A few hundred years ago it was easy to know what someone did for a living. Mr. Shoemaker made shoes. Goldsmith hammered precious metals. Tailor sewed. Farmer farmed. Baker baked.
Today, it’s not quite that simple. When was the last time you met someone named Dr. Radiologist? Mr. Hedge Fund Manager? Ms. Account Executive?
Does Jackson’s father fix flats? Does Ms. Webman work on the Internet?
Of course not. Today we are free to pick the profession we think we’re qualified for regardless of what name we were born with.
So why is it we still use century’s old nomenclature when we describe ourselves to others?
Picture this: You’re at a party. You meet a new person – you tell them your name and they tell you theirs. The next thing out of your mouth is, “what do you do?”
If we still used the old system, being named for what we do, that question would be superfluous – our names would tell our new friend exactly what we do for a living.
But the bigger question is why is what we do so important that it’s the second thing we ask? Wouldn’t it be more interesting, and more instructive to find out, “who are you,” “what are you passionate about,” or “what’s important to you?”
Wouldn’t we know more about our new acquaintance if we knew that they were an hospice volunteer, that they collected 18th-century pastoral oils or that they recently emigrated from Perth, than that they were a lawyer or an accountant?
As we’ve discussed so many times before in this blog, what we do is cost of entry. Just like an empty restaurant that serves good food, if we’re not good at our jobs, no one will hire us. But just because we are good at our jobs doesn’t mean anyone will hire us, either. Why? Because people don’t buy what we do. They buy who we are.
In his 2006 book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink says that the way to assure yourself of business success is to create a compelling product persona that no one can copy. Pink’s example? Madonna. According to Pink, Madonna is the perfect business model because people don’t just buy what she does – singing and dancing – they buy who she is: Madonna.
(Of course, Pink published his book before Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta repurposed Madonna’s act and created Lady Gaga, successfully selling an old persona to a brand new market.)
Instead of focusing on the things we do, our prospecting focus should be on who we are and why that resonates with our customers and potential customers. Because even though the service we sell may provide the actual result our customers need, it’s the relationship we provide that will entice them do business with us instead of our competitors.
I think it’s such an important reminder that I had it engraved where I’d see it over and over every single day – on my new iPad: “They don’t buy what you do. They buy who you are.”
The other day I read a Twitter post that said, “I just saw Madonna riding the subway.”
A few minutes later someone posted a reply. “That means Lady Gaga will ride the subway tomorrow, only not as well.”