Marketing played an important role in my career. I stumbled onto it quite by accident.
Long story short, as a young adult who came out of college, I feared rejection immensely. We all do to some degree. But for me, it was debilitating. Blame it on an abusive, alcoholic father. Or blame it on my ADHD. It doesn't matter.
I wanted to overcome my fears and decided to dive into the world of sales in order to fight them head on. Years passed and many failures ensued until I went from a bankrupt, rank-and-file sales rep to becoming the top producing salesperson in Canada at my company.
How did I accomplish that?
Since I hated prospecting, I found ways to market myself to get high quality prospects to come to me instead of the other way around. I no longer had to prospect. I no longer had to be rejected. I no longer had to knock on doors (or get them slammed in my face).
In short, I went from prospecting to positioning.
I decided to specialize in a specific niche and deal with only a small percentage of the market — even though my employer did not require it of me. I positioned myself as an expert for a specific target market within that company's larger market base.
Even though I could sell everything to everyone from this employer, I decided to specialize in only one product line for one particular category of prospect.
The result? I appeared as a specialist.
I realized that doing so helped me to attract pre-qualified prospects. I didn't have to cold call anymore. I didn't have to “bother people” and beg them to listen to my pitch. I simply attracted higher quality prospects who came to me and wanted my help.
People and businesses today are bombarded with so much information, and companies are dealing with so much competition, that you have to fight tooth-and-nail for table scraps. Or run the risk of appearing like a carnival barker chalking up marks in the crowd.
You can position your business as unique by appealing to a specific audience or market. When you do, you will not only attract qualified leads like a magnet, but you will naturally become the leader in that market by extension, too.
With all the competition out there vying for your market's attention, it is no longer possible to be better than the competition. The goal is to be different, not better.
In other words, don't duplicate. Differentiate.
For a salesperson like me (and later a freelance marketing consultant), what propelled me to become successful was in large part niche marketing.
What I learned is that it's better to be the leader in a small market than an alsoran in a larger one. You will dominate a smaller market with a lot less effort than spinning your wheels trying to dominate a larger market that's crammed with competition.
In today's hypercomptitive world, your offering will appear as just one big blur of sameness. If you attempt to be too wide in your marketing approach, you will only dissipate among the blur. People won't see any greater value in buying from you than in buying from others.
One of the biggest errors committed by most new businesses is that they fall into a common trap: they try to be all things to all people. And they do so because they are mislead by the notion that, by offering more (or by serving more people), they will generate more sales.
That's understandable, for the survival of any new business depends on the number of sales it makes. However, the more general you are or appear to be, the more indifferent you will appear to your audience. Indifferent to their specific needs, goals, and, above all, problems.
Be perceived as being different rather than indifferent.
Large companies know this. They segment their markets. They create demand generation campaigns around those specific markets. And they even customise their products for, and create lead nurturing campaigns around, every market segment they cater to.
But small to medium-sized businesses fall into the generalist trap.
Based on the law of averages, you will have to advertise yourself quite heavily to be in front of as many eyeballs as possible — all with the hope of attracting an adequate amount of prospects that will in turn translate into a certain number of sales.
This requires a gigantic advertising budget. Or a lot of time. Or both. (Likely both.) For most new and especially smaller businesses, this is obviously a considerable challenge.
It's true that, the greater your reach is, the greater the potential quantity of responses will be. But what about quality? Would it matter if your business generates a large quantity of uninterested, tire-kicking leads that will simply never buy from you?
If your marketing tries to appeal to everyone, it will end up appealing to no one.
“It's not for me,” prospects will say.
Some will feel you've left them out. Others will simply choose competitors who might provide them with greater perceived value. Even if they offer the same thing you do.
The broader your appeal is, the less relevant you will be.
So what becomes the deciding factor? You guessed it. It's price. Because it's the least common denominator. Money becomes the only metric if there are no other points of differentiation. When everything looks the same, naturally the cheapest alternative wins.
Your sales will increase dramatically (and the value of those sales will increase, too) if your offering is centered on a specific niche. Don't look at the product you sell or the market you sell to. Look for a specific, easily targetable market with an easily identifiable problem.
And be or be perceived as the only one who can solve their specific problem.
If people talk about a problem you can solve, that's one thing. But if they're asking for (or wished they had) a more specific solution to that problem, or one delivered in a certain way from someone who understands them very specifically, then you have a potential niche.
How do you dominate a niche with little effort?
When you position yourself as a specialist, you naturally dominate the market. Through the power of perception, you project an aura of superiority instantaneously. Rather than being compared to competitors, you separate yourself from them.
You become an expert by default, in other words. Even without the need to market yourself that way. You become the leader not because you are better but because you are different.
Specialization generates the perception of expertise. Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn't lessen your chances of making sales. You will make more sales because people always prefer dealing with an expert who better understands their specific problem.
- An accountant specializing in car dealerships will acquire more clients than a general accountant will.
- An advertising salesperson specializing in home furnishing stores will sell more ads than a typical salesperson will.
- A photographer specializing in weddings will get more photography bookings than a regular photographer will.
And the list goes on and on.
This is called the “Halo Effect.”
Specialization projects an aura of expertise.
If you required brain surgery, would you choose any doctor? How about a general practitioner? Or even a general surgeon? No. You would choose a neurosurgeon.
Similarly, if you owned an imported car that needed new brakes, you may choose a general mechanic if you had no other choice. But if one existed, you would probably choose a mechanic that not only specializes in car brakes but also in imported car brakes.
Rarely would you call a general mechanic an “expert,” unless she has invested a considerable amount of resources in branding herself that way, or in educating herself deeply in the world of mechanics backed by many years of experience.
But it would be fairly easy to dub a mechanic — even a new one, with little to no experience — that specializes in imported car brakes as an “expert” mechanic.
As a mentor once told me early in my career:
“Don't be an author, be an expert who writes. Don't be a speaker, be an expert who speaks. Don't be a consultant, be an expert who consults.”
Similarly, don't be a marketer for your business. Be an expert who markets herself. Because a generalist is just a service provider. But a specialist is an expert who solves problems.
Be an expert.