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September 8, 2022

What’s Your Essential Message?

Picture this. You're out having a coffee with a friend. An acquaintance of your friend happens to walk in and sits down for a few minutes to chat.

After you finish talking about the weather and last night's sports scores, the inevitable question comes up: “So, what do you do?”

You've got 60 seconds. What do you say?

If the best you can muster is consultant (or lawyer, or accountant or whatever), then you've just blown a golden opportunity to find your next client. After all, everyone in the world is either a potential client for you or is in a position to refer a potential client to you.

A Symptom of a Fundamental Problem

So does that mean you have to be in sales mode all the time? No, especially if you believe the traditional view of sales.

But the reality is, if you can't articulate in a compelling manner who you are, what you're especially good at and why anyone would want to do business with you, then the problem is worse than just blowing an opportunity to get a new client when you go for coffee.

Now, before you read any further, please allow me to commiserate.

Entrepreneurs, emerging companies and indeed most salespeople are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to describing their business or introducing themselves at a networking event! To start with, there's no way you can sum up everything you do in a neat little phrase. And to make things worse, once people know what you do, they lump you in with a half million other people who, on the face of it anyway, appear to do the same thing!

But if you can relate to those challenges, then you should recognize it as a symptom of a fundamental and hugely critical sales and marketing problem. Chances are, the same uninspiring non-sales arguments permeate your entire business—your Web site, your brochure, your advertising.

To prove it to yourself, take a look at your Web site as well as the sites of some of your competitors. Do you see anything that engages your audience and speaks to their interests?

If you're like most businesses, the answer is probably “No.”

Throw Away the Rulebook

The biggest reason people have so much trouble with positioning and articulating a compelling message about their business is that they are working from somebody else's rulebook.

No doubt you've heard very specific instructions on the “correct” way to create a positioning line, or the “correct” way to write an elevator speech or infomercial. And, of course, everyone knows that you have to focus on high-level benefits and avoid negative statements, right?

Well, aside from very few universal principles of communication, it may be all wrong (for you). What might have worked for someone else has no guarantee of working for you. And, besides, if you use the same rules as everyone else, then you end up sounding like everyone else.

And you're back to square one.

Instead of trying to apply someone else's rulebook, wouldn't it be much more valuable for you to figure out the set of rules that work for you?

How? Once you throw away the rulebook, here are three things you can do to help you find your way.

Go to Lots of Networking Events

If you think that networking events are for collecting business cards and finding new business, you've just found another reason to throw away the rulebook.

The most valuable thing you can take away from a networking event is not a bunch of business cards but all the research you could be accumulating on your Essential Message.

Think of a networking event as a giant focus group that you could use to figure out what resonates most with people about your business and what the true core value is about what you offer.

As you work the room, try emphasizing different aspects of your business. Ask a lot of questions about the kind of service the person you are speaking to would like to receive. And most importantly, pay special attention to the reactions you get.

If you truly listen, you might be surprised by what people find most interesting and appealing about your business.

Ask Your Best Clients and Customers

Clients aren't usually shy about telling you why they like doing business with you and what attracted them to you in the first place.

If you're shy about asking them, get over it—or hire someone else to do it for you. Tell your client that you need their help to understand your business better. Be clear that the purpose of getting together isn't about asking for new business or referrals, although new business and referrals often result from these kinds of meetings.

And be prepared to probe. When they tell you that they like the quality of your work, ask them what they mean by “quality.”

Remember, what may seem commonplace or obvious to you may in fact be extremely important to your clients. You'll never know unless you ask.

No matter what you do to improve your sales and marketing messaging, however, it's important to keep working on it. Unless you have your message right, it doesn't matter how many salespeople you hire, how many ads you run or brochures you send out or how many people view your Web site. You won't get the results you need to move your business forward.

The bad news is that it's not as simple as copying someone else's formula. The good news is that it works.

Originally published in the site essentialmessage.com on June 1, 2004

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Michel Neray


What really drives me is helping companies and individuals to drill down to the core of their unique value and differentiation, and then craft their Essential Message' that attracts and connects with audiences and stakeholders... including customers, investors, strategic partners, and top talent. As a professional speaker, trainer, and consultant for over 30 years, I've worked with leaders and sales teams in more than nine countries around the world, from Montreal to Moscow, and from Israel to Iran.

I love to lead workshops, speak at conferences, and work with clients one on one.... as much as I love to spend time with family, paddle whitewater, ride my motorcycle (hard), and write and perform my songs...

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