The Client is in The Details

I wandered through the local Blockbuster video store last Saturday afternoon, hoping to find a movie that would satisfy the necessary criteria: Not too violent for my wife Linda; not too mature (if you know what I mean) for my 14 year-old son Evan; not too scary for me.

Around our house, and now that Evan’s old enough to be part of the Saturday night home video mix, choosing a movie that works for everyone requires the kind of light touch and nuanced compromise normally reserved for land negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

So I pressed on down the aisles. As I turned the corner, it hit me. Tucked in-between School for Scoundrels and Snakes on a Plane was Shut Up and Sing, a behind-the-scenes look at the Dixie Chicks and the controversy created in 2003, when lead singer Natalie Maines made a negative comment about George Bush, during a concert in London.

I love anything having to do with Rock and Roll background and I knew Evan would be on board too. A quick call to Linda to confirm, and five minutes later, I walked out with the movie.

I thought it was fascinating and liked it a lot, and by the end I liked the three “Chicks” too. Up until that point, I’d never bought a Dixie Chicks CD, but I bet you can guess the first thing I did the following day.

Yep, I flew to London and made some negative comments about George Bush. No, ha, ha, I am kidding. I went out and bought a Dixie Chicks album.

Here’s the thing. Prior to watching the movie, and while I certainly knew who the DCs were, was familiar with their music, and had even watched them win five Grammy awards just a few weeks earlier, I wasn’t motivated to make a purchase.

So what changed? I got to know them. I saw them with their kids, their husbands and their parents. I joined them backstage, on the road and in their homes. In short, I learned some details about who they were, and it made me want to buy one of their albums.

It’s a bit counterintuitive actually, since you could say that getting to know them better has nothing to do with the music itself. And yet, it made me notice them and connect with them. Now, when I get in my car and listen to the CD, I enjoy the music more than I would have otherwise.

As professional service providers, one of the biggest challenges we face in growing our respective businesses is getting prospective clients to take a risk on us. They can’t see or touch or even sample the “air” that we sell, and yet we expect them to write a check and take a leap.

I used to think that the solution was to impress prospects with my qualifications: my credentials, my experience, my skills. Those things are important, certainly, but today, I mostly just try and reassure people that they can trust me. If I can get that box checked, the rest takes care of itself.

In terms of this E-Newsletter, I’ve come to understand two things which build trust with readers, both of which I consciously bake into the process.

  1. I tell a lot of personal stories. Read a few of these newsletters and you’ll learn all about my kids, my wife, my extended family and my daily life: Selling my house, losing my cell phone, building an ice skating rink in my backyard, etc.

    It’s my version of taking you “backstage,” and while perhaps a tad less glamorous than touring with a band (but the food’s better), it achieves the same goal of helping strangers feel comfortable with who I am.

    You don’t have to share as much personal information as I do, but on the other hand, if all you do is get down to business with each of your newsletters, you’re just handing out CDs. Backstage passes are a more powerful way to make a connection.

  1. I don’t skimp on the details. In their book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath cite studies which demonstrate that incorporating vivid details into a story boosts its credibility. That’s not a big surprise.

    What is surprising however, is the discovery that the mere presence of vivid details in a storyeven if they have nothing to do with the central point being madeincreases the believability of both the story and the storyteller. Use more details, and everything you say rings more true.

    Consider some of the sentences you’ve already read in today’s newsletter. Imagine if I changed this:

    “I wandered through the local Blockbuster video store last Saturday afternoon…”

    …to this:

    “Recently, I rented a movie…”

    Or how about changing this:

    “Tucked in-between School for Scoundrels and Snakes on a Plane was Shut Up and Sing, a behind-the-scenes look at the Dixie Chicks and the controversy created in 2003…”

    …to this:

    “I found a music documentary and rented it…”

    Within each pair of examples, the meaning is about the same. But the ones I chose are much more specific and vivid. I think you’d agree that not only do they make the overall story more interesting, they bring you with me on the journey.

    As a result, you feel like you know me a little bit better, which is a giant step down the road to trust; which is only a stone’s throw from “We’d like to hire you.” (Which, I’m told, is around the corner from, “Is it OK to pay for this house in cash?”)

Bottom Line: How good you are at doing the job is important, no doubt about it. My belief, however, is that most professionals spend too much time polishing their credentials, and not enough time doing what they can to remove the risk that necessarily lives within the minds of eager, but cautious, prospective clients.

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