Marketing and Compelling StoryTelling

All of us construct narratives about ourselves – where we come from, what we do, where we are going. The kinds of stories we tell make a big difference to how confident we are marketing ourselves and our products or services.

Classic powerful stories from Antigone to Casablanca to Star Wars to Harry Potter have been analysed and found to contain the same basic five elements, as follows:

  1. A protagonist the listener cares about. We must be able to relate to the situation or struggles of a particular person or group.
  1. A catalyst compelling the protagonist to take action. An event takes place and something important is at stake. Typically, the first act of a play or section of a novel is devoted to establishing this fact. It’s up to the protagonist to put things right again.
  1. Trials and tribulations. The story’s second act commences as obstacles, produce frustration, conflict and drama, and often lead the protagonist to change in an essential way. As in The Odyssey, the trials reveal, test, and shape the protagonist’s character. Time is spent wandering metaphorically in the wilderness, far from home.
  1. A turning point. This represents a point of no return, which closes the second act. The protagonist can no longer see or do things the same way as before.
  1. A resolution. This is the third act, in which the protagonist either succeeds magnificently or fails tragically.

This is the classic beginning-middle-end story structure defined by Aristotle more than 2,300 years ago and used by countless others since. It seems to reflect how the human mind wants to organise reality.

Do you have a coherent and compelling story about yourself? What about your firm – what’s that story?

Source: Herminia Ibarra & Kent Lineback in HBR Jan 2005

See also:


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The World Needs Better Facilitation for Online Group Meetings

The Zoom or Team calls don’t have to be so unengaging, rambling and ineffective. You just need a good facilitator. And what specifically would such a person bring? Here are some benefits.

  1. Someone to take a little time out to connect personally with everyone on the call. OK, this might not be possible with 300 people but there might be a couple of people in a large group to draw attention to, for example, birthdays or someone who is back having been sick. A good facilitator thinks a bit more about people and ways of engaging with them.
  2. They would stipulate upfront the purpose of the virtual gathering, the agenda and timing and get buy-in to that. It’s hard to stay focused when you’re not sure what’s going on.
  3. A facilitator is not a dictator! They might make a proposal. They might suggest. They might consult. It depends on the group. It might be appropriate to ask, ‘Does anyone have anything to add to the agenda?’ or just ‘Is everyone OK with that?’.
  4. A good facilitator will have considered suitable processes for conducting the agenda items. Depending on whether they want a discussion, a decision or some creative ideas, there are appropriate processes for each. And there are some great ones out there. Have you tried Thinking Rounds? This is a perfect process if you want to avoid the senior people or extraverts dominating the discussion.
  5. They will be good listeners – probing interesting comments to find out what’s below the waterline and not being said explicitly.
  6. Facilitators find ways to build consensus – again, using appropriate processes such as agreeing a list of suitable criteria and carrying out an assessment of risks and rewards.
  7. They will ensure clarity on next steps. Who is to do what, by when? This will be essential for following up at the next meeting. And the team members can get a clear sense of progress being made. Thereby minimising the risk of such meetings being perceived as a waste of time!

And another point…the facilitator doesn’t have to be the boss. Just someone good at it!

Further tips on having effective meetings at:

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Pricing and Fee Negotiating – Training Product Using VC

I’m a great fan of using technology to drive efficiencies and improve performance and have pioneered the use of video conferencing –  not just to provide information – but to change mindsets and develop skills.

My latest product is a 1.5 hr session on pricing and fee negotiating.

Here are the main themes:

  1. The importance of selling value – ultimately, what you charge is determined by several factors, but an important one is the perceived benefit in the mind of the client (both organisationally and personally by the contracting client) of using a top notch firm such as yours rather than a discount firm.
  2. The pros/cons of different pricing options – what’s good for you and what’s good for clients – how to steer successfully between these options to achieve a win-win.
  3. Pricing the three different levels of professional firm services – Expertise (‘You Bet Your Farm’), Experience, Efficiency (for high volume and low margin work)
  4. The Cobb Curve – what happens to margins on professional services over time as products become commoditised
  5. The four-stage negotiation process – most firms just use one stage – I advocate adding three further stages which benefit the firm and avoid misunderstandings
  6. How to respond to clients saying ‘that’s too expensive’
  7. How to renegotiate the fee if the scope or goalposts move
  8. Estimating the fee in the first place – how to minimise the risk of under quoting, using bottom up and top down processes
  9. The psychology of pricing – using techniques such as anchoring, the use of ranges of services, the importance of helping clients minimise risk, the appropriate use of language
  10. Margin improvement – to address the challenge of delivering matters on fixed fees with potential undercutting competitors

I get really good feedback from these programmes! A small investment could make you a lot of money!

