Annoying Business Jargon Edition #1: “Boiling the Ocean”
Summer is beach time for my family. It’s when we take those spontaneous trips to our local beaches here on the East Coast. It’s the perfect time to reset and recharge. It’s not fancy. (I tell my kids, “all you need are beach clothes!”) But it’s FUN.
Despite the relentlessly hot hot hot weather this summer, I am always taken with how breezy, beautiful and downright pleasant it is at the beach. And how COLD the water is!
On our last trip, the stark contrast between the ambient temperature of the air (hot!) vs. the ocean temperature (bracing!) meant the phrase “don’t boil the ocean” kept popping into my mind.
“Wow. Isn’t it great. You definitely could not ever do that,” I thought to myself.
Forbes recently included “boil the ocean” on its list of the 46 Most Annoying Business Jargon, along with “synergize” (stop saying this, people! It’s not actually a word), “talk offline” (is there any other way to talk?) and “drill down” (does anyone still use this?).*
*Side note: one of my absolute favorite business terms is “granular”. This is something the CEO of the software company I used to work for used on a daily basis to describe search results. It just describes things so perfectly! “We need a more granular result.” Like sands through the hourglass! BAM!
But back to “boil the ocean”. Is it overused? Forbes defines the jargon as referring to something “that’s probably going to take an overly long time to do.” I say, if that’s all you want to connote with this phrase, you can certainly find another, more memorable way to say it. But in my case, it conveys EXACTLY what so many of my clients are doing wrong when I first start working with them. Which is why I still use it.
Boiling the ocean in marketing is when you’re trying to be all things to all people.
I work with many professional coaches and life coaches. When they come to me, these folks are typically highly educated, highly certified people. They probably could help anybody, from my Aunt Betty to Elon Musk. The problem is, when they’re pitching themselves online or in person, they’re throwing spaghetti at the wall. But nothing seems to stick. (GAH! More annoying business jargon!)
We all meet a whole lot of people who are selling something, and see a lot of products and services pitched online every single day. Unfortunately, 99% of those products, services, brands and people are completely forgettable. That’s a problem. How can you be profitable in a crowded marketplace when no one remembers who you are and what you do?
Jack of All Trades, Master of None
Listen to these two pitches:
- Pitch #1: “I’m a professional life coach certified by the Coaches Training Institute to co-actively coach people to help them get anything they want.”
- Pitch #2: “Are you a working Mom who feels she’s the jack of all trades, master of none? My clients are working Moms, typically in the male-dominated tech or engineering fields, who come to me to learn how to advance in their careers while becoming more fully present with their families. I currently work with 10 Moms one-on-one and founded the group The Happy Techie Moms Club on Facebook, which has over 800 members.”
Which person would you hire?
The first coach’s pitch contains jargon (what’s “co-actively”?), is way too vague and is self-focused. Even this short pitch is a snore.
As a Mom who works in tech, I’m ready to hire the second coach! Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none was exactly how I felt most days (before I started working with my masterful coach, but that’s a whole other blog post!). I bet she works with more than just tech and engineering Moms, but I love how “granular” she gets in identifying her ideal client. Yes I want to advance my career! Yes I want to be more fully present with my family! Wait, and there are 800 people seeing the value of what this coach provides? Sign me up now! (And if I weren’t a Mom working in tech, I’d probably recommend this person to anyone I know who was!)
When introducing yourself to a group of more than 10 people, especially if you’re not the first person to do an introduction, always start with a question. Your goals:
- Get people to pay attention.
- Quickly figure out who your potential customers are.
Here’s a brain teaser: online you are always pitching to more than 10 people. To pull this off, you have to know the deepest desires of your potential customers. (Hint: Their deepest desire isn’t to get life coaching. So scratch out “Who’s interested in being coached?” as a question!)
I was pretty great at this for a lot of years, but after leaving my sales job to work for myself behind a computer for the majority of the day, I got pretty bad at it. I would hem and haw, and talk about myself. It was pretty embarrassing. So now I follow a formula.
I always start out with a simple question: “How many of you are interested in getting more traffic to your website?”
I then look around the room to see if anyone has raised their hand. Some people will have, some won’t, others will be glued to their Smartphones. So I usually follow with:
“Ok, how many of you aren’t interested in getting more traffic to your website?”
The folks on their phones will typically put them away with a sheepish grin. Others might be smart-alecky enough to actually raise their hands after this question. Still a win! I now have everyone’s attention, and I’ve figured out who is not going to be my ideal-fit client.
Any pitch needs to contain these elements:
- Compelling value
- Social proof
- A call to action
“My name is Amanda Jenkins and my company MarketIQ helps professional coaches attract legit online leads that turn into great-fit clients. I’ve been in business since 2007 and my clients stay with me year after year because my service really works. If you’re a coach who would like to get more traffic to your website, please come find me. I’m happy to talk to you more about it!”
Sure, I’ve worked with Realtors, doctors, yoga and pilates studios, and therapists. But the key here is to make my pitch relevant to my audience. Quality matters more than quantity, and I’m trying not to “boil the ocean” or confuse people. Soooo …
- If your best customers are philanthropists in their 60s who work in historic preservation, say that!
- If they’re CIOs and tech executives, that’s who you talk about.
Why This Works in the Online Space
Let’s get really clear: you don’t want to work with everyone who has a pulse, so don’t be afraid to narrow down a room of 50+ people to just one potential customer, especially if you offer a high-value service. This is exactly what you want to do online, because anyone who wants to talk to you but isn’t a great-fit client is just a waste of your precious time.
When I picture a client “boiling the ocean”, I imagine them trying to heat up every possible nook and cranny of the sea, trying to scare all the little fish out of their coral reefs, trying to make the ocean so hot that the big fish leap out of the depths to join them at their seafood smorgasboard. Is this possible or desirable at any level?
NO! It’s GROSS!
My son got out of the ocean this week and was literally shivering and blue. He had to sit in the sun to warm up on one of the hottest days of the summer. When I think of trying to be all things to all people, I picture my 7 year old, shivering and blue. It will suck the life out of you, and that’s how you’ll feel if you try.
After working with me, my clients say they are better able to describe their services online to their exact target client. They’re not just shooting in the dark; they’ve used metrics to discover exactly who this client is, and exactly what they can solve for them. Instead of boiling the ocean, I imagine my clients reaching into the ocean to grab the hand of that ideal-fit client in need of help or assistance, the unique help or assistance that only they can provide.
Now, let’s get it done!
At MarketIQ, we advise companies
- Who already have a web presence, typically in WordPress
- On what they can do (including website UI, shopping carts, auto-responders and more) to help drive engagement and business on their website
- Who want to get out of the weeds and see a clear picture of what their business is and where they can (and should) go from here to most quickly increase revenue
How to Work With Us
- Contact me today. If you’re interested in working together, I have a brief questionnaire that will help us both determine if we should move forward. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, please shoot me an email and I’ll send you the questions. If there is a fit, we can then schedule a Skype or GoogleHangouts to “meet”, go into more detail & get started.
- Join me for an upcoming talk. I host regular webinars, and you can sometimes catch me in person. Here are my upcoming trainings and talks:
- September 12 2017, Blades of Green, Edgewater, MD: When, Why & How Your Business Should Be on Instagram
- October 13 2017, UMBC Training Center, Columbia, MD: Attract Legit Online Leads that Turn into New Clients: Results-Oriented Marketing for Professional Coaches. Register for this workshop with ICF Maryland here.
- Learn more about how to Increase Your MarketIQ on my blog.
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