The classic Covey advice,* with three business twists

1. Help the Customer Picture the Joy of Owning, Using, Working With, What You Sell

When you write an ad, make a website, take photos of your product, or give a presentation, talk about the place far down the line—where the client is having a grand time because she bought what you offer.

For example, if you’re a detail-oriented type planning a project with VisionPoints, you might like me to lead you step-by-step through how we’ll work on your website audit. I won’t forget that, and I certainly don’t recommend anyone forget to talk to detail oriented types. But first, you’ve got to see what it’s worth to you. So when I write “Do you want your website or blog to get you noticed, attract prospects, and help you make sales?” and “I’m here to help you change the way customers see your business, starting now,” I’m hoping those two phrases will conjure up images of exactly what you need the end result of our work to be.

Detail-oriented types will read on, but the truth is most folks want to know what the results are, not every step in how they get the results.

Shooting a photo for packaging, for your website, or for an ad? Showing a happy owner using your XYZ widget sounds obvious, yet how many shots of a product sitting on a blank background do you see which don’t allow you to imagine yourself in the picture?

Talking about the successful results you’ll have, or others who’ve succeeded who are just like you sounds obvious, but how many presentations have you listened to talking about methodologies, awards that the pitching firm has won, and other under-the-hood stuff that only holds the customer at a distance?

It’s about the customer. And when you begin with the end in mind, it’s not about the customer today. It’s about helping the customer picture her better tomorrows.

2. Assume the Close

This is another old saying that still gets ignored way too often. Don’t talk about “if” we work together. Say “when.” Don’t dip a toe in with “would you like to get started in a week.” Say “we can deliver the finished project on November 24th.”

When you’re in business, it’s not just something to pass the time. You’re there to make sales. It’s okay to assume it’s a done deal, and it doesn’t have to come across as arrogant.

When you go to your grocery store, do you think, “How arrogant! Check-out lanes! Cashiers! Express lanes as if they think I can’t wait to give them my money!”

Nope. You elbow the guy next to you so you can hit that express lane before the line gets any longer.

Assume the close and far more of your clients will elbow each other to get into line to buy from you.

Write about what IS in your awesome product, what I should do to MAINTAIN the fencing I’ll buy, and of course, (remember those detail-oriented types?) how we WILL work together.

It’s not magic. But when you begin with the end in mind, you’ll walk right through objections as if they aren’t there. You do work with clients, they do purchase from you, and it’s time to overpromise AND overdeliver for this client—like the express lane. Let’s start now, you’ll say. I wouldn’t want to make you wait to picture yourself enjoying those awesome benefits.

3. Don’t Slobber All Over Your Customer When They’re Getting to Know You

At first this might sound like it contradicts number 1 and 2. If you’re not used to beginning with the end in mind, those techniques might seem a bit slobbery.

Let’s return to the grocery store for a minute. Where are the cash registers?

At the end of your journey. Sure, they’re direct. They assume the close. But they don’t put ‘em outside the store as you’re walking in.

A quick reminder: Like the first time you saw the one you *knew* you had to marry, if you were a smart one, you bit your tongue and said “Hello” first.

You can make sure they’re seeing themselves far in the future, picturing a happy outcome. You can present your company as The Solution to the number one issue your customer is facing. You can talk in the language of one who’s assured of the outcome…

… without asking for the sale in the first breath.

To begin with the end in mind, relax—in your writing, in your presentations, in the service at your store. Be comfortable and confident of the sale, because you’re confident that you can help your customer. Listen for little yesses that move the process forward. Don’t rush.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

*Habit 2, if you’re a fan of Stephen Covey’s writing. “It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint.”

That’s what creating Maximum Customer Experience is all about. Your customer’s happy ending follows your blueprint—if you’ve taken the time to draw up the blueprint.

George, Jolie, genetics, Grandmother, and going barefoot—together at last!

Happy Thanksgiving

To all my Canadian readers and friends. I am very grateful for each and every one of you. Enjoy your day, and perhaps a little high thinking with your morning coffee, before you’re headed over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.

But I digress…

I don’t know what it is about George Tannenbaum. The guy does “wistful” like no other writer online today, and here he is supposedly writing an advertising blog. I’d say I wish I had half his talent but honestly, I’m glad he’s got all of it. He’s the bard of Madison Avenue and I’m always stunned by the way he can get me thinking old thinks in new ways.

The other day I was reading his latest piece, What Do We Do, and I started to fire off a cranky comment about the example he’d chosen in his article on serving the customer through advertising, just as you would serve the customer in your shop.

In the piece George weaves thoughts on the new book We Were Merchants, a memoir of the family-run Goudchaux’s department stores in Louisiana, into a lament about the lack of direction in the advertising industry.

