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Saturday, November 14, 2009

What do you want to hear?

Yesterday, an electrical contractor phoned me to receive some advice on how to market his idea. He planned to start a design consulting service where people would obtain his advice on the overall project before getting started.

My initial reaction: "This will be a hard sell" because of the trust problem. Why should anyone go to him for this level of advice?

Where are his credentials, and where is his reputation?

Then I probed some more for the underlying reason.

He had hoped to connect with potential clients earlier in their decision-making stage so he could ultimately obtain their electrical contracting business.

The latter isn't such a bad idea, if you can pull it off, but I told him I didn't think the advisory service would fly, at least at present, because in effect he is asking people do business with him on a supposedly independent advisory level when in fact his real intent is to obtain their business as an electrical contractor.

Where is the trust here?

This led me to the next stage of the conversation, offering him some useful advice he could implement right away, without spending any significant money, and without expecting him to do any business with me.

"Are your former clients really happy with your service," I asked. He said: "Yes". I told him to take his best clients for dinner, or lunch, or coffee, and pick brains about their interests and values, offer them some free service as a Thank You, and then enlist their support to endorse or recommend his business.

I listened to him as I discussed these ideas, and could tell he wasn't really listening.

I had just shot down his great idea, and now was suggesting something "he had considered before" but just didn't want to do.

That's fair enough. My consulting services are free in this context. But I've heard stories from paid consultants who describe the paradox of their work: They deliver useful, honorable advice, but their clients rarely implement the best ideas, often making the same mistakes, and often calling them back with more fee-paid opportunities.

You might see this as a vicious or virtuous circle, depending on your perspective. The consultant doesn't mind the repeat engagements and fees, but surely the client can learn to do things more wisely.

Trouble is, most of the time, we are stuck in our ways, and it is hard to change. Sometimes a good jolt (like a recession) helps, but mostly we want to continue just as we are. This is especially the case if any change would interfere or threaten our underlying beliefs or values.

These principals apply to your potential clients, as well. They may be looking for security, adventure, quality, or price, or an impossible combination of everything, but your marketing message will only click with them when they hear what they want to hear, so you need to speak in their voice.

This can be hard to do because you may have a disconnect between your client's voice (perception) and yours. If you are fortunate to have the ability to modify your way of communicating, you can be successful. Probably easier is to work with and find clients with similar perspectives and values as yours. You'll relate naturally, without stress or angst.

As for the electrical contractor, I don't think he will give up on his idea. He will call others seeking free advice, he will continue to dream that he could be an advisor and guide his clients to the right way for the entire project, and, winning their trust, show them how his electrical contracting service is the best.

I won't change his mind, but if I wanted to run a con, I could offer to give him guidance in implementing his idea, for a price, of course. (Assuming he doesn't also have a perception that paying for any advice is unwise.)

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