Branding and Creativity

Cliches: Avoid them like the plague! Er...


Leaning on a cliche to convey meaning works against you as a self-marketer, salesperson, and relationship builder. This is especially true in your emails, marketing materials, and sales presentations. You know what cliches are, right? They're common analogies and expressions that have become dull and meaningless due to overuse. And when it comes to sales and marketing communication, meaningless is not your aim.

Here are 5 tips to avoid cliches: (Titles are for your amusement.)

1. The writing on the wall. Say what you mean, without flowery, superfluous language. Be specific. Clear, precise wording creates impact. Rather than starting your email or PowerPoint with the title, "You Have To Spend Money to Make Money," you could write, "The 2 Investments Every Business Owner Must Make Now." Which lead-in would keep you reading?

2. Haste makes waste. Cliches are relied on because they require little thinking. Thinking takes time. Most people, like your competitors, are lazy. (Maybe you are too.) Hard workers, who are smart, use their mind to their advantage. When you fail to inject knowledge and notion enriched thought into your writing, customers will interpret your words as twaddle. Take the time to re-think and replace cliches with mindful verbiage.

3. Cheaters never prosper. Cliches are essentially copying. Remember my most retweeted tweet: "The only company that ever succeeded by copying was Xerox. Be an original." I could have saved the fifteen minutes I invested to craft that quote and re-used the cliche, "Don't be a copy cat." However, I wouldn't have received the same windfall of retweets. (Follow my "cliche-free" tweets: @andyhorner)

4. Too much of a good thing. "He was dead" delivers more force than "He was dead as a doornail". Verbose descriptions diminish the significance and potency of your ideas and stories. Brevity is an attractor of admirers and an attribute of wisdom.

5. Throw them a curve ball. Alter a cliche to give it new meaning and capture your reader's attention. Instead of saying, "What goes around comes around," say, "What goes around doesn't have to come around." Now that you've piqued your reader's interest, elaborate.

BONUS TIP: There are no stupid questions. Think "Jeopardy." Phrase your cliches in the form of questions to give them new life, engage readers, and prompt reactions. The cliche "Let us do the heavy lifting" doesn't carry the same weight as "How much can you lift?"

When you're tempted to reach for a cliche, try one of these tips. It'll return to you - not in spades - but in respect, responses, and revenue.

The Strangest Secret Defines Your Personal Brand

In 1956, Earl Nightingale made a legendary recording titled "The Strangest Secret."

The premise of this half-hour audio recording is simple:

"We become what we think about."

Think about this in terms of your personal brand. How you think about yourself, and the confidence you have in thinking about yourself, creates the brand that defines you.

In Andy Horner's new ebook "Killer Personal Brand! Create Yours in 3 Steps" he relates how the way you think about yourself can define the personal brand that people associate with you.

If you're interested in why this works, listen to Earl Nightingale's timeless wisdom on how the way we think creates the circumstances that surround us.

You Had to Be There!


Inside Jokes — one of the most powerful sales tools!

I was once with a client at an outdoor cafe canopied in green umbrellas. I munched on my pesto chicken wrap and sweet potato chips while my client detailed his next project, which would be a home run for me if I landed the job.

One-at-a-time, small grey birds (not pigeons) flew down from the roofs nearby and landed on the extra chairs at our table. I shooed a few away, but more came. Concentrating on my customer's words with the growing number of winged intruders was becoming difficult. Finally one landed on my shoulder! I brushed it off and yelled, "Get your own!" Thinking I was clever, I smiled back at my client and said, "I think they got the point. Where were we?" Just then, one of the birds swooped down and plucked a chip right out of my hand. We both burst into laughter.

The next day, I emailed a proposal to the customer and included a photo of a bird with a potato chip photoshopped in its mouth. I ended the email with this, "Let's get started! How about a kick-off lunch next week. I suggest somewhere inside." I got the job, but more importantly kicked-off a long lasting client friendship.

Take a second to see if you can recall an inside joke you have with your customers. Maybe it was a belly laugh you had about kids or a quirky waiter. Perhaps you wore the same shirt or coined a new nickname of the golf course. Inside jokes are one of the most powerful ways to connect with a customer or prospect. They're ice-breakers at the moment they happen. They're follow up opportunities later.

Here are some tips to create a lasting inside joke:

• Latch on to moments or jokes your customer thought were funny, not just those you laughed at.

