Saturday, February 4, 2012

Being Smarter is not a Selling Proposition.

John Tuld: There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat.
ˆˆ This comes from the movie "Margin Call" which is well worth watching.

John, the firm's leader, continues to explain that cheating is off the table (you can decide if this is true in their case) and that the other firms' people are just as smart as they are (he says this even knowing they have a literal rocket scientist in the room.) So the only option left to them is to be first.
Whether or not you believe this is a false choice, that is, that there are 4th and 5th options, those of us in marketing (especially for professional services firms) are often presented with "we are smarter" as part of the firm's value statement.

First of all, no, you are not smarter.

You might know more about a specific area or have more experience in a specific circumstance, but you are not smarter than your competition. Bristle all you want and, to be fair, you might be right to do so. I've met some people who are, quite simply, smarter than the rest of us. I think of myself as pretty smart, but I often run into people who quickly leave me in their dust. (Likely even more than I believe there to be.) You might be one of them.

I've also met a few people who are able to more adeptly apply their intelligence (and/or experience) to specific needs. And you might be one of those.

In fact, you might be the rarest of all rarities and in both categories. But I'd bet against it. Odds, are you only believe this to be the case. Many people I meet feel they are in this rare air and, well, not so many of them are in either category. But that's fine. Nothing wrong with thinking you are smart, so long as you don't put off people by lording your intelligence over them (regardless of it being true.) Believing you are smart and can apply this intelligence is a good thing.

Secondly, who said being smarter was good for business development?

My experience shows that intelligence does not equate to rainmaking skills. Some smart folks are good at bringing in new business. Some aren't. Some truly dull wits (a few who make you wonder how they manage to tie their own shoes) are phenomenal at getting clients and customers in the door.

You find me the best rainmaker at a company and I very much doubt you will have found me the firm's smartest professional. Some of the best rainmakers I know are very bright people. Some are below average by comparison to others in their field. And they know it. And they shrug it off. In fact, a good number of them have told me (sotto voce) that they know the race does not often go to the mentally swiftest. "The trick is to make the client think he's the smartest person in the room and you just happen to be good at the one thing they need you do to."

The real trick, I believe, is to have a great idea and present it in a way that makes the client thinks it was his idea.Often this is the best (or only) way to get anything approved. But I digress...

You are not smarter. And, even if you are, this is not a value proposition.

Putting a finer point on it, telling people you are smart is the opposite of marketing. Showing them that they are smart to hire you or buy your stuff is what we strive for in marketing. The more we can do this, the more customers we will get and the longer we will keep them.

Never miss an opportunity to let your customers know they were smart to hire you and to keep paying you. A great way to do this is to get a referral from them and have that referral thank them for the introduction; or have them thank their friend for turning them onto your service or product. This makes your customer feel smart and helps you get new business. But again, I digress.

Also, being smart does not equate to providing value.

It's how you apply the combination of your experience and intelligence that matters. And it depends on what you are building. Google has made a business of hiring the smartest people around. We've all heard about their interview tests. But the fact they are smarter has no value to me. What's valuable to me is that Google's tools help me find and promote things more efficiently. Which helps me sell stuff for my clients, even if they might be less intelligent than their competitors. And helps me out maneuver marketers who might be far smarter than me.

The next time someone asks what sets you and your company apart and you think "we are smarter" or "I am smarter," rethink. You are not smarter and, even if you are, it makes no difference.

So... using the choices above, you can either be first or cheat. I think Mr. Tuld chose wisely. But what do I know? I'm not a rocket scientist.