EE019 – Mark Sanborn – The Fred Factor

Mark is the author of eight books, including the bestseller The Fred Factor: How Passion In Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary Into the Extraordinary which has sold more than 1.6 million copies internationally.
His other books include You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference,
Teambuilt: Making Teamwork Work,
The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do.
Up, Down or Sideways: How to Succeed When Times are Good, Bad or In Between.
And his latest book is Fred 2.0: New Ideas on How to Keep Delivering Extraordinary Results.

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Tony: Exceeding Expectations episode 19. Welcome to another edition of Exceeding Expectations. The Podcast where we try to help you out with delivering and give your customers an amazing experience. Episode 19 is with Mark Sanborn, the author of 8 books including the best seller The Fred Factor, How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary. That book has sold more than 1.6 million copies internationally. He has many other books including You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader, How Anyone Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference and many other books as well. So, here is this week’s episode with Mark Sanborn.

Here we are for another edition of Exceeding Expectations, and I have the undoubted owner I’m speaking with a man called Mark Sanborn, how are you doing Mark?

Mark: I’m well thanks.

Tony: Thank you very much for agreeing for coming onto the show. I mean you are…you’ve written so many fantastic books and your track record, it took me about two days just to read everything that you’ve done.

Mark: Well I’m prolific if nothing else.

Tony: What is your sort of main area or focus at the moment?

Mark: My primary focus is in leadership development as a keynote speaker and author. I do also speak and write on customer service strategy thanks to my book The Fred Factor, which has been very well received here in the US and abroad. But, I’m an advisor to leaders and I use primarily the spoken and written word to do that.

Tony: You’ve touched us upon some of the books that you’ve done. Because you’ve done, was it 8 books now?

Mark: Yes depending on how you count them, I’ve contributed to any number of anthologies and been featured in books. But in terms of books that I have authored, written and had been published 8 is good a number as any.

Tony: Is the most recent one The Fred Factor?

Mark: No that was in 2004. That was a long time ago, but I did write Fred 2.0 which is kind of a sequel, if you will a couple years ago. My most recent book is The Potential Principle, and that has been out for over a year now. I also have a book releasing fall of 2019 called The Intention Imperative, so that’ll make it number 9 later this year.

Tony: Have they all been sort of around the sort of customer service area or how have they differ the books?

Mark: I’ve written on subjects of interest to leaders like customer service and team building and change. how to continually improve your organisation and professional skills. So, the umbrella under which all my books are is leadership, but they’re focused on a number of different topics. I wrote a book called The Encore Effect, which I wrote to help anyone improve their performance, but I think that’s probably been embraced as my sales book. So if it’s of interest to leaders, it’s of interest to me.

Tony: I think the reason I must have thought Fred was your recent one. I must have reading Fred point…2.0. I didn’t realised it didn’t originally been done a long time before. One of the things I loved about that book is when you just…yeah you were talking about this humble postman called Fred, and his attitude and so on. Would you just like to explain how that all came about for the people who aren’t familiar with the book.

Mark: Sure! When I moved to Denver Colorado, I was single and living alone. I had an extraordinary postal carrier…if anyone would like to read the story for free, they can go to and they can see what I called the 1st Fred I ever met, which is chapter one of the book. He did such an amazing job at such a simple process of delivering the mail, that he inspired me. I started talking about him in my speaking, you know he became a friend, he was able to add value through the attentiveness to whether I was home or not. Making sure that my mail and packages were well hidden so that burglars wouldn’t either know that I was gone, or steal them off my porch.

I thought you know, if someone can do such an extraordinary job at such a simple task, then none of us have an excuse. You know, it’s not the job you have, but how you do the job that makes the difference. I think one of the reasons why the book has been very successful is because I didn’t write it about Warren Buffett or Bill Gates you know, some of the richest people on the planet. I wrote it about someone who…like all of us has a very simple job, an ordinary day that we can either choose to keep extraordinary or excuse me choose to keep ordinary or choose to make extraordinary. You know, at the end of the day nobody can prevent you from choosing to be extraordinary.

