Je Ne Sais Quoi

Have you ever made a decision and couldn’t quite put your finger on what caused you to choose one side or the other? On paper all attributes may have been equal, but the option you went with had an intangible quality to it that made you say, “That’s the one.”
 
The French expression je ne sais quoi literally translates to “I don’t know what,” and at least makes it seem as if somebody once made an attempt to define the intangible before they gave up and just said “Whatever, OK? It has a thing that the other one doesn’t.” Maybe they were trying to explain why there was a new Citroën in the driveway versus a more practical Renault.
 
The English also attempted to put the concept into words, and called it an X-Factor. They assigned this Factor to people who have an intangible charisma, and even made a music reality TV show with that title that has been running for 13 seasons so far. Rather impressive, if you realize that the winner each year is the one with the most “don’t know what.”
 
As you’d expect, the What? Factor applies to more than British pop singers or quirky French automobiles. It also plays a large role in your potential customer acquisition.
 
Getting Punched in the Head Can Be Fun
Some years ago I moved from one major city to another. I was leaving the only karate studio I’d ever known, and was very interested in continuing my studies in my new hometown. I knew I’d have to change styles. That’s usually a given if you start out with something more obscure. What I wanted to preserve was the atmosphere of what I had experienced so far, which was a family-run operation that showed interest in me as a person and cared about my development.
 
I researched the studios in my area, wrote out a list, and decided to go take a look and observe some classes. By now I was a green belt, which by no means was an expert, but at least I wasn’t a noob and I did have a grasp of what I knew constituted a good studio versus a bad one. And all I found were bad ones.
 
There’s a sadly apropos expression in the martial arts world, and that is to label a studio a Belt Factory. Those are businesses that exist mainly to self-perpetuate, not to provide a high level of instruction for their students. The expectation is that if you show up and pay your fee each month, you’ll advance to the next belt on a regular schedule whether your skills advance or not. The “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. Every place I visited seemed to have a strong Belt Factory vibe to it.
 
Even then, I was OK with that. I knew I could end-run that mentality by working as hard as I had been before, and I could succeed despite my surroundings. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Wrong because the Belt Factory mentality wasn’t just a studio policy, it had become ingrained in the instructors as well.
 
Each instructor I interviewed seemed far more concerned with letting me know the payment programs and how much money I could save by signing a yearly contract rather than month-to-month. They asked what I did for a living, and other probing financial questions. I’m not sure if they saw another person sitting in the office chair, or if I was instead nothing but a big dollar sign in their eyes. I get that business is business, but at least try to make a human connection. It would’ve made a difference.
 
As a consequence, I didn’t sign up at any of the schools I visited, and while I never gave up my dreams of continuing my training, I figured that it might not realistically happen.

Wax On / Wax Off
Martial arts were far from my mind when one Saturday I went shopping for gifts in a plaza that I had never visited before. Right in front of where I parked was a red sign that said Karate. The studio was new, so it wasn’t on my original list. I figured the least I could do is look in the window. I was here, after all.
 
Inside was all of the usual stuff: floor mats, mirrors on the wall, heavy bag. Some people were inside, doing individual workouts. This was not usual. It wasn’t a class. These people were here because they wanted to be here. The owner saw me looking and came to the front door.
 
He asked if I had taken karate before, and when I answered yes, asked what style. What belt. Wondered where I was from. And the whole time, looked me in the eye. When I told him I was interested in finding a new studio, he said “Bring your equipment by sometime and try a workout.” 
 
I walked away thinking “That’s the guy. I want to learn from him.” He had the intangible quality, the X-Factor, in spades. It wasn’t until much later that I realized what made him so compelling (otherwise this would be an “I DO know why” story). There was no sales pitch, no mention of cost. He was simply encouraging me to do something I liked, using his space. He was confident enough to know that his best sales pitch was to show me that he was ready to teach me, not that he had a good payment plan. I didn’t want to sign up for a payment plan, I wanted to sign up and continue to study karate. So I did, and continued as his student until he retired.
 
Prospective clients are judging you in many ways, and first impressions are hugely important. They’re going to want you to be confident in your abilities. Caring and dedicated to your craft. And they absolutely don’t want to feel as if they are nothing but a payday. They might see you more often than they see their close friends, so help them to feel comfortable in the fact that you are a good person to be around. That’s the kind of person who tells others “I really love my trainer. Why? I can’t exactly say. But you should sign up too.”