#249 – Human Connection With Bryan Rutberg

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the episode today, we have Bryan Rutberg. Bryan, welcome. Good day, I’m very glad to be here. Thanks for having me on. I’m very glad to have you, would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do. Yeah, I’d be delighted to. What turns me on is helping people connect with each other. I come from a place of deeply wanting to find some harmony in a somewhat confused world and that’s kind of a hippie side of me, at least conventionally as it might be described.

But there’s also this lifelong learner and an MBA inside of me and with that I respect capitalism and the profit motive, and I’ve managed to bring across a 20 year corporate career and then the last decade and a little bit in some independent work doing consulting and training and things like that. These two things together, helping build strong relationships in the world, but doing it in the world of customers and employees and in a more corporate setting. The 20 year corporate career I had was with global organizations, some of the world’s biggest and best known companies and everything I did and all the skills that my, that were rewarded in me had to do with being a clear communicator and being able to build relationships and for a guy with a literature major from university as opposed to anything around technology to find myself able to succeed in the technology world, because I could get people talking to one another and understanding one another and actually caring how the other one felt across boundaries. That’s that’s me in a nutshell.

I grew up in southern California. I moved to the east coast of the U. S. for university. Managed to find my way through some job changes back to the west coast of the U. S. Was in Silicon Valley for a while and now I’m in beautiful Seattle. And the last thing I’ll add, have a fantastic wife of now, almost 29 years and a couple of kids and we’re currently without a dog, but we’re going to remedy that shortly. Because you haven’t got enough responsibility, right? You know, and here’s that duality, right? A dog certainly is responsibility. They need to get walked a few times a day. You need to remember to feed them. You need to be home by a certain hour. You can’t stay out until one or two in the morning. Not that that’s really a priority for me anymore, but what they give in return, the reward for accepting that responsibility.

We shared our home with a dog or dogs for most of the 29 years of that marriage. We got a dog about two weeks after we got back from our honeymoon in 1993. And since January, it’s the first time in all those years, we haven’t had a dog in the house and it’s just not the same. So yes, responsibility, but the reward more than outweighs. When you come in the door, there’s like a cheerleader there. How nice is that, and even just walking up the front steps of our home to put the key in the lock of the front door these days, there’s just this sense of deflation. Oh, there’s not gonna be that smiling little face on the other side. Normally I say, of all the things I could ask you about, what’s your passion? But I didn’t know I was going to start with the new pet, so that’s a first for me to ask you about. But secondly, what would you say your passion is when you’re discussing these conversations on podcasts?

Yeah, the opportunity to bring more understanding into the world, to build stronger relationships. It’s something that, it’s a line that runs through my personal life, my religious or spiritual life and for sure, my business life and the things that I do, whether it’s helping create a customer loyalty program with a client or generating a new onboarding experience for one of my, for the customers of one of my clients or teaching a class on how to use audience focused and benefit led language in order to put yourself into your customer’s shoes and think about how they’re going to react to what you have to say so that you can serve their needs better and thereby accomplish your objectives. That passion for using the way we communicate to build relationships.

It doesn’t have to be fenced into a discussion about business. It just happens to be that, well that’s where you get to put together the profit motive and this other strong human desire for love. But love and profit, two of the strongest forces known to humankind. Lots of people would think they can’t coexist or a first glance would say, yeah, yeah, those two things just won’t mix well enough. You have to be, you’ve got to put them in their separate corners. My passion is bringing them together. I tell people if you love your customer, if you really love your customer, you are going to accomplish goals for both of you, and there’s so much more than a win-lose proposition out there. So much more than a zero-sum game. My passion comes from helping people realize that if they bring their heart into what they do and they bring their heart to the people they’re serving, everybody wins.

Well, thank you for that. And I do think it’s a topic well worth covering, but to start off with, why do you think is necessary for us to sort of offer yourself to remind people that it needs to be done, because it definitely does need to be done. But why is that a problem to begin with, would you say? I think it’s a problem Thomas, because many of us do tend to bifurcate our brains. I mean it’s not that there’s lots of unsympathetic in it, only for themselves,  people out there. It’s that when we get into a commercial environment and we start to feel the stress of the responsibilities upon us and the need to drive to get that sale. Drive to make that profit. Drive to keep it economical. It’s very easy to switch the brain to operate with maximum efficiency mode.

And I think it’s a falsehood that maximum efficiency means forgetting about the relationship that needs to be part of the equation. And yet that’s often what happens. We get single minded or focused on our employer, our personal objectives. And it becomes a question of how do I manipulate the situation to serve me best when the answer is right there in front of us, serve the other party and your results will end up speaking for themselves. But it’s entirely too easy to get caught in a loop of immediate gratification rather than building something that’s going to last in the long term. And yet the last of three items in an equation. Let’s go back to math and hard figures. The last of the items in equation to figure out customer lifetime value is how long do you maintain the relationship?

If you’re my customer, I might get you to pay more in a given transaction, I might Upsell you cross sell you, I might entice you to want to transact with me more frequently. But to me the biggest swing factor in helping an organization increased customer lifetime value, how much it recognizes from each customer relationship is by extending the period of time that that customer spends with you. Because if no matter how much more you spend on a given transaction nor how many transactions you might do with me and say a year if I can keep you as a customer for five years or 10 years or 50 years, that’s a heck of a lot better than maximizing every transaction. But knowing that at some point I’m going to fail to serve you and you’re going to take your business elsewhere somewhat counter intuitive. Um and you know, 100% agree with everything you’re saying. I wonder what your thoughts are on the number of people who are should we say in the category of out for me going to do what’s best for me versus I’m going to do what’s best for you as a result of And the result is that then I will I will succeed as a result of that.

Have you got any thoughts about, you know, how big are those categories? I think all of us have a tendency that can go in either direction and it’s a question of remaining mindful and calling back on your, let’s call it better nature or more inclusive nature at a time when you’re under pressure to do the opposite. I don’t think there’s really any bad people. I think there’s some bad people out there. I think the vast majority of people that we encounter don’t fit into that category. I think there’s people who don’t come to every engagement with their full mind, with their full mindfulness and their better angels speaking to them mostly because they haven’t stopped to think long enough, they haven’t applied a process to their approach to their thinking to their language.

So if we said how many people were in each category, we’d get a moment in time. But I think everybody has the capacity to step back, think about their audience and then think about where they want to take that audience and how and plan to come to a conversation or a transaction or an engagement from a place of giving rather than a place of getting. Is there anything from your perspective that you’ve done to help stay on the right side of That? This is why I have a business, you know? This is yeah. The the great privilege I had late in my 20 year corporate career was getting to watch a bunch of things that I had done somewhat innately come together and reach their zenith and the two last corporate jobs that I had. I had the privilege of leading Microsoft’s executive briefing center and the program within it for a couple of years.

And the express purpose of this organization inside of Microsoft. The executive engagement function. Specifically the executive briefing center that was under my oversight was to build relationships and the skills that went into that and the that word again, mindfulness that I was able to ask our sales representatives who were going to bring customers from all around the world in to visit with us at Microsoft headquarters. The frame of mind, I wanted our product specialists and other speakers who would come through to present to top execs from top customers and partners. It was a daily reminder for me that when we’re looking explicitly when the job of the organization is to build relationships. You do think differently. What I like to encourage with the teaching that I do today and the way I help companies set up their cultures or their customer facing programs is to bring that mindfulness.

That was part of our day to day existence at Microsoft’s executive briefing center into every transaction every engagement every day. The other job that I had after I left the briefing center was I was the speech writer for the Microsoft executive who was responsible for global customer support. So suddenly I went from thinking about the very cream of the crop, You know what rose to the top, the top executives from top companies and governments and associations and nonprofits that were Microsoft customers to suddenly working with the woman who was responsible for every last customer Microsoft had, who might need customer support, whether they were using Microsoft mouse or they were at home playing on their Xbox or they were spending multiple millions of dollars every month for cloud services. And that too got me thinking on a daily basis about what do our customers really want from us. How do we serve them better because our success was measured by customers success metrics and how quickly we could move customers from, let’s call it annoyed.