Tony: Then you went on to talk about…I think what you call it The Four Fred Principles?

Mark: Yes. You know it’s funny I wrote the book as a business philosophy book. it’s a simple book, my books are short. Some people take little ideas and write big books. I try to take big ideas and write little books. The reason for that is, is to simplify things you know, we live in a time challenged world, everyone is busy and often they buy books but they don’t read books. So, I write short books, but try to pack a lot of useful information and practical ideas in those books. Even though I wrote the book about business philosophy, because I happen to think, these four principles apply to any business organisation. It was embraced as a customer service book.

I’ll share those four principles with you. The first is that everyone makes a difference. That’s sounds pretty familiar until you realise, I’m not saying you can make a difference, I’m saying you do make a difference. That the only question is what kind. You know, neutrality is a myth. If you meet somebody in the market place who will not help or engage you, you don’t think they’re neutral, you think they are indifferent. Of course when it comes to service indifference, is probably the most lethal mistake that anyone can make. I often say you know, I’d rather you argue with me, because at least I know you’re engaged than ignore me.

So one of the big messages I shared with the audience is, is that everybody makes a difference, and if that’s true and I believe it is, the first job of leadership is to prove significance to others. To show the people that you lead. That what they do matters. That they’re not just sleep walking and going through the motions. That their efforts have impact on other people, customers and colleagues and vendors in the community. So that’s the first principle. Everybody makes a difference, the only question is what kind.

The second is that it’s all built on relationship. You know what differentiates any product or service…by the way unless you’ve invented something and you hold the trademark and nobody else sells it. You know, most of us sell basic goods and services and commodities right? The ultimate differentiation especially in a soft business like financial services where people represent the same investment tools. Or education where teachers teach the same subjects. It’s the relationship you have with the customer. You know, we often say to employees you know, we want you to build better relationships with customers, but we don’t teach them how.

Any expectation without education becomes frustration. Because a highly motivated employee will say “I’d love to build better relationships, make more connections but, how do I do it? I haven’t been thought how.” It doesn’t necessarily come natural to everyone. Now the third principles you can add value to everything you do, it does have to cost a nickel. One of my favourite points in my work for the past 33 years is this. The big challenge we have in business is not to outspend our competition, but to out think them. To replace money with imagination. To replace capital with creativity, and figure out ways that through thoughtfulness, and observation, and attentiveness, and creativity, we can enrich the experience for the customer.

Finally the fourth principle is that you can reinvent yourself every day. In a way you have to, because if you get burnt out, you burn out that people you lead, you burn out the people you do business with, you burn out the people you live with. Motivation is an inside job…and I hope the listeners of this Podcast will work at an organisation that has lots of good incentives and motivations. But ultimately the motivator motivates his or her self. You can’t wait for or expect or depend on somebody else to do it. So it’s about getting up in the morning with a renewed sense of purpose and passion so that you can bring some energy and enthusiasm, to whatever it is that you do during the day.

Tony: So you mentioned in…so that was in the book that was originally done in 2004, and then you know, there was a kind of renew version of it a couple years ago. So when you’re speaking on stage are you  constantly sort of changing your keynotes? Have you got many different key notes? So I’m presuming that was originally in a keynote you did you know, sometime back in the early part of this century or you’re still using that now?

Mark: Well I still manage to speak on that subject. Typically what I will do with a client if they are interested in is kind of combine my best thinking from both The Fred Factor and Fred 2.0, because Fred 2.0 is a completely new book, there is no redundancy, there is continuity but there’s not overlap. If you’ve read Fred 2.0 you would have a great sense of what The Fred Factor was about. But if you’ve read The Fred Factor you wouldn’t say “Oh deja vu this is what he wrote about before.”

Yes I’m always changing my material. With a new audience you don’t necessarily have to have new material, but there are two reasons I changed my material. One is I want to make my points as relevant as I can to each audience. Every audience is different, they’re in a different profession, or a different business, or a different industry. I don’t like to just make them do the hard work of applying what I’m talking about, but I try to make it as relevant and applicable as possible.

