Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 125 / JANUARY 1991 / PAGE 42

Make your image shine. (communicating precisely what your services are) (Workplace) (column)
by Daniel Janal

I recently attended a conference for professional speakers and asked the well-dressed woman on my left what business she was in.

"I speak about visual communications," she said. "Is that like overhead slides and transparencies?" I inquired. "Not. It has more to do with presentation skills," she said. "Oh, so you help people deliver speeches," I deduced. "No. I help people present themselves properly in corporate communications situations," she said, further clouding the issue. "Oh, so you write marketing reports and employee newsletters," I said. "No. Different kinds of corporate communications," she insisted. "What kind of communications situations?" I asked, feeling that I was getting colder rather than hotter answers. "At the dinner table," she responded. "Oh, so you tell people which fork to use with which course," I guessed. "That's it!" she exclaimed.

Did this woman know what business she was in? Undoubtedly. Did she have the ability to tell people what business she was in? Undoubtedly not.

I had to ask a series of questions to find out what services she provided and how I could benefit. I was being polite because I was in an awkward situation.

Your prospects probably won't be as polite.

If they don't understand what business you're in, they won't bother to ask follow-up questions. They'll just assume what you have is not what they want.

To make sure this doesn't happen to you, tailor your positioning statement so that everyone will know immediately what service you provide.

A person could say, for example, that she's an accountant. The prospect would learn very little from that statement. Instead, she could say, "I'm an accountant who specializes in small businesses." That targets her market specifically.

She also could've chosen any of these areas: personal income-tax planning, large corporations, freelance writers, and actors.

Here are a few more vague professions and more descriptive statements: desktop publisher (design and produce newsletters), personal services manager (walk dogs and buy groceries), marketing specialist (write direct-mail pieces to increase sales), financial consultant (sell stocks).

Do your prospects really understand what services you provide? Here are a few exercises to fine-tune your message. These exercises will help you create a positioning statement for your company so you can clearly communicate you ideas.

What image do you want to pop into people's minds when they hear your company's name? Write three things that come to mind. Now which of those three statements is the one that clearly identifies your company? Practice reading the statement aloud until it sounds right and rolls off your tongue easily. Then get feedback from your peers and family. However, don't ask if they understand it. Chances are they'll say yes so they won't offend you. A better way to get feedback is to ask them to tell you what business you're in. That way, you'll get a more informed view.

This statement is the basis for your verbal contact with prospects--in person and on the phone. If you follow these steps, you'll be able to get your message across clearly.

Although it pays to be clear and specific, you should avoid being so specific that you risk limiting your employment possibilities. According to lawyer Alan Foneberg, when people meet a lawyer at a party, they ask, "What kind of law do you practice?" The reply is usually a one-word answer such as matrimonial, civil, or criminal. Foneberg says this is the wrong approach because you'll be typecast and the prospects will think you perform only that function when most lawyers are generalists who can perform many tasks.

Instead, Foneberg advises lawyers to respond, "What kind of lawyer do you need?" That way, people can say they've had a run-in-with the landlord and need to halt the eviction process or whatever. The lawyer can then arrange a meeting for the new clients.

Home office workers can use this tactic as well. Let's look at two sample dialogues.

Prospect: What do you do?

Home office worker: I type term papers.

Prospect: (To herself) Oh well, I guess he can't do marketing reports. They're probably too specialized for him anyway. (To the home office worker) That sounds nice. Good luck.

In this case, the home office worker limited his approach, and the prospect didn't realize he could also type marketing reports. Result: a lost sale.

For him to make the sale, the conversation should flow like this.

Prospect: What do you do?

Home office worker: I type. Do you need any typing done?

Prospect: I have a 40-page marketing report with tables and graphs. Can you handle that?

Home office worker: Sure. Tell me about the report.

The home office worker can then discuss terms and fees and close the deal.

By following these steps, you'll be able to get your message across clearly and attract new clients. And that's the first step toward a successful business.