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Ask not what your business can do…

In his inaugural address John F. Kennedy famously turned a common question around: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” [Surely good advice today, with both sides of political spectrum explaining what they will do to create jobs and opportunity for waiting citizens, who wonder, not what they should do to create a better nation, but which elected officials will do so for them.] Answering the right question is often critical to success.

It seems logical, after all. “Let me introduce myself,” is a pretty natural way to open a conversation. The majority of company presentation slides start out this way with often one, two, or more slides explaining “who we are.” ‘We’ve got to explain how great our technology or experience is, don’t we? That’s our selling feature!’ Unfortunately, no, it isn’t. Your selling feature is not about what your business can do, but what you business can do for the customer.

I worked with a firm that had an exciting, innovative technology and they are rightfully proud of it. Initialy, the company presentation started out explaining that they were a well-funded organization with patented technology, and then took a few brief moments to explain this innovative technology before showing examples of how it might be used. Sounds reasonable, but the audience never seemed to be listening. And why should they? What’s in it for them?

We turned around their presentation, describing instead typical problems customers might have encountered that the technology could address. Presenters could ask questions about which of these seemed the most appropriate and tailor the rest of the presentation to fit the customer’s specific interests. Armed with this new information, success stories illustrating different applications and results how a customer might save money, or avoid costly maintenance. Suddenly the audience is interested, and they start asking questions about how this technology works. Doesn’t that seem a more logical, to tell them about your products, after they’re convinced that it might do them some good?

Websites often suffer from the same problem. Instead of focusing on how products and solutions might benefit the customer, we have pages describing how our companies and products are different, better than the competition. (Eye On Technology suffers a bit from this, but that’s what this blog is supposed to do–show our benefits.) Customers have little patience to learn about why you’re important when they haven’t figured out why they shouldn’t just click another link. You have very little time to answer this question before they’re gone—don’t waste it.