Jeff Tobe

Sunday, 21 July 2002 20:00

Frequent flier pointers

If you, like myself, are a road warrior and play the frequent-flier game, you can appreciate how frustrating it is to have to travel on one of those other airlines. You know, the one where you have no status, where you are treated like a plebeian, and where you look for horror stories to relate to your friends.

A few weeks ago, I looked forward to the unpleasant duty of having to fly on one these inferior lines to make a connection to another city.

Now, I also must share with you that, if given the choice, I prefer to travel cross-country in very comfortable clothing. It’s not unusual to find me in warm-up pants, a golf shirt and sneakers. On the day of this flight into the unknown, I arrived at the airport dressed in this fashion.

I finally made it to a ticket agent, after having to wait in the commoner’s line, and was greeted by an abnormally large smile on a woman in her late 50s. The first words out of her mouth? “Guess you’re not used to having to wait in line?” I was curious as to why she said that.

I certainly didn’t look the part of a person not used to being kept waiting. She noticed my inquisitive look and drew my attention to the luggage tag on my briefcase sitting on the counter in front of her. It indicates that I am in the top tier of my preferred airline.

Then she hit me with the question of the day: “What can we do to make you change that tag to one of ours by the end of this year?”

Lesson number one: Do any of you take the time to look for indications that your customers or prospects are already loyal to one of your competitors? Do you then take this information and process it to your advantage?

This woman had a choice. She could have dismissed me as one of its competitors’ customers, or she could have taken this one opportunity — without having a second chance, as far as she knew — to convert me to her company’s airline service.

I found it difficult to answer her question concerning how she could win my loyalty. I was very fond of my airline. And I know the hassles and tribulations one must go through to begin a new frequent-flier program . I looked at her and sheepishly shrugged my shoulders.

Lesson number two: Do you understand the huge discrepancy between what your prospect perceives as the COST of doing business with you and the VALUE of doing business with you? Remember, this is not reality — this is their perception. You must see the world through your clients’ eyes to see the way your client buys.

Almost as if she had read my mind, the woman allayed my fears. “I can imagine how the thought of starting all over with a new airline must paralyze a lot of frequent travelers like you,” she said. “I would like you to give us a fair try. Would it help if I offered you an upgrade to first class on this cross-country trip?”

Now, as many of you are self-employed professionals are aware, first class is a self-indulgence afforded to us by our airline because of our status, but not for which we would consider paying on any carrier. I turned to my new friend and graciously accepted her offer while biting my tongue in glee.

She floored me with her next request.

“Unfortunately, we have a dress code in our first class cabin,” she explained. She proceeded to walk out from behind the counter and survey me from head to foot. With an unapologetic look, she continued, “If you would be willing to change into something a little more professional, I would be glad to upgrade you.”

What’s one to do? Compromise one’s very comfort? Acquiesce to such an obviously insane dress policy? Absolutely. I asked where the nearest men’s room was and told her to hang on to her upgrade. Within three minutes, I was back, having fulfilled my part and waiting to consummate the deal.

True to her word, she handed me a shiny new folder — the one that displays the words “First Class” on the outside — and I proudly proceeded to my gate.

Lesson number three: Ask. How many opportunities have we missed because we didn’t ask? If our prospects or clients want something from us that badly, we can basically ask them to do what it takes to get it. Once we understand who it is we are dealing, it puts us in the proverbial driver’s seat.

Recently, I was flying on my original airline once again (it takes time for the ‘weaning’ process). I struck up a conversation with my seatmate — in first class, of course. With his baby finger extended as he sipped his tea, he explained to me that he too ‘endured’ that other airline just the week before and abhorred its lack of customer service.

Before I could defend my new friends, he finished with, “They do tell a good story, however. The woman at the ticket counter told me she once actually got some guy to change his clothes just to get an upgrade. Can you imagine being that desperate to fly first class?”

Lesson number four: It’s all in your perspective. I sat there thinking to myself that this guy didn’t even know the half of it. Had the ticket agent asked me to be loyal to that airline for the next three months and stand on my head, I probably would have done that as well.

Jeff Tobe, “Primary Colorer” at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, helps diverse businesses to be more creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592.


Monday, 22 July 2002 09:51

When different is good

A couple of days ago, I was surveying the shelves of my local pharmacy. A summer cold had gotten hold of me. While browsing through the latest cold medicines, one caught my attention: Thera Flu from Sandoz Pharmaceuticals.

