Aug 06

How Can Employees Show Customers They Care?

How Can Employees Show Customers They Care?
Strategies to Operationalize Caring

Caring about customers is one of the best ways to differentiate your business and gain long-term consumer loyalty. But how can employers operationalize such a “soft” skill? “Your best strategy is to teach your employees what caring about customers looks like in action,” says Jon Gordon. “Suggest specific tactics they can employ.
When they see how good it feels to care—and how good caring is for business—you’ll receive your team’s buy-in and continued participation.” Gordon notes that most of the tips he shares can also apply internally. “Employees can apply these principles to their interactions with each other, too,” he says. “How you treat your coworkers is how you’ll treat customers—you can’t separate the two!”
Here, Gordon shares 11 strategies employees can use to show customers (and each other) that they care:

Be present. Most modern workers have so many responsibilities and distractions that it’s tempting to listen to clients with only one ear (or half an ear!). You know how it goes: You make the appropriate noises during a client call (“Mmmhmmm…I understand…No, that won’t be a problem…”) while simultaneously typing an email to someone else. That’s why giving a client your full attention is so meaningful. Being fully present says, “I really care about you and what you need from this organization.
You are my top priority right now.” “Leaders, your employees will be fully present with customers only if you give them permission to be,” Gordon points out. “For instance, if you ask someone why she didn’t respond to your email sooner and she tells you that she was on the phone with a client, you need to be okay with that. You can take a cue from Zappos, which encourages their employees to spend more time on the phone with their customers instead of creating time limits like many customer service call centers. Instead of rushing through calls, Zappos employees focus on being present and caring.”

Say it with a smile. Smile and be polite during all customer interactions. “Can I help you?” said with a smile has a very different effect from the same words said without one. If you don’t feel like smiling at any given time, Gordon advises you to think of your favorite joke or funny movie scene and make yourself smile. It has been scientifically proven that the act of smiling improves your mood and can reduce stress! (Actually, a fake smile produces more stress relief. Just so you know.)

Call customers by name. When interacting with a customer, ask her name—then remember it and use it. Referring to someone by name demonstrates that you see her as an individual with unique needs and preferences, as opposed to “just a number” or a source of income.

Extend a genuine offer to help (but don’t hover). It’s true; no one appreciates “that” salesperson who shadows your every step as you browse through a store, asking you every two minutes if you need any help. But that doesn’t mean a single, simple, heartfelt, “Please let me know if you have any questions or need any help while you’re here” won’t be appreciated. It will! Even if a customer knows exactly what she wants, where to find it, and how to use it, the fact that you noticed her and offered your assistance will make a positive impression and send a powerful message about your company.

Be generous with your time. When someone does have a question or requests help, don’t rush through the task of explaining your company’s policy or toss off a piece of canned advice—take your time and really help the customer. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. Gordon suggests you ask questions and listen to your customers.
This lets them know you care about them and their thoughts, and it helps you to better understand their concerns so you can help them. Keep in mind this quote from The Carpenter: “The world is filled with those who get things done the fastest and the cheapest, but it needs more artists, craftsmen, and craftswomen. When you become a craftsman in a world of carpenters, you will stand out, and people will clamor to work with you.”

Stay calm and respectful at all times. (Resist the temptation to get defensive.) Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but you should always strive to treat customers with respect and deference. Often when a customer is upset (or perhaps even hostile), using soothing words that show you care can have a powerful calming effect.
“I’m sorry you were dissatisfied with your experience. Would you mind telling me how we can improve in the future?” will be better received than a perfunctory, “What was wrong with your experience?” or an exasperated, “I don’t think I can help you!”

Respond quickly and touch base often. It’s simple: Return calls and emails promptly. Whenever possible, try not to leave any unanswered emails or voicemails overnight. And be proactive with updates, too. Don’t force a client to get in touch with you in order to learn the status of an order, for instance. Send daily or weekly updates—whatever is appropriate.

Build it up. There is no such thing as a “perfect” job. Every employee in every industry has the occasional complaint about work. But that doesn’t mean you should dwell on them or air them gratuitously. When you’re talking about your company (especially if you’re on the clock), try to stay positive. Focus on the things you like about your work, what’s going well, and what your organization has to offer.
Spreading discontent to your coworkers can create internal dissent—and that comes across to customers in your attitude, even if you never utter a bad word about your company to them. “Negative chit-chat damages a brand and may send an undeservedly negative impression about it to others,” Gordon points out. “If you care about your organization, help build it up. If you don’t care, it’s time for an honest self-evaluation or a new job.”

See the good. In Gordon’s book, the carpenter tells his protégé, “When you see the good, look for the good, and expect the good, you find the good and the good finds you.” You can apply this principle by making an effort to stop thinking of customers as “annoying,” “needy,” “clueless,” or “a waste of my time.” Instead, choose to see the good in them: “She is genuinely curious about how this product is manufactured.” Or, “I admire how responsible he is with his own company’s money.” Or, “Getting their business is a big win for our company.” Customers will notice and appreciate the change in your attitude.

Don’t make it all about business. During any prolonged or follow-up interaction with a customer, ask them, “How are you doing?” Make an effort to learn about return clients on a personal level as well as a professional one and follow up on what you discover. If you know that an individual recently had an important event—a wedding, birthday, or even a big presentation—ask him how it went. People are surprised and pleased when you remember what’s going on with them—precisely because the assumption today is that most people don’t care about what’s going on outside their own bubbles.

Always go the extra mile. Constantly look for ways to make the service you provide just a little bit better. Gordon points out that even one percent more time, energy, or thought can make a big difference. Even small actions (like walking a customer to the door after checking them out, taking five extra minutes to return a call before going home, or calling a patient to follow up after they visit your health clinic) mean a lot.
Gordon cites a personal example of something little that has made a big impact on him: “Oceanside Cleaners near my home replaces missing buttons on my dress shirts at no extra charge. This ‘little’ service has earned my loyalty because it shows that Oceanside cares about the quality of my clothes and my satisfaction with their services.” And those employees who, despite your best efforts, just don’t or won’t care? “You need to move these people out of your organization (they won’t be top performers if they don’t care),” Gordon instructs. “Caring as a success strategy works only when all of your employees are on board. Think about it: It takes only one dismissive salesperson or rude customer service rep to drive a client away. And you can bet that client will spread the story of how poorly he or she was treated by your company!”

To learn more, please visit By Jon Gordon author of “The Carpenter.” Published in the ie business journal August 2014 issue. 




Jun 12

5 Qualities of a Lasting Leader

5 Qualities of a Lasting Leader

Leadership isn’t just something you do, it’s someone you become. But that requires a personal transformation, not just a personal agenda. Roger hadn’t learned that lesson. During an interview for a new leadership position, the hiring manager asked why he switched jobs, and sometimes companies, every 3-5 years.

Roger blamed the employees who stopped growing and doubted ownership’s commitment to the goal they asked him to reach. In other words, it had to be the environment because Roger was a “good” manager. Roger was half right – it was the environment. But he failed to recognize that he was responsible for creating that situation.

