncing someone’s name, or failing to include someone, present a moment of truth to building trust. 

We’re a “fix it” society.   Somehow, we convince ourselves that if we just correct the problem – without an apology – we’re back to our original balance in the trust bank account.  That’s a myth. 

So how do we build a worthy apology?

Experts like Aaron Lazare and Nick Smith, in their book On Apology, point to four essential parts of the apology, and we can remember them as the 4 R’s: Recognition, Responsibility, Remorse, and Reparation.

1.    Recognize – First, the offender must show they recognize their misbehavior by restating the offense as objectively and specifically as possible.   Repeating what happened and why will show that the offender understands not only where and how they went wrong, but why the offended is hurt.  Be direct, i.e., "I apologize for whatever I did to hurt you" won’t cut it!

2.    Responsibility – Second, the offender must accept responsibility for the action that caused offense.   No excuses here!  He can’t blame the beer or the bad mood.   The apology is all about THEM and how they feel.   It doesn’t matter if the actions were intentional or not, the end result is the same.

3.    Remorse – Third, the apology must show, sincerely, remorse for the misbehavior. Sincerity can’t be faked: we know it when we hear it.  We’ve all heard non-apology apologies.   Include a statement of apology along with a promise not to repeat the behavior.  Remember Don Imus (see  Imussed Up: Anatomy of a Failed Apology)?

4.    Reparation -The fourth essential component may be the trickiest: reparation. The offender has to give something back, atone in some way for his offense. This is easily said, but hard to do. How, indeed, do we mend a broken heart?

“The apology represents a common frailty –we are all human, we all make mistakes, perhaps even hurt someone, intentionally or not, then face the dilemma of where to go from there?” states Susan Morrison Hebble.  “For starters, the offender needs to listen, openly and earnestly.  They need to hear what the person has to say; let them talk; let them suggest what might be done to restore harmony to the relationship”. 

As Martha Beck writes, "The knowledge that one is heard and valued has incredible healing power; it can mend even seemingly irreparable wounds."

Here’s a hard truth: we must first admit that our own pride poses the biggest obstacle to apologizing.   I would propose, then, that the apology requires us to shift our focus from ourselves–our own discomfort, our own embarrassment, our own sense of guilt–to the person or people we’ve offended–his hurt, his sense of betrayal.   It requires us to act selflessly rather than selfishly. 

It is a daunting task, one that forces us to look at ourselves, at our own flaws, and then look beyond them to the person we’ve hurt.  But anyone who has offered up a real, solid, true apology will attest that in doing so they released themselves from the very pain, discomfort, and shame they’d been avoiding all along!

The 4 R’s aren’t rocket science, yet like most risk – reward propositions, they take practice.

Who do you need to apologize to? 

Giving Away Green and More

In bad economic times, sellers need to pay attention to what’s important.

Their knives are dull from slashing costs. But you can’t cut your way to profits. Now is the time to hug your best customers and nurture relationships with prospects.

However, in-person meetings with sellers keep dwindling.

How can sellers make an impact with a less available audience?

How do you create value even when you’re not in front of your client?

One of the best ways is free sampling. Give something away for nothing. It feels counter-intuitive at a time of cost-cutting. And I don’t mean rebates or discounts, either. I mean free. Here’s why.

One of my clients, Perry OP, an office products and furniture dealer in Temple, Texas, “walks the talk” when it comes to their core values of service, integrity and community. Earlier this year, they gave away a $25,000 Office Makeover that garnered local radio and TV attention.

At the same time—much more quietly–they delivered a check to a battered women’s shelter. The shelter was selected by Perry employees, who volunteered to contribute through payroll deductions. This they did behind the scenes, without fanfare. They just showed up with a check and blessed the shelter.