He quotes the author, Hans Sternberg, as saying the “abiding philosophy was the customer was everything. Without him or her, there would be no need for a cash register.”

One of my own favorite sayings is “it’s not a business unless you make a sale.” Obviously, I’m in complete agreement with the Sternberg philosophy and with George’s desire to see the ad industry focus on serving the customer.

But my personal experience with Goudchaux’s made me question the choice of this example.

A long time ago, years before my divorce in fact, I made a decision to get married. (Made getting the divorce a lot simpler… but I digress.) In New Orleans. During a hurricane (not that hurricane). Two days before the wedding, as things were getting rather wet, and the streets were becoming littered with branches and debris, I realized that my original plan to be married barefoot and stroll the streets of the city barefoot as we partied after the wedding, was looking a bit foolish, so I’d need to get a pair of shoes, at least for the strolling of the streets. (I still did get married barefoot… but I digress again.)

Off I went to Goudchaux’s/Maison Blanche for a pair of shoes that were fit for a day that would change the rest of my days. (Oy! But I digress…)

From the second I walked in the door, the experience was like nothing else. To this day, I still remember every minute of that shopping trip—and from a woman who notoriously hates shopping, this is really saying something. The attention to the customer was beyond anything I’d ever seen. Discreet, caring, sincere. The stuff that can not be faked. Even now, I smile when I look at those shoes in my closet, remembering the perfection of that experience.

So I read George’s article thoughtfully wondering how his industry has gotten so lost, optimistically holding Goudchaux’s philosophy up as a possible way out of the woods. I smiled, I nodded, I got nostalgic, I was moved.

I started to cheer. Hooray for a laser-focus on the customer above jargon and technologies and artsy-fartsy-ness and industry awards! Then as I wrote my comment, I realized George had done it to me again. I’m rethinking what I think I know, y’know?

Not that I don’t believe in a laser-focus on the customer, above jargon and technologies and artsy-fartsy-ness and industry awards. I do! If you’ve been reading here for even a short while you know that whether you run a customer-facing company or serve those who do, like George does, I believe your laser-focus on customer needs is critical to delivering Maximum Customer Experience.

What I started to write in response to George’s post was this:

Goudchaux’s (under the Sternbergs) was born this way. They’ve left the company, and service has changed significantly. The amazing Customer Experience magic was tied to those particular human beings—even they weren’t able to bake it into the culture. Wondering “Why aren’t we all Sternbergs” is a little like looking at Angelina Jolie and wondering “Why aren’t we all goddesses?”

Is this an impractical, impossible standard—measuring companies (or an industry) against a genetic fluke—and setting them up for failure?

So at last, we come to my point, otherwise known as: Why I didn’t hit “post comment” over at AdAged, and why you’re reading this post today.

There is nothing I love more than talking with you about real-life examples of Maximum Customer Experience. Heck, I’ve taken apart giants like Apple and Target looking for lessons for your business, at least as often as we’ve discussed the little guys. I’m always looking for the little details or the big picture that knocked my socks off, and from which I hope you’ll get great takeaways—things you can do today to grow your business and make more money. Another of my favorite sayings is “I’m obsessed with your success.” If I can tell a story here that I think will help you succeed faster, I’m all over it.

First, I loved George’s premise. Then, I hated George’s example. Then, I wondered what the heck was going on with me, because I always want to reach for the stars and to encourage you to. So now I’ve come to you.

What do you think?

First, are there some ideals that really can’t be achieved in business, because they’re more “genetic” to that company than the principles that they claim guide them?

Second, is it worth aiming for them anyway, even if you aren’t blessed with those business “genetics”? (In non-business terms, if I can’t have Angelina’s pout or her man, should I try for her smile?) Or should we find something to reach for that’s more practical, something we can break down into realistic and achievable action steps?

This barefoot hippie has seen her ideals clash with her realism more than once, ho ho. I welcome your thoughts on how high you SHOULD reach, in order to keep the dreams big and still generate real results.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Sabrina, 1954. At 3:45—the delightful John Williams as Thomas Fairchild and Audrey Hepburn as his daughter, Sabrina. “No, Father. The moon’s reaching for me.” One of my favorite lines in all film. Irrelevant? Not entirely! That’s an ideal we all want to aim for in business.

They can both destroy your Customer Experience

Have you ever put down the newspaper on the sofa, only to come back a half an hour later and discover someone’s left their magazine and a box of crackers right next to it?

Ever leave your shoes in the dining room after a hard day at work, and discover three other pairs and a pair of socks decided they belonged there, too?

Do you live in a neighborhood where one neighbor mows his lawn Saturday at seven-thirty like clockwork, and by ten a.m. everybody else feels like a lazy bum so they’re out there mowing, even when the grass hasn’t grown an inch?

