Introducing The Commitment Engine

The Commitment Engine

Introducing The Commitment Engine

As you can see from the image here, my third book – The Commitment Engine – Making Work Worth It is just about ready to go.

And, I would like to give you a free copy!

A bit more on that in a minute, but first, what’s the book about?

This book is undoubtedly the riskiest thing I’ve ever written, but it contains a message that I think needs to be spread and shared. In this book I share a lot of personal thoughts and feelings about why I do what I do and what I’m passionate about when it comes to work.

I share tons of stories from entrepreneurs that have discovered a higher purpose their business serves and how they found the clarity to build a business that brings them joy as well as success.

I map out a system for building a business that people want to commit to.

I also use words like love and grace in the context of business and talk a great deal about building a culture and community based on these concepts and for some that’s just not that comfortable.

So, while I fully expect there will be those that won’t find this book as relevant as my past offerings, I also fully expect that many will find this book brave, important and thought provoking – and that’s who I wrote this book for.

You’ll find important lessons about clarity, culture and community from a software developer in Chicago, a janitorial service in Ohio, a telephone answering service in Delaware and a skylight manufacturer in Iowa as well as my take on living and breathing business ownership every day for over twenty-five years.

Here’s what my friend Guy Kawasaki had to say about The Commitment Engine:

“Not often enough, a book comes along and injects a breath of fresh air into the world of business. This is one of those books.”

Want to get a taste? You can download the table of contents, Introduction and first chapter here:

Now, about that free copy.

The Commitment Engine hits the shelves Oct 11. In an effort to get the ball rolling on some pre-orders I will ship the first 400 people who pre-order a copy a second copy free! My publisher will even pay the shipping and you’ll get your free copy before anyone else can even buy one. (Sorry, publisher says U.S. addresses only)

All you have to do is buy a copy using one of the links below and then return to the form listed below and submit your order details so we can ship your free book right away. (Your purchase can be Kindle version or hardback)

Don’t wait – the last time I did this the free copies were gone in a day!

Order links:

Form link: (Come back here and submit your receipt details)

Thanks for your continued and overwhelming support all these years!


What Makes Work Worth It To You

The title of this post might be one of the most important questions that entrepreneurs never ask – or at least fail to consider the answer to frequently enough.

The Commitment Engine - Making Work Worth ItTruly understanding the answer to this question may define the difference between a feeling of success or failure in business – regardless of how well a business seems to do outwardly.

I’ve written an entire book on this notion called The Commitment Engine – Making Work Worth It. (Oct 2012) The book is a study in how entrepreneurs find and commit to work worth doing and then how they build an organization with a culture based on work worth doing and finally how they create a community that believes in and wants to be a part of the work worth doing.

The book features some pretty amazing stories from some pretty amazing entrepreneurs, but today I want to get your story. For the next few weeks I am collecting as many answers as possible to this seemingly simple question:

What Makes the Work You Do Worth It?

It’s such an interesting and at times arresting question. As I’ve begun to pose it to more and more individuals I’ve come to appreciate the distinction between those that know it immediately, without hesitation, and those that ask to get back to me or what my deadline is.

Here’s what I’ve learned. If you don’t know the answer to this question off the top of your head, you’ve got some work to do. I don’t say that as a form of judgment, it’s just that I’ve become convinced that it’s nearly impossible to be fully alive in this world without a commitment to some purpose that makes the work you do worth it.

And the funny thing about this idea is that it doesn’t matter what that is, as long as there’s a strong commitment. I’ve interviewed people that gain a great deal of success serving a higher purpose that involves changing lives for the better and I’ve also spoken with those that understand their work and the money it brings simply serves a means to a different end that fulfills them.

There’s no right answer and that may be part of the challenge because we immediately think a term like “higher purpose” should point us in a spiritual direction, but it doesn’t need to. The only thing that matters is that we understand and connect to why we do what we do – end of story.

Again, please take a minute and share your work story in the form of answer to this question – What make the work you do work it?  please add it to this form

I want to share two very different stories I’ve collected because I think they help illustrate just how important, yet how unique, this idea is to each individual. (I plan to share lots of these stories, including yours, over the next few week.)