Perry’s current initiative is free “green”. Their “Bright Ideas for Going Green This Spring” campaign unashamedly occupies half the real estate on their homepage. Perry’s genuine customer focus demonstrates to prospects and customers alike that they are less interested in selling you something than developing a relationship with you. Their customer and lead nurturing program is sure to build trust between the Perry team and prospects/customers. Their “free samples” are real, fun and unique, for example:

• Bringing emphasis and awareness on Green “days” to calendar (St. Patrick’s Day, Earth Day, first day of Spring)
• Win a free HP tote bag by taking a green quiz
• Offering “green” product alternatives
• A Blogpost : “5 Easy Ways to Add Some Green to Your Office”

What did it cost Perry to give all this away? My guess is HP will donate the branded tote bags and everything else is just time invested in electronic info in various forms.

How big a deal is this? Very. It’s easy for days to become weeks, then months, between contacts. According to a recent CSO Insights study, 80% of sellers fail to follow up after the initial contact.

Since relationships are what differentiate sellers, out-of-sight easily translates to a decrease in buyer loyalty. Therefore, nurturing relationships electronically is a great way to stay in touch between visits.

What can you do to provide free sampling to your clients?

Here’s my top 5 list:

1. Blog (500-800 words) on something of interest to your audience, yet not self-promoting.

2. Publish an electronic newsletter. For about $15 per month, Constant Contact or iContact offer a user-friendly way to develop and track email marketing efforts with your audience.

3. Offer a free one-hour “strategy session” with a prospect. This is a great way for them to “free sample” you—the idea behind Selling by Doing, not Selling by Telling.

4. Send them out a timely email with topical information. Industry trends, regulation news, competitor updates, your new offerings that will help them (note: careful not to self-promote)

5. Client Spotlight – you’re reading an example of a “client spotlight” that features something unique from one of my clients. Why not show some love to your clients by sharing the things they care about that others can potentially learn from?

We’re really just scratching the surface of ways sellers can create value for buyers.

Building Trust with Millennials

Don’t look now, but the “millennials” are coming. Often disparaged as “techaholics” with a high WIIFM factor (what’s in it for me), the millennial, generation Y, echo boomers, or those born sometime after 1976, are changing the shape of the American workforce.

According to a recent NY Times article, the new kids on the block have a sense of entitlement;

Professor Marshall Grossman at the University of Maryland said, “I’ve come to expect complaints whenever I return English papers. Many students come in with the conviction that they’ve worked hard and deserve a higher mark.”

The sentiments are echoed by Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont: “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.”

I have noticed the same phenomenon in the course I teach at Loyola University. A disgruntled student who received a grade commensurate with the final product shifted the blame to me, saying, “Well, I guess it is in the syllabus, so you technically can give me a lower grade.”

How did they get this way? Michele Norris, a Tampa-based consultant, asserts, “If students have a sense of entitlement, it’s not entirely their fault. They are the product of “hovering” parents and an education system that is ‘results oriented’ to prove worthiness. Parents and coaches have rewarded them with trophies just for being on the team”.

According to Norris, millennials do have a great deal of self confidence. “The reality is that this generation is entering the workforce with the ability to multi-task, sort through vast amounts of information (the internet), and navigate the information age.”

John O’Neill, a millennial and senior business student at Loyola University, takes exception to the typical millennial line of thinking. “I am not a proponent of the "effort = quality" train of thought. In many situations, if an assignment can’t be completed on time or up to quality standards, no matter how much work was devoted, it should be considered a failure. “

Like John, not every millennial fits the stereotype. Alex and Brett Harris, authors of Do Hard Things: a Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations tap into their faith and Biblical principles to combat the idea of adolescence as a “vacation from responsibility.”

With over 16 million hits to their website, they are leading the charge in a growing movement of young people who are rebelling against the low expectations of their culture by choosing to "do hard things."

“The world says, ‘You’re young, have fun!’ It tells us to ‘obey your thirst’ and ‘just do it.’ Or it tells us, ‘You’re great! You don’t need to exert yourself.’ But those kinds of mindsets sabotage character and competence,” says Harris.

Meanwhile, millions of millennials are merging into the market. How to integrate them into the workforce?

During a recent 60 Minutes interview with Morley Safer, Marian Salzman, an Ad Agency exec who has been tracking Millennials ever since they entered the workforce said, “You do have to speak to them a little bit like a therapist on television might speak to a patient," Salzman says, laughing. "You can’t be harsh. You cannot tell them you’re disappointed in them. You can’t really ask them to live and breathe the company. Because they’re living and breathing themselves and that keeps them very busy."