• Catalyze an inside joke. Bring a gift with you! I had a vendor who brought me a toy bowling set! We had a blast playing a few games before the meeting. I hired him and still bring it up when I see him.

• Keep the joke going. Follow up quick by taking the joke to the next level.

• Self-depricating jokes are fine, but if the joke is at your customer's expense, you're probably the only one really laughing.

• Don't try to bring the conversation back to your presentation, pitch, or price too quickly - if the customer is laughing, go with the flow. It's probably the one thing they'll remember!

Have a great inside joke with one of your customers? Send it to me!

Andy Horner —

Little But NOT Nothing


What do football helmets and hypodermic needles have in common?

Little but NOT nothing.

Steroid juicing? Painkiller addiction? Hmm... fascinating!

The image with this article of a football helmet spilling over with hypodermic needles is from a current issue of ESPN Magazine. The photo triggers both a wince and a double take, halting readers and provoking them to read the first sentence of the article.

Little but NOT nothing.

What a beautiful phrase for marketers to keep in mind.

When two images with the smallest hint of a connection are juxtaposed, readers are compelled to seek understanding. The brain begins firing questions and drilling for the relationship link. "Helmets? Needles? Should I understand this? The data seems vaguely familiar but does not compute. Need... more... info." And so the reader begins to read. Success!

Little but NOT nothing.

How can you employ this concept in your own small business or personal marketing efforts? First, isolate a single benefit message. It's a natural temptation to cram all the irresistible advantages of your product or service into your marketing pieces. If you can't decide on your top benefit, ask ten customers. Then, you'll know.

Perhaps you sell a new industrial-grade sump pump for home owners that can remove water 4 times faster than a standard residential unit. What images can you combine that aren't too closely related? Bad examples might include a water-filled room with floating furniture or a frowning home owner standing waist deep in a flooded room. To avoid cliches like these, throw out images or ideas that have been fused so often that their connection has become obvious.

Instead, think two powerful objects with a faint relationship that will evoke emotion. For the brain to be intrigued, it must be forced to make a cognitive leap.

Picture this. A door frame where a family has marked their child's growth is under water up to the line that reads, "Katie at 5 years." The brain goes wild! "Growth charts? Waist-high water? What about the marks for her first four years?" The lead in to the ad might read, "Preserving your memories in a flood depends on how fast you remove the water. Irreversible damage can begin in less than 12 hours. Can you keep up with your pump? With ours can, you can."

Little but NOT nothing may mean EVERYTHING when it comes to getting responses and results from your next marketing campaign. Try it and tell me how it turns out.

Third Time's a Charm - True or False?


To me, it's "True." 

There's a natural temptation to quit after a second try. The average, busy, over-worked adult says to themselves, "Well I gave it a couple shots. This is going to be a waste of time. I'll do something else."

Remember the other expression? "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again." It's not just "try again." Often, the trick is to get past that second hurdle.

In business, sometimes we must quit. Our idea isn't working. The margins aren't there. Other endeavors or projects are more important. 

But many successes are lost because of retreating too early.

 The result of quitting means you don't grow, push your limits, accomplish your dreams, and you end up sitting next to your buddy at the retirement home watching HSN repeating, "I had that idea 30 years ago."

Remember, your second try will often be as bad or worse than the first. Why?

1. Overcorrection.

 A staggering number of car accidents happen each year when drivers swerve a little, then whip the wheel the opposite direction to get back to the middle of the road. Overcompensation causes the accident. Your second attempt is often an exaggeration of your first failure.

2. Hyper Awareness. 

On your second attempt, you become overly conscious of your thoughts, words, hands, and body. You tighten up. Ever coached a kid playing tee-ball for the first time? If the child has a modicum of athletic ability, they'll almost always foul tip the ball on their first swing.

 But on the second attempt, they're now tense with self-awareness. What happens? They hit the tee. (Hyper-awareness on the second try can also explain "beginner's luck.")

3. Impatience. 

When I drew pictures as a youngster, time didn't exist. I could draw all day. My only goal was to enjoy the spilling of my imagination onto a blank page. I had no deadline, no boss, and no quota. The impatience of adults comes from time constraints, budget restrictions, and performance pressures. We can write off our first failure, but after the second defeat, the risk can be perceived as too great. The result – we quit. What a shame.

I think the third time IS a charm. After all, it's not two strikes and you're out. And who can forget "School House Rock," who taught us all, "Three is a Magic Number."

