Moments of zing! Or, what I’ve been learning about Right People

I read Havi’s post on Re-explaining the Right People concept today, and feel inspired to tell my how-I-found-Havi story here because it is my best (living, organic) self-reminder of the whole idea of Right People. It was my moment of zing! that gave me a visceral (in a good way!) right-people experience that I draw on to this day.

Back when I was a wimp…

Non-Icky Self-Promotion for People who Hate Self-PromotionAbout 15 months ago I read an item in Pam Slim’s blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, recommending Havi and Naomi’s course, Non-Icky Self-Promotion for People Who Hate Self-Promotion (otherwise fondly known as Self-Promotion for Wimps). The course has been over for more than a year, and you can now finally get it as a home-study package, by the way. (Yep, those are totally affiliate links. I’m sure you can find the page another way if you’d rather not use them.)

I had never heard of either Havi or Naomi before. But on Pam’s recommendation, I clicked through to the sales page.

And I was suddenly in a new world. I had never, ever, ever read a sales page like this. In fact, it didn’t feel like a sales page at all. I felt safe. I felt respected and appreciated and invited.

I knew instantly, bone-deep and with total clarity, that I had to be in this course, because I wanted to meet these people who could write such an amazing sales page. I wanted to learn how it was possible to create sales pages like that, because I wanted my future customers to have the same moment of zing! when they read my sales pages.

There was no internal “should I or shouldn’t I?” There was no worrying about “will it be worth it?” I never felt like I was being persuaded or convinced (let alone manipulated). As I read, I became sure that a course this wonderful would be way out of my price range, so when I got to the price, I was amazed that it was so affordable. It was truly a no-brainer to sign up.

Yes, I believed there would be some practical benefit to the course, but honestly my biggest desire was simply to hang out with Havi and Naomi (which was why I knew I had to buy the VIP option). And I’ve been doing it ever since.

In search of The Perfect Sales Page

I’ve thought a lot about marketing tactics and sales pages and my experience interacting with them (both as a consumer and as a marketer) since I took that course.

For a long time I believed that Havi and Naomi had some special and mysterious marketing smarts and writing skills and pricing methodologies that allowed them to create sales pages that were better than anyone else’s. And I wanted to learn that stuff.

Now, not to knock their marketing/copywriting/pricing smarts at all, because I have learned tons about all three of those things from hanging out with them, but it’s only in the last few months that I’ve truly understood that that sales page wasn’t The One and Only Unquestioned Perfect Paragon of All Sales Pages that I should model Forevermore Without Question.

There is no perfect sales page (when “perfect” means perfect for everyone). Like there is no perfect product or website or business. There are only varying degrees of matching up, or resonating if you prefer, of rightness, between buyer and seller.

That sales page resonated with me. It was perfect…for me. I was a right person for that class, because I was (still am) a right person for Havi and Naomi. There were plenty of other right people for that class. And there were some people who would have read that sales page and had no reaction at all.

I’m OK, and I guess you’re not crazy either

This was brought home to me a couple of months ago on a forum where I’m a member. Someone asked for feedback on a sales page, and another member recommended that the asker check out Havi’s sales pages, and the asker replied saying that Havi’s sales pages had always left him kind of flat. He wasn’t dissing her or her products, or in any way being a jerk, just saying that he didn’t have much of a response to the sales pages.

And my initial (in my head) reaction was are you crazy? How can you not have a response to the most perfect sales pages in the universe? Which was like a big hello?!? moment because of course the guy wasn’t crazy. He’s got marketing smarts, copywriting skills, and stuff to say (I like him and read his blog). He’s just not resonating on the same frequency as Havi. His ideal sales page is another style.

So I’m getting increasing clarity around the idea that smart people can disagree about the effectiveness of marketing, websites, sales pages, etc. and it doesn’t mean that some of them have to be wrong.

Does the concept of Right People imply that there are Wrong People?

My answer is no. I’ve been using the term Right People for, oh, several months at least, maybe a year, and although I might have talked about people being “not as right” or “not quite right” or even “not my right people,” I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me to use the label “wrong people.”

When I think about people being “not so right” for me or my business, it’s not with an intention of exclusion…it’s more like a willingness to let go.

I don’t shove them away. They self-select.

And we both win. I firmly believe that.

It’s not a loss to me for the person to not come into my orbit (or for them to wander by and then leave). And it doesn’t hurt or reject them to not come into my orbit.

So it can only benefit me, and my Right People, to work on tuning my own frequency so that my right people can hear it really clearly. And my doing so doesn’t hurt the people who can’t hear it (or who would simply rather not).

So I’ll be here, tapping and tuning and tweaking, and sharing what I learn along the way. Have a listen. See if it sounds good to you. Either way, it’s all good.

Wendy Cholbi

Don’t be a cactus like the U.S. Mint

While visiting my family in Denver, I took my kids to take the free tour of the U.S. Mint. I remember going there as a kid, and being fascinated by the conveyor belts full of shiny pennies. This building was the source of my piggy-bank treasure! (I also have a memory of the gift shop, where I longed for a commemorative coin set that was far outside my childhood price range, but I digress).

