There are two ways to be lost.
Way #1: It’s Sunday morning and you’re driving your 11-year-old son Jonathan to play in a basketball game in a faraway town. You’re in search of the Middle School gym, and while you’re confident that you’re within half a mile of the place, you’ve been driving back and forth on the same road for 15 minutes – you can’t seem to find the exact location.
The streets are deserted, but luckily, you come upon an old man sitting in a lawn chair in front of his house. You pull up beside him and ask for directions. He smiles and gives you the answer: You need to drive through the library parking lot; the school gym is right behind it.
Way #2: You’re alone in a jungle. The ground is wet and the foliage is thick. There are bugs and slithery things everywhere. It’s starting to get dark. In the distance you hear machinegun fire and the sound of angry men shouting … and they’re getting closer.
Out of the fog (there’s always fog) emerges a large, heavily armed man. He looks a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger – he is Arnold Schwarzenegger. But not present-day Arnold, the ex-California governor. No, it’s 1991 Arnold, immense and confident human and star of Terminator. He looks at you and calmly says, “Come with me if you want to live.”
So here’s my question for you: Are these two men offering the same service?
I mean, they’re both “guides,” right? You’re lost in a strange land and they’re both helping you find your way. Okay, maybe. But that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. Two very different situations and two very different men.
I mention this today in response to a question I hear frequently from my fellow professional service providers. It goes something like this:
“When I meet with prospective clients, I often feel like I’m giving away too much information. How can I prove I have ëthe answers’ without actually giving them away for free before I’m hired?”
My response? “Be more Arnold.”
In other words, instead of worrying about giving away too much information, stop selling “information.” Sell “expert advice” and you can give away the information all day long.
Think about it. Once the old man tells me how to find the gym, his value to me drops to zero. Yes, he knew something critical that I didn’t. But now that I know too, I don’t need him. If he were a “Directions Consultant,” the old man would indeed have to be careful about how much he tells for free, up front.
With Arnold, on the other hand, he can talk as much as he wants; the situation is too complicated, too scary and too unpredictable for me to survive without him. Even if he tells me useful information – “stay low … run fast … talk like this” – I still need him.
Remarkably – and this is the key distinction – in Arnold’s case, the more he tells me up front, the more confident I become in his abilities and the more I begin to really understand the danger all around me. When Arnold shares information, he’s not losing future revenue … he’s marketing.
It’s the same with you and your prospective clients. If you’re selling cookie-cutter solutions to cookie-cutter problems – how to set up a LinkedIn profile, how to conduct a focus group, how to find the middle school gym – you’re only necessary until you give me the answer.
The more you tell me, the less I need you, and you’re forever stuck in a struggle over how much to share before the check is signed.
If, instead, you sell expertise, perspective, situation-specific guidance that helps people manage their particular scary problems, they need you by their side every step of the way.
… don’t sell, “How to set up a LinkedIn profile.” Sell, “How to know which (if any) aspects of social media are relevant to my business.”
… don’t sell, “How to conduct a focus group.” Sell, “What type of research do I need before launching a new product?”
… don’t sell, “Where’s the middle school gym?” Sell, “How do I make my way safely out of the jungle?”
When you make the switch to expert advice, your information-sharing dilemma goes away. Now, the more you talk and write and give away for free over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, the more people realize the dangers they face and the more they come to believe that you’re the one who can help them.
Here’s the bottom line. Information is a commodity; expert advice is gold. The better you get at selling the latter – the more “Come with me if you want to live” becomes your mantra – the more money you’ll make, the less competition you’ll have and ultimately (and by the way, not coincidentally), the more thrilled your clients will be.