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To Sell is Human Summary and Review

This year, we decided to give copies of To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink (signed by the author himself) to all of our employees at A Small Orange as part of our holiday gift package. As a very service-centric company, we wanted to illustrate the fact that sales isn’t what it used to be and isn’t all about conning people into making a buying decision they otherwise would be against. We believe that sales should be consultative and should focus on helping customers choose the right combination of products and services and we wanted this book to help explain that.

Here’s a quick summary of some key points that I prepared to help capture my full understanding of the book. I hope it’s helpful, though keep in mind I was a casual reader and my understanding of some of the key points may vary:

Part one: Rebirth of a salesman

  • Sales used to be defined as a certain profession, like the Fuller Man who went door to door to sell cleaning supplies and such. Today, more than 15 million people work in sales (more than manufacturing and only less than office and administration works).
  • Through a survey, the author determined that people (who don’t work in sales in the traditional sense) still spend 40% of their time engaged in non-sales selling such as persuading, influencing, and convincing others that don’t involve a purchase. The question was “What percentage of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value for something you have?”
  • Small business owners (i. e. 0-3 employees) and entrepreneurs spend much of their time selling, whether that’s dealing with customers, enticing partners, negotiating with sellers, or motivating employees.
  • Some companies don’t have traditional sales people. Pink cited enterprise software company Atlassian and Palantir as examples. Atlassian has no formal sales people (therefore requiring everyone to pitch in) and Palantir puts engineers in sales roles (called “forward-deployed engineers”).
  • Educators and medical professionals also have to convince people to part with things (time, energy, habits, etc.).
  • People largely hate sales people in the traditional sense. Used car salesman comes to mind when most people are asked what they think about sales people.
  • Today’s world makes high pressure sales less effective because of reduced information asymmetry. In other words, the world of sales is switching from caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) to caveat venditor (let the seller beware).

Part two: How to be 

  • Instead of “Always be closing,” Pink suggests that the new ABCs of sales are “Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity”.
  • Attunement is about looking at things from the other person’s perspective. It starts with increasing power by reducing it – essentially a lesson in having the humility to put your assumptions aside and listen to others and their concerns. It also requires understanding what others are thinking (such as understanding any biases or preferences) in addition to just what that they are feeling. Strategic mimicry in a non-obvious manner can also be effective.
  • Ambiverts tend to be more successful at sales than extraverts or introverts.
  • The first step in buoyancy is interrogative self-talk, which is asking if you have the ability to do something. Research shows it’s more effective to question rather than just pump of confidence.
  • Sales people need a good ratio of positivity and negativity to flourish. The research ideal is between 3:1 and 11:1 (positive:negative). Appropriate negativity helps keep people motivated and egos in check. Too much negativity is wearing.
  • Sales people with “optimistic explanatory styles,” or their thought process of explaining negative events to themselves do better than sales people with negative explanatory styles. Those with optimistic explanatory styles tend to explain negative events as specific, temporary, or external.
  • Finding the right problems to solve is important. It’s about being a partner with the buyer and thinking of the right solution instead of just trying to close a deal. This is commonly called consultative selling.
  • Frames of reference are important. Think about the question, “compared to what?” Potential frames of reference are more/less, experiences, labels, blemishes, and potential.
  • Providing clarity on how to act (an off ramp) is important. A lot of sales focuses on trying to improve clarity of thinking while ignoring clarity of acting, which is just as or more important.

Part three: What to do

  • There are six main pitches types: the one word pitch, the question pitch, the rhyming pitch (helps increase retention), the subject line pitch, the Twitter pitch, and the Pixar pitch (story like).
  • Improv can teach a lot about sales. Hearing offers, saying “Yes and”, and making your partner look good are all improv lessons that apply to sales.
  • In service (and sales), personalizing things (demonstrating an account is a person) and adding purpose (illustrating doing something has a meaningful impact on someone besides the seller) are applicable to both sales and services. Emotionally intelligent signage and language helps too.

