What Are You Doing to Stand Out from the Crowd?

In a crowded world of brilliant IT talent, what are you doing to stand out from the crowd?


This weekend I went to Calgary to visit some friends. We had a great time catching up with each other. One of the festivities that we had was to accompany to see about a new house in a very coveted neighborhood in Calgary. So Saturday afternoon, we packed up the kids and made a short trek to their shiny new “maybe-house.” Up until this point in my life, I had been completely indifferent to the housing market in Calgary, so I was unaware of the state of the economy, the process, and the bidding strategy behind it all.



The first thing that hit me was how clever the realtors were about marketing the place. They didn’t allow for private viewings. You had to show up at the open house or you didn’t see it at all. I admired the ingenuity of the realtor. It was the perfect way to drum up interest, and more importantly urgency. Seeing everyone milling about the 2,800 square foot estate created a buzz of excitement. All of the visitors courteously smiled at each other as they passed in the hallway, but I could feel the underlying spirit of competition. No one wasted words. They kept their cards close.


By the end of the showing, we discovered that there were multiple other offers on the place, and for good reason. Highly coveted neighborhood aside, it backed onto a secret city-run playground surrounded by only the backyards of neighboring estates. It was close to downtown. The house itself was absolutely gorgeous. It was clear that the owners spared no expense in creating a beautiful and modern living space.


My friends wanted it. The only problem was that the list price was a little out of reach. 1.8 million out of reach. Their max-ed out offer still wasn’t going to match the list price. And if the owners counter-offered, well, they would be done. It was one shot or bust. So we needed to get creative.


We were told that the owners were going to review all of the offers at once. The first thing that came to my mind to differentiate. If the owners were reviewing all of them simultaneously, there were very few things that could separate you from the rest of the contenders. Price and happy path. By happy path, I mean how easy your conditions were, possession date, the regular negotiation tactics. In other words, the contenders were nothing more than commodities.


So I suggested including a letter with the offer. A heartfelt letter. An effective way to separate yourself from the rest of the peasants is to create an emotional connection. If there is anything I know, it’s creating an emotional connection.


This wasn’t the first time we had collaborated on a letter. We had emerged from a less than perfect Airbnb experience in Paris, and a similar letter saved us from in excess of 300 EU in requested damages. So I know we could craft a kick-ass letter.


From all the long distance commutes with Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People), I culminated some very effective ideas to include in a letter whose sole purpose was to reach out and grab the recipient by the heart strings.


How To Win Friends And Influence People


House quest aside, these are some pretty universal things that you can use in any situation, to gain an advantage over your competitors and especially in an otherwise cold corporate world. At the end of the proverbial day, organizations are made of people. And people, no matter how asshole-y they could be, are still people.


But first, here’s what not to do.

Don’t Send a Cheap Form Letter from the Internet

The realtor also agreed that a letter would be a great idea to differentiate. Eager to help, he followed up with a cheap form letter that “they frequently use.” I thought, “Don’t insult my idea.” If you’re going to do a letter, put fingers to keyboard and craft it yourself. If you’re just going to fill in your name at the bottom of a boilerplate form letter, don’t bother sending one at all.


“HI Cesar and Maria,

Upon walking through your home, my clients were very impressed with your style and character that you put into the place. We can see your personality shine as we walked into each room.
After looking for some time, this is the first listing we put in offer on. My clients are recently married on the hunt for a home that they can raise a family. After talking to your realtor Larry, we wanted to put our best foot forward and hope you choose to work with us.

In the meantime, enjoy Miami and have Larry contact us anytime.

Thank you,
John Truong”





If you’re going to go out of your way to stand out with something special, make it special. Sending a bunch of cheap, emotionally empty words just makes you look like an idiot. As we say in Cantonese “Sai hey,” meaning “What a waste of energy.” The only thing that could make it worse is to load it up with buzz-words that nobody cares about. Then you can look even more like douche-bag.


On the other hand, if you’re going to venture on a limb and show them how much you care about it, make it substantial.  Here’s the rub. There are a few ground rules that you would do well to observe. The important thing is that these can be applied to any situation wherever you want to gain an advantage over the rest of the peasants.


