01/03/2011

By Richard White, IT Consultancy Specialist

Geraldine was feeling very despondent as she looked into her cup of coffee. ‘Where had it all gone wrong?’ she asked herself. Several years ago Geraldine set up her training business in a flurry of excitement. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly. She hardly had to put in much effort to win work. She thought this sales thing was a piece of cake. All her business was coming from word-of-mouth referrals and she rarely had to compete with anyone. Now the phone had stopped ringing. Her ‘loyal’ clients had cut their budgets to the bone and seemed to be more willing to shop around.

Geraldine’s plight is not unusual. During the good times when people are spending, there is often plenty of work around and people who are well connected like Geraldine benefit greatly. Now that source of revenue had disappeared for her she was forced, for the first time, to look at the fundamentals of her business. She had to discover who she is in business to serve and why they would only want to work with her. And she had to do it quickly!

The internet and social media is making standing out from the crowd so much harder. A couple of searches on Google will show you how unique your services really are. When everything looks the same and sounds the same, then it makes it a real struggle to get heard.

The problem, in my experience, is caused by generalisation. The logical thing to do when there is less work around is to expand what you offer. Yet how can you stand out from the crowd when you are offering the same as the crowd? The answer is to go the opposite way and to specialise in the area of your maximum credibility. Credibility is a key factor in sales, especially when the stakes get high. Your specialised expertise and credibility can become your competitive advantage.

I believe any small business is capable of being unique enough to be successful providing they are prepared to specialise. It’s about stepping back and searching for a unique position in the market where we are most credible and different rather than coming up with clever marketing campaigns. When we understand who our ideal clients are and what they are looking for, then we can create very focused and potent sales and marketing messages that will not only get heard but get a fast response. The following six questions will help you to gain the key insights needed to make that happen for your business.

Who is my target audience?

The answer to this question is fundamental. Yet everyone, at first pass, gives their normal response. They say things like ‘Small and Medium Sized Enterprises’ or ‘Anyone that........’. Occasionally some business owners will say something more specific like ‘Technology Companies’. We need to get a lot more specific. People do business with people, not companies. And people are different. Even if your target audience is ‘Financial Directors in IT Companies’ then you will agree that not all Finance Directors in IT Companies are the same.

I find that the quickest and most effective method of defining a target audience is to start identifying the type of person that makes an ideal client for you. You do this by analysing your current and past clients and grouping them together by buying motivation. We are looking for the reason why your clients first started working with you rather than why they continue to work with you. If you do not know and cannot guess then it could be a good time to take your client or former client out to lunch and ask them!

Now you know the different types of person, you need to pick your ideal client. If you are going to have more than one group then go through the remaining questions one at a time. The process works by crafting focused sales and marketing messages that are attractive to a specific type of client.

Where is their pain?

If you want to attract more clients you need to understand what will get their attention. Anyone who is accomplished in sales will tell you that emotion drives buying behaviour. What we are seeking to do here is to understand how our ideal clients’ problems are impacting on them both practically and emotionally. When we understand their motivation to buy we can craft sales and marketing messages that resonate with them.

How do you take the pain away?

Here we will look at how we propose to solve our ideal clients’ problems. The great thing with services is that it does not take very long to create attractive new propositions if required. The important thing is to make it simple. In my experience, If the proposition cannot be stated in simple terms using fifteen words or less then it is too complicated and needs to be refined.

Why do/will they do business with you rather than anyone else?

When we have correctly defined our ideal client the answer to this question becomes more obvious. It needs to be something that is hard to copy like specialist expertise and in depth industry knowledge. It needs to be something that your ideal clients will value and is hard to duplicate. Charging lower prices than anyone else or the quality of your service are not normally good enough reasons. When you get this right you can normally charge above average prices.

Where is your credibility?

We need to be able to prove that we can take away the pain of our ideal clients. The answers to the previous questions will help generate interest but unless we have some kind of credible evidence to point to, then winning the sale will probably be a struggle, especially if larger sums of money are involved. There are ways to build credibility but the best type is having satisfied clients who would be happy to speak to potential clients when asked.

How will they find out about you?

Our ideal clients now need to discover that we can take their pain away. You will be pleased to hear there are many different ways of doing this that do not involve cold calling. Many can be done at low cost or no cost by leveraging your existing network of contacts.

There is a positive ending to Geraldine’s story. She carefully worked through the above six questions and discovered some insights about her ideal type of client and a small niche in the market which she could claim for herself. She began to put together some attractive propositions. After a few emails and phone calls to existing contacts she had meetings with potential clients in her diary. All In the space of a few hours. Geraldine had recaptured the excitement of when she first started in business. She knew what needed to be done and that with a little effort she would soon be back to doing what she loves doing and getting paid for it.

When it comes to standing out from the crowd and quickly generating more sales opportunities the easiest way, in my experience, is to better understand your ideal clients and their unresolved problems and offer them credible solutions. If you use the process to take the opportunity of finding a unique market position then everything will get so much easier and you will stand out from the crowd when it comes to your ideal clients.

Richard White is a leading sales coach and mentor for people who hate selling. He specialises in helping IT Consultants generate more sales opportunities through networking. Richard is the author of ‘Networking Survival Guide’ and the founder of TheAccidentalSalesman.com which provides a wealth of free online sales training resources for people who hate selling.

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