The simple knowledge of this life nugget helps. When attempting something new, remind yourself three times "I may get worse before I get better." If I'm right, your overcorrection will decrease, you'll remain more relaxed, and you'll afford the patience required. The profit for your persistence could be a blockbuster project, a lucrative new business, a standing ovation, or a home run at whatever you put your mind to. 

Instead of annoying your retired pals with your infomercial regrets, you could be addressing an audience of thousands with a speech that begins, "When I had this idea 30 years ago..."

Now, cue 

De La Soul


Steve Jobs - The Man, The Artist

"Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow."
These were Steve Jobs' last words, according to his sister, Mona Simpson. When I heard the words, I repeated them over and over to myself. There was a familiarity to them. Ah, yes! They were the same words I uttered every time I got my hands on one of the products Steve Jobs and his company Apple created. 
My connection to Steve Jobs and Apple began in high school. I wasn't a jock or a popular kid. I was a creative type who camped out in the art wing and kinda ran the place. In 1992, my senior year, I convinced Ms. Carr, our lead art teacher, to purchase a Macintosh LC II for the department. 
When the computer arrived, I intercepted the delivery guy in the hall so I could quietly squirrel the boxes away to the art room supply closet. There, I selfishly locked 'my Mac' away for the entire year. No one but me touched it.
From then on, I was a devoted Apple fan and Steve Jobs follower. At this very moment, I'm typing on a MacBook Pro, multi-touching an Apple Magic Trackpad, and staring at a gorgeous auxiliary 24'' Apple monitor. My iPhone 4 is safely in my pocket. My iPad is docked within touching distance.
This weekend, I read most of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. For almost two decades, I've been waiting for this insider account of the man and brand in which I've invested so much time, money, and trust. 
As I devoured the book, I realized how tightly interlinked was this man and his company. You can barely speak about one without the other. Apple and its products are the pure, distilled expression of Steve's creativity and imagination. 
The book has given me many insights and now in the final chapters, my impression of Steve Jobs is solidifying. Two thoughts about him continue to surface. One, I never want to be like Steve the man. And two, I want to be more like Steve the artist.
The Man
Assuming the portrait of Steve depicted by Isaacson is accurate, relationships were important to Steve, but not his focus. Some may say that to reach the heights he did, his zero tolerance for low quality performance and his devotion of endless hours to his projects were necessary. 
Isaacson reported how Steve often 'embarrassed' and 'destroyed' coworkers and partners in meetings. He bellowed and barked his enraged dissatisfaction without restraint. Estranged family and friends, who clearly came second, seemed to be acceptable losses in his crusade to create the world's best lifestyle products. Ironic in a way.
Because I measure fulfillment and success by depth of human relationships, I don't wish to model myself after Steve Jobs the man as described in his biography. I think it's unconscionable to trade relationship commitments for material investments, no matter how magical.
The Artist
Steve's passion was not making money. It was creating art. His companies and products were the pure expression of his ideas and ideals. In creating his art, he compromised nothing. The combination of his creative brilliance, passionate zeal, and tireless dedication is why people invested in him, followed him, purchased from him, worked for him, and... put up with him. It's the most significant reason Apple is the top brand and company (some days) in the world.
Many business people have no problem compromising their ideas or ideals. A little discomfort or fear is all it takes. When the threat of failure, instability, or a strong personality comes along, they drop their passion and run. When an opportunity or risk that ignites their imagination appears, they shy away. I know far too many who have lost their way and the richness of life to passionless, safe jobs and careers.
I believe everyone is capable of art - teachers, salespeople, landscapers, attorneys, mothers, and janitors. The work of our minds and hands when dedicated to our constructive passions is our art. Steve refused to compromise his passion and vision. He was a true artist of highest form.
I'm 37. At best, my life is about half over. (Though my dad is 86, so I may have a little longer.) When it comes time to utter my 'oh wows,' I hope to be like Steve - with my family in my home. Reading Isaacson's biography of Apple's CEO has inspired me to rededicate my remaining days to two pursuits - investing without compromise in my friends and family and my own personal art.
As I ponder the thoughts above and close in on the final chapters of the biography, one question remains. Is it possible to reach the phenomenal artistic success Steve Jobs attained without great relationship sacrifice and aggressive, brash control?
I think so.  
How 'bout you?


