I don’t know about you, but I sense that things have changed mightily over the past 35 years. Back then, for example, tattoos were uncommon; gas cost 89 cents a gallon; and when you picked up the phone, nobody ever asked you where you were.
But college? Well, that’s something that I assumed was more or less still the same. That is, until my daughter Emily went off to college in Tacoma, Washington.
You see, when I left for college in 1978 it was an abrupt break from my parents. I spoke to them once a week on the phone, but other than that, we had very little contact during the school year. So I expected – dreaded, actually – the same thing would happen with Emily and me. Happily, that hasn’t been the case.
The reason? Technology.
What scrabble can teach you about business
We Skype weekly, Snapchat regularly and text constantly. But that’s not all. What’s kept our connection even stronger is online scrabble. More specifically, a smart phone app called Words With Friends that lets you play scrabble with someone else, over time and over distance.
It’s a fun distraction. It’s also a nice way to interact with your offspring in a way that doesn’t require you to think up meaningful, parenty things to say every other minute.
For the first couple of months, Emily won every game. I don’t mean by a little bit either. She’d be up by 100 points after four or five moves, a colossal difference in a game where the winner is lucky to clear 400.
Then, one day, it dawned on me: Scrabble isn’t a word game; it’s a number game. Yes, you need to create words. But simply putting down fancy – even long – words, isn’t how you win. With some squares on the board offering triple value, and some letters worth as much as 10 times more than others, you win by paying attention to how the numbers add up.
Has it made a difference?
Well, now that I’ve adjusted my approach, I only lose two out of three to Emily (what can I tell you, she’s still smarter than I am). But you know what’s interesting? When it comes to acquiring new clients, in the same way, many service-based business owners are playing “the game” the wrong way.
The right and wrong way to attract customers
They think getting more clients is a game of expertise and qualifications – one in which prospects hire the person or firm with the greatest capability. And so they continually attempt to prove their expertise and reinforce qualifications.
They point to the degrees they possess, years in the field, integrity, work ethic, and overall “expertness”. But here’s the thing. That’s not how people hire professionals.
First, they can’t discern who’s more technically capable anyway (e.g., do you have any idea how medically qualified your doctor is?).
Second, if prospects are members of the human race, they’re neither systematic in evaluating all available options nor particularly objective in making decisions.
Yes, your brand image should communicate your qualified expertise – that’s the price of admission. But that part is only the letters in the scrabble game. You really want to be seen as a likeable expert. That’s the strategic placement of the letters on the scrabble board. This is what people remember and, unlike your technical capabilities, it’s something they can understand and form an opinion on,
If you want to get more clients and play the right game, I suggest that you:
Stay visible with those you already know
Being top of mind matters. When a need arises, you need to be on the short list of possible solutions. People don’t reach very far. If I haven’t heard from you in two years, it’s not going to happen. Find ways to stay in front of the people you know – your “house list” – over and over again, forever. (Did somebody say email newsletter?)
Raise your likeability score
People hire people they like (and avoid those they don’t).
Is your voicemail message friendly? Is your website welcoming? Do you send thank you notes to people who help you? Do you return calls from strangers who ask a simple question? Do you congratulate people when something good happens to them? Are you easy to talk to, happy to help, generous with your time?
I know. This stuff is so simple and obvious. It seems like it doesn’t even belong in a discussion of how to market yourself effectively. But believe me, to the extent I’ve been successful, it’s not because I’m smarter than anyone else (although I am better looking). It’s because I work at likeability, all day long.
Bottom line. Just as winning at scrabble requires more than just a strong vocabulary, getting more clients requires more than credentials and expertise. Strive to become a visible, likeable expert, and you just may give Emily a run for her money.
This article has been edited.
Michael Katz is the founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in developing email newsletters for professional service firms. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here. Connect with @MichaelJKatz on Twitter.