The Review: To Sell is Human is a great book to help you and your employees reframe your thinking of sales. It’s a simple enough read where it’d be appropriate for just about anyone, but still has enough examples and references to various social science studies to be useful for more experienced and senior professionals. The book is not a sales manual, but it will serve as a frame of reference as you think about how best to sell as an individual or an organization.

Pros: The book is a quick and easy read and is well written. There are a number of actionable exercises after each chapter and frequent references to academic studies that provide additional context for those who are interested in finding them.

Cons: Some may find the points mentioned somewhat obvious the arguments simplistic. However, the book is not supposed to be an in depth sales manual or a treatise on how sales has changed as a profession.

Interested: To Sell is Human is available on Amazon in a variety of formats (including the Kindle and in audio formats), starting at $9.99.

Book Review: Roadmap to Revenue

I just finished reading Roadmap to Revenue: How To Sell The Way Your Customers Want To Buy (Amazon.com link). The book was written by Kristin Zhivago, a Revenue Coach and worldwide speaker who helps CEOs and entrepreneurs understand what customers really want and how they want to buy.

In a nutshell, Roadmap to Revenue helps us understand the customer-centric instead of the common company-centric mindset. In other words, the most successful organizations work on selling the way customers want to buy while making it easy for buyers to find you. From the moment a reader opens the book, a whimsical roadmap appears on the front inside cover which begins with an “awakening point” and concludes with “revenue city.” Following the correct route, the organization arrives at the ultimate reward of success. The author guides the reader through:

  • Discover – The “awakening  point” to help figure out what makes customers buy and how to help the customer benefit from a product or service
  • Debate –  The “resolution junction” identifying customers, how they want to buy and  strengths and weaknesses as applicable to the sales process
  • Deploy –  The “action plan” in the buying process that satisfies the customer-centric experience and thus increases revenue

The book creates an interesting customer experience strategy and follows a logical sequence of explanations and examples to help the reader understand the behavior of customers and what they want. In the very beginning of the book we find out there is no “silver bullet” solution to make customers come to you. In fact many businesses sabotage and impede their own efforts. Fortunately the solutions to success don’t require major restructuring, but knowing how and when to appeal to customers to set you apart from your competition. Buyers don’t always know what they want even though they may approach a particular product or service with interest, but if the buyer doesn’t follow through to the purchase, there arises the question of what happened and what did not occur that interfered with the sale.

From Chapters 2 to Chapter 5, the reader discovers the mindset of the purchaser and what to do. In the technological age where any purchaser can Google 80 percent of  their questions prior to purchasing a product or service, the onus to answer the specific 20 percent of questions remaining in their minds can lead to disappointment on the part of the customer if the agent for an organization doesn’t have specific answers. Sales personnel and customer service personnel need to be documenting customer questions and making all data available to everyone in the company as well as on websites. The more specific the information pertaining to what a buyer wants, the more a buyer will be attracted to what you have to sell. As you continue to learn what your customers are thinking, you will be able to meet their needs, even as the market changes. Sometimes you just need to make changes to a product -most times by learning through extensive interviews and reports.

From Chapters 6 through 12, the reader finds out how to understand the customer. Of four levels of buyer scrutiny, we discover how customers want to buy from us and how to avoid making expensive mistakes.  The Scrutiny chapters address each level; Light, Medium, Heavy, and Intense which depends upon particular products or services.

The book uses real examples about marketing and selling channels in order to reach customers and answer questions. As social media hype continues to increase, businesses still need to be guided by the vital information from their customers and knowing what is important to them and what specifically appeals to them. For instance, how you handle a buyer who has just researched a product and landed on your website is paramount.  The potential buyer is theoretically knocking at your door, so be sure your website is chock full of answers, integrity, and efficiency. On-going relationships, repeat business, and endorsements continue to lead  organizations along the road to financial rewards and future success.

Bottomline: The book is a good read and is aimed towards retail and consumer service providers. As a real estate sales agent I found many of the chapters particularly focused towards creating a customer service culture using data to build a knowledge base of what customers are looking for and how to interview potential customers to encourage them to buy from me and ultimately make a sale.