Faced with new employees who want to roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon, but still become a CEO by… Friday, companies are realizing that the era of the buttoned down exec happy to have a job is as dead as the three-Martini lunch.

How can we build trust with these narcissistic praise hounds now taking over the office?

Coach vs. Boss
"It’s the boomers that need to hear the message, that they’re gonna have to start focusing more on coaching rather than bossing. In this generation in particular, you just tell them, ‘You got to do this. You got to do this.’ They truly will walk. And every major law firm, every major company knows, this is the future," says Mary Crane, a millennial coach.

In order to be perceived as trustworthy, we must have a high “other” orientation. In the case of millenials, we need to speak their language. Be willing to lose the battles like wardrobe and time clocks, so long as they understand results matter.

Back Patting
They need more accolades. What does it cost to give it to them? Go ahead.

Give Trust to Get Trust
Lastly, to get trust, we must first give trust. Before we can expect them to understand and appreciate where we’re coming from, we must first take the time to make them feel understood.

But that’s just me; I welcome your thoughts!

Transparency and Selling

President Obama directly links transparency to economic performance.

In his inauguration address, he asserted “…those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Lately transparency has been in short supply.

Offices for sale. Ponzi schemes. The former mayor of Baltimore has just been indicted on charges that she accepted illegal gifts, including gift cards intended for the poor that she allegedly used instead for a holiday shopping spree.

Whether with respect to government, or to building client relationships, transparency is at the very root of trust.

That may seem obvious. Motherhood and apple pie. But for those of us with a career background in sales, transparency requires deprogramming. We were taught:

• Never share a weakness
• Never admit a competitor strength
• Never share cost information
• Always get as much margin as you can
• Don’t share information that could decrease your ability to close a sale

Oh yeah, and be customer focused.

What goes around comes around. In the long run, the truth inevitably bubbles to the top. You can get credit for saying it—or blame for resisting it.

As Charlie Green said in a HuffingtonPost piece, “If we see someone as being transparent, then nagging questions about motive disappear. We no longer speculate about, ‘What’s in it for him? What’s the hidden meaning? Why’d he say that? Is he lying?’ and so on. We accept the person at face value for what they say, even if—sometimes, particularly if—what they say reflects imperfection. That works in sales and in politics.” 

Yet, we’re trained to go in come back with information that will close the sale. Hunt it, kill it and bring it back to eat.

• What if, instead of dancing around an answer we don’t know, we just admit we don’t know?
• What if, instead of promising something we probably can’t deliver, we admit that and then tell them what we can do?
• What if, instead of offering “teaser” pricing and then covertly getting it on the back end, we share our cost structure?

These examples are counter-intuitive—downright treasonous in some circles.

Without the pretension, void of false promises and out on a limb – we are, admittedly exposed, naked and vulnerable.

But wouldn’t you rather buy from a seller who is willing to show you his cards, even if—perhaps because—you both know it might cost him the sale? That visceral reaction works in reverse when transparency dominates relationships (think Madoff, Blagojevich).

Transparency creates a powerful pull toward you. It also, by the way, lets you sleep easier.

Sales Benchmarking: What to Measure in a Tough Economy?

To turn the tide on sputtering revenue numbers, sales organizations ratchet up pressure on sellers to hit targets.

Many will seek a fool-proof formulaic antidote. The more scientific it feels, the more control it gives over success–or so they presume.

Some swear by sales benchmarking.  Landslide Technologies’ SFA (sales force automation) application ensures you can “govern the sales process in an effort to drive large deals through the sales pipeline in a consistent manner."  Just use the SFA application to track your big deals and they’ll pump out new accounts like a canning machine on an assembly line.

Do benchmarks work?  Or are they a desperate attempt to CYA at each level of the food chain in the event of a day of reckoning?

One recent article from a worldwide sales training company described benchmarking as “a sales rep’s GPS, helping to map out routes that were either successful or time-consuming in the past in order to devise a more efficient course”.

