Stories are vital to your business. We spend most of our leisure time consuming stories from TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. Marketers tell stories all the time, stories that attract business.
There are three types of stories, that when you tell them, will have eager prospects queuing up. The Value Proposition, the Capabilities Story, and the Origin Story.
The Value Proposition
This is the answer to the cocktail-party question, “So, . . . what sort of work do you do?”
Your answer is in three parts: what you do, who you do it for, and how they benefit.
This may seem simple, but The Value Proposition is built with care. Simply replying, “I’m an accountant,” will send them looking for the hoes-d’oeuvre tray.
“Accountant” is a noun. What you do suggests a verb. Verbs like: help, coach, train, consult, fix, insure or manage, are much stronger. Verbs evoke images and action. Adding adjectives doesn’t help. “I’m a criminal lawyer” is simplistic (and redundant). “I keep good people who may have done bad things out of jail.” Now that’s a conversation-starter.
The second part of your Value Proposition is who you do it for. This step describes your typical or ideal client. “I coach salespeople who make high-stakes presentations.” Or, “I show professional speakers how to use advanced acting techniques.” This gives the listener a chance to self-qualify. Any working mother will respond to, “I show single mothers how to master time management.”
The third part is how your clients benefit. A virtual accounting service in LA says, “We’ve combined mobile computing and the Internet to help small businesses run more efficiently.” Or perhaps, “I show physicians how to use an online billing system to improve patient outcomes, increase revenues and cut costs.”
You get the idea.
Carefully script, edit and re-edit your Value Proposition. Cut every extra word and practice until it rolls off the tongue.
Expect one of two responses:
“Oh, that’s nice. I wonder if there are any more of those hot wings. . . ” or,
“Hummm. . .That’s interesting, tell me more.”
If they dis-engage and drift away, that’s wonderful. You’ve avoided a lot of explaining. But if they respond with, “Tell me more,” you know they may have a need you can fill.
The Capabilities Story
Respond with, “For example. . .” and share a recent case, which includes four elements: the problem the client presented; the movie-trailer version of how you worked with them to solve the problem; a measurable benefit; and a reference.
“Well, for example. . . Kim runs a successful financial services company, and recently published a book. She called because her book has won several awards, and now she’s getting calls to speak at major conferences. She’s smart, articulate, and knows her field, but has no experience as a keynoter. After reading her book, we met at her office to incorporate the key elements into a speech. Then we built a slide deck using PREZI, and included cues to help her remember her main points. Then she came into the studio, where we rehearsed, recorded, and analyzed video of her presentation. Within a month she was ready for the big stage. She received a standing ovation, signed three new clients, and booked five more speaking gigs. You can call her for a reference.”
The Capabilities Story paints a mental movie, where your prospective clients can actually SEE how they could work with you to solve their problem. Each of these four elements is essential. The first establishes your expertise and the sorts of problems you can solve. The middle describes your process. It shows the prospect what it might look like to work with you. The outcome is so valuable that it easily justifies your fee. And the reference gives you rock-solid credibility.
Your Capabilities Story should call out what makes you different or special. Do you travel to their office, use state-of-the-art tools, or provide personalized support? Don’t waste time on elements that are common among competitors.
The Origin Story
This is not a biography. It simply describes a defining event that set you on the path to what you do. It can be as simple as, “After 37 years on the circuit, speaking in 47 counties, and selling 22 million books, I’ve started coaching other speakers and authors, sharing the lessons learned along the way.”
Or it can be more elaborate. For years, I’ve used this story to open seminars on Guerrilla Selling:
“The ad in the comic book said, “Win a Bicycle.” It was spring of 1963, I was nine years old, eldest of three children of a single mother who worked nights in a factory, and had long ago given up on Santa Claus. I thought it was a sweepstakes, so I tore out the coupon and sent it in.
A week later this box arrived, full of little packets of garden seeds, and a set of instructions. I was supposed to sell them, door-to-door, for 25¢ a pack (which I though was crazy because you could buy the same thing at our neighborhood store for a dime). There was an elaborate script, and all these rules: never walk on the grass, always step back from the door, and always say, “Yes Ma’am,” “No Ma’am,” and “Thank you Ma’am!”
Well I didn’t know any better, so I did everything they said. Dressed in my Sunday best, I rang every doorbell in our subdivision. Then I crossed the busy street my mother told me not to cross, and rang every doorbell over there. By about 2:00 in the afternoon it was obvious I had no future in sales. I hadn’t sold a single pack of seeds.
You know how easy it is to give up when you’re tired and hungry and dehydrated. Taking a shortcut across a vacant field, I spotted a woman in her 30s, sleeves rolled up, hair tied back, tearing up the back yard with a shovel.
“HEY LADY!” I shouted. “You don’t need no SEED for that garden DO YA?” (so much for the script.)
She stopped her work, leaned on her shovel, and yelled back, “Whaddaya GOT?”
“I got EVERYTHING from Asparagus to Zucchini! Whaddaya WANT?”
Of course, her next question was, “HOW MUCH?”
“WHY should I pay twenty-five CENTS? I can buy seeds at the grocery for a DIME.”
That’s when I started to cry.
“Because I’m trying to win a BICYCLE! THAT’S why!”
She bought $9.00 dollars worth.
And what I learned from that one transaction was, cry (well, it works for a nine-year-old). More important, it taught me that people who buy seeds, buy seeds, and people who don’t buy seeds, don’t buy seeds, and that’s just the way it works.
You don’t have time to ring every doorbell. You go up and down the alley and look for that pile of dirt where they had last year’s garden. And if they don’t answer, you go back again, and again, until you get a chance to tell your story.
One lady asked, “How many for a dollar?”
Well I could do that much math. “That would be FOUR for a dollar.”
“OK, I’ll take a dollar’s worth.”
So at the next house I offered, “four-for-a-dollar,” and instantly, my sales doubled. I learned that making a very small change can make a very big difference.
Another neighbor taught an even more important lesson. A white-haired woman in a long cotton dress answered the door, her frail hand trembling on the crook of her cane. She asked, “What’s this for?”
“They’re seeds, ma’m. For a garden. For growing flowers or food.”
“OH, no, honey! I’m too old to keep a garden. What I mean is, is this for scouts, or is this for band, or is this for camp. . .?”
“I’m trying to win a bicycle. Ma’am.”
“I’ll be right back.” She retreated into the house, returned with her purse, and handed me a five-dollar bill.
“Here you go. Give the seeds to a family that doesn’t have enough to eat.”
I left her porch in tears, because we were one of those families.
She taught me that it’s not always about the product; it’s not even about the price; sometimes it’s just about the story.
And yes. It was a red stingray, with a sprung fork, high-rise bars and a banana seat. I put so many cards in the spokes it sounded like a Harley.