When I first met Maya, Maya’s Hope had not yet defined its identity. Maya was torn between 1) trying to appear professional (she used to work with stuffy Finance suits), and 2) putting herself out there as the face and heart of the organization.

In short, she was trying to please everyone (and ended up appealing to no one).

Without clarity on who her ideal “customer” or target audience were, and handcuffed by trying to please everyone, she could never go all out to really resonate with any specific group of people. She was wasting her most valuable marketing assets because she was trying to “play it safe”.

Here are 2 simple steps we used to answer the question, “Who are you, and who should care?”:

1. Look back — find commonalities among your best “customers” (so you can find more of them)

Since Maya’s Hope had been active for a few years, it had a track record and history we could analyze. We started by looking at the how she found new people. Like most early businesses, it was just because she hustled. She would talk to anyone she met… at bars, clubs, cafes, parties. She’d constantly hand out her business card, exchange emails and Facebook info. She’d call companies, write letters, knock on doors.

As far as I could tell, it was unsophisticated, but admirable, sheer grit: a numbers game that old-school salespeople played. (The joke is, “The best salespeople have the biggest right foot from jamming it in the most slamming doors.”)

What we found was that there weren’t many commonalities among her best “customers”, other than they’ve all met Maya and live in NYC. But one thing was clear: there was something about Maya. Whatever she was saying or doing with each person worked well. She was also successful at keeping relationships — almost everyone who’s joins the organization sticks around.

2. Find your “hook”

I got her to share with me some of her first emails she sent to her friends after visiting the orphanages for the first time. I probed with questions, until she was comfortable to talk freely and spill her beans. I wanted to get to know her, and what made her tick. Her passion was infectious. She was honest and very generous with her love. She really gave the kids all her free time (sometimes more). Many nights, she’d get only 4 hours of sleep from staying up to work.

With many people I’ve worked with before, when the going gets tough, they’d get lazy, get discouraged or lose interest. But there was clearly an inferno inside Maya that would never let her quit. No matter what life threw at her, she made it work. I had to find out what fueled this inferno.

After some prodding, she revealed her story. She lost her mother unexpectedly in 2007. She was an ungrateful brat when her mother was alive, but when her mother left, she “got it” and was subsequently overwhelmed with indebtedness. That was the catalyst that ignited her mission to help children in her parents’ home countries, Philippines and Ukraine.

The words she used moved me. She wasn’t trying to impress me or sell me. But by being completely open and honest, she moved me. So I thought, if it moved me (when both my parents are still alive), her story must have an impact on the people who also lost someone special like she did. And looking closer at the history of her organization’s sponsors, it was true.

The people who resonated most with Maya’s Hope emotionally were the people who connected with Maya’s personal story. It was one of her most valuable assets, but it was unused and wasted — like a rough diamond collecting dust in a box of rocks. Since she never really told it, the people who were most likely to be drawn to her story never got the chance to hear it.

So, that was the first thing we fixed.

Next: No more “cold prospecting”