“You’re really good at ‘soft skills.’”
This back-handed compliment was lobbed at me by my boss at a cross country ski resort in Colorado – air quotes included – after we returned from a backcountry nordic ski trip with a family of varying skill levels.
Clearly, my “soft skills” had saved that trip from becoming a disaster. As he took off with the husband and son down steep terrain, without much of a look back at the mother, I patiently cut switchbacks for her across their erratic tracks. I caught her up in conversation about life and family, and taught her the skills she needed to navigate the terrain. Skills she should have learned on the track before venturing out into the backcountry.
“It’s not a trip with Steve if someone doesn’t end up in tears.” That was the joke around the shop. Though Steve thought of my soft-skills as weak or not as good as his physical skiing skills, my “soft skills” have made me more money and taken me farther in life and guiding than my physical skills. And I’m an excellent Nordic skier.
Marketing is a Soft Skill
My business coach made this comment to me recently and it stuck. I talk about marketing as a science often, but her comment struck me. Marketing is about understanding the needs and feelings of a customer, and giving them the tools they need to feel good in their decision. Good marketing skills and good guiding have a lot in common.
Marketing, just like guiding, is not about us. It’s not about what kind of day we want, what we think is fun, or what matters to us. It’s about our customers. What’s going on for them? How does our product or service help them? What do they need to know to be happy?
If you can master the soft skills of marketing, you’re going to serve more customers and make more money than if you charge forward on “hard skills” alone. You’re going to have more good days too.
Soft Skill 1: Meet People Where They Are
The first lesson I learned in guiding is to meet people where they are. If someone in a group is apprehensive, you need to find out why. Did they have a bad experience before (i.e. did they go out with someone like Steve who decided everyone was skiing his lines that day), are they nervous about falling, do they have an old injury that makes the movement hard?
Your first line of duty in marketing is to discover not just who your clients are, but why they are apprehensive and what they are looking for.Katie Smith – The Marketing Hat
Your first line of duty in marketing is to discover not just who your clients are, but why they are apprehensive and what they are looking for. If I go out with a fit group of people who are ready for a challenge, I’m game. If they are nervous or apprehensive, I take more time and we take it slower. It’s not about me and it’s not about you.
Meet your customers where they are and they will be more open to listening, more trusting, and more willing to spend their dollars with you. Everyone wants to be heard.
Soft Skill 2: Give Them the Right Tools
Steve was a little better at this soft skill, I must admit. In the shop we had many different kinds of skis. Some were sleek and fancy, great for speeding down hills and cutting turns, but required fairly good technique to ski uphill without slipping. Other skis were soft and slow, and could go up almost anything without sliding. Some were narrow and others wider.
After we assessed someone’s skill level and their goals for the day, we could give them the right skis. Newer skiers would get the softer, wider skis. People who had been coming for years or were fit would get the stiffer, narrower skis. As long as their guide had developed soft skill #1, they were set up to have a great day.
Matching the tools to the skills is important in marketing too. In this case, the tools are often the lead magnets or free offers at the beginning of your funnel and how you lead potential customers down the path to buying. What do people really need in order to understand your product or service? What will peak their interest when they are just learning? What do they need when they are informed? What about after they buy?
Offering the right tools can be the difference between a frustrated person who hates skiing and feels like a failure and a special family memory they are more than happy to spend money on again. Developing this marketing skill can be the difference between a sale and no sale or a bad review.
Soft Skill 3: Empower Their Decision
Marketing soft skill number three is all about building up your customers. Your clients and customers need to feel empowered in their decisions. They need to feel like they are making progress and moving towards their goals. Depending on what you offer, this can look a little different.
As a guide (skiing, marketing, or otherwise), my goal is to break the steps of learning and navigate different terrain into steps. Each time a step is accomplished, we celebrate. My clients can see their progress and they are excited to keep pushing forward into more uncomfortable terrain.
When you rush someone through a skill set so you can do what you want to do, like Steve, you lose people more often than you keep them. If you lose the decision maker, you’ve lost the sale. If I hadn’t been there to empower the mother, chances are the family would not have been back for a trip the next year.
How are you empowering your people? How are you letting them know how great they are doing and celebrating their wins before pushing them forward?
A New Take on Marketing as a Skill
Marketing is a soft skill. It takes finesse, observation, and clueing in to the needs and wants of your future customers and clients. You need to measure your efforts so you understand what’s working and what needs shifting. Lean into your soft skills and use them to organize the hard skills.
I learned a lot about who I am as a guide and a professional from working at that resort. I found my voice, learned to trust my decisions, and grew stronger in my convictions. My success in marketing and in working with clients is rooted in this experience. Always remember to meet people where they are, give them the right tools, and empower their decisions and your marketing message will be clear, authentic, and successful.