I’m an avid collector of quotes. One of my favorites is French author François Garagnon on how difficult it is to convey an idea from one person to another:

“Between what I think,
what I want to say,
what I believe I am saying,
what I say,
what you want to hear,
what you hear,
what you believe you understand,
what you want to understand and
what you understood, there are at least nine possibilities for misunderstanding.”

I used this as a prop during a recent discussion on marketing and positioning. My point was clarity on concepts and context is essential. If you want to move people, you must speak to where they are. Nowhere is this more important than in positioning a firm or offering.

Positioning is the bedrock of marketing

Effective marketing is the fastest and most economical way to grow your business. Therefore, if growing your firm is important, getting your positioning right needs to top your list of priorities.

As is so often the case, the conventional wisdom comes up short. Case in point, one of the most popular formulas for a positioning statement goes as follows:

What you do, Who you serve, and how you are different from similar firms.

No doubt you’ve heard this many times. You may use it yourself.

The problem is, this popular formulation demonstrates François Garagnon’s wisdom. What you say and what your prospects hear can be entirely different. Let’s take another look at that common positioning statement.


You say: WHAT you do. WHO you serve, and HOW you are DIFFERENT.

Prospects hear: what YOU do, who YOU serve, and how YOU want to talk even more about YOU.


Prospects want to improve THEIR business. They don’t care about YOUR business or want to talk about you, the person trying to sell them stuff. If your intent is to build a trusted relationship, you’re off to a rocky start.

The point of introductions and positioning is to generate the right type of interest from the right type of people. There may be situations such as rapid-fire introductions in group settings where you have to package it all into a compact statement. However, in most situations, a bit of back-and-forth–what we call conversation–serves you better.

Try leading with how clients improve their business because of what you do. If the other person is interested, they will ask who your clients are and how you generate the benefits you mentioned. What follows is a dialogue that has captured the prospect’s interest rather than a monologue about you.