1) Penelope Trunk –

What Makes the Work You Do Worth It?

I get paid. That’s what makes the work I do worth it. Because I already know how I like to spend my time. I don’t need to get paid to do stuff I love. I’d do it anyway. But I need to feed my family. So I adjust the stuff I love to do so that I can get paid for it.

For example, I would probably lock myself in a room and write my memoir, but I’m scared that I wouldn’t earn enough money while I was doing it. So i write almost a memoir via my blog, and I get paid really well for it.

And I love speaking, and I’d speak to large groups for free because it’s so fun. But I get paid $10K a speech if I talk about Generation Y, so I do that, even though, to be honest, I’m totally sick of talking about Generation Y and they are the most conservative, non-risktaking generation to come along since World War I and why can’t we stop doing speeches about them already?

So I think it’s totally disingenuous for anyone to answer this question with anything but “I get paid”. Because the difference between what we do for work and what we do because we love it is that we get paid. No one gets to do 100% of what they love for work. That’s not how the world works.

Those of us who are happiest in our work are getting paid to do something we really enjoy.

2) Jonathan Fields – Good Life Project

What Makes the Work You Do Worth It?

A few key elements make the work I do worth it.

First is a deep sense of alignment. I wake up every morning excited to create experiences and solutions that are organic extensions of who I am, what I care about and what people want, need and value. I feel like the work I do matters. To me and to the people I serve. And it lights me up along the way.

Second is the pursuit of craft and mastery. As a an author, entrepreneur, artist and web-producer, I spend much of my days pursuing craft and mastery. I geek out over language, twists of phrases, metaphors and storytelling that rises to the level of transcendence engine. I love the challenge of creating immersive experiences for clients, readers and customers that leave them in some way changed. Striving to solve complex problems and teaching people how to do the same makes me giddy.

Whether I ever achieve that elusive state of mastery isn’t so much the point, but the quest, the journey, the voracious seeking after the craft is something that pulls me to do more of what I do.

Third, it’s about the people. I’ve launched, built and sold a few companies and am current building a number of global digital tribes and ventures. People often ask what the best part of entrepreneurship is. Is it the money? The freedom? The glory? It’s not any of those, most of which take an insane amount of work and years to come if they ever do.

The real magic lies the opportunity to hand pick the people you surround yourself with and cultivate a culture of joy, respect, service, delight, connection and impact. You get to build a hive of people you can’t get enough of, and that makes a huge difference in the way you experience each day.

Last thing, family is the heartbeat of everything. I’ve worked to build my career in a way allows me to be deeply present in the lives of my wife and daughter and also take care of myself (still a work in progress, lol). Because, it’s not enough to be physically there, but checked out or so sick and burnt that I’m not really there. I want to be physically, emotionally and spiritually present, which means creating time for the self-care needed to build this foundation.

This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it contains the big rocks for me, the things that make the work I do worth it.

The Commitment Engine is due in stores in October and I’ll certainly offer my share of promotional opportunities over the next 6-8 weeks, but today I simply want to ask you to share your story. Click here to share your story

How to Remain Human In a Technology Flattened World

The way we work, shop, meet and collaborate has changed forever.

We now possess the technology that makes the need to meet face to face in the traditional business sense a thing of the past.

mhauri via Flickr CC

Equipped with text messaging, instant messaging, video messaging, and a host of web based tools for project and client management and collaboration, it’s possible to create an efficient business run from just about anywhere you can obtain an Internet connection.

However, all this efficiency comes with a price. Without frequent, genuine and rich interaction with the people in your life working towards shared outcomes something very meaningful is lost.

Hugs and handshakes are what make us human and they are in many ways a part of what makes doing what we do worth it.

While working and selling globally, assembling staff from around the nation and meeting clients via video have become the new reality in our technology flattened world, there are a handful of practices that I believe can help return or maintain a more human element to the virtual workspace.

The human mindset

First and foremost as we interact across time and space we have to remember that these are human beings we are interacting with. I know that sounds almost absurd, but there’s something sterilizing about the video monitor that somehow makes us more like machines – machines with bad manners.

