Business

On Listening as Leadership (and why it matters for entrepreneurs)

Friday night, my old iPhone died a sloppy and long overdue death. It was a blessing in disguise, as it prompted an unscheduled phone-free writing and brainstorming weekend. I finished two novels I’d been re-reading, had a record-powered dance party, wrote a ton, and on Sunday, I picked up Hillary Clinton’s book on her experiences in 2016, What Happened, at the local Goodwill.

It got me thinking about a communications analyst I heard explain one of the societal issues that contributed to her defeat (aside from the more obvious, ahem, anomalies).

He said, the American election system was created by men, for men—and for male communication & leadership styles. It’s not about being the best leader, it’s about being the loudest.

Secretary Clinton’s campaign style, on the other hand, centers around the opposite: she listens. Several leadership experts have written about her style since her first 1999 Listening Tour, and 'listening' is not just a campaign style: it's a revolutionary kind of leadership.

The most common leadership style, transactional, is exactly what you’d expect from an old-school sales manager: an exchange. Rewards for compliance, punishment for failures. Think bonuses, promotions, demotions, etc. Academics have recognized this as the typical male model of leadership in organizations since at least the 90s.

It’s effective, sure.


But if you’re an entrepreneur, chances are you’ve felt the stifling lack of creativity in many jobs & organizations… and bailed from it. The zero-sum exchange game has a way of snuffing out new ideas, growth, and transformation—especially when those ideas come from an “atypical” perspective (hi, women and minorities everywhere).

It’s no surprise, then, that so many of us are working & searching for a different path. A path that values transformation, ideas, and creativity. A path that lets us take the reins back and breathe in the life-giving air of creative expression.

But as an entrepreneur, even working totally solo, you still need to /lead/ to be effective. You’re selling ideas, influence, and change. So what’s the alternative to bald-white-man leadership? (yeah, I went there)


Enter the transformational leader.

The transformational leader is an agent of change who can influence the outlook and actions of her audience.

Rather than forcing her idea of success on followers, she develops a strong sense of vision to clarify and communicate objectives to motivate, encourage commitment, and inspire action.

In a presidential candidate, these objectives are those of the country. In a CEO, it's the organization. For the rest of us? Organization = community.

To truly lead people to change & grow with you, you must clarify and communicate your vision, and build a relationship with your community around creating that vision for yourself, your audience, and the world.

And of all the skills you need to build relationships, effective listening is the most important, for Hillary Clinton and for every relationship coach, travel advisor, and copywriter on the web.

A listening-first approach offers its own rewards, even for solopreneurs on the intarwebs. Imagine… 

  • Earning that “know, like, trust” factor faster than ever… even as a stranger on the internet.

  • Inspiring your audience to take action, instead of scaring them off by asking for the wrong sale at the wrong time.

  • Creating client experiences that meet & exceed expectations, every time (so you always get great reviews & client love).

  • Having your words shared and loved by the /right/ people (the ones you really care about).

That’s the power of listening. Because if you’re listening, your work is part of a conversation, not a shouting match.

XOXO
Ashton

The Harvard-backed method for increasing the value of your service—with just your words.

Or... How to write about your business so that you can raise your prices!
(Based on Harvard Business Review research)

So you have a great product. A clever name. Prime customer service (not to be confused with Amazon Prime customer service—has anyone ever had to deal with them? Please no.) 

But you need more cashflow. What can you do to increase the value of your business without changing a single thing about the way you operate?

You change your words. 

How you talk about your business IS your business. Until clients stumble doe-eyed through your front door, all they know about your business is what you tell them. No more. And not a cent less.

What are they learning from the words you slapped on a Weebly site at 3 a.m. while licking Dorito crumbs off your keyboard?

They should be able to understand, within seconds...

    • What you sell (product development)
    • How much it’s worth (pricing & value)
    • Who buys it (customer segmentation)

When your ideal client is slowly twining her mouse cable around her neck in Cubicle 6B, dying for a vacation and reading YOUR website, she’s weighing the perceived value against your asking price.

You have payroll to cover, a mortgage, groceries to buy. Your asking price is only flexible to a certain degree. To win the battle between price and value taking place in Cubicle 6B right now, lowering your price is not the answer. 

But raising the perceived value is the answer.

So what in the name of tequila is perceived value and how do you increase it? 

I’m so glad you asked, friend. Sit down.

 *pats barstool next to me a little too eagerly* 

It’s lesson time. 

An amazing Harvard Business Review article came out in 2016 that—in my humble opinion—should have been on the front page of every newspaper on the planet. 

The argument was: 

What people value in their purchases is not a list of ingredients or features. 

It’s how those features make them feel. But even more importantly, we aren't talking about how they feel about the features.

It’s how they feel about themselves that matters.  

The writers then identified a pyramid of 30 key "Elements of Value" that people love to get from their purchases—things they're willing to pay more money for. Some of the elements are obvious, like quality, saving time, and reducing hassle. Those are the functional elements of value. 

