by Tony Vidler
When it comes to getting someone to buy your advice one of the best tips I can give is “dumb it down- but don’t treat them like dummies“.
There is a big difference between “dumbing it down” and treating people like dummies. The first is about simplifying the message in order to be effective, whereas the second is about being condescending and patronising. The first is good. The second is bad. So “dumb it down” doesn’t mean that prospects are dumb or that you should think of them that way. It means “simplify” the discussion and recommendations wherever possible.
There is a massive tendency in financial services for communication with prospects and clients to become unduly complex. The problem is that professionals of any discipline have a language of their own which is full of cool technical words and acronyms and genuinely clever concepts, and those within the profession then try to use this “language” with those who are not working within the profession. Not surprisingly, they get lost. Our jargon may as well be a foreign language as far as most consumers are concerned.
It isn’t that prospects and clients are stupid….far from it. If we were brutally honest we would have to look at ourselves and say we are the dummies for speaking a language that we know the customers don’t understand fully.
Think about this typical example of a planner expressing what they think is a “value proposition”:
A fellow financial planner hearing this will process it swiftly and comprehend the meaning, and undoubtedly sally forth with a question about Monte Carlo analysis or somesuch.
A typical consumer won’t.
The consumer needs time to process this type of statement and try and analyse it, or interpret it. They are actually going through a laborious process in their mind of replaying the words we used and translating them into language they use…if they can figure it out at all. Generally then we end up with a consumer who is feeling confused, and a little bit dumb or inadequate, before we have even begun to engage. Is it a surprise that so few of them appear immediately interested in our “value proposition”?
When it comes to communicating any message the primary objective is to have the message understood. The secondary objective is to achieve the primary objective as rapidly as possible. So we are aiming for effective understanding (or comprehension), as quickly as possible.
If we achieve that we have at the very least prevented our prospective future customers from feeling inadequate. In fact, we make them feel smarter and can have a conversation as “equals” which is far more likely to lead to engagement. More importantly though, if we can effectively communicate what it is that we can do then there is far higher likelihood of them understanding the value to them. And communicating the value we can deliver to them is the objective of a value proposition, isn’t it?
To get our message to the point where it is effective we must begin with the jargon-laden phrase that we understand. We know what we mean by it, so we should start with that. To make the message effective though we have to figure out how we would express that same concept to our best friend when we are having a social drink. I am not joking when I say that either…your best friend is a great test of whether you have got the message right (as long as your best friend is not in the same line of business as you, otherwise they may not notice the jargon creeping in).
Let’s assume your best friend is perhaps an owner of a retail store. They are smart; they understand business; they know you very well….and they will be utterly indifferent (if not outright irreverent) to your sales pitch, and brutally honest in their feedback. That is a great audience to test your value proposition on. So over a beer with our best friend we might describe it this way:
Regardless of whether these particular words feel right to you just at this moment in time, the fact is they are a set of words that still describe what it is you do and the value that you create for clients, but they are now expressed in a way that your friend-the-business-owner can understand immediately without having to translate. Because we have now referenced the outcome that this process creates for the client (which is the “value”) it moves beyond being a simple expression of what it is we do for a job by establishing the relevance of what we do for the client. THAT has meaning for them, and that sparks interest – and that is the over-arching objective isn’t it?
So dumb it down.
Take your marketing messages and value proposition and turn them into language that your brutally honest friend would get and understand in seconds when your are relaxing over a beer. If you can achieve that, then you have an effective and simple, yet powerful, value proposition.