Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

No company can afford not to move forward. It may be at the top of the heap today but at the bottom of the heap tomorrow, if it doesn’t.
—James Cash (J.C.) Penney

J.C. Penney’s company, at the time when he said this, was definitely top of the heap. They’re middle-of-the-road, at best, now, and arguably not even that. This goes right back to what we were talking about in yesterday’s post: Of course, the customer in front of you right now is important, but if you put too much emphasis on the “right now” work and not enough emphasis on the big-picture and future-gains work, in the near future you’ll find your growth spluttering to a halt.


We’ve all gone through times like that. The key is to recognize it before the company’s become an also-ran. Get those internal projects started. Make work *on* the business a critical part of your growth strategy (if you’re overworked and overwhelmed, I’d be glad to give you a hand), and start running hard for the lead again.

Leaders do something that folks at the bottom of the heap can’t or won’t do—

They lead their companies into the future.

It’s an active role. Don’t sit back and think growth will happen while you stand still.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

You can never be in a class by yourself when you’re bad.*
—The Kid**

Yet another reason to niche, folks. It’s easy to be not-very-good with everyone else—but as The Kid says, impossible to be a standout that way.

If you choose the path that suits you and no one else, as we were talking about in yesterday’s post? Then you’ve got a lot better chance of being in a class by yourself.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*As I typed, several weeks after she originally brought forth this wonderful observation, The Kid caught me finishing this post.

“What’cha writing?” she asked.

I showed her the handwritten note made at the time when she first said it.

“Well, y’know,” she said, “you could be in a class by yourself….” She looked at me with an impish grin. “If you’re utterly, un-copy-ably bad. But that’s… not good.”

At that my Kid dissolved into evil laughter.

Moral of the story: Don’t let The Kid’s evil laughter happen to you. Take her first lesson to heart and find a better path to being in a class by yourself, dear reader!

** From the mouths of babes, part 6. You never know what the daughter of an Experience Designer will say next. If you’re looking for more bon mots from the tween set, The Kid also speaks—briefly!—on management, on customer service, on discounts, and on public speaking, and on what makes a truly distinctive business—which is, in a way, just what we’re thinking about at MCE this week.

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

If people… in a social environment see something they like, they tell their friends, and it spreads virally… Word of mouth is much more valuable than advertising.
—Chris DeWolfe

The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.
—Rupert Murdoch

Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.
—Mark Zuckerberg

(Oh, sorry! Did you think the title meant Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch are on speaking terms? If they are, it must be some mighty cold speech.)

Today, perspectives from the trenches—on word-of-mouth, on innovation, and even on your potential as a small business person in a brave new world where you have the potential to slay giant companies. These quick… and somewhat ironic… quotations from three of the players in yesterday’s discussion of word-of-mouth gone wrong, will help us close out our series on encouraging word-of-mouth, one of the most powerful drivers for your business’ growth.

What do you think? Would the risk-taking involved in moving fast and breaking things like Zuckerberg be worth the stress to you?

Could it help your sales to be talked up as the small, fast-moving new kids, disrupting the “old ways” in your industry?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Links to all the previous posts in the Beginning Word-of-Mouth series:

Part 1: A Line Out the Door

Part 2: Craigslist Founder’s Growth Secret

Part 3: If You Gotta Have It and Can’t Wait To Talk About It, It’s Because…

Part 4: 3 Ways To Make Talking About You Easy

Part 5: Experts, Sandwiches, and Mustard With Your WOM

Part 6: HOW Did MySpace Spin Out of Control So Fast?

P.S. Welcome! If you enjoyed this series of posts, I hope you’ll subscribe to Maximum Customer Experience to get updates by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Unless their friends are real experts, people tend to use blogs / review sites for more complex topics and friends for less complex ones (think computer vs. sandwich buying advice)….

Studies show that advice that is sought is, on average, twice as likely to be acted upon than advice that was not asked for.
—Marcus Riccoboni, Do people trust their friends’ opinions when making purchasing decisions? on

True, at least as far as it goes. And it’s definitely a stumbling block for many entrepreneurs and small business owners these days—maybe for you?

