Labeling a service business

My last blog was a cautionary tale warning senior people not to become their own worst enemy when looking for their next job. Many describe themselves by the emphasizing the breadth of their experience and their flexible qualifications across many roles, company types and industries in order not to miss out on an opportunity. My advice was to get very specific about who they are, what they are good at, what they are passionate about and where they add differentiated value and do so, by creating a "label" for themselves.

On the heels of two such meetings with senior executive looking for their next job, I met with a friend who has just exited a senior role. Unlike the other two meetings, she has decided to start her own consulting business. She has a strong background and a combination of specific expertise that I think is differentiated.

Similar to the other meetings, I asked her to describe what she is looking for in terms of client opportunities. Similar to the previous two meetings, what I got in return as "smart gal, has done lots of things, can help many companies". She too was falling into the trap of trying to remain too broad and too high level so as not to disqualify herself from opportunities. For any small company, especially one that is just starting, this logic seems rational and logical. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it doesn't work.

By their nature, consulting organizations are engaged to provide expertise to companies. These clients often can't afford to build and maintain this expertise within their own company. This definition of specialization goes counter to a market pitch of generalized expertise. Moreover, busy clients with problems severe enough to require external consultants generally don't have the time or inclination to search broadly for someone who can help them. If they can't spot your company from a mile away as someone who can help them, they will probably pass right by you without a second look.  

Once again, the concept of "labelling" yourself comes into play. I said in my last blog that I label myself as  a "senior executive who focuses on go-to-market strategy and execution for emerging software and professional services companies in the $5,000,000 to $50,000,000 revenue range". I didn't start that way. I too labelled myself as a "smart, done lots of things, can help your company" guy. Over time, I got more and more specific with my label. As I did, I discovered something interesting. Although, I wrote my label as "senior executive" and "go-to-market" and "strategy and execution" and "software or professional services" and "$5-50 million size companies", my prospective clients read it as "OR". If they had a problem that overlapped with one, two or three of my specializations, that was good enough to  engage with me in detailed discussions to decide if I was a fit.

I also discovered another benefit by becoming very specific about what I do. Companies that are not a fit who would have otherwise engaged me in a sales cycle to decide, now disqualify themselves and don't waste both our time. This has also made my business development efforts more efficient.

Typically, a prospective client is introduced to me through a referral. Before we talk, they have usually visited my website, read my blogs and formed an opinion of whether I am qualified to assist them. Our first meeting is often a 20 minute phone call which leads to a face to face meeting. Following the in-person meeting, I have generally earned the right to ask them for a commitment to small consulting engagement which gets the ball rolling. As this engagement unfolds, other opportunities to add value become evident to both myself and my client and the relationship grows.

So, if you are currently operating a small consulting company, I suggest you figure out your "label". If your experience is the same as mine, business will increase as selling time decreases. 

Next Blog:Productizing that Label

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