This is by no means an endorsement for the product, but the name Thera Flu vs. all of the others which had “cold” in their name was the attraction. Upon closer scrutiny, I realized that Thera Flu has the exact same ingredients as most of the other cold remedies.

But it’s not a cold remedy. It’s a flu remedy. In my mind, that put Thera Flu all by itself in a whole new category. This is marketing at a different level.

Successful businesses attract competitors the way sugar draws ants. The more you grow, the more others are thinking about how they can steal away the markets you have built.

To stay a step ahead, change the rules in the middle of the game. That’s what Sandoz Pharmaceuticals has done. I can only guess that when me-too competitors started to elbow their way into the long-established category of cold remedies, Sandoz figured it may be time to shift gears and create a whole new category. That got it out of the “ours is better than theirs” trap.

In my obligation as a responsible creative strategist, I began to look for other companies that have recreated their categories. I found a financial services company that positioned itself as the leader in health care equipment leasing — even though its “health care” leases worked just like any other lease. This company was the first in this new category.

What about the first printing firm that declared itself a “quick printer?” Other printers probably had the same capabilities, but customers in a hurry will go to the quick printer first.

As I became more aware of this marketing ploy, I began to understand that when creative marketers can’t continue to create new categories, they still try to change the rules. They simply turn their weaknesses into strengths and their competitors’ strengths into weaknesses. Here’s what you can do:

Accentuate your negatives and turn them into positives. If you succeed, the competitor’s marketing of your negatives will actually reinforce your message. I remember Warner-Lambert marketing Listerine as “the taste you hate twice a day.” It’s a perfect example. What about Smuckers — hardly an appetizing name — which boasted, “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.”

If this doesn’t apply, turn your competitor’s strengths into weaknesses. When a competitor dominates the market because of a unique competency — for example, because it has a patented process — it may think it has a lock on the market. The best example? How about “7-Up — The Un-Cola?” These are opportunities waiting to present themselves to you.

Jeff Tobe, “Primary Colorer” at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, helps small businesses to be more creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592. For a free report: “How to be a Brand Leader”, send your name on your letterhead with the words “Brand Leader” to (412) 373-8773.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

When the world’s a play ...

My 10-year-old daughter and I recently spent a wonderful weekend together in New York City.

The details of the trip won’t interest you, but I should mention that if you ever want some great marketing ideas, take your child to FAO Schwarz, the huge toy store featured in the movie “BIG.” Then try to leave without buying anything. Maybe this is more a lesson on negotiation than marketing.

In our quest to do as much as possible in as little time as possible, we attended two off-Broadway plays. One, “Tony ’N Tina’s Wedding,” caught my attention as a great lesson in marketing. Some of you may be familiar with the concept, or may have been involved in this wonderful, interactive comedy. The key word is involved.

The audience is very much a part of this farcical presentation of a stereotypical New York, Italian wedding. The audience makes up the guest list and, after attending the ceremony in the basement of a real church, the entire cast, crew and ‘invited guests’ walk four blocks to a restaurant for the reception.

Throughout the evening, the cast ‘picks’ on certain favorites in the audience. Needless to say, the only 10-year-old in attendance — my daughter — got more than her share of attention and loved every minute of it.

The experience with Tony ’N Tina left me pondering the show’s technique of truly getting the entire audience involved. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage, and we are just mere players...” Armed with these concepts, I pondered how we could all get our clients more involved with our businesses.

Doesn’t it make sense that, if we are simply staging this business performance, (whether yours is a melodrama, comedy, or mystery), then if we could somehow get our clients participating in the production of this play, we could get ‘buy in’ on a different level?

Here are four marketing ideas to get your cast of prospects and clients to participate more in your business:

1) Form an advisory board. No matter the size of your business, everyone should have his or her own advisory board.

We are consulting with a financial planning firm that took this advice to heart. About a year ago, we had the firm’s leaders contact six of their best clients — not necessarily their biggest, but their best. They invited them to participate on this advisory council, which meant they simply had to agree to attend a quarterly dinner at some very posh restaurants and be free with their advice and guidance.

Some were cautious, and some wouldn’t even entertain the idea, but our client was persistent and found wonderful members. Every quarter, they receive effective and invaluable input on marketing initiatives, future plans and the general marketplace — and from their clients, no less.