Lasting leaders, those who can weather economic downturns and even seismic market shifts in their employees or customers, are the ones who know how to assemble a diverse team and bring out their very best.

If you’re not building relationships that will last with your associates, even your financial success will be short-lived. If we want to understand what really defines leaders then we have to start by looking at their followers. The old motivational tricks no longer work. Employees have become jaded from broken promises and failed dreams.

Today followers are drawn to leaders who show openness, invest time, listen, encourage and show appreciation for the strengths their employees bring to work. These are qualities that are developed intentionally over time but they pay dividends in both financial and personal performance for a lifetime.

Leaders who are held in the highest esteem for their success on both the bottom line and with the people they lead epitomize these 5 qualities. From their followers you will hear phrases like these: “he was always there for me,” “I felt like she really listened,” “he valued my opinion,” and the result is employee engagement at the highest level. These qualities are gifts that a lasting leader is willing to give freely to the people they lead.

The Gift of Being Open to Others
Every leader claims to have an open-door policy. But it’s not a leader’s door that needs to be open – it’s an open mind that matters! Openness encourages employee engagement, and that is fundamental to business success. The Gallup Organization’s study of employee engagement in 7,939 business units in 36 different companies found that “employee engagement was positively associated with performance…”

The Gift of Investing Time in Others
. Leaders are usually not solo inventors or lonely creative thinkers. They are called to assemble a team of people and enable them to be more productive together than any of them could be alone. Leaders can’t create time, but when they invest their time to build profitable relationships with their employees they are multiplying the results they can achieve. Choosing to spend time with their employees daily is a leader’s best return on time.

The Gift of Listening to Others
. Trust between leaders and their associates is built upon a transparency that reflects a freedom to speak and be heard. Bad culture, where listening isn’t valued, impacts business every day across America. It’s been estimated that as much as 55% of a leader’s work time is spent listening. But most leaders don’t know how to do that. They confuse listening with hearing. When we are open to an employee’s ideas and we invest the time to hear them then we are more apt to understand what they are saying and, sometimes more importantly, what they are not saying.

The Gift of Offering Encouragement to Others
. Employees can work for hours without food or water. But they can’t do quality work for more than a few minutes without hope; the hope that their work matters; the hope that they can get the job done and the hope that their effort will be appreciated by their boss. You have few chances as a leader to show respect for employees that is more potent than surprising them with words that show you believe they have what it takes to get the job done despite their current challenges.

The Gift of Expressing Appreciation for Others’ Abilities
. When a leader gives away genuine appreciation it is mirrored back in improved attitudes, stronger commitment and better performance. Study after study documents that employees do not feel appreciated. The gift of appreciation is not about altering your associates’ opinion of the leader; it’s about changing their opinion of themselves. When a leader helps employees believe in their unique strengths, they build a work environment that – works! Lasting leaders know how to bring out the best in others.

You can be appointed someone’s boss, but not their leader. Your followers ultimately determine your leadership. Had Roger developed these five gifts he might have still moved jobs every 3 -5 years but it wouldn’t have been because he could no longer get results – it would be because he had developed a reputation for building a high performance team who followed his leadership even under tough conditions. That kind of leader is always in high demand.

For more information, please visit Article published in the ie business journal march 2014.





Mar 14

Are You Talkin’ to Me?

Are You Talkin’ to Me?
Understand and Adapt to Different Communication Styles

Jonathan Serafin 2014

 In today’s corporate world, leaders need excellent communication skills. Many are being asked to do more with fewer resources while also dealing with the stresses of a corporation that is downsizing and/or tightening budgets. To remain effective, leaders need near perfect communication skills regardless of their own communication type. Understanding the style of the person you are communicating with can make the difference between getting your message across and getting it across well. Consider these four communication styles and how you can effectively communicate with each one:

The Aggressor-Asserter
These are your CEOs in attitude. They are very competitive, goal-oriented, demanding, task-oriented and fast-paced. To these people, time is money and money is time. You know where you stand since they are blunt and direct in their communication. Their biggest fear is losing control and they ask the “What” questions. The Aggressor-Asserter has key strengths that include providing momentum, providing focus and making quick decisions. Their “on top of it” approach to projects can keep the rest of the team on target or even get it done early. However, this must be balanced as their weaknesses include overstepping their assignments, taking over tasks that have been assigned to others (and not necessarily because they can do them better, they just want to get them done).

To effectively connect with the Aggressor-Asserter, you must::
• Be brief, direct and concise.
• Provide options.
• Use a fast, quick pace.
• Focus on results and return-on-investment.
• Avoid providing lots of details.
• Provide short answers.
• Look them straight in their eyes.
• Be truthful.

The Socializer
These individuals are charismatic, enthusiastic, persuasive, lively, loud, talkative, friendly, people-oriented and very social. They are also visual and creative. Their biggest fear is social rejection and they ask the “who” questions. The Socializer is a great motivator. In the most organizations, these are on sales team. They are very creative and enjoy brainstorming. They do not keep track of time well and sometimes work tight to deadlines. They enjoy being the center of attention.

To effectively communicate with a Socializer, you must:
• Allow time for social interaction.
• Put details in writing or email.
• Have a fast pace, positive approach.
• Use a whiteboard in your discussions (Socializers are quite visual).
• Use phrases like “Picture this” or “Do You See.”
• Avoid a harsh, aggressive tone.

The Mediator
These individuals are calm, level-headed, great listeners, team-oriented, introverted and loyal. They make decisions in a consensus manner. Mediators like to marinate on questions—you will not get an answer immediately. They dislike conflict so they will internalize and tolerate it. As a result, this internalization builds until they explode. Their biggest fear is loss of stability and they ask the “How” questions. Team and project managers are typically fall into this style. Weaknesses include being hesitant in their approach slowing decision-making—they are going to try to keep everyone happy at the expense of their happinesss. Mediators are hard-working who are humble and do not pat themselves on the back. They make great teachers/trainers and mentors due to their calming and supportive nature

To effectively connect with a Mediator, you must:
• Be patient and logical.
• Use a steady, low-keyed approach.
• Involve Mediators in the planning process.
• Praise them privately.
• Allow time for “marination of ideas”. You will not get a quick answer.
• Start conversation with a warm and friendly greeting.
• Keep your tone of voice at discussion level.

The Analyzer
These individuals are meticulous, detail-oriented, introverted and task-oriented. These individuals can be considered perfectionists and they are suspicious of others. They may answer a question with a question. Their biggest fear is criticism of work and they ask the “why” questions. Key strengths of the Analyzer include being detailed-oriented, superb problem solvers and providing the team’s reality check. Weaknesses include having tunnel vision on projects and looking for the perfect solution.

To effectively communicate with the Analyzer, you must:
• Be organized and logical.
• Support your position using facts.
• Make sure that each point is understood before moving to the next point.
• Not use the phrase—“Let me give you some constructive advice.”
• Use words such as process, data and procedure.
• Realize that Analyzers are motivated by quality and data.

