illustration words "we do this and this and this"

You Are Not What You Do

Years ago, we hired an independent researcher to conduct one of our “outside-in/inside-out” assessments on our own firm. I had them interview our current and past customers and also each person on our team. The assessment’s focus was to find out “What do customers value most about us?”. Every one of our team members responded by listing the things we do; strategy, messaging, branding, campaigns, etc. Our customers responded with entirely different answers; the top three things they valued most from us were: being understanding, thoughtful, and forgiving.

We responded with our service list; they responded with their experiences. Later I asked one of our interviewed clients why they didn’t consider our services as a top value, her response: “oh lots of people do those things, we need people who get us and help us through our difficult problems, and you guys do this.” This moment was a big epiphany for me about our business and our client’s businesses.

We often think our value is the list of things we do, while our clients believe our value is something entirely different.

Since that time, our culture has become much more customer experience-focused. Yet, I still see so many marketing and sales communications devolve into “what we do” list as the main thrust of their brand and sales communications.

There’s nothing wrong with having a “what we do” list as long as you understand its limitations:

 • A list of what you do is about as exciting as reading your contact list. There is no you in your list, nothing that makes you special. A list of offerings looks like everyone else’s list. It’s an overwhelmingly noisy and confusing market out there; differentiation has never been more critical than now, so it’s essential to know lists rarely differentiate, and they are pretty forgettable.

 • Customers don’t write checks for a list of services; they pay for what you solve, for the outcome, value, or change your offering delivers.

 • Beyond your offering list, there should also be a higher meaning that drives your purpose, ideally, something that feels like a great story that your clients are part of. What mountain do you move for your clients? What are your clients joining when they become your customer? Are they part of some kind of transformation? What is the experience of the journey you will take together? The ability to tell a purpose-driven story this way makes everything you do much easier to talk about and, more important, much more interesting to hear.

Instead of putting your prospects to sleep with a laundry list of what you do, focus on the value you deliver, the value your customers are paying to receive. If you do a good job communicating something your client values, they’ll be a lot more interested in how you get it done; they may even ask for the list of what you do!