They’re opposite sides of the same coin. Police call it the broken window theory, suggesting that one broken window in a neighborhood can start the neighborhood on a downhill spiral. Happens at home, in your neighborhood, even at work. The optimist’s version is the flowerbed theory… you get the picture.

Probably, you didn’t get this picture:

Landscapers' truck, with graffitti - Free Candy?

The free candy truck. Good thing they didn’t put the company name on it—where would the graffiti fit?

To follow up on last week’s outdoor lesson, I sadly deliver this charmless photo, shot in my apartment complex. My neat, orderly, suburban apartment complex. This, folks, is the truck of the landscapers who were hired to do some work on the courtyard in front of my building.

That is my car in the foreground. Which I moved away from this truck when I discovered it was to be left there overnight, from fear that it might encourage an otherwise law-abiding person, somewhere in the complex, to lose their head and graffiti something near this blight. Like, say, my car. Irrational, I know, to think that an urge to create graffiti could rub off on folks who see this. I felt silly moving the car. But maybe not quite nuts, if you believe in the broken window theory.

Okay, okay, I’ll get to the point. And it’s not what you think.

I’m not going to pick on the landscaping company for having such a nasty truck and such obvious disregard for the image their company is projecting.

There’s no name on the van, people. I don’t think they’re trying to project an image. That might be too highfalutin’ for them. They don’t need no stinkin’ image!

I’m not here to teach you an MCE lesson about what your trucks should look like, nor about keeping things clean forgoodnesssake. We’ll do that on other days.

This isn’t about respecting the rest of the world enough to park in an isolated spot if you are the unfortunate victim of a drive-by graffitiist.

This is about you.

Specifically, who you choose to hire. Because, dear reader, about a week earlier, I saw this truck in front of the main office of my apartment complex. (I mean, free candy. Who forgets that?)

The people who emerge from this van were there to pitch their services. To get hired to take care of the appearances of a very large apartment complex—issues that are too large, apparently, for the six full-time maintenance staff to handle. Big issues of aesthetics… and even though the thought of their taking care of aesthetic issues is alarming, we’re still not quite to my point.

My point.

Don’t hire these people. They may take care of you, their customer, with the lowest bid (I hope there was some half-baked reason for hiring them), but you are not taking care of your customers. To make your customers worry about riff-raff and vandalism while claiming you are making improvements is gross neglect of your customers, and pretty gross neglect of your senses.

No excuses for their occupation or anything else. I don’t want to hear it, because it’s bulls**t. There are plenty of landscapers who can do better, and in fact I’m not sure I’ve seen any who can do worse.

Don’t hire people like this, or you have entirely missed the Maximum Customer Experience boat. You’ve just broken your own window.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Teaching online—Wow!
Email newsletters—Wow!


You can’t cut through the noise like this.

You’re stretched way too thin. You’re chasing every new wave, and you know what? Waves sweep everything along with them. They’re indiscriminate. And waves crash.


Plan your strategy. On purpose. Not on a bandwagon. Then—I know this may ruffle a few feathers—put on the blinders. Stop spinning around for every new wow. If you’ve planned it right, patience and consistency will pay off. They just won’t pay off instantly.

No matter what you’ve heard, new media do not mint new money. So work your plan for the long term. Not for the WOW.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

The Florist Who Sends Flowers

My daughter “graduated” third grade a few weeks ago. They move up to a new building, so there’s a little ceremony. Which she forgot to tell me about. Until that morning. *sigh, such is the life of a 9-year-old*

We chattered excitedly about it on the way to school, and I promised to rearrange my world on no notice to be there. On the way to work, I started thinking about the importance of this milestone. Flowers. I’d have to leave early to get her a little bouquet at my favorite florist. Thanks goodness they’re on the way to the school.

At work, the first person I spotted got to hear the tale of the surprise graduation. “You have to get her flowers. All the other parents will, and she’ll feel singled out if you don’t.” Yes, I know. Already planning that. “Where are you going to go?” The little place, you know the one… I like them a lot. Always go there for roses for her skating exhibitions.

“Listen, you’ve got to go to my florist. She’s great. She’ll do anything for you. You can’t just show up, though. Call in advance. I’ll give you her number. No, here, I’ll call for you. She’ll have them ready, and you won’t have to leave too early to get there.” I want to get a few small bunches for some of the teachers who’ve been really important to her. They’ve been through a lot right along with us. I figured I’d go in and look around like I usually do.

You know when you haven’t had enough caffeine and the other guy’s had too much? This was such a moment. I’m a nice person, so I listened to her story.

Raving Fans: Organic Word-of-Mouth Does the Work for You

“I use them all the time. Anything from a thank-you bouquet [and I thought Knowts were a special touch!] to a housewarming to a funeral. When I was single, I used to send flowers to myself every Friday. Just to tell me I was special. [Note to Self: Buy me flowers.] She was so nice about it, always just putting the last touches on as I walked in after work, always a little chat. I’d send flowers to my husband before we were married, to embarrass him at work. You name it. My husband bought me the biggest bouquet when my first daughter was born.