Here’s their GPS system:

To simplify this already-simple model: all things being equal, if you make more calls per day (CPD) or increase your close rate (CR) or increase the average size deal (ADS) or if you have more salespeople (SP), you will increase your AS (Annual Sales).

The author of the article lauds this wildly lagging indicator of performance stating, “their (sellers) improved time management efficiency as the result of this benchmarking model will free themselves up from dependence on marketing departments for leads, support and differentiators.”

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Feeling liberated yet? What a relief! Without burdensome leads, support and differentiators from marketing, sellers can work the levers on the benchmarking formula and land on their AS (don’t pardon the pun).

Some of the largest sales organizations tell their team to abide by their model – or else.

Now, let’s stipulate that tracking and measuring sales activity is critical to success. Still–too many sales organization have a knee-jerk response to sluggish short-term performance, namely engaging in short-term solutions.

There lies the slippery slope of micromanagement.  Knee-jerk short-term solutions to short term indicators.  It’s a recipe for low trust and high turnover.

Eventually, quality selling activity gives way to “prettying up” the spreadsheet. “My, that’s a good looking chart,” says the visiting exec from HQ.  Meanwhile, the team is thinking, “those numbers are bogus; plugged into Excel the night before to impress the brass.”

GIGO.  Garbage in, garbage out.

When I managed a regional sales organization, corporate decided to split the sales force into hunters and farmers–to improve the “cost of sales” ratio of gross comp to revenue.

We lost a $10.5 million deal. Why? We severed the relationship between their rep and the procurement director.   They, in turn, severed us.

We broke their trust, plain and simple.

What benchmark tracks lost accounts and missed opportunities due to relationship issues? None I know of–yet their impact is an order of magnitude bigger than what benchmarks mark.

Harvey McKay (author of Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive) offers a better predictor of selling success than all the formulae, algorithms and sales funnels combined. It’s a list of questions he calls the McKay 66.  He suggests that relationship-oriented information is king (mostly centered around the client relationship – not their stated needs).

For example:

* #39. On what subjects (outside of business) does the customer have strong feelings?
* #55. What is he/she most proud of having achieved?
* #58. What moral or ethical considerations are involved when you work with this customer?

Doesn’t it make intuitive sense that knowledge of answers to these kinds of intimate questions reveal more about our progress with a prospect or account than the number of dials, appointments or calls?

Selling always was and always will be, first and foremost, a referendum, not on process and statistics, but on the loyalty developed between sellers who can build relationships with buyers.

Buying Decisions: Stepping on the Value Scale

The phone’s not ringing.

The deal’s not closing.

What went wrong?

If you’re in a selling role for any period of time, you know the feeling of an opportunity slipping away.

We’re inclined to accept the client’s explanation at face value or write our own stories about why we’re losing the deal.

We were too high. The competition had a capability we didn’t. The timing wasn’t right.

Often times, we know in our gut that these are only part of the story. We often accept these as answers because they are concrete, tangible or quantifiable; we can package them and tie them in a bow – they are clean.

The truth is often messy, intangible and more personal; which is why the client is reluctant to share them with you.

So–what really did go wrong?

What if we take a 30,000 foot view of a simple question: what’s the role of the seller?

a. Make a sale?
b. Provide a ROI for the client?
c. Reduce Costs?
d. Improve efficiency?
e. Meet customer needs?

Yes, yes and yes. But the common thread woven through all of these reasonable responses is … to create value.

Neil Rackham, author of Re-thinking the Sales Force and SPIN Selling summarized his years of research: “The only single ‘truth’ that seems to be holding true for all sales forces is that they have to create value for customers if they are to be successful. Just communicating the value inherent in their products isn’t enough.”

But–what is value? How do we measure it, and what is its impact on sales revenue and profitability?

Let’s remember a simple formula: Benefits – Costs =Value

We tend to think of costs synonymous with the price we charge–for example – $1,250 plus tax – while disregarding the costs of the “hassle factor." Likewise, we tend to think of benefits as things that help the customer close a needs gap–improve efficiency, reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction. We discount a critical but less apparent value, i.e. – the way we engage with the client prior to actually making the sale – the process.

