Once upon a time, there was a teacher who used word pictures involving everyday, common objects – bread, salt, lanterns, baskets, seeds, coins – and relatable human experiences – weddings, banquets, work, worship and childbirth – to illustrate intangible concepts. Jesus’ words could uplift the despairing and mournful, and strike venomously at lofty priests. Authors Ray Seggern and Monica Ballard spread a healing balm and forgiveness for those who may have fallen to advertising sins. If down in your soul your marketing is “cringy”, time to confess and resolve to make amends. There’s no time like the present.

How good do you feel about where your company is in the marketplace? What did you have to do to get there? What did you promise, compromise on, or adjust down the road to reach goals or make the budget line up? Have you become the low-price leader, despite your best intentions?

Let’s say you take the time to train your technicians with good habits when it comes to those extra services for your customers: rolling trash cans back to the house, patting the dog, and complimenting the rose garden. With those personal touches, why would your customers even consider buying from someone else? Between the care you show your customers and that big sale you’re hoping for, there are a lot of feel-good touchpoints that create trust. However, many business owners think this gives them permission to start crossing the line into “selling mode” too soon in exchange for those courtesies.

In the effort to reach everyone too quickly, don’t run the risk of selling your soul. Here is how to recognize if you are, and the corresponding recommended cure.

SOUL-SELLING SYMPTOM #1: Too much yelling & selling… not enough entertainment.

“I saw the most interesting rebate offer the other day,” said no one ever!

Entertaining content reaches more of the curious public. But by sticking to just your equipment offers or niche services, you’re limiting your share-ability to those in the market right now. And, for those who aren’t in the market at all for what you are currently offering, you’re, in essence, saying, “Thanks for liking our Facebook page! You don’t mind if we reach  around you now and go for your wallet, do you?” Not cool.

THE CURE: Live by the 70/30 Rule.

Make your content 70 percent feel-good, shareable content with staff kudos, favorite customers, inspiring quotes, funny stories, links to cat videos, and pictures of puppies. Feel free to use the other 30 percent to talk about your products and services.

SOUL-SELLING SYMPTOM #2: Trying to turn human nature into a gumball machine.

You want to measure results, but you’re dealing with human beings with faulty memory systems and short attention spans. Ask a customer, “How did you hear about us?” Chances are they’ll say, “I found you on Google.” But did they answer truthfully? Did they search Google after they saw your mailer, or your TV ad, or heard your radio message, or their two-year-old kept singing your jingle? When they finally needed what you have, they felt good about you and your company, but they don’t clearly remember what station it was or what the ad said, so you know what they say instead? “Google.”

THE CURE: Make peace knowing you’re dealing with humans and their foibles; you won’t always get the most accurate answer.

Keep in mind: asking “How did you hear about us?” might be considered rude, depending upon the situation. If they’re calling about an emergency, they’re in relational mode: “I’m trusting you to help me solve this problem NOW!” You, on the other hand, are thinking transactionally: “We’ll get to your problem in a moment. Why don’t you stop and tell us how our marketing is working?” Be mindful of this. Wait until their emergency is resolved and you’re a hero to them. Then ask that question during the follow-up “happy call.”

SOUL-SELLING SYMPTON #3: Putting too much faith in metrics.

Again, we get that it’s about measuring results. But can you tell the humans from the bots? Metrics should be the most real thing on the Internet. You can count clicks, track interest, and verify users on social and search platforms. But studies indicate that year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human!

Did you know that when mobile users switch cell towers, they’re counted as completely different users? How reliable is that metric now? The biggest advertisers — like Proctor & Gamble — are discovering a woeful lack of standards and verification when it comes to online metrics. Where these advertisers rushed in before, guns blazing, they now tread more cautiously. And they don’t take information at face value.

THE CURE: Treat customers as human beings.

Bond with them first and earn the right to ask for the sale over time. Balance your transactional messages with happy, feel-good relational ones, and keep your efforts pure. In other words, don’t wedge an offer into a branding message. Don’t attach a coupon code to a puppy video! Don’t run separate messages on different radio stations to “test” the stations’ effectiveness. Keep your strategy simple and your messaging undiluted.

