Are You Selling The Wrong Thing?

Have you ever aerated a lawn? I do it every year.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, an aerator is a gasoline-powered machine equipped with a spiked metal roller on the bottom. It weighs about a billion pounds (I’m guessing) and its function is to poke finger-sized holes in your lawn, thereby “aerating” it and making it healthier.

Your job is to walk behind this self-propelled behemoth as it takes angry bites out of the ground, all the while doing your best not to inadvertently run over any shrubs, walkways or neighborhood children.

In my case, there’s one additional obstacle that needs to be contended with: our automatic lawn sprinklers. These plastic things sit buried in the ground, awaiting their turn to pop their little heads up and spray water in all directions like a drunken toddler.

And you better not run over any while aerating, or you’ll be out fifty bucks.

The problem? They are nearly impossible to spot when not in use; there’s no way you could see and avoid them while running behind an active aerator.

The solution? Turn on the sprinkler system. When the heads pop up, mark them with a healthy dose of baby powder. Now, as you aerate your way across the lawn, you can easily see them.

That’s what I do every year and it works just fine.

The sprinklers are set to run automatically in the middle of the night, of course, but you can turn them on manually whenever you want. And so, baby powder in hand, I did.

Uh oh. Nothing happening.

Check the water main. Check the control panel. Review the directions for manual operation.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

An hour later, after fiddling with everything I could think of, I was ready to give up.

You can’t run the aerator without marking the sprinkler heads and you can’t mark the sprinkler heads without first locating them. Time was quickly running out on my one-day rental.

But then my wife Linda had an idea: “Let’s call the sprinkler guy.”

“Don’t bother,” I said, in that condescending tone one reserves for their well-meaning but ill-informed spouse. “We’ll never catch him on a Saturday and even if we did, he can’t fix it over the phone.”

But I was out of options, so I called him. And he answered the phone.

I think you know where this story is headed. He asked me one question and immediately solved the problem: “Do you have a rain sensor on the system?”

Me: “Yes.”

The problem, you see, was that it was raining that day. The rain sensor keeps the system from turning on (no need to water the lawn in the rain).

He told me where to find it and how to disconnect it. The second I shut it down, the sprinkler heads popped up and I was back in business.

Why am I telling you all this? Who knows?

I’m kidding. I’m telling you this because I want you to notice how quickly and easily the sprinkler guy fixed the problem, despite…

… how much thought, effort, logic, sweat and time I spent not solving it.

It was his experience and perspective that allowed him to instantly diagnose the problem and offer a simple solution; something I couldn’t do on my own. He did what experts do.

Two related suggestions worth thinking about, both specific to your business:

  1. Sell insight not effort.

The most valuable thing sprinkler guy did for me was solve the mystery. It involved zero work on his part. But without the answer he provided, I was stuck, unable to move forward.

How about you?

Are you just a freelance writer? Or are you a marketing consultant who advises clients on what needs to be written and when, in addition to providing the written words?

Are you just a graphic artist? Or are you a visual design expert who guides clients in determining how to best represent their brand, in addition to providing the marketing collateral?

Are you just a guy who installs sprinkler systems? Or are you a garden expert who helps homeowners understand the choices and tradeoffs involved in lawn care, in addition to making sure the sprinklers function as they should?

It’s a critical question.

How you describe the work you do and the level at which you engage with your prospects and clients will have a big impact on how they see you and, as a result, how much they are willing to pay you.

  1. Stop cringing every time somebody accuses you of being an expert.

I understand. Particularly if you’re new(ish) at whatever it is you do, thinking of yourself as “expert” fills you with a lot of doubt. But you are absolutely that, relative to the people who hire you.

Consider my sprinkler guy. He didn’t invent the rain sensor. He doesn’t have an advanced degree in sprinkler systems. He doesn’t know anything that every other sprinkler guy on earth doesn’t also know.

But … he knows way more than I do or ever will about lawn irrigation. As the old saying goes, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Your clients and would be clients feel exactly the same about you. You’re already way over the knowledge bar.

What they want most is somebody who can apply that knowledge to their particular problem and in a way that makes them feel confident and taken care of (did somebody say, Likeable Expert?).

So get over yourself and start behaving like the expert you already are.

Here’s the bottom line. If you insist on selling time and effort, you’ll always be competing against lots of other people in your field who do exactly the same thing. From there, it doesn’t take long for you to become a commodity and the hiring decision to be made solely on price.

If, on the other hand, you find a way to wrap advice, insight and perspective around the work itself, you’ll make more money, attract better clients, and spend a lot less time digging up broken sprinkler heads.

About the author

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping (tiny) professional service firms talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here


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