There's been a big trend in the last few years that says that the way to win clients as a professional service provider is to become seen as a leading expert in your field.
As a result, more and more professional services marketing has become focused on creating mounds of content which showcases and proves the expertise of the service provider.
It makes sense, in theory. When clients want help for complex, tricky problems, they call the best expert they can find.
Or do they?
Let's give this idea a little reality check.
Think about the last few times you pitched for a piece of work with a client and didn't win. How often was it because you weren't seen as being enough of an expert by that client? Or because the winner was seen as a bigger expert?
My experience: very few times indeed.
The reasons you win or lose work are rarely because they don't see you as an expert.
Here are the reasons I see time and time again:
- They decide not to do anything at all.
- They decide to try to do it internally without any outside help.
- They go with a lower cost option.
None of these are because they don't see you as an expert. They're because they don't think that their problem needs an expert to solve it.
In the first case, they've decided that the problem isn't worth solving at all (compared to the cost and disruption of making the necessary changes). In the second, they think they can do it themselves. And in the third, they think a less costly (ie less expert) provider is capable of solving their problem.
To draw a simple analogy, no matter how “expert” a painter and decorator is at renovating a house, if I don't think my house needs painting, or if I think a quick lick of emulsion is good enough, then I'm not going to hire that expert painter and pay the premium rates they're looking for.
“Proving” he's an expert by showing me all the wonderful renovations he's done, blinding me with science about the brilliant brush technique he uses or showing me legions of testimonials: none of it is any use if I don't think my house needs any work doing. He could be Michaelangelo for all I care, I'm not going to hire him.
What should he do instead?
His “content” needs to help me see that actually, my house does need work.
Perhaps he could give me some insight into what my friends are thinking when they see my drab paintwork. Perhaps he can show me how his exciting paintwork can help raise the mood of everyone in the house, or get visitors to think I'm cooler than I am :) The point is that the most important content he can produce isn't about positioning himself as an expert, it's about me. It's about showing me that I need to do something.
Now once that's established, once I realise that actually I really do need to do something, then I'm going to be on the lookout for an expert to help. But until then, proving your expertise is a complete waste.
That's why so much content marketing is misguided. It's an endless quest to establish yourself as more and more of an expert, when in fact, clients are perfectly well aware you're an expert and the real reason you're not being hired is that they don't think they need your level of expertise.
Now don't get me wrong. Being seen as an expert is a good thing. But you need to be seen as an expert in something clients think they need an expert to help them with.
Job number one is to give clients that insight. To trigger lightbulb (or “oh sh*t”) moments when they realise that they're doing something wrong, they're missing a big opportunity, they need to change.
Without that, all the expertise in the world isn't going to help you win that client.
So where is most of your marketing and content focused? On proving to clients you're an expert, or on the real work of giving them insights into their own business that show them they need to change (and that therefore, they need to hire an expert)?
If most of your content is more and more proving of your expertise, it's probably misplaced. Think about focusing on your clients, not you. Think about what they need to know and feel to see that change is necessary. Rework your content to give them those insights.
And guess what? If you share insights that open your client's eyes to the need for change, chances are that in itself will position you as a real expert and the one they want to work with.