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Checklist for Coaches – First Meeting with Client

That first coaching meeting is so important. So many things to cover and it can be really important to have a proper, well-founded set up. Here’s my checklist:

  1. What are their expectations
  • Previous experience of coaching
  • What are you expecting, hoping for from coaching?
  1. Explain and reassure on confidentiality
  1. How the coaching process works
  • It’s their agenda
  • Raising awareness
  • Keeping responsibility with them
  1. Their role:
  • To be open to change, learning and growth
  • To be willing to try new things, different ways of working
  • To be honest – with themselves and with the coach
  1. Coach’s role:
  • To provide a safe place to discuss any topic without judging
  • To support and challenge, probe and clarify
  • To provide feedback (if wanted)
  • To be direct and honest
  • To encourage action
  • To promote learning and growth
  1. What coach will not be doing
  • Counselling, therapy
  • Life coaching
  • Providing all the answers / solving all their problems for them
  1. Areas of primary focus
  • What’s got them this far – background, choices, etc?
  • What’s important to them – values?
  • How would they like things to be different?
  • What do they specifically want to work on?
  1. What will success look like in practice? (measures & timeframes)
  1. What might get in the way?
  • Handling inner doubts
  • Dealing with failure
  • Realism about time frames
  1. Finalise logistical arrangements
  • Format  (face-to-face, phone, VC)
  • Place
  • Frequency
  • Policy on cancellations, timeliness

Have I missed anything?




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Economists are Wrong! Clients Buy Based on Emotions

Source: The Economist

The conventional belief of economists (and all other scientific, logical disciplines such as finance and the law) is that people are logical. What nonsense!

Homo sapiens is a highly complex creature that is difficult to comprehend. But we buy based on emotions and post-rationalise based on facts.

If you can remember the last time you bought an apartment or house, you’ll know what I mean. Maybe you had a good impression from the outside. Maybe deep-down it reminded you of somewhere else. But it made you feel good. We usually can’t put our finger on why.

However you can’t spend all that money based on feelings, so you check the details: the train service, the local schools, the nearest park and convenience stores. You want the apartment but only offer to buy when you can justify the purchase rationally.

So when trying to persuade clients to use your services ask yourself: What’s the client’s emotional hot button here?

Sometimes it will be to look good to their boss, perhaps because you frequently update them on issues and progress. Sometimes it will be sleeping better at night or to have less hassle in their life. There’ll always be something.

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chair at Ogilvy UK, speaks eloquently and says that those involved in business development need to avoid having the rational, economist mindset. You will do well to avoid being overly logical. Often doing the opposite of what your competitors are doing will work well for you.


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Why Professionals Just Focus on Earning Fees…

…And don’t do all the other good things they should.

What sort of things am I talking about? It’s the non-billable stuff, such as business development, managing key accounts, generating knowhow and sharing it with colleagues, introducing clients to colleagues in other teams, investing time in mentoring juniors etc.

I know this situation frustrates the management of many firms. But the typical approach adopted, which is to give them a speech and put them on a training programme, doesn’t work – mainly because insufficient focus is put on understanding why each individual isn’t doing it.

And there are lots of potential reasons according to David Maister, such as:

  1. They don’t really understand the action’s importance.
  2. They see the action’s importance to the firm, but don’t see what’s in it for them personally.
  3. They don’t know how to do the action or some aspect of the action.
  4. They know what to do but is just not very skilled at it.
  5. They don’t want to do it. They’d rather stick to their technical discipline.
  6. They have lost their enthusiasm for innovation and are in an “I’ll just do my job” place.
  7. They haven’t been given the support or tools to do the action.
  8. They think the firm (in spite of its exhortations) really wants them to be focusing on earning fees and not to engage in non-reimbursable activities.
  9. The action is viewed as discretionary (ie they think that participation is optional).
  10. They view the activity as a long-term investment, and they would rather work on things that provide more immediate gratification.
  11. They feel more accountability and pressure for other things. They intend to do or would like to do the action, but they feel that they don’t have the time to do it.
  12. They feel that the action is not really valued by their peers. The corporate culture doesn’t reinforce the action.
  13. They view the action as a personal choice and is not thinking of team-level impacts (or approaches).
  14. They perceive the reward for the activity, but think it will only be given for high levels of performance — so why should a beginner even try?

Perhaps most important of all: When they don’t do it, management doesn’t react (except perhaps once a year at performance evaluation time). Since there are no short-term consequences for noncompliance, why bother when there is so much else to do?

Getting an individual to change and participate requires a more sophisticated approach and an ability to engage in a non-threatening conversation to uncover the true reasons for non-participation.

Once an action plan is agreed, support needs to be offered and the conversation needs following up.

All of which takes time. But the rewards should be great.


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Bad Meetings. Bad Decisions.

Hope you don’t get involved in a meeting as bad as this one…

It’s October 1940 when Benito Mussolini met with his generals to discuss the arrangements for invading Greece. He asked what might seem like an important question: Are we sure of victory?

