Q: I am a partner in a mid-size marketing firm and along with just about everybody else in the city have had a really hard time surviving the economic downturn we’ve been through these last few years. My partner and I offer the best service and are very experienced but none of that seems to matter when times get tough. Any ideas you can offer will be much appreciated.
A: I’ve got that proverbial good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that offering the best service and having the best product in town are long since not enough to build a profitable business. The fact is, you need a niche that sets you apart from the rest of the pack. That said, getting a niche is one thing. Ensuring the right people know about it and come swarming to your door in any economy can be quite another. Now, here’s the good news. One of the best, easiest, and often times least expensive ways to make this happen is by the simple act of giving your niche a personality. Many of the most successful companies in the world do this already.
One of my all-time favorites is the Mavis Beacon product line. If you frequent office product stores, you’ve likely seen Mavis Beacon products displayed prominently in the store’s software section. It turns out that Mavis Beacon is the best selling typing program in the world. It also turns out that Mavis Beacon products are hard to miss during your stroll through all the other software products – hard to miss because taking three-quarters of the front of the box is a full-color portrait of a vivacious broad-smiling woman of color. The portrait exudes authority, success and approachability. The remaining fourth of the box announces: “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.”
If you’re saying, “Okay, I get it. A great photo means great sales, read on.” That’s only part of the story. It seems that even though it’s top-of-the heap in sales, the Mavis Beacon company has a problem. It’s the phone calls the company receives every day – lots of phone calls. Not just orders, but it’s the other ones. You’ve already guessed it. The problem is the phone calls inviting Mavis Beacon to speak. Operators have to tell scores of people that Mavis Beacon is not available to keynote their national meetings. She can’t talk to students. She can’t do any special programs, no matter how big or important. Mavis Beacon isn’t snooty or unfriendly. The problem is Mavis Beacon doesn’t exist. To understand the importance of this example, just imagine if there were no photo on the front of the box; if what the product did was emphasized instead of the personality. Like so many others on the market today without the perceived human side of it, Mavis Beacon would be just another in the pack, instead of the leader.
People buy People.
Q: I’m 56, male, and a top manager of a nationally known manufacturing firm. With the option of early retirement approaching, I’m seriously thinking about transitioning out, perhaps establishing my own consulting practice, something you commented on a few weeks ago. The major thing holding me back is my concern about selling myself. I don’t doubt that I can help my customers with just about any problem, but I feel strange about the prospect of “selling myself.” What do you think?
A: What I know is that you have legions of great company. Of all the issues people have building a professional practice of any kind, “selling themselves” is a frequent and paramount concern. I have several suggestions. First, you’re on the right track acknowledging your high level of competence. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, don’t expect anyone else to! Secondly, it’s important to recognize that “selling” your services will be very different than selling other products. As a professional, for example, you won’t be having “fire sales.” Nor will you give volume discounts or have microwave ovens to entice the right clients. You will, instead, convey your expertise through a range of strategies including seminars, blogs, speaking, and a host of other proven vehicles. And, finally, a little “attitude adjustment” may in order for you concerning your feeling about sales in general. Too many people look down their noses at selling, which an important profession unto itself. If you have a quality product (which you admit to) you are, in essence, doing your public a service by making that product available! Look forward to sharing your knowledge and important lessons gained over your years of experience with appreciative clients.
Q: We are a small brick and mortar retailer located just outside the core area of the city. With the economy being so bad these last few years, we’ve tried to keep afloat by adding several new product lines. Unfortunately, this strategy hasn’t worked and now we’re at the point where if we don’t do something drastic, we may be out of business altogether. Help!
A: Unfortunately, your attempt to build business by adding more lines may have been the very thing that has been sinking your ship. If these lines were directly connected to your core business – assuming you know what that is – they can stay. If, however, they – like so many other cases – are simply add-ons and mish-mush, your first step must be to jettison them immediately. They are likely dragging you down financially and obscuring your focus. Remember, focus isn’t just for you. It’s so your potential customers can tell what you stand for. If you’re all over the map trying to be all things to all people, it will be a huge mess.
If you’re beating yourself up, don’t be too hard on yourself. Many of the biggest companies in the world find themselves in the same situation, regularly “divesting” themselves of acquisitions and directions that never fit in the first place. RIM, maker of Blackberry devices, is the latest to announce they are going back to their core. In their case, it’s the business customer where they will play to their greatest strengths. Blackberry has learned the hard way what you also now know; that is, a good niche is narrow but has the potential to be very very deep.
Dr. Lynda Falkenstein is the author of NICHECRAFT: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market, and Make Customers Seek You Out. To contact her with questions or comments, email DrNiche@vbjusa.com or call 971.533.3815. Please note that the Vancouver Business Journal and Dr. Niche reserve the right to publish your letter or an edited version in all print and electronic media.