A bonus, but not a goal, is that the six original members have accounted for more than 25 referrals to new clients. It’s a compliment to ask your best clients to help you, and it will only cost you a nice dinner four times a year.

2) And the survey says ... How many times have you surveyed your client base for advice and feedback? Many of you have probably asked questions of customers, but have you sat with a professional research company to develop a survey that will not only tell you what you are doing now, but that could determine if you should look at a whole new market, launch a new product line or offer different services?

The key to a good survey is that you must give recipients a reason to respond. Special offers on products or services aren’t enough. It should be something that you can send right away upon receiving a completed survey. Make sure the perceived value of the incentive is high enough for your target audience.

3) Let your clients develop your Web site. If you have a Web site, why not feature one of your clients each month? Don’t just tell about their businesses, but have them write a short article about their industry (not self promoting) or profession.

We are re-engineering our Web site, and I have invited many of our clients to do this. I just received an article from a jeweler client on “How to buy a diamond.” Some may think this is a stretch, but it cements my relationships with my clients, and will offer useful information to those who surf my site.

The cost to me is nothing and, more important, I have clients clamoring to be featured next.

4) Get networked. Many of you belong to formal networking groups, where the purpose is to do business with and through each of the members. Most of these groups are very successful.

Take this concept one step further and start an exclusive networking group among your clients. Whatever solution you offer your clients, the ultimate goal is to help them grow either professionally or personally. This new networking opportunity allows your clients to meet — even if it’s only an annual event — with the hopes of doing business with or through the group.

One of our clients calls it a ‘client appreciation night’ and offers informational seminars along with plenty of time for socializing and networking.

It doesn’t take much to get your clients involved in your play. Perhaps you simply have never asked. Remember, most of us ask for advice and input when we already know the answer.

The tough part is to invite discussion and feedback when we are unsure of the path it may carve for our businesses.

Jeff Tobe, Primary Colorer at Monroeville-based, Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:45

What this means to you is...

I spent the day with a woman from a large, West Coast promotional products company. Rhonda was a little nervous as she knew this experience might be put under a microscope when the company convened the next day for training. Yet, the owner of the firm had assured me Rhonda was the most professional and successful rep working in the field.

She had spent an enormous amount of time and energy preparing a Power Point presentation to wow potential clients. I was immediately impressed at how prepared she was at our first meeting with a committee that was to decide about a new safety program for its factory. Rhonda was professional, and her ability to relate to everyone in the room made me envious.

As the slide show began, I felt the anticipation. This group had obviously not been treated to this level of professionalism before. The first slide showed Rhonda’s company logo. Cascading into the frame was a large bullet point, “Since 1892.” She explained that ABC Co. (names have been changed) had been in business since 1892. The next bullet read, “Largest,” and she said ABC Co. was the largest distributor of its kind on the West Coast.

As the third bullet appeared, I observed various levels of interest. One gentleman had begun doodling, and a woman was giving a continuous nods of agreement.

When Rhonda finished 15 minutes later, a few people asked courteous questions and we were dismissed. Rhonda asked what she had done wrong. She knew she didn’t get the account because she had not “clicked” with the committee.

As we drove to the next presentation, it hit me. I always contend that your clients only listen to one radio station —- WII-fm (What’s In It For Me). They don’t care that you have been in business for 1,000 years and that you are the best. They want to know how that benefits them.

I offered a solution. “What if — in this next call — you give the exact same presentation, but every time you give one of your bulleted points, you offer two benefits?”

There’s very simple formula to ensure that one always keeps the benefits in mind. Every time you offer a response — a feature — follow it up with some form of “what this means to you is... .” When you finish this, repeat, “what this also means to you is... .” Rhonda agreed to try it.

The next meeting was with two people looking for the perfect giveaways for ag company picnic. The presentation began. The first bullet appeared, “Since 1892,” and Rhonda started her monologue.

“We have been in business since 1892. What this means to you is that you will be working with a well-established company — not a fly-by-night. What this also means is that, because we have more experience in promotional advertising than any other company in the area, we have more resources to offer our clients.” Not bad.

The next bullet appeared. “Largest.” Rhonda piped in, “We are the largest distributor of our kind on the West Coast, so we are able to pass on volume discounts to you, saving you money. This also allows you peace of mind in knowing that there is always someone in our office who can help you, even if I am out on the road.” Touché!