As you climb the pyramid, the elements get more complex—and important. The emotional elements of value include things like reduced anxiety, providing access (private clubs, anyone?), and wellness. 

Taking it a step further? The life-changing elements of value are the ways your clients' lives are transformed by working with you. 

(Hint: this is where your Destination Story gets its power)

All this to say, people don't care about your business. They care about how your business changes them.

All right, lose the righteous indignation. All I’m saying is that everyone is busy. They’re thinking about whether or not the babysitter is judging the contents of their fridge, or whether they’ll be seated next to a single hottie on their next flight. They have jobs, and bills, and family, and friends to think about. 

They simply don’t have time to be worried about your business unless it can help them. 

Here’s an example of this: 

You’re so proud of your 1,157 5-star TripAdvisor reviews. And they’re great for business! But the only reason people actually care about those reviews is that they reduce perceived risk. 

Lots of TripAdvisor reviews make people feel safe, like they’ve made a good purchase (reducing risk) by booking with you. ("If a guy named Noob_3000 can handle this Costa Rican zip line, you better believe I can!”)

One of the world’s top copywriters, Don Miller, argued recently that the more of the Elements of Value you can work into your copy, the higher people will value your product or service.

My recommendation is to work through these Elements like a checklist. Brainstorm ways your business provides these elements to your clients. Then, walk through your website, sales pages, service descriptions, and marketing materials to communicate that.  

I even created a simple worksheet to make it easier.

Important note: you don’t need to use the NAMES of the elements (i.e., “My product reduces risk and provides therapeutic value!”). You simply need to communicate that your product accomplishes these changes for your client. 

The pyramid has four layers, moving from the easiest to provide and communicate (Functional Value) to the most difficult (Social Impact Value).

Most products and services provide several of these elements to customers. They have lots of overlap, so don’t be afraid to layer and combine!

 
Downloaded from HBR.ORG. article by: Eric Almquist, John Senior, and Nicolas Bloch

Downloaded from HBR.ORG. article by: Eric Almquist, John Senior, and Nicolas Bloch

 

Here’s a list with some quick examples of copy that communicates each (or an explanation and link to a brand that does it well).

FUNCTIONAL VALUE

The basic, functional value of your service. (The obvious layer)

For example: You provide an airport shuttle for your guests if requested. Sharing how it saves customers time conveys an element of value in your copy.

Copy: "Don’t spend your travel day at the mercy of a bus schedule! Tell us when your flight is and we’ll schedule a shuttle to get you to Heathrow exactly when you need to be there—no hours at the bus station needed."

Other elements of Functional Value:

  • Informs

  • Sensory Appeal

  • Variety

  • Quality

  • Organizes

  • Integrates

  • Reduces Cost/Saves Money

  • Avoids Hassles

  • Reduces Effort

  • Saves time

  • Simplifies

  • Makes money (If you’re not in B2B, a referral program with cash payouts could be a way to add value here)

  • Reduces risk (hello, travel insurance!)

  • Connects (Think: co-working spaces, networking opportunities)

EMOTIONAL VALUE

Emotional value is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than you think. Many businesses quit after advertising their functional value, but brands that stick know the goods lie in emotional value.

For example, brands that people will fight you over usually have atmospheric levels of Badge Value. Think Supreme. Vivienne Westwood. People spend more on these well-known brands because they recognize that the business values the same things they do, and that sporting Vivienne Westwood clothes advertises their own concern for Vivienne’s causes.

  • Wellness

  • Therapeutic Value

  • Entertains

  • Attractiveness

  • Provides Access

  • Reduces Anxiety 

  • Rewards Me

  • Nostalgia

  • Design/Aesthetic

  • Badge Value

LIFE-CHANGING

Moving to the more complex—but also more rewarding—level, these elements are ways that your service will transform the person’s life not only for the time they’re with you, but long after. If you can convey (and deliver, obviously) even one or two of these well, you’ll be on your way to a Kayla Itsines-worthy fanbase.

Example: Self actualization is a strong value for groups who offer clients the opportunity to do some soul-searching and reach their goals.

Become the best version of yourself. Join us in 2019 for this life-changing silent retreat to discover your deepest desires and goals—and then reach them.

Other life-changing value adds:

  • Motivation

  • Heirloom

  • Affiliation / Belonging

  • Provides Hope

  • Self Actualization

SOCIAL IMPACT

Social impact is the Illuminati Eye of the Harvard value pyramid. It applies when your group supports  a cause or helps people benefit the world around them, particularly in ways that are more difficult to advertise (i.e., NOT doing it for the ‘gram).

Self transcendence:

Ex. We are all part of the movement toward a more just world—or against it. Join our organization today to help us move the needle faster. 

The more elements of value you can convey in your copy, the more people will happily pay for the opportunity to work with you. Work through them, and you may be surprised at how many your business already provides—and all you have to do? Is advertise that.