Communicating effectively with the various types is an art. Understanding a person’s style allows you to create harmony and avoid confusion. Developing your “adaptitude” – your ability to adapt your communication style to the listener – is a critical element of being an effective team member. When you are able to recognize the various styles and adjust your approach, your life will be easier and void of the common communication “ills.”

For more information, please visit Article by Ted Gorski, published in inland empire business journal march 2014.








Jul 10

Lost Sales Leads: 4 Common Problems and How to Correct Them

Lost Sales Leads: 4 Common Problems and How to Correct Them

business sales - jonathan serafin

U.S. businesses spend billions of dollars generating sales leads only to lose more than 70 percent of them simply because they don’t make contact quickly enough, according to one study. But that’s not the only way they’re losing out on opportunities, says Brandon Stuerke, president of Advisors Edge Marketing (, a specialist in marketing strategy and automation for financial advisors and other professionals. “A study of more than 600 companies by Dr. James Oldroyd of MIT found that the odds of a lead entering the sales process were 21 times greater if the business made contact within 5 minutes of generating the lead versus contact in 30 minutes,” Stuerke says. “Another study, this one by the Harvard Business Review, found that the average response time by businesses to a generated lead is 42 hours – and that’s just for responses that occurred within 30 days.” Generating sales leads is big business, with more than $23 billion spent on Internet leads alone, he notes. “If you’re a financial advisor or another professional, you may also be spending money on direct mail, invitations to seminars, TV commercials and/or print ads,” Stuerke says. “How many leads are you generating, and at what cost per lead, only to lose them?” Stuerke, who began developing innovative marketing strategies while working as a financial advisor, says he has found four ways professionals commonly lose sales leads. “And they can all be fixed!” he says.

• Advertising calls to action that are all-or-nothing.
Most sales people offer only a face-to-face meeting or a telephone appointment as their call to action in their advertising. But that’s asking a lot of prospects who are simply exploring options and aren’t yet ready for that level of commitment. Those are leads that, three to six months from now, may become sales—but they’re lost early in the process. Instead, offer a less committed option such as “download this free report” in exchange for their information for follow up.

• No lead capture on your website.
This is a huge problem! Many sites have no strategy for capturing information about visitors to the site, such as an email address. As a result, businesses spend thousands of dollars driving traffic to their website, but capturing none of the prospects’ information. As a result, those prospects come to the site and leave and the business never knows they were there. A free report, or series of reports or videos with useful information based on your expertise are good lead capture tools. Buyers today turn to the web for information while doing research, so that’s what you should give them. Offering free resources in exchange for a small bit of information is a great way to do that.

• Indifference in interactions.
No matter what your profession, it’s likely you’ve got a lot of competition. For consumers, shopping includes researching, and they’re comparing services, expertise and experience before deciding who best deserves their patronage. If your interactions with prospects fail to “wow” them, they will quickly move on. But most professionals don’t have a storyboarded plan for giving prospects that experience, which is what is needed for consistent results. An automated system that delivers carefully planned interactions is a great way to achieve this.

• Using social media without a plan.
Many professionals have discovered that delivering consumer-friendly, useful content through social media is an effective means of attracting followers and cultivating prospects. However, one of the biggest problems with how businesses use social media is that they post a lot of high level, one-way communication with no call to action.  Having a call to action in your posts leading prospects back to a website designed to capture leads is critical for producing tangible results through social media. A lot of these issues stem from a common problem: businesses focusing only on the hottest leads—the people who are ready to buy today, Stuerke says. “Instead of allowing those ‘cooler’ leads to fall by the wayside, businesses should capture and cultivate them,” he says. “Eventually, they’ll find that instead of constantly chasing leads, they’re harvesting new clients.”

For more information, visit: and/or Published in the Inland Empire Business Journal, July 2013 Issue.

Jul 10

Want to Succeed in Business?

Want to Succeed in Business?
Try These 5 Personal Lifestyle Makeover Tips
By Tope Ganiyah Fajingbesi

 Top Executive - Jonathan Serafin

Do you aspire to be a successful entrepreneur some day? Are you an existing business owner experiencing challenges managing your business? Will you like to sustain the boom and growth your business is currently experiencing? Or perhaps you have run a venture or two in the past that did not quite turn out fine and you are wondering what you did wrong or could do better next time around? If any of these apply to you, you may actually need one or more of the lifestyle makeover tips I will be discussing in this article.

Tip #1 – Understand your relationship with money
This is a very important step, which requires complete honesty and careful thought. I advise you to analyse your behaviour and unique characteristics to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to managing money. I once read that many rich people remain rich by behaving like the poor, while many poor people remain poor by behaving like the rich, and I think there is a lot of truth in that statement. You have to realize that a business venture is like another human being, and before you can help that other person succeed, you have to understand how to maximize your own strengths and manage your weaknesses first. A really great tool that can help you understand your relationship with money is the “Money Color Quiz” at Your responses to 10 short questions will help place you in one of five color categories – Green, Blue, Yellow, Grey and Red. Green folks are the big investors in every economy; The Blues are the savers; The Yellows, the spenders; The Greys are the content: While the Reds are the debtors. Once your color is identified, you will receive advice on how to improve your relationship with money.

Tip #2 – Understand your spouse/partner’s relationship with money
Whether you like to admit this or not, your personal relationship with your spouse or significant other(s) has a big impact on your personal finance success or failure. It is therefore not surprising that money is one of the biggest causes of conflicts in marriages and similar relationships. My advice is that you understand your spouse or partner’s “money color” as well as yours so that you can know how to successfully manage your relationship in such a manner that it does not adversely affect your own financial success. Take for instance, Rose who runs a flower shop from her home. Rose’s money color is Green, so she likes to invest her money, but her husband, Paul’s money color is Yellow, so he is quite a spender. Understanding this difference can help Rose a great deal. She may need to set up direct transfers from business checking account to the business savings account, so that when Paul comes down to the basement office to entice her with the new smart phone, which they could afford from the week’s sales, she is able to show him the checking account and let him know there are no free funds for that.

Tip #3 – Have a clear destination
You probably wouldn’t get in your car on a journey to nowhere, and you would most likely not leave your house without a map or GPS when driving to an unfamiliar destination. So why navigate this rather “unfamiliar” life without a good map? Why wake up every day embarking on a journey to nowhere? Every day you set out with no clear goals to work towards is a day you are getting in your car or a plane for a ride to nowhere. The most successful people establish simple, clear and measurable goals, and hold themselves accountable to those goals. Beyond establishing goals, it is also important to have a GPS, that is, a budget that clearly states how much you hope to earn and spend during specific times. Successfully practicing this in your personal life, will surely translate to success in your business life.