Secondly the reason I keep changing my materials so that I don’t bore myself. You know, I’ve given…depending on how you count some 2,800 2,900 speeches in my career. If I gave the same speech every time I would just be bored to tears. If I’m bored to tears of course I’m gonna be boring our audience to tears. So, my speech is more…and I do have four or five discrete presentations, but my primary presentations are around leadership, The Fred Factor and then of course my new book will be a new program called The Intention Imperative.

Tony: Now I know that you’re a former president of the…is it the national speakers association in America. You even got the, was is it the Cavett Award?

Mark: Yes thank you, very good backgrounding.

Tony: Not so many people get that. I mean would you just like to explain what that is for the people who you know, especially in the UK who have never heard of that.

Mark: Well the UK has a sister organisation that’s a part of the Global Speaker Federation. As a matter of fact, many years ago, my wife and I travelled over to the UK and I had the opportunity to speak to PSA there. So I have lots of great friends in the business, in the UK and throughout the world. But the NSA was the first organisation for professional speaking lesser so for famous speakers that are celebrities or that you see on TV. More for what I recall the journeymen or the working speaker, you know, the man or woman who does training and speaks either for a full time profession, or as a part of their consulting or what other businesses they may be in. The organisation has been around for fortyish years, and I got involved before I before I became a professional speaker. The reason for that was, I knew I wanted to be a professional speaker, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about the business before I started making my livelihood doing it.

I’m a big believer in you know, preparing you know, not just burning your bridges and going cold turkey into a new profession or you’re ill-equipped or uninformed. So as far as back in 2004, the same year that The Fred Factor came out the organisation existed really to provide two things that we all need regardless of what profession we’re in, and that is education and community. Because professional speaking is a little different, you know, most people don’t…unless they’ve spoken professionally, quite understand all idiosyncrasies and nuances of that profession. So it’s nice to have a place to go where you can talk to like-minded people who’ve had similar experiences.

Tony: I mean there’s quite a few people who are speaking in some capacity. Whether they’re doing keynotes or workshops or whatever it might be, who do listen to this. So how would you say that a speaker can over deliver to their clients that they’re working for?

Mark: Well first I think that there’s really two keys and that is the content of what you say and how you say it. When I was NSA president my theme was expertise to the power of eloquence, or E˄E. Because if you have expertise but no eloquence you know, you’ll never get paid much and you might end up in kind of a dead end rut in academia or in HR. But you’ll never be able to make the shift into the market place to get paid to speak. If you have eloquence but you don’t have expertise then you’re just a…you know, you’re just a windbag right. You’re giving book reports, you’re using other people’s material, and neither of those scenarios is good. So, I think that anyone that wants to over deliver, anyone that wants to be a great speaker needs to have something to say and say it very, very well.

That means you got to mine your experiences, you’ve got mine M-I-N-E, mine your education. You’ve got to mine what you’ve learned from the experiences of others, those that you’ve worked with. You’ve got to design a compelling program that you can deliver in a way that keeps people engaged from beginning to end. That’s the foundation, because without those building blocks you know, you’re building on a…on a bad foundation and eventually it will catch up with you.

Tony: I know that you’ve worked with a lot of sort of major names, yeah global names corporations such as FedEx and Harley Davidson and so on. What type of work is it generally that you are doing with these companies?

Mark: What I primarily do is come in for a keynote presentation. I use to do training and development 2 hours, 3 hours, 6 hours, but I focus my business so that if there’s a sales meeting or a C level executive meeting or an association meeting, I will be engaged usually around one of the books that I’ve written about, but certainly around my expertise. Then I’ll do a deep dive with the client to find out what their challenges are, what their desires are for the meeting. I try to help the client achieve their meeting goals by the keynote presentation that I give. By keynote I mean a 1 hour typically presentation. I’ve spoken for as little as 20 minutes and I don’t think anything over 75 minutes or 90 minutes should ever be considered a keynote. But typically that’s what I do.