“When my second daughter was born, she sent me flowers. How do you like that? She’ll get you set up. Let me call her for you.”

So of course, I did. Before that story, it was just another team who puts together a mean bouquet. The Florist Who Sends Flowers? I’m not really into being acknowledged, but hey, that’s somebody who goes the extra mile for her customers. My friend, the raving fan, called and had five bouquets readied for me.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Mamas…

At 12:30 I left to pick up the flowers, an hour before the graduation. Plenty of time for the drive, a chat with the remarkable florist, and I’d still get a nice seat to take photos of my beaming young lady. At 12:45, a half-mile from the florist, a young woman pulled out of a parking lot and made a left turn going south, straight into the front of my northbound car.

And that, as they say, was the end of the fun. My car wasn’t too bad off. Hers appeared to be totalled. I really, really didn’t care, because all I wanted to do was make it to my daughter’s graduation. Rounds of calls, then the long, silent wait for the police to arrive.

When I say long wait, try imagining your little one in tears, thinking you’ve abandoned her. Try imagining paying for therapy years later so she can get over this tragic moment. Then try imagining you are in Delaware, and the day is a cool 98°F. There is no shade where you are stuck, your head is feeling funny, and your summery goin’-to-a-graduation dress is welded on to your body with sweat. This half-hour wait was no ordinary half-hour wait.

The flowers! After about 25 scorching minutes, I remembered that someone besides me might be thinking of me at that moment, and by now, probably tapping her toes. My friend who ordered the flowers might have her reputation besmirched by my not showing up. So I dug out the phone number, and I called the florist. I explained what had happened, and this delightful lady sat on the phone with me, making sure I was okay, and asking if there was anything she could do to help. She stayed on the phone until the police arrived (not to hold my hand, it just worked out that way). She told me not to worry, and said it was so thoughtful of me to remember her when I had bigger things on my mind. She said flowers or not, it would be a lovely day, and maybe I’d make it in time after all.

Yes, the police officer took forever to arrive. She spoke to the other lady first. When she finally talked to me, I told her how if the car was drivable I almost didn’t care, because all I wanted to do was make it to my little girl’s graduation, which by this time was only five minutes off, but fifteen minutes away. She was kind, and cared, and boy, was she fast. I haven’t had an accident since I was a teen, but it seemed to me that once we spoke she moved things along at record speed.

All’s Well That Ends Well, and the Florist Gets New Business

Happy ending, folks. I got to see the important part, the little lady crossing the stage. She saw me, so she knows I was there for her. Therapy (for that) was averted. The photos are awful, because it was standing-room only by the time I got there and I was a very sweaty, very exhausted person by then, who couldn’t hold the camera steady. But there are photos. Happy ending.

Considering how to design the best Experience for your customers? Send flowers. Not literally, though that’s nice, too. No, I mean exceed expectations. Provide delight. Your customers will praise you for years (the baby she sent flowers for is fourteen now), and your business with grow. That’s still not enough. Be human. The florist could have said, “Okay, thanks for the call,” and got back to her work. She didn’t. She listened, she empathized, she gave a bit of unsolicited support to someone who probably did need it (though she’d rather not admit it). She treated me, ironically, just the way I’d treat someone who called me in this situation. She gained a fan from someone who’s never met her, and never given her a dime.

I haven’t had an occasion to buy flowers in the weeks since that day (shame on me, read my note to self above!). I’ve sent three other customers her way, though, by telling this story. And you can bet that when I’m ready to embarrass my future husband at work, it’ll be roses from The Florist Who Sends Flowers.

Exceed expectations. Be human. How can you create a story that fans will tell about you, to spread the word for your company?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

So, My Stats Are a Little Sad After the Move, and They Want Me to Visit Extra Right Now…

I’m obsessing, but I’m not blind, so I notice this small banner from FeedBurner today:

A free vinyl-y sticker could be yours for the low price of a self-addressed stamped envelope.


1. When you use the word “vinyl-y,” I am automatically not interested. Ugh. Please tell me who your target market is. Are there people who say “ooh, vinyl-y,” in any demographic? Not even “vinyl.” Note that well. “Vinyl-y,” as in “even vinyl would be too classy for you suckers.”

2. When you use the word “free,” you may not use it in conjunction with the phrase “for the low price of.” ‘Cuz that’s not free, people.

3. And perhaps most glaring: There’s so little information here, yet I have rarely heard an offer that was less appealing than this. What is it and why would I want such a thing? Are you kidding?

Maybe I should have clicked on the link. I hope they are kidding.