Tip #4 – Retail therapy is not the solution
When next you want to resolve a stressful situation with retail therapy or want to buy yet another toy that your kids don’t need just so that they can let you have some breathing space, think about the song—“the best things in life are free” because it is very true. Spending money to drown life’s stressful situations has the exact same effect that using junk food to drown emotional issues has, it will make you overweight. The only thing retail therapy does is increase your problems because you get poorer and consequently add to the list of problems you were trying to resolve in the first instance. This tip may be hard to implement at first simply because of the “temporary rush of joy” you experience when you are spending money, but it is very important to reduce impulsive spending. When you achieve this in your personal life, you will surely be able to implement same for your business.

Tip #5 – Always pay yourself first
You work hard, so you should learn to reward yourself, and what better reward can you give yourself than setting aside some of today’s funds for the rainy day? Saving simply means you see yourself as the number one person you have to take care of. However, your biggest barrier to maintaining a healthy savings balance is your own self; setting the funds aside is not half as difficult as leaving the funds “alone” to grow. You have to be disciplined, learn to prioritize, delay self-gratification and, most importantly, separate your wants from your needs in order to let your savings exist when you actually plan and need them. So go ahead and use these tips to transform your life and your business. I am sure you, your associates and even your employees will be smiling to the bank in no time.

For additional information visit Website: The author is available for speaking engagements. What Color is Your Money? can be purchased from Published in the Inland Empire Business Journal, July 2013 Issue.


Jul 10

Who Gets Dad’s Office?

Who Gets Dad’s Office? 5 Tips for Family Business Succession Planning
By Lois Lang, Psy.D.

Dads Office? Jonathan Serafin

When it comes to family business succession planning, one thing is certain: Most family business leaders don’t do it, they don’t do it well, or they wait to do it until it’s too late. While the CEO longevity in non-family businesses is an average of six years, for a family owned businesses CEOs tend to stay for 20-25 years.    Sure, that long tenure contributes to leadership stability and consistency, but it can also fuel flat growth, narrow business focus, and decreasing leadership drive. Additionally, when the CEO and other top level executive family members do not step aside in a timely manner, it causes a high level of frustration in the next generation who is ready to charge forward and make their mark. Once it becomes clear that the children might reach their mid to late fifties before taking over, it becomes hard to hold on to the ambitious ones. That’s why all family businesses need to have a solid succession plan in place—one that helps the senior generation leave with ease and welcomes the well-prepared next generation.    While succession planning can happen at any level within the organization, we commonly think about the top five to eight key positions for a written, structured succession plan. So as you plan your company’s future leadership, keep these points in mind.

1. Think beyond seniority.
Many family business executives choose their future leaders based on seniority (i.e.: “She’s the oldest, so she will be our next CEO.”). In some families, the next in line is the oldest male. Of course, a single owner can make the easy decision to pass the business leadership to the child of their choice. But this “easy” choice can backfire if the adult child or the one with the most seniority has not gained respect from other family members and employees. In other words, often the easy choice or the obvious choice isn’t the best choice. Therefore, be open to broadening your search beyond the next of kin.

2. Embrace a more professional process of skill evaluations, performance assessments, and reviews of career history.
The more thoughtful, objective, and inclusive the process of bringing on the next leader is, the more likely that the transition will be embraced. Succession readiness calls for a written transition plan and an individual development plan for the future CEO within three years of the planned succession date. Implementation of the plan may involve identifying other executive team members with succession needs, building a coaching plan, and providing stretch assignments in different functional areas of the company.

3. Rank possible successors based on key criteria.
Rather than just appoint the next oldest family member to the leadership role, consider creating a list of all the possible successors and rank them, from 1 to 10 (with 10 being high), in each of the following areas:
• Past work experience and advancement history
• Education
• Geographic mobility, if appropriate
• Learning agility
• Prior leadership positions—size and scope of leadership responsibilities
• Advancement potential
• Advancement desire
• Interpersonal skills
• Assessment of the individual compared to the company’s values and leadership competencies
• Past performance ratings • The ability to take risks
• Decision-making ability
• Problem-solving ability
Doing this for each potential successor will help you see which ones are best positioned to move the company forward. Finding a successor with the right mix of skills, attitude, drive, character, and experience that matches your business will ensure the family company succeeds for the long term.

4. Groom the next generation.
Once you have a successor in mind, offer him/her additional development through such things as job rotations, stretch assignments, additional profit and loss responsibility, and additional exposure to board members and customers. The more emphasis you place on prepping the next leader, the smoother the transition will be.

5. Consider a non-family leader.
When a family business member utters the words, “Let’s consider a non-family CEO,” the first reply is usually a colorful no! However, a non-family CEO frequently brings diverse, in-depth experience to drive business growth, bringing professional alliances, partnerships, and strategy opportunities. They can be a great mentor for the next generation of family leaders—often then known as a “bridge CEO” from one generation to the next. While the family may hold all the stock, it is critical to develop a performance incentive that will reward and retain the non-family CEO and an employment agreement that will fairly treat and protect the CEO.

Choose Who’s Next   
Thoughtful, on-going planning for succession is a must for long-term business success and sustainability. Therefore, start now. Develop a clear plan about the succession of senior leader positions, including who will be next, when the transition will take place, and how that successor will be groomed to make the move smoother. The more planning you do now, the better the future will be—for you and your family business.

For more information please visit or contact Lois at or (209) 952-1143. Published in the Inland Empire Business Journal, July 2013 Issue.

Oct 31

Seven Things Your Customers Can Do Better Than You

Seven Things Your Customers Can Do Better Than You
(Here’s a Hint:
They All Boil Down to “Sell Your Products and Services”)
If you think your customers exist solely to “buy your stuff,” you’re missing a huge part of the picture.
Bill Lee, author of “The Hidden Wealth of Customers,” says your customers are uniquely equipped to
influence your product development, sing your praises, and even close sales for you.
He describes seven things they can do better than you.