Rhonda got the order on the spot. Her clients loved her presentation, which she masterfully altered with only words.

Ask whether you are offering benefits at every opportunity. When you introduce yourself, do you simply tell people what you do (features) or do you tell them what you can do for them (benefits)? When you exhibit at a trade show, does the sign in your booth boast your company name (features) or what it can do (benefits).

Rhonda called me the other day to ask my advice on something, and continued, “What offering this advice means to you is...”

Jeff Tobe, a certified speaking professional, thrives on helping businesses develop an outside-the-lines marketing approach to set them apart from the competition and build brand awareness. Reach him at (412) 373-6592 or visit

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:40

On seeing Harvey

Last month, we discussed the symptoms of that terrible disease from which many of us suffer -- BPID (Business Professionals Innovation Deficiency) Syndrome. The good news is that I have a cure.

I recommend five steps to curing this syndrome -- five steps to seeing your Harvey, to seeing the invisible, to seeing what others are unable to see. These may seem very basic, but as any professional athlete -- any Olympian -- would quickly remind you, victory often comes from sticking to the basics.

1. Learn to see the world through your clients' eyes. There is a great sales saying, "See the world through your clients' eyes and you will see the way your clients buy." Most of us have no idea of how our customers perceive us, our product or our service. Every morning, take one minute and imagine you are a client who is about to do business with you that day. What does he think when he thinks of doing business with you?

Does he find it a pain or a pleasure? Are you just another vendor? Are you a valuable, problem-solving resource that he can rely on? Are you professional? The key is to do this for each client.

2. Understand and embrace your new roles in the new world. William Shakespeare, almost 500 years ago, wrote, "All the world's a stage. All the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and each in his time plays many parts." Many of us have been playing our roles for far too long. We must rewrite our scripts if we're going to create our future.

I've identified five roles in my one-act play I'll call the future -- one is the lead and the others are supporting roles. You must take on these roles in your businesses to be more successful. The supporting roles are:

Challenge solver -- You no longer sell product or services; you solve your clients' challenges. You sell an experience. You look for challenges, then find different ways to solve them.

Solution broker -- You provide solutions. They may be solutions outside the marketing or advertising realm. Your clients turn to you in this role because of trust and loyalty, and they turn to you first.

Educator -- With the speed of change, our clients -- internal and external -- need to be educated. You can be an invaluable resource by positioning yourself as an educator and an information provider. The discount clothing retailer, Syms, has a great motto by which we should conduct business: "An educated consumer is our best customer."

Communication enhancer -- You can help in so many emerging possibilities if you look at your role not as a purveyor of a product or service but as a communication enhancer, a challenge solver or a solutions broker.

The lead, and most important role is questioner -- We must constantly ask ourselves, "What business am I really in?" I don't believe the majority of your answers would be the purpose of your business. None describe what you really do for a living.

I think the purpose of all of businesses is to attain and retain customers. If you don't create and keep customers, tomorrow you won't have a business.

What would happen if you stopped looking at your primary role in your business as the provider of ideas? If you don't have customers for whom to provide those ideas, and if the ideas don't work for the customers, it won't do you any good. What would happen if you looked at your emerging lead role as becoming a customer attaining and retaining agent?

When you think about it this way, several things happen. First, you aren't tied to a specific product or service because all you are doing is creating customers and continually filling their needs.

3. Learn to listen for whispers of possibility. Listen to ideas offered by your environment. When you think about environmental factors that influence your business, you may think of technology, change, diversity, economy, natural disaster, aging of America, pollution, government control, crime, downsizing. But look at these factors from a different perspective.

Within each environmental challenge is an opportunity. If the dinosaurs were able to do an accurate environmental survey, they might still be around.

Dinosaur companies that are unable to analyze their environments and look for opportunities within them face the same fate as the dinosaurs. We have to ask ourselves, 'What environmental factors we have been complaining about or ignoring that could present a real opportunity to create and retain new clients?'

4. Learn to think in new ways. Why is it important for an Olympic athlete to practice every day? To get better. How many people practice thinking in new ways as a real discipline? One reason much of our world is in a quandary as to how to solve our challenges is because of this inability to think in a new way.

Albert Einstein said, "Everything has changed except our ways of thinking." We have to apply the same disciplines in getting ourselves to think in new ways as we do in getting our bodies into shape or learning to play a musical instrument. Make opportunity-finding a habit every day.

