One Big Mistake Entrepreneurs Make When Telling Their Story
Lights! Camera! Action! What can Hollywood teach entrepreneurs about deeply engaging our customers? Think for a moment of characters that have inspired you, expanded your world, or somehow changed you. Both Rocky Balboa and Luke Skywalker captivated me as a kid. I loved the new Top Gun movie so much that I watched it twice! The most memorable Hollywood productions follow a formula based on the path of the hero’s journey. According to the blueprint for a hero’s journey, the central character receives a call to action, faces peril in an unfamiliar world, and then returns triumphant, stronger, and wiser. But let’s not forget the supporting role of a mentor or trusted advisor that enables our hero’s success.
What if you could better motivate and inspire your customers by weaving in a hero’s journey throughout your story? Hopefully, we are close to the bottom of the current economic turmoil, but if things get worse, your job as an entrepreneur will get even more challenging. Every sale becomes more critical in a down economy. So why not look to Hollywood for innovative ideas and inspiration? Nobody knows your product and your market better than you, so get creative and add some celluloid sizzle to how you pitch your story.
I’m confident you can improve your story, however, you need to avoid two potential traps as you craft your message. I’ve worked with hundreds of founders and the two areas that tend to trip up entrepreneurs, as they develop their hero’s journey, are casting and scripting.
Who’s the hero?
The most important casting decision for any producer is to identify the hero, and in the blockbuster production about you and your company, your customer must always be cast as the hero. I know you want to be the hero of your company’s story, but it doesn’t work that way. If you and your product are the heroes, then you ignore your customer’s story and your customer’s needs and relegate them to the role of a passive damsel-in-distress, who usually only shows up briefly in the third act. (And we all know that nobody dreams about one day achieving the status of damsel-in-distress.) Resist the urge to insert yourself into the screenplay as the hero, because that role is exactly where your customer should be.
Trust me. Your customer is the appropriate hero. I like Margaret Atwood’s definition: “A lonely hero who is trying to find himself. A sudden and unexpected journey, promising adventure and peril. A test of character, strength, and skill. An ultimate battle that tests the hero’s resolve. A triumphant return home.” No customer wakes up one morning with the determination to take a huge career risk by implementing a solution from an untested startup. The customer only leaves their comfort zone when they have a pressing result to achieve, something that inspires them to venture into a new world full of novel and exciting opportunities with the promise that, upon their return, they will be laden with riches and glory. Never underappreciate the courage your customer demonstrates when they take a chance on you.
Who are you?
If you are not the hero, then who exactly are you? Let’s think about key roles from enduring movies: Rey has Luke Skywalker. James Bond has Judi Dench as M, and Jennifer Connelly guides Tom Cruise in Top Gun. And how can we forget what Sam tells Frodo: “I can’t carry the One Ring for you, but I can carry you.” So, who are you? You are the trusted guide, magical superpower, and goddess; whatever your hero needs to reach the climax and accomplish their journey. You are happy to take a supporting role while giving your hero every reason to trust you and heed your directions.
Who writes your script?
Now that we have cast the key roles in your production, let’s pan over to the script. To create the script, you will need to answer some questions. What is your hero’s quest? How will the adventure and peril test their character, strength, and skill? You have two choices about how to craft your script. You can either speculate on the dreams and challenges of your customer (the hero) or you can choose the better option by simply asking your customer thoughtful questions that will help you gather the data you need to craft the perfect script.
Probing questions are key to developing the script for your movie. Good entrepreneurs use questions to qualify a customer, identifying mechanics like budget and authority. Great entrepreneurs make them into an art form; they use questions to guide their hero, helping the customer understand and articulate their version of the hero’s journey. Great questions also cement the entrepreneur's role as the mentor, the trusted advisor, the Mr. Miyagi. Your script writing will be complete when you get a good answer to this question (or some very similar question): “Looking long term, what will it mean to you, personally, to achieve this critical result you have described to me?”
Take some time to add the impact of the Hollywood formula for a hero’s journey into your company’s story. Please just remember the two key guidelines. First, cast your customer as the hero. You are not Harry Potter, but rather Hagrid, the trusted advisor. (“You’re a wizard Harry.”) Second, help your customer create the script for your story by asking the right questions. Thoughtful questions call your customer to action and help them become the hero you need them to be. Next thing you know, the scene of your daily operations will fade into a panoramic of you riding into the sunset, saddlebags loaded with gold.