One of the most common pieces of “wisdom” we're repeatedly told in marketing and sales is that since our clients are tuned in to WII FM – What's In it For Me we need to adjust our messages and our interactions with them accordingly. In other words everything we say about ourselves must be geared to how they can benefit by working with us.
And to a large degree this is true. Our “elevator speech” or “audio logo” must be set in client focused terms to create empathy and interest – or they will simply switch off. However, it's not the full story.
Our clients and prospects are not completely self-centred creatures. They are normal human beings. As the old saying goes: people buy from people – and we are all inherently interested in other people's stories. It helps to humanise and cement relationships. Think of the strongest relationships you have with your best clients: are they purely business oriented? Or, in fact, haven't they transcended the “what's in it for me” and moved to a level where you are genuinely interested in, and care about the interests of the other party?
So in addition to the business-focused elements of your elevator speech and the initial discussions you have with people at networking events – you must be able to move on and open up about yourself in an interesting way which lays the foundation for a deeper human relationship with your prospective client.
One of the best ways to do this is with a compelling backstory. In fact a frequent follow-up question in initial meetings is “so how did you get here?” or “what's your story”.
In the world of literature, TV and the movies, the backstory is the history of the characters. How they got to where they are today. It gives logic and legitimacy to their thinking and their actions. Helen is bristly and reluctant to form close relationships because of a painful divorce she went through. John is lacking in self-confidence because he was always told he was no good as a child.
In similar manner, a well-constructed and engagingly told backstory can really help further your relationships on both a business and personal front:
- Your personal backstory humanises you – it helps people see inside to what motivates you and why you do the things you do and why you are the way you are.
- It provides mental hooks for people to remember you by. “You're the guy who gave up the big corporate job to focus on helping local businesses”, “Ah yes, you're the lady who was thrown in at the deep end and learnt her selling skills the hard way.”
- Most importantly, it provides evidence and credibility to back up the claims you make about your business. Did you spend 5 years in Japan learning their quality methods? Perhaps you witnessed the pain of your parents' messy divorce and were motivated to become a divorce lawyer who did things a better way.
Used in this latter way, your backstory can stand alongside testimonials and qualifications to “prove” you are highly competent at what you do. And it feels so much less “salesy” and more natural than trotting out customer quotes or a string of letters.
Of course, it goes without saying that your backstory must be true. But unless you think about it and prepare it carefully you won't be able to articulate it well and link it to the key selling messages you are trying to get across. You need to look at your value proposition or USP and think through: what is it I have done that makes me uniquely qualified to do this? Then find a way of articulating this in your backstory.
My own personal backstory focuses on how I have both consulted for 15 years in strategy, sales and marketing to some of the worlds leading firms – and have been in the trenches myself selling professional services (in my case consulting projects). It tells of how I learnt the hard way through mistakes – so it's a relatively self-deprecating backstory and doesn't sound like I'm showing off. The key is that it tells potential clients in a subtle and understated way that not only have I expertise from consulting, but I have been in their position and “walked the talk” and sold professional services successfully myself.
One of the best backstories I've heard is from a local accountant (Jesse Oldfield of Lymm) who, before returning to accounting, ran a number of small businesses as MD himself. Without shouting it out loud, this tells prospective clients that he really knows what they're going through running their own business. Any accountant can claim to be able to give solid business advice to their clients – but Jesse can do so with real credibility because of his backstory.
You won't use your backstory every time you meet someone. But you will be asked about your history or “how you got here” surprisingly frequently. And if you've prepared an interesting backstory, you will be able to cement their perception of your credbility – while enhancing your personal human relationship with them.