Finding Your Sweet Spot

For some, work is simply an exchange of time for money, living for the weekend when the real fun begins. But for many of us, work is a crucial piece of the puzzle of maximizing our potential. This post is for the latter group.

The holy grail of a career that brings together our abilities, our greatest value to others, and an ongoing sense of deep fulfillment is often found only after a long process of trial-and-error (if it is found at all). Along the way, we yearn to find the sweet spot – that place and role where we really fit. I often think of the process as like a pinball machine – while we’d love to think that our lives proceed along a nice, straight, well-planned arc, the reality is that we often bounce from here to there, learning along the way what works well and what doesn’t. I worked in Sales for many years before concluding that I’m really not a naturally gifted salesperson. By the same token, I can now look back (in retrospect) and see that certain of my marketing instincts were present, though unrecognized, way back in my teens. It took a long while for them to surface professionally.

So, if you’ve found your sweet spot (or if you’re on the journey), what has helped you to begin to see your “fit” more clearly? Was it wise counsel from a friend or co-worker? Was it a particular book (for me, the book Now, Discover Your Strengths was absolutely revolutionary)? A formal personality inventory/assessment? Was it just the ongoing analysis of circumstances and performance over time that helped you see your personal and professional bulls-eye?

I believe that one of our highest life challenges is finding our sweet spot and running our best course. I also know that many people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s are still searching, still asking what they’re going to do when they grow up. Tell your story in the comments – and, how would you advise others? Let’s discuss – I’m very curious to see how others have moved toward their bulls-eye in life.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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Make Your Life a Story, Not A List

I was on LinkedIn again yesterday, in preparation for a call with someone who had been downsized, and found myself sighing, for the umpteenth time, over the format of an on-line resume.

Another list.

This job title. That company. This short list of tasks. Even some undefined insider acronyms. Just swap out the particulars and you could be any one of a billion commodity people.

Don’t undersell yourself. You’re not a list!

When people hire me to help re-write their LinkedIn profiles, I employ some of my Clarity Therapy process to extract three things from them:

  • What they’re really good at and want to do more of;
  • The story of how they got to where they are;
  • The key point of brilliance they want to “sell” to their next employer.

Then, we go back through the profile and turn it into a story. The main themes leading to the new desired role are woven into the past job responsibilities, highlighting the individual’s greatest strength and accomplishments, and showing how they lead in the direction being pursued.

Bullet points and biz-speak words don’t paint a clear picture. They leave you undifferentiated. A resume should not merely be a summary of facts; it needs to tell a story. Your story. And it needs to strongly suggest what your next chapter should be.

Your next employer doesn’t have the time to help you figure out who you are and where you’re going. That’s YOUR next job, before you seek your next job!

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How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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Are You Standing Out in the Field?

Like it or not, you are one of many, many companies or service providers competing for a limited slice of attention in a marketplace overflowing with noise and information.

For consultants and small businesses – actually, for any size business – the cacophony of billboards, radio spots, TV advertisements, and the flood tide of digital noise from the social web makes it increasingly challenging to be noticed, let alone remembered. Your main competition isn’t your competitors. It’s distraction.

Which means that if you simply blend into the background noise, you’ve lost your advantage.

Let’s assume that you actually have some magic. You do have something unique to offer. How do you stand out in the field?

Some will say it takes a hugely expensive campaign; others will gladly take your limited funds to try generate something “viral.” These are not particularly effective or sustainable strategies. One fundamental trait, however, can make any business stand out: Clarity.

By clarity, I mean you’re clear on your offering, clear on your differentiation, clear on your message, and clear on your vision. It is the opposite of throwing 10 bullet points of possible work you might do up against the virtual wall and seeing which one sticks. That’s the quickest route to becoming a faceless commodity.

A Clear Offering

What does clarity look like? Actually, you don’t have to look any further than the Duct Tape Marketing blog. Look at these two summary sentences on the site:

Simple, Effective, and Affordable Small Business Marketing

John Jantsch has been called the world’s most practical small business expert for delivering real-world, proven small-business marketing ideas and strategies.

The reader immediately knows whether they are the target audience, and exactly what the Duct Tape promise is. By being that specific, John stands out – while gladly giving up a bunch of other potential business where he couldn’t be outstanding.

A Clear Differentiator

I am fanatically loyal to Amica Insurance. I don’t price shop, and I don’t consider other dance partners. Why? All the geckos and good hands and Flo’s that parade across the TV screen promoting other companies are noisy commodities to me, because Amica has provided stellar and attentive customer service for decades. They completely stand out. And, ever since obtaining the first-generation iPhone, I’ve never considered going back to a non-Apple platform. The user experience is simply too good to give up. These become my home brands.