90% of Salespeople Say, "Twitter is a Waste of Time"

The number of salespeople and small business owners who are not using Twitter to build customer loyalty and grow profits is shocking! Creating my own poll, I ask this question to almost every salesperson I meet - which is in the thousands. Less than 10% say they are tweeting routinely.
My response to the 90% who don't tweet is always, "You realize it's free, right?" 
Their typical answer, "Yeah, but my time isn't."
I then reply, "How do you prefer to spend your time?"
Them, "Helping customers."
Over the past 2 weeks, I've walked through this scenario with salespeople quite a few times. I've responded to this "I'd rather spend my time helping customers" excuse with five points. I kept it to five points so I could either high five them or smack them in the back of the head based on whether they got it or not.
My 5 points are:
1. Customers are on Twitter looking for companies and vendors to follow because they want timely help.
2. If your customers view you as an expert, they'll expect quick tips and ideas from you throughout the week.
3. Tweets are only 140 characters so they don't take long to write. You only need to post a couple a day, so that's less writing than a single email to a customer.
4. Even if you only have 10 customers that follow you, that equals more engagement than you've done in the past 10 years.
5. I ask, "Have you asked your customers if they'd like you to tweet?" These salespeople usually answer "No" or they say "My customers aren't on Twitter." I got this answer recently from a sales guy. I suggested we call one of his customers right then and ask. We did. The customer said, "Yeah. Why? Are you on Twitter now? What's your username? I'll follow you." You better believe that sales guy is tweeting now.
Jeffrey and I have a far more detailed response to the statement, "Twitter is a waste of time." We've prepared a step by step walkthrough on how to use Twitter to grow your business and build loyal customers. You can get our answers tomorrow at 11AM and 3PM Eastern Time on our live webinar titled, "I Tweet, Therefore I Am." 
We promise not to smack anyone... just high fives!
All you have to do is sign up, sign on, and sit back and watch. You don't even need a notepad, because we'll send you the recording later. Maybe pop some popcorn.

Big Title, Big Response!

When it comes to crafting your professional title, I've learned you almost can't go too big. Recently, I've encountered salespeople with the titles "Supreme Commander," "The Experience," and "Lord of All Fish."

A big title isn't braggadocious. It shows you have confidence, don't take yourself too seriously, and that you aim to be the best. Also, it can spark conversation. If you met someone with the title "Lord of All Fish," wouldn't you want an explanation?

 My current title is "Chief Architect" but I'm thinking I could ratchet it up a bit.

 - Andy Horner, Chief Architect (for now)

Man Skirts and Mechanic Shirts


How do you create a personal brand that stands out? Let me start by taking you back to 1996 when a band named "Nalu Love Dragons" lit up the Richmond, VA college party scene with a sound no one had ever heard before. (Mostly because we never practiced and made up our songs on the fly.)

I was the lead singer. On lead guitar was Rick, who shredded his twelve string with a flaming pick and slayed the audience with his wicked smile. He had a Slash-like presence on the stage - guitar hung low, legs wide apart, long hair whipping as he banged his head. He was electric!

Rick and I haven't kept in touch since college, but back then, we were inseparable. I was continually impressed by his fearless sense of his own personal brand. There was one key way he manifested his uniqueness.

Rick wore skirts.

No, he wasn't a cross-dresser. Actually, he was a very macho guy. The skirts he wore were ugly, brown, floor-length, thrift store skirts. He called them his "old lady" kilts. I simply called them "man skirts."

They were the ugliest things I've ever seen. But somehow, on his tall, lanky frame and with his Birkenstocks, tattered t-shirts, and musician attitude, the skirts looked perfectly cool on him. In fact, they ROCKED! They were his signature and no one questioned it (with an exception of the frat boys whose heads exploded when they saw him).

Just like Rick stood out in the college scene, Jeffrey Gitomer stands out in the corporate scene. At his seminars, hundreds of business people mingle - all looking alike in their suits, blouses, and ties. And then there's Jeffrey in his bright red mechanic shirt more appropriate for a garage than a ballroom. If you wore a mechanic shirt to a professional sales event, everyone would think you were in the wrong place. But on Jeffrey, nobody questions it.

How does Jeffrey pull it off? Why does it work?

To develop your standout personal brand, do you need your own edgy look?

Do you need to find your version of man skirt or mechanic shirt? Maybe a yellow rain hat or purple, horn rimmed glasses you always wear?


Jeffrey's mechanic shirt works because it fits with everything else that makes Jeffrey who he is. It works because it's authentic.