But sometimes it went deeper than that. Too satisfied. Right? So this is being able to bring those things. It starts with mindfulness, It starts with the language that you use. It begins with thinking before you put together any presentation. Say there’s a structured approach that one can take to doing your messaging the right way and bringing the right humble service mindset into your activities that ironically turn around and serve you as well as they serve the person you’re working with. Thank you for that. Use the term building relationships. I think that it’s probably like a a base level definition which is like the really meaningful. Should we say the explanation of that? I feel like in some instances people use that, I don’t know, in some surface level um contacts. Like if you want to sell, just just build a relationship with them.

You know, it’s sort of like this passing comment, but what does it mean to you when you use that phrase? What’s your what’s your definition there? To watch? My mother and my grandmother who owned together a little retail store in Los Angeles area when I was a kid work with customers who came into their shop business to consumer, not at all the world that that I ended up becoming a part of professionally, but the lessons really stuck. They were selling personalized gifts and jewelry. When I say personalized almost everything they sold, you could put a name on, you could put you could engrave with the occasion as well as the name of the individual or the couple that was receiving the gift personalized. And that personalized part led my mom led my grandmother to really work with people who came in to buy something.

They were coming into that shop either because they thought it was another gift shop and they wanted to impress upon. My mom and grandma wanted to impress upon the perspective customer that this just wasn’t your ordinary shop where you see something you like it. You walk out. It was a place where you thought deeply about the person whom you were gifting and they would look to draw that out. What are you buying this for? What’s the occasion? Tell me a little bit about the people. What do they like? What what do they, what do they admire and what do they like and what are they like? And somehow out of having that conversation and getting the individual talking about why this was important to them to give the right gift something personalized special. I think their hit rate was much higher in terms of converting the passerby who walked in into a customer and they were great at once they established this baseline of I know a little bit about you.

I know how you win by purchasing this and passing it along. I know how you are about to, let’s call it, enable the person whom you are going to, whom you are going to give the gift, how you’re going to enable them to experience the joy of receiving the gift. And that moment that we all get when we realize something that we’ve just unwrapped is perfect and it demonstrates a level of thought on the part of the giver. That’s my mom. Now I do it in a business to business world where you’re talking about executives who are thinking on behalf of their organizations. But those same simple questions. Tell me a little bit about why this is important to tell me what we’re going to tell me how my organization can help your organization achieve your mission. Now tell me what’s in it for you. Is this something that you’re doing? Because it’s going to help you whether it’s climb the next rung on the ladder and just bring you some personal satisfaction or allow you to get more time back in your day or operate at a greater profit level.

And how does that serve you? What does that mean for you? What are you gonna do with that, those kinds of probing questions that get you beyond. I need this many cubic meters of that product or whatever it takes it, it puts blood, it puts it puts a pumping heart into the conversation and it helps each side understand what, what are we doing this for? If you can stand one more story out of this, I mean my I came out of Microsoft, that was the last stop on my 20 year corporate life and they continue, I’m here in Seattle Washington in the States. I continue to serve them proudly as a vendor doing training for them, things like that. They’ve got a mission enable every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. And some of the most fascinating conversations I have that have led me to build relationships that keep me stuck in people’s minds so that when they have a particular need, they know to call me and inquires whether my company can help is getting them to think through the answer to the question of if we do this project together, how is it going to help you help Microsoft achieve that objective, so you can serve the customers that you need to serve.

It’s got layers and layers to it. But that’s where my thinking starts. If you’ve got a customer out there that you’re trying to serve, whether it’s internal or external, how do I help you do that? What’s going to help me make, what’s going to help me allow you to exceed and excel and walk away satisfied and think I got some good help from on that project or on that. That engagement, I’m really glad I had a chance to work with Brian and his company. It made me think when you were given your answer about is about understanding the other person. But you know, communication is part of what you cover. Right? So have you got any thoughts on just the general topic of communication? The mantra that I’ve got that you’ve already heard a time or two in our conversation is audience focused and benefit lead. It’s really not anything that is earth shaking or new. You can find your advice from ancient rhetoric, Titian’s from Greek and roman empires that tell you well when you’re speaking, make sure you’re thinking about your audience.

It’s applying that practice. But if we can approach each new conversation or as I often do public speaking training, communications training. You start with what’s your message before you start thinking about the message, you’ve got to put yourself in the other party shoes and your communication style needs to spring from a place that’s focused on the audience and what they need and that’s why you go through all of those questions and leads with the benefit to them. I worked a while back with software company that serves the nonprofit world and we were getting ourselves ready for their annual user event where they had technology as well as fundraising and operational executives at a conference and the starting point for the presentations that were being planned was not not that unusual at the starting point was, well, let’s tell them about all the marvelous new things we’ve added to the technology and I see the smile on your face, right, You know where this is going, Pulling all of these people who were justifiably proud of the strides they had made to bring security features and ease of use features and and all sorts of other capabilities into their technology to just help them reframe their thinking and thereby reframe their explanation of what they were doing into.

How does this impact a day in the life of the fundraiser or the person who runs events for the nonprofit and then go beyond that to how do we as the technology company, talk to a fundraiser? Not about how much easier it is for them to do their job or how much more money they can raise? How do we start talking to them in the language of, what is this going to do for the communities that you serve when you raise money? Who is helping? Where does that money go? What projects, what people does that support and beyond that. If I’m running a nonprofit and I want to think about, I want to think about the people I’m serving, but I also want to think about what’s the donor experience that I’m giving and by getting to those multiple layers. How does this help the purchasing company and its employees, but how does that help them fulfill their mission?

It made all the difference in the world and working with that company, I continue to work with them as they have their annual events. My satisfaction comes from that and my compensation comes from that bottom line. Everybody ends up winning in this conversation. Well, you’ve referenced the stories in your answer a couple of times and is something that I’ve been this is coincidental really. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about in order to connect with people better. So let’s say, I don’t know, not necessarily meeting a stranger. It could could be that could be meeting someone new or it could be just, you know, people you see frequently, I’m not great at connecting with people. So I was thinking about if, you know, if if you had stories that were actually interesting to them and it was relevant at that particular time. How would you go about using stories in order to achieve that goal? First, I want to challenge your assertion that you’re not great at connecting with people, Right?

I I think that’s that’s a judgment we can put on ourselves. And it seems to definitive and to final a statement for me to want to accept it from you, all of us have this capability and there’s call of tactics that we can use or let’s let’s use a better word. Tactics sounds manipulative, There’s styles that we can use and stories very much a part of that. There are people who do a far better and more detailed job than I do and talking about the power of story. But an overview looks, you know, sounds something like this. We’re wired for stories as humans. We know that stories light up and you can take that literally with M. R. I. Results and such. They light up more of the brain more often than a simple declaration of facts.

If I ask you to remember a number or two, you can out of context. Sometimes you look for order you repetition things like that. But if I tell you a story and it manages to touch your heart, you may not remember every detail of it, but you won’t forget how you felt in that moment and you will feel connected with. And so being able to call back to that cave person in us, the ones sitting around the fire listening to elders tell stories that ironically taught lessons. If we tap into that we get so much more understanding because at heart we are emotional beings. We can be trained through school and I don’t imply that this is a bad thing to focus on the numbers, the results, the more prosaic elements of measurement.

But there is a part of all of us that really just wants to be satisfied, Happy, fulfilled, safe, warm dry and stories kind of bring you back to home base. I love the tale of there was a researcher and I want to say Princeton, but don’t hold me to that. A professor who ran a lab had heard a graduate student telling a story about her high school prom. And the story went on for a while and twists and turns something about two guys thinking they had both received a yes from her as to be their date at the prom. And the story ending up with a fight in the parking lot. And I think there may have been a car crash involved in your confusion and misdirection. And he s if he could run an experiment and he put the woman into an M.

R. I. And recorded her telling this story while in the machine and then put other graduate student volunteers into the machine. Played back the story and was able to observe a few interesting things. One, the minds of the listeners lit up the same places where the tellers mind had lit up in the telling. There was calling a synchronization where the same emotions that were being felt. The same parts of the brain that were lighting up from the teller were lighting up at the same moment in the minds of the listeners, demonstrating that you’re really doing a bit of a mind melt when you turn yourself into a storyteller and that builds sympathy and compassion and engagement even wilder is that in several cases, he found that the listener’s brain reached a certain point before the teller of the tales brain did and this is where the listener was getting so into the story, they were beginning to anticipate where it was going to go.

And I think about what that means in the world of building relationships and then in the world of commerce and the relationships we try to build. I think if you’re starting to get someone to do your thinking for you or get to a conclusion a little bit ahead of you in order to raise excitement. I had a boss at one point tell me as soon as the customer starts playing around with your idea, that’s your job. That’s when it’s your job as a seller to shut up and let them play with the idea. And it was just another way of saying this thing once they start to make an idea of their own and they know where you’re trying to take them and they start imagining themselves benefiting from your solution Shut up. So the the researcher muley Hassan was the name the researcher started discovered storytelling has this power in a way that if I tell you a bunch of numbers, it’s just not going to get you there.

That’s where storytelling comes in, find the right story, find the way to tell it and this is why you work with people like me or the hundreds of thousands of others on the planet who can work with executives to help them become better presenters, better storytellers, all of that. If you bring that skill in and you aim for an emotional center instead of a cerebral center, you’re gonna hit both marks. That was a very long answer. Thank you for bearing with me. It was an excellent answer. And I would also add that in your story. You actually covered the emotional side and the scientific mind with the with the M. R. I. So you’re hitting all the bases there. Well done. And let’s go back to your first, you know, one of your first questions, why do I love this? So that just turns me. I think that’s endlessly fascinating. If I weren’t in this kind of profession, This is still the stuff I would be passionate about. I’m at an age in the stage where I’m thinking 10 years from now. I really want to have slowed down considerably.

One of the big things on my calendar this month is in what’s today, five August as we record this in 15 days. I have a daughter getting married, Which means 10 years from now. I’ll probably if the stars align and it’s what the kids want, I’ll probably be a grandparent. I want to be slowing down by them. I just know that the book on my nightstand is still going to be something about brain science and human connection and building relationships and connecting through the right conversational elements. This is what I’m excited about. So yes if I was able to bring a little bit of the hippie and a little bit of the M. P. A. And a little bit of the science, a little bit of the emotion into that conversation. It comes from a very natural place. No thank you. It was a great answer. Do you mind telling me what a customer is? Love it? What have we just been talking about? How do you get an idea in someone’s head and make it stick? Have you ever heard the term Westerman before?

I’m gonna guess. No. Uh But you do know what lust is and we can put aside the more prurient aspect of that for a moment. A real desire for something, a strong connection to drive right? And you know what a customer is? Well if we can turn our customers into lust a mors then we’ve got an audience of folks who are loyal to us because we serve them well because we’re loyal to them and we get to start thinking about engaging with them in ways that go beyond the conventional. When I say conventional, we already talked about the customer lifetime value equation. How much does the customer spend, how frequently they spend it? And over what period of time do they do it? If you’ve got a customer who absolutely delights in your service and you start pinning the needle to the right side of the meter on each of those things.

You’ve definitely got something good. But what takes a customer from, we talked about, there’s a customer if they buy it from you again, they’re repeat customers. They keep buying from, you can call them a loyal customer and you can take that to fans and advocates. I was reaching for something that went beyond even that and lust um er is the term that a dear friend came up with. That immediately struck me as right. By the time you’ve got a customer, you’ve got someone who not only is having the right commercial transactions with you, but they’re actively referring you, they’re willing to give you more help with your business because you have so help them with their business. And when I say more help, maybe they’ll sit in a focus group for you. Perhaps they’ll choose to become part of a customer advisory board or customer advisory council for you. Perhaps the things that I valued when I was an executive Microsoft, working on these things with the executives that I served, maybe they’ll go on stage with you and tell a story.

Maybe they’ll guest on your corporate podcast and say wonderful things about you. Maybe they’ll I just finished doing a project for a client where we did their fiscal year kick off and we had a chance to speak to a worldwide sales team and we brought the voice of the customer into that, the customers will say, yeah sure, absolutely. I’ll record a short interview so that you can share it with your employees because I’ve been so happy with your service and what I get out of it. And the problems you help me solve and the results to help me get. That’s the customer. It’s someone who isn’t just in a commercial transaction with you. They find themselves in, let’s call it for lack of a better phrase, an emotional transaction with you as well. They’re invested in your success. You’ve turned the traditional relationship on its head and it works for everybody. So I would imagine connecting with you would be the best way to get your customers to become customers.

But if people want to, shall we say take a step in the right direction. What’s the step that they can take in order to make that happen? Let me offer to in their related to one another first. You don’t even have to get involved with me if you’re beginning to think that while this guy is a little intense for me and I want to start a little more in a more measured way. Just go to my company’s website. Three, see the number three, the letter C for charlie three, sea calms dot com and click a button up at the top that says download our e book, love and profit. The subtitle on that is 10 ways to transform your customers into the customers want to start with a little light reading start there one of the tips, that’s my favorite and I saved it for the 10th and final tip in this little booklet is write thank you notes. Right? Something that every single one of us can do is express gratitude and let someone else know that they matter.

So you know here in my office I keep uh keep a bunch of three C communications note cards and I keep a bunch of traditional thank you notes and I keep a variety of postcards I’ve collected and I will regularly just write a note to someone who I’ve encountered and pop it in the mail to them because when someone opens up their mailbox and sees a physical piece of paper that isn’t a bill or come on or magazine they subscribe to. It makes an impression and it begins to or continues to build a relationship. So there’s one way to start thinking about turning your customers into the customers find the people you appreciate because you’ve helped them and they’ve helped you send the fact, you know, great answer and I think you’ve given many of them. So thank you for that. Is there anything I should have asked you about today?

Golly. I get the feeling that we could have talked for hours here, There’s probably lots of questions, but no, the we’ve covered a lot of really good ground. I you’ve given me the opportunity to speak from my heart and bring my brain along for the ride and I really deeply appreciate that that was good to be a part of it. Um It’s something that I always ask on every episode, which is what does success mean to you? You heard me say that 15 days my daughter’s getting married, uh we have success to me, looks like every night when I go to bed and every morning when I get up, I know there’s people who love and appreciate me and whom I have the privilege of loving and appreciating in return and in varying degrees along this continuum. You know, there’s my work life fits into my personal life. I have reached an age in a stage where maybe they even blur a certain amount.

There’s nothing better than working for a client whom you genuinely want to make successful because you have a relationship that extends beyond the purely commercial Success for me means helping people I care about be successful. Whether that’s taking this young lady who is now 26, almost 27 and getting her to the point where she can find someone who she thinks is amazing and wonderful, wants to spend the rest of her life, with or it’s helping, here’s a here’s a two parter for you. It’s helping a client of mine be successful in his final corporate roles by becoming a better speaker, better presenter, better communicator with his team and finding out that because after his retirement and our becoming friendly and starting to do social things together with our spouses That the other child I have are 24 year old son ends up working for my former client and his spouse doing the thing that my kid is passionate about, landscape design and developing food for us and such.

When it turns out someone I’ve got a connection to and I care about moves from customer to friend and then becomes someone who not out of any sense of obligation, but because there’s really damn good work going on, employs my kid that full circle, that is what success looks like. It was a great answer. One of the better ones I’ve heard, thank you for that. Do you have any closing thoughts for us today? Yeah. Get out there and and show love. Think deeply about what it means to you. If you’re listening to this and you put up with my my passion for the last half hour or so, ask yourself what really turns you on and what makes you feel like you’re putting your efforts into something meaningful and think about what it means to demonstrate love and all elements of your life. If you go out and you do one nice thing for somebody today, whether it’s writing that thank you note or the example I used to give to third graders when I taught at our at the religious school at our synagogue, If I’m walking my dog the dog that I don’t yet have again.

But if I were walking my dog and I saw that someone else had failed to pick up trash or their dog’s mess, I can make the world a little bit of a better place by doing something that is selfless, like picking up that other person’s dogs leave behinds. Go out and figure out how you can show a little bit more love for people you engage with every day and the planet that we live on. There’s the thing I would ask of everybody listening. This final plot, if you will. It’s a lovely message. So Bryan, thank you very much for being a great guest. For everyone listening, please review the links in the description. Bryan, thank you very much. Thank you. My pleasure. Really appreciate you having me on, great conversation.