By Mark Satterfield
To set the stage for what I’m about to share, let’s focus on something that would appear to be “a blinding grasp of the obvious.”
In order to get more referrals, people need to know who you are and what you do. You need to be top of mind when opportunities arise for people to send business your way. Now, if you sell a tangible product, this may be relatively easy. Need tires? Go to Bob. But what about when you sell services, especially high-value services that don’t lend themselves to a 10-second elevator pitch?
The reality is that if you sell complex solutions, it’s difficult enough to get people to understand what you do in the first place, much less enable them to remember what you do a few days later.
For example, I sat next to a very nice person on the plane and asked him what he did, to which he replied that he was a “supply chain consultant.” Sounds very impressive. Probably quite complex. I imagine he most likely has an advanced degree and considerable experience in the field. I further imagine that companies pay him a considerable amount of money for his expertise.
There’s only one problem: I don’t have any idea what he does.
I don’t share this story with you to belittle the person or to point nagging fingers at him. As I say, he seemed smart, down to earth, and there’s no doubt in my mind he probably is good at what he does.
I just don’t know what that is.
Since I was curious, I decided to ask him how he got new clients. Not surprisingly he said all of his business came from referrals. When I asked him how that worked for him, his answer was surprisingly candid.
“It’s a bit of a mixed bag,” he replied. “On the one hand, the quality of clients I get from referrals is great. They’re positively predisposed to me and what I do. I find that I’m not selling my services but simply explaining what I do. That’s real comfortable for me, since I’m not an in-your-face kind of salesperson. But, that said, I just don’t get as many referrals as I need. I might get one or two a month and then nothing for the next three months. I’m not sure why.”
Trying to be helpful, I asked him to tell me a bit more about what a supply chain consultant does. To mix metaphors, my ears glazed over after 30 seconds. His response included something about “optimizing the distribution channels between the core manufacturing center and the consumer experience.”
Although I didn’t have a good understanding of what he did (actually, I had no understanding of what he did), I did have a pretty good sense of why he wasn’t getting more referrals.
If I don’t “get” what you do, it’s going to be difficult for me to be helpful, despite how much I want to be. So how can we make it easier for people to truly understand you?
One way was brought home to me the following week, again on a plane trip.
“So what type of work do you do?”
“I’m a supply chain consultant.” (What were the odds?)
“I’m afraid I don’t know what that is.”
“Well, suppose you’re in the chicken business. They’re pretty perishable things, and I don’t know if you’ve ever unwrapped a chicken you’ve bought at the grocery store that’s gone bad, but it’s not an experience you want to repeat.
“Anyway, the tricky part is, how do you get the chicken from the farm to the retail store, in less than three days, all ready for cooking and smelling nice? That process has a lot of moving parts, a lot of people involved, actually a lot of different companies, and if one thing breaks down from farm to grocery store, the whole thing turns into an enormous foul-smelling hairball real quickly.
“So basically what I do is to look at all the steps in the process and try to figure out if there is some way we can do them faster, better, less expensively, or more efficiently.”
What a difference! I found I was both paying attention to what he was saying and I actually understood it. Understood it well enough that I’m able to retell it to you.
So what was the difference? Two people in the same business. Both intelligent. Both probably good at what they do. However, I’m probably only going to refer business (and I actually do know a VP of Operations he should be talking to) to one of them. Why does the second guy get the referral?
He told me a story.
That’s the power of what I refer to as your “unique sales stories.” They not only enable people to understand what you do, they also enable them to repeat your story to others.
Brad Mitchum is the VP of Operations I mentioned above. I don’t know what will happen as a result of putting him and my seatmate together, but I do know it wouldn’t have happened if my seatmate hadn’t told me his own unique sales story.
Mark Satterfield is the author of “Unique Sales Stories: How to Persuade Others Through The Power of Stories.” Get Satterfield’s latest mini-book on how to implement a marketing system in less than a week for less than $300 by visiting http://www.GentleRainMarketing.com.