<a href="https://plus.google.com/106716750746373284876/about" rel="author">+ Martin P. Smith</a> founded <a href="http://bbmgo.com"><strong>B</strong>uying<strong>B</strong>ehavior<strong>METRICS</strong> (<strong><em>bbmgo</em></strong>)</a> as a Lean Six Sigma based research and analysis firm committed to providing measurement driven customer solutions to business applications. His main area of focus is marketing factors that influence the Purchase Experience and drive buying behavior down to the Attendee/Consumer level. He is considered to be the thought leader and top subject matter expert regarding “<em>purchase experience and buying behavior</em>”. Mr. Smith attained the level of Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt Sensei and as such is an expert in analysis and experimentation in complex, chaotic environments such as events and retail venues. He has helped corporations develop disciplined marketing, sales, pricing and promotions processes in an effort to increase value, drive revenue higher and therefore maximize return on investment (ROI) by creating fantastic experiences for their Target Attendees and Consumers. These endeavors have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue generation and savings which have been meticulously documented, as well as the launch of hhgregg a major electronics retailer with over 200 locations nationwide. He has extensive experience increasing quality due to his view of venues as a “corporate factory” that moves Attendees/Consumer through their purchasing decisions. He has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology. He is the recipient of the 2006 ISBM Academic Practitioners award at the Kellogg Business School for work related to Bayesian and Markov Modeling in event venues. His latest books; <em>THE NEW EXHIBITOR, ORANGE BELT FOR EXHIBITORs and THE SHOW APPROACH,</em> as well as numerous video tutorials, webinars, podcasts, case studies, research papers and other accouterments are available for purchase at <strong><em><a href="http://bbmgo.com">bbmgo.com</a></em></strong>. 3256 Estates CT. S. Saint Joseph, MI 49085 | 269-313-0998

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Internal Customer Service

internal customer service

The other day I was on a business trip with four other people. They all work for the same company and we were visiting one of their suppliers. As we were traveling down the highway we passed one of the company manufacturing sites. Anxious to show me one of their factories they made a decision to stop in since we had an hour to kill before our appointment.

We walked into the building passing through a series of security check points and found ourselves in a lobby. Betty the receptionist signed us in and instructed us to wait for Anne the site Human Resources person. After twenty minutes Betty informed us that Anne could not find anyone to give us a tour and had asked us if we could come back another time. My colleagues reasoned that we could stop back at three o’clock after our supplier visit. The receptionist relayed the message and Anne replied with an affirmative.

At three o’clock we returned again full of enthusiasm. We again navigated the security checkpoints and landed in the lobby as before. We were given a pair of sleeves, a set of gloves, foot booties, hair nets and a pair of safety glasses which were required of people on the floor.

After donning this regalia we settled into the lobby to wait for Anne. After four or five minutes Anne emerged through an employee only door. She was a heavy set woman in her late fifties with bleach blonde hair wearing a nylon pantsuit. One of my colleagues noted that she was not dressed for the tour.

Anne wasted no time. She quickly proceeded to berate my traveling companions stating that it is most irregular for people to show up at a division unannounced and that she could not accommodate our request for a tour. Anne was direct, harsh and obviously offended at being inconvenienced.

My hosts replied that we were not unannounced as we had been instructed earlier that morning to return at three for the tour. Anne would have none of it and abruptly dismissed us with a sneer and an eye roll as she stomped off through the employee only door.

My now dejected friends and I removed our safety equipment, retrieved our coats and other personal belongings and exited. As we walked to the car they made several statements about this incident. Two of them struck me as relevant to the Purchase Experience.

The first was “I bet if I was the CEO and I showed up unannounced I would have been given a first rate tour”.

This is a common reference experience reaction. People who are involved in a purchase always have some other reference point that they use as a comparison mechanism. It isn’t always realistic but humans believe that someone else always gets treated better than they do. People believe that others get VIP privileges and this feeling is amplified when they have a negative experience. It is also amplified when there is a process or protocol that is “stringently” observed but frequently violated such as waiting in a cue line to enter a club. We have all seen or heard stories of waiting in line only to have celebrities escorted to the front and allowed access. Customers love to be treated like VIPs and know when others are using the system or protocol to enable them to provide poor service.

The second comment was “I will never work at that division!” This was a much more telling statement.

