Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Be a Know-it-all

We've all heard these claims in business:

“We’re number one.”

“We’re world-class.”

“We’re the experts.”

Any company that claims it's world class, isn't. If you want to convince someone that you’re the best, the worst thing you could do is to tell them so. Instead, help them discover it for themselves. That’s especially true if you’re trying to get your first customer. Who would believe you if you say you’re the best when you have no customers, yet? Even if you have a track record, people would be leery if you bragged about your greatness. Prospects want to choose a company that knows what it’s doing. But you won’t convince them by simply saying, “I know what I’m doing.”

There’s a better way.

Let’s say that after years of experimenting in her kitchen, Lucinda has developed a great-tasting salsa with a special main ingredient: lima beans. She immediately forms Sublima Lima Salsa, LLC. If Lucinda opened a small store on the busiest street in town, she might sell one or two jars of salsa a week. Her goal is to sign up wholesale customers. Not only does Lucinda have to overcome the stigma of people who associate lima beans with school cafeteria lunches, she’s never sold anything in her life. Therefore, she has to convince potential customers that lima beans really are a tasty salsa ingredient, and that she’s the expert on such things.

Lucinda sets to work by submitting an opinion piece to her local newspaper entitled Lima Beans, the Misunderstood Legume. Then she learns that the local community college is always looking for experts to teach non-credit continuing education classes. Lucinda proposes to teach a cooking class that shows students how to use ordinary vegetables for easy, unique entrees and side dishes. Her students quickly see that she knows what’s she's doing around a bean or two. On the last night of class, she gives each student a jar of her Sublima Lima salsa.

Lucinda is just getting started. She joins civic organizations and offers to speak at any opportunity about the positive health aspects of lima beans. And then she signs up for as many neighborhood and community festivals as possible where she hands out brochures on healthy eating, along with free samples of her salsa.

Eventually, Lucinda’s efforts begin to pay off. A retired teacher takes her cooking class at the college. The teacher happens to be the mother of the owner of a chain of gourmet grocery stores in town. He sees the jar of salsa in his mom’s kitchen one day and tries it. Impressed, the storeowner sees Lucinda’s contact information prominently displayed on the label, and he soon calls her to learn more about her company.

The administrator of a large nursing home facility hears Lucinda speak at a Rotary Club lunch. The administrator is always interested in new ways to provide healthy meals to her residents. After the speech, she corners Lucinda to learn more.

Lucinda begins to build her list of prospects—prospects that see her as an expert not just on lima bean salsa, but all things vegetable or legume-related. Who knows? Lucinda’s prospects may need a product other than salsa, or maybe something vegetable-based that does not include lima beans. However, they are confident that Lucinda is the expert on such matters because she’s demonstrated that fact in many settings, all without directly claiming that she is the best at what she does.

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