If you look around for something to make you more interesting just to draw attention to yourself, chances are it won't feel right to you (or any one else). It will appear contrived and insincere. You're better off wearing the suit.

Then how do you stand out?

ANSWER: To create a personal brand that stands out, your goal can't be simply to be noticed. It must be to help people by fearlessly expressing your own thoughts, beliefs, and skills in your own instinctual style regardless of criticism.

Do this and you'll stand out. Do this and your personal brand will evolve on its own.

You may end up with your own version of a red mechanic shirt. Perhaps it will be purple, horn rimmed glasses. Or, what makes you stand out may be a style of speaking, a recognizable quote, a radical book, or an industry-changing idea.

The point is that the signature elements of your personal brand will be natural, they'll fit you perfectly, and they'll draw the right kind of attention to you - the kind that builds respect, admiration, and a loyal following.

I once asked Rick why he wore the skirts, thinking he was just doing it to be different or rebellious. His answer: "Have you ever tried them? They're insanely comfortable."

Don't miss my free, live webinar this Wednesday on the topic of creating a strong personal brand. Details & Registration

Visionary Leadership - Part 1


I exited college like many – without a job.

The custom at the time, which I believe is still being upheld, was to retreat to the basement of my parents' home. So I did.

I wasn't a deadbeat though. In fact, I've always been a hard worker and an optimist. (I'm only allergic to bee stings and negativity. If I have to choose, I pick bee stings.) Until I landed a job, I considered my dad to be my employer and fixing up his house to be my project.

I decided to start with the terraced flower boxes I had promised to build for my Mom before she passed away a few years prior. But I needed an assistant. I contacted my buddy, Karl, who was also gainfully unemployed. He said no. His excuse (or "sales objections" for you Sales Caffeine readers) was that it was too far to drive and he was too out of shape.

That wasn't good enough for me. I emailed him a drawing of the terraced flower boxes and included the promise I made to my mother. I told him how we'd build them, how long it would take, how beautiful they'd look, and how great the beer and pizza would taste when we sat in the shade of my dad's maple trees enjoying the finished product.

He came.

The flower boxes turned out fantastic.

He took pictures to show friends.

He ate lots of pizza and drank lots of beer.

Before he left, he looked me dead in the eye and said, "Dude, after your email, I would have driven from California to build this thing!"

Though I already instinctively knew it to be true, Karl's words helped crystallize a major lesson in leadership. It's one everyone in business needs to know. And in the new economy, where innovation dominates, it's become a prerequisite for success.

People follow leaders who can conceive and clearly communicate a compelling vision.

Visionary leaders awaken hope and excitement. The promise of their vision prompts investment. And like the Pied Piper, it inspires all who hear to join the march. A powerful vision leverages action.

When you learn to convey such a vision, you get your way.

(Caveat: No one follows a selfish, foolish, or hateful visionary for long. In the end, the goals of such a person always end in ruin.)

Visionary leadership wins presidential elections, closes million dollar deals, overthrows regimes, and sells 40 million iPads.

It also helps you accomplish less grandiose achievements, like getting everyday proposals signed, your manager's buy-in, a first round of investment, your kids' good behavior, and your spouse to OK a vacation in the mountains over the beach.

Ever wonder why no one follows you or invests in your ideas?

Learn how to conceive and clearly communicate a vision that resonates and they will dance behind you wherever you lead.


Look for my follow up Sales Caffeine article in three weeks titled, "Visionary Leadership - Part 2" that addresses how to conceive and communicate a vision that prompts investment and action.



Has your car ever been towed because you parked in a reserved spot?

It happened to me the other day while I was out of town. Let me just say that it's about as much fun as being mugged, and I know because that's happened to me too. (I was raised in the suburbs. Can you tell?)

The stamp-sized sign by the parking spot detailed the fee to be paid ($120), the impounding location (a great place to get mugged), and that a photo ID was required to recover my car.

See, that was going to be a problem. My 2 year old enjoys throwing things into the trash, including my wallet a week prior.

I had no ID and it was getting late. How would I get my car back?

I got a ride to a money machine and to the towing lot from my business partner. As I got out of his car, he said, "If you can convince them to give you back your car with no ID, you really are the Ace of Sales." I took a deep breath and headed into the graffitied office.

The man behind the counter intimidated me for two reasons. One, he was snarling before I even said, "Hello." Two, he had a pistol tucked down the front of his pants. (You can't make this stuff up.)

As you can imagine, without my photo ID he wasn't about to give me my car. When I pushed him harder, he approached the window and hissed through rotten teeth, "Without proof that you're Andy Horner, you get nothing!"

I looked down, dodging the stench of his breath, and noticed my iPad was picking up a wireless signal. Thinking fast, I looked up and posed a challenge to the man. "I'll make you a deal. If you google the name Andy Horner and my photo is on the first page of the image results I get my car back."

He laughed hard. "Deal!"


I think he just wanted to touch my iPad. I showed him how to open the browser and type my name. He tapped the search button. A second later he was staring at my photo - the very first result! It even had my name on the image.

He looked up with a smile on his face. "How'd you do that? What, you some kind of famous singer?" I replied, "Open the gate."

A minute later, I drove up alongside my partner, who'd been waiting for me. He held up both hands as if to ask, "How did you pull it off?" I said, "He found out I was a famous singer."

It's a fun story to tell but there's also a lesson to learn.

Your presence on the internet is now a determining factor in your success. Customers, competitors, and everyone you do business with are going online to research and evaluate you.

Are you on the first page?

If your customers find articles you've written, expertise you've tweeted, photos of you networking, and videos of you expressing your ideas, they will perceive you as important, active, relevant, and valuable. It's the hard proof that will seal their decision to trust you, work with you, and pay your full price.

If they search and find nothing, your business goals may remain... locked away.

Two huge tips for getting ranked in search results:

1. Tag everything. In the description and tag area for a blog post, YouTube video, and your LinkedIn profile include your full name, the name of your business, and other key words that someone might search for when looking you up.

2. Add your name to the image file with a hyphen. When using your portrait as an image in a blog, Facebook, or LinkedIn post, title the image file like this: "andy-horner.jpg" (Use your name of course.)

6 Ideas to Help You Shine This Holiday Season

Sign up for Ace of Sales with promo code "holidays" to get a 30 day trial account at no cost. Then, send knock-out holiday designs to all your customers as emails or printed cards. Here are 6 ideas to help you shine this holiday season:

1. Customize an Ornament. Superimpose your logo or your customer's name on a photo of an ornament. We happen to have an ornament design you can customize and email from Ace of Sales. Find the design below under the "Border" tab when creating a custom Email Greeting.

Xmas ornament holiday cards

2. Shoot a Holiday Video. Link customers to a short YouTube holiday video you create. (Hint: a Flip Video makes it easy!)

Make your own video email

3. Get your kids or grandkids to help. Ask them to draw an unforgettable holiday picture. Take a photo of them holding it up. Then upload and email the pic from Ace of Sales.

Scan and upload a custom image for your email greeting

4. Send them a message with value. Email twelve valuable tips relating to your business using our "Twelve Tips of Christmas" design. It'll be one of the only holiday greetings they'll actually remember!

12 tips of Christmas cards

5. Use a festive frame. Add one of our holiday borders to a great snapshot of you with your customer. They'll look at it no less than 100 times!

Make your own xmas card online

6. Have some fun with gift cards. Send them two Ace of Sales holiday greeting cards with gift cards inside. In the first, include one from Target. In the second, include one from Starbucks along with this message, "Ok, Santa, this time spend it on yourself!"

Choose an original design from our Holiday Galleries!

See all our 2010 designs »

Holiday christmas card designs

How Stacy Got Her Groove Back!

A one question interview with Ace of Sales customer, Stacy Smith

Returning from the birth of her baby, Stacy looked for some assistance getting responses from customers who gone quiet. She put Ace of Sales and her own creativity to use and just wrapped up her best month ever! Oh, and she's on track to break her record this month. Stacy has most definitely found her "groove." Now if we can just get her to show some excitement!

Life Has No Script


A Personal Story for the week of Halloween by Andy Horner

Donning the customs and costumes of Halloween was one of the great thrills of my childhood. I was R2-D2 at age 6, Godzilla at 10, and at age 13, when my friends all said they were too old, I went candy hunting alone as a white ninja.

But my lack of real ninja skills became evident between Knowles Drive and Arlington Hills when I was ambushed by Frankenstein and a portly vampire. They pushed me in the mud and made off with my sugary loot – yep, an entire pillow case full!

I arrived back home with tears in my eyes and missing one of my ninja boots (a sock with an insole in the bottom). My mom hugged me but I got no such sympathy from my older brothers, who could barely breathe from laughing so hard.