When a negative experience is delivered the results are catastrophic. Instead of being converted to loyal advocate people are imprinted with a strong negative bias towards the entity. This negative “experiential imprint” is forever etched into long-term memory and is extremely difficult to erase or overcome.

Although this incident involved “internal customers” the points are still applicable as treatment of internal customers is typically projected to outside customers as well. It reveals the soul of the company and reflects deeper cultural issues (interestingly enough this division has the second highest difficulty rate in acquiring talent of the twenty two company locations). In this day and age of viral internet media, word of a negative experience like this travels like wildfire with disastrous results.

At the end of the day the lesson here is pretty straight forward. Always provide first rate customer service to EVERYONE!

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What makes a sign GREAT!


Our research shows that 44% of the people on the floor have become aware of a new business because of signage. One of the keys to effective signing is that Attendees walking down a given aisle only have a 20 degree cone of visibility. This means that signage that is parallel to the aisle is 50% less likely to be visible to Attendees as they pass-by the booth. Good signage is placed at an angle to the aisle so that it has a higher propensity of being seen by Attendees as they walk the floor.

Based on the average 3 mph speed which Attendees move at, signage using 3 to 6 inch block letters and three to five words in length, have proven to be the best in visual impressions of 10 to 20 seconds. Signage with accent color schemes to call out special information has proven to be 78% more effective in promoting reader retention than signage that does not utilize accent color schemes. The best color schemes to use are black letters on a yellow background, black letters on a white background, yellow letters on a black background or white letters on a blue background.

To watch a short video about signage click the play button.

The book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice spells out four basics of effective graphic design:

  • CONTRAST: If the elements (type, color, size, line thicknesses, shape, space, etc.) are not the same, then make them verdifferent.
  • REPETITION: Repeating visual elements helps develop the organization and strengthen the sense of unity.
  • ALIGNMENT: Nothing should be placed on the sign arbitrarily. Every element should have some visual connection with another element on the sign.
  • PROXIMITY: Items relating to each other should be grouped close together.

There are four fundamental purposes of signage:

  1. Directional or Way Finding.
  2. Information/Education Delivery.
  3. Promotional Action.
  4. Recognition/Reward.

First: Directional or Way Finding

This is the most familiar type of signage as it is commonly used for way finding or to provide logistical information. As a person drives down the road looking for the airport a sign with a picture of an airplane and an arrow is a welcomed sight. When it comes to directional signage, the old adage “less is more” is true. Here, symbols can be used as a mechanism for thought, and this important reality applies for all signage purposes.

Through symbols, such as images, icons, or wordmarks, people are also able to create meaning and form valuable experiences.

In addition, the ability to use symbols allows people to store information in memory that can be used to drive behavior.

(Directional signage should be simple.)

Research indicates that much of thinking is linguistically based, and that there is a correlation between cognitive development and language acquisition. The most effective directional signs for all cultures, classes, races, religions and all humanity across all boundaries use symbols such as an icon or picture, (e.g. an arrow). Typically the more Exhibitors use standardized symbols instead of words the better off they are, it is that simple.


   Airport               No Left             Turn Toilet

Second: Information/Education Delivery

(This depth of information is necessary for credibility in specific venues.)

This is the biggest signage category as it encompasses most of the internal value streams, and it is an extremely effective mechanism in the awareness building phase. Any and all data, specifications, uses of a product, how to use information, where to get it, what the prices are and related education elements are part of awareness building. These value streams are, again, most efficient when done with as little text as possible. At a minimum, 30% of the sign space should be blank in order to provide enough open “white space.” If the signage is all the same and/or has too much text without white space it can become difficult to read. Signage with too much print can often result in a “blur affect” which occurs when there is so much text without white space that the signage becomes difficult, even impossible to read.

Adding more space makes the signage easier to read and consequently allows the Attendee to receive your message.

(What is this sign saying? It was supposed to mean “no strollers allowed”.)

The goal of this type of signage is to quickly convey some information or educational content to Attendees.