Takeaways: Know who you’re talking to. Talk benefits, not features (I hate to call “vinyl-y” a feature, but let’s face it, it’s not a benefit). Never, never say free if there’s a cost involved.

Don’t be slippery. Or vinyl-y.

How about you? Do you know who you’re talking to, and why they’d want what you offer?

Sounds simple, but it’s one of the hardest questions to answer simply. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my guest post at Just Creative Design, Dudes and Dolls and Design Decisions, you may find some answers there.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Is It Quicksand?

Are you talkin’ to me?

Launching a new product or service? Expanding? Taking advantage of the slowdown to get your message out with less competition? If you’re a small business owner, you’ve got to make a plan, and get the word out about what you offer—and you need to do it every day.

Like the rest of your Positioning, your marketing strategy must be carefully tuned to your audience. Too few messages and you may not be remembered; too many, and your prospect will tune you out.

Monday, we talked about the danger of driving away customers who are already sold on you; Tuesday we dug into the customer’s Perception of a withholding campaign.

Yet somehow, there are “success” stories being told:

My friend Bert says he does great by sending out loads of email,* with little drips of information, over a long time. By the end, he’s got a nice list of people who are interested. What gives?”

*Your friend Bert may mention telemarketing, long, long direct sales letters, or other direct mail efforts (magazine and credit card offers come to mind), blasted repeatedly at a very large, unwilling audience. It depends on Bert’s business.

What customers are you attracting?

Methods of annoying, teasing, withholding, and other prospect-pummeling are like trying to build an empire on resentment. It changes who will stay with you, and who will say yes.

It’s a numbers game.

When BigBankOla sends offers to 500,000 people in a region, their offer is going to stick with some people. People who desperately need money right then. People who are just dissatisfied, but not desperate, threw the junk mail in the trash on their way to start dinner.

If you call 75 receptionists per day, one boss is going to be so sick of hearing your name announced that he’s going to agree to talk to you. Increase it to 75 an hour, and now you’ve got 8 annoyed C-levels to talk to every day.

Get a really big megaphone to announce your latest Internet sensation, and thousands of people flock to hear your message. They want your “Great Growth Make Money Online Quick Scheme,” theoretically, but they haven’t heard specifics or seen a dollar sign.

You decide to hold off. To tease, to entice. To build attraction. Clickthrough rates were great on that first piece where you said nothing. Here goes again. Well, more people didn’t follow through this time, but you started with so many. A few just aren’t interested. Again, and again, you deliver nothing, until you are left with a fraction of the audience you had in the beginning. You think that interest waned and you have only devoted fans left. Wrong.

You don’t have brand Propheteers, pre-sold on your Vision. The folks who are left at the end of all these cons are the desperate, the bored, the worn-out, the hangers-on. The easily conned are your remaining prospects.

It’s a numbers game, and you will sell to a percentage of them.

Is The Big Tease part of your big plan?

Doing this isn’t always “wrong.” BigBankOla has the money, staff, and time to throw at the problem. They don’t want to make more personal, genuine efforts at growing their business. They’ve done a lot of research; they’ve planned it exactly. They know exactly how large the mass mailing needs to be, who those desperate seekers are, how many will be desperate enough, and how to catch their eye. Whether I like it or not personally, they know what they’re doing. Do you?

Are you making the decision consciously? Are the easily conned, your Ideal Customers? Does this align with your company’s Purpose?

Some do build an empire on resentment. If you try, don’t be surprised that your customers are not your fans. They’ll be gone, as soon as the next empire-builder catches their eye.

Can we build our empires on-line and off with a kinder, gentler Tease? What works or doesn’t work for you?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Leading Change Initiatives

Motivation=Wanting to do something.

Sounds simple, right?

It’s not.

Does Your Kid Take Out the Trash?

Mine does. I haven’t got all the mysteries of parenthood figured out, but that one goes well at my house. At age nine, my daughter likes to take out the trash. In our apartment complex, this involves a walk with me, to cross a busy parking lot, go to the trash corral, and throw our trash into the dumpster. Why does she want to do it with no prompting?

Time with Mama. A little walk-and-talk with nothing pressing to distract us. (Recognition)

It’s a contribution to the house that isn’t too taxing and makes a big difference. (Achievement)

I never force the task on her; she bosses me around and tells me when it’s time to do the job. (Responsibility)

The longer we do this job together, the more she is able to contribute: directing when to cross the street, getting tall enough to use the dumpster almost all by herself, etc. (Personal growth)

There’s a bonus at the end: people often put toys and furniture in the big corral, especially near holidays and moving time (beginning/end of month), so she may get to bring something fun back with us. (External push)

Why Do You Take Out the Trash?

