As published on Forbes.com
After speaking at a recent event, a few executives approached me to discuss challenges in their respective businesses. Judy was the most vocal. She explained that over the past several years, she feels it has become more challenging to capture the attention of their market. If they want to succeed, they have to discover how to grow their business in a challenging, competitive market. It’s not about being seen as an ambitious seller, but instead have your clients see you as a trusted advisor, expert resource, and thought leader. Here are the steps to help you achieve success in a challenging market.
Clients Want Experts
Nobody refers someone to a great generalist. You won’t stand out by saying you are a “full service” anything. You won’t stand out by saying you “take the time to learn about your customers.” Let’s face it. Everyone says those things. Shift your thinking to what your customers want.
Since Judy was with a financial services company, we used her business as an example. Judy and her team typically would tell clients about all of the researchers her company employed, or try to impress them with how many assets they had under management. However, all of her competitors shared what seemed to be the identical things. I asked Judy why she thought she gained or lost her best clients. After some discussion, Judy concluded that her biggest gains or losses were because of a simple reason that had nothing to do with their research or assets. Rather, the client selected the vendor they felt best understood their situation.
Judy asked, “So what do we do with that?” Through some discussions, Judy also identified that her company’s top performers had established themselves as subject-matter experts in one or more niche markets. They might be seen as the go-to expert for physicians, or lawyers, or young professionals, or those who recently sold their company.
Based on the background or network of each member on her team, I explained that Judy’s organization could work to establish their niche to stand out from the competition. Let’s face it, do you ever hear someone make a referral to “a great generalist?” However, just saying you are a specialist is not enough.
Address Important Issues For Your Niche
Once you define your niche, put yourself in your client’s shoes. What types of issues would you be facing? What searches might you perform on-line to find answers to those challenges? A law firm partner might ask, “What can I do to prepare for retirement?” They might ask “What type of insurance should an attorney get to protect their family?” Once you get a handle on the questions, create valuable content to address those questions. As a regulated business, Judy explained that she had limitations on what she could write. After a brief discussion, we concluded that Judy’s team could describe client challenges and potential solutions without making a specific recommendation. If each team member contributed one brief article per month, they’d have a wealth of information for each niche they decided to pursue. In short order, they’d be seen as the best resource for information in their market. In this way, their clients would feel that Judy’s team understands their needs better than the competition.
Tightly Integrate Marketing and Sales
Once you establish niche areas of expertise and create content, you have to be sure to use them together. In some cases, businesses will create a vault of valuable content, and then fail to properly use content in follow-up emails and sales meetings. If you have the right content, before you know it you’ll have content that is spot-on to address nearly every question that comes up from your clients. When a question comes up, that’s a great opportunity to drop a note to the client with a link to the content that addresses their question. You’ll still have gaps. When you encounter a question without an appropriate piece of content, just make note in a shared document for future content creation. That shared document can become a valuable editorial calendar for the team.
Never Speak Evil
It is tempting to say negative things about the competition. But, you must not follow that path. When you say negative things about your competitor, it will often make you look insecure. More importantly, recognize that if your client selected that vendor, then saying something negative might seem like an attack on their decision.
If you learn that the other vendor made a huge mistake, at most you can say, “That’s unfortunate.” Empathize with your client without saying anything negative about others.
The Tip Of The Iceberg
These concepts for standing out and growing your market share in a competitive market can be incredibly valuable. Keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg. But, taking these initial steps can help you stand out in today’s dynamic markets and rise above the competition.
It’s Your Turn
How do you establish a niche for your business? Do your top performers seem to be specialists or generalists? Share your feedback in the comments.