Pros: Well-written and logically planned. The book reminds us to put customers first and how to think like a customer helping us to create that ever important customer experience strategy to set all of us apart from our competition.

Interested: Those interested in the book can buy it on Amazon.com.

Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs

This isn’t related to customer service as strictly as most of the other posts here on Service Untitled, but as I was typing this up, I figured I’d post it here because some folks might get some value out of it.

Like many people, I have a lot of respect for Steve Jobs and what he accomplished. I pre-ordered his biography as soon as it was announced and have read a lot about him and talked to people who have worked for him. When I saw this post on the Harvard Business Review blog, I liked that it summarized some of the more applicable leadership lessons and wanted to write some of them down.

Here’s my summary of the summary of what leadership lessons people can learn from Steve Jobs.


  • Minimize the amount of products / services you offer.
  • Make three great products instead of 100 okay products.


  • “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
  • The best simplicity conquers rather than ignores complexity. In other words, true simplicity is more than removing clutter.
  • Asking “Do we need this?” about everything, even the things that seem obvious, is an exercise worth doing.

Take Responsibility End to End:

  • Seamless integration is an important part of simplicity.
  • It can be difficult to have a truly exceptional user experience without end-to-end responsibility for it. In other words, take responsibility for “the whole widget.”

When Behind, Leapfrog:

  • If you’re behind, make sure your next step puts you ahead instead of on par.
  • If getting ahead means cannibalizing yourself, it’s better than someone else cannibalizing you.

Put Products Before Profits:

  • Don’t compromise.
  • If you make great products and are passionate about it, profits should follow.

Don’t be a Slave to Focus Groups:

  • Customers don’t always know what they want
  • Henry Ford said “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, a ‘A faster horses!”
  • Jobs said “Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

Bend Reality:

  • Don’t accept what seems to be impossible.
  • If you have to, push people to make the impossible happen.


  • Mike Markkula urged three principles: empathy, focus, and impute.
  • People form an opinion about a product or company based on how it is presented and packaged.
  • Packaging can be as important as the product.
  • Similarly, design can send a message.

 Push for Perfection:

  • Don’t be afraid to step back and ensure everything is perfect before launch.
  • Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that it’s okay for it not to be perfect.

Tolerate Only “A” Players:

  • Work with only the best to prevent “the bozo explosion”
  • Hold those people to high standards.
  • It is the founder/CEO/visionary’s job to be honest.
  • If you expect great people to do great things, you can often get people to do great things.
  • Loyalty has to be a factor if you’re going to be brutal.

Engage Face-to-Face:

  • Spontaneous interactions can lead to great things.
  • Jobs said “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

Know Both the Big Picture and the Details:

  • Individual products make up a big picture and it’s important to know what that big picture is.

Combine the Humanities with the Sciences:

  • Being a great technologist isn’t enough.
  • Being a great designer isn’t enough.
  • Being at the intersection of humanities and the sciences can be useful.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish:

  • There can be a place for a rebel and counterculture streak in the business world.
  • As one of Apple’s famous ads said “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

How to Leverage What You Do Right!

checkI saw a commercial today for an exterminating company that advertised the ongoing training their employees receives. I’m not looking for an exterminator but it made me think about the importance of using what your organization does right and leveraging it as part of your marketing plan.

We moved a few years ago and I researched moving companies to help us. The only way I knew to assess these kinds of companies (this was before Angie’s List) was to ask about their internal practices. I asked if they provided training for their employees and if they solicited customer satisfaction data. I was truly surprised at how different the response was from company-to-company. I ultimately picked a business that did both ongoing training and solicited customer feedback. This was important to me because it told me that employees were put through a structured training program (I didn’t want them dropping my TV) and if they asked for customer feedback, they were probably more likely to respond to customer issues.

So what kinds of things is your organization doing right that you can leverage?

