Please, please, tell me what you do

The request isn’t complicated. Please, and we can’t say please enough, tell us what you do.

Recently I was looking for someone to help me with a specific problem for a client; maybe it was something I could have figured out on my own, but we’re all pressed for time and sometimes it makes more sense to call in a professional than to spend hours figuring it out myself. I didn’t know anyone who specialized in it, and I’d asked a few business buddies and they didn’t know anyone either. So I did what anyone who doesn’t know someone who can provide this service from their network: I googled it, hoping to find a service provider.

There are all kinds of tech services popping up to fill this gap between not knowing someone who does what you need done and finding the right person/company to solve your problem, including Angies List, Yelp, Google Reviews, Upwork, etc. These sites are hugely helpful also because it allows you to hear more from people who have used the provider’s services / products and can recommend or not recommend them.

These services are also great because, in the new Wild West of professional services, they help you, the service provider, find and retain new clients that you might not otherwise not reach or that you might reach through thousands of marketing dollars thrown at them.

However, these matchmaking services can only get you so far; they serve the “introduction” to help people find you. Ultimately though, you have to seal the deal, and there’s a lot of space between finding a potential solution and actually signing up and paying for that solution.

So back to my google search. Here’s what I found for providers: someone whose “tailored services allow me to focus on advancing my mission.” Someone who believed that the unique challenges I face represent boundless opportunities. And someone who promised to solve my pressing problems. It went on like this for the first 10 search results on google.

More often than not, on searches like these, I encounter websites where I go to learn more about a product or company, but rather than getting a straightforward explanation about what the company does, I find a mashup of buzzwords about values and their team and the value they deliver as the main content of the site.

The company makes me dig for a comprehensible explanation of their services or products.

“Our tailored services allow you to focus on advancing your mission.” What services? How do you know I want to focus on advancing my mission? What do you know about my mission?

“We believe that the unique challenges our clients face represent boundless opportunities for improvement.” What challenges? What opportunities? What improvements? If you don’t tell me what you are talking about, I have no reason to believe that that is what you are going to deliver.

“We solve your pressing problems.” Hmmm….. my pressing problem right now is that I’m starving and my favorite neighborhood deli is closed on Mondays and nothing else sounds good to eat. Are you going to solve that problem for me? Probably not. And the assumptions built into that statement that a) you know what my pressing problems are and b) you’re the only provider to solve it are completely unsubstantiated at the point of you making them.

Here’s the thing about promising to solve people’s most pressing problems without being specific. If you’re vague and full of big promises, but aren’t giving concrete examples of why your audaciously vague big promises are true, then you sound like a huckster and are not giving potential clients customers a reason to trust you. And in a world full of hucksters, and with relationships that start with search engines or recommendation services rather than through trusted networks where social pressures promise a decent experience strictly through you hope the maintenance of relationships, establishing trust is a key determinate of whether you’re going to have a relationship with this potential customer/client or not.

You should also care about trust because professional services are more intimate. Consider your own use of professional services – whether you’re looking for someone to mind your child, or cut your hair, you are putting things that are personal and high-touch in a provider’s hands; so you must feel comfortable enough with them to do so.

Unfortunately, professional service providers have fallen inthrall to modern marketing, with its catchy slogans and taglines meant to “engage”. But if your site is full of slogans and taglines, it’s devoid of content. Because rarely do these slogans and one-liners clarify what you do, what benefits you provide your customers, and/or what differentiates you from anyone else.

Obfuscation = lost customers

Unfortunately, here’s the truth: if you’re not telling people what you do, because you hope they’ll pick up the phone and politely request that you clarify what it is you do, you’re going to run into trouble keeping your pipeline full. The explosion of data our there on the internets means people do basic due diligence before they engage – with anything they’re thinking of buying and anyone they’re thinking of buying from.

One common objection I hear from business owners is that being vague is a lead-qualifying mechanism – by forcing someone to pick up the phone, you’re weeding out the people who aren’t serious enough to pick up the phone. This may be somewhat true, but you’re also weeding out everyone who doesn’t see a reason to call you on the phone because you can’t be bothered to provide them with the basic information that they’re looking for. Relationship-based business of the sort that is forged through phone calls has been around forever, but the fact is, not everyone who needs your services is in your network, and networks are what truly lead to people being comfortable enough to make casual phone calls these days. You need to be able to catch the fish that are out in the deep sea beyond your net(work), and you do that with clear messaging and differentiation.

People want to know, in reading about your company, how you solve their problems. They want to know “what’s in it for them”. In our particular North American culture, that’s just how we seem to operate. (Human nature? Maybe, but let’s not get super generalize-y – the generalizations are what we’re fighting against, here, folks).

What’s in it for me?

Potential clients want to know about you, insomuch as wanting to know how you solve their problems. Let’s repeat that again, because it’s important: people only really care about how you solve their problems. Pics of your dog/the office dog help humanize you, sure, but they don’t answer the question: can do you, as an expert I am searching for, do what I need? And how do you do it?

The flip side of our “all about me” culture is that services providers tend to write all about themselves on their website and in their public-facing materials, and not enough about their clients. Have you ever been on a date and the other person only talked about themselves, never asked about you, or talked about what they know you are interested in? Did you want to go on another date with that person? Probably not, because the point is to connect. And its the same with how you communicate to the money-wielding public. Your public-facing materials need to connect with your potential clients, in a “these people really get us” way – they get what we need, and they have something to offer. Your clients are who pay you and make your business viable, and your communications need to speak to how you can help them, and not be all about you.

The most successful websites focus on their customers – yet customer-centric design is still pretty rare.

My business isn’t doing this. Right?

So now you might be wondering if you do this when talking about your business in public facing materials (or denying that this has anything to do with you – hey, we all do a bit of that.) To help you measure, the accuracy of that feeling, though, we have a little diagnostic quiz for you. When you are having those first contacts with potential clients, how often are they asking you any of the following questions?

  • “So what exactly do you do?”
  • “How does an engagement work?”
  • “Who are your services for? What industries do you specialize in? ”
  • “How can your consulting help me / my business?”
  • “How are your services different from X?”

If you get asked any of these items with any frequency, it is safe to assume that you are not communicating your business value efficiently in your public-facing presentation.

Why is my business doing this?

There are a number of reasons why you might be damaging your business through obfuscation. The first reason is Copycat-ism: you’ve simply chosen to emulate other people in your field who are also doing this in their public facing materials. Its easy to look to more successful firms or even firms that you just like and do what they do with your information.

The next reason is, as we mention above, you’re in thrall to marketing buzzwords because of your constant exposure to them, and you’re substituting the buzzwords and taglines for real content because that’s what you see some other businesses do. However, businesses that do this successfully are already household names where it widely understood already what they offer. Nike can use catchy phrases because everyone knows what they do; so now they can move squarely into the space of trying to inspire people with their products. Having aspirations are great. But aspirations don’t communicate what your company does for its customers, only what your company aspires to. It is also rare to see a company operationalize lofty concepts in a meaningful way in their day-to-day operations.

The next reason you might subject people to obfuscation is a group of related ideas:
1) that you don’t know what you offer, and/or
2) you customize your services products to suit each and every person who walks through the door, and/or
3) you don’t have a process in place for the work that you do. If your client wants a sandwich, you make him a sandwich to his specifications.

A lot of businesses can get by on with these approaches; however businesses are nearly impossible to scale because they don’t do anything particularly well, nor do they have processes and procedures in place to do things repeatedly well at scale. If you see yourself in any of these reasons why above, you can also see a way to clarify some of your offerings to be more specific. We can also help you get razor sharp as well – reach out.

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