The human mindset in the virtual world calls for an obsession with basic politeness. Be early, be thankful, be kind, be caring. Take the time to ask how someone is doing, what they are excited about or what they need help them with.

Bring this mentality to your technology and you’ll restore some of the humanness that it robs.

The human routine

The use of virtual staff, assistants and providers makes it easy to conduct business much like it’s one big transaction.

In the virtual world it’s essential that you not lose all sense of human business routine. When you work with virtual assistants, graphic designers, copywriters, take the time to set up a meeting just to get to know them. Some of this could be in the form of an interview, but the more you know a person the more you’ll understand their unique abilities and that’s how you create a great working relationship and that’s how everyone wins.

Create regularly scheduled meetings just to check in and use these to keep focused on managing the relationship as well as the work.

The human meeting

I wrote a post last week about how to start meetings on a high note. It got so much response it served to highlight the lack of humanness in our meetings, both in person and online.

In the post I suggested that every meeting start by asking participants to share one thing professionally and personally they were very excited about.

This human touch is so profoundly missing from flat screen interaction that simply starting a virtual meeting in this fashion can return a sense of joy to the otherwise dreaded meeting.

The human touch

You probably saw this last one coming, but in the virtual cocoon we live and work, it’s become essential that you force yourself out into real life.

You may have every last client work detail hammered out via your online portal, so take three or four clients to lunch, just to get to know them better.

Go to three or four conferences a year, just to meet some of the people that comment on your blog posts.

Reach out to people whose work you admire and see if they can grab coffee the next time you’re in their town.

Everything I’ve mentioned in this post is both obvious and natural, but somehow the lack of real space makes it less so. You can fuse what’s great about technology with what’s great about human inspiration and bring it back into the workplace if you simply choose to remain human.

How To Use Fifteen Minutes a Day to Create a Culture of Accountability

It’s great to have a plan. Even better to charge out and begin to execute the plan. But, to keep your plan alive day in and day out, you’ve got to have a routine that holds everyone accountable for all things big and small.

Image joncandy via Flickr

To keep commitment high and reinforce a culture based on your objectives you need to install a systematic approach to meetings that allows people to be heard, get help, pose ideas, participate, learn, grow, move projects forward, and stay connected.

This will include annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and even daily planned sessions designed to accomplish specific tasks.

I can almost hear some collective groaning coming from my readers, but trust me on this. If you do this right, you’ll wonder how you ever succeeded without it. You may find that more gets done in terms of actual work and real team building in a month using this system than at any time in your business.

First off, have everyone in the organization sketch out their near term plans. The projects they need or intend to get done in the 30, 60, and 90 days based on your overall marketing or business plan. This should be an ongoing moving process and will be one of the tools used in your meeting system.

Daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly

Every organization, depending upon the number of employees and other logistics, will have slightly differing needs, but the basic framework should look something like this:

Quarterly meetings – These meetings should be used to give “state of the business updates” that will likely include financial data and reporting on goals and objectives for the year.

One of the ways that many organizations reinforce core values is to choose a quarterly theme that relates to one of your stated core values and plan activities and initiatives that highlight the chosen value. I’ll go into more detail about this specific tactic in a subsequent chapter on culture.

These meetings should be fun and celebrate achievements, milestones and accomplishments that may fall outside the realm of work.

Monthly meetings – These meetings may include financial and milestone reporting, but should also include teaching.

One of my favorite ways to include teaching in the monthly meeting is to select a member of the staff, regardless of department, and charge them with leading a session about their department or function’s specific initiatives, goals and achievements.

This can be a fun way to “get to know accounting” or “showcase the new advertising campaign.”

Weekly functional meetings – It gets a little trickier once you start breaking meetings down to functional teams or departments. This is where organizations with flat structures (everyone reports to one boss) start to choke. If you’re the boss and you manage everyone in the organization, this tactic will reveal why you can’t continue this practice.

The good news is that this process and the project planning process I wrote about recently are how you start to create a management structure in your organization where perhaps none existed previously.

In fact, many organizations find that the sheer act of planning creates its own logical team organization structure based on who can be and is responsible for projects.

The focus of the weekly meeting is project movement. If you have a very small staff this may be a weekly staff meeting, but the focus is still to get updates on projects. If you have a very organization you may logically conduct these in small groups around projects.

Some mid-sized organizations hold weekly all hands meetings in addition to functional staff meetings in an effort to highlight their most important initiatives.

VML, a digital marketing agency located in Kansas City, holds an all staff meeting every Tuesday morning with the primary purpose of highlighting the organization’s community, non-profit and charitable activities. The brief meeting is also frequently used as a way to recognize staff members who exemplified core values during the coarse of the week.

Daily functional huddle

The concept of the daily huddle has been used in large business for years and has had a huge impact on organizations such as Ritz Carlton, Johnson & Johnson and 3M. Verne Harnish, author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits did a great deal to popularize the notion in small business circles. Harnish contends that this was one of Rockefeller’s core concepts used while building Standard Oil.

While some may view this tactic purely in terms of efficiency I think it’s one of the greatest ways to build team commitment and spirit and once again reinforce purpose.

Making Work Worth It

Over the past twenty-five years I’ve worked now in some form or another with thousands of entrepreneurs and one of the most insightful conclusions I’ve come to about this group is that they are an odd lot.

Some entrepreneurs, seemingly some of the most successful people I’ve ever met, are absolutely miserable. In fact, when asked they’ll confide that they feel like failures, while others, seemingly equally successful, are totally fulfilled, happy and very much alive.

And, as it turns out this sense of failure or success, no matter how it is measured, also seeps into their personal relationships, habits and addictions and even health – both for the good or the bad.

Over the last year or so I set out on a course to figure why this is.

I met with and studied hundreds of entrepreneurs and I in doing so noticed a recurring theme that turned into the premise of a book I’ve written on the subject of work. The book is called The Commitment Engine and is due out in October.

The central difference between entrepreneurs that are full of life and those that are having the life sucked out of them is commitment.

But, not commitment in the way that most people understand it. Not the do or die, stand braced against the wind come what may kind of commitment . In fact, that’s the kind of the commitment that erodes most rapidly.

The kind of commitment I discovered, the kind that is the principal idea behind fulfilling work, is commitment to a higher purpose served by the work that one does – A complete understanding of why a particular kind of work is worth it.

Now, this isn’t a particularly new or revolutionary idea, but here’s what I also discovered.

Entrepreneurs that are led by a sense of purpose don’t measure success by some off in the distant place that tells them once I get to X I’ve “made it.”

Instead they measure success and attach happiness and fulfillment to how far they’ve come in service of a higher commitment. This doesn’t mean they don’t set ridiculous, scary and audacious goals; they’re simply able to turn around and measure success in their tracks.

Even when they have not yet achieved all that they set out to achieve, purpose propelled them forward and made the work they were doing worth doing.

And that’s the essential difference.

Another interesting aspect of this idea is that this sense of higher purpose almost always sprang from something unexpected. It seems it’s actually very hard to go out and find a sense of higher purpose, it almost always finds you.

One of the entrepreneurs I met exploring the idea of commitment was Mary Miller. Mary and her husband Tony, co-owners of Jancoa, located in Cincinnati, had a people problem. Their successful janitorial service had more work coming in than they could handle. Their problem, however, was they couldn’t find and keep committed employees. The Millers started each day about 30 full-time employees short and scrambled all day to get the work done as promised.

They found themselves hiring over 50 new people a month and enduring an industry norm of around 400% turnover. One weekend they decided to go to the bookstore and discover everything they could about hiring and retaining employees.

One nugget they latched onto was a suggestion that they find and fix the hurdles employees and potential employees faced in order to stay on the job. To that end, Tony decided to buy a van and provide employee transportation to and from jobs.

While the van didn’t solve all their problems, after several weeks of driving through the neighborhoods where his employees lived, the Millers realized that while many of their employees lacked transportation, what they really lacked were hopes and dreams. In their view, life and living and lack of opportunity had robbed them of hope.

Jancoa decided that its “people problem” was really a dream problem and they set out to center the company on its people and their dreams. They began to invest in ways to make employee housing more affordable and promoted GED and college tuition programs.

They created a program called The Dream Manager and started making dreams and dreaming bigger a part of the every day culture and language of the company.

Mary Miller tells it like this: “When people decide to go after something bigger magical things happen. We could have never predicted this to be the outcome, but what we discovered firsthand was that we were able to change the quality of life of our people by changing their view of the future.”

“People don’t dream about entering the cleaning industry, but now they come to work for us and we tell them give us your best for three to five years and we’ll help you work your way out of this job.”

Jancoa’s turnover is down by 45% and their Dream Manager program has been chronicled and emulated by organizations large and small around the globe. Over the past few years, Jancoa has grown to a company with more than 300 employees and annual sales exceeding $10 million.

The Millers found their purpose and passion almost by accident, but they knew it when they saw it. Jancoa is now a “build people up” business disguised as a janitorial service.

The Millers will tell you that serving this higher purpose is their way of making work worth it.

How To Enjoy Radical Commitment Through Four Simple Steps

Commitment, now there’s a word filled with trouble.

For so many the idea of commitment, while generally seen as a good thing, also contains elements of sacrifice, hard work, repetition, and even pain. I happen to believe that commitment, most especially the kind that I’ve come to call radical commitment, is all about joy and happiness.

San Jose Library via Flickr

But, that’s because I don’t think commitment comes from the place most people seem to think it does.

I used to be told I had a commitment problem. You see, I didn’t do very well in school. In fact in both high school and college I finished in the parts of my class that made the upper 90% or so possible. (I stole that from Dan Pink!)

Like so many students that don’t excel in the fine art of measured academic achievement I was told I was a failure because I suffered from of a lack of commitment.

Fortunately, I hadn’t listened to my teachers to that point and I certainly didn’t intend to on this subject, but what I discovered only later in life was that what I truly suffered from wasn’t a lack of commitment it was a lack of clarity. I didn’t understand why.

Children have total clarity and it’s only when they are told they can’t or shouldn’t do something that they begin to lose it piece by piece.

There’s a wonderful joke that’s been told by everyone from teachers to comedians to pastors that I think illustrates this idea so beautifully.

A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s artwork. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.

The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”

The teacher paused and said, “but no one knows what God looks like.”

Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”

We’ve always possessed clarity, we’ve simply lost it because we’ve stopped listening to our hearts.

1) Commitment comes from clarity

It’s really a lack of clarity that robs us from embracing the things that look and feel like art to us, not a lack of commitment. People commit to doing things every day that don’t lead to happiness. It’s a lack of clarity about what deserve out total commitment that pushes us to commit to “sort of jobs and businesses”, “sort of marriages” and “sort of addictions.”

There is a single moment in my past when I gained total clarity about what I was meant to do and it was a moment that should have terrified me because of the potential pain or loss that might have accompanied it. But instead of fear, all I felt was excitement and joy and it was as if someone had finally led me to a window and thrown open my view of the world. From that instance, I not only found clarity, I found purpose.

2) Total clarity comes from seeking purpose and listening to what fear and doubt and resistance is here to tell us.

When you begin to open up to exploring the things that cause you doubt, you start to understand that fear and resistance are good things. They are often markers on the path to the things that you’re meant to overcome and pursue if you’re to have any chance of unlocking your true potential and true purpose.

3) Purpose grows from discovering and using your Superpower

Purpose is another one of those funny concepts. I don’t think you go out and find it, I think it finds you because you’re paying attention and looking for it. I think it finds you because you’re spending time each day practicing and understanding your most potent ability – your superpower.

My superpower is curiosity. When I take my natural tendency for curiosity and apply it the highest payoff elements of my work, I produce what for me is art and I certainly gain the potential to live my higher purpose.

4) Radical Commitment then comes from putting on your superpower cape, jumping off the garage and accounting not for the fact that you fell but for distance you flew.

When your world view becomes the measurement of how far your sense of clarity and purpose and wonder have brought you from where you’ve been, and not the measure of how much you lack in getting to where you think you should be or where you see others going, you’ll finally enjoy the peace, joy and happiness of radical commitment.

In this view, there is no ideal place, there is no single achievement, their is no made it – there’s only commitment to moving in the direction of those things that allow you to practice your art.

There’s a Guy Clark song called The Cape that tells the story of a young boy that believes he can fly so, even though people think he is crazy, he climbs up on the garage and jumps off in a leap of faith. The story continues to be the central theme of his life and the last verse goes like this. (Pretend I have my guitar now)

Old and grey with a flour sack cape
Tied all around his head
He’s still jumpin’ off the garage
And will be till he’s dead
All these years the people said
He’s actin’ like a kid
He did not know he could not fly
So he did

He’s one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold you breath
Always trust your cape

Some great advice that – always trust your cape.

The Three Most Important Factors of Business Success

While there are many factors that come into play when building a business, I believe that most important ones have nothing to do with innovation, balance sheets, finance or marketing. The most important over arching variable to your success in business is you.

ChodHound via Flickr

Success, however you choose to define it, is a continual work in progress. Ask anyone who’s made lots of money if they are “there.” Even though we’ve been sold on the idea of making it big, most often you’ll find there is no there for truly successful people – it’s not when I make my first million, it’s not when I get my fiftieth employee, it’s not when I land on the cover of the industry publication. Success is simply a road to travel in an attempt to create a more compelling and enriching future.

But, as with all roads, there is a direction you must travel to keep moving towards your destination even if, like the far off horizon, that destination keeps moving away no matter how quickly you move towards it.

In my own journey I can tell you there are three factors that have both led me and, at times, held me from advancing towards my picture of success.

Some of the most fruitful work I can do is centered on improving in these three areas.

1) Who I am

This a pretty big one and I won’t propose any prescriptions here, but I have found that when I commit to working on my core beliefs about what’s possible, what I’m driven to give to the world, how I want that world to experience my gifts, I have very little trouble taking action that’s in line with who I am.

The really beautiful thing about working on things like internal passion and purpose is that your progress comes out so authentically in all manner of external interaction. When people can genuinely feel that you care about what you are engaged in you are an incredibly convincing salesperson – without actually trying to sell anything.

This is an area that most everyone must practice. You must develop habits that force you be conscious of who you’re being. For me, writing my thoughts on paper each morning, spending time meditating and revisiting simple passages that serve to remind me of the version of my best self keep me focused on this practice.

I’ve also developed a series of questions that I can roll through before anything I do in an attempt to bring the right intention to every situation. Simply stopping and asking yourself why your are doing something, why it’s important and what a great outcome would look like is a great way to center yourself prior to making a large presentation to a group or meeting to discuss a new project with a staff member.

2) Where I’ve been

This doesn’t have anything to do with travel, although I suppose it could. For me this is all about leveraging what I’ve experienced, what I’ve learned, skills I’ve acquired, and what I intentionally expose myself to in an effort to learn more.

We’ve all been exposed to a life time of lessons, some serve us well and some hold us back, but it’s how you use this mixture and enhance this mixture and overcome elements of this mixture that defines success in many areas of business and life.

I didn’t do particularly well in school, but my brain is kind of wired to learn new things, dig into new subjects and explore topics seemingly unrelated to my field of work. I read some portion of about twenty books a month, subscribe to at least one hundred blogs and still get seven or either magazines delivered in my mail box.

Lifelong learning, exploring and simply tuning your brain to pay attention to everything that’s going on around you is another key factor in moving towards success.

3) Who I hang out with

There are many studies that offer validity to the notion that what you believe, how you act and even how much earning potential you have has a great deal to do with the people you surround yourself with.

Now, this can work for you or against you. Parents, school friends and social setting initially influence most people. As you venture into business you soon realize that customers, vendors, mentors and even competitors can play a big role in the success of your business.

When you’re first getting started you may attract customers that mirror your sense of self worth or doubt, but as you begin to grow you’ll soon learn that you must raise you own expectations to the level where you insist on working only with people you respect and admire.

I belong to two mastermind groups and I get to hang out for full days with people that have already achieved many things in business that I aspire to achieve. In addition to developing a network of people that can help me succeed in tangible ways this experience also opens me up to accepting that I can indeed think much bigger.