  • Training: Depending on the industry, most people place value on training. Whether it is customer service training or mechanic training, most customers feel a level of comfort in knowing the people who are taking care of their needs have had the appropriate training to do so.
  • Background Checks: Whether you have service technicians who enter customer homes or are a daycare center who takes care of small children, communicating that background checks are part of your screening process can help ease the concern of potential customers. I worked with an organization that hosts a large summer day-camp every year and they do background checks on the army of volunteers they use to manage the children. Parents find comfort with that.
  • Accreditation: Accreditation and certifications demonstrate a person or organizations credibility in providing products or services. Whether your organization is accredited through the Better Business Bureau or have certifications in information technology, the paying customer is interested. These kinds of credentials are what separate the professionals from the not so professionals.
  • Financial Transparency: Nonprofit organizations that solicit and rely on outside funding and donors benefit greatly when they provide financial information to donors. Donors want to know that the money they are donating is being used wisely and for the purpose it was intended.
  • Customer Satisfaction: When a customer purchases a product or service, they want to be reassured that they will receive what was promised to them. Collecting, monitoring and advertising customer satisfaction data can be a powerful tool in marketing to new customers. Customers want to know that their voices will be heard.
  • Quality Data: Organizations that track quality data can use it to advertise products or services. Whether an organization has won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award or can claim a 0.001% product defect rate, quality data can be a great way to sell your product or service.
  • Best Places to Work: Customers like to do business with organizations that have happy employees. Being nominated or winning awards for best places to work is another way to demonstrate creditability with the community and improve employee engagement.

Organizations that advertise the things they are doing right have the advantage of attracting the educated consumer. The ever-changing consumer driven culture demands more and more transparency in how an organization is run so you might as well boast of your good practices!

What are other things you leverage in your marketing plan?

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

photo credit: PNASH

How Can FOCUS PDCA Help Improve Business Operations

Improving what we do and how we do it is an important part of business strategy. As organizations develop and grow, there is any number of improvement opportunities along the way. Opportunities can be related to business processes like the accounting function, a manufacturing process or a service process aimed to improve the customer experience. No matter what the process is, there can be a systematic approach to making improvements.

A quality method for improving work processes is a model called FOCUS PDCA. This methodology takes a process through identification of the improvement opportunity, planning for an improvement, implementation and evaluation of the change.

The first step in any improvement is understanding the current process by establishing a baseline. A baseline is measurable data that is collected at the beginning of an improvement project. For example, if you want to improve the wait time for customers, it is important to measure what the current wait time is. Once you know what the current wait time is, you can develop a process to improve those times. Measurement of any improvement effort is done at the beginning, during and after any improvement effort.

So how does FOCUS PDCA Work?

  • Find: An opportunity for improvement.
  • Organize: A team that is familiar with the process.
  • Clarify: Understanding of the process.
  • Understand: Variation in the process.
  • Select: What needs to be improved.
  • Plan: Develop an improvement plan.
  • Do: Execute the plan.
  • Check: Review the results and determine if the plan worked.
  • Act: If the plan worked, standardize the change and write policy. If the plan did not work, go back and try something else.

Let’s look at an example of how this might work. Say you are a small business that does product order fulfillment. There are increasing numbers of customer complaints about the order-to-ship time. The business has been growing but you have a fear that the complaints will have an impact on future orders. Let’s go through the FOCUS PDCA Cycle:

  • Find: The opportunity to improve is the product order-to-ship time.
  • Organize: Recruit a team of employees who work in the order fulfillment role.
  • Clarify: Map out the order fulfillment process in a flowchart. Start with when the order is placed and map the process through shipment.
  • Understand: Collect data so you understand any variations in the process.
  • Select: Identify what in the process can be improved.
  • Plan: Develop an improvement plan.
  • Do: Implement the plan.
  • Check: Collect data to see how the plan worked.
  • Act: If the plan worked, write a policy and train employees on the new process. If the plan did not work, go back to the beginning and try another improvement idea.

