You remember that truly terrible boss I had to fire?
Well, that was the end of the story. The beginning of the story is when I got the truly terrible boss to hire me in the first place.
I thought the job interview was going just fine, when, out of nowhere, he reached across the table, handed me his pen and said:
Sell me the pen.
Me: Um, WHAT?
Sell me the pen.
Me: Don’t you want to talk about my resume some more? My impressive and relevant experience?
No, sell me the pen.
Me: All righty then.
And I did what I always do when I have no idea how to actually do something, I just dove right in and gave it my best shot.
I took the pen and began displaying and describing all its wonderful qualities: its color, how smoothly it wrote, how good it felt in the hand, how impressive it would look in a boardroom, that it was shatterproof (reaching here), that it could write upside down (really reaching here), how it took one back to fond childhood memories of a beloved grandfathers’s writing instrument (getting desperate now).
When I had finally run out of steam and the babbling had died down, he took the pen back from me and said “NO.” And, he explained that it is a basic rule of sales that:
Before you can sell something to someone, you first have to know what they want to buy.
In this case, I should have asked him what was he looking for in a pen.
Armed with that information, I could then highlight how this particular pen, above all other pens in the universe, would meet his needs exquisitely.
Everything else was just me running over at the mouth. OH.
Ok, yes, I agree, the methodology chosen by this charming man was both assholic and antiquated. And I totally wanted to punch him in the wiener.
But here is the thing, I actually learned something.
Not, apparently, to run screaming away from that office and never look back, unfortunately. But something that I have used in a gazillion different situations since then.
Whenever you want to persuade, impress, or influence people, you need to think about what is important to them.
What will speak to them, what will make them stand up and take notice, what will make them want to buy whatever it is you are selling.
A client of mine was recently pulling together her marketing materials for her new business.
A number of her colleagues were doing the same, and they were filling their websites (and brochures…they had brochures) with their educational credentials. Shoveling in heaps of classes, certifications, degrees, post bacc courses, post doc courses, trainings, seminars, webinars, tutorials, apprenticeships, and their mama’s fine, fine home schooling like Christmas was coming and they were making damn sure that the goose was getting fat.
My client was feeling inadequate because she didn’t have as much evidence of time and money invested in book smarts.
I asked her to forget about ALL THAT for a moment, and think about just two things: what did she want to offer and who did she want to offer it to.
She wanted to counsel quiet and introverted women who struggle in a loud and extroverted world.
So I asked her: is your education important to them? I mean, I know it’s good that you have learned things. But does it tell them that they should hire YOU above all other options in the world? If not, what would?
Maybe it was:
>>> Watching her own introverted mother struggle and knowing the pain it had caused or
>>> Raising an introverted daughter and seeing how different that experience was when someone received support and understanding instead of criticism and ridicule or
>>> Living as an introverted woman who understood exactly what they went through and had found tools and techniques to overcome and triumph
The point was, this stuff was unique to her, to what she wanted to offer, and to who she wanted to offer it to.
And that was the stuff she needed to tell her potential clients.
And so do you.
If you are going to ask your boss about that promotion you have long deserved, you need to do this.
If you want a new job and are preparing a resume, you need to do this.
If you are applying for a work visa in Europe and need to show the authorities that you MUST be imported from the U.S., you need to do this.
If you are starting your own business and have to figure out how to explain your product, your services, yourself to potential clients, YOU NEED TO DO THIS.
Yes, I have done all of these things. And this was how.
Let me be clear: you are not changing who you are and what you do.
You are just thinking about what will most speak to your audience and emphasizing that.
Yes, this means that you may say different things at different times to different people.
You have a bazillion aspects to yourself, to your work. You are just highlighting the ones that resonate the best in the moment with the audience you have.
You are making it easy for people to see why you are the obvious, the only choice.
It may be obvious to YOU, but they are not in your head. Don’t make your potential boss/client/customer/consular officer do all the heavy lifting.
Because, it is very possible, they simply won’t bother.
Engage your audience.
Think about them. Pay attention to them. Ask them what they actually want.
And then give it to them.
They won’t even know what hit them.