customers - jonathan serafin

Bill Lee wants you to see your customers in a (lucrative) new light. The old paradigm, he says, works like this: Your company produces goods and services that help customers get a job done. In return, the customers pay you money. You take that money and invest a good portion of it in traditional sales and marketing efforts—including product developers, creative people, and salespeople, all of whom are paid to figure out what buyers want and to say good things about your company—in a quest to get even more customers.
Wouldn’t it be far more effective to let the customers themselves drive your sales and marketing efforts and fuel your growth?
“The new approach makes so much more sense,” notes Lee, author of “The Hidden Wealth of Customers: Realizing the Untapped Value of Your Most Important Asset.”  “No matter how much money you spend on third party marketing people, they’re still a layer removed from those who buy. They can never really understand customers because they aren’t customers themselves. The organizations that achieve rapid growth are those that don’t just think of customers as ‘buyers of stuff’ but as advocates, influencers, and contributors.”
In his book, Lee offers a compelling vision for a more reliable way to grow a business by maximizing “return on relationship” with what he calls “rock star” customers. When this is done right, a company’s best customers will prospect for the firm while also speeding product adoption and improving customer satisfaction and long-term loyalty. It’s all part of a virtuous cycle: Companies improve what they offer customers, which allows customers to gain more value from products and services, and thereby improves what customers can offer companies.
The truth is, your customers are incredibly well equipped to market, sell, and even develop your products and services. Here are seven things they can do better than you:
Attract high-value information from other customers. This “inside knowledge” of their peers creates stratospheric value. Facebook is the quintessential example. Imagine a traditional company that tried to generate the kind of information Facebook generates: real-time data on what movies people are watching, what restaurants they’re visiting, what vacations they’re taking, and what books they’re reading. Facebook dispensed with all the research most companies would have tried to dig up, and instead focused on letting customers provide it.
“Westlaw, which provides legal research services for law firms, is another example,” says Lee. “It realized that its clients were interested in how they and the markets they serviced stacked up to other firms and markets.” So Westlaw created Peer Monitor, which aggregates anonymized data on firms’ financial and operational performance, collected from participating clients with their permission—and this turned into a lucrative new business.
Believably promote your product. It’s this simple: You’ve got something to sell. Your customers don’t. This makes them far more credible to other potential customers than agencies or internal employees. SAS Canada is a good case in point. The company was having a noticeable customer retention issue several years ago. Retention rates had declined from the high 90s to the mid 80s, which senior management felt the need to address quickly. SAS software was doing an excellent job of keeping up with customer needs. Unfortunately, the customers didn’t seem to realize this. So a small group within SAS, led by Wally Thiessen, built a team of 250 “customer champions” along with 50 “super champions” to spread the word for them.
“SAS saw that it would be futile for the company to keep pointing out how great they were,” notes Lee. “However, they knew that defecting customers might listen to what other SAS customers had to say. With support from Thiessen and his team, SAS customer champions established regular events in more than 20 major cities, set the agendas, selected speakers (and made presentations themselves), and stayed in touch afterwards via online forums and e-newsletters. As a result, retention rates rebounded back up to the high 90s.”
Why would customers make such an effort? “SAS customer champions certainly didn’t do it for rewards or prizes,” notes Lee, “a mistake many companies make with their customer advocates. Rather, they did these things because a) SAS software really was doing a terrific job, and b) getting the word out to their peers helped the customer champions build social capital. It increased their visibility in their professional community, put them in positions of leadership, and gave them access to insider industry information from SAS Canada that they could then share with other customers.”
Close the sale. Your customers make better salespeople than you do, precisely because they don’t have any (obvious) skin in the game. Plus, they can honestly say, “This product or service worked for me. It can work for you, too.” Marc Benioff realized the persuasive power of customers in the early days of building Lacking the multi-million-dollar budgets of competitors like Oracle and SAP, he relied instead on face-to-face meetings with prospects and customers in major city markets.
“He was surprised to find that prospects at such events were much more interested in talking with SFDC customers than with him and his executive team,” says Lee. “And he was delighted to find that 80 percent of prospects who attended the events—and interacted with customers in such ways—wound up becoming customers themselves. That’s an amazing close rate for any offering. And unlike salespeople, SFDC’s customer salespeople didn’t require a bit of training.”
Understand buyer needs. Many leaders believe that customers can’t articulate their needs, much less develop ideas for products to satisfy them. “This is just not true,” says Lee. A substantial body of well-established research has shown that many if not most successful innovations are customer-originated. In one compilation of studies of 1,193 commercially successful innovations across nine industries by MIT’s Eric von Hippel, 737 (60 percent) came from customers. That’s why companies that struggle with product development should consider looking outside to customer innovators.
“3M’s Medical-Surgical Markets Division tried a last-gasp project in the 1990s to kick-start its consistently poor innovation record,” says Lee. “It formed a team designed to bypass the internal innovation process and search for breakthrough innovations being created by outside ‘lead users.’ When the results were compared with ordinary product development projects at 3M, the differences were dramatic: Lead-user innovations achieved average revenue of $146 million in their fifth year, compared with $18 million for internally generated innovations.”
Connect with your prospects (a.k.a., their peers). By nature, most all of us are open to creative new ways to affiliate with our friends and peers. On the other hand, we’re not that excited about getting close to companies—a mistake many companies make when they set out to form communities around their brand. (Let’s face it: Corporate logos and official spokespersons don’t exactly promote the warm and fuzzy connections that invite confidences!) The key is to figure out a way to foster a dialogue between customers and their peers that touches on issues related to your products.
“Procter & Gamble’s BeingGirl community for teen and pre-teen girls was initially formed to promote feminine hygiene products,” explains Lee. “Because P&G knew TV and print ads made its young audience uncomfortable, it enlisted experts to provide content. When this created little interest, P&G established forums so that girls could talk to each other about the issues and challenges of growing into young womanhood. Finally, the site took off. Girls from around the world were eager to get into the conversation—and P&G was able to market its products more subtly and effectively than before.
“The bottom line is that customers are more apt to trust and care about information when it comes from a peer rather than an organization,” says Lee.
Energize your online and social media marketing. Many firms are getting nowhere with their web and social media marketing efforts. “That’s often because they’re trying to adapt traditional marketing communications to these mediums,” says Lee. “They need to get creative about bringing customers into these programs.”
Intel, for example, credits well-designed customer testimonials and other customer content for an explosion in the creation of qualified prospective customer interest and inquiries through its once-lagging social media and web marketing efforts. “The company can’t share the numbers publicly, but I can say that within a few years, it expects to bring in a significant percentage of all its new business through its website efforts,” says Lee, “and the key to this growth is content from its existing customers.”
In 2011, cut traditional lead generation spending by 69 percent while increasing spending on customer videos (by 1,300 percent) and social media. One early result from that was an increase in contacts generated by social media of 400 percent.
Help you penetrate new markets. When seeking to penetrate new markets, firms typically recruit some mix of local employees or agencies into their marketing and sales efforts. How about local customers? Microsoft has perfected the art of finding and engaging with local “MVP” (Most Valuable Professional) customers who play a central role. An example is “Mr. Excel,” who runs a website by that name, which on some days attracts more visitors than Microsoft’s own Excel page! Many companies would have issued a cease and desist order or filed a lawsuit. Microsoft embraces and supports such customers—now numbering some 4,000 around the world. These customers provide the firm with highly effective marketing communications and superb product testing and feedback. They also provide exceptional, and free, customer support—which has saved Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars in support costs.
“Companies often say that ‘customers are our best assets,’” notes Lee. “But most of the value of these assets lies fallow. Now, with the advent of social media and a global marketplace, more and more companies are starting to harvest these assets and are propelling their organizations to rapid and sustained growth.”

This article was published in the Inland Empire Business Journal. I wanted to share this article as it might be useful to you…

Oct 31

The 4 Things You Have to Get Right in Business

The 4 Things You Have to Get Right in Business
By Michael Menard

 4 things 4 business - jonathan serafin

Most organizations know that in order to grow and be an industry leader, they have to continually innovate and undertake key projects that lead to growth. Unfortunately, many companies do so in a haphazard or non-strategic way.
Here’s what typically happens: Leaders keep saying yes as various projects and ideas are presented to them for investment. They say yes until they run out of resources. The projects and ideas first on the list get funded in contrast to the best of all ideas across the organization. The sad truth is the early bird does get the worm. As a result, they waste money and resources, lose momentum, and then wonder why they never achieve their strategic goals.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a proven approach that enables leaders and decision-makers to make a greater contribution to the business, activate the strategic plan, achieve the desired balance, and optimize allocation of limited resources. Here are the four things you need to get right in order to make better decisions so you can maximize your company’s Capital Efficient Profitable Growth (CEPG).

1.    Define your strategy.
Before your company can undertake any new initiative, you first have to identify your strategy. In other words, who are you and what do you want to do? Unless you know this information, it’s difficult if not impossible to move forward in a productive way.
While most companies have a general idea of their strategy based on their vision or mission statement, often it’s not focused enough to translate into specific strategic goals. For example, suppose you’re a beverage company who offers a variety of soft drinks. How do you grow? You could introduce one new beverage after another and expand into new markets at random, but that will quickly drain your resources. A better approach is to define a specific strategy for growth. For instance, you may decide that you want to be the North American leader in bottled water. Now you have a focused strategy to guide your efforts.

2.    Generate ideas.
Armed with your strategy, you can now generate ideas that support the strategy. Some people call this step innovation or creative brainstorming. Whatever you call it, the goal is to come up with possible options for advancing the strategy.
Going back to our beverage company example, if the strategy is to be the North American leader in bottled water, your team needs to generate ideas that fit the strategy. Some ideas could include adding nutrients to the water, adding protein to the water, adding exotic flavors to the water, offering different bottle shapes or sizes, etc.

3.    Prioritize and select the best ideas.
Next is to select the portfolio of ideas that are the best for the company to pursue and that will advance the strategy. As you do the prioritization and portfolio selection process, you need to ask two key questions. The first is, “Will this portfolio of ideas and projects deliver our strategic goal?” If the answer is no, then you have to do something different. Either you alter your strategic expectation or you increase the number of ideas. Keep going through these iterations until you can say, “Yes, our portfolio has the potential to deliver our strategy.” And remember, at this point you’re simply assessing whether the portfolio will meet your strategic goals. You’re not assessing whether it’s something you actually could do.
Once you agree that the portfolio of ideas and projects will help you meet your strategic goals, the second question to ask is, “Do we have the resources (time, money, people, equipment, etc.) to fund the portfolio?” If the answer is yes, then celebrate and move on to step four. But if the answer is no, then you need to circle back and solve the equation. Can you lower your strategic goals? Can you generate bigger, better ideas? Can you add resources? Change the timing? Scale back the idea? Once you have a portfolio that allows you to say yes to both questions, you’ve completed the prioritization and selection process.

4.    Execute on the ideas.
Finally, it’s time to take action and actually execute the portfolio of ideas. This is where project management comes into play. As you execute each step to support the strategy, outline the detailed activities needed to complete the project on time and on budget. Assign key people to be responsible for each role, and establish checkpoints so you know if the project goes off track. The more thoroughly you manage the execution of the portfolio, the more success you’ll have.

Get it Right…Now!
No matter what industry you’re in, long-term business growth depends on these four things: Strategy, Idea Generation, Project Selection, and Execution. When you take the time to implement this process in your company, not only will you make better strategy decisions, but you’ll also achieve the breakthrough results that achieve the ultimate goal: Increased CEPG.

Please visit for additional information. This article was published in the Inland Empire Business Journal. I wanted to share this article as it might be useful to you…

Oct 31

Oops, My Bad!: Five Ways Your Business Can Improve by Admitting to Mistakes

Oops, My Bad!: Five Ways Your Business Can Improve by Admitting to Mistakes
Mistakes are a fact of life. No matter how much you try, you can’t completely avoid making them.
And according to Michael Houlihan, they can actually help to improve your company’s effectiveness
and reputation if you handle them well.