This is a very simplified example of using FOCUS PDCA, but what you will find is that if you try this method on a few small improvement opportunities, you will become more comfortable and will be able to use the same methodology on larger system problems.

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

Check Sheet – Why Use a Check Sheet?

Check sheets (or tally sheets) are one of the seven management tools that organizations use to gather information to help monitor and improve quality. The beauty of using a check sheet is that it provides data (facts) about how a process is working and offers information about improvement opportunities. The check sheet collects data for the number of times an event occurs. By tracking the frequency of an occurrence, an organization can learn about a process.

Check sheets should be designed to collect information that is needed to assess a process or system. The data collected gives a quick glance at problems with the number of occurrences in a designated period of time.

Check sheets work best when a person can observe and document the number of times an incident occurs.

When deciding whether or not to use a check sheet:

  • Determine what process needs to be observed.
  • Determine the kind of information that needs to be collected.
  • Determine the period of time the data will be collected (days/weeks).
  • Designate a person or persons who have responsibility for collecting the data.
  • Make sure there is a good understanding of what information needs to be collected and the process for collecting it.
  • It is always wise to do a daily check on the collections to make sure employees are being diligent with collecting the information.

The following example shows what a check sheet looks like. In this example, the human resource generalist is tracking the kinds of phone calls she receives regarding benefits and payroll. You can see by the information gathered on this check sheet that this person got the most number of phone calls on Tuesday and most of the questions were about the paid time off benefit. This information is important in that it shows the busiest day of the week for answering questions but it also shows that there are a lot of questions about PTO.

The next drill down on this would be to have the generalist collect data on what kinds of questions are being asked.  This information can then be used to develop a FAQ list, updating the employee manual and/or additional benefit training.

This is a simplified example of a tool that can be used to identify all kinds of improvement opportunities.

Writer Bio: Kathy Clark is an MBA who is passionate about helping small business owners see their vision come to life by creating corporate infrastructures that support business development and growth through strategic customer focus. She writes for, and is the founder of http://thethrivingsmallbusiness.com.

Walk Talk

As a member of the Board of Directors for the North East Contact Center Forum, I have the opportunity to speak with a number of Customer Service Managers, Directors and VP’s across multiple industries and geographies. The most common theme among these leaders is the intricate balancing act of providing extraordinary experiences while reducing expenses (and sometimes juggling regulatory risk and/or time constraints).

I have battled with the same dilemmas myself. Over time, I have learned to ask myself and my colleagues a few questions:

  • What do you coach your service representatives on?
  • What are the common conversations in your team and all-hands meetings?
  • What is it that your CEO/COO/VP of Customer Service is evangelizing?

More often than not, the answers sound like: call quality, customer experience, superior service, etc. Some time later, I follow up with another set of questions:

  • What are the key metrics that you look at daily?
  • How do you incent your service representatives?
  • What are the metrics that your boss (whether he or she be the CEO or someone else) are hammering you about?

These answers usually sound like: service level, AHT (average handle time), 50-75% of incentives involve productivity numbers, expenses, cost per account/loan/customer, etc.

Things that make you hmmm.

The terms [triple/quad constraints – click each to a see a picture] and charts are typically used in project management, but apply to our quandary.  One constraint cannot be changed without altering another. Triple or Quad constraints are funny; everything cannot be the most important or the highest priority. Trying to make everything the highest priority will only drive you and your service representatives crazy. It leads to mediocre quality, often subpar cost metrics, low morale, and CEO’s/COO’s/VP’s of Customer Service breathing down your neck.

With all of that in mind, how do you move (walk) forward?

  1. The first step for any recovery program is to admit you have a problem.
    1. Be objective.
    2. Ask your floor representatives what they think you say and what you really focus on.
    3. Listen to calls, review chats, and emails (are your associates rushing, taking too long?).
  2. Force rank your current priorities (create the order that you believe you are presently working under)
    1. Everything cannot be equal
      1. Quality (call quality, defect management, complaints, customer incident surveys)
      2. Cost (AHT, service levels, cost per X, expenses, utilization, occupancy)
      3. Time (are new product releases critical? Service availability?)
      4. Risk (regulatory/legal, credit, reputational)
    2. Make sure you have accurate differentials – use an entire 1-5 scale
  3. Have an honest, direct conversation with senior management about what is the most important priority, what is the second most important priority, and so on.

