(Post from Andrew Thorp)
About 5 years ago I attended 3 networking events on the same day and by the third one I was all networked out! Two of my fellow networkers felt the same way so we entered into a pact – for this third event we would pretend to be what we were not, just for a giggle. One was a funeral director, the other a dolphin trainer and I posed as a paranormal investigator.
We kept up the pretence for about 20 minutes before repairing to the bar, but I do recall an exchange with a gentleman who asked me what I did. “I’m a paranormal investigator,” I replied. “Oh right, where are you based?” Came the reply.
Now in my experience the “where are you based” question usually occurs when the person has little or no interest in what you’ve just said. It hardly seemed appropriate for the ghost-buster intro!
Reflecting on this, I guessed that he hadn’t really heard me at all. And if that were true, perhaps it’s because people have generally become desensitized to the endless stream of dull introductions that dominate business events. “My name’s Geoff, I’m a web designer/accountant/business consultant” is hardly going to get anyone’s attention. We simply switch off.
So what to do? Well having something a bit more impactful to say is a good start, and this is where this notion of a Big Idea comes in. What if, instead of describing what you do (sell cars, do accounts, design web sites, etc) you explain how you’re on a mission? What if you’ve unearthed a problem, frustration or injustice in your sector that you feel you can rectify?
For example, accountants often bemoan the fact that their clients only come to them when they have a problem (VAT return needs doing, HMRC breathing down my neck, etc). What they’d prefer is if clients actually viewed them as useful business advisors who are included in on-going strategic discussions. Given the broad experience of businesses that accountants have, this might result in numerous benefits – the avoidance of financial penalties and pinch-points, of course, but also helping the business to grow.
So there you have a mission – to shift the relationship an accountancy firm has with its client from reactive fixer to strategic advisor, so that the business fulfils its true potential. We’d also like to know WHY you’re on this mission, why you feel strongly about it (perhaps you’ve been on the other end) and what you’re doing to achieve your aim.
This is an altogether different story, and rather more compelling than the usual bland, factual description of products, services, number of offices, etc. In fact, it’s rather more like an IDEA you’re putting forward. Watch some of the extraordinary presentations on TED Talks and consider its strapline, “Ideas Worth Spreading”.
Thus the focus shifts from the actual mechanics of WHAT you do, to WHY it’s needed and WHY you’re so into it. Building on this, consider a nice little acronym (PAL) which conveys a simple story:
P = the PAIN
What’s the problem? Why is it so prevalent? How does it affect people?
(If you express this well, people who HAVE that problem will prick up their ears and listen attentively for the solution you’re offering).
A = ASPIRIN
What’s the solution? How does it work? Can you provide proof? Why are you well-suited and motivated to fix it?
L = LEGACY
How has this benefited people? How has it made their lives better? How can you measure this?
We admire people on a mission; and if it’s solving a problem we can relate to we’re going to listen carefully. So here’s a thought:
STOP promoting your products and services as if they were just dismembered ‘things’, unrelated to everyday problems.
START promoting your IDEA, your mission to fix something that’s wrong in the world.