Absolutely the generals replied, knowing that no other answer was acceptable.

After 90 minutes Il Duce closed the meeting saying: It seems to me that we have examined all aspects of the problem.

In truth of course no vital answers had been given. No important questions had even been asked!

A week later Italy invaded Greece and the country was humiliated.

It turns out that Italy didn’t even have enough industrial capacity to supply their troops with the equipment they needed.

But nobody asked that question!

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Solutions-Based Coaching using OSKAR

Originating from the Solutions Focused Approach, the OSKAR coaching model is a powerful framework to help your coaching sessions focus on solutions rather than problems. Here is a brief description of the different stages which I have adapted from the very readable The Solutions Focus by Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow.

So, OSKAR is an acronym:

O – Outcome

S – Scaling

K – Knowhow

A – Affirm & Action

R – Review


At this initial stage of the OSKAR coaching model you are establishing a ‘platform’ from which to coach. Here you are confirming that your coachee is really committed to change.

You are also clarifying:

  • what your coachee wants to achieve in the long, medium and short term
  • what they want to achieve from the session itself and how they will know it has been useful to them
  • the ‘future perfect’ -in other words the perfect scenario they desire. It helps to encourage them to visualise this outcome in a lot of detail.


The next step is to  establish where they are already in relation to this desired outcome, using a 10 point scale, such as:

e.g. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 1 represents x and 10 represents y, where are you in relation to this goal.

Know How

You can now build on this foundation by establishing what positives have given them that rating – what skills, knowledge and attributes do they currently possess which give them say a 4 or 5 rather than a 0. This stage is all about uncovering their strengths – their knowledge, skills and attributes and building up their awareness of these and developing confidence. The sort of questions you might be asking at this stage are:

  • What skills, knowledge, attributes do you currently have that will help you?
  • When have you done this or something similar before?
  • What would others say is working for you?

This stage really is about ‘digging for gold’ and plenty of time should be taken to establish the resources they have available to them.

Affirm and Action

Affirming – At this stage of the conversation it is helpful for the coach to provide positive reinforcement of what you have heard…reflecting back positive comments about some of the keys strengths and attributes your coachee has revealed, such as:

  • I am impressed with the knowledge you have in this area
  • It’s evident, from what you have just said, that this approach is working for you

Action – Now the coach needs to help the coachee determine what small steps they will now take.


This final stage of the OSKAR coaching model is to review progress against actions. It is therefore most likely to take place at the beginning of the next coaching session. The emphasis is on reviewing the positives. Questions that may assist include:

  • What is now working better for you?
  • What did you do that made change successful?
  • What do you think will change next?

This is a relatively easy model to use and I can recommend it, particularly when the person you are coaching is stuck with their problem. Maybe they just need to be helped into a space where they are focused more on solutions.

Let me know how you get on.

For another coaching model, see:

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There are Three Distinct Types of Firm


There are three predominant reasons for partners to go into business together, according to Professor Stephen Mayson (see

None is inherently better than the others and each should have their appropriate supporting cultures which affect investment and approach to management and strategy. Each one can be successful.

The three reasons for being in partnership together are:

  1. For Convenience
  2. For Complementing
  3. For Combining

I describe these cultures below.


  • Partners simply share the overheads. The mathematical way of expressing this culture is 1 + 1 = 1.
  • Each partner has “my clients”.
  • Administration can be kept simple with little need for sophisticated ‘back office’ teams or expensive IT systems.
  • Strategic thinking is left to individuals or not done at all. Little time is spent on a firm strategy. There might not even be practice groups.


  • Partners join to offer a range of services to clients. So, here 1 + 1 = 2.
  • Partners see clients as “my client’s and my team’s”.
  • Some administration and management are required to support this infrastructure.
  • More thinking is needed on strategy, particularly at practice group level.


  • Partners join to help build an integrated range of services and approach to service delivery. Here, teams combine so that 2 + 2 = 5.
  • Partners talk about “the firm’s clients” and act as custodians for the long-term future success of the firm (ie leave it in better shape).
  • These firms need to invest in good IT, such as CRM systems, and need more management and leadership to create the shared vision and make things happen.
  • A clear strategy is vital to ensure everyone knows where the ship is sailing. And that the ship gets there, avoiding rocks and icebergs!

Key Lessons

You might read this and think the Combining firm, with its 2+ 2 = 5 approach, will do best. This is not necessarily so. Such firms – and there aren’t many – are making bigger investments. They have significantly bigger overhead costs and the leadership challenge of herding their cats to truly combine. Not easy to achieve, because deep down, many practitioners prefer to be sole traders!

The important thing is to be clear what kind of firm you are. For example, if you’re a Convenience firm, avoid investing heavily in management and sophisticated IT systems. You are unlikely to get the payback. If you are a Combining firm, it will be essential to invest in having effective leadership.

What type of firm is yours?





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