The hassle factor on the cost side, and the engagement process on the benefits side can significantly tip the scale in either direction. And your perceived trustworthiness has a lot to do with the balance of the scales.

Read the full article here.


Free Medium Coffee and Warm Fuzzies

What did the new Dunkin Donuts store owner do right? The sign says it all…”Free Medium Coffee”.

Do you think he drove traffic to his new store? Lots. I had to look twice at the second line; “No Purchase Necessary."

That’s different.

Free just feels different.

New businesses offer discounts, coupons and rebates all the time. They imply, “We’ll give you a good deal if you come check us out.” Free, on the other hand, says, “We’re willing to invest in a relationship with you and know we’ll need to earn your business.”

Now flip it. How obliged do you feel after hunting for the coupon, clipping it out, sorting it by category and then remembering to use it before it expires? You feel like they owe you the coffee, don’t you? At best coupons and other promotions offer a balanced exchange; at worst, buyers feel distrust about the process. How much pain have you felt due to coupon or rebate issues? One study suggested that 50% of all rebates never get turned in.

Now let’s look since the savvy store manager erected the sign:

Day #1 – On your first visit, you look around as you approach the counter with caution. Suspicious of a catch, you place your order, “I saw your sign and I’d like a free medium coffee.” When the person on the other side of the counter smiles and promptly pours your Dunkin Decaf, you wonder if the other shoe will drop. When you realize there’s no string attached, they just went from stranger to friend.

Day #2 – You know you’re getting a donut with the coffee. Why? Because you feel a strange sense of gratitude for a second cup of free coffee. I bet you never felt a sense of appreciation after using coupons? (By the way, after day #1, you told at least three friends about the free medium coffee because you like to give away free stuff too, even if it’s someone else’s).

Day #3 – “Dunkin Decaf, cream, no sugar Mr. Slatin?” says the lady in a pink and orange uniform. “Thanks for remembering Janice, let me also get a half dozen glazed and a half dozen with sprinkles, an egg, bacon and cheese croissant and a box of munchkins.”

What just happened?

The seller created value by giving you something without expecting anything in return. Did he have a previous relationship with you? No. But now he does. He changed the feeling you had about his product or service from neutral to positive. Warm fuzzies. Why are warm fuzzies important? Well despite popular belief – all decisions are based on emotion and justified by logic. Dunkin Donuts went through your mouth to get to your heart.

What’s your “free medium coffee”?

The Silver Lining in the Recession Cloud: a Shift Toward the Customer

Can you feel it? It’s all around us.

No, I’m not talking about the doom and gloom of the stock market or the latest bank collapse. I’m talking about a the subtle changes where you shop, eat, bank, style your hair and service your car. Despite the dark sky of economic woes, there’s a silver lining – a shift toward the customer.

* Chain restaurant staff are more welcoming.
* Safeway has a sale sign on every item (recognizing that people need to perceive a deal before they’ll buy)
* The local Toyota dealership is offering free Cappuccino’s on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and now leaves you with a bounce-back coupon.
* Staples offered 50% off any copy paper (although tied to their rewards program – not very customer focused)

Last night, while I was at the local Target, the floor manager announced (loud enough for customers to hear) that any employee that helped a customer find a “high ticket” item resulting in the largest sale would get a $5.00 Target gift card.

Think back to not too long ago. Didn’t you feel complacency just prior to the storm clouds moving in? I’m guessing Lehman Brothers, Fannie and Freddie all were perched on their porches in rocking chairs before the tornado came. The energy was about to drift to the buyer.

New found energy?

Genuine customer focus?


Here’s the question that pulls at me – what if this customer focus du jour carries beyond the current storm clouds? What if this recent shift back toward customer satisfaction propagates valuable lessons that translate into better service once the sunny days are here again?

Perhaps this is a divine shake up — requiring us to “love your brother as yourself” in order to get back on track.

Those who are truly customer-focused will soak up what works and what doesn’t through these trials. Those that are thinking about these activities as a tactic to wait out the storm will probably revert back to their old ways.

In the short term, buyers benefit. In the long-term both buyers and seller can.