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Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Archive for April 16th, 2009

Appearances: What Professional Services Can Learn from Susan Boyle

Posted by debrahelwig on April 16, 2009

susan-boylePretty much every media outlet I can think of, from mainstream news to Twitter and back again, is buzzing with the story of Susan Boyle. And rightfully so.

When Susan walked onto the set of Britain’s Got Talent this past Saturday, no one took her seriously. Not because she couldn’t sing – no one had even heard her yet. It was because she didn’t look like our modern concept of a singing sensation. She was silly and unlovely, and no one like that could possibly have talent, could they?

Then Susan opened her mouth and nailed I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables.

The audience went wild. Judge Piers Morgan called his “Yes” vote for her “The BIGGEST YES I have ever given anybody.” The overall sense from the audience was a giant “Where did THAT come from?”

The facts of the story – the intensity of the reaction – the viral-ness of Susan’s success – all these things should be doing more than putting a smile on your face. It should be giving you a wake-up call for your professional services career.

Really? Professional services? Me?

Oh, yes.

Because Susan Boyle is a fantastic example of the huge dichotomy between what we SAY and what we DO. Of the enormous contradictions when it comes to our gut reactions about looks and style and all sorts of other things that shouldn’t be important, but that matter – very much – in the day-to-day of our careers.

There are two lessons from Susan’s journey that you can apply immediately – and if you do, you have a huge opportunity to reach a very hungry potential client base and do truly great things.

Here’s lesson number one:

Your clients’ potential value cannot be measured solely by their appearance.

“Appearance” can mean a lot of things. On one level, I do mean personal appearance – how many tales have you heard over the years about the salesperson who turned away a customer because “he didn’t look like he could afford it,” only to have the guy whip out a roll of $100 bills and buy from someone else?

But personal appearance is only the first and most obvious point to consider. Your valuable potential client might have a tiny, unlovely office. Or a less-than-perfect Web site (or no Web site at all). Or a unappealing, “dirty job”-style line of business.

If you react from your gut instead of thinking it through, these kinds of “turn offs” can shut down a valuable relationship before it ever gets a chance to start.

Taking a moment to evaluate the possibilities behind the “appearances” could literally change everything. Intentionally turn off your preconceived ideas to clearly evaluate what their potential might be, and you might find a diamond in the rough who others have dismissed as not worth their time or effort.

Here’s the other half of the lesson – the contradiction – and it’s critical:

Like it or not, your appearance matters. In every situation, and in every medium where you connect with others on behalf of your firm.

I know I just said that you can’t allow appearances to muddy up your evaluation of a client’s worth. And the fact is, they shouldn’t be doing it to you either. But they are. Susan proves it. It’s a double standard, and it’s basic to human nature. So you have to make the first impression count.

A physical presentation that matches the tone of your firm is just part of the equation. You also need to consider the client you’re meeting, and what they might expect of you. A marketing director recently told me, “The client told me we got the work because we were the only firm who bothered to put on a tie for the meeting. We don’t wear ties at our office, but this was a buttoned up, old school company, so how hard was it to figure out that we should be a little more formal? No one else paid attention, and we got the work.”

There’s the key: pay attention.

Think about your Web site. Your proposal package. Your business cards and brochures and letterhead. Are they all in sync with one another and the best possible representation of your firm’s values and spirit?

Do they sing?

For better or worse, too many of us judge based on appearances. When we’re proved wrong, it is often an occasion for surprise and delight – but unlike Susan Boyle, lots of wonderful people and companies are never given the chance to get past an unfortunate first impression.

You can be the person who chooses to do things differently – and in so doing, you may change the trajectory of your business forever.

All you have to do is make your appearance count – and never put too much stock in anyone else’s.

Photo by Bert Kommerij (license)

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Leadership, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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