There’s no “q” in penguin

There’s a lot to be said for penguins.

They’re cute, quite harmless and, if Morgan Freeman is to be believed, remarkably dedicated parents.

But you know what they’re not? They’re not spelled with a “q.”

P-E-N-G-U-I-N. I’ve checked several times and nowhere within a penguin, living or on paper, does the letter q come into play.

And yet, as someone who’s owned a company called Blue Penguin for nearly 20 years now, I can tell you that approximately 20 percent of English speakers (OK, it’s always Americans) attempt to spell penguin like this: penquin.

Over the years, I’ve received invoices, checks, direct mail, email and any number of communications in which this error is made. My auto insurance is spelled this way, as is the lease on my office.

I really don’t know why people make this particular mistake.

It’s not like the word is pronounced with a q sound. Nor are the letters q and g next-door neighbors on your keyboard, something which might otherwise account for the occasional slip up.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Many people commit this error and my worrying about why or, even worse, spending time trying to educate the world on the correct spelling would be a waste of time.

When it comes to marketing a professional service business, I think the same logic applies: You can waste a lot of time and effort trying to convince people that they need a solution to a particular problem, droning on about how your research or your experience or logic itself suggests that they need whatever it is you’re selling.

But you’re not going to convince many people. Because until they decide they have a problem that needs fixing, they’ll never hire you. It doesn’t matter how right you are. Trying to create demand for a fix to an unrecognized problem is an uphill slog.

So here’s what I recommend instead: Adjust your communications to match up with what they already believe. In other words, don’t tell them they should need what you sell; sell them what they already believe they need.

Start by finding five people who look like the kind of people you want to work with and ask them what their business problems are.

It need not be fancy or complicated. Just ask some specifics: What keeps them up at night? What do they believe is getting in the way of their success? What areas cause them the most frustration and pain in the daily aspects of running their business?

While doing this, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the specific words and phrases they useThis is not the place to paraphrase—you want to use their words in your marketing. This way, you’ll be talking to prospects from their point of view rather than yours. (With their permission, I recommend recording these conversations, so you get the words just right.)

Then find five more people and ask again. As you hear the same kinds of problems raised (and you will), you can fine-tune your questions further, digging in deeper into what’s really at the heart of the challenge.

Keep doing it until you’re not hearing anything new (it won’t take long) and you have a very clear sense of how your ideal client sees the world.

Finally, line up what you offer—and the words you use to describe it—with where your prospects need help.

Here’s the bottom line: Being right and getting hired are not always the same thing. Spending time proving your point to prospective clients can be tremendously exhausting and, in the end, not very productive.

You’ll find selling to be both easier and more efficient when the services you offer and the words you use to talk about them line up with the way your prospects already view the world.


By Michael Katz for CW Observer