What Shonda Rhimes Can Teach You About Selling

by | Oct 15, 2014 | Influence, Telling Great Stories

Shonda Rhimes and InfluenceI never meant to watch it.

I just happened to be in front of the tv when it started.

A young, professional looking woman is running down the sidewalk, checking her watch. She opens a large door to a bustling bar. She looks around for someone. When she finds him, she confirms he’s Harrison, and then without taking a breath launches into a speech:

I can’t stay … I only came to tell you I can’t stay. I didn’t have your number and getting stood up at this particular bar is like falling face first on a runway.

I can’t stay is what I am saying. I don’t do blind dates.

She thinks it’s a blind date.

It’s not.

It’s a job interview.

Actually … it’s not even a job interview. It’s a job offer.

Two minutes and eleven seconds. That’s how far into the show it was when I was hooked.

I never meant to watch it, but it grabbed my attention with that opening scene. Had it not, I would have shut it off, gone to bed and never looked back. Instead, I have been a loyal fan of Scandal’s Olivia Pope and her team of gladiators in suits ever since.

No pressure, but your opening scene with a prospect can’t be boring or they will turn the channel and be gone … not just for the day, but forever.

So how did Shonda Rhimes, creator of Scandal, know exactly how to hook me and the other 7.5 million viewers who tuned into that first episode and keep us coming back for more?

The same way you’ll know what to do to create intrigue, curiosity and engagement with your ideal customer …

Shonda knows her audience. She’s proven with several hit shows that she knows who is watching her shows and what they want … and she delivers.

Before you do ANYTHING you have to understand who YOUR audience is. The same thing that will intrigue me is NOT the same thing that will intrigue my 13 year old niece, my 36 year old carpenter brother or my 94 year old Grandma.

Who is your ideal customer? You need to understand what they want, what they need and how they want to feel. You also have to consider who you WANT to your customer to be.

After you do that the entire process is about fit.

Fail to really understand who you’re trying to influence and you won’t be able to hit the right emotional buttons to reel them in and hook them.


Dad Cruising in AlaskaYour Action Item:  Figure out who is an ideal fit for what you’re offering. Who do you want to work with?

Just because you’re selling a product to help hair grow back, doesn’t mean every bald man is your ideal client.

My Dad is totally fine with his baldness (just look at him – does he look sad?). He also thinks $25 is an expensive hair cut.

Just because you’ve got a great solution to a problem doesn’t mean everybody with that problem is going to want what you have to offer. Narrow down your focus to figure out who specifically you’re looking for. It might feel like you’re reducing your potential prospects (and you are) but it really means you’re now perfectly positioning yourself to attract the exact right people for your service.

Let’s face it, my Dad will probably listen to what you have to say about making his hair grow back, but he is highly unlikely to spend money to solve a problem he doesn’t care about. 20 years ago he was more interested in keeping his head of hair. He will waste your time and energy.

Whether you’re trying to find a new job, selling a product or service or looking to hire someone to work with you this is the most critical first step you can do.

If you’re not sure how to do this, my suggestion (borrowed from something Michael Losier taught me on an interview I did with him 8 years ago) is to first figure out what you don’t want. It’s often easier to identify what you don’t want and then, from that, identify what you DO want.

Here’s that that might look like:

How to Find Your Ideal Client

Now that you have a better idea of who you’re looking for, your next task will be to dig deeper into their emotions. What are their desires and fears? What makes them laugh? What makes them cry? That’s where Shonda Rhime’s magical powers of captivation work wonders. She knows who her audience is so she knows how to grab and keep our attention.

You won’t even get two minutes and eleven seconds if you haven’t made them curious enough to pay attention. You need to make them instantly curious and interested (a topic for another day, but something to keep in mind right now). The only way to do that is know who you are looking for and what will grab their attention.

Once you get them to wonder where the nicely dressed woman is going and who she is looking for in the busy bar, you have to captivate them. You need to make them want to know more. Shonda Rhimes did this in Scandal with quick dialogue, the start of a story you need to know the ending to, and a character you (her ideal audience member) can instantly relate to in some way.

It all begins with knowing who your audience is.

Go ahead, pull out a piece of paper and start working on it right now.


First Image Credit: © Carrienelson1 | Dreamstime.com
Second Image Credit: Ruth-Anne Broad

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