Halftime – Down Means Up

I unabashedly admit that I am a college basketball junkie. My team, the University of Louisville Cardinals, earned the top overall number one seed in the N.C.A.A. tourney and at this writing; they are headed for the Sweet 16.

Lately, my Cards have been down at half time and then just demoralize their opponent in the second half. I am curious as to what goes on in that locker room to make the light come on for the players. Does being down inspire a team or an individual to reach their maximum potential?

Jonah Berger, assistant professor of marketing and Devin Pope, an assistant professor of operations and information management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, analyzed game outcomes based on the half time score. They researched N.C.A.A. teams across all divisions and found that teams down by 4 at halftime lose about 60 percent of games. Teams down by 8 lose about 80 percent of the time. They analyzed more than 6,000 N.C.A.A. basketball games played in the past four seasons. Surprisingly, the data show that trailing by a little can actually be a good thing.

According to Berger and Pope, on average the team with the lead should win more than half of those games. The data however shows the opposite. The team trailing by a point actually wins more often.  According to the research, being slightly behind increases a team’s chance of winning by 5 percent to 7 percent.

I suspect that a good reason for the second half turnarounds is the result of great coaches, motivational techniques and good team chemistry.

If you are like most people, you are probably feeling like a team that is down at half against a very tough opponent, the economy. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to become that great coach. We need to be that motivational coach to others and ourselves everyday.

When it comes to sales, recruitment or maintaining existing clients, never underestimate the power of motivation. As coaches we need to motivate our teams to do that one little extra thing that will make us better than the competition.

Often time’s leaders think that money is the motivator for those that we mentor. In fact, the desire for more money tends to score much lower. Motivation is best delivered when we understand the human need to belong to a group. The three motivators that consistently rank at the top of employee list are:

  • Advancement
  • Type of work
  • A company that they are proud to work for

So, if your team finds itself a little ahead at half, perhaps you should remind them what is going on in the other locker room – they are planning a big second half surge. I hope you enjoy the rest of the N.C.A.A. tournament. Go Cards!

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E is for Empathy

The Northwest Airlines website would not let me complete the payment process for a flight I was booking. Frustrated, I picked up the phone to complete the transaction. Northwest added to the frustration by informing me there would be an additional $20 fee for the privilege of talking to a person.

This wasn’t my first poor customer service experience from Northwest or Delta or whatever it may evolve into next year. Cutbacks in services, staff reductions and just boneheaded management styles have left us awash in miserable to non -existent customer service.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the customer service team – hard workers who historically are one of the lowest paid. An article in the Boston Globe reminded me that some CEO’s get it.

Take Paul Levy for example. He is the guy who runs Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The moment had come when pink slips were inevitable. So he took time out and just watched some of the 8,000 people who work for Beth Israel.

As Kevin Cullen, a Globe Columnist noted, “He stood at the nurses’ stations, watching the transporters, the people who push the patients around in wheelchairs. He saw them talk to the patients, put them at ease, make them laugh. He saw that the people who push the wheelchairs were practicing medicine.

He noticed the same when he poked his head into the rooms and watched as the people who deliver the food and empty the trashcans chatted up the patients and their families.”

Paul Levy did something incredible. He did something right for his employees. He did something great for his hospital and the bottom line. Levy stood in front of an auditorium filled with anxious employees and said, “I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I’d like to get your reaction to it,” Levy began. “I’d like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners – the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don’t want to put an additional burden on them.

“Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice,” he continued. “It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits.”

He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when the auditorium erupted in applause. Thunderous, heartfelt, sustained applause.

The consensus was that the workers don’t want anyone to get laid off and are willing to give up pay and benefits to make sure no one does. A nurse said her floor voted unanimously to forgo a 3 percent raise. A guy in finance who got laid off from his last job at a hospital in Rhode Island suggested working one less day a week. Another nurse said she was willing to give up some vacation and sick time. A respiratory therapist suggested eliminating bonuses.

Levy did the right thing to help people in hard times. He also did the right thing in delivering great customer service. It is very often the front line that makes the biggest impression on customers. They are the ones who hear the problems first hand. And when given the tools and training they can be the ones to prevent a problem from becoming a lost customer.

Cullen writes this about Paul Levy, “he is trying something revolutionary, radical, maybe even impossible: He is trying to convince the people who work for him that the E in CEO can sometimes stand for empathy.”

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Filling The Sales Funnel

A prospect that I was meeting with recently was lamenting that his sales funnel is suffering from serious constriction issues. “My team is sending out the direct mail, making calls and responding to RFPs, just like everyone else. We don’t seem to be able to differentiate ourselves,” he said.

Brand differentiation is exactly what gives people permission to buy your services or goods with confidence. Aristotle said we are what we do. It’s no different for business.

Southwest Airlines is selling freedom and Walt Disney imagination.

According to Roy Spencer Jr., author of the recently published book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For, the success of these businesses is rooted in their clearly articulated purpose.

Does your business have a unique purpose or service? Or as Spencer asks, “would your customers mind if you ceased to exist?” What ever that uniqueness is, it better be clearly articulated in your new business presentations.

In the short term what can we do to fill the sales funnel and create a personal point of differentiation? I offer this simple suggestion that helps you, your customers and gives something to those organizations that need you the most. Volunteer.

Volunteering with organizations puts you in touch with a new network of influencers. Volunteering is the original form of social media. It has been around long before LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any other social networking activities.

What volunteering does for you and your business is it creates a unique point of differentiation. It positions you in a totally different light. It is marketing 101. People buy from people, people they know. How many employees are in your organization, 2? 200? 2000? Imagine the networking potential if you started a workplace volunteer program. An article in the Minneapolis Business Journal on how to get a volunteer program started in your business is a great first step. Then fold your newfound network of contacts into your CRM program.

Aristotle was right. We are what we do. If we actively work to make our community better, it makes us better. It enriches us, our employees, our brands and quite likely our bottom line.

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Boosting the Bottom Line Through Retention

A New York Times article raised an interesting question. Is the GOP losing a generation?
Americans identifying themselves as Democrats outnumber those who say they are Republicans by 10 percentage points, the largest gap in party identification in 24 years.

I wrote shortly after Obama’s election that he had garnered a 66% share of the 18-29 demographic or about 16 million people. Brand loyalty is created as a result of cognitive elaboration (thinking about it) by an individual. Since 16 million young voters assigned a positive attribute to Obama and ultimately the Democratic Party, chances are good the large majority will live a life loyal to the democratic brand. It is a fundamental principle of positioning.

The challenge before us as communication practitioners is not only gaining market share but also retaining those that are loyal to our brand. Higher education needs to retain the students enrolled. Nonprofit must retain core individuals who are active with time or money. Business must retain clients and key employees.

Higher Education
A top down approach to staff and faculty mentoring of students creates a family environment and identifies potential problems before they arise. International or minority students are an extremely high at risk demographic. Faculty and upper classman who reach out to the new students, prior to arrival, are sure to create a bond. It is this sense of inclusiveness that will tie the student to the university well beyond their four years.

Non-Profit
Shifting money from salaries to other priorities sends managers into a never-ending downward spiral of dealing with frequent turnover. An alternative approach is paying more to gain stability, maturity, and the skill sets to sustain long-term initiatives. Retaining those grass roots organizers and donors will be enhanced as the time manager spent on training and retraining staff can now be devoted to personally strengthening key relationships.

Business
Engaging your new clients is very much like higher education. Your account executive should be communicating with the client between projects and not just during the projects. Personal client engagement by senior executives creates an environment of partnership instead of a vendor status.

Employee retention may not be an issue today, however there is a way to thwart key staff turnover when the economy heats up again. Authentic engagement, mentoring and training by senior management today will pay dividends in the future.

None of us can afford to lose a generation of students, customers or employees. How we manage our human relations with stakeholders will ensure that we don’t fall into a chasm of disconnect and disinterested.

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What Stop Signs Tell Us About Communication

With the exception of a few drivers, most people obey stop signs. Responsible drivers understand that stop signs are a signal to act in a certain way. While waiting my turn at a four way stop, I wondered what signs we should use to get employees to act in a way that supports our brands.

Many companies overlook the importance of internal brand communication. How much more effective would an organization be if the employee and their families fully understood the brand promise, sales strategy and customer service standards?

Today’s employees are the product of an evolutionary change in the sophistication of media and production values. While the old company newsletter still stands as a stalwart of communication in many organizations, intranets and internal blogging are now valuable real-time tools.

Eli Lilly and Company uses digital signage in the form of TV screens (LillyTV) that feature company news in the places their employees linger. While waiting for coffee, the elevator or an ATM, employees turn to LillyTV for the latest headlines, pictures and videos of company news and local or international events.

Not only is LillyTV an instant way to distribute company news, it reaches employees who don’t sit in front of a computer. “In manufacturing, people don’t have their own computer, they don’t sit at a desk often, so they don’t see the company website, e-mails or newsletters,” says Chris Bias, senior internal communications associate at Lilly. “But [now] they can get the information too, because it’s in their break room.”

Eli Lilly is using a cellular TV system from MediaTile, which has been around since 2002. Its website claims to offer “Digital Signs in a Box” that are easy to install and connect to a cellular network.

Internal communication needs to reach beyond just the desk or the break room. Repetition of the message should be delivered at home and to the family. Expanding your brand message to the circle of influence, or as Seth Godin calls it the Tribe. When done successfully, the entire family communicates your brand attributes in their social circle, thus expanding your sphere of influence.

Ideas to create a family of brand ambassadors include:

  • Communication sent to the employee’s home that engages the entire family
  • Text messaging or posting on an employee’s Facebook page to acknowledge a job well done or an anniversary date
  • Posting a YouTube message to the employee and their family, again acknowledging the role they played in the company’s success
  • Encouraging employees to bring family members to the office so as to engage further with your brand
  • Sponsorship of employee softball teams, charitable events or other social activities sends a clear message that your brand is human

Western civilization craves information. Communicating the company brand promise, new initiative or sales goal, keeps everyone engaged and involved. Keeping the employee’s family engaged creates a supportive home environment. How you communicate is as important as what you communicate. And like the four way stop sign, when understood, it keeps everyone moving forward.

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