The Family Tree

By Ron Rosenberg

family treeWe tend to think of marketing as an overt activity: writing a sales letter, sending a post card, or running an ad.

But sometimes, the real marketing happens at the time of delivery, when the actual product or service is being utilized.

It’s the fulfillment of a promise. The quick and decisive resolution of a problem. Expectations that are not only met, but exceeded to the point of complete and total awe.

And the real beauty of this is that the results of this kind of “soft marketing” can be significantly more powerful than the more explicit kinds.

You never really know how the customer is going to react to an overwhelmingly positive experience that is completely unexpected. And when customers react favorably, it can take you down a very profitable path.

As an example, let’s look at the “speaking” part of my business - where I’m brought in as the expert to speak to large groups of people at conventions, conferences, and sales meetings.

As many of you know, that part of our business is almost 100 percent repeat and referral: clients who have booked me to speak do so again, and people attending a session book me to present to their own organizations.

Because I have an undergraduate degree in computer science, I’ve set up several databases to help us run the business. One of these databases tracks all the details of our programs: dates, travel arrangements, room setup, etc. It also has a section that records the source of each program, identifying the original event that generated the lead for the current one.

With this, I’m able to generate a “family tree” where I can see the “parent,” “grandparent,” and “great-grandparent” for each program.

In fact, if I wanted to (and had nothing better to do with my time) I could probably trace each of the thousands of programs I’ve presented back to a single source, much like the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that can trace an epidemic back to a single “Patient Zero” where an epidemic started.

And this can be a very illustrative exercise to do. In fact, let’s take a look at one example.

Several years ago, I spoke for the Association for Quality and Participation (AQP), an association focusing primarily on teamwork in the workplace, and that later merged with the much larger American Society for Quality (ASQ).

I was invited back to speak each of the next two years. Ignoring the “spin-off” business I got from the initial programs, let’s take a look at what happened at the most recent of these events. I’ll include a “running total” of the number of spin-off programs generated from this one event as I go on.

There was a woman in the audience named Sujuan Boutte who was, at the time, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the State of Louisiana. She called me several months after the event to ask me if I could do a two-day program on implementing change for her senior staff. I did two programs for her in November of that year.

The total number of programs: 2 During one program, the Secretary of Labor stopped in to “make an appearance.” He liked what he saw and ended up staying the rest of the afternoon. When the program was over, he pulled me aside with Sujuan and asked if I did any work in customer service. That led to another full day of training later that month with the group.

The total number of programs: 3 After that, they liked that program so much, they asked me if I could roll it out to the entire Department of Labor. No problem. Starting in May of the following year, I delivered eight full-day training programs in seven locations throughout the state of Louisiana.

The total number of programs: 11 At one of the programs was a woman who administered the state’s Incumbent Worker Training Program. This program is designed to increase employee productivity and company growth, resulting in the creation of new jobs, the retention of jobs that otherwise may have been eliminated, and an increase in wages for the trained workers.

Through a grant from the state, we delivered a series of full-day programs for a local, family-owned group of Ace Hardware stores - 24 programs, to be exact.

The total number of programs: 35 As it turns out, one of the brothers who run this hardware business sat on the corporate board of Ace Hardware. I was speaking with him one day in his office and he mentioned that I really should do some programs for Ace at their big Spring and Fall buying shows, attended by virtually all of the Ace dealers from around the world.

A simple phone call from him to the training director at Ace opened the door, and I've presented a total of 13 programs for them so far.

The total number of programs: 46 That’s a total of 46 programs from a single event. If you’re a client of mine, and you’re familiar with my speaking fee, you can multiply that by 46 to get the total. If you’re not, then pick a number and do the math to see the potential long-term benefit of a single program.

Now, I have to stop for a second here because I realize that this all may come across as boasting or bragging. And if it does, I apologize. Because my intent in this whole exercise is to illustrate two important concepts:

  1. You have to look at the big picture. I could easily have turned down this event because it didn’t really fit with the direction that we were taking the business at the time.
  2. You have to deliver your best all the time because you can’t always know about the impact a single customer or member is going to have. I had no idea that the Assistant Secretary of Labor was in my audience; I had no idea that she would call to book some programs, and I certainly couldn’t have imagined the long-term benefits that relationship would deliver.

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