Despite having lived my entire life in the Northeast, I’ve always been drawn to the desert.
I’m pretty sure it started back in 1988, when my not-yet-wife Linda and I took a two-week vacation out west, driving from Denver to Phoenix in a rental car. It was one of those “make it or break it” trips, where we knew we’d either come back engaged or come back separately (I forget how it turned out).
And so when I was invited to speak at a conference in Palm Springs, California this past Friday, I jumped at the chance. Beautiful resort, terrific people and plenty enough deserty.
Was it hot? Funny you should ask.
It was so hot that when we landed at the airport and the pilot said, “Welcome to Palm Springs; the current local temperature is 109 degrees,” I thought I had misheard her.
But a quick check of my iPhone confirmed it: 109 degrees at 2:21 PM. “Luckily,” and again according to my phone, it only felt like 102 (for once, the wind chill was working in my favor).
So here’s my question for you: What do you suppose I said to every human being I spoke with, emailed with and texted with over the next couple of days?
If you answered, “It’s 109 degrees here!!,” you are today’s lucky winner. I told everyone I knew about the hot weather.
And why not? It was interesting, current, local and based on my own personal experience – a formula that adds up to, “this is the way we talk to the people we know.”
You do the same thing every day. When you meet a friend for coffee, you don’t tell a story about a stranger, in another city, from two months ago (and if you do, please don’t meet me for coffee). You share a recent piece of your life.
Why then (here comes the BIG POINT of today’s newsletter, so pay attention) do we deliberately take these four elements out – interesting, current, local, personal – when we sit down to market our respective businesses?
Why do we insist that our web sites contain “just the facts;” that our newsletters “get right to the point;” that our presentations, LinkedIn updates, tweets, thank you notes, emails, business cards and client chit chat be bland, whitewashed versions of what we really think and who we really are?
In other words, if what works with friends is some version of interesting, current, local and personal, why do we throw it all away in a business setting?
I have a theory: It’s because we think our prospective clients are somehow different than our friends:
Our friends are fun and interesting; our prospects are businesspeople.
Our friends love our stories; our prospects don’t have time for stories.
Our friends hang out with us because of who we are; our prospects don’t care who we are.
To put an even finer point on it, we’re afraid that if we talk to strangers the way we talk to friends, we’ll somehow be considered “unprofessional” and be passed over when it comes time to be hired.
In practice, I’ve found the exact opposite. When I include interesting, current, local and personal in my marketing, two (really good) things happen:
- People feel like they know you.
I’ve lost count at this point of the number of complete strangers who, thanks to this very newsletter, have come up to me and started talking about my family and my life as if we are old friends. I don’t even know who they are, but they’re already comfortable.
From a sales perspective, that’s really valuable. It lessens the perceived risk, it helps them feel like they can trust you and it shortens the buying cycle. Can you say, “new client?”
- Big companies can’t compete with you.
Check the emails you get from your bank or airline or phone company. Have you noticed that they’re not particularly interesting, current, local or personal? They’re usually not even signed by an actual human.
It’s not because they’re stupid over there at the big company. It’s because they need things that scale – things that work equally well across the country, that will pass muster with the legal department and that can be written a month in advance. They have constraints that you and I don’t have.
So when you talk about last week’s local wine festival, or show a picture of you and your co-owner spouse on your home page, or mention how freakin’ hot it was in Palm Springs last week, you do something they can’t. I believe that’s called an unfair advantage.
Here’s the bottom line. I spend a lot of time helping people learn how to communicate authentically. And I know, it’s easier to talk about than to actually do.
So try this. Stop thinking of your prospects as boring, impatient, serious businesspeople and start thinking of them as “friends you haven’t yet met.” When you talk and behave with that in mind, before you know it, it will be true.