By Mike Antonczyk and Matt Hirschland Ph.D.
In May, we shared some observations from our work serving across the professional services and B2B landscape. Namely, these were 1) the challenges of making acquisitions pay, 2) where automated marketing solutions excel and do not, and 3) how best to grow and skill-up new talent inside these organizations (link). We are pleased to share some additional observations guiding our work, and that we hope are helpful in yours.
The Curse of the Experts
We are privileged to work with some of the globe’s smartest people and most respected organizations. They are talented, trusted, and sought after experts. So many aspects of the marketing and client development efforts at most firms revolve around this fact but it also gives rise to an unexpected trap.
That trap is the assumption that clients and potential clients are seeking this dispensed wisdom at particular times and in particular ways. While that is sometimes true, we find that most high-likelihood buyers of premium professional goods and services come to the table with already well-articulated existing needs. The curse of the expert is the auto-pilot presentation and practiced responses from advisory and other professionals that while really good, often miss the mark. They miss not because they are wrong but because they are not properly informed by specific client needs. The antidote is simple and often over-looked. Whether it is a large-venue conference speech or a one-on-one pitch meeting, know before you go by asking these three questions: 1) who exactly is my audience, 2) what are the front-burner issues they are grappling with right now, 3) how can I precisely apply my expertise to those immediate challenges. It sounds simple but is the single largest missed opportunity we encounter.
The Death of Client Events — Long Live Client Events?
We often describe client convening as “table-stakes” that something you simply must to do as a means to meet new clients, stay close to existing, create platforms to share perspectives and gather client needs. This, however, is more than self-serving given our work convening leaders. The problem is that executives are bombarded by invitations to attend “events” all the time — many which are run from a similar playbook executed by very capable event professionals. Most simply will not go. As a result, differentiation of experience and impact for many using this tool as a means to interact with executives has hit a wall.
Rather than a portfolio chocked full of events, try shifting the thinking instead to creating recurring, tailored touchpoints for your invitees. This does not mean NASCAR driving outings or golf excursions (though who doesn’t like those). What we hear time and again from executives across clientable organizations is what they are really seeking is periodic engagement, intimate and meaningful conversation with a group of true peers. The upshot is that gatherings which bring the right people together for the right conversations are good. Those that prize large numbers or seek to impress with shock & awe tactics often have the opposite of their intended effects.
Side-Stepping the Growing Commodification, Homogenization of Services
Finally, we are often engaged to perform competitive landscape reviews for our clients — assessing competitor actions, investments, activities and white-space opportunities for advantage. One clear lesson over the last year is the growing homogenization among firms when it comes to their service offerings and descriptions across web properties, glossy brochures, thought leadership, and other forms of collateral. This raises the natural question of how to stand apart? Firm reputation has traditionally been a huge differentiator. This matters but is changing. We routinely hear from executives that it no longer carries the overwhelming weight it once did with so many capable choices available.
In a world where the larger providers are getting bigger — claiming to do it all — and capable new entrants appear all the time, the answer to differentiation actually lies in truly accentuating those areas where you possess unique advantage. Our assessments often reveal these advantages do exist and can be accentuated in the minds of buyers whether that is geographic footprint, approach, a capability and any number of other factors. Sadly, they are often buried under the weight of a “we do it all” messaging, templated materials and competing internal interests that belie the true distinctiveness of how you actually do it better. This often means making choices but more importantly it means listening carefully to the market in those very places where you are seen as the expert but may suffer from a biased view.