[NOTE: This piece is in response to a comment from Ian Blei on a post that appeared December 13, 2010. You can find both by clicking here.]
I don’t know about you (actually, I think I do, or I wouldn’t be writing to you), but my work is hard to explain. As a coach, I work on many levels. I hold multiple perspectives. I provide clients with a wide array of tools for gaining insight and traction in their lives.
And that’s just the beginning.
I’m a somatic coach, which means I work with how people embody possibilities. I’m an integral coach, which–among other things–means that I work in with clients’ physical, mental, spiritual, and social development across multiple domains ranging from finance to romance to life purpose.
And I could go on, as I suspect you could if you were asked to explain your work. I know, as you do, that there are a lot of pieces to consider when talking about your best work. And all those pieces are connected.
The problem is that explanations like this are boring or confusing or overwhelming, even to people who kind of get what you’re talking about.
In other words, explaining what you do will hardly ever turn potential clients into actual clients. Which is why marketers and sales trainers tell us to sell what clients want, not what they need.
Ack! When your work is complex, that can seem like an injunction to offer band-aids when you know darn well a more holistic solution is required.
It is and it isn’t about band-aids
You have no interest in providing a band-aid solution. You know that treating symptoms instead of causes doesn’t work.
But the fact remains, symptoms get potential clients to pay attention. It’s not postural misalignment that brings most people to a bodyworker, it’s chronic back pain. It’s not a dysfunctional culture that drives a manager to hire an organizational development consultant, it’s low productivity or problems with employee retention.
Symtoms are pain points that get your just-right clients’ attention. If you want their attention, you need to talk about symptoms before you do anything else, even though you have no intention of offering a band-aid.
A chiropractor once remarked to me that a headache is not an aspirin deficiency. I got his point. However, without the headache, I wouldn’t have been in his office.
He didn’t need to sell me aspirin to turn me into a client, but he did need to acknowledge my pain.
Caring about symptoms doesn’t equal being shallow
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your potential clients’ preoccupation with symptoms means they are shallow, concerned only with surface results.
Clients who fit just-right are likely to have a measure of sophistication. They will have tried things, often many things, that haven’t helped. They are likely to be frustrated and hesitant about making another investment when previous efforts have failed.
So when you talk about your work, you need to do three things:
- Name their symptoms.
- Offer to alleviate those symptoms.
- Differentiate your work from other options.
It’s only when you get to that last one that explaining what you do is relevant.
Name the symptoms
Your first task is to name specific symptoms that prompt potential clients to take action. These symptoms are the same whether the potential client is looking for a band-aid or transformation.
So pay attention to the band-aid sellers. You don’t have to copy their tactics, but do emulate them when it comes to naming symptoms.
Offer to alleviate the symptoms
When you’ve named their symptoms, potential clients have a reason to listen. The next thing they want to know is what you’re going to do about it.
Be careful here. “What you’re going to do about it” means one thing to you and a different thing to your potential client. To you, it probably means how you will bring your expertise and experience to bear on the problem. But to your potential client, in means what will change for them as a result of your work.
Your job at this point is to describe the best outcome available for your potential client
Differentiate your work
Now that you have established the symptoms and outcome, you can talk a bit about what you do and why your approach is superior to others. For example, you can explain that other solutions only address symptoms, whereas yours goes to the root of a problem.
Even at this stage of the conversation, be careful not to overwhelm your potential client with details about how you work. Better to say too little and let them ask for more than explain so much that they glaze over.
Meet them where they are
The secret of getting potential clients to hire you is to meet them where they are. Start with what is obvious to them (the symptoms) instead of trying to sell what is obvious to you (your methods).
It takes humility and a good deal of practice to wean yourself from explaining the value of what you do. You have to be willing to learn from marketers who are less sophisticated (and who perhaps have less integrity) than you. And you need to think and feel your way into using what you learn in an authentic, honorable way.
The good news is that it works. (And it gets easier.) With practice, you’ll get more and more just-right clients who fully appreciate your work. The quality of your interaction with them and the results they get will be all the proof you need that starting with symptoms was the right thing to do.
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