Truth is, I liked Halloween for another reason. When you approached strangers, you only had to say, "Trick or Treat." As a child, I was terrified of speaking to people I didn't know. Social settings soured my stomach and set my knees knocking. I'd rather face the real Frankenstein or Dracula himself than be trapped in a room full of "people."

The fear followed me through college and into the real world of web design firms, where I shined as an art director with the super power to interpret customers' cryptic requests. One day, my boss said, "Andy, how about joining our sales team? We could use your expertise." The very thought of entering offices full of people I didn't know rattled my bones. But there's only one thing that scared me more than social settings – backing away from a challenge because of fear. I swallowed hard and said, "OK."

I was plunged into the world of networking mixers, meetings with CEO's, and cold calls. However, my relaxed personality and confidence as a web guru was neutralized by my nerves. I couldn't sell because my anxiety and awkwardness was repelling prospects.

Finally, I was asked to speak at a local technology organization about building a strong corporate web presence. Company presidents, regional leaders, everyone would be there. I accepted... then threw up.

After 40 hours writing a carefully engineered script, my plan was to stride to the podium, put my head down, and recite my speech. But when I arrived at the packed event, I couldn't find my note cards. In 30 minutes I was going to be called to the front of the room and I had NO SCRIPT!

I did what any social misfit would do – I panicked! Sweating and trembling, I grabbed the arm of the stranger sitting next to me and whispered, "I lost my notes! What am I going to do?" He whispered back, "You're screwed." I begged, "Seriously, man, help me!" The stranger responded, "Just have fun." Real helpful, pal, thanks!

In a depserate attempt to rapidly recreate my week-long speech writing session, I pulled out a sheet of paper. Sweat dripping onto the page, I stared at the blank sheet. There simply wasn't enough time!

The idea of fleeing the room flashed in my mind, but running away wasn't an option! I would face this crowd even if it meant simply apologizing. I wrote four words: "Life has no script."

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, Andy Horner!" It was the longest two dozen steps I've ever taken. Looking out at the crowd, I smiled. "Hi everyone. Last week I jotted down a short speech which I seem to have lost. It only took me 40 hours to write, so no big loss." The room erupted in laughter. Unlike my brothers, they were laughing with me, not at me. I exhaled and let go. Fear released its grip and my creativity, ideas, and thoughts returned. I interacted with the audience. I drew diagrams. I even pulled a customer up on stage for a testimonial.

My speech was a success!

Now, I'm far more comfortable at networking events and in front of crowds. (I've had lots of practice.) But when my nerves creep up on me – as they occasionally do – I just whisper to myself, "Life has no script." I let go and make the decision to just have fun.

Maybe you've struggled with confidence in corporate crowds. How do you fight off nerves and let go? Let me know:

Charles Cannon: Value Deliverer Par Excellence

Charles CannonCharles Cannon's emails to his customers are so good they intimidate me! He is a "Client Advisor" (awesome job title) for Advantage BMW in Houston, TX. This guy understands what most sales people do not – how to stay in front of his customers with real value on a routine basis. Let me break it down...

3 Charles Cannon take-aways:

1. Be Professional

Look at this guy's photo! Great lighting. Great smile. Power posture. (Is your photo this good? If not, fix it.) The blue gradient block behind him adds a unique, polished touch. His emails are cleanly laid out. His articles are short. He avoids rainbow-colored text (so should you). He delivers short, scannable, well-written, proofed articles. His professionalism validates his claim to be a client advisor.

2. Be Approachable

His smile is friendly but confident – essential to gaining trust. He signs off his emails, "Your friend in the car business" as a reinforcement that he is on the customer's side. Throughout his emails, he reminds customers to contact him any time with questions. His messages are rich with the word "you" rather than "I." His customers can't miss the fact that Charles is always thinking about them, working for them, and available to them. His doors are wide open.

3. Provide Value

The first two tips are prerequisites if you want your customers to listen up. Without them, regardless of your expertise, you repel rather than attract. Once you have your customers' respect and attention, the magic happens. And when it comes to magic, Charles has a few tricks up his sleeve.

He sends information and advice he knows his customers will be thrilled to receive. Details about BMW's latest models or the new safety test results are examples. Charles uses Branded Emails for short updates. To really grab customers, he sends Email Greetings with compelling images like a crash test car with the title: "Will your family survive this accident in another vehicle?" When he wants to add support content, like helpful tips and links to videos, he publishes an Ezine.