You’ll say “Well Mark is that it then you just come and leave?” well not exactly for a number of reasons. One is clients have my book as a way to extend the value with the time that I’ve spent with them. I’ve also developed online training and development. I often shoot videos specific to the client that they can use as a way after I leave to reinforce the key points that I’ve made, or the key points that have been made at the meeting. But the point of my arrow is speaking and then secondarily the books that I write, and those are the two things that preoccupy me most of the time.

Tony: Which do you prefer?

Mark: Well I love speaking that’s the most fun being on stage, but getting to and from the speech and flying and hotels and the challenges of travel aren’t that much fun. I love writing, but selling a book is even harder than writing a good book. Because there are just so many books that are being published by traditional publishers as well as being self-published you know. Both speaking and writing had their challenges but I like the craft of each. If I had to choose I’m probably first and foremost a speaker.

Tony: And underwriting I mean are you always sort of thinking about what your next book is gonna be? Or once you’ve finished a book, do you just like to just rest for a while before you start on the next one?

Mark: The answer is yes and yes. I am always thinking, do I have another book, and I don’t ever want to write a book just to write a book, you know despite what [Inaudible 17:41] might say. I really don’t have to write a book to make a living. I write books because I’m trying to help people solve problems and increase their leadership effectiveness. But I do have in the back of my mind…having worked with the same literary agent for many years, I do have in the back of my mind future books I think I’d like to write. The problem of course as a writer is you’ve got to have a publisher that’s wants to publish what you think you’d like to write. I can’t tell you how many books I felt they were brilliant you know, how many ideas I had that the publisher said “wamp wamp” you know and, the book never saw the light of day.

What I do know, if anyone, you know, people say you know, how do you write a book? Well the first question should be how do you become a good writer? It’s gonna sound flip say this but you write a lot. You write a blog, you use twitter to condense big ideas into you know, a short number of characters. But you write articles, you write as much as you can, but you don’t just write, you find a good editor, someone that can help you become a better writer. If there’s one thing that helped me become a better writer over my career it’s been the editors that I’ve worked with. That may not have the ideas that I have but they’ve got the chops when it comes to phrasing those ideas. Going from passive to active voice, cutting back on adverbs and adjectives and so if you really want to be… and there are online of so many inexpensive but good editors and writing programs you could take.

Then when you want to write a book what you really need is a powerful idea and an outline. The worst thing you can do…and I’ve met any number of people who said “Mark I’ve sat down and I started to write, and after 3 and a half pages I ran out of things.” Well yeah, I would too. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to have a big idea, that big enough to carry a book, and then you have to have 10, or 12, or 14 chapters outlined before you can hope to make any consistent progress writing. So once you do that, write a lot, become a good writer, have an idea, outline your book, and once you have the outline in my opinion and my experience, then the writing of the book goes much more easily.

Tony: You know, you’ve mentioned about all the books that you’ve written, I imagine you often get a lot of feedback from people and what they thought about the different books. Then when you’re speaking at events you mentioned about the book’s worth, you’re probably getting feedback there. So does that then make you want to go back and change something about books? Or you just…or you just use those thoughts for your future books?

Mark: Well I’ve not really done any reedits but, for sure I’ve gotten good feedback I could use for future books. You know, there’s criticism where people attack me. That really doesn’t help it just makes me feel bad. Then there’s feedback, which is when people give me ideas you know, in my last book I didn’t…not by design but unintentionally I didn’t include very many women examples…female examples of, you know, how to keep getting better. I had a woman contact me very politely and professionally, and it was negative feedback. She said, “You need to change that” and I agreed. So in the new book I wanted to make sure that I included a better representation of all the women and female leaders that are doing great work. Not just the men which I know because I am male, you know most of my circle of friends…not all but many of them are male.

So that was really helpful feedback. When somebody just you know, gives me a negative review and says I only write books because I need the money, and I’ve sold out to the man…which cracks me up. It sounds like a hippy thing selling out to the man you know. That’s just criticism and I can’t do anything with that. I just have…I’m very secure in my motivations and who I am. I just…after many years I’ve tried to ignore that kind of useless drivel.

Tony: So, you mentioned about the new book that’s coming out later this year. So, what was the inspiration for that, and if you like sort of mention a bit more about what it’s about?

Mark: I was doing some work with four of my friends called The Five Friends, which is not…we’ve kind of formed, because of our long term friendships and our love of bourbon and food. It was certainly social in the beginning, and then we thought well you know let’s do some projects together. We did a blog, we did a video blog and we did some consulting and we did some events. At one of the events I noticed that all the businesses in the room that we had represented our clients, and there was a great diversity, small businesses, large businesses everything in between. They all had similar problems that got me to thinking about a question that I’ve been asked for most of my career, and that is what’s the one thing that all great leaders or all successful people have in common?

For thirty plus years I was honest I said “I’m not sure.” I’m not seeing one thing that everybody has in common. I’ve seen some leaders that do it wrong and are successful. I’ve seen some leaders that do it right and weren’t successful. But after that meeting with our clients, I realised that there were two things that had to be in place, the irreducible minimums for leadership and or success. The first is clarity about what it is you want to do. The second is consistent action daily to do it. I call that intentionality and that is one thing to intend to do something, but if don’t have clarity on what it is…and that’s what I noticed that day you know, if you ever heard the old cliché that good is the enemy of best?

You know, there’s so many good things a business person can do that they often get distracted. But once they become crystal clear about what they want to do and why they want to do it, then the second part of that is, is taking consistent action. I’ve worked with leaders that took consistent action but lack clarity. I’ve worked with leaders that too consistent action but lacked clarity and I’ve worked with leaders that lacked clarity but didn’t take the right actions. I realise that when you combine those two you end up with what I call the intention imperative. Being crystal clear everyday about what it is you and your organisation are trying to achieve and why you’re trying to achieve it. Then taking the right actions, because in the book, you know, obviously it’s a…you know we don’t have time to get into it now, a lot of leaders have new clarity but they’re using old behaviours to try to achieve it. What I call in the book doing business in a world that was, not the world that is. You know, people get locked into habits from the past, and they have a hard time doing the right things in the present.

Tony: So once you’ve…you’ve formed that kind of nucleus of the idea about what do you want the next book to be about. So, how did you then go about sort of researching and getting some stories and so on for the book?

Mark: Well I’m always researching. I’m a voracious reader. I have a huge intake of ideas every day. More and more online although I still favour printed books in that regard when it comes to reading. But you know, once I have the out…and again I go to the idea that I mentioned earlier, once I have an outline, then I start doing both formal and informal research. In the new book, I did something I’ve not done before and I’m pretty excited about it because it worked well and that is, I interviewed five very different organisations that are all very successful, and I talk to their leaders to find out how they became successful. What I found is that those organisations without knowing what each leader in each organisation said, the leaders always talked about the same things.

Now that’s anecdotal or qualitative research, it’s not quantitative. I can’t tell you that 79.2% of all leaders do this, or 63% don’t do this. But what I can tell you is, is that when you take 5 leaders from 5 different businesses and you find out that they’re all talking about being very clear on what and why they do it, and consistently communicating that message. Having contact with everybody in the organisation not just a few. At the end of the book I think I have 33 actionable…and the only reason I say I think is I can’t remember if it’s 33 or 35. I have 33 or 35 actionable ideas that I gleaned from both these leaders and my research around culture and inspiration and how important it is to create positive motion in the workplace.

Tony: You said before about how often a lot of your keynotes are because companies contact you. They’ve read the book and they want you to come and talk about some of the ideas in the books that they’ve read. So, that book as it’s not out yet…so I imagine therefore that means you’re not talking about the ideas you’ve been writing about recently? Or do you slowly start to put some of those into your keynotes?

Mark: I do start to incorporate some of those ideas, and I’ve given some teasers. As a matter of fact I spoke earlier this week in Phoenix. At breakfast I shared with a VIP group the client had assembled, the outline of the book. The reason I do that is, one, is to develop not the material…I have the ideas, but develop the delivery. Number two to kind of test with the audience to see what resonates with them. You know, that’s one thing that you can do with a blog or a tweet, is you can find out what people like the most by how often they like or share it right? it’s the same way I speak you know, I can put ideas in there and afterwards someone would come out and say “Wow! I really like what you said about culture, you know I never quite understood how to define it before.” So I do start to incorporate it and I kind of morph those ideas together so that, in not…before the book comes out, I will be doing the new presentation.

Tony: I want to be respectful of your time. I know that you’ve got a very busy schedule. So before we finish, what are your thoughts on over delivering and Exceeding Expectations what…you know, how do…what do you think about the whole area?

Mark: Well I’ve always been a huge fan of Exceeding Expectations, but you know, let me share 2 or 3 things that I think are important to realise. One is, you can’t exceed every expectation every time nor should you try. You know, Tom Peters used to say, you know, delight the customer. Well think about it, if you tried to delight every customer every day, you’d get so far behind you’d have to give up. You can’t nor should you try. It takes too much energy and frankly it isn’t infeasible. I do think however, that you should try to exceed expectations with the most important customers and at the most important times. That means having a sense of what is a critical experience or what is a big opportunity where exceeding expectations will have the biggest impact.

The second thing I would suggest is that exceeding expectations doesn’t mean you do it 2 or 3 times better, it just means you do it a little better. That’s why I like the word extraordinary, it just means a little extra with the ordinary. So I would look for little things you can do you know. One of the things you can often do exceeding expectations these days, is to be very present with people. When you’re with them not to be distracted, not to be thinking about what you’re gonna do next, but to just give them your full attention. In a world where people are in such a rush I actually think that exceeds expectations.

The third thing I would say is before you can exceed expectations, you better know what the customer expects, and we sometimes assume incorrectly. You know, every customer has a little bit different expectations, or every reader, every audience. So, you need to tailor your efforts to what is important to that individual.

Finally I’ll share something right out of The Fred Factor, the fourth idea is simply that you can’t delight everybody every time. But the tragedy is we go days or weeks or months without delighting anybody. So what I suggest is what I call the one a day principle. Not only is it doable and achievable, but it’s a lot of fun. That is find one person a day, whether it’s a customer, a colleague, vender, a friend, a spouse. Find somebody you can do something really cool for. That they’ll think about and remember and tell others.

Because if you do one great thing a day for one person, that’s five great experiences a week, for five different people in the course of a business week. Before you know it you’ll have a reputation of someone who over delivers by doing extraordinary things.

Tony: Yeah I love that. So if people want to find out more about you Mark, where should they go?

Mark: M-A-R-K-S-A-N-B-O-R-N .com. They can follow me on social media I’m on all the platforms do a search for me, Mark_Sanborn@twitter, and then both on LinkedIn, Facebook, Facebook fan page. But if they just remember my name, everything they need to know contact me or to get more information is there.

Tony: Okay, all the links you’ve mentioned and the earlier links you mentioned, I’ll put all of those in the show notes. Thank you for your time it’s been a pleasure speaking to you Mark and I’m sure the listeners have got a lot out of this as well.

Mark: Likewise thank you for having me, all the best.

Tony: Next week in episode 20 I speak with Tom Ross, who started out as a freelance graphic designer. Overtime he built his business to 16 full time staff and many additional contractors, and into multiple seven figures in revenue. But he was working so hard he put himself in hospital. He then decided to change things around, and he tried a new approach and he built a community of over 400,000 members and 100,000 social media followers. He has a Podcast called the Honest Designers Podcast, and he has another Podcast he does as well. So that’s next week’s episode with Tom Ross.

Hope you’ve enjoyed todays show, please do subscribe to the show, leave a review that would be fantastic, you can join the Facebook group which is obviously called Exceeding Expectations and I look forward to speaking with you next week.


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