The point is to tell memorable stories to as many people as possible: stories they can hang onto for later and share with others. Then pepper in those offers occasionally so that you’re the obvious choice when they finally need what you’re selling. You won’t have to sell your soul to make that sale.

Not Statements – Stories

Remember: Value lies in more than just the lowest price point. For some consumers, saving time is more important. For others, what they buy is about status. One of the most common problems we encounter as we help service industry businesses with their marketing is getting past the fluffy promises of “friendly, helpful staff” and find out what they have to offer customers, be it better processes, expertise, or products.

“What makes your roof repairs better than the next guy’s?” “How is your furnace tune-up superior to the next guy down the search page can do?” “Aren’t all plumbers pretty much the same?” “An electrician is an electrician, right?”

Those are the questions in your prospect’s mind. Now, burrow into your company’s procedures to find the answers. You need to be able to articulate value to your customer, keeping in mind that specifics are more believable than generalities. As much as you would like to make your platitudes about yourself, your staff’s combined years of experience, your guarantees, and your connection to the community, what is really important to your customer is the old, “WIIFM: What’s In It For Me?” So, turn those questions around.

When you start presenting what you offer, ask yourself, “WHY is that important for the customer?” and “How has it mattered to someone in the past?” and explain it in that sense:

  • “A more experienced staff means fewer mistakes, rare second trips, and almost no ‘do-overs!’ But just in case: the job is fixed right, or it’s free!”
  • “We’re a family-owned business with strong roots in the community. This is what is important to us: being there for our friends and neighbors!”

Next, back your statements up with stories. Folks may not remember that you have a 26-point furnace check-up. They’re more likely to remember that story about the family who moved into a home where the furnace had a cracked heat exchanger, but you caught it with your fancy microcamera, and fixing that kept them safe from carbon monoxide poisoning!

Lastly, embed the process of how you do what you do, internally and externally. It’s easy in the day-to-day for technicians to forget why they do something. So, review it with them in your training: “This is part of our best practices. This is a ritual. We go through this when we’re in a home. We do this every time we’re out on a call, and here’s why.”

Procedures need to go beyond slapping the booties on or offering “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed.” Big deal. Who doesn’t? Sometimes, the answer is to find something that everyone else in the industry does and elevate that experience so it’s more memorable, and you can own it.

You probably have an ice cream parlor in your town like Cold Stone Creamery or Baskin Robbins, where they scoop the ice cream out, put all the fixings in it, and flip it this way and that before they scoop it up and hand it to you. Here in Austin, we have those too.

And then we have Amy’s; Home of the Flying Ice Cream. After your ice cream artist mixes all that goodness together for you, when they’ve got the spatula in one hand and the cone or cup in the other, that ice cream flies five feet up and down, or sometimes way across the room to another employee depending on how big the store is. Point is, Amy’s Ice Cream literally elevates the delivery of a product to make the company stand out. They even staged an annual “Ice Cream Olympics” to showcase their talented staff and their tricks and invited the public to try their hand. (How’s that for a recruitment gimmick?) Their customer service philosophy is, “Don’t just make ice cream. Make their Day!”

To differentiate, embellish the experience you’re providing. What if your HVAC techs could juggle tools? What if your plumbers could fold a washcloth into a swan and tuck a business card inside it? What if your roofers did a celebratory song and dance when they were done with a job? What if your electricians left a strand of colorful string lights wrapped with your company’s logo? And those ordinary booties that EVERY technician in town wears? What if you left behind a pair of booties for kids with a booklet of 10 ideas of how they could be something else? And then, what if you included an interactive idea #11? With idea #11, you invite the customer’s kids to try and think of something you haven’t thought of, and when they do, they snap a photo and send it to you to post on social media.

How will you stand out in your market? Start with these assignments:

  • Make WHAT you do explainable.
  • Make WHY you do something tangible (through examples and storytelling).
  • Make HOW you do it special.

Soon, the market will beat a path to your door.

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