Because otherwise, the house gets icky

Or the spouse gets cranky

Or there’s no room for more

Or it’s just a habitual part of your day

Or you’ll get a big thank-you at the end

What’s the difference? I am lucky to have a kid who has developed mainly internal motivators for taking out the trash. Recognition, achievement, responsibility, personal growth. Yes, the potential for a bonus is an external “motivator,” and some of our finds have been pretty great, but these are infrequent enough that they are not a major influence.

Most adults are pushed by external factors to take out the trash: the prospect of a reward for completion or a punishment for avoidance of the task. The carrot and the stick. The satisfaction of a job well done got lost somewhere along the way. You don’t want the trash taken out, you want the carrot to be given or the threat of the stick to go away.

Trash Removal Is a Need, After All. Why Should We Like Doing It?

I’m going to let you in on a secret. When I was a teen in college, I used to clean houses for people. I liked doing it. I did more than necessary to earn my ten bucks an hour. Sure, the carrot of my four hours’ pay was there. That wasn’t too much, even then. Owners were rarely there while I was working, so I can’t say that their praise was significant. It was just plain nice to transform a house once a week. I got referred on and on, because the results of liking my work really showed.

That’s not the secret. The secret lies in those owners. Some people like a clean house. Some people like having their house cleaned.

When I came back, week after week, the same people’s houses needed barely anything. This meant I could do really in-depth stuff, making their house shine more and more every week. These folks had the internal motivation of loving a clean house; I just freed them to maintain it. And every week, the same people’s houses were utterly trashed as if I’d never been there at all. I’d spend so long just picking up junk, that I could barely get to the floors and the dusting, before the four hours were up. I pushed a clean house on them, but their own motivation was so completely gone that they had even outsourced the minimal stuff like picking up their socks off the living room floor.

Liking having a clean house resulted in having a clean house for some owners. Having an external factor come in and clean their house could not result in a clean house for others. Internal motivation gets things done; external pushing gets things done half-assed. Crude, but true.

The Second Secret

Yes, I’m going to let you in on another secret. I wrote earlier that I am lucky to have a kid who has developed mainly internal motivators. I’m not that lucky. I’ve been leading her there all along, and she has the internal motivators I intended to instill. I also wrote that I haven’t got all the mysteries of parenthood figured out, and to prove that—though I think I’ve followed the same path with homework, it’s pretty much on the carrot-and-stick level. The results aren’t 100%, but following the path toward internal motivation is critical.

Why Pushing Change Always Fails

Motivation=Wanting to do something.

As you manage your staff, you probably try two tactics to motivate those precious human resources. You praise, “communicate” (or my least favorite, “treat them like family”), offer pay raises, bonuses, privileges, or other incentives; or you scold, frown, write and enforce reviews, take away plum assignments, threaten termination. You prefer the first tactics, but resort to the second as necessary. Every year, you up the ante on the rewards to further motivate employees who got the extras last year. So, why aren’t your employees motivated?*

You’ve taken their internal motivations away. Simple.

In each case, who wants the change? You, the manager. You are pushing changes; the employee is just trying to catch the reward or avoid the punishment. The employee no longer wants what you want.

To lead, you must stop pushing changes NOW. Leaders create the opportunity for internal motivation to take hold.

From Manager to Leader

Almost every owner or manager I talk to who is dissatisfied with the company’s growth will eventually point to their staff. “I love this work,” they say. “I’d do it without pay. Every year I offer more for good performance, but they don’t love the work and don’t want the company to succeed like I do. What’s going on?”

What drives us to give our best efforts?

  • Recognition
  • Achievement
  • Responsibility
  • Personal growth

So what can I say to this owner?

Dear Owner

Dear Ms. Owner:

When you tell me how much you love this company, you do not talk about the work (unless it’s to tell me that 19-hour days do not pain you), or the pay (owners are often paid less than their top staff), or the great hours, benefits, or privileges. You tell me about devotion, about the day you first went “in the black,” the first time the local press gave you a glowing review, or how getting to know your customers has made you a better person.

Are your employees sharing in that success? They crave what you crave. The glow of an unbiased opinion; the satisfaction of doing a job better than anyone knew it could be done; the chance to influence and create company growth themselves; personal attachment to outcomes; feeling like their excellent work makes a difference, and that each day they become even more excellent!

Your staff want to go home and say to friends and family: “This job rocks. When I am there, I rock. I can hardly wait to see what happens tomorrow.” That, Ms. Owner, is when staff become brand Propheteers.

It isn’t money that is driving talented people out of the workforce and into self-employment in droves. It’s impotence. Nothing is more demoralizing than the feeling that you do not matter, that your forseeable future looks exactly like your present, and that you are spinning your wheels.

Ms. Owner, to lead you will have to give up some control. A leader is not a manager of each employee’s moments. A leader is a guide to the company’s Vision, chief cheerleader and creator of excitement. A manager dictates employee actions; a leader shapes and trusts employee desires.