We may have expanded our idea of how to locate an expert, but you and I both know that we haven’t stopped talking to our real-life friends. (Sometimes, these days, we’re even talking about the online search.) The truth that’s not stated here is that we’d still prefer to get our information from them, but experience and good sense tells us there’s more information online, and more might equal “good.”

What we really want, when we want a word-of-mouth recommendation, is good advice. For as long as we go out to work and play and connect, the opportunity to be talked about in real life as well as online will still be there for our businesses.

We’ve been talking about word-of-mouth for a couple of weeks here at MCE:

Can you shape it?

Will word-of-mouth work… maybe even better than traditional advertising and marketing methods?

Are you “talk-able”—and are you making it easy for staff, suppliers, and customers to talk you up?

Today let’s take Marcus Riccoboni’s excellent ideas, above, and twist them around around so you can make WOM work for you, whether you’re the sandwich-seller or the computer-seller.

  • As the Internet becomes a trusted source for independent and (sometimes-expert) opinions, your customers are starting to trust the ‘net over their own friends, the source for traditional WOM referrals when making complicated buying decisions.

Ow! Or is it?

The obvious reaction to this shift is to encourage referrers to mention you online, in the hopes that they’ll talk to people they don’t know and be seen as trusted referrers. But whether we’re becoming wary of the next-door-neighbor’s expertise in roofing shingles or not, we still trust people we know more than we do strangers on a personal level—and I don’t believe giving up on offline word-of-mouth makes any sense at all! In fact I see three underused opportunities to make this shift work for you if you’re the guy selling the complicated product or service.


ONE: Explain your complex or expensive offering to your customers so well that they *can* be the experts for their “real-life” friends and colleagues.

Sure, customer service takes a little longer when you’ve made it part of your mission to make every customer not only happy, but well-educated. Is service like this worth it?

The customer feels she is super-important to you. She is.

The customer feels confident explaining what you offer and saying that you rock. You do.

The person listening to the great recommendation feels they’re talking to someone with inside knowledge. They are. What a great way to turn the expectations of the person hearing the referral around!

Bonus: Now your original customer is a customer for life, because of the attentive service she received from you.


TWO: Break it down so it’s sandwiches. For some people, no matter how much you educate the customer you hope will go out and become a completely delighted referring-machine, that’s still their fishing buddy or sister-in-law or dance teacher. What can that person possibly know about buying this complicated, expensive thingy?

Yet you can make your complicated, expensive thingy a series of less complicated thingys—let’s call ‘em “sandwiches”—and give your customer the tools to spread word-of-mouth with much more ease. Take a cue from what the best online reviews do, and break your thingy up into easy-to-recommend elements that most folks are curious.

Any good car review, for instance, will talk about only a few topics in depth—handling/feel, style, fuel efficiency, quality/repairs, price.

I might mention I’m looking for a new car to a friend without really wanting to hear an opinion—I probably don’t believe my friend knows “cars” and I’m probably already planning to look online—but if my friend hits my sore spots/hotbuttons, tells me it rides like a dream, looks like a million bucks, never needs a tank of gas, etc…. All of a sudden, any one aspect is as simple as a sandwich to talk about, and because my friend didn’t try to be an expert, just told me about the highlights I’d most expect to hear about in any good review, it’s a lot easier for me to appreciate my friend’s opinion.


The sandwich-seller and the computer-seller have one more hurdle, and this one’s nothing new:

  • Advice someone asks for is twice as likely to be acted on as the advice your buttinsky brother-in-law gives you.

THREE: Offer mustard. The best reviews also tell you something quirky, something personally interesting to the author, or they uncover a “delicious” hidden feature. Something that sounds less like a sales pitch, and more like a secret that the reviewer couldn’t wait to share. These tasty tidbits are frequently the conversation-openers for your “talkers” in real life.

How many times have you started a conversation with “I saw the craziest/ most amazing/ coolest thing at the such-and-so store,” only to have a friend or colleague practically demand a full review after they’ve heard the fun part?

If it’s so share-worthy your customer excitedly starts a normal conversation about it, it’s not giving an unsolicited recommendation at all. By they time your customer gets around to their recommendation, they’re being asked for advice.

Make sure when you’re breaking down your complicated thingy into less complicated sandwiches, that you reveal a couple of less-essential but fun-to-talk-about features as well. Often, the sandwich satisfies, but it’s the mustard that gets remembered, and you want to help your talkers to spread the spicy details around.

(Lest you think this only goes for “fun” products and services, this exact scenario—great story (“mustard”) leads to product recommendation—happened to me this morning about a medical issue a relative is going through. Friend says to me, “I saw a show last night, and they were talking about these symptoms, and I shouted to my husband, ‘Kelly knows someone who’s got that! Get me a piece of paper so I can write down the meds this woman uses!” Not fun, but after that intro, do you think I walked away without the rest of the story—and the names of those meds?)


Yes, I am angling this discussion of WOM toward traditional, offline recommendations today, but it’s worth pointing out that advertising, marketing materials, labeling, and service that work together to help the customer become an expert, *and* breaking your complicated offering down into “sandwiches,” both work just as well in the online world. Just think of your website, your blog, outreach efforts, and your impeccable email-responses/customer service, like brochures, package labels, and face-to-face interactions at your physical location—they’re all elements of your Customer Experience that you can use to encourage and shape those ever-multiplying WOM conversations.


How do you help your customers spread the word about you: Do you encourage them to become experts, do you break it down into sandwiches, or do you combine both approaches?

What’s the “mustard” in your sandwich that they can’t wait to start talking about?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll subscribe to get updates by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

I decided that I would start sending people notices about cool events, usually ones that involved arts and technology. And from there, via word of mouth, the news of the list spread.
—Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark, founder of the incredible word-of-mouth success story, has an air of humility and… befuddlement? about him in interviews that I find very intriguing. I’ve seen the poster boy for word-of-mouth business success interviewed a few times. He denies having consciously lit the spark for that success. He seems even to suggest that the Craigslist WOM machine is still a fire that burns out-of-(his)-control.

Well, we don’t have much in the way of a business strategy. Like no business plan. Which I say to torment all my friends who are VCs or MBAs. That’s always entertaining. The deal is, it’s a mixture of luck and persistence.
—Craig Newmark on the Tavis Smiley show, 23 Jan 2006

He told a few people he knew, who told a few people who knew them, and the story of the guy who didn’t want to make much money, who didn’t have a plan, who let the people make of the list what they wanted—the amazed, grateful philanthropist “in the rich nerd tradition” as he’s called himself—took off.

Craigslist took off, because the story of Craigslist took off. Everybody loves an underdog.

People weren’t buying from him. He was only helping them buy from each other. Or get an apartment. Or find love.

People who trusted Craig Newmark bought into the story at first, then people who trusted them bought into it, and by now all the world knows that Craig Newmark keeps the list with his name on it as rumpled as…

… well, as his image. Because as you probably know, that aw-shucks guy is also a multimillionaire. While he may truly have been stumped by its initial success, he’s been clued in for a long time. The list stays ugly (in spite of critics like Wired magazine) because the ugly list is the story, the whole history of Craig and his original 10 or 12 friends wrapped up in a “brand image.” The guy stays strategically non-strategic because it’s what helps spread the word. He’s still, somehow, the underdog.

Craig’s secrets?

Start the WOM-spark through trusted sources

Tell a story people will love to talk about—Craigslist tells it in more than one way, through the founder’s story and the “visuals”—and let them fan the fire

When the line is out the door—DON’T CHANGE A THING.

You want to know something? Even though I can take it apart—and even though I’m sure Mr. Newmark is aware of all of this himself—I believe in the story, too.

‘Cause I’ve got a funny feeling he’s sincere. And that’s a secret that everybody loves to share.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll subscribe by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.
—Adam Rifkin, What are you most excited about in the tech space in 2011? on

A self-described “non-charismatic” man, Adam Rifkin seems a bit touchy-feely-charismatic in this snippet from his wonderful discussion of new horizons for tech in 2011. I’d originally been searching my database of collected quotations for something related to the downside of losing your grip on sincerity when your business gets big (one of my all-time faves is Wilson Mizner’s “Be kind to people on the way up—you’ll meet them again on your way down”), when I fooled around on one of my new favorite websites did some research, and came across Adam Rifkin’s quote—quite by accident.

He goes on to say, “Public conversations will save the web.” This is a guy who’s been “small” biz and been at the top of pretty darned “big” biz as well, and still believes in reaching out with delightful frequency to enrich his own days and to transform the www. Most sincerely.

If Adam Rifkin can do it, maybe there’s hope for dudes who write books with orange covers, and silly 13-year-olds. I’ll light a candle for that.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll subscribe by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

We can believe that we know where the world should go. But unless we’re in touch with our customers, our model of the world can diverge from reality. There’s no substitute for innovation, of course, but innovation is no substitute for being in touch, either.
—Steve Ballmer

Unless we’re in touch with our customers, our model of the world can diverge from reality.

That’s powerful food for thought. You’re a busy entrepreneur or small business owner. You wade knee-deep in the details of What’s Got To Be Done every day. On occasion, you try to come up for air and Think Big Picture, because you know it will help your business grow. But all the wading, and even the thinking, is from one perspective—your own.

(And if your company’s grown enough, your staff’s perspective is probably in the mix as well.)

We’re rebounding now and there’s a little money in the bank. (Phew!!) Should we (knee-deep): Paint the showroom? Fix the bathroom tiles? Resurface the cracked parking lot? Hire more staff?

Should we (big-picture): Buy a new piece of equipment? Redesign our website? Launch a new product line? Offer extra services? Expand to a third location? Do we know more about making/ selling X product, or Y? How would we pitch the new services? What’s the profit margin?

All nice questions, except one thing.

They’re all wrong.

There’s one question you need to begin with, as you’re making decisions about knee-deep issues and big-picture direction for your company:

What are the biggest problems my customers are having, and how can we become their top-of-the-mind solution?

I know, you’re used to answering that by making “educated guesses” because after so many years, you “just know the customer. We don’t need to ask them.” I’ve heard that said many times. But educated guesses are where your model of the world has divulged from reality. You’re going to have to do this the uncomfortable way: you can only get the answer to the question, by putting the question to the customer.

You’ll phrase it more subtly, so you don’t come off as an overly slick salesperson. You’ll ask it in different ways to different customers, and look for the common ground between the answers you get. You’ll be sure to ask the question of as many different customers as you can, just as often as you can, so you have a good number of responses to look at.

True, as Mr. Ballmer says, there is no substitute for innovation. (Nor for fixed bathroom tiles! Eeew! Get right on that!)

But much, much more importantly—To grow your business, there is no substitute for knowing the customer—not your assumptions about the customer, but the real, live customer who gives you money in exchange for the amazing value you provide him or her—inside and out.


Grow and keep it real,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. Stick around! If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll subscribe by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

P.P.S. My favorite new bookmarking tool is BizSugar, a site made just for small business people like you and me (no affiliation, I just like ’em)—if you’d like to give it a try (thank you), you’ll now find them listed under the “Share” button as well.

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Adam and I got to talking last week after I threw a fit on twitter that ‘wah wah wah no one comments on blogs anymore.’

The truth is, I try – but I don’t get to every blog because half the time I’m reading them in the car, on my phone, while barreling down the highway to school. OH I KID. I read your blog while I’m on the toilet.

Which means, I rarely comment because I’m usually reading from my phone. Because my phone autocorrects “I love this post” to “Olive Thespo” and things like that.

So we were thinking that we should plant some seeds of love on our friends’ blogs by commenting on at least 10 blogs a day, leaving a genuine comment, and make others feel good. If you’re a blogger, you know how crappy it feels to write into the void, while people joke about bacon and cupcakes on Twitter and your itty bitty post is being ignored.

It’s not that people are ignoring you, it’s just that Twitter is too fast and no one can keep up! (Because they are stupid, I know. But don’t say that to people or you’ll have no friends commenting on your blog.)

—Karen Sugarpants, Ten a Day

Because sometimes we just need to go off-topic.

