Proof train car #2: the demonstration

The next “car” in the “proof train” is demonstration.

As a reminder, I’m doing a short series to answer a reader question asking for examples that relate to this quote:

Never make your claim bigger than your proof. And always join your claim and your proof at the hip in your headlines, so that you never trumpet one without the other. — Gary Bencivenga

The next form of proof you can offer to support your claims is a demonstration of expertise or your ability to create the results you claim. Real, live, unscripted demonstrations are best, but other things like blog articles or email courses can serve as good demonstrations of expertise.

We can reference soooo many examples of powerful demonstrations in the product world.

Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers will probably remember the television infomercials selling Ginsu Knives, and the many demonstrations they contained. I remember seeing the infomercial host cutting through a tree branch, metal objects like a soda can, and so on using a Ginsu knife. It’s laughably cheesy now, but those demonstrations helped sell a ton of product, and the idea of a compelling demonstration can be applied to your marketing too.

There was a time when riding an elevator was a high risk activity that carried a potential death sentence for riders if the elevator’s support cable broke. Elisha Otis invented a safety brake that made elevators more safe, but public perception was very slow to change until he did a public demonstration of the device’s effectiveness at the 1854 World’s Fair. The orders started rolling in after that.

But how do demonstrations apply to what you do, which is primarily to build things that don’t exist yet like custom software, websites, etc? How do you demonstrate something that doesn’t yet exist?

Of course, car #1 on the proof train (case studies) are one way to demonstrate your ability to product the results you claim, or to demonstrate your expertise. So don’t neglect that form of proof.

But there’s another way, and those who say you should never do work for free won’t like it, and those who say you should automate the heck out of your marketing probably will disagree.

You should create opportunities to demonstrate your expertise in a live, unscripted setting. In other words, you should get in front of prospective clients either 1-on-1 or in a small group setting and do what you do for free and do it without the “safety net” of a script. When you implement this idea, it ends up looking like one or more of the following:

1) 1-on-1 calls with prospective clients where you do a bit of discovery work

I call this a “micro-consult”, and it builds trust and demonstrates your approach to problem solving. It lets you get to know a potential client (and screen out bad fits), and it delivers a bit of no-strings-attached value to them. Most importantly, it moves your relationship with a potential client out of the virtual world into the meatspace where you can build trust more rapidly.

I’ve never heard of a 5-figure or larger project that hasn’t included at least one such phone call, but if you know of one please let me know. I’d love to hear a story about what is almost certainly an edge case.

2) Webinars or executive briefings

Taking live questions on a webinar or executive briefing is a great way to demonstrate expertise. This builds trust and does so in a somewhat less impactful but more scalable way than micro-consults can.

3) Half-day workshops

What if you let potential clients apply to spend a half-day in your office (or rented conf room at a co-working space or video call) getting free advice about their potential project? Of course you’d need to qualify applicants based on project size and a few other factors for this to be a good use of your time, but for those that are a good fit, this is a great way to demonstrate that you have valuable expertise and a unique approach that can benefit them if they were to hire your company.

4) Articles and other content marketing

The most scalable and least impactful demonstration of expertise is written content. I’m not saying it’s not powerful or effective, but I am saying that things like single blog articles, white papers, and other written content are the least able to rapidly build trust.

What makes written content more able to build trust is repeated exposure over time (like email marketing) and third-party trust transfer (like writing something worthy of being published in HBR or being on the NY Times bestseller list).

That said, written content can be a good way to demonstrate that you posses the specialized expertise that you claim to.

Proof is important, but a powerful claim of expertise is even more important. I have a book that will help you develop that claim:

The next car on the proof train has to do with “trainwreck projects”,

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