Stop Selling the Bridge. Sell San Francisco

There’s just something about San Francisco. It holds a certain magic. An allure. A romanticism. Even if you’ve never been there, the  mere  mention of San Francisco.

(One of my favs of course is Train’s “Save Me San Francisco.” And if you want a little “mood music” while reading this article you can listen to the song on YouTube.)o probably sparks an emotion or two simply based on the stories, the photos, the movies and… yes, even the songs.

I like to use San Francisco as a metaphor when I’m mentoring my small business clients in how to speak to their potential clients about what they do.

Two things I’m often asked are: “Angelique, how do I explain clearly what I do? I’m really struggling to find the words or know what to call myself.” And “How do I convince clients that they want or need what I have to offer — or convince them that my services / programs / etc. are better than my competitor’s?”

Well, here’s the deal. For the most part… You don’t.

Why? Because that would be like trying to sell people who want to go to San Francisco the Golden Gate Bridge.

Imagine it. Say a young married couple is feeling like they need a weekend getaway. So they start looking around at options and they identify a few destinations to consider: Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.

But when they go to the website for San Francisco, about 90 percent of the content and information is all focused on the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, the website goes into great detail about HOW the bridge gets you to San Francisco.

It not only lays out EVERY last step of the process of how it gets you from one side of the bridge to the other side of the bridge (and its proprietary system for doing so!), but it also explains WHY the Golden Gate Bridge is qualified to get you there AND what makes it a better bridge than all the other bridges out there, including facts like:

  • Until 1964, the Golden Gate Bridge had the longest suspension bridge main span in the world, at 4,200 feet. But today it has the second longest main span in the United States, after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. (Uh-oh, maybe it’s not the best bridge after all!)
  • The total length of the Golden Gate Bridge from abutment to abutment is 8,981 feet.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge’s clearance above high water averages 220 feet while its towers are 746 feet above the water.
  • The weight of the roadway is hung from two cables that pass through the two main towers and are fixed in concrete at each end. Each cable is made of 27,572 strands of wire. There are 80,000 miles of wire in the main cables.
  • The bridge has approximately 1,200,000 total rivets. 


You get the picture.

So here’s the question: Would anyone in their right mind who wants to go to San Francisco for the weekend (well, short of industrial engineers or bridge enthusiasts!), want or even need to know all of this detail about the bridge and how the bridge does it’s job, just so they can decide to drive on it to get them from one side of the bay to the other?

(Even more to the point, if they are not an industrial engineer or a bridge enthusiast, even with this information are they really qualified to know if what you’re telling them about the bridge is good or bad?)

Wouldn’t they in fact be a lot more excited about hearing all about what it’s like to be in San Francisco? What will they experience? What will they see? How will they feel?

Yes. I’m taking this analogy to the absurd. But it’s simply to illustrate the point as clearly as possible because despite the fact that most entrepreneurs “know” on an intellectual level that they should be selling San Francisco and not the bridge — their websites (and sales conversations, and marketing materials, and pitch emails, and LinkedIn profiles, etc., etc.) are STILL selling the Golden Gate Bridge! And until you put it into action, you don’t really know it.

My challenge to you this week is to take a look at your own marketing materials and even your sales conversations and pitch emails and ask yourself: Am I selling the bridge? Or am I selling San Francisco?