Success in business, as on the big screen, can be broken down into three essential acts.
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Long before becoming a business speaker and coach, I went to film school at NYU and worked in Hollywood in movie development. I also co-owned a screenwriting consultancy and read countless scripts. I observed that good cinematic stories are generally written in three distinct acts designed to create and sustain a dramatic journey for the audience. If done well, they leave us with a powerful, memorable feeling. That journey is exactly what you want for your customers.
Act one is often referred to as “The Set-Up.” This is where we meet the characters. Typically, something unusual happens here that calls the character to action. It’s Luke Skywalker losing his family and seeing Leia’s distress call. It’s Dorothy landing in Oz and needing the help of a wizard. It’s Harry Potter discovering he is a wizard. The purpose of the first act is to humanize the characters and make us care about what happens to them. This is where the screenwriter seeks our emotional investment.
Your first moment with a customer is also about humanizing the experience and seeking their emotional investment. That’s the first step towards earning a financial investment. They have to want to be there before embarking into the sale. Your objective here, through small, nuanced interaction, is to build rapport. You want the customer to trust you and take more interest in moving into the journey you’re offering. That comes from a warm greeting and by being present and relatable. Then you want to assess their needs. That’ll enable you to guide them forward into the second act.
Act two is known as “The Build-Up” or “The Confrontation.” Here, the character seeks their goal and faces obstacles. It could be an enemy or opponent. It might be Mother Nature. Often it’s an internal demon. This is Luke’s mission to find a ship and and rescue the princess and everything he faces along the way. It’s Dorothy’s path down the yellow brick road, acquiring friends and running from flying monkeys. It’s Harry enrolling in Hogwarts and the forces of magic and adolescence that keep him busy. Pursing goals and facing conflict enables characters to improve their circumstances and grow personally. In this stage, they’re actively seeking solutions.
So are customers. They have a problem, a need or a craving. The bulk of the transaction is about addressing this. Your job is to offer solutions. You’re the mentor (think Obi-Wan, Glinda or Professor Dumbledore). You know the world they’re exploring and can help them make choices. You can assist them in resolving their conflicts and overcome their doubts. The key here is for you to be emotionally invested in them. You must care about the customer and use your offerings to make their life better.
Act three is “The Resolution.” This is the climax of the story. We finally get to see how things end up. Conflicts are resolved. Rewards are given, and consequences are imposed. We get a sense of closure. This is also where we receive an emotional payoff for hanging in there. Luke destroys the death star. Dorothy goes home. Harry defeats Voldemort. These are big, satisfying moments that won’t be forgotten.
In business, the third act is the sale. Based on what happens during the journey, the customer makes a decision. This, too, should be climatic. They should feel a sense of satisfaction. They should feel grateful for what just happened. And they should leave wanting more. You need to create that feeling. Your job isn’t just to sell stuff. Your job is also to elevate their emotional state.
All customer transactions have a beginning, middle and an end, no matter how brief or how small. The more deliberate you can be about what happens in each stage, the greater your chance of giving your customer an experience that will please them. Don’t just facilitate transactions. Take your customers on an emotional journey. If they leave with heightened feelings, there’s a much greater chance they’ll post rave reviews and return for sequels.