A manager offers rewards for expected outcomes; a leader acknowledges extraordinary, unexpected results

A manager schedules performance reviews; a leader asks for personal accountability

A manager piles on the work with no obvious Purpose; a leader maintains focus on well defined outcomes, leaving methods to the employee

A manager treats staff “like family,” with empathy, in a hands-on way, and sometimes gets familial disrespect in return; a leader treats staff like critical stakeholders and responsible adults in their own right, knows how to relax, but never lets work becomes a codependency

A manager automates and simplifies; a leader removes layers of approvals and other barriers to success

Ms. Owner, my best wishes for your continued growth.


Leading Transformation

We owners love our companies. We are always looking for the magic potion that will make employees fall in love, too. Poor employee performance is a major pain point in Experience Design. Whether you are an owner or an employee yourself, you have probably seen him: the guy who does only what he’s told, collects the paycheck, and runs out the door at 5. Mr. Minimum. Always ready with a complaint at your expense; ready to bolt at the first offer that looks a bit better than yours. No loyalty, no matter how much you “treat him like family.”

If you are managing your employees, the bad news is you created Mr. Minimum. The good news is, with patience you can lead. Though human factors are never perfectly engineered, you can leave the carrot and stick behind.

Motivation=Wanting to do something.

You can say of your staff: “I’ve been leading them there all along, and they have the internal motivators I intended to instill. They know what we’re about, they are empowered to do their best for our success, and they love this company like I do. They want to be here. They want to tell our customers what’s great about us. Some of them would do it if they weren’t being paid. They are our biggest fans.”

You can’t “push change” if you want major, long-term results. You can lead growth, through this essential shift toward internal motivation.

If you really care about your staff as family, then start creating jobs that are fulfilling, exciting, and filled with challenges, just like their Mamas wish for them. Stop enabling them to howl about chores, and start driving them toward fun, enrichment, and adventure when they take out the trash.

It takes time, but look at it this way: It’s easier than getting your kid to love spelling homework.

What parts of your work would you do for free? How could a focus on internal motivators change the quality of work your company does?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*Thanks to Frederick Herzberg, author of “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” (1968, 1987) for the Harvard Business Review [subscription required], who taught me that a Kick in the Ass is nothing like the internal desire to excel.

Can Kelly Walk the Walk?

Do You Know Where my VisionPoints?

Today at IttyBiz (an inspiration and a guilty pleasure in my blog-reading schedule) author Naomi Dunford issued a small business challenge to her readers based on a recent email and the anxiety it aroused in her:

“So what do you actually do for a living?”

After some initial irritation, she homed in on the perfect Maximum Customer Experience pain point:

If they don’t know what I do for a living, it’s not exactly their fault, is it?

You know how you began with a Vision, then you get so involved in day-to-day stuff, you lose track of the Vision? And the business suffers. Sales aren’t what you want them to be. Your Vision extends to your staff and how they treat customers; to the look and vibe of your physical space; to your website, blog (!), and printed materials. Or it doesn’t!

As in Naomi’s case, maybe you don’t even realize you aren’t communicating as powerfully as you could be until you get called on it.

Naturally, Naomi found a way to make this all about her readers’ Visions for their IttyBizzes. She’s generous like that.

How many of your readers don’t know about your small business?

I got to thinking… how many of your readers don’t know about your IttyBiz? How many knew one time 8 months ago when they read your About page but have promptly forgotten? How many of them have room on their credit cards? How many of them know people who could use your products or services? How many of them would fall over their own feet to recommend you but don’t have a damn clue what you really do?

Scary stuff, y’all.

The people want to know.

Naomi’s challenge: Bloggers, interview thyselves. In light of my 2008 Interview Series, it seemed about right that I put myself on the hotseat Naomi designed. Her questions and my answers follow.

Don’t write to tell me this is all a shock and you had no idea. Write to tell Naomi that hers is all a shock, and you had no idea what she does. She started it.  🙂

What’s your game, Kelly? What do you do?

I help your company go where your VisionPoints.

How? I’m an Experience Designer, owner of VisionPoints, The Experience Designers. We help you radically improve your Customer Experience to grow your business. My team and I dig into your goals, focus your Vision, and follow it all the way through to the execution of your finished design.

Strategy, interiors, graphics, and human (interactive) Experience that powers growth. One company, one complete Solution for small- to mid-sized businesses.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?

I feel so strongly about the power of integrated Experience Design that I sometimes say I’m obsessed with it. How do you position your firm for growth when you’re an overworked, multitasking small business owner? You’re constantly propping up one element at the expense of others. You may have the greatest product or service in the world, but if your customers experience that scattered feeling you have, they’ll never catch on to you and spread the word!

I love the research, strategy, and the applied art that is Experience Design. I’ve got a creepy knack for it, too.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?