Or maybe it’s on-topic… leaving comments on other people’s blogs is the courtly olde way of telling them they’re providing you with Maximum (Reader) Experience, after all. You can say it’s all very 2009, and I’ll say it’s stunningly New-Millennium, and we’ll both be right.

I do hope you’ll click through to Karen’s Ten a Day post… not because there’s a lot more to read on that post—forgive me, Karen, it was so fun and funny I had a hard time deciding where to stop quoting you—but because you’ll probably find her blog a deeply personal and delightfully snarky use of your lunch break. Or of your afternoon…

And if you’ve got a coffee break to kill as well, please visit Adam P. Knave’s Ten a Day post, click around his blog, and get lost in his outpourings as well… I admit to laughing until I worried that I might be scaring the neighbors on a couple of his posts. (There may have been snorting involved, as well. Ay-yi! He’s got a fabulously skewed take on things, what can I say?)

When you’re done with all these breaks you’re taking, take one more, and do like the sign says. Leave some comments on blogs you love this week, party like it’s 2009, and tell some folks that even though it may take more than 140 characters, they’re among your own personal Inspiration Points.

Ten a Day: Spending a Week Telling 10 People a Day You Think They Rock

Pass it on: Courtly-retro-blog-commenting-manners are all the rage.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you.
—Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban, the ever-fascinating media and sports mogul, makes this point often in his posts at blog maverick. As with many lessons in business, it’s deceptively simple… making your product easier to buy may be harder than it seems, at first.

It’s also sneakier than it seems, so don’t pass this winning tactic around to just anyone—

If you want customers to buy from you, not “them,” why not take a look at how “they” make their sales… look for the points at which it’s hard to move forward with them… and then make those the very first spots in your own process where you make radical changes or improvements so *your* business is strongest in *their* weak spots?

Sometimes it’s not so much rocket science, as a change of perspective. Don’t play catch-up with the competition. Play eat my dust.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. If you’re tired of feeling like your website’s catch-up, be sure to check out our Web Audit and Web Experience Solution, and we’ll get busy crafting winning tactics just for you!

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Remember that you are a teacher, you are helping people, making them feel safer, taking them from fear to love, from ignorance to knowledge.
—Stuart Wilde, British author and lecturer

Okay, maybe not the “fear to love” part. (I suppose that depends on your business—maybe you are taking people from fear to love!) It’s the rest of Mr. Wilde’s comment that’s on my mind this week, in thinking about The Overloaded Life.

In your business, you can be a teacher for your customers, and by helping them and making them feel safer about purchasing from you and working with you or owning your product you are doing that.

It might be even more important, though, to find the ways in which your product or service IS the help.

Put another way…

If my local grocery store makes buying overpriced convenience foods really easy for me by moving the prepared-food section closer to the front of the store, and mentioning it frequently on the P.A. system just after rush hour when I’m cruising through the store, and putting a knowledgeable person behind the corner to remind me that their mashed potatoes will go great with the rotisserie chicken, they’ve taught me, helped me, and made me feel great about the prepared meal I’m buying from them. They took the trouble out of the purchase, which is a great help in making the sale.

If my grocery store puts out ads and signage in the store emphasizing how their prepared foods in the deli section are easier than fast food or even frozen foods, twice as nutritious, and will get even the pickiest eater at my table to rave (at a meal I put together in seconds at the end of my commute home, with the help of their friendly deli staff)—the sale makes itself. Why?

The purchase took the trouble out of my day.

So yes, you are a teacher, you are helping people, making them feel safer, which is important in person-to-person (and even marketing materials-to-person) interactions. But is your company’s product or service also helping your customers—teaching them, making their lives safer, easier, wiser?

When I’m face-to-face, or email-to-email, with a client, of course I’m being that helpful designer, taking the stress out of working with us, but what I’m talking to them about is the results, after the job is done—how the work we’ll do is going to take some of the stress out of a busy entrepreneur/small business owner’s workday, long after the sale. Like that rotisserie chicken, but less messy.

What do you think? Have you positioned what you sell as something that takes some of the overload off your customers? (How can you demonstrate it?)

Do your customers see it that way?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson