Is your product or service a coveted diamond or a chunk of coal? See the forest for the trees by following one author's inventive process.
If you view sales as pitching your service or product to a prospect you might be cheating yourself of profits. In the end, we are all selling ideas, not products and services—and when you view your company as an idea that can help your customers, it opens up a world of possibilities.
"The trouble is that our ideas are never very clear," says Dan Roam, a bestselling author and founder of Digital Roam Inc., a management-consulting firm. This author, who wrote a popular visual-thinking business book, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas With Pictures, believes that we have lost our minds—our visual minds, that is. Appearing everywhere from Fox News to the White House, Roam helps to solve complex problems through visual thinking. He says we have the ability to make even the most complicated ideas crystal clear.
"Our very best ideas start out pretty ugly—like a pile of coal," Roam says. "They are dirty, dusty, and unclear—the worse Christmas gift you can give someone. If you offer up a chunk of coal when you pitch your idea there is energy in it but no one wants to touch it."
But you can transform that idea into a diamond. Diamonds are structurally the exact same thing as coal; they are both 100 percent carbon. In the beginning they are both dusty and dirty, but a diamond goes through pressure and heat—and then a lot of fine turning. Through this process it becomes something that people never want to let go of. If you do the same thing with your ideas you can turn every idea you have into a diamond—and diamonds sell themselves.
"As business people we need to do this in all of our PR and marketing. And certainly in every one of our sales calls," Roam says. "We don't want to present anyone a pile of coal; present them with your idea as a diamond."
In his latest book, Blah-Blah-Blah, What to do when Words Don’t Work, Roam addresses a problem: We talk so much that we don't think very well. His solution? A way out of the blah-blah-blah; what he calls "Vivid Thinking." Let's take a look at the Vivid Forest concept—use this mnemonic device to remember the process that will transform your blah, blah, blah sales pitch into a gem of an idea that prospects can't resist!
F – Find the form of the idea. Presenting an abstract concept, waving our arms trying to describe it, we will lose our audience right away. They want to see something clear and that has form. This is easy if you are selling something like a bicycle but it's not always easy if we're selling a social media service, for instance, or a branding campaign. In these instances there is not form or picture to show, so we have to find it by looking at the underlying pieces of your idea. What does it look like? Find an analogy to describe the form of it. Is your idea something that helps people to move from one place to another, like a vehicle does? Or perhaps like a calendar that helps us move through time. What would your idea look like? Don’t convey it as a concept; convey it in a concrete form.
O – Use only the essentials. When we introduce our idea to someone new we don't tell them the entire thing. Rather, it's just the essentials of the idea. Keep it simple. Remember the acronym, BLUF: Bottom Line Up Front, which is used in armed forces. Decide in advance what the bottom line—the take away—is up front. If they are compelled by it—and if it's in form they will—they will give you time to you say more. If you begin with all of the details and nuances you will bore your prospect to death before you even get to the essentials.
R –Make your idea recognizable. Your idea needs to look like something the person has seen before to make it stick. For instance, the titles of many business books are very recognizable "things." You don't need to know what these books are about because you are already pulled in by the title since it's something familiar. Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink is a good example. You already know that a blink is something really fast; it pulls you in. Find a visual metaphor that makes your idea recognizable and describe it by using a familiar experience: "My new tool is like skiing down a mountain; you start at the top and by the time you get to the bottom you’ve achieved your goal really fast and have had a great time!" Whatever your analogy, make it simple and recognizable.
E – Make it an evolving idea. If the idea is finished, and there is no room for your listener to participate and they are not going to care about it. They want to participate too, we all do! They want to help the idea evolve as it relates to them. Build in some points where your customer can add to the process. Like dot-to-dot drawings—start out by having connected most of the dots but leave the last few for them to connect so the idea becomes their own. A really vivid idea is always complete, but never done. There is always room for our client, audience, prospect to add something of themselves so they can internalize it as something of their own. Then, they will grab onto it and you will never get your diamond back!
S – A great idea spans differences. A crystal clear idea (a diamond) does not obscure contradictions—it brings them right to the front. Make sure it’s not about just one thing to the exclusion of all else. If I told you that "you should buy my tool because it does everything, it’s perfect and there is nothing else out there like it," you will never believe me. But if I said, "now I recognize that the X, Y, Z competition is already out there, and here's how we are different," your prospect will listen. Your idea spans differences by saying we are "this" and "that." It spans the entire problem.
T – Make sure it's targeted. If we really want to take our idea from coal to diamond and get people’s attention we must make it targeted. An idea that’s not aimed at anyone in particular is an idea that nobody listens to. Make sure that your idea matches what they need. This is not about pandering; claiming that you can give them anything that they want. Target your idea to the audience to make it more appealing to them.
Think of your F.O.R.E.S.T. as a checklist, rehearse it in advance and run your spiel through the F.O.R.E.S.T. before presenting it. Take a piece of paper and draw your ideas out, hitting on all six of the letters. If you do these 6 things before your sales meeting, you have just won the sale!
Join me for a fun and insightful interview with Dan Roam on the Million Dollar Mindset. Visit us live Monday February 20 at 2 p.m. ET or download the podcast later!