Match Point

OK. Put your donut down for a minute  and pay attention. I have some questions for you:

  1. Can you recommend a career coach for my cousin who’s thinking of leaving her job?
  1. Can you recommend a mason who could repair my front steps?
  1. Can you recommend a recruiter who could find a vice president of marketing for my 25-store restaurant chain?

      Listen To This Post

Take a look at the questions again and this time, pay attention to what your brain does as you read them.

If your brain is anything like mine (i.e., squishy, hardworking and predisposed to help), upon reading each of these questions, it diligently starts searching itself to see if it can find a match:

“My friend Sandy is a career coach.”
“Maybe. There’s a guy I play basketball with who I’m pretty sure is a mason.”
“Hmmm… I know a couple of recruiters but I’m not sure if any of them work in food service.”

And even though these are made up examples (except for the part about my front steps; I really do need a mason), this is exactly how word of mouth business – both B2B and B2C – gets done every day:

You and I ask the people we know for ideas and recommendations relative to our immediate problems. The people we know try and help.

I mention all this because when it comes to getting enough of the clients we want, most of us professional service providers are too focused on proving how capable we are and not focused enough on getting recommended in the first place.

“Now wait a second,” you probably just said out loud to your computer monitor and/or mason. “Isn’t that the same thing? Aren’t recommendations based on capability?”

In a word, no. In two words, not really.

Think about it. When I ask you for a recommendation relative to a specific problem, you immediately start looking for a match: A career coach who works in job transition. A mason in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. A recruiter who specializes in marketing people for the food service industry.

Sure, if you know a great coach, or a skilled mason, or a terrific headhunter, all the better. But at this initial, “Who do you know?” stage, it’s all about the match.

It’s so much not about capability, in fact, that in my experience, most of the people who offer up potential names, haven’t even worked firsthand with the people whom they’re recommending. All they know is that this person they’re telling you about appears to do the thing you need to get done.

Remember, people have very specific problems. A key piece of your marketing therefore, is making sure that your name appears on someone’s lips when the “Can you recommend…?” question is asked.

So try this: Stop trying to impress the people you meet with fancy-pants phrases that shine brightly for a minute and then evaporate. (I’m pretty sure that last sentence was a triple-mixed metaphor). Instead, just help others understand and remember what you do.

Don’t say: “I’m a human capital development expert with a 20-year track record of helping Fortune 500 companies increase employee productivity through world class internal communication documents.”

Say: I’m a human resources consultant. I specialize in developing employee handbooks.

Nothing about how good you are, or the results you create, or who you’ve worked with in the past, or anything like that. Just a simple statement describing what you do.

Something they can understand. Something they can remember. Something that will make you pop into their heads the next time someone says, “Can you recommend…?”

Here’s the bottom line. Being seen as an experienced, capable, impressive professional who can get the job done is important, no doubt about it.

But none of that matters until someone throws your name into the ring as a possible contender. And that won’t happen (much) until what people think you do matches what people think they need. Keep it simple.


23 thoughts on “Match Point

  1. Alexandre L'Eveille

    I help companies define their brand value and develop the tools to communicate it.

    I also have a comment on the HR consultant example. If I were working the that guy, I would recommend he communicate his value in the simple statement. For example rather than just “I’m a human resources consultant. I specialize in developing employee handbooks.” I would recommend, “I’m a human resources consultant. I develop employee handbooks that get used.” Or “I’m a human resources consultant. I relieve the burden of getting employee handbooks done.” (Actually I would wordsmith it a bit more after talking to the actual consultant, but the idea would be to communicate the value he brings. Just my 2¢ worth.

  2. Jacqueline Brodnitzki

    Hi Michael,
    This is a great article! Always so entertaining and SO helpful.

    I help call centers decrease profit drains like attrition, absenteeism and medical claims.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Ah, very clear as well. The next time one of my corporate-constrained colleagues starts griping about the call center, i know whom to recommend!

  3. marian cramer

    Great message today, Michael. Your words keep urging me to go back to work, but a 77 year old asthmatic Grandma isn’t very marketable, but it keeps me mindful of things I used to do. Those memories boost my spirit. Thank you. Marian

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Glad to hear it, Marian! It’s nice to know there’s some entertainment value for you.

  4. Mark Wayland

    Morning Michael, Your post reminds me of that great Einstein quote, “any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.”

    I help sales managers overcome their worst coaching nightmare; they spend a day with a rep on-territory coaching, teaching and cajoling and the next day, nothing changes.

    Thank you, Mark

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello to you, Mark! I believe your friend Einstein would agree that you’ve moving in the right direction.

  5. Rev. Cat Cox

    Ok, testing, testing on the Gravitar image thing (your whole reputation is on the line here, Michael… Oops! Wait that would be MY reputation as a person who’se maybe made some modest progress in being able to do techie, internet-y stuff. Never mind then…)

  6. Rev. Cat Cox

    Alrighty then…did the “activation” of Gravitar so trying again (don’t know how else to test if it’s working yet). They say vulnerability is crucial to success…so here I am making a fool of myself before total spiritually advanced is that?

  7. Rev. Cat Cox

    Ok, I promise, I promise, I promise this is the last one from me today (so you you don’t block me as nuisance to your site, Michael; you are way too fun to miss!) BUT – drum roll – I’ve amended my sound bite on my ministry:

    I’m an interfaith spiritual director who supports people and groups in finding and living their own “Path of Joy” – in person and by Skype!

    This may not be as cool a sound bite as New Testament scholar Dominic Crossan describing Jesus as “a peasant with attitude” but it’s getting there. Many thanks!!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Nicely done all around Rev! And your photo looks great too!
      P.S. Thanks for raising my total “comment count” on this post!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *