I had coffee with a potential partner, and our conversation ebbed to us talking about our business and marketing approach.
I spoke about why I freely share ideas and help people. He replied,
I think companies [like yours] give away too many of their trade secrets on their website and blogs. You provide too much information freely. If I wanted to compete or copy you… All I would need to do is read your site or blog.
He went on to say the purpose of a website is to convert, to get people to respond, and to generate leads.
Customers have a general lack of trust of brands, and they don’t want us to treat them as targets. If all we do is focus on getting a conversion and winning the sale, people will tune out or opt out.
Study brands like Slack, MailChimp, and Drift. They freely give away ideas, tools, and resources. They focus on helping their customers having a great experience at every step of their journey.
We can learn from marketers like Dave Gerhardt at Drift. Gerhardt shares a story about how his CEO, David Cancel, called him one day and told him “I think we should get rid of our forms.” Read his post, Why We’re Throwing Out All Of Our Lead Forms And Making Content Free.
Gerhardt realized that marketing was becoming more about getting people to convert, i.e., fill out forms or jump through the next hoop. According to Gerhardt, this results in us, “treating people like leads and email addresses instead of treating people like people.”
Use your empathy and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. People use the web and social media for research; they’re looking for fresh ideas, insight, and actionable information. That’s why you shouldn’t put your best thinking behind web forms and registration pages.
When you give people what they value or find useful without expecting anything in return, you build a connection and eventually trust.
A lesson from NASCAR: The Driver not the car
I have a friend who is a huge NASCAR fan. He loves the competition because it’s more about the driver and team than the car.
All the cars are pretty much the same. It’s the driver and the crew that make the difference. I think it’s like that with business today.
Most companies in every industry sell the same basic car. The driver and crew in this metaphor can be seen as your thought leadership, your ideas and ultimately how well you help your customers that set you apart from others. That’s what your clients remember.
And now you’re features and benefits may stand out, but sooner than later everyone’s car has the same features, or at least they claim they do.
This concept is particularity important for companies engaged in a complex sale, where up to 70% of a customer’s perception of your brand reputation comes from their interactions with your people.
I believe that the individuals and companies who succeed today are those who learn faster and teach/help others with what they know more efficiently.
You can leverage some of your ideas to help people and build trust.
Forget the sales pitch and be uber helpful
Trust gets earned by being helpful, relevant and genuine with your potential customer.
So don’t worry about the sales pitch when you’re sharing ideas and focus on helping.
Remember what I said about “not expecting anything in return?”
Your content or ideas should educate, and inform and be valuable even if people never buy from you. That’s the acid test.
Those who find your ideas helpful and useful will be able to figure out that they can contact you and ask for more of what sparked their interest.
What if you want to keep ideas to yourself?
Jure Cuhalev has some great thoughts on giving away ideas and what happens when people hoard them.
“…I have a theory…. They start losing their ability to produce new ideas since their current idea preoccupies them. They think about it all the time to the point that they cannot think of anything fresh.”It’s like keeping a well-pump primed. When I pull the handle the ideas flow.
Think like a designer and give ideas to improve them
After I give away ideas, I find they often come back to me improved. David Kelly is the founder of IDEO and one of one of the most visible product designers in the world, especially in the world of high-tech.
According to Kelly,
Successful designers just send out their vision to the world; and then, when somebody else builds on it, that’s okay. They’re not protective of their ideas because they’re so used to having ideas. A creative designer has an idea a minute. Publicizing an idea is a way to improve on the notion — someone else can build on it, expand it. If you’re fluent with ideas, as most design people are, you don’t have to be fearful. You don’t protect your one good idea because you’re afraid you’ll never have another good one.
Now think about what Kelly said and replace “designers” with your own role (i.e., CEO, Marketer, Seller and so on).
Case in point, Elon Musk and Tesla Motors (TSLA) treat their patents as open source. They share their ideas for others to build on them.
And for Tesla this makes sense. Why? Because when you can, you can invent ideas faster than you can patent them, why not keep ahead by developing and sharing your thoughts and secrets?
My potential partner shared how this thinking would be difficult in his company because they are in a competitive space. You may be thinking the same thing too.
I found that this approach returns far more than I lose by holding things back. Again, it’s not the car. It’s the crew and driver.