Today I was reading a cautionary tale about restaurant ownership, and one of the issues was the problem the owner had run into with pricey real estate and long-term leases. For sure, there are some businesses where you absolutely must “be there” – where space is important – and in these cases you should push for the best you can afford, as soon as possible. For most businesses, though, when you think about the “where” of your business, you’ll be stronger in the long run if you build flexibility into your plan.
Let me give you an example. One consultant we know (we’d say “headhunter”, but he wouldn’t) had lots of corporate clients, back in the days when businesses like his usually had large, pricey offices in the financial core of their city. Those kinds of businesses often relied on the prestige of real estate to convey a message of reliability, dependability, and success. Our friend got into the executive shared office space in its very early days. No one knew that his Bay Street address was only a mail-drop and answering service. After all, he went to the clients. But since people still wrote letters for business back then, his address looked very impressive on business cards and letterhead. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find that many businesses have no physical space at all. Consultants, coaches, advisors and more, have found that they can carry out their business very well in the virtual space, or by going to where their clients are. On the rare occasion when they need to host a meeting, they can do it in a rented-for-purpose location like a hotel meeting room or a co-working space. This doesn’t just apply to knowledge workers, though. Think about all of the direct-selling operations that don’t have storefronts, but sell through home parties. Or online businesses. And what about our restauranteur? What about catering with a rental kitchen, or food pop-ups, or other creative locations?
When you’re planning your business, ask yourself what the space signifies to the customer, and whether you can achieve that signal in another way that’s less costly, and that ties up less of your resources. We’ve spent so much time making remote work possible for employees of large organizations, there’s no reason you can’t build this into your own business, as well.
Excellent news! You’ve found the key to your customer’s “job to be done” with your product our service. You’ve focused on only the prospects who have proven they want to invest time, money, and effort in doing the job. So, what could possibly go wrong?
Although we’d all like to believe that our service, gizmo, or gadget is the only choice our customer will ever need or want, the truth is, there are very few cases where that’s true. More often, we have to compete with something, or someone. This is the tricky bit. When it comes to describing why that service, gizmo, or gadget is better, our mindset can be a real barrier. This goes double if wat we’re selling is our own talents and capabilities. Where is the line between confidence, and over-confidence? How do you know the difference between “my way of doing this is better”, or “my product/shop/invention is better”, and “I’m better”? Reconciling the tension between innovator and impostor is often what will make or break the sale.
How can you make sure that tension doesn’t “snap” the sale? First, write down the story you’re planning to tell (whether that’s your pitch to a new boss, or to a new client). What are the advantages you’re describing? Are they real? Are you confident you’re telling the truth? If not, where isn’t it working? Fix the facts, not the adjectives. If the facts are true, but your discomfort has to do with feeling boastful, or bragging, ask yourself whether it would sound true, if your biggest supporter was saying it. If it would, then you’ve got some work to do, because the problem is you.
When you feel like an impostor or a liar when you tell your story, this feeling is transmitted to the person watching or listening, even if you don’t realize that. It’s fine to be humble. It’s not fine to be modest. New business people often confuse the two, especially if they don’t have much selling experience. Humble means unassuming – not taking too much for granted. Modest can mean that, too, but it also means shy, or uncertain. And who would be confident buying something that even the salesperson isn’t not certain of? No one.
So, the next time you’re preparing to make a sale, give yourself time in advance to practice. Write the story so you’re sure it’s true. Check your facts. Read it in the voice of your biggest supporter. Use the adjectives they would use. Then say it out loud until you’re confident, and make sure your own fear of the spotlight isn’t standing in the way of your success.
We've said many times, that the best way to market is to find a customer, create a solution to a problem or a need for them, and sell it to them. We stand by that. While you're busy creating that solution or figuring out how to fill the need (the job to be done, to paraphrase Clay Christensen), someone else may show them the next best option. Also, if you want other people to sell your product or service for you, by describing it to their networks, you need to know what it is that you sell. So which comes first? Customer, or product?
The first truth is this: knowing your customer is absolutely critical. The second truth is this: you need money to have a viable, ongoing business. And the third: sooner or later, to get money, you're going to have to sell something - whether that something is a product or a service. Revenue is how you pay the bills, pay yourself, fund the work, even if you're a social enterprise or not-for-profit. Remember: not-for-profit doesn't mean, "doesn't bring in money".
So how do you figure out what it is that you sell? If it's a widget, a chicken, or an egg, you've got the beginning of a description. If it's more complicated, you need to be able to distill your product (or service) description down to something even your grandma or your five-year-old nephew could explain. Why? Simple: because the more people who know how to describe what you sell and why it's great, the more unofficial salespeople you can have out there in the world, for free, generating leads for you. So go ahead. Break all those rules we've told you about customer focus, and take some time to figure out the easiest way to describe what it is you sell. You'll be glad you did.
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help them see everything they need to know to make better decisions in their complex business environment.
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