My hopes were high. The Mint’s website boasts:

Touring the United States Mint is a fascinating experience for those of all ages and one that will be remembered for a lifetime.  Tours cover both the present state of coin manufacturing as well as the history of the Mint.  Learn about the craftsmanship required at all stages of the minting process, from the original designs and sculptures to the actual striking of the coins.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? My daughter has collected nearly all of the state quarters, so I was sure she’d enjoy learning about how the designs were chosen and engraved. Plus, my tech-geek side was tickled by the fact that this particular branch of the government has entered the 21st century; there’s actually an online reservation system for the tours!

But instead of an educational odyssey, I got a textbook object lesson in a large government bureaucracy acting like a cactus.

A business tree with no leaves.

That’s what a cactus is. Here’s a primer on the small-business tree if you need a refresher course. But basically the leaves in this metaphor stand for marketing, and marketing is all the ways a business touches the world (not just its customers, but its employees, suppliers, the public, etc.).

And the Mint is terrible at marketing. You don’t have to be Naomi or Seth to brainstorm multiple ways the Mint could tell a better story, make the tour experience memorable and fun, and do a heck of a lot of good in the process.

We are in the middle of a historic financial crisis, for heaven’s sake! Doesn’t the government want us, its citizens, to feel good about the institution that makes our money? Wouldn’t it be good public policy to increase consumer confidence in an institution like the Mint?

But there I go thinking like an entrepreneur again, forgetting that the Mint is a huge government bureaucracy (I nearly typed bureau-crazy) that apparently doesn’t care about the story it’s telling the public. In other words, it’s a business tree with no leaves (actually in this case the leaves are spines keeping people away, rather than leaves welcoming us in). A giant, spiny cactus.

10 things I hate about you (no, I don’t really hate them; that’s just snark)

Here are 10 ways the Mint disappointed me, and suggestions for sprouting leaves instead of spines. Although your business isn’t a government bureaucracy, see if any of these concepts might apply to you. Try mentally substituting your website, or your online purchasing process, for the tour process I describe here. Are you unintentionally putting up spines that keep your prospects from becoming customers?

  1. I expected high security (I totally get the need for metal detectors and all that). I expected to not be allowed to bring a camera, or a firearm, or anything remotely pointy. I didn’t expect that I’d have to wait outside on the sidewalk on a sub-freezing morning before being ushered through the screening process. Why not have a public waiting room with educational displays, where you can wait for your tour to begin?
  2. Oh, wait, there is a room chock-full of educational displays (they seemed to have been thoughtfully crafted and well-written, too) where visitors wait for the tour to begin (after the security screening). Unfortunately, you can’t get in until 10 minutes before the tour begins. So all that education is wasted because by the time you make it through screening you have four or five minutes to look at it before you’re herded into the tour. I wish I’d been able to take more time in that room. So why not put this room before the security screening?
  3. Better yet, why not create a public area that includes the educational displays, an information booth, and the gift shop? Let people browse for information as they browse for commemorative coin sets. Let them ask questions, and staff the shop and the booth with people who know the answers and care about sharing the Mint’s mission with the public. Tours could both begin and end here. Which leads me to:
  4. We left through a different door than the one we entered through (on the opposite side of the building, in fact), and we had to enter the gift shop through a third, separate entrance. Confusing! OK, part of this is just the geography of the building, but my suggestion in #3 could take this into account.
  5. Our tour guide was nice, but she was just doing her job. She recited long sentences in a near-monotone, didn’t explain terms like “assay” and “blanks” despite the children in her audience, and didn’t make eye contact with any of us. Any decent kindergarten teacher could have done a much better job at engaging us. Part of the problem was the “script” she’d obviously been taught, but part of the problem was that this public-facing position should be filled by someone with both passion and people skills.
  6. The (probably armed) silent guard following the tour group the whole time? A bit creepy. Yes, as I said, I totally get the need for security. But surely there’s a way to accomplish that in a less menacing way. Have the guard follow the group but remain out of sight, for example. Or have two “tour guides,” one of whom is really a guard and walks along the rear of the group while the other one leads the tour and takes the questions. If you’re allowed to ask them at all. Which we weren’t.
  7. No chance to ask questions! None! This both astonishes and outrages me. At the beginning of the tour we were told to hold our questions until the end. Fair enough, for a short tour (although question breaks could have easily been built into various stops on the tour). But at the end she basically herded us out of the building without inviting any questions. One person did ask her a question and got a rushed “only because I have to” response. The tour lasted 30 minutes. Why not make it 45, and build in time to answer questions?
  8. The whole tour felt rushed. We went through several rooms where there were displays and information along the walls (not to mention the room where you can look down on the actual minting machines), but there wasn’t time to take them all in, especially if you were trying to pay attention to the tour guide’s scripted presentation. Again, lengthen the tour by 15 to 30 minutes, give time for questions and time for information absorption.
  9. I like the online reservation process, but it’s just window dressing. You’re supposed to print out your confirmation page and bring it with you, and a guy with a clipboard checks you off with a pen (how quaint!) as you enter. To top it off, my (valid) confirmation number wasn’t on the guy’s list (because I’d just signed up a few hours before my tour). He let me in with zero hassle, but what does that say about the reservation process? That the Mint’s own employees don’t take it seriously, that’s what. If you’re going to require printed confirmations, at least print a barcode and invest in a scanner to let people in (from the freezing sidewalk) more quickly and more accurately.
  10. No free samples! On a full-production day, the Mint makes 20 million pennies. On a full-tour day (6 hourly tour slots x 40 people on a full tour), 240 people can tour the mint. Would it kill the government to drop a freshly-minted penny into each tourist’s hand? It would cost $2.40 per day. Yes, it’s a gimmick (these coins wouldn’t be collector-quality), but it makes the process real. Especially for children. Bonus: Imagine the marketing tagline! “Our tours are better than free, because we pay you!”