If the content projected is coded (into symbols) they can then be used as a motivator for future action. It is important to develop intrinsic signage as a mechanism to overcome objections. For example, if people object to buying a product because they have never heard of it, then the signage should say” four out of five dentists choose Crest”, if it is a new product try “introducing our new extruder max available at your local hardware store” or “widget service launched in May 2010”. If they don’t buy because they think a company doesn’t have good distribution, a sign showing global channels of distribution by locations with connecting lines would really help Attendees to see that an Exhibitor could readily serve their global needs. Often, these signs are not directional in nature. For example, a “no smoking” sign informs people that they cannot smoke in this area, but it does not direct them to areas where smoking is acceptable.

Third: Promotional Action

Promotional signage is used to generate a defined call to action regarding an event, activity, product or service offering which makes it ideal for the preference phase. Unlike an intrinsic sign, the call to action is by nature, directly or implicitly, participation or conversion oriented. Examples of this type of signage might be something that says “try our new drill press today,” “attend the president’s banquet,” “sign up for next year’s event today,” “take advantage of our show special”. This form of signage is designed to create an emotion in order to drive a physical response or call to action. For example this next sign is attempting to draw dentists into practicing in the Northwestern United States by connecting to their emotional appreciation for the wilderness and outdoor lifestyle just minutes from the city.

(Notice the strong call to “come practice”.)

Fourth: Recognition / Reward

This type of signage is used to identify the contributions of a person and/or entity which make it an ideal mechanism for subgroup building. Often it involves some sort of “thank you” message for the time, treasures or talents of the person or entity being recognized. They can also be lists of Customers (using branded icons) who currently use the products thanking them for their commitment to the company. This can be helpful in creating bonds between the members and building a sense of community. It can also recognize the “local heroes”. Local heroes are necessary for the growth and nurturing of a community because it gives Attendees someone to look up to and aspire to be like. These are the kindred spirits who ventured out into the frontier and mapped the way for others. These are the people who fought the fight and paved the way or who rose from nothing to become the leaders today. These are also the people who give back to the subculture.


(This signage promotes the global community of the event)

Often these four types are used in combinations; for example, a sign may have directional information that guides an Attendee to an educational session while simultaneously recognizing the company that sponsored the educational session.

Or a sign may have a recognition piece such as a brief statement about someone donating a large sum of money to research which will be performed by a drug company who also uses the sign to show a promotional piece about the cutting edge new research they are performing. Or it might combine information about some innovative humanitarian efforts with recognition of the supporters like th water for children sign on the next page (who wouldn’t want their name on this support list?).


(Recognition creates a desire to belong.)


(Who wouldn’t want to support unifying causes like this?)

Some shows like the True Value Hardware Show and the American Association of Criticalcare Nurses use signs that recognize Attendees by highlighting their success stories from the show along with directional information to the booth that helped them. They have a picture of a store owner with information telling how he saved 20% on his paint by implementing a system he saw in booth number 1105 at the show. This recognizes the Attendees and injects soulful social capital. It also promotes the show by providing clear examples of the benefits of actively attending.

(Recognition creates local heroes. Nice job!)

Good signage motivates a response. It moves people to perform specific predetermined “call to action” behaviors. However, never ask a sign to do too much. The more things you try to do with a sign the more difficult it is for the Attendee to receive the essential message. It also makes it difficult for Attendees to execute the appropriate response. For more examples of good and bad signage please visit our website.


(A strong call to action.)

With that in mind, take a look at the booth signage and ask yourself what the signage is accomplishing. Ask if it is brief and to the point where necessary. Make sure the message and the branding match. Identify how to use symbols like pictures and icons optimally. See if you can cut the text down and keep it all consistent. Signage and displays should be self-serve and should express the soul of the company clearly in harmony with your Target Attendee. At the awareness building phase signage messaging should provide the intrinsic value stream of information to Target Attendees in order to help achieve goals and objectives. If a company is brand new the signage should clearly tell who they are and what they do in order to establish the brand. If creating awareness about a merger provide a list of the five benefits of the merger. Include pictures of all the products that can now be purchased together.


(Textures show the range of offering.)

A booth space with the correctly focused signage and graphics can create a great lasting first impression.


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How do you know when your Customers are lying?


If people tell a lie every three minutes, how do you know if your Customers are lying or telling the truth?

Last month I was walking the floor of the California Dental Association event in Anaheim with Genna, a salesperson for a dental supply company. While walking we came across one of her Customers named Alyssa, who was coming out of a competitors’ booth. It was a bit awkward at first but we settled into some introductions and the tension eased. As we were speaking Genna asked her if she was going to come by for a demonstration of their new floss product. Alyssa stated that she was planning to and that she also wanted to take advantage of their show special. After they made arrangements, we parted ways and I asked Genna what she thought of the interaction. More specifically I asked her if she thought Alyssa was telling the truth.

