One of the secrets of attracting more clients and referrals is telling stories. And if you are the hero of most of the stories, you will lose the power of storytelling and most of the opportunities to connect with people. Make them the hero.
Patrick Lencioni has built a small industry around management fables. In his books he describes the struggles and ultimate revelation and conversion of mythical managers and CEOs who have encountered barriers and obstacles. In each, the hero meets a guide, a Sherpa, a coach. Sometimes they are enigmatic (like a janitor, a late night rider on the subway) sometimes more routine (a retired executive they know). And our CEO eventually figures out the puzzle and saves his company and career.
Why do these fables and the stories we tell work? One of the reasons is because the reader or listener identifies with the hero. On one level we want to root for the good guy. We want Skywalker to triumph over Vader. We want Rocky to win the fight. We want Erin Brockovich to beat the utility company. Even when the hero is not exactly pure we want them to win. We side with Jason Bourne, a trained killer, in his fight against the government. We want James Bond to defeat, well, everybody.
We want them to win because we see something of us in them. The causes. The values. Lencioni brings it closer to home. We who manage or own companies put ourselves in the place of the protagonist. We are engaged by the story because it is about us. We have dysfunctions on our teams. We have been sentenced to death by meeting. We want the hero to win because it is how we win.
And when storytelling is effective in communicating your value to your client it is because the client sees their own struggle in the journey of your story. Let me tell you about one woman who came to us after losing her husband. Here is how we helped one person recently who did not know how to evaluate the early retirement offer he got from his employer. One family we met recently really struggled with how much to leave their kids for fear it would cause them more damage than good.
Stories are critical in communicating your value proposition and your differentiator. Effectively written, your story will prompt a prospective client to say “Yes! That’s exactly the problem I am trying to overcome. That’s the outcome I was looking for. I want what she had.” And that is only possible when your client is the hero.
In a good story, the hero goes through a transformation. Overcomes an obstacle. Develops a skill. Simba faces the memory of Mufasa’s death and returns to save the kingdom. Similarly, our client develops a vision for retirement and overcomes their worry and confusion, successfully structures their income to minimize tax, figures out how to benefit a cause without compromising their financial well-being. Maybe not as dramatic as ejecting the hyenas and restoring the fertile plains of Africa but meaningful to our clients.
And this is where some of the advisors we work with have missed the opportunity. They believed that they should be the hero.
It makes sense that you see yourself coming to the rescue of the client but it is not what will capture their attention or persuade. Most clients want guidance. They want to be advised, not saved. And so they respond to that story of the person facing the decisions and challenges and envision themselves transforming into the successful retiree, parent, business owner, or philanthropist.
Every hero needs a guide, a coach, a Sherpa. And that is the role you can play. Be Yoda and let the client be Skywalker. Be D-Bob and let your client be Rudy. Tell a story that enables your prospective client to say “yes, that’s who I want to be and I want you to help me get there.” In the process, you communicate that because you have advised people in that situation before you understand what they are up against; who they are. And getting the client to view you as the one with the requisite knowledge and experience to get someone like them where they want to go is the first step in getting them to view you as their advisor.
Here are a few ideas on how you can apply this when creating stories to illustrate your value:
- Pick a client to describe that is similar to the person you want to talk to.
- Describe something that client wanted.
- Describe a challenge or situation that stood between where the client was when you met them and the situation that they wanted.
- Describe the specific aspects of your service that helped the client overcome the obstacle and achieve what they desired. (Not everything you did for them. Just focus on the particulars that contributed to the specific goal.)
- Paint a picture of the client after overcoming the challenge or accomplishing the goal.
Make your clients the heroes and you will find that other people want to take the same journey with you.