Thanks to my new Hulu subscription, I’ve got thousands of hours of TV shows at my disposal whenever I want them. With all those options, I’ve found myself hooked on one show: Shark Tank. The premise is probably familiar to you: entrepreneurs go before a panel of “Sharks” (read: venture capitalists) to try to convince them to fund the entrepreneurs’ fledgling businesses.
I’m hardly the first to pull marketing lessons from the show, but it truly is a fascinating look at how businesses start and grow. Aside from the fact that every entrepreneur needs to read Guy Kawasaki’s Art of the Start before going on the show, I’ve noticed a common thread among people that don’t do well with the Sharks: they don’t seem to have gotten any outside perspective on their business idea.
So many fledgling business owners are savaged by the sharks when they go on the show because it’s the first time they’re telling their story, and they are under the mistaken impression that they’re in control of the message.
They almost certainly think they’ve told their story before. Indeed, most of the show’s entrepreneurs have the patter down, have little quips and anecdotes they’ve woven into the theme of How Their Business Came to Be. But to truly tell your business’s story, you have to have a conversation – not perform a monologue. You need to understand what your audience cares about, why they came to you, what they want to get out of the interaction.
Most people quite naturally start out with a new business by discussing the concept with family and friends. But telling your story to family and friends gives you the illusion that you’re in control of your message. They won’t ask you the hard questions, and they’ll always take whatever you say in the best possible way. After all, they already know that everything you do is just great. They love you and want you to be happy and to succeed.
Too many companies approach their marketing materials as though they were still speaking to an audience composed of their friends and family. They recite their polished story, complete with smiles and self-deprecating jokes for a softer touch. What they don’t do is think about the questions a skeptical audience might bring to the table.
In the real world, when prospective customers encounter your story for the first time, they’ll be skeptical. They’ll have questions. They’ll have baggage from businesses like yours that they have encountered before, from the bad apples in your industry, from all their experiences, good and bad. If you don’t begin to counter those objections even before they raise them, your prospects will simply walk away.
You see it all the time in the Shark Tank. The entrepreneur contestants have never even considered that someone might not love their breakthrough product. When the sharks start asking the hard questions, they sputter and cough and try to evade the issue. And what happens, every time? The sharks walk away from the deal. Even a good business can be capsized by a bad story, when the business owner forgets that the story is not the thing.