In order to move towards this ideal many people have chosen to immerse themselves in the study of people they admire through memoirs or even a mentor relationship. Pick three or four people that you view as successful, dead or alive, and learn everything you can about how they think act and grow.

Study and seek out a team of like minded strategic partners and focus a great deal of time and energy on building deep and meaningful working relationships with this group and you’ll quickly find that your own personal network will begin to fill up with people that can help you grow and thrive.

Find and join a mastermind group that pushes you to stretch and think bigger.

There are so many things we can get caught up in trying to accomplish, but experience tells me that if we go to work everyday on the internal, the external success we so crave will show up as mileposts along the road.

How to Make Your Customers the Hero of Your Story

I use the idea of hero a fair amount when I talk about what we do. I don’t use it in an egotistic way, more aspirational really than anything. I think aspiring to be a hero to someone is a good thing.

kindercapes via Flckr CC

You can substitute leader if you like, but I love the image of hero because I think it paints a much more vivid illustration of the whole package – struggle, denial, acceptance, achievement, and purpose.

While I think it’s important that you and your business strive to be the hero in somebody’s story, I think it’s equally important that you understand how to position your customer or community as the hero of your story.

Below are some of my thoughts on how you do this and if you find yourself thinking this sounds a bit like crafting a screenplay, it’s because there’s a bit of that art to it. In fact, there’s a book I would recommend to anyone that takes this idea to heart. It’s called Save the Cat – The last book you’ll ever need on screenwriting by Blake Snyder.

Learn their backstory – Before you can really thrust you customer into the hero’s role you have know who they are and you find that out by knowing where they came from, what’s bugging them and what they really would rather have that they don’t.

This kind of information isn’t rentable, you have to dig, and it’s starts with asking, listening and paying close attention. I don’t know how you could manage this, but I’ve always thought the greatest marketing research tool you could ever create is family dinner. You could learn more than you would ever need about a person by going with them to their parent’s house for dinner one Sunday.

So, short of that, how could you learn what makes them tick. Spend time and earn the right to learn about them outside of your business context. Follow everything they share in social media, it’s a lot like Sunday dinner in there at times.

There is no greater way to earn trust than to demonstrate you understand someone’s story.

Give them an antagonist – Every great story has a bad guy or girl, it’s what makes us cheer for the good guy or girl.

There are times when you draw your customer closer by simply helping them understand who or what the antagonist is. Sometimes they don’t even realize what the problem is that your business can solve. Many times you have to help them see the extent of the enemy’s grip.

Now, more often than not the word antagonist here is simply a metaphor for a challenge like leaking profit, poor time management, wasted effort, lost opportunity, living in pain, or needless risk, but you have to help them understand what they are up against.

Call them to duty – In order for someone to be a hero they must be called – they must have an idea to serve.

Your marketing story must give them hope that they have the power to overcome whatever the challenge is. I know this is starting to sound a little dramatic, but that’s the point, a connection to a higher purpose or at least a meaningful idea is much stronger than simply trying to convince someone that they need what you have to offer.

In order to create impact in the life of your customer they need to feel like what you have to offer is hope and empowerment. Those are pretty strong words and you’ve got to believe them if your customer is going to be the center of your story.

Help them persevere – Once you’ve demonstrated that you know who your customer is, you know what a rough time they’ve endured trying to results and you know what the future overcoming their challenges might look for them, you’ve got to be prepared to demonstrate you’ll be there with them until they do overcome.

I guess you could demonstrate this most easily in your sales, service and follow-up, but it must be a part of the story that your customer understands is a given.

Free them – Finally, help them understand the results they’ve received, help them measure just how far they’ve come, how much impact they’re making on your business and perhaps in the lives of those they now impact.

Since I’m attempting to apply these rather abstract ideas to no particular business I know some will find this idea a bit confusing at best.

Here’s my suggestion, grab a piece of marketing copy you currently share with customers and ask yourself this series of questions:

  • Does it demonstrate they we get who they are?
  • Does it paint a picture of the real challenges they face?
  • Does it provide hope for what a future without those challenges could be like
  • Does it give a solution for how those challenges could be addressed?
  • Does it offer proof that others are indeed experiencing these results?