Henry Ford said, "Thinking is the most difficult work in the world and that's why so few people ever do it." Most of us are thinking the same thoughts in the same way every day, and that's why we beat ourselves up for never having an original thought when we really need one. We don't practice thinking.

There is one secret at the core of being able to think in new ways -- one secret at the core of all innovation, of all creative genius. Every creative or innovative idea is the answer to one or more questions asked consciously or unconsciously. You can learn to create ideas at will, by learning to ask yourself the right questions on a regular basis.

It doesn't mean that we will all become creative geniuses; however, I do believe that we all have some natural talents over each other. Some are more naturally athletic than others and some are more naturally talented in music or math. But we can dramatically increase our creativity and innovative power by asking the right kinds of questions on a regular basis -- simply questioning the norm.

The final step in the Harvey Principle seems like an afterthought, but it is, in fact, the most important.

5. Learn how to connect the dots. An Chinese proverb says, "If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want a lifetime of prosperity, grow people."

The success and profitability of your organization are only as good its people. If you aren't helping them grow, if you aren't constantly learning and growing, if you aren't caring and compassionate, you can't win the game.

You commit to connecting the dots when you commit to the development of everyone with whom you come in contact, when you make a total commitment to absolute gender equality within your workplace and to keeping ethics above all else. You commit to connecting the dots when you take care of yourself mentally, physically, spiritually and financially, and when you commit to nurturing human potential in all aspects of your business. Take a few minutes over the next couple of days and ask yourself, "How can I bring more care, compassion and character into every aspect of my professional life?" This will get you started on your commitment to connecting the dots and seeing your own Harvey.

Free by fax: "6 Questions to Ask Yourself to Practice New Ways of Thinking."Fax your name on your letterhead to (412) 373-8773 with the words "6 Questions" for this free report.

Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Reach him at (412) 373-6592 or via his Web site,

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:38

Field trip

My fondest memories of elementary school teachers are of the ones who came into class and spontaneously announced that we were going on a field trip. Or that we were going to hold that day's class outside under the big oak on the playground.

Why do I have such vivid memories of this? Because they changed the environment in which we expected to meet.

In consulting with clients on how to make their work environment more "idea friendly," I have discovered a very simple principle: People are more likely to contribute -- creatively -- if the environment in which they work is fun, innovative and creative. I have written extensively on the benefits of shattering the stereotype of doing business with your customers. But this principle applies internally as well. We need to constantly change the environment in our organizations as well.

I once received a letter from a manufacturer's representative who had heard me extol the virtues of changing one's environment. He explained that he had received a letter from his largest distributor, in Ann Arbor, Mich., inviting him to present his line of goods to the client's national sales force. The letter explained that the representative would be the third person to present his line and that he had an hour-and-a-half time slot.

It took no rocket scientist to figure out that these people would have been sitting for more than three hours before this guy got his chance at them.

Remembering the environmental issue, this rep came up with a masterful idea. Upon arriving at the meeting, he advised 80 salespeople to "pack up your things. We are going on a field trip!"

He took them outside to rented vans which transported the group only blocks away to the University of Michigan football stadium. He had arranged to hold the meeting at the 50-yard line of an empty, 107,000-seat stadium with box lunches for everyone. Which of the three presentations do you think the group remembered that day?

Changing your environment can drastically alter your own productivity as well. This may sound extreme, but it has been proven, in a study conducted in 1997 by the Wisconsin Manufacturer's Council, that simple changes by some of its subjects increased productivity by an average of 20 percent. Changes ranged from simply redecorating the cafeteria to drastically altering the workspace of employees.

One change that caught my attention was very simple. A Milwaukee manufacturer instituted and promoted -- in a very fun and creative manner -- a new suggestion program. The managers created a character called 'Sidney Suggestion,' and this traditionally staid organization embarked on a 12-month program to encourage every employee to submit suggestions with the promise of incentives and prizes. The company ultimately reported that the suggestion program not only improved morale, but also resulted in as much as a 35 percent rise in cost savings in areas in which the suggestions were implemented.

I'm suggesting that you look at your environment through your internal clients' eyes; those people from whom you expect certain results every day. Perhaps you could encourage them to bring in something which reminds them of their childhoods to sit on their desks. Or maybe they have to buy something for their desk that is a humorous symbol of what they really do at the company.

Get everybody together after about a week and have them share what they brought and why. You likely will see things such as a miniature fire hydrant with an explanation that this person feels like she puts out fires all day.

Finally, what ever happened to that field trip to which our teachers invited us? I think we should re-introduce the field trip into our professional lives. Why not take your entire staff to one of your vendor's factories or to a totally unrelated business?

Offer prizes for people who can make connections between processes they see and processes you have implemented in your business. Give incentives to your people to make suggestions related to what they see.

It might be a couple of the best hours you could invest in the future of your company. Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592.

Tuesday, 30 October 2001 12:38

Vendor vs. vending machine

Suppliers and vendors are treated like vending machines. People put their money in when they have to. If the coin gets stuck, they kick the machine or shake it. If more candy comes out than they paid for, they grab it, especially if no one is watching.

If the machine dispenses less than expected, they ask the manager for a refund and still expect to keep the candy. If the coin return gives them candy and a refund, that's a bonus. It's always the vending machine's fault. After all, it's just a machine.

A number of years ago, while in the advertising business, my company created a third-party promotional campaign. It was for an international company, but our client was a small promotional firm that couldn't handle the volume and creative work on its own.

After months of work and meetings, our client closed shop, and we were stuck with a very substantial unpaid invoice for work because the end user had no clue who we were and wouldn't entertain any proposal that it pay us directly.

Our original client soon appeared on the roster of another promotional house with whom we did business. The new company took no responsibility for the guy's prior life.

However, whenever he saw me at trade shows, he did an about-face rather than risk getting into a discussion about it. After all, nobody wants to find out that the vending machine he or she robbed has turned into a human being.

This got me thinking about how to put a human face on business. So many times I've heard someone say, ''ABC Co. is so big that it won't notice that it didn't charge me,'' or ''XYZ Co. deserves to lose this money because of the way it treated me.''

Why do some of us feel comfortable with this? Because these bastions of enterprise are faceless, stereotypical entities and, as long as they remain that way, it doesn't matter if we kick them around a little.

Shatter the stereotype

The first step is to understand and then shatter the stereotype of the image we project if it is one of big business. Changing that image may be the hardest thing you ever do.

Customer questionnaires and market surveys are valuable, but how do you find out what customers really think of your organization? When was the last time you hired a secret shopper?

Professional speaker and trainer Anne Obarski, owner of Merchandise Concepts in McMurray, calls herself the ''eye'' on retail performance. She says there are three things to remember when it comes to using a secret shopper, someone who poses as a prospective customer for your service or product.

1) The shopper must know the nonnegotiables. These are things on which you will not compromise, that you have taught your people and that you hold dear to the success of your operation.

2) Your motive must be for positive reinforcement. Don't send in a shopper to find the negatives or build a case to fire someone. The reason should be to better your organization and find the strengths as well as the weaknesses

3) Reinforce the good stuff. When you discover the things your people do well, reward them and give them incentives to continue doing them.

Seeing through your clients' eyes

The other step in putting a human face on your business is to force yourself and everybody in your organization to dissect the image they have of what your business looks like to your clients. The next time you call your office, really listen to the image projected by the person who answers the phone or by your on-hold message.

When you walk through the doors, be conscious of all five senses. What does the office smell like? How does it look? What do you hear? Sense the entire buying experience.

Clients no longer want to buy a product. They want the experience of buying. They don't just want a cup of coffee, they want the experience of buying the coffee and are willing to pay $3.50 for a 25-cent cup of coffee. They don't just want to eat dinner, they want the experience of eating dinner. What is the experience you offer your clients?

Although likening what we do in business to being a vending machine may be harsh, ask yourself this: Like a vending machine, can my customer get the same product or service from any competitor that happens to be nearby?

Or are you the vendor of choice -- not because of price, but because of the vending experience? Jeff Tobe, a certified speaking professional, helps organizations color outside the lines without falling off the page. For information on local presentations and training materials, visit or call (412) 373-6592.

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:00

Coloring Outside the Lines

searchable "

Do you sometimes find it difficult to explain just what it is you do for a living? This had been a dilemma for me the past nine years until I traveled with my wife to Dallas earlier this year. At last, I think I have the answer, but first, let me fill you in on the earth shattering experience that revealed it to me.

My wife and I were joined by friends for dinner at a new restaurant in Dallas. They explained they had been told this new establishment had received rave reviews from everyone who had eaten there; they knew nothing else about it. The name of the restaurant? ""ENIGMA.""

