There is a dangerous myth in the business world that says it’s our products, services, expertise, and capability that differentiate us and our companies from our competitors. But, here’s the rub: we all believe our “stuff” is great. With the exception of the clearly-branded leaders in any business category, how does one law firm, for instance, declare that it’s better than another? Win/loss record? Depends on the type of case and client. How does one design firm objectively declare its designs are superior to their competition’s? Awards won, time-lines met, budgets honored, number of clients satisfied? Every major firm makes those claims. How does one venture capital/private equity investor demonstrate its superiority to investors when the return numbers are all in the same ballpark? As far as I know, Avis is the only major brand that ever described itself as “#2.” And even then, they didn’t say “second best.” They said, “We’re # 2, we try harder!”
I’m not talking about advertising slogans here. I’m interested in how people talk to other people. When you are in a room with another living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being, how do you leverage that moment as an opportunity to move the relationship forward? There, I said it. “Relationship.” Well, it may come as a big surprise to some of you, but the answer is that building a relationship probably has very little to do with what you say. Yes, you can blow it with bad idea selection and an overuse of data-heavy PowerPoint slides, but for most of the meetings you have, it really boils down to who connects the best. So, differentiation–in the moment, at the chalk-face–comes from being completely who you are. The only real differentiation we can truly lay claim to is our incredible individual diversity. Not to mention, sophisticated purchasers of your service, product, etc. have incredibly sensitive “BS” meters.
I’m not suggesting that you be lazy or unprepared. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Being who you are when you are unprepared, nervous, or feeling out of your depth isn’t the “real you” that helps you get the job. In fact, I often have to physically manipulate some people to get them to show the sides of themselves that “look real” even to themselves on videotape. But, if you can change a golf slice into a draw (and even if you can’t), you can get used to using yourself in a way that allows you to express “the best of who you are.” And, if you’re not willing or able to do that in every important business communication, you are leaving money on the table. And, you don’t want to leave money on the table. You want the money in your bank account.
Who you are differentiates you. The best of who you are helps build your brand. And, what you are comfortable with now may do neither. So, what is “real,” what is “natural,” and what works? Comfort is a product of repetition. Period. We are hardwired to respond to people who seem comfortable in their own skin, who seem genuinely engaged in what they are talking about, and who are making a genuine effort to be available for real connection. There are a handful of choices you can make with your body and voice that help you express those qualities on a regular basis. But, you may have to work from the outside in for a while. Once you uncover what choices help you to express your own real power, your own real energy, and your real willingness to connect, you have to get enough reps under your belt to make them feel natural and real to you.
One way or the other, you are what differentiates (or fails to differentiate) your organization, cause, etc., from competing interests. Not your offering. So, make sure you put the best “you” out there every time you talk.