In October of 2002, I quit my job as a Windows network administrator to go on a road trip across the United States.
I left Nashville, where I was living at the time, and drove, and drove, and drove.
I camped in almost every national park I’d ever wanted to see, including some Canadian ones like Waterton Lakes. I saw every town I was considering relocating from Nashville to.
I avoided major highways and estimate I drove over 10,000 miles on 2-lane highways. I feel like I got to see a lot of America that way. I definitely got to listen to a lot of Tom Waits’ Mule Variations that way.
In short, it was an AMAZING road trip.
The first part of the trip was a bit of an adjustment. I had never spent that much time alone behind the wheel before!
I’m an introvert, so it was OK, but by the time I reached Wyoming, I was still kind of lonely and missing social interaction.
I think that’s why the next thing went down the way it did…
When I rolled into Cody, Wyoming, I noticed there was a Sierra Trading Post retail store there. I wore a lot of outdoors clothing at that time, and I’d only ordered stuff from Sierra Trading Post over the internet, so I had to check it out in person.
As I was browsing the clothing I was chatting in a very friendly manner with the sales clerk there. After all, I was kind of lonely from all those miles on the road. Talk talk, smile smile.
I kept browsing until the clerk walked up beside me, slapped me on the shoulder, and said something that shocked me.
He said, “how would you like to meet me downstairs in the bathroom?!”
Oops. Looks like my friendly tone was misinterpreted!
I was being friendly because of all those solitary miles on the road, not because I wanted to be some guy’s sex date in the basement bathroom of a discount clothing store.
I’d never been hit on by a guy before, so I didn’t see it coming. I quickly said, “uh, no thanks” and was out of there in no time.
I wasn’t offended at all, but it did sort of change the mood of things. And of course, it makes for a pretty good story now.
I see software development businesses doing the equivalent of this all the time now.
Not asking their clients down to the basement bathroom for a sex romp, but the equivalent level of miscommunication and inappropriate messaging in their marketing.
The first wrong message is: it’s all about us.
The most obvious symptom of this problem is a website where almost every sentence starts with “we”, “I”, or the name of a person at your company.
This sends the message that you can’t get your eyeballs off your naval and onto the kind of important, urgent, or expensive problems you solve for your clients.
Believe it or not, you can create a website that is 80% about your clients’ needs and problems and only 20% about you. This approach is dramatically more effective at generating leads.
Another common message is: we are experts in how to do things, but we don’t really care about or understand why to do them.
The presenting symptom of this messaging problem is a blog where you talk a lot about stuff like why test-driven development rocks, the ultimate Ruby/Python/.NET environment configuration, specific coding approaches, or other very tactical topics but you don’t talk about the business application of your work, the results it creates for your clients, or anything about why they should listen to you.
Finally, I think about the sales implications of this. The store clerk tried to “close me” way too soon! He got the message that I was a hot prospect when that was not the case at all.
Like me in that Wyoming store, your potential clients won’t get outright offended by a miscommunication or wrong message in your marketing content, but they will beat a path to the door pretty darn fast.
Like I did, they’ll hop in their truck and keep driving until they find a development partner that clearly understands the business why behind the technical how.