I know that doesn’t sound good coming from someone who teaches marketing for a living.
But it’s true.
We’ve lost our way in marketing in recent years.
Paradoxically, in a time when there’s more marketing information available than ever before, and more marketing options and tools available to help us; the average professional is struggling like never before to win clients.
Exclusive Bonus: The best way to harness your networks to win clients is using Value-Based Marketing. To download your free step-by-step blueprint to implementing Value-Based Marketing and get FREE access to the Fast Start videos that will get you up and running and generating leads and clients fast, click here.
When it comes down to it there are three different types of network that bring you all your clients.
The first network is your network of Close Contacts.
These are the people you know well. The ones you could pick up the phone to and pick their brains. People you'd feel happy asking a favour of – and who would feel happy asking a favour of you.
The second network is your network of Casual Contacts.
These are the people you know well enough to drop an email to. Who you probably chat to online if you see them post something. Who you'd be happy to see and chat to at an event. But you wouldn't necessarily arrange to meet up with them on a regular basis.
The third network is your network of Acquaintances or your Audience.
Acquaintances are people you recognise and would smile at at a party. But you don't know them all that well. An audience is even more remote – it's people who know you (for example they listen to your podcast) but you don't know them.
For the vast majority of us, an audience is an entirely new phenomenon. In the past only TV and movie stars had audiences. Or in the business world, the authors of well-known books or those who went out on the speaking trail. Today though we can all build our own audience – whether that's an email list or Youtube followers.
Here's the second of my “Market Leadership for 2015” videos, this time looking at the second big strategy for insulating yourself from competition and establishing yourself as the preferred partner for clients: Relationship Leadership.
At the start of every year I like to set out the big themes I'll be focusing on during the year, and I share those themes in the hope that you'll find them useful in some way.
In 2015 my big overarching theme is Market Leadership. As I'm sure you can guess, future blog posts, emails and video will focus on some of the practical details on how to achieve market leadership in your market.
This first video of 2015 looks at the first of three big strategies I believe work the best to achieve market leadership for service and information based businesses: Thought Leadership.
Exclusive Bonus: the very best way to establish yourself as a trusted advisor to your senior clients is using a Value-Based Marketing strategy. To download your free step-by-step blueprint to implementing Value-Based Marketing and get FREE access to the Fast Start videos that will get you up and running and generating leads and clients fast, click here.
It's the holy grail of Professional Services – to become a trusted business advisor to your senior clients. To be viewed – and sought out – as a source of valued advice and support.
The benefits are crystal clear: if you're the first port of call for a client with a critical business problem then you're in a tremendous position to help shape that client's thinking, to build a deep understanding of the situation, and to establish strong credibility through the discussions.
In other words, you'll be in pole position to win any related work.
And if you’ve established a position of being able to help and offer good advice across a broad range of issues – not just in your own specialism – then you become an indispensable partner – not just a supplier.
But becoming a trusted advisor doesn’t happen overnight.
The position’s got to be earned – and that takes time and it takes consistent action.
How To Become a Trusted Advisor
The clues to what to focus on are in the name – trusted advisor.
You must establish both a trust-based relationship with your client; and you must be viewed as a source of valuable advice.
Building trust comes from demonstrating and proving trustworthiness over time to your clients.
That means repeatedly demonstrating that you understand them, you have their best interests at heart, and you'll deal with them with candour: always being honest about what you can and cannot do, and taking a long term perspective rather than seeing them as a short-term sales prospect.
And that starts even before they become clients. How you treat them when they're prospects sends a strong message about how you'll treat them when they're a client.
When the Huthwaite Group studied client’s perceptions of professional service salespeople, they found that of the key elements of trust (in their words: candour, competence and concern) it was the area of showing concern and empathy for their clients where professionals performed the worst.
Much worse that their counterparts in product sales.
Accountants, lawyers and consultants are trained “to be professional”. To be objective, fact-driven and solution focused. We've been conditioned into feeling we must constantly demonstrate our cleverness and expertise in order to be credible.
But all of this mitigates against showing genuine human concern for clients and their challenges.
It’s not that we don’t care about our clients – far from it. But we've got to learn to express this concern in ways which clients can appreciate.
Using our listening skills, for example, not to gather ammunition for our next verbal gem – but to build genuine and deep understanding of a client’s situation.
And when it comes to demonstrating that you can provide valuable advice, again you've got to do this consistently over time. Every interaction with your senior clients is a chance to either advance their perception of you as a source of valuable insight…or not.