Now that you have your direction, you need to determine what you are going to change. (Hint: don’t limit yourself to the base of the box, work the edges. Read Seth Godin’s Linchpin for more on that subject.)

  • People – Do you have the right people in the right places to succeed? Do you need to reorganize? How would you incent people to deliver your priority? What do you need to communicate to your associates?
  • Process – What processes would you change? What metrics would you highlight? What dashboard items need to change?
  • Systems – How can you leverage your technical solutions to maximize your priorities? Are you able to walk your talk? Or do you need to change your talk?

Guest Writer Bio: Michael Pace is the Director of Customer Support for Constant Contact’s award winning Customer Support Department and on the Board of Directors for the North East Contact Center Forum. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

Image Credit: Joe

When Providing Customer Service, Give an Oscar-worthy Performance

Red CarpetSometimes it takes an award-winning performance to provide excellent customer care, especially when problems are weighing on your mind. Maybe you’re dealing with the turmoil of having your credit card stolen. Perhaps your daughter failed a class or your partner forgot your birthday. You can do your absolute best to put the concerns of your personal life aside at work, but it’s so challenging to stay in a positive mindset when you come face-to-face with a crabby, complaining customer.

How do you hold it together when you feel like falling apart?

Just ask the employees at Preston Wynne Spa, a successful company featured in chapter 7 of “Who’s Your Gladys?” This high end spa’s CEO Peggy Wynne Borgman and her staff have adapted the advice of my dear friend Holly Stiel, who recommends viewing the start of a workday like the start of a performance.

Customer service expert Holly Stiel recommends viewing the start of a workday like the start of a performance.

“Your uniform is your service costume, and your workplace is the stage. To give great service, it’s helpful to consider yourself an actor playing a role with as much sincerity as possible,” Holly advises. She encourages everyone to make a conscious choice about how to “act” within the service provider role.

This got me thinking about my expectations as a customer. When I go to the movies, I expect the actors to give a captivating performance. I enjoy watching the leading man woo his love interest. It could very well be that in “real life,” the actor is going through a bitter divorce. It simply wouldn’t work to bring his personal problems into his leading man role.

Mo’Nique won an Oscar last night playing the part of Mary Jones from the movie Precious. She embodied the challenging role of a criminally abusive mother and was fully present in her performance. As a performing artist, she brought a highly challenging role to life.

Imagine yourself bringing the role of a caring customer service provider to life.

Have you ever noticed that when you say you believe something to be true, you’re sometimes tested? I believe that customer service is more than a skill, it’s an art. I was tested a few weeks ago. I was booked to fly to Wisconsin. Even though my husband and son suffered with a stomach virus for four days the week before, I stayed healthy, until 4 a.m. the morning of my flight.

I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get on that plane, let alone lead a workshop for managers AND a customer service keynote the following day. At 6 a.m., I called my coauthor Lori Jo Vest and told her, “I’m sick!” Thank God for Lori! She helped me to step into the role of service provider and do what was best for our client, who was bringing together 150 employees to see me for their annual event. The company had bought a book for everyone too, so finding a replacement speaker was out of the question. I made a call to my doctor, convinced him to prescribe something that would help, and was on the plane by 10 a.m.

As strange as it might sound, I believe it wasn’t as much the medicine that got me through as it was the mindset. I chose to BE an enthusiastic, attentive presenter and somehow, despite a stomach virus, I was.

Guest Writer Bio: Marilyn Suttle is the co-author of the best-selling customer service book, “Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan.” She is president of Suttle Enterprises, a training firm through which she has taught thousands across the country how to have happier, more productive relationships with customers, coworkers, and even their children. For more information, visit: www.whosyourgladys.com.

photo credit: Eva Cristescu

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