mistake - jonathan serafin

It seems our society has turned dodging responsibility into an art form. From celebrities who insist that a brush with the law was all a big misunderstanding to political figures who use spin and double-speak to blame everything on the other side, no one wants to admit it when they mess up. If you’re a business leader, the temptation to use this strategy is huge. After all, your customers are paying you to get it right, so the last thing you want is for them to know that you’ve made a mistake, right?
Maybe not. According to Michael Houlihan, when your company admits to mistakes in a constructive way, you won’t damage your brand in the way you feared. In fact, you have a valuable opportunity to gain respect and loyalty.
“You and your company are not judged by how well you do when you’re good, but by how well you do when you’re bad,” shares Houlihan, coauthor along with Bonnie Harvey of “The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine” (coming in February 2013). “The fact is, everyone—and every company—makes mistakes. Denying that they have happened usually exacerbates and magnifies an already awkward situation, because chances are, you aren’t fooling anyone and you appear insincere.
“In fact, in a very real way, trying to dodge responsibility can hurt your reputation more than simply owning up to the mistake in the first place,” he adds.
Houlihan speaks from experience. He and Harvey are the founders of Barefoot Cellars, the company that transformed the image of American wine from staid and unimaginative to fun, lighthearted, and hip. And when they started the company in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse, they knew almost nothing about winemaking or the wine business.
“As you might imagine, we made many mistakes over the years as the business grew,” admits Houlihan. “Some of them even caused us to worry that Barefoot might not survive. So early on, Bonnie and I made a conscious decision to confront our mistakes, and to view them as opportunities to learn and grow. I believe that attitude is part of what ultimately made Barefoot Cellars successful.”
Honestly and humbly admitting to missteps, Houlihan and Harvey found, often diffuses a tense situation instead of exacerbating it. And as time passes, they say, people tend to remember more clearly how you handled the mistake as opposed to what it was.
If you’re ready to face up to your company’s mistakes and turn them into building blocks, read on for five of Houlihan’s suggestions on handling your next business “my bad”:
Cop to it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to admit that your company did something wrong. Uttering that mea culpa involves swallowing your pride and acknowledging that you are not, in fact, perfect (which is an illusion that our culture encourages us to zealously cultivate). But the sooner you admit to the error, the more you reduce the drama…and the faster you can move on to the next, more important stage: what you are going to do about the situation.
“People actually like a little imperfection now and then,” points out Houlihan. “It demonstrates a level of authenticity, vulnerability, and humanity with which we all can identify. Plus, it’s harder to be angry with someone who says, ‘You’re right—I messed up,’ than with someone who insists the fault doesn’t lie with him…even though you know it does. And it’s difficult—if not downright impossible—to make any constructive progress if the responsible party refuses to admit there’s a problem.”
Recognize how it happened. If you admit fault but then put the incident behind you, guess what? You’ve just increased the chances that it will happen again. It’s very important to investigate how and why an error occurred, so that you can fix the faulty procedure or process. That’s why Barefoot made sure employees weren’t afraid to make or report mistakes (those involving technical errors, that is—Houlihan is adamant that bad behavior or an inability to perform should not be overlooked).
“Basically, our approach to mistakes was to say, ‘Congratulations! You found a new way to screw up, and that’s a good thing. We didn’t know that this could happen, but now that it has, we can keep it from happening again,’” recounts Houlihan. “Then we would brainstorm what went wrong and make technical adjustments. Honestly, I think that large siloed organizations where you can be demoted, passed over, or even fired for a mistake are missing the boat. That’s because real progress in progressive companies is often built on the backs of mistakes and the improvements they spark.”
Aim, don’t blame. What happens when a mistake involving your company really can be traced to someone else? While it’s easy (and temporarily satisfying) to point your finger and say, “Not my fault!” the truth is, if it happened on your watch and you are accountable for the finished product, you ultimately share the blame in the customer’s eyes. In this situation, get to the bottom of what happened and aim your focus on what you and your company can do on your end to prevent the situation from reoccurring.
“This lesson was driven home to me during a business trip to Chicago,” recalls Houlihan. “I was supposed to show some new wines to retailers, and the samples had been shipped to my hotel. However, when the package arrived, the hotel didn’t check to see that I was on the reservation list—they noticed only that I wasn’t currently occupying a room—and they sent the package back. Technically, my lack of samples wasn’t my fault, because the hotel didn’t do their due diligence. But to my buyers, all that mattered was that the new wines weren’t there.
“From that point on, we at Barefoot worked to make sure that no package would ever be refused in error again,” he continues. “After some trial and error, every box of wine was ultimately decorated on all six sides with instructions to the hotel not to return the box, and details of when I would be arriving. We also included Barefoot’s contact information and instructed the reader to get in touch with the hotel manager, whom we had told to expect the package, before sending it back. Overkill? Not really. Because the problem was solved.”
Write it down. If you successfully resolve a negative situation that was sparked by an error, then rub your hands together and continue with business as usual as if to say, “Yes, it happened, but it’s all cleaned up now,” then you’re making a second misstep. According to Houlihan, if you don’t write down what happened and how to avoid it, even you are in danger of making the same mistake again, and the same is doubly true of others.
“When you are still smarting in the immediate aftermath of a fiasco, it’s easy to assume that you will always remember what you did wrong and that it will never, ever happen a second time,” Houlihan points out. “But often, as life goes on and your focus inevitably shifts to other things, your memory can get fuzzy. Or you might fall back onto old habits unconsciously. And you certainly can’t pass your own experiences to everyone else in your company through osmosis. That’s why it’s crucial to take the lessons you learn and physically make them part of your company’s policies. This might mean writing a new procedure, checklist, or sign-off sheet, or drafting a new clause in a contract. But whatever you do, write it down!”
Resolve that it won’t reoccur. Along with your apology, assure the injured parties that it—whatever “it” was—won’t happen again. Voluntarily describe how the mistake happened and what changes you are implementing to prevent its reoccurrence. And most importantly, tell the other guy, gal, or group how you and your company are going to make things right. Most people will appreciate your thoughtfulness, resolve, and the action you are taking. And often, handling an error in this way will reinforce the fact that you are, ultimately, a trustworthy company that can be relied upon.
“I remember one situation in which Barefoot had put the wrong bar code on a store’s shipment of cabernet, which meant that the wine rang up for less than it should have,” shares Houlihan. “In this instance, it was us who caught the mistake, not the customer. But as soon as possible, I showed up at the store’s corporate office with a check for the store’s loss, plus the time and expense of dealing with the mistake. Then I described to the manager in detail how we at Barefoot were changing our internal processes to make sure that the bar code problem would never happen again. And guess what? That store thanked us for doing the right thing, and it didn’t stop ordering from us.”
“Once again, mistakes are bound to happen—even if you’re an established company, and especially if you’re a newer one,” reiterates Houlihan. “So don’t waste time and energy beating yourself up, and especially don’t try to create the illusion that you’re perfect.
“Remember, what people recall most of all is how you handle missteps and errors, not what they were,” he concludes. “So don’t miss out on these golden opportunities to show your integrity, reduce the drama, and improve the way your business operates. That is how you make mistakes right.”

To learn more, visit This article was published in the Inland Empire Business Journal. I wanted to share this article as it might be useful to you…

Aug 01

Ask, Don’t Tell: Nine Ways Power Questions Help Us Build Better Business Relationships

Ask, Don’t Tell: Nine Ways Power Questions Help Us Build Better Business Relationships
In preparing for high-stakes meetings, we often spend hours putting together big presentations and rehearsing what we will say (and how we will say it).

business meeting - jonathan serafin

Just a few years ago, globalization was in full swing, and the world seemed to be bursting with an infinite supply of business. All this bounty lulled us into taking our customers for granted, maintains Andrew Sobel—until the economy tanked and shattered the illusion of endless prosperity. Suddenly, the old-fashioned “trusted relationship” started to look good again.
“In this post-Madoff era of unpredictability and suspicion, people are looking for deeper, more intimate, and more engaged relationships—the kind that reduce risk,” says Sobel, author (along with coauthor, Jerold Panas) of “Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others” and three other books on long-term business relationships.
“This is true of customers but also vendors, employees, and other business partners,” he adds. “The days of getting in, making money, and moving on to the next guy are over. When times are tough and the future is uncertain, people want to put down roots and partner with people they truly like and trust.”
Bottom line: In today’s markets, the most valuable commodity is the ability to connect with others and rapidly build trust. And that begins by asking the right questions.
“Asking questions and letting people come up with their own answers is far more effective than spouting facts or trying to talk someone into something,” Sobel explains. “Telling creates resistance. Asking creates relationships.”
In his book Sobel explores dozens of questions that light fires under people, challenge their assumptions, help them see problems in productive new ways, and inspire them to bare their souls (which, of course, strengthens the bonds in the relationship).
Here are nine ways questions can transform professional and personal relationships:
•    Questions turn one-dimensional, arms-length business relationships into personal relationships that endure for years. “When a relationship is all business and there is no real personal connection, it lacks heart and soul,” says Sobel. “And therefore you are a commodity—a kind of fungible expert-for-hire. A client—or your boss—can trade you out for a new model with no remorse or emotion. But when you’ve connected personally, the situation is transformed because clients stick with people they like. Bosses hold on to team members they feel passionately about. Your expertise and competence get you in the door, but it’s the personal connection that then builds deep loyalty.”
Sobel tells the story of a senior partner in a top consulting firm who had to meet with the CEO of a major client. Other consultants were nipping at their heels to get more business from this company. This powerful, confident CEO, who was in his 60s and near retirement, had seen hundreds of consulting reports. At the end of a routine briefing, the senior partner paused and asked the CEO, “Before we break up, can I ask you a question?” The CEO nodded. The partner said, “You’ve had an extraordinary career. You have accomplished so much, starting at the very first rung of the ladder, on the manufacturing floor. As you look ahead—is there something else you’d like to accomplish? Is there a dream you’ve yet to fulfill?”
The CEO was nearly stunned. He thought for a moment and replied, “No one has ever asked me that question. No one.” And then he began talking about a deeply held dream he had for his retirement. That question was the turning point in building a long-term, deeply personal relationship with an influential business leader.
•    They make the conversation about the other person—not about them. Most of us don’t care what other people think—we want to know first if they care about us. The need to be heard is one of the most powerful motivating forces in human nature. That’s why one of Sobel’s power questions is, What do you think? Another is, Can you tell me more?
“There’s an anecdote I love about a woman who has dinner, in the same month, with two great rival British statesmen of the 19th century, Gladstone and Disraeli,” says Sobel. “When asked to compare the two men she says, ‘After my dinner with Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in the world.’ And then she adds, ‘After my dinner with Mr. Disraeli, I felt as though I were the cleverest woman in all of England!’
“When you make the conversation all about you, others may think you are clever,” he adds. “But you will not build their trust. You will not learn about them. You will squander the opportunity to build the foundations for a rich, long-term relationship.”
•    They cut through the “blah, blah, blah” and create more authentic conversations. No doubt you can relate to this scenario. A person says, “I want to bounce something off you.” Then, he proceeds to spend ten minutes telling you every detail of a very convoluted situation he is enmeshed in. You do yourself and the other person a favor by getting him to focus on the true kernel of his issue. Simply ask: What is your question?
“This is a tough-love question,” admits Sobel. “People will resist it—often strenuously. But you must ask it. It forces them to take the first step toward clarifying what the issue is and what advice they really need from you. You’ll reduce the amount of posturing people do and will move faster toward an authentic conversation.”
•    They help people clarify their thinking and “get out of the cave.” The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said that we perceive reality as if we are chained inside a dark cave. In that cave, we see only the blurred shadows of life outside the cave as they are projected on a dark wall at the back. Our understanding of reality is filtered and distorted.
By asking a series of questions, Socrates would engage his students’ minds in the learning process. In this way he uncovered assumptions and slowly but surely got to the heart of the issue. The “Socratic Method” is still used at Harvard Business School—and it can enable you to help others see the true reality instead of shadowy representations of it.
Instead of saying, “We need to improve our customer service!” Sobel suggests asking: “How would you assess our customer service levels today?” Or, “How is our service impacting our customer retention?” If someone at work says, “We need more innovation,” ask, “Can you describe what innovation means to you? How would we know if we had more of it?” Or if there is a call for more teamwork, ask, “What do you mean when you say ‘teamwork’?”
•    They help you zero in on what matters most to the other person. The next time you’re talking to someone and realize you’ve “lost” her—she’s fidgeting, she’s stopped asking questions, maybe she’s sneaking glances at the clock—ask this question: What is the most important thing we should be discussing today? You will instantly connect with what really matters to her—and the conversation that ensues will help her see you as relevant and valuable.
“Even if your agenda doesn’t get met, hers will,” asserts Sobel. “And then she will want to enthusiastically reciprocate. In business it’s critical to be seen as advancing the other person’s agenda of essential priorities and goals. When time is spent together on issues that are truly important to both parties, the relationship deepens and grows.”
•    They help others tap into their essential passion for their work. One of the highest-impact power questions you can ask is, Why do you do what you do? It grabs people by the heart and motivates them. When they seriously consider and answer this question, the room will light up with passion. Dull meetings will transform into sessions that pop with energy and generate ideas that vault over bureaucratic hurdles and create real impact.
“We do things for many reasons,” writes Sobel. “But when you put ‘should’ in front of those reasons, you can be certain all the pleasure and excitement will soon be drained away. No one gets excited about should. In contrast, when you unveil the true why of someone’s work and actions—when you get them to start sentences with ‘I love to’ or ‘I get excited when’—you will find passion, energy, and motivation.”
•    They inspire people to work at a higher level. The late Steve Jobs was notorious for pushing employees. He asked people constantly, “Is this the best you can do?” It’s a question that infused Apple’s corporate culture from the beginning. It’s one that helped revolutionize the desktop computing, music, and cellular phone industries. And it’s one that you can use too—sparingly and carefully—when you need someone to stretch their limits and do their very best work.
“Often, we settle for mediocrity when we need to do our best,” reflects Sobel. “Mediocrity is the enemy of greatness. Asking, ‘Is this the best you can do?’ helps others achieve things they did not believe possible.”
•    They can save you from making a fool of yourself. Before responding to a request or answering someone’s question to you, it’s often wise to get more information about what the other person really wants. When a potential employer says, “Tell me about yourself,” you can bore them to tears by rambling on and on about your life—or you could respond by asking, “What would you like to know about me?” When a prospect asks, “Can you tell me about your firm?” the same dynamic applies. Most people go on and on about their company, but the client is usually interested in one particular aspect of your business, not how many offices you have in Europe. Ever seen someone answer the wrong question? It’s painful to watch. Asking a clarifying question can save you huge embarrassment.
“A potential client asked me for the names of three references to call,” Sobel tells us. “Instead of running around and drumming up the names, I pushed back, and asked, ‘What particular information are you seeking? Any references I give you are only going to rave about me!’ It turned out the prospect had no interest in actual references. And in fact, had she called my past clients under that pretense, it could have been potentially embarrassing to me for them to make such a big deal about a small speaking engagement. What she really wanted to understand was how other clients of mine had tackled the organizational resistance she was expecting. This question—and the subsequent conversation—turned a small lead for a keynote speech into a major, year-long project.”
•    They can salvage a disastrous conversation. Sobel’s co-author, Jerry Panas, recalls the time he asked a man named Allan for a million-dollar donation to his alma mater’s College of Engineering. Though he knew better, the author failed to gain rapport and explore Allan’s true motivations before jumping in with the big request. When Allan rebuked him for his presumptuousness, Panas realized he had made a serious error. He apologized, left the room, and 20 seconds later knocked on the door and asked the power question, Do you mind if we start over?
Start over they did, and Panas ultimately discovered that Allan might indeed be interested in making a gift—but to the university’s theater program, not its engineering program!
“Things like this happen all the time in business—and at home,” reflects Sobel. “Interactions get off on the wrong foot, and someone gets angry or offended or just shuts down. But people are forgiving. They want to have a great conversation with you. Asking, “Do you mind if we start over?” will disarm the other person and make him smile. That smile will ease the way to a new beginning.”
One of the greatest benefits of becoming a master questioner is that it takes a lot of pressure off us, notes Sobel. It’s a huge relief to know that you don’t have to be quick, clever, or witty—that you don’t have to have all the answers.
“All business interactions are human interactions,” he says. “And part of being human is acknowledging that you don’t know everything about everything—and that you certainly don’t know everything about the other person and her needs. Questions help you understand these things more deeply.
“The right questions unleash a cascade of innermost feelings and vibrant conversations,” he adds. “They help you bypass what’s irrelevant and get straight to what’s truly meaningful. They make people like you, trust you, and want to work with you—and once you’ve achieved that, the battle is already won.”

This article was published in the Inland Empire Business Journal. I wanted to share this article as it might be useful to you…

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