The versatility of the different email formats enables Charles to deliver value to his customers on a regular basis and solidify his position as their indispensable resource and go-to advisor. When it's time to purchase their next BMW, who will they visit? Charles Cannon.

The Value of a Name

Andy's Burgers and Fries signOne early morning, while heading home from a visit to the Gitomer Studios in Charlotte, I pulled off the highway to fuel up. There, next to the gas station, was a little diner with bright, '50's-style signage that read:

Andy's Burgers Shakes & Fries

 I never wanted a burger more in my life – and I wasn't even hungry! Truth be told, it didn't matter what they were selling. It could have been jewelry, parrots, or a bazooka.

My buying mode had been switched on simply because my name was on their door. Has this kind of thing ever happened to you?

(Later on, I told my brother DaRyan about this experience but he couldn't relate. Did I mention his name is DaRyan?)

Back to the story... I pulled the door handle while reaching for my wallet. Drat! They weren't open yet and I didn't have a couple hours to wait. Besides, a burger for breakfast was beginning to sound less appealing.

Oh, well. At least it got me thinking about how strongly we're drawn to our name and how we light up at the sound of it. There really is no sweeter word.

Customers are no different. Their name holds great meaning and importance to them. And you can use it to grab their attention and increase their attraction to you.

Here are 6 ideas to do just that...

  1. Your customer's name, begin and end with it! Don’t just include it in your hellos and salutations. Make sure you also sign off with the most engaging word possible... “Tell me what you think, Jack." 
  2. Personalize important proposals. When those big opportunities present themselves and you prepare for your presentation, spend the time and money on proposal cover letters with the customers’ names on them. Use big, bold letters. Make one for everyone in the room.
  3. Give gifts that are personalized with your customers' names. Most companies put their own names on the gifts they give. Forget that! Engrave it, print it, paint it, or embroider it with the customer’s name. They’ll keep it forever and tell everyone who gave it to them.
  4. Mention your customer in a blog article by name. It doesn’t matter how many read your blog. Perhaps it’s just you. Post an article about your customer, bragging on something that impressed you or something you learned from them. Include their name three or for times. Put it in the title. Then... email them the link.
  5. Record a customer video. Start off the video by simply saying their name. "Mary Wilson." Pause. Then continue by expressing thanks to them, describing their accomplishments, or sharing some of their wisdom. Make sure the last two words at the end of the video are their first and last name. “Thank you, Mary Wilson." Post it to your YouTube channel (you can make it private or public) and email them the link.
  6. Display their name in your lobby. When your customer visits, put their name in lights. Don’t have lights? Show it on a big monitor! Don’t have a monitor? Make a poster. Write it on a white board. Get your kids to write it with crayons. If they remember one thing from their visit, it will be your sign with their name on it.

The Value of Standing Out

stand out self marketingLeading voices in the sales world are all preaching the same message: "To win customers, beat competitors, attract referrals, build your personal brand, and grow sales – you must differentiate and stand out!"

Do you stand out from your competitors?

Neither do most salespeople, which is good news and all the more reason to get started!

First, begin wearing a zany tie. Next, create a catchy slogan, like "your go-to guy with the fish tie!" Get your "creative" nephew to design a logo of you as a cartoon and then plaster it on everything – including your email signature.

Now you stand out, right?

You'd be surprised at how close to the truth this is for many salespeople. Forget the silly gimmicks and trite cliches! Here are three strategies to stand out effectively:

1. Under Promise, Over Deliver.

 Most often, your competitors will do less than they promise. That's an open door of opportunity! If you arrive ten minutes before meetings, follow up faster than agreed, deliver proposals a day early, and bill less than estimated, you'll win the superlative "Most Impressive!"

2. Be Unforgettable. 

Create an original, custom-made, perfect-fit gift to give customers after each purchase. If you sell homes, it may be a golden door plaque etched with the buyer's family name. If you sell websites, it may be a rocket-shaped launch trophy that incorporates the customer's web address. It should be an item they will display proudly and see over and over again.

3. State the Opposite.

Jeffrey Gitomer counters most sales authorities who say "find the pain" with the advice to find the pleasure or what's profitable. Co-author of the top-selling business book "Rework," Jason Fried says you learn best from your successes rather than mistakes. Buck the faulty conventions accepted by your industry and you'll be viewed as a brave thinker who stands out from the noise of your loyalty.

A value-rich Ezine will act as an agent in building and propagating your brand.