A Clear Message

We try to say too much, not realizing that our potential customers (and referral partners) can only process and retain one or two main things. Few companies have mastered the art of distillation, which is truly central to effective marketing.

Picture yourself bumping into a prospective customer at a trade show, just minutes before the next session starts. After introductions, she says, “I recall seeing your name before, but what is it that you do?” Can you, in one sentence, give her the distilled essence, in such a way that she’ll still remember it after the session – and, be able to tell her friend over lunch about you in 10 words or less? In this regard, clarity is also your key to ongoing referrals.

A Clear Vision

Once you have 20/20 vision about your purpose and direction, suddenly a whole host of decisions that have always plagued you becomes much more simple. Clients you spun your wheels chasing now don’t fit into the clearer vision. Non-core work that you were doing is no longer in the long-term plan. When you can look a client in the eye and confidently say, “THIS is what I do – not that, and that, and that” – everyone is far better off. But for many, even those who have been in business for a while, the most difficult step is saying it to the mirror.

I have terrible uncorrected vision. Glasses are mandatory! The fact is, clear vision is not an option. Whatever other investment I may forego, I will always spend the necessary funds to see clearly – because that is foundational to everything I must do! Amazingly, however, few of your competitors will do so. That’s why clarity can become your strategic advantage. Making you the one standing out in the field.

(this post originally published at Duct Tape Marketing blog)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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>> Crowd-Sourcing Some Clarity

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The Analogy That Makes People “Get” You

“Impactiviti is the eHarmony of pharmaceutical vendor selection.”

It took me 18 months to come up with the key analogy to explain my pharma consulting practice, but I’ve gotten more mileage out of that one statement than anything else I’ve used for marketing Impactiviti (my client-vendor “matchmaking” consultancy for pharmaceutical sales/training/marketing).

Why is an analogy so important? Because we all need a shortcut into the understanding and memory of our attention-overloaded prospective customers. And the analogy – appealing to something already understood in order to bridge a gap to something new – is the most powerful mechanism imaginable to spark recognition and recall.

You’re at a cocktail party, and someone asks what you do. “I’m a corporate content development specialist for a healthcare company.” STOP!!! See those eyes glaze over? Has comprehension occurred in that person’s mind? No – because you’ve not bridged the gap. And, perhaps, just as important – will that person be able to refer someone they meet the next day to you?

Rewind. Your answer this time? “My company helps people with rare diseases. I’m like an internal reporter – I get to tell people how we do it!” Boom!

Note the following:

1. Your company is now a lot more interesting, and probably will provoke a follow-up question or three.

2. Your role is now clear – you’re a reporter (but on the inside).

3. YOU are more interesting, because your role has an aspirational and positive element, not merely a technical description. And the listener gets it, immediately.

See how powerful a simple and vivid analogy is? And, the next day, when this person bumps into the CEO of another company that they know from the gym, who happens to be complaining about how ineffective their internal marketing is…guess who comes to mind?

eBay caught on very quickly, in part, because it was just like one big virtual yard sale. People could “get” that. If you attach your company and offering to something pre-existing, common, and positive, you save yourself a ton of grief trying to force comprehension through a blizzard of terms and bullet points.

This is the most challenging deliverable in a Clarity Therapy session. First, we map out your professional DNA by digging into your (personal or company) history, competencies, and aspirations. Then we settle on the core offering, the key message, and the compelling story. Finally, we cap it off with a memorable analogy, and you’re ready with a clear and unforgettable go-to-market approach. In a world swirling with information and noise, only the crystal clear will stand out. That should be you!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Clarity, part 1: Your Distinguishing Offering

>> Clarity, part 2: Your Go-To Market Message (in 10 words or less)

>> Clarity, part 3: People Buy Your Story

People Buy Your Story

Recently, I was sitting through a capabilities overview from an agency in my pharma network, and it was filled with all the usual elements – we do this, we do that, customer logos, etc., etc. There was actually one potentially distinguishing message buried in there, which was encouraging; but then, toward the end, mention was made that the company has been in business for 20+ years.

And…and…nothing. The ball was teed up, but the 3-wood remained in the golf bag. There was the chance to tell a story – the company story – and it was missed. Any company in business that long has a lot of success, a interesting pathway of evolution, and a great way to build a bridge with the listener by using corporate history to be memorable.

Some years ago, I was evaluating a training company’s marketing and website, and was seeing all the typical verbiage and bullet points – just like everyone else, we do this and this and this. But buried in the web copy was a key point – one of the principals of the company had long experience on the pharma client side of the fence. I told them that their story was the distinguishing message: “We’ve walked in your shoes.” Most of the competitor companies did not have that same story.

When people are evaluating potential providers, one of the distinguishing elements that they subconsciously want to know is the story – why you exist, how you got to where you are now, how you’ve succeeded and evolved. This isn’t just customer case studies – it’s your profile, neatly wrapped with a bow of purpose and progress. People forget bullet points. They remember compelling stories.

There is a story behind my business practice of Clarity Therapy: it is an “accidental” business. I was helping partner companies figure out their professional DNA and message for years as part of my pharma client-vendor matchmaking service (Impactiviti), and I finally came to realize that this analytical ability was a unique skill that met a vast market need. To lead people and companies to an epiphany of their identity in a few hours time? How valuable is that? Yet it came about organically, not as part of pre-planned strategy.

Three entrepreneurs whom I deeply respect (Anthony Iannarino, Lisa Petrilli, Greg Hartle) all have great business stories that happen to be woven in to remarkable medical histories. Carrie Wilkerson (The Barefoot Executive) masterfully weaves her life story into her constant “you can do it, too!” entrepreneurial message. This past weekend’s winner of the Master’s golf tournament, Bubba Watson (pictured above – emotion is a powerful element, no?) has a wonderful story – he’s never taken a golf lesson, but just does what he does as a self-taught athlete.

Apple, Dell, the 3-M Post-it Note, WD-40 – all have memorable stories behind them. And we like to buy into something bigger than ourselves, something that transcends the ordinary, something that is a non-commodity.

Do you have a personal or corporate story? You do – but you may be so close to it, you may take it so much for granted that you haven’t teased it out. It’s one of the first things I do when I sit down with a client to help them get clear about their message – I pull out the story and help them see it.

Yes, people buy what you’re offering. But they also buy the story behind it. Don’t deprive them (and yourself!) of one of your most powerful marketing tools!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Part 1: Your Distinguishing Offering

>> Part 2: Your Go-To Market Message (in 10 words or less)

We Do This (and this and this and this and…)

Last week, I sat down to enjoy dinner with about 15 people, none of whom I had met face-to-face before (on-line connections with some of them). Which means that you begin to ask the standard get-to-know-you questions.

On this occasion, I did not have the following exchange (thankfully!) – but you’ve been there, right?

“So, what does your company do?”

“Glad you asked! We have a whole suite of enterprise human performance development resource platforms, addressing everything from talent identification, people management, on-line training, payroll obfuscation optimization, restroom supply chain aggregation, Pony Express scheduling, and cupcakes. How about you?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, this kind of exchange sheds more darkness than light! Maybe you’re a great person, and maybe you offer something of genuine value, but you’re firing so many bullet points at me that I have to put on a Kevlar vest.

And tomorrow, when someone asks me, “Hey, do you know someone who can help me with such-and-such?” – do you think this new contact is going to be even a blip on my radar screen? No. Because the offering is not clear.

That’s the first thing we uncover during a Clarity Therapy session – What’s your key offering? It’s one of the Core Four elements we uncover in determining your professional DNA and message.

It’s always amazing to me how poorly-defined a company’s offering can be – it’s as if we don’t want to miss out on any potential revenue, so we say we do 10 things, when in fact only one or two of those things are truly aligned with our strengths and our desired goals. Which makes us….forgettable.

If you do everything, then in the mind of potential customers and network-referrers, you do….nothing. You have no memory hook, nothing distinguishing. You disappear into the mist.

What does Starbucks do? Coffee. Everything else they offer is secondary, planets revolving around the caffeinated sun. What does a small company like Vosges Chocolate do? Chocolate! What do they not do? Everything else.

So, before coming up with a marketing message or an advertising campaign, I urge my clients to take a deep breath and walk with me through the process of clearing the fog and getting a clear view of their DNA. Once we know what you really do well, what your greatest value is to potential customers, then we can proceed to your go-to-market message. Marketing without a clear identity is like attempting target practice with a shotgun – lots of noise, but nothing hitting the bulls-eye.

Coming in Part 2: Your Go-To-Market Message

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Clarity Therapist

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>> Customers Walking Past You

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Customers Walking Past You

I live in a small-ish town in northern NJ. We have a Main Street with a bunch of small shops, most of which don’t work very hard to pull me in.

And sometimes, I have no clue why I should care. The message or the offering aren’t clear, or perhaps the face of the store is just a confusing jumble.

I, and my wallet, keep on walking past.

While your business may not be in a retail zone, you surely have a “storefront” in the minds of customers. They look and they see…what? Something very clear, that they could turn or explain to a friend in 15 seconds? Or a jumble?

As my friend Carrie Wilkerson says, focus on just one thing.

Own a differentiating quality. Own a market niche. Own a word. Make your real or virtual storefront so clear that any passerby who needs what you have to offer knows exactly where to turn in.

Once upon a time, a General Store could thrive. Those days are over. If your brand is a general list of everything from A to Z, you lose.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

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