Now, I pride myself on having a fairly extensive vocabulary, but the meaning of this word escaped me. I checked it out in a dictionary. The best explanation I could find: ""Something that is difficult or hard to explain.""

What an odd name for a restaurant.

Before we were even seated, I knew Enigma was going to be an eating experience we weren't soon to forget. With only about 10 tables, I understood why our friends had to make reservations more than a month before. My first observation was the outrageous decorations, including 10 tables completely different in design-and with no chairs that matched each other.

Our table was set with different dishes and silverware. I don't mean each setting was different but that even at one place setting, none of the plates, none of the silver patterns, none of the glasses matched.

We ordered 'adult beverages,' and when they were delivered, we were amused that, although two of us had asked for the same drink, one glass was a regular eight ounce water glass and the second was no smaller than a birdbath. Our server explained it was simply 'luck of the draw' as to which glass you received.

Next, our waitress handed each of us three different, very creative menus. Yes, each of us had three different menus. We had to trade menus amongst the four of us to get an overall concept of the fare.

Besides the odd selections, our waitress explained that even if two of us ordered the same selection, she couldn't guarantee they would come prepared the same way. She couldn't even inform us of the side dishes that came with each selection.

""This is why we are an enigma,"" she explained. ""You have to give our chefs total creative freedom to prepare your meal.""

She was absolutely correct. My wife's mahi-mahi came soaked in a wonderful green tamale sauce while my friend's mahi-mahi came wrapped in a beautiful tureen with a white vegetable sauce. The rest of the meal was, well, nothing short of an enigma.

Always in search of a great analogy to share with my readers, by desert I had had a mild epiphany. I realized the exact mindset everyone in business should have about what we do for a living: ""My small business is an enigma.""

When it comes to the creativity you offer, the services you can customize and the business challenges you can solve, it should be hard to explain. That's the lure. The creative and customized benefits that small businesses can offer are what make you a winning David as opposed to the big business Goliath.

This enigma mindset may just be the thing that will attract customers, making you so popular that your bank account will flourish. Every time they call you to ease a business pain, they should have no idea what you are going to serve. They should, however, sit back, enjoy the experience and trust that you will be creative each and every time they experience your expertise.

It occurred to me that your job is not just to solve a client's challenge but, like my dining adventure in Dallas, you must give your clients a business experience every single time. Never give them the same menu when they ask you to wait on them. Never serve their solutions on the same plate or in the same glass.

Why fight it? Small business is an enigma and we should all be proud to demonstrate the mystery every time our client calls.

By the way, we paid more for our meal at Enigma than I have ever spent on dinner in my life. Did I care? Absolutely not. It was worth the experience. Are your clients willing to pay for the 'experience' they have with you? Think about it.

Jeff Tobe, primary colorer at Monroeville-based Coloring Outside the Lines, teaches diverse businesses how to be creative in their sales and marketing strategies. Subscribe to his free creativity newsletter at or contact him at (412) 373-6592. Free by fax: ""The 10 commandments of effective leadership in small business today."" Fax your letterhead with your name and the words ""10 Commandments"" to (412) 373-8773.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:58

Customer service on the fly

On a recent cross-country trip, a flight attendant was very attentive to my needs. At one point, she flippantly remarked that I was a high maintenance passenger. After I got past my hurt feelings, it occurred to me that maybe she had more insight into her passengers than I had given her credit for. When I pressed for more information, I was surprised to find just how much she could teach me.

She explained that she and her colleagues could identify passenger “types” by the way they handed in their cups and other trash. In other words, was the garbage neatly stacked or did the flight attendant have to clean it up for the passenger?

She went on to identify certain clients by the demands they made regarding pillows, drinks and other amenities. Finally, she explained that the “dead giveaway” was their willingness to chat, sleep or work. She said this was not in their official handbook, but that it came in handy every single day.

As I pondered the insight of my host, I realized a few important things that she could teach me about motivation and understanding who it is with whom we are doing business. These are the three motivational tenets by which I live in my business when it comes to sales and marketing, adapted from Carlson Learning Company’s DiSC® programs.

1. You can’t motivate anybody. Stephen Covey says, “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.”

So stop trying to take the blame for not being able to motivate your people or not motivating your customers to buy from you. You can only create an environment in which people are motivated.

