Many business advisors struggle to figure out how to position their solutions in the market. This article suggests that rather than forcing a position on the market it is easier to build on what the market tells you.
For instance, a management consulting firm aspired to be perceived as a top-tier marketing consulting firm for technology companies. However, when the company surveyed its clients, it got surprising feedback: Clients perceived the firm to provide tactical marketing support, not thought leadership or high-level consulting services.
With this feedback in hand, the company had a choice to make. It could either work hard to position its services upstream, or it could embrace the way its clients already saw it – as a tactical marketing support firm. It decided that the latter was a simpler approach, and would still help the company grow rapidly and profitably in its market. As a result of this choice, the company achieved Inc. 500 status.
Similarly, an executive coach aspired to sell his services to leading-edge, venture-backed technology firms. Unfortunately, as he reached out to venture firms, technology CEOs, and investment bankers, he got at best a lukewarm response to his service offerings. “If executives in our companies need coaching, then they are probably the wrong executives for the job,” his prospects explained.
At the same time, as a result of some of his articles and speeches, he started getting calls from universities and non-profit science foundations looking for an organizational development consultant to help improve collaboration among researchers. Rather than fight against the current, he chose to specialize in this niche and has been successful ever since.
Larry Bird, one of the best basketball players of all time, used to say that he let the game come to him rather than chasing the game. Smart consultants and business coaches should do the same thing. Build on the clients who rave about you and the projects where you achieve successful results, not on the clients you wish you had. The market is always right, and it will tell you where you should, and shouldn’t be playing.
The process for listening to the market isn’t hard:
- Give some thought to former companies and success stories you have and can build on.
- Develop a marketing message for a specific target market you want to reach.
- Get visible in that market.
- You will either achieve traction or not.
- If you achieve success, keep penetrating that market. If not, test another market.
- Keep asking clients for feedback about how they perceive your firm, and for their advice about how you should position your services. They know better than anyone about where you will be most likely to succeed.