Houdini was the best magician of his time. Most can agree on that.

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with a talented group of professionals on the West Coast who asked for my help in jump-starting their growth for the new year. I asked their executive team what differentiates them from the competition. They all agreed that they had the best people. The CEO made a point of saying “I know everyone says they have the best people, but we really do.”

When I ran professional services and technology companies, admittedly, I felt the same way. I believed that we had the sharpest engineers, the most creative designers, and the most caring customer service professionals – and I’ll stand by that belief. Though it is important to believe in your people, that’s not a differentiator in the market.

Why is having the best people not enough?

Since every vendor believes they have the best people, we know that everyone cannot be telling the truth. The reality is that you might have the best people, when it comes to solving very specific challenges for your clients. When you say that your key differentiator is that you have great people, or that you listen to your customers, or that you are aligned with their mission or objectives… you sound just like everyone else. It’s not that YOU don’t believe it. It’s just that the client cannot accept it as fact.

So how do you make your great people stand out?

When making decisions about professional services, clients most value the firms that demonstrate the best understanding of their unique situation. They want subject-matter experts. Most importantly, clients value specialists over generalists. Are you more likely to believe that someone is an expert at everything, or that they are an expert at solving a specific issue?  The specialist almost always wins.

Three keys to have your expertise shine

  1. Narrowly define the problems you solve
    You are the most valuable when you help your client identify and then solve important issues. By focusing on the problem you solve instead of the service or product you offer, you are likely to identify people who experience that problem in their organization. Excella Consulting in Arlington has shifted its message to focus on the problems they solve. Clients call on Excella when their information systems aren’t working right, when users hate the systems that have been delivered, or their existing systems don’t do what the users need. Excella  has developed a reputation for fixing complex IT issues once and for all.
  2. Answer your client’s questions
    If you need information today, the first thing you’ll do is a web search. The search results that come up are those who are taking the time to educate the market. Engage your entire team to produce content.  Marcus Sheridan helps companies do just that, and he has some great examples of how companies have become market leaders by sharing their knowledge.
  3. Get your entire team on board
    Many of your greatest assets are people who do not see themselves in sales. Often I hear from executives that their professionals are reluctant to get involved in growing business. Most of their apprehension is rooted in the negative image associated with salespeople. Over the past twenty years, there has been a shift in power from the seller having all of the information, to the buyer being equally empowered, or in many cases having more information than the seller. Daniel Pink, in his best seller To Sell is Human, does a masterful job of explaining the research and science behind this shift. Ultimately you need to shift from a notion of up-selling to what Pink refers to as up-serving… finding other areas where you can serve your clients.

These steps go beyond saying your people are great, it provides a foundation to demonstrate that they are great a solving specific issues, they are experts in their field, and they work hard to help clients solve these issues and get results.  If you implement these strategies, not only will you feel that your people are great, but your clients will believe it, too.

I have the honor of sharing the stage with Daniel Pink on February 21 in Bethesda, MD. You can learn more at cadredc.com/danpink