Entrepreneurs

Be Sure to Sell Your Story, Not Your Product

Customers are returning. In-person events are resuming. (Springsteen on Broadway– the Boss is back in town!) Orders are slowly creeping up to pre-pandemic levels. Offices are looking more like going concerns than graveyards, for at least a few days a week. Kids are headed back to school. And, throughout it all, the stock market continues to soar.

In fact, almost all the trends today are happily up and to the right, unless you’re an unvaccinated Trump voter living in a Red State led by arrogant MAGA idiots and hypocritical vax deniers. Then, your chances of dying are increasing. Meanwhile the country’s economic recovery continues to be threatened by vaccine resisters and new virus variants which their willful ignorance facilitates and helps disburse. 

But, even as most things are headed in the preferred direction, every business needs to be more careful now than ever not to squander the once-in-a-lifetime restart opportunity that is in front of them. To aggressively build back and build better, but with some considerable degree of care.   It’s not going to be easy with demand rapidly spiking, employees deciding not to return or returning half-heartedly, resources and supply chains still constrained, prices of materials and components inflating.  And,  worst of all,  consumer expectations haven’t adjusted anywhere near realistically to the new, more modest business offerings and service levels. This is due largely to their desperate thirst for the good old days.

People were reasonably understanding during the peak days of the pandemic, but now that the social, political and peer pressures are diminishing, at least for the moment, the gloves have also come off. We’re quickly returning to a greedily grasping world of “I want it all and I want it right now.” Tolerance and moderation are much harder to come by as the scramble for scarce products, services, properties, and reservations is full on. Airline passengers continue to act out in aggressive and hostile ways. Waiting, sharing, or the willingness to accept even a little less of just about anything in order to make room for others, is strictly for wusses. This selfishness masquerading as individual freedom is just one of the many Trump legacies that we’ll have to live with for a long time. We have to start dealing with it now.

You’ve got to be ready to meet these new challenges if you want your business to succeed, and the window for doing so is quickly closing. There likely won’t be much of a opportunity for second chances or do-overs. Everyone’s in too much of a hurry, wants whatever they can get, and the prevailing sentiment seems to be that settling (not happily) for a little something is better than ending up with nothing.

This is a different game and a different mindset than many businesses have faced in the past and – for better or worse – this means that their “stories,”  the tales they tell their customers,  are going to have to change and adapt as well. But some basic rules of the game never change. You’ve just got to keep them top of mind in all you do.

It starts with a simple formula: satisfaction equals experiences exceeding expectations. SEE for short and SEEing is believing. If you focus on telling the right story to your customers and setting the proper expectations, and then deliver against those promises, you’ll have long term customers who are happy campers willing to stick with you as things improve over time. It’s still a WYSIWYG world – what you see is what you get. In this universe, the best story always wins.

On the other hand, if you overpromise or try to move too quickly to do everything you used to do, you’re almost certain to disappoint them and fail. And, as an aside, you’ll also burn out your employees, whose angst will become painfully apparent. The best ones will leave, and the underperformers will “quit” without leaving, which is even worse.

In troubled times, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of the reassuring connections your customers had and have with your front-line employees – not just your senior management team. Keeping them all happy is critical because your customers will never be happier than your least happy employee.

So, three key rules to keep in mind:

(1)  People buy stories, not things. Your story for today needs to closely and carefully match exactly what you can consistently deliver at the moment and your whole team needs to be onboard and committed to the plan. You’ll get better over time, but for now you should definitely plan to under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t rush;  do a few important things really well.

(2)  Stories are a powerful way to build loyalty and maintain connections. Your story needs to be about acknowledging, understanding and valuing your customers’ needs and desires. There needs to be a simple explanation of how you expect to satisfy them through hard work, honest communications, and a continued personal commitment to getting better every day – just as they will be. Make them an integral part of the program and partners in the solution.

(3)  Stay away from pitching math or metrics or relying on technology for now. Everyone has the same tools these days– they offer no edge or competitive advantage. What matters is who has their hearts and heads in the right place and can best tell their story. This is the time for an authentic people-to-people pitch and no amount of cold technology, stats, or spreadsheets can ever turn a sterile story into a heartfelt one. People don’t make emotional decisions based on numbers, they fall in love with your story, or they find someone else.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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