Sell the Back Story (Issue 1114)

In which we are reminded that our companies’ origins and values stories can be powerful tools to attract, enroll, and engage new clients.

I’ve just been elected to the Board of Directors of Community Boating in Boston. We’re a non-profit community sailing organization, the oldest in the country.

If you stood on the banks of the Charles River and watched, you’d see a smoothly functioning sailing center that also offers kayak and wind surfing rentals. People go out. People come back. Lots of smiles.

My wife and I started sailing at Community Boating four summers ago during the first pandemic summer. We needed something ‘out of the house’ to do during lockdown. We learned to love sailing and we loved the dock staff (ranging in age from, probably, 16 years old to 30 years old) and the member volunteers who encouraged us and guided us.

Fast forward two summers, I started teaching entry level learn-to-sail classes. In two hours, for example, I can lead people who know nothing about how to rig and de-rig a simple 17’ sail boat to the point that they can do it. Their smiles of accomplishment are worth every minute of my time.

But why stand for the Board? Why take that on?

I’d considered it and, largely, decided not to go for it. While I enjoy sailing and teaching, I have many other interests. I didn’t want to take on the responsibility. And then…

A couple of weeks before the election, during a meeting about the organization’s strategic plan, the Executive Director rose to clarify a point.

Paraphrasing from my notes at the time: “We’re not a boat ‘club’,” he said. “We’re not a yacht club. We’re not a boat rental business. We’re not a social club, ‘though many members make friends here. We’re a community sailing organization.”

He went on. “Our original purpose, beginning in the 1930s and 1940s, was to provide learning opportunities and recreation for kids in Boston’s working-class West End neighborhood. Our vision now, ‘Sailing for All’, means we break down physical, social, and financial hurdles so that people of all backgrounds and abilities (including particularly people who’ve never thought sailing was an option for them) can learn, grow, and enjoy themselves through sailing.”

I decided to stand for that… the “why”… the back story – the 1930s and 1940s ‘origin’ story… the current possibilities in the “Sailing for All” vision. There are many communities still to reach and big shoes to step into.

It’s actually a good way to introduce any company – the back story. Something like: “When we first started X years ago, the problem we set out to solve was… Though the years, this has evolved to…. And, now, we carry on that mission by….”

People like a good story.

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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