2. Everyone is motivated. I hear many a manager tell me they are frustrated because one of their charges is “just not motivated.” If Tom sits with his feet up on his desk, then Tom is motivated to sit with his feet up on his desk!

3. Everyone is motivated — but for their own reasons, not yours.

Like the flight attendant, if we can figure out what motivates our internal and external clients, we can adapt to their needs and better understand how they are motivated.

By the way, as I disembarked from the airplane, my new-found guru left me pondering her unique approach to customer service as she added one more little ditty. She said, “If we get to know them, we can give them what they need before they even ask.” What a simple but phenomenally insightful revelation.

Free by fax, “What does your handshake say about you?” This free report is available by faxing your name on your letterhead and the word “HANDSHAKE” to (412) 373-8773.

Certified speaking professional Jeff Tobe speaks and trains with diverse companies and organizations around the world. You can find information about his books, presentations and a free creativity newsletter at his Web site,, or contact him at (800) 875-7106.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:55

A tale of perspective

Allow me to relate a modern fairy tale. It takes place in a land with a very deep and fast-flowing river running right through the middle. No one is able to cross the river by himself without drowning.

On one side of the river, we find Miss A, on the other side, Mr. B. Over time, Miss A and Mr. B have developed quite a relationship by talking across the river. It occurs to them that they are deeply in love. But the river poses quite an obstacle. One day, Miss A turns to Mr. B and, professing her love, asks him to stay put while she walks down the levee to try to find a way across.

Not far away, Miss A comes upon Mr. C, who has a boat. Passionate about getting across the river, she explains her dilemma and asks him to ferry her so that she can be with her true love.

Mr. C agrees to take Miss A across the river — if she will kiss him. Miss A is taken aback and refuses because of her love for Mr. B. Mr. C simply restates his ‘price’, only to be rejected once more. Distraught, Miss A trudges further along the riverbank.

Soon she encounters Mr. D, who is sitting in a rocking chair and minding his own business when Miss A approaches. She explains the situation and begs for Mr. D’s assistance. Mr. D refuses. He explains, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want to get involved. He feels this is none of his business, and he asks Miss A to leave him alone.

Feeling defeated, Miss A decides to exercise her only viable option as she treks back to Mr. C and acquiesces to his demands. True to his word, Mr. C takes Miss A across the river in his boat. Miss A makes her way along the other side of the river, soon to be in the arms of her true love.

As she approaches Mr. B, he calls out to her, asking her to explain how she got there. Miss A tells him the whole sordid story, leaving no stone unturned. After listening, and without hesitation, Mr. B informs her that he doesn’t want her anymore. He explains that his standards are very clear, and since she kissed Mr. C, he could no longer accept her.

Confused and forlorn, Miss A trudges along the riverbank without any idea of what to do. Suddenly she comes across Mr. E., who is on a horse — a white horse — and is dressed in white. After Miss A explains, Mr. E only takes a second to consider the situation. He explains to Miss A that he doesn’t care about her past and that he loves her just the way she is. He invites her to join him on his horse as they ride off into the sunset together. She does. They do. End of story.

After you have put your tissues away, if I asked you to rate our five characters according to how much you respect them, how would your list look? Perhaps you would put Miss A at the top because of her stamina, her perseverance or her tenaciousness. Perhaps she would be at the bottom because she compromised herself (the hussy!).

Did you respect Mr. B the most because he was principled? Or the least because he was inflexible?

Maybe Mr. C would top your list because he had a price and stuck to it, or he could be at the bottom because he was obviously an opportunist. Did you respect Mr. D because of his ability to stay uninvolved? Or perhaps you didn’t like the fact that he would not help a damsel in distress.

Finally, maybe you put Mr. E at the top since he is the knight in shining armor, able to accept our heroine no matter what her past. Or is Mr. E really the opportunist in this story?

The point is that these are all right. The word that should come to mind is PERSPECTIVE.

This is the ability to understand that, in any given situation, someone else may have a totally different perspective of the same information. Recognize that world-class marketers always take this into account. They see the world through their markets’ eyes, allowing them to see the way their markets buy.

The next time you send out that direct mail piece, or give away that promotional product, stop and consider your clients’ perspective — not yours!

Jeff Tobe, certified speaking professional, speaks and trains with diverse companies and organizations around the world. Find information about his books, presentations and a free creativity newsletter at, or contact him at (800) 875-7106.

Page 1 of 3