So, finishing up with the business tree metaphor, here’s how I’d map the business tree onto the U.S. Mint:

  • Roots: Well, the government needs to print (mint) money for its citizens. That’s pretty much the reason for the Mint’s existence. The Federal Reserve Bank depends on the Mint to provide coins for banks everywhere. Pretty strong, well-defined roots.
  • Trunk: The Mint’s sole client is the Federal Reserve Bank (though coin collectors also buy directly), and its product is coins. Very clear target market, and, as a government monopoly, its selling proposition is by definition unique.
  • Leaves: Here’s where the Mint fails at marketing (remember that every interaction with the public is marketing; even though we tourists aren’t the Mint’s direct customers, the way we’re treated helps inform public opinion of the institution). Sure, they have a website with information on it. Even some pictures. Yes, you can schedule a tour online. But the tour experience itself? Sorely lacking.

What can you, as a small-business owner who wants a live and vibrant business, take from this example? What parts of your purchase process, or your website, throw up barriers to your readers/customers/prospects? Which parts work really well and can be celebrated?

Packing the trunk (of your small-business tree)

Imagine your business is a tree. Alive and growing, subject to nurturing and pruning, and organically connected to your life. Continuing our trip up the small-business tree, above the roots, let’s discuss the trunk of the tree.

The trunk is the strong, firm, central support structure of your business. It grows directly from the roots; it’s the first part of the tree that is visible above the ground. And it’s the physical support for all the branches (and twigs and leaves — we’ll get to the leafy parts in a future post). The trunk of your small-business tree is two concepts that are equally important, and mutually dependent: What your business does and who you do it for. Let’s explore these in a little more detail:

  • What does your business do? In marketing-speak, this is often called your USP, or Unique Selling Proposition. It’s a compelling description of the product or service you provide. If you are a sole proprietor, you might be tempted to say that what you do and what your business does are the same thing. Here’s a thought-experiment: For a moment, resist this temptation and try to view your business the way a competitor would, or the way a bigger company would if they were thinking of buying you out. Crazy-sounding, I know, but the shift in perspective can be valuable. Now try viewing your business from the perspective of a potential customer. Did all three groups (competitor, buyer, customer) identify your USP? If not, what can you do to present it more clearly? Of course, the customer perspective is the most important one here, which leads us to the second part of the trunk:
  • Who does your business serve? Marketing types like to call this your “target market” (or target audience, or target demographic), but I’ve always been a little weirded out by the idea of getting a potential customer in your rifle sights, so to speak. Enough with the violent metaphors (yeah, even “campaign” gets to me). I like to use the language of abundance and connection, rather than hunting and war. Try asking yourself this question: Who are the perfect customers, the ideal clients, for your business? If you are tempted to say “everyone,” or even a very broad category like “women” or “Europeans,” I feel your pain. You want a large group of perfect clients, because that means more income. But a product that is marketed to everyone can easily end up appealing to no one. In order to appeal strongly to your perfect customers, you must be willing to let go of people who are not perfect. And this is a subject that merits its own blog post, so look for that in the future.

Remember that the roots provide nourishment (life support) to your business. And the first place that nourishment goes is the part of your business that supports everything else: The trunk. So your USP and ideal customer are both going to be concepts that are strongly congruent with, and supported by, the roots you’ve already identified.

Can you take five minutes right now and identify your USP? Can you describe, in a sentence or two, the ideal person who benefits from this USP? And do these words resonate strongly with your business roots?

Next up, we’ll talk about the branches and leaves of your small-business tree, plus we’ll have some real-life examples of roots and trunks. I’m constantly exploring this concept for myself, and I’ll share my self-discoveries with you as they happen. Just another example of how my business, like yours, is growing and changing. Feel free to share your tree-epiphanies (treepiphanies! a new word!) in the comments!