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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  November 01, 2010

Great Expectations: What Buyers Want From Service Providers

Originally published for RainToday.com

An age-old “chicken or the egg” question in thought leadership is, “What is more important: great ideas or compelling communication style?” My vote: style if you want to get noticed, big ideas if you want to get the client. It’s kind of like volleyball, where one person (style) sets it up and another (content) spikes the ball over the net.

Why do we need both? Because attention is visceral. You can widely distribute the best insights in the world, but if people won’t listen to you, then a less intelligent, but more noticeable expert will get the attention and then get the sale. A distinctive style cuts through the clutter and builds a following.

Many of us know this and have become more eloquent. We’ve become so articulate, in fact, that we all sound like one another. As a result, we all appear nondescript, regardless of how polished we sound.

This two-part article explores how to turn your learned communication skills into a unique voice that buyers can’t get enough of. In part one, I set the baseline with these three things bombarded buyers assume we all have. From a style standpoint, these items are no longer a differentiator; they are expected from any content provider.

What The Marketplace Expects:

  1. Be Confident.First up, buyers expect us to be confident and clear. They don’t like any tone that feels like uncertainty or discomfort. Uncertainty and discomfort make buyers nervous and cause them to wonder if you really know what you’re talking about. They expect experts to be confident in their communication.Most experts pass this test and run headlong into being obnoxious. This “in your face” style doesn’t work as much now as it may have in the past. It’s no longer fun to get verbally beat up by those who think they know better than us. Buyers now correctly label this style as arrogant and abrasive. (Here’s a clue: if you have to say, “I’m saying this out of love,” we all know that you are not.) Even the biggest curmudgeons like Dr. Phil are toning it down somewhat.You want to be forthright without being insulting. I call it obnoxious with a wink. The style is softer, but the truth is still there.
  2. Be Clever.Buyers expect a certain amount of cleverness. The entertainment world has raised the bar; humor and a colorful commentary are now standard. Boredom has been banished.Most buyers don’t expect us to be as funny as the comedians on cable TV. What they do expect is a good play on words. They don’t want just a data dump — they need colorful word pictures such as analogies to drive the point home. Alliterations are another effective tool and pretty much a given.What used to work but doesn’t anymore: acronyms, especially for B2B experts who work with sophisticated decision makers. Buyers outside of mass markets and general training consider these cute learning tools lacking in substance, aka “hokey”.The good news: thanks to presentation skills experts, many of us are masters of the sound bites. The problem: this skill no longer differentiates us. Clever slogans, colorful examples and stories are everywhere. Talent that is in abundant supply is expected, not a gift.
  3. Be Succinct.Finally, buyers expect us to be succinct. They don’t want a bunch of funny stories without a point; they won’t want to spend a lot of time sifting through extra words. Like many of us, buyers are in scan mode. A smooth flow of information, easily understood order, and logic pave the way for quick digestion. Anything less is considered not ready for prime time.The biggest culprit: we fall in love with our stories and provide too much detail. Buyers see this as rambling and off-point. They get bored and tune out. Rambling also comes off as disjointed, which confuses decision makers. And that confusion translates into, “Well, they’re good, but we don’t know what to do with their expertise.” Instead, only use details that support the point.You also don’t want to flitter from topic to topic without in-depth exploration. If you do that, you are seen as polished yet shallow. So, buyers also expect us to set up the idea, and then quickly go narrow and deep. Clever will never cover up intellectual laziness.

An Emotional Decision

The choice to pay attention is an emotional one. Logic does not apply here. And that’s what a compelling signature style really does. It opens the door for the market to pay attention to you, so your content can make the business case. In the second part of this article, we will explore the three benchmarks that separate a nondescript style from that voice buyers can’t get enough of.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.