Diversity and the Bottom Line.

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A Real Story of How Diversity Affects Business

Some years ago, I was listening to a client who made class rings lament their declining sales.

“We’ve listened to our customers and broadened our line. We’re offering more price points than ever before and created more personalized rings to meet student’s changing tastes. Yet, sales continue to decline,” he told me with an exasperated sigh.

“Have you looked at your sales force lately?” I asked. “I mean looked at them through the eyes of your prospective customers, the students in those high schools.”

When he asked what I meant, I told him every one of their sales reps I had met were white men. Most  were between 40 and 60. They were dressed in very nice suits, lived in upscale suburb neighborhoods and were very comfortable displaying their rings in suburban schools.

At the time, reps held ring days in the schools to promote sales and let students get a good look at their products. In their suburban schools, the reps were very comfortable opening their cases and letting the students really examine the rings. The students would eagerly try them on and smile watching the gem brilliantly reflect light. The rep would bring one or two of their support staff and often their spouse to a suburban school ring day. More personnel meant quick, attentive service and a satisfying experience for the prospective ring owners.

But, ring day in an urban or more ethnically-diverse school was a very different experience for the students. Reps were reluctant to open their display cases. Students struggled to see the rings through thick plexiglass covers. When they did take a ring out to show a student, the rep almost never let go of it.  Reps tended to take fewer staff to these schools often conducting the ring day alone. With less people to show the rings, fewer students received personalized attention and there was little time spent answering student’s questions.

Class Rings - Diverse Hands

My client looked shocked and told me they had been watching a five-year trend of fewer suburban school students purchasing rings.  They were also seeing lower average unit prices from those who did buy. Their analysis had determined this was because of the relatively high percentage of college-bound students.  The students and their parents, who contributed to the purchase, knew a high school graduation ring would almost never be worn once the student left for college.

Urban school students, on the other hand, were opting to purchase much higher quality rings with a higher average unit price than their suburban counterparts. But the overall percentage of students buying in the urban schools was much lower. Originally, they thought the lower purchases in urban schools related to lower graduation rates, but the numbers didn’t bear that out. They should have been seeing much higher penetration in the urban schools.  Additionally, these student’s parents were more willing to fund a higher quality ring to recognize their high school accomplishments as many might not be college-bound immediately after graduating.

“We hadn’t thought about how the purchase experience would affect sales,” he said. “Our reps aren’t spending enough time to cultivate their best prospects.”

“No,” I said, “that’s the symptom of your real problem. You have a rep diversity problem. Your reps should reflect the population they serve.  That means you need a big push to recruit African-American and Hispanic reps.”

Over time my client did diversify their sales force and drastically improve their sales performance.  It wasn’t easy though.  They had to radically re-think their recruiting methods, restructure their territories and change some of their compensation models.  But along the way they discovered the real benefits of diversity.  By better reflecting the society and customers they serve, their reps had a much deeper understanding of the wants and needs of their customers and could more readily drive increased sales.

America is becoming more and more diverse.  By 2050, the US workforce will be a plurality meaning no single race or ethnicity will be make up a majority of the population.  Are you ready for the changing face of America?  Check out this InfoGraphic – The Changing Face of the American Workforce for a glimpse of diversity in the future.

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How To Capture and Hold Anyone’s Attention

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Many, including some TIME Magazine articles, have argued people’s attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter.  But, in fact, I’d argue the explosion of media competing for our attention simply makes it more difficult to capture a person’s attention.

This post by Daniel Goleman, author of FOCUS:  The Hidden Driver of Excellence explores capturing attention by triggering the the orienting response in the brain and how some Vine posts are taking advantage of it to capture millions of followers and become web sensations.

Additionally, he discusses how important it suddenly becomes once you do capture someone’s attention to have a “story” to tell to engage them.  There are valuable for marketers trying to stand out from the crowd and to engage prospects.  So, take a look.

Re-blogged from LinkIn:  How to Capture and Hold Anyone’s Attention.

Learn more about the “Orienting Response” on Wikipedia.  It’s something that could help you stand out from the crowd.

Template for Storytelling

Storytelling can be a powerful tool for institutionalizing best practices, communicating cultural values and even building a stronger brand image for your organization.  The American Society for Training & Development has  a simple “Storytelling Job Aid” to help companies capture stories.  I really enjoyed this blog including that storytelling template and hope you will find it useful.

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Storytelling is a compelling and effective way to engage employees. The attached template published by the American Society for Training & Development can help you identify, create and track your organization’s stories. Once you uncover and document key stories, you can use them to support your communication strategy.

Storytelling Job Aid

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Storytelling … the Lost Art of Engagement


When you talk about storytelling in business, you get some strange looks. Most people automatically think of fables, fantasy and fiction when you say storytelling. But storytelling is deeply rooted in the human experience not only as a way to entertain, but to communicate truths, lessons and experience from one person to another.

But what makes it important in today’s business? Simply this, storytelling is an intimate art form that engages groups of people with common concerns, interests and values.  Listening to stories is deeply embedded in the human psyche.  We’re not wired to remember obscure facts and details.  But we are wired to remember stories.

So, let me tell you a story…

My family is from eastern Kentucky deep within the Appalachian mountains. This is a very isolated area and most of the families there could trace their history back for generations. The mountains and valleys made it difficult to access and modern conveniences like electricity and running water were slow to arrive. Even when I was a child in the sixties, my grandparents home had no running water.

I spent a lot of time there when I was a kid, and one of my jobs was to draw water. That meant taking buckets to a small, cramped shed called the well house, lowering a long, skinny tube down a small hole in the ground and hauling the water back up to fill the buckets for the day’s drinking and cooking needs.  This was coal country. And while the well water was sparkling clean, it always shimmered with a golden hue from the sulphur it collected deep underground.  A color that stained the inside of the water pails and dippers and that I vividly remember even today.

With the exception of the bible, there were few books in each home.  The small local newspaper was a weekly and contained few stories from outside the county line.   But, there was a rich oral storytelling tradition and each evening people of all ages would gather on dimly lit porches to tell and listen to stories.

The stories ran the gamut from epic adventures of man vs. the wild to everyday tales of hardships and struggles . There were ghost stories that captured the imagination. Histories of feuding families and mountain romances to rival Romeo and Juliet. Tragedies of illness and the triumphs of overcoming handicaps. Cautionary tales of greed leading to arguments and violence between friends and family.  And the roar of laughter filled the darkness when the comic adventures of long dead loved ones were told again and again.

Over forty years have passed since I sat on those porches, yet I can still tell most of the stories exactly as I heard them.  While you might easily discount this as the fond memories of childhood, I believe those stories are memorable because they were always woven into a specific context and richly accented with details to create an unforgettable picture in my mind. Brands spend millions to create these images, yet these people created them with simple stories.

As B2B marketers, we should embrace storytelling.  

Today’s world of social media, websites and blog pages are really just online dimly lit porches beckoning to weary surfers.  Their visitors are actively hoping to learn more, find answers or feel some type of empathy and understanding. But far too often, they find mind-numbing lists of product features, contrived customer benefits, cryptic case studies and an endless string of the latest overused “buzz” words that may sound impressive but convey no meaningful message.

Try a quick test with me.

In my story, do you remember

  • The color of the water?
  • The book in every home?
  • The state my family is from?

These were all very small details, but important to help paint a picture and create a context.

A story creates paints a picture visitors remember.

Stories need context to convey a point and enough details to create texture and paint a picture for your audience. They don’t have to be long, but they do have to be relevant. It’s much easier to list out product features, advantages and benefits than to weave a story about your product.  But in our electronic age of storytelling, hearing your story is the first step in making a personal connection with your next prospect.

So, tell me your story.