“I think she was truthful.” Genna stated. The reality is Alyssa wasn’t telling the truth but Genna missed the signals. Alyssa never showed up and in fact, took her business to Genna’s competitor. This interaction made me realize that although most of us feel we are good at identifying lies our Customers tell, very few of people can really separate the lies from the truth. With this sentiment in mind here are some things to think about and some signals to look for when interacting with Customers.

  1. Early and Often.
    Research shows that on average a person will tell three lies in a ten minute conversation. The good news about this is fact is that your Customers will give you plenty of opportunities to read them and separate the truth from the lies if you watch for the signs. Keep in mind that most people actually believe what they are saying and think that their lies are believable. This means that you should be able to pick up their queues if you are paying attention.
  2. Stronger, more direct eye contact.
    The myth is that liars tend to look away when telling a lie. But the reality is that they only try to look away if they are ashamed or embarrassed and want to get away (this is known as a flight mechanism). Most of the time the person telling the lie will try to read if their lie is believed which requires stronger eye contact than usual. If the person you are with is making intense eye contact it might be a sign that they are stretching the truth and sizing you up.
  3. Listen for “affirmative deflection statements”.
    People tend to mask lies by using affirmative deflection phrases like “believe me” or “to be totally honest”. These phrases are often a tip-off that the statement being made is not completely true.
  4. Rigid upper body language.
    The tribal belief is that liars are fidgety and/or nervous. The truth is that liars tend to stiffen up during their bantering. This is driven by their need to focus on the victim and restrict their energy in preparation for a flight maneuver should the lie be detected. Compulsive liars use their energy to control their emotions and read the queues exhibited by those around them which requires intense concentration and focus.
  5. Distance from the situation.
    During our conversation Alyssa stated that she wasn’t sure what decisions were going on back at corporate. Liars often try to distance themselves from the situation and make it seem like they are completely uninvolved. They want the victim to believe that it has nothing to do with them. The most famous example of this is the Bill Clinton “I did not have sexual relations with THAT woman”. He was attempting to distance himself from her as if he didn’t even know who she was.
  6. Contractions don’t exist.
    Liars tend to use more formal language when telling stories or denying what they have done. If you are speaking with a Customer and they stop using contractions and enunciate more directly they are more than likely spinning a yarn. Again, “I did not have”, notice it wasn’t – I didn’t have.lying-cust-2
  7. Micro-flashes leak out.
    Micro-flashes are signals that people give which escape their control mechanisms in short bursts. For example; at one point during our conversation Alyssa said she was looking at Genna’s competitors but had NO interest in going with them. She specifically stated “I am not going to change over to those guys”. As she said this her head bobbed up and down instead of side to side. Micro-flashes escape because the body seeks to release the energy it takes to control emotions while telling lies.
  8. Inappropriate gestures.
    Oddly enough, when people lie they have a tendency to smile at the end of the lie (micro-flash). Law enforcement people are trained to look for this signal. Criminals will often smile when they finish telling elaborate, even horrific stories. After expending the energy to control their emotions their body needs a release and this inappropriate queue leaks out.
  9. No depth under cross examination.
    Compulsive liars have larger white brain matter which allows them to control emotions and micro-flashes better. They also make faster connections and read others more efficiently. Unfortunately, they also have less grey matter and consequently their lies are often flimsy and poorly thought out. These house of cards lies often fall apart under only a small amount of scrutiny. Asking questions (typically three to five consecutive, reworded questions), will often unravel the lie.

The main point here is that it is important to recognize the truth and the lie when dealing with Customers. If Genna had identified the lies she might have been able to dig into the objections Alyssa had to buying from her organization and overcome them. To read the signals better it is important to realize that people don’t bend the truth or fib because they are malicious, awful people with evil intent. In fact to the contrary, they often have good intentions. For example, I am sure that Alyssa lied because she didn’t want to hurt Genna’s feelings and felt she was being nice by stretching the truth. Therefore, it’s critical that we read the signs, control our emotions, provide our Customers with a way out of the lie and never, ever take it personally.

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