Now that doesn't mean that a junior consultant or lawyer should try to jump right in and spout their “wisdom” to senior clients on day 1.
You've got to “earn your spurs” first. You have to earn the basic right to be listened to by your senior clients.
You do this by demonstrating competence in the areas you've been hired for. Until you've done this, any attempts to advise on wider areas are going to fall on deaf ears. You need to prove your basic capabilities first.
Or as a grey-haired consultant told me on one of my early projects when I was trying far too hard to “add value” on a whole bunch of topics: “Ian, you've got to get your own sh*t sorted first”.
So that's your starting point.
But unfortunately, many professionals stop there.
They limit their interactions with clients to talking about the work at hand and the specialism they focus on.
Over time, this causes them to be pigeon-holed as just being technical specialists. People who can be relied on to deal with specific topics – but not a trusted advisor who can help with more challenging problems.
To establish your trusted advisor status you've got to demonstrate you can give valuable advice outside your specialism. You need to show you have broader knowledge of business in general, and of the client’s business and industry specifically.
That means you've got to do your homework.
As a professional you need to know the key issues of the day. In business and industry generally. In your client’s industry more specifically. And if you can, in your client’s company.
As you get closer and closer to your client, they’ll also begin to share issues that are personal to them and their role. But at the start, it’s the more general industry and company issues you should focus on.
Always make sure you’re up to date with industry news – and ask the client about their opinions. Put out tentative hypotheses to gently establish the fact that you’ve been thinking about their industry and their company. Highlight a recent move a competitor made and ask them how effective they feel it was – and be prepared to give your views too.
Use the smalltalk at the start and end of meetings to cover these relationship-building topics rather than jumping straight in to talk about the job at hand.
Or invite your client out for a coffee next time you do a progress update. A change of scenery to a more casual environment often helps clients open up more broadly about the things on their mind.
Don’t push this too far, too early though.
I’ve seen many junior consultants and aspiring partners rush far too fast into trying to “coach” senior clients long before they've earned the right.
Instead, recognise where you are in your relationship.
Have I established my basic competence?
Have I created an impression of strong general business knowledge?
Have I demonstrated useful insights into key business problems?
Look at the development of your relationship as a ladder you climb step-by-step. And hand-in-hand with your client at every step of the way.
In the early days, ask about issues just a bit wider in their organisation. Or things that are big news and everyone is talking about.
As your relationship develops you can move on to broader and bigger topics. But always do your homework so you have an interesting point of view to share.
Do this and you will set yourself well apart from the vast majority of consultants and other professionals.
Do it really well, and you’ll find that the clients you develop your trusted advisor roles with will support you for many, many years.
His argument was twofold. Partly that so many people now call themselves a “guru”, “expert” or “thought leader” that the term's become meaningless.
And partly that most of these folks were just regurgitating what others have already said. They weren't creating new insights themselves.
Well, I'd certainly agree with the first sentiment. If you have to call yourself a guru, or “the king of so-and-so” or “the queen of wotsit” you probably aren't. And you're being embarassing. Stop it.
But I'm going to disagree with the second point.
There's a great need for people who are “local experts”. Only Rosser Reeves invented the USP – but the world needs plenty of experts in it to help businesses create one (if they do it right, of course – most don't).
There was only one Peter Drucker – but millons of organisations needed help in management by objectives, customer focus, decentralisation and all the other stuff he pioneered.
There's only one Michael Porter, but…well, you get the picture.
Ironically, Ryan illustrated his point by saying “..in his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell theorizes that it takes a person 10,000 hours of practice to master a task”.
Of course, the 10,000 hour principle doesn't come from Gladwell. It comes from Professor Anders Ericsson via Geoff Colvin and a bunch of others. Thus perfectly illustrating the point: Gladwell's not an ideas guy. He's a populariser. He's a type of expert in his own right – he finds out the new and interesting stuff that scientists and other “deep experts” are coming up with and makes it accessible to a broad public.
And similarly, a small business in Norwich doesn't need (and can't afford) Seth Godin to come over to show them how to make their business remarkable. But they can hire a local guy who's expert enough in Godin's ideas (and others) to put them into practice.
Now the local expert isn't going to earn quite as much as Seth Godin. But the world needs him too. And he'll be much better rewarded than the local guy who's not so expert.
So whether they're completely original or they're popularisers, or their local implementors – the world needs plenty of experts.