1. It’s All About Them

If there is one thing that people are interested in, it’s themselves. They aren’t going to care more about you than themselves. So if you want to grab their attention, make your first paragraph about them.

“For the past 2 years, we have been searching for the perfect place to raise our family. Yesterday we experienced your beautiful home. From the moment we pulled up, we agreed that your home is simply enchanting. It is clear to see the love and attention that you put into cultivating a serene setting. The calming colour scheme pairs perfectly with your great taste in modern design. Even the detail of the stairway and the smart and ample storage space shows the thought that you put into your living space. We admire your choices and the attention to functional design you put into creating an amazing first impression, the family-friendly kitchen, and the kid-friendly backyard that is full of possibility”

Lesson #1: Focus on them.


2. Paint a Picture of Your Wants with what’s Important to Them

The second paragraph is still not about you. Even though this is the part where you get to illustrate what you want, it is far more effective if you do so by showing that what you want is the same as what they want. It always creates a connection when you point out what you have in common.


In the tour of the house, we noticed that there was a chaise lounge in the living room, right up against the sprawling front windows. It was clear that the dog was an important member of the family. She was so important that the mother of the house refused to allow the chaise to be moved even for the showings. Their love for their dog was further exemplified by the custom dog shower they put in right when you come into the mud room.

Ok. Obvious love: Family dog.


Hence we continued:


“Our toddlers, Sally and Bobby, look forward to riding their tricycles in the cozy cul-de-sac before dinner while Lucky, our black lab puppy, contently watches over them from her sunny daybed in the front window. “


Next thing we noticed is that the kitchen was unbelievably huge. In fact, it came with not one, but two islands.

Obvious love: Entertaining large dinner parties.



So we added:


”We knew immediately that this is the perfect setting for the next chapter of our lives. Standing in the kitchen, we smiled as we saw Sally and Bobby giggling in the backyard. They were as excited as we were. We thought of all the warm family gatherings we can host in the grand kitchen, as we prepare great meals. The wall ovens can easily accommodate a 20 lb Thanksgiving turkey and all the fixings.”



When we went outside, we noticed a large circular pad of cobblestones, among the professionally manicured backyard, complete with a bubbling rock fountain. I might go out on a limb on this one, but it seemed that they enjoyed spending time in their crazy large backyard.


So we included:

“We’re excited at the prospect of connecting with our friends over a marshmallow roast on the circular pad that you have very smartly included in your backyard design. We’d enjoy hot chocolate at the kitchen island before bedtime.“



3. Make them Feel Important

Finally, one great way to end off with a great impression is to communicate your appreciation that they are in a position of power. Remind them of how important they are. They have the power to choose to whom they will sell their house.


“It is plain to see how well your family has thrived in this house. The things that you have done to your home are inspiring. We look forward to giving our children a joyful upbringing here. We are so excited at the prospect that you can help us transform our vision into reality. We would be honoured if you chose us to be the next family in your beautiful home.”

When we finished the letter, it was a masterpiece. We finished it off with a few magazine-quality photographs of our friends, with their dog. They submitted it with the offer. We were on a high, and full of hope.


Differentiation Works Best with All Things Equal

Sadly, they texted me that later on that night that they didn’t end up getting the house, but it was because the multiple offers had created a bidding war. This is also a lesson within itself. When it comes to a bidding war no letter isn’t going to cut it. Few letters can compare with a price differential of $200,000 more than ask. It’s understandable. An emotional connection might send you across the finish line, all things equal. But it is still not a substitute for a significant quality or price differential. After all, they want to sell their house for the best possible price.



In the world of business, an emotional connection still doesn’t substitute for a crappy product. Likewise, in a world where you are nothing more than a commodity, doing what you can to create an emotional connection will lift you out of the faceless crowd. Be it a letter, a gift (make it a substantial one), or doing something to make a deposit in the emotional bank account will send you across the finish line, all other things equal.

Also published on Medium.

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