Being Real vs. Being a Parrot

by Ken Mueller on January 23, 2013 · 16 comments

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When I was working in New York City for thirteen years, a small part of my job involved getting radio stations to come and broadcast live from our radio studio. Once I made the initial contact with a show host, producer, or program director, I was invariably handed off to the station engineer who would proceed to ask me some technical questions about the studio.

As long as the questions were pretty basic, I was OK. I had been on enough phone calls and sat in on enough meetings with our own engineers to have a cursory knowledge of our technical capabilities. I knew just enough to answer basic questions about what equipment we had, what type of T1 lines and other routing capabilities we had. I didn’t understand most of what I was saying, I was merely parroting information given to me. But quite often I was asked a question or two that went beyond the scope of what I knew. And I knew enough to use those moments to admit my ignorance, tell the person on the other end that I was a “technological moron” and refer them to my engineers who were more than capable of answering those questions.

There’s a difference between merely spewing out facts you’ve memorized or heard, and speaking from real, practical knowledge. And in this day and age, just spewing out facts like a parrot will only get you so far. With the level of information available to your customers fingertips via the Internet, they come to you more informed than ever, and they have the ability to quickly see through the ruse.

If as a marketer, or a business person, you find yourself in this position, there are a number of things you can, and should, do:

1. Admit your shortcomings – Not everyone is an expert on everything. There’s no shame in admitting your flaws, imperfections, and shortcomings. Not only is this the honest thing to do, but it can also be endearing.

2. Learn more – As I work with clients, I find myself learning more than I ever thought I would about a variety of things. I love those moments when a conversation with a client turns into an education for me. While I’ve learned a lot about fire engines, cooking, homelessness, and country music, I’ll never be an expert in any of those subjects. On the other hand, I’ll be able to answer more questions about those subjects than I was before. If you’re a marketer, get to know as much as you can about your business. Not just the product or service you offer, but about every aspect of everything that goes into creating that product or service.

3. Rely on experts – While you might not be an expert on certain subjects related to your business, there might be others who work with you who are. If you can’t answer questions, defer to them; let them answer those things related to their area of expertise.

4. Show off what you do know – Part of gaining the trust of clients and customers is by showing them what you know. Your blog and other social properties are great showcases for your knowledge. As you write and share content from your chosen field, you let others know how knowledgeable you are. And as stated in the previous point, let other experts help you create content when necessary.

If we only spit back what we have learned, we will eventually run out of things to say, and people will realize that we’re nothing but a parrot.

What are you doing to increase your knowledge and show off what you know, while avoiding being a parrot?

 

 

 Being Real vs. Being a Parrot
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14 comments
sydcon_mktg
sydcon_mktg

Thats how I operate. I can talk the lingo, get concepts, have visions of future development prospects. HOWEVER, when a potential client starts want to discuss exact inter workings  development, etc thats when I say "its time I put you in contact with our project manager/developer". I am never embarrassed to admit I am the business development person and that their is someone better suited to show off our technical chops! 

Latest blog post: Come see our new digs!

John_Trader1
John_Trader1

"While I’ve learned a lot about fire engines, cooking, homelessness, and country music, I’ll never be an expert in any of those subjects." - While you may not be an expert on these Ken, just talk about them enough on social media and Klout will deem you an expert!

Great post though Ken, and spot on. One thing I have learned over the years when training new employees is to tell them to never say "I am new, I don't know the answer to that question," or "I'm new, and I haven't been trained on that." I always thought that any company worth its weight will properly train all of their employees to handle any situation before they are sent to the front lines. And if you don't know the answer, never blame it on being "new."




girlseeksplace
girlseeksplace

I'm constantly learning. I recently got an editing job that has shone a light on my grammatical inadequacies, so I bought a couple of grammar books and am working my way through them, learning things I never knew existed.

C_Pappas
C_Pappas

Ive been on both sides. I started finding the more I kept saying and answering technical questions, the more I was learning to. When I received a question I didnt know, I would refer to the 'smarter power' but I always circled back and asked 'so what was the answer anyways?' It may not be useful or relevant - I am just obsessed with learning. I can also see the 'fake it till you make it' mentality but I agree wit you Ken, people like to know that at the end of the day you are a person too and we just dont know everything about everything.

KateFinley
KateFinley

Great post, Ken! This reminds me of a conversation I had with BlueHost support last night. The term, "technological moron" makes me laugh out loud because, that is exactly how I felt when it came to  first building my website. I started out conversations with tech support letting them know that this was not my area of expertise and reminding them as we talked through issues, that I was not at all familiar with the process. 

Even though it can be humbling to admit what you don't know, it's important to remember that people like to help. Often, I experience a lot of grace when I ask for help. There are many times, however, that the "fake it, tlll you make it" adage applies, too.

Thanks for the link :)

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@sydcon_mktg No shame in passing off to those who REALLY know certain things. In fact, it makes you look smarter in the long run. Know your strengths AND your weaknesses.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@girlseeksplace And that's the way it should be. I've even seen some grammatical purists/experts make mistakes, but that's ok. We're all human!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@C_Pappas I'm the same way. I love to learn. One of my clients is a restaurant, and I work closely with the owner who is also a highly trained chef. When we had our first meeting I knew we were a perfect match. Every time I sit down with her, I learn something new. She has educated me on food and cooking in incredible ways, and does so in a very down to earth manner. And we're using that to create blogging content. I really try to learn from all of my clients, because it makes me better at helping them!

Shonali
Shonali

@kateupdates I did the exact same thing with BlueHost when I started out with them! And I have to tell you, they were SO helpful... I did all my Q&As with them via Live Chat, and emailed myself the transcripts, which proved to be very helpful when I needed a refresher on something.

@KenMueller I was just thinking of writing a post about "I don't know" but you might have beaten me to it. Recently, a new client asked me if I did a certain task the way certain professionals did. Without even thinking about it, I said, "I don't know how ____ do it, because I'm not (one of them)." I wanted to make sure that the client didn't have exaggerated expectations from me, and I truly think that by answering honestly, I built a little bit of a better relationship with the client.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@kateupdates Hey, Kate! My pleasure! I read you post as I was about halfway through writing this and it seemed to fit nicely. 

I find it refreshing to be able to say "I don't know." Even when I speak to a group, or work with a client, I'd rather say, "I don't know" then try to pretend. Plus, admitting you don't know gives you an opportunity to learn, which will help both you and your client. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali @kateupdates I've had similar experience when I switched to Bluehost (partly at your recommendation, Shonali). On the other hand, I've had online tech support, or on phone tech support from some companies, and it makes me want to walk away. It's that whole customer experience thing, which is often more important than even the actual product itself.

And feel free to write an "I don't know" post! I'm sure your take on it would be different anyway, with your own experiences. And as for client expectations, I'm getting ready to pitch a potential client, with some knowledge of a different kind of service they are looking at. Without bashing the other "national" solution, I want them to understand the difference between what I do and what they do. Hopefully they'll understand where I'm coming from.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Ken Mueller’s post a couple days ago was terrific. You should go read it, if you haven’t already, but the gist of it is that when you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s far smarter to admit to what you don’t know rather than to pretend you do know what you don’t know. [...]

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