The paint on our house is peeling and cracked and wood is exposed in places. In a rainy town like Portland, that’s not a state your house can be in for too long without accumulating water damage.
So we’ve been getting bids on a re-paint of our house.
The ways that different painting companies have presented themselves has made made me think a lot about how we present ourselves to our prospects.
I’ve seen mistakes to avoid, tips to add to our arsenal, and reminders of what we’re already doing wrong or right.
After all, as an agency, a good deal of the work we do in our initial talks with prospects is to create a feeling of: “You’re in good hands with real experts.”
Once someone is open to our thoughts and advice, because they value them as those of an expert, the real work can begin.
And more often than not, our approach of reaching that “expert status” with prospects seems to work. Even when projects don’t work out because of pricing or something logistical, we get feedback like:
“I loved how you guys presented yourselves. It’s clear you’re experts in what you do.”
Tip 1: Listen first. Then listen more.
Nothing presents expert status more than the ability to truly listen. Your questions, and how you receive prospects’ answers, communicate expertise more than almost anything.
In fact, we’ve landed more projects than I can count because of the questions we ask (which I get further into in just a bit). Clients go out of their way to tell us this.
I noticed this with the painters too. Being the prospect in this situation, I was able to see how different approaches make me and other prospects feel.
Painters who rushed me or interrupted me or didn’t let me tell the full story of what we need and why immediately lost credibility with me.
“How can they know if they can help me if they don’t even fully understand my problem?” I thought.
As an agency, clients come to you for you to be their “voice” – through design, writing, etc. But how can someone trust that you can capture their voice unless you give them space to fully express it first?
That’s why, in our first call, we’ll ask questions like these, and more:
- What challenge are you facing that you feel a new website will solve?
- What’s your goal for your business over the next year?
- Out of all of the career paths you could have chosen, why this? What about this inspires you so much?
Can you see how these questions cut deeper than the ones traditionally asked – and make prospects feel like their in expert hands?
Tip 2: Explain your process.
An expert’s process will always have unique, interesting parts to it.
I was reminded of this when one painter described a detail I would have never imagined would be part of the house painting process. He said, to paraphrase:
“On old houses like these, especially in Portland, we’ll often find waterlogged pieces of wood here and there. When we encounter those, my team scrapes them out and fills them with epoxy so the damage doesn’t spread and the paint lasts longer.”
“Wow, that’s amazing!” I thought, completely sold.
I could tell, from this small detail in his process, he’d painted a lot of houses, he knew what he was doing, and that he was competent as can be.
I could also tell that he cared about more than just getting the project done. Little details like that add time, but they’re necessary for doing the job right.
It gave me faith in his team and process.
So while talking to prospects about that new website, or branding, or whatever – break down your process.
Reveal the hidden gems that make your process special.
Do you have a powerful research method?
Do you offer a special form of collaboration through mood boards and other tools?
Share these details, and explain why you do them too.
Hearing how well thought out and detailed you are build rapport, credibility, and good faith.
Tip 3: Patch up all the holes.
Confidence in your end-product will give you that mysterious “expert vibe” more than anything. But I didn’t just want to dedicate a whole tip to something like: “Be confident.”
If you are confident – your eyes would’ve glazed over.
If you’re not – you’d have been frustrated because confidence isn’t a switch you can just flip on or off.
Instead, I want to tell you a very practical way to build your confidence and convey an empowering “energy” to your prospects:
Patch up all the holes.
Here’s what I mean:
Think back on your last project. What parts went amazingly well? What parts went just so-so? What parts make you cringe because they went so poorly?
For example, maybe you delivered a great design that your client loved, but you procrastinated and delivered a week late.
Those cringe-worthy moments (which we all have, by the way) I call “holes.” And the more holes you have, the harder it is to face prospects with confidence and communicate to them that you’re the guy or gal for the job.
Why? Because this will happen when you’re talking to a prospect:
“Oh yeah, if you’re so good why are you always late? And why was that one client so unhappy? And how come…” your mind will tell you, even if it’s but a subconscious murmur.
And when that murmur is there, your confidence is not.
So the way you build confidence and present that mysterious, majestic “expert vibe” is to fill all the holes.
Before your next call, review every problem, mistake, error that happened in your last few projects. Then, come up with a solution for each.
(You can use this method I wrote about for identifying and solving these problems, too.)
As you patch up these holes, you’ll feel a relief build up inside. Then, you’ll have peace of mind.
And that peace of mind — that feeling of “I’ve got it all covered” — is what gives prospects that amazing expert experience.
But the more chaos and uncertainty and weakness there is in your process – the harder it is to feel that. And when that subconscious, self-defeating murmur is there – you’ll sub-consciously do and say and present things in a way that’s also self-defeating.
When that happens, even if you say all the right things, you still lose the project.
So patch up the holes. Scrape out the dead wood, fill it up, and smooth it over.
Tip 4: Be you.
The higher someone climbs up the ladder of expert-dom, the more quirky it seems they’re allowed to be.
Gary Vaynerchuk cusses like a sailor, and people love him and hire him for it. (Including major companies like Kraft.)
Stefan Sagmeister is mysterious and soft-spoken and has that whole “brooding artist” thing going – yet that too is what people love him for.
I was listening to a masterclass by Aaron Sorkin (the writer behind “Newsroom” and “West Wing” and “The Social Network” and many other amazing films and TV series) and he said something that really stuck with me.
“Remember, you can only write like yourself.”
You can only act like yourself, too. So act like it.
No one’s personality is any better or worse than yours, so don’t think you have to be something differnet to grow.
In fact the more I grow, the more I realize how much time I’ve wasted trying to be something else, and the more effort I put into not trying at all – and just being me.