Not selling: advocating


People tell me I’m a creature of habit. Both good and bad, I guess – behold my out-of-date multivitamins – but one of my favourites is checking out Humans of New York every day.

Humans of New York (HONY to the initiated) is a photoblog by Brandon Stanton. HONY began as photos of the wonderful diversity of NYC’s inhabitants, but it became something else altogether when Stanton allowed them to tell their stories. HONY’s subjects reveal quite intimate details, even when they know they will be held up to public scrutiny, some of it damning. Do they do it for their 15 minutes of fame? I don’t think so – this is, after all, NY, not LA. They do it because of what I wrote about last week: trust.

Stanton approaches people with respect and curiosity. He is a man on a mission, but something overrides it. It is what Glenn L. Urban calls trust transcending all functions of the business. If subjects don’t want their faces shown, if they change their minds, if they only want to chat off record, that is cool with Stanton. He is on their side – he is an advocate. As a result, HONY has a faultless reputation and is much more than a project now. It is a brand, and it stands for something quite wonderful.

You can also make trust transcend all functions of your business. It means giving immense value, and referring clients on when you can’t. Above all, it means that instead of seeing yourself as a person providing a product or service to people, you see yourself as something quite different: an advocate for them.

Sure: telling someone you’re not the right person for the job can cost you that customer, but trust gives you bigger fish to fry. Thanks to untrustworthy cowboys (and cowgirls), you’ll have the competitive advantage. People will also be happy to pay you more. Trust generates a cycle of continuous growth, which means business longevity. And as a bonus, obtaining new clients gets easier and easier.

For me there is also another benefit. The idealistic, fanciful part of me, the one that loves Humans of New York for the way it brings us closer together, imagines a time when clients’ trust is the default position because we are all so darned engaged in doing the right thing. Humans of Business? Now those, too, would be pictures worth framing.