There is a great moment in Grey's Anatomy when Meredith Grey says to her great love, Derek Shepherd, "Pick me. Choose me. Love me." T-shirts ensued. It started popping up in emails. Women used it in articles about this and that. Let’s be clear: it was a great moment on TV. It’s a terrible foundation for a marketing plan. And yet, so often, I hear its haunting refrain: Pick me. Choose me. Love me. And then buy my product or service because you love me. Ladies, it’s a mistake. (Then again, I did always have more affinity for Cristina Yang.)
I recently attended a women-in-business event where I was the keynote speaker. The organizer, who was starting a new chapter of what is touted to be one of the largest women-in-business organizations in the country, got up to kick it all off. Her introduction? A slide show... of… herself. Not unlike a home movie shown at family gatherings. "I married my high school sweetheart." Show a picture of the whole Facebook family. “I love giving gifts." Picture of a car with a big bow around it given, I think, to her son. "I survived cancer." And the crowd cheered. And so it went. I have a saying I use with clients: “No one cares about you or what you are selling; they care about themselves. Tell them what you or it does for them, and that's the best sale of all." I've been told (only by women) that it's harsh and I am sometimes too hard-core in my approach to business. I haven't time to argue the point. This I know for sure: when I talk to someone and I talk about their company and what they need, and then I give them creative, tailored-to-them advice to meet that need, they hire me. I don't talk about Blue Shoe; I don't tell them how cool I am. I talk about them and their business. Every time. When they walk away knowing something they can do, they like me, choose me and love me, which is to say they like, choose and love what I did for them, which is how you succeed in business. You might get the sale once because someone is a friend, or a friend of a friend, but in truth, it's really only those people doing under $100,000/year who depend on that kind of connection, and to be honest, that is really what I got from the event I attended, where sixty women clapped loudly at the personal pitch of the person who put the event together. During this same women-in-business event, everyone had to do an exercise (no opt-out offered). In a circle of about eight women, you were supposed to state what you needed for your business - and then people in the group could/should hand you their business card if they could help you obtain it. So, one woman said she wanted to expand her business and you were supposed to hand her your card saying you would buy whatever she was selling. Whoa, not so fast. How about you stand in a circle and tell us one reason the group might gain something from what you provide? Telling me what you need when you are selling me something is so not the point. What is this group selling? They are selling that the sisterhood of the club will build your business, not that you should provide the best of something or other to build your business. Here is something off their website:
There are millions of potential buyers of your products and services who visit our web site in an effort to support women business owners and professionals. Buyers will now be able to find you. Where else could you be on the Internet that would provide you greater exposure and opportunity?
It has to be said: seriously? Pay to join an unvetted network? And then we’ll buy (even more than membership) because we paid to play? I see these as some of the issues with women in business today: let me tell you what I need and then you should support me in it, because I'm your sistah in the desire to build a business. Nope, I say. Hire the best person for the job. Buy the best products for what your life needs. Promote that which you believe is the best and not someone you share a membership in a club with. And recognize that our desire to nurture and be liked is not necessarily the best asset for building a truly successful business. Another client, who is selling a dessert-type product, said in an email:
People also remark on my connection to Save The Bay swim, a mile and a half swim. I swam last year and am beginning to train for this year's swim. Last week at a class on biz evaluation with accountants my evaluation increased significantly in their eyes after I shared my story.
Pick me. Choose my product. Love my product. Why? Because I swim once a year across the Bay. Huh? I assure you, the woman wants to grow her business to a national brand, and while she believes that is the way to do it - to tell her personal story - I know it is not. I think the way to build your company is to produce an amazing product, get it out to those who would want it, and because it's so fabulous, it will take off. Price it right, not with gluttony driving the price. Fulfill what you promise. Make the result even better than they thought. Use good imagery, and a story that mirrors the demographic you seek to sell to, or a window into that which they aspire to be. That is what will take what you sell to another level. Back to the women-in-business event. I was motivated by the desire in that room to win. They were hungry for information on how to move up the scale of success. They did all believe in their products and services (I think, or most of them anyway). And they were ready to sign on because they wanted the camaraderie of others in the same boat. There is something in that: the strength in communal gathering. My speech was well received that night. At least twenty women came up to me afterward to ask a specific question or for more information about Blue Shoe. I spoke for almost thirty minutes about buying trends for 2017 and lessons from the 2016 election and the marketing around it. I tried very, very hard to give concrete elements for successfully building your business, but not one of them included how to present yourself so people would pick you, choose you, or love you. It was business, not personal, and I hope that the sisterhood will remember that is always the best way to promote what you do or sell.