In a white papers course I did some time ago, I talked about being professional without being corporate. Howard Jacobsen, another sharp marketer, asked me to define this further. I think it’s a great question, because there’s a subtle but important distinction.
Professional means exhibiting, communicating, and delivering excellent results, exercising great skill and knowing how to do your job. It means showing up dressed sharply in a perfectly fitting suit and tie, if that’s what’s expected; it means being organized, efficient and displaying an air of competence.
Corporate means institutional.
Corporate means showing your customers the face of a building instead of the face of a person. On the surface, corporate seems impressive because it’s imposing and large. But it always engenders distrust. It’s always characterized by “I’m sorry, but that’s against our policy”… “Operations says that we cannot rectify that problem at this time”… “ACME Corporation is the world’s largest international producer of ISO9000 certified, best of breed, robust and scalable e-commerce solutions.”
Corporations are made up of people, and usually those people are hiding behind the façade, masking their insecurities and making up excuses that their customers are somewhat conditioned to accept. When I use the word corporate, I’m talking about bureaucracy and Byzantine complexity. Stuff that repels customers.
You can be professional without being corporate.
You can be organized, competent, efficient and informed, you can dress sharply and make a great impression, but still be personal. You can extend your warm, fleshy palm and shake their hand instead of giving them a robotic arm.
The key is to be personal and professional at the same time. Both of those things work for you.
Corporate will always work against you.
One of the big mistakes that growing companies make is shedding the personal in favor of the Big Corporate Image, thinking that people will be impressed by it.
Nobody’s impressed except the execs playing golf.
You know what impresses people?
Having their disputes resolved by empathetic customer service people. Having access to the president when something’s going way wrong -- and getting a listening, caring ear. Getting performance and guarantees instead of stalls and excuses.