So here’s something I’m not supposed to write about as a marketer for small businesses: the time I blew the pitch.
The scene was picture perfect. I found the potential client’s office with NO problem -- no traffic jams, no crazy GPS directions, no unforeseen car trouble. The weather was lovely, so no sweat stains on the back of my nice shirt, and I even had a good hair day.
There was a group of pleasant folks assembled in a conference room. The only seat left was at the head of the table. This isn’t my favorite seat, as it turns the meeting into a presentation while I like to steer these more toward a conversation. But it was a nice conference room -- very formal. Lots of dark wood, leather and no windows. Fox hunting scenes framed around the room.
The conversation went well. I was asked to walk through nearly every site we’d built, and needed to explain why we’d made design choices we made. It was going well. They had IT guy in there just to throw me off. Being more of a geek than an IT-person myself, I thought I handled his questions with aplomb. He seemed to like my answers, anyway, and gave approving nods to his superiors around the table.
Then came THE QUESTION.
“So, have you ever designed a site for an accountant before?”
This seemingly innocuous question skipped right over my filters and hit me right in the proverbial hackles.
“No, actually, we haven’t,” I told them, silently wishing for points for honesty. Then the hackles kept talking. “But it really shouldn’t matter. Unless we are building some kind of custom accounting application for you, asking us if we’d built a web site for an accountant is like asking your plumber if he’d ever installed a toilet for an accountant.”
That’s right: I compared myself to a plumber. And my product to toilet.
Cue sound effects of crickets. #presentationfail
I am not dissing plumbers at all, you realize. I just created a less than ideal mental picture. But the fact of the matter is: it’s true.
I learned early on, first as a copywriter and then as an interactive marketer for small businesses here in North Carolina, that clients wanted to see themselves in my portfolio. Every maker of polka-dotted snarfblasters wants to open up my portfolio and see a brochure written or a web site designed specifically for polka-dotted snarfblasters. Otherwise we can’t possibly understand their business.
Well, you’re right, polka-dotted snarfblaster maker: I don’t understand your business. But I understand mine.
I know what it takes to write dynamic, benefit-driven copy. What I need to know about your business, I’ll ask. With this approach, I now know more than I ever thought I would about social media, horse shows, cookies, home inspections, interior design, financial planning, the paralympics, mountain bike tours, green investing, fitness trainers, healthcare technology, remodeling, and a whole lot more. I don’t know EVERYTHING about these, but just enough to be dangerous. And by the time I’m done with you, I will be able to fake my way through any converation about polka-dotted snarfblasters. (And hopefully, I just cornered the market on that search term. Yay me!)
Surprise, surprise, we did not get the job. I have since followed that business’ web site and the site they ended up with was not unlike their conference room in its design aesthetic, but had no special functionality -- no super-powered accounting seasoning that made it quite clear this was built by a web designer who had worked for accountants.
I was wrong to say it the way I did. But I was right to mean it. And I mean it to this day.