I keep seeing the power of stories everywhere I turn this week.
Sunday: It’s my daughter’s 11th birthday this week and my parents are up for a visit from Georgia to celebrate. At the lunch table, my Mom tells a story I’ve never heard before and it helps me understand my Grandmama a little better.
“I was named after my aunt,” she says. “When Mama had me, her sister came to see us at the hospital. Mama said ‘I named her after you, Louise, but I put a pretty name with it.'” Mom–Carol Louise–goes by Carol. I got a chuckle thinking about my sweet little Grandmama taking a good-natured shot at her sister in the hospital right after World War II.
Monday: Prospective Client Meeting. We talk for an hour about their goals and needs. Throughout the meeting I asked questions which were aimed at discovering what made this firm different. “We offer the personal service of a small firm, but the broad range of services of a large firm.” That sounds nice.
But after our formal meeting, the main contact took me to her office to talk a little more. “I love working here. I’ve worked for some big firms, and when I came on board here, Andy (the 3rd generation owner) told me he wanted to grow this business. But he did not want to lose the family culture that his grandfather and father established. We used to be in a little white house across the interstate and now we’re in this big building. But we still operate internally like we did in that old house. [A coworker, almost as if on-cue, walks into the office at that moment and hands the contact a couple of tickets to a basketball game for that evening.] We still have birthday lunches every month. We have barbecues. We play together. Every morning at the start of the workday, the whole office gathers for prayer. We take prayer requests, and several of us who have agreed to, pray for those needs. And we treat our customers like they are family.”
I heard the words “personal service”, but it was not until I heard that story that I knew what “personal” means to this company.
Tuesday: Blog Brainstorming Meeting with Existing Client. This is a web design client which has turned into an Inbound Marketing Client. We have convinced their team that blogging is the best strategy to attract more search traffic and new customers. Again I hear “service and dedication to meeting our customer’s needs are what set us apart.” I am sitting next to Jim who started this business and is semi-retired. Jim smiles more than talks. He’s built a good business and he enjoys watching it work.
One of the other guys in the meeting pipes in . . . “It’s like the time we had a customer who needed one part. We made it in a hurry, but they were still behind the 8-ball. Their factory was at a stand-still. Jim put the part in his pickup truck and drove 300 miles to get it to them in the middle of the night.”
“Dedication to the Customer” is no longer a string of words in my mind. It wears a big smile and drives a pickup truck. That’s a great story that tells you what service means to this business.
Wednesday: Our pastor has been teaching on “Read the Bible For All It’s Worth”. We’re talking about narratives and how they are used. “The imperative is always followed by the indicative,” he says. That’s an impressive sounding statement, but what in the world does it mean? “Take, for instance, when Paul says ‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church.’ Love your wife is the imperative. You must do this. But it is followed with the story. If you read the New Testament, you understand what loving your wife means now. It means you must be willing to live and die for her. We see that throughout the Bible. The New Testament doctrine is fleshed out by the Old Testament narrative. It helps us understand what is meant by the imperative.”
Thursday: That’s today. We’re working on a new story that illustrates what we do with Inbound Marketing. “Inbound Marketing” is an abstract couple of words. To help folks understand those words, why they are important, and how they can reshape their business, we have developed an analogy. We’ve tested it within the industry and got great feedback. A new video, ebook, and a lot of blog posts are in development to revolve around that story.
Part of what sets our company apart, we believe, is the ability to take abstract ideas and anchor them, develop actionable strategies, and execute on them. When the story is ready, we’ll show you what we mean.
Business Storytelling: What About You?
What about your business? What is it that sets you, your service, your product, your ideas apart? Why should someone do business with you rather than the other guy? Think of the words first, then find and refine the story to illustrate it.
Make sure your team can articulate that story to others. Remember, it was not Andy or Jim, the owners, who told me the business story. It was the employees. They were eager to share the narratives because they believed in them. It helped them make decisions on a day-to-day basis. It guided and fueled their actions.
Now see if you can find ways to communicate that not only conversationally, but on your website and in social media. That’s what we’ll be working to do with these clients.
For more on the power of storytelling in accomplishing your business (and personal) goals, I highly recommend the book Made To Stick.
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