You’ve had help from a graphic designer. You’ve considered an interior designer, or maybe you’ve already worked with one. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker… everybody comes at your project with their angle, and your message is getting confused. Enough!

If you’ve done it all yourself, you know it’s time-consuming, frustrating, not saving you a lot of money—worst yet, it’s not making you money.

If you’re still wondering why smaller businesses need Maximum Customer Experience, click here.

What kind of changes make new clients call us?

  • New funding—Rising (or falling) revenues
  • Change of ownership—Change of name
  • New product introduction—New services
  • Big announcement—Award—Event coming up
  • Recent move—Expansion
  • New customer—New markets
  • Dissatisfied with current procedures—Time for a change in tactics

Do your customers, suppliers, and employees feel connected to your success? Do they believe in you and share in your Vision, or is your company just one of many to them? You can increase loyalty, satisfy repeat customers, and drive enthusiastic referrals—through integrated Experience Design.

What’s your marketing USP [Unique Sales Proposition]? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?

[Provocative IttyPhrasing courtesy of Naomi, lest you forget. My spellcheck thinks a good correction for IttyPhrasing is “vituperating.”*]

I’m passionate about creating Maximum Customer Experience for smaller businesses. I believe in measuring, proving, and growing real numbers with good design. You want more than pretty—you want growth. That’s why you call VisionPoints.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?

I’m on a mission to connect bottom-line business results with focused interiors, graphics, and that all-important interactive Experience. With this blog I get to talk Experience Design with a much wider audience than my workday could ever allow otherwise. I learn and grow here, too!

The power of Maximum Customer Experience is that not only the huge firms can deliver it to their customers. Your IttyBiz can, and you need to, to succeed.

You know I’ve got to say it: The big plan is to design the Experience Design Solution for your IttyBiz. Ready to grow? Contact VisionPoints today.

Naomi asked me to call you out, too. Write your own “What’s Your Small Business” article and post it to your blog. Link back to her challenge, and she’ll be compiling a list of everybody’s posts to make us all own up to our Vision!

Hey, does her Vision have something to do with lots of linkbacks and new readers?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*This has nothing at all to do with the fact that my daughter told me today that the 8th of the Seven Dwarfs is named “Facetious.” No, I am not making this up.

In the Middle of Everything…

Work Some Silence Into Every Day

1. Step away from the project you’re working on, for Perspective and to spot problems. Ever notice how when you’ve just written an email, a paper, or a proposal, you can’t spot the typos, but a couple of hours or days later (usually too late, after it’s been sent somewhere) you see every flaw? Take some quiet time away from your relentless pursuit of Maximum Customer Experience and the answers (or the flaws) may just jump out at you.

2. The best ideas always come to me when I’m forced into silence (when I’m going to sleep, waiting for a doctor, stuck in traffic…). Silence lets the mind wander (that’s how the idea for this post came).

3. Silence in group situations allows you to open up to listening. Try keeping quiet when a response is expected—this often leads to hearing more than the other person intended to reveal. It also marks you as a caring listener, which will help you build a relationship and may help you “close the deal.”

Pencil Some Silence Into Tomorrow

If you are always racing, always adding to your to-do list, always manically multitasking, take some time this week to let go. How about taking tomorrow afternoon off? No email, no Internet, no business calls, no customers. Take a walk to a Thoughtful Spot (like Winnie-the-Pooh), and just sit, alone, letting ideas and problems wash over you without pressure.

Yes, this means you, solopreneur with child at home. Who do you help out in a pinch? Ask that person to hang on to the little one for just three hours.

Yes, this means you, owner with six employees expecting you. What do they do when you’re sick? Tell them to do that.

Yes, this means you, start-up supervising construction on the new site. They get along on other sites, they can get along without you for an afternoon.

Yes, this means you, workaholic who loves every minute of it. You still can’t see the forest if you’re letting the tree branches whip you from morning till midnight, no matter how much fun the work is.

Maybe a great new idea for Customer Experience will come to you, you’ll reach into your pocket, grab a crumpled piece of paper and a pen, and jot the note that starts a new direction for your company.

Maybe you’ll have a huge personal reflection, that will make downtime better and allow your business to be more fulfilling, finally.

Maybe, you’ll snooze.

We’re all too connected, too busy absorbing, too convinced things will fall apart if we take time to sort through our thoughts. Too many of us are hiding “empty” with band-aids of “busy.”

If crazy is part of your equation, as in “I am working like…,” quality will be harder to come by.

It’s a chance to regain focus. The value of silence is in rediscovering where you are driving to with all this “busy,” and why.

What’s the BEST thing that could happen if you let your team take care of things for just one afternoon? How could recharging your batteries periodically help your business thrive?

Tomorrow: Why Noise Is Essential.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson