While we pride ourselves on our knowledge and skills, there are sometimes benefits to not being the expert in our chosen fields.
What do you mean “not being the expert,” I hear you asking. "Isn’t that why we are in business?"
Well yes, and no. It’s not all about cold hard facts, and it’s more about prospective client perceptions. Looking a little deeper, let’s look at some marketing basics and a little sales psychology.
To stay in business, we need to know and utilise basically three very fundamental things about our business. These are:
- What we want to provide to our clients
- What niche those clients come from
- How to market to them
The first of these is pretty obvious and usually our business provides what we are best at doing professionally, what we have extensive training and experience in, and what thing we can do to provide exceptional value to our clients.
The second is again fairly obvious, but maybe not as obvious as the first. We can still get our client's niche wrong by misinterpreting marketing research and industry observations. For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume you have selected a niche that has all the expansion potential you need to run a successful business well into the future.
The third is the one that can trip us up. Universities provide little marketing training and we receive little marketing experience as employees, but without marketing we don’t exist as a business. A sole practitioner who designs small house renovations needs to win each job – that is marketing – and the same obviously goes for the large multi-national consultancy.
Like it or not, we need to become good marketers if our business is to flourish if we want to be in a position within our industry that aligns with our business plan. This definition does not mean flourishing by luck or flourishing despite being pushed and bullied by market forces not of our choosing.
The difficult thing is that without marketing training, we have to learn it ourselves. Even if we hire a professional marketer to work with us, we need to be able to direct and assess their work. Like most things, learning marketing is challenging and a constant effort of study, experience, failure and corrections.
So we commit to study (reading books, listening to CDs, attending seminars and so on) and implement basic strategies which should be our first moves in a plan to reach a specific, measurable, long-term goal.
The strategies are the relatively easy part because there are really only a few broad finite number of strategies we can take. The tactics within each strategy are the tricky part because herein resides the infinite number of possible actions which together make a single strategy - the micro-detail, the hundreds of tasks to be done, the day-in and day-out grind and hack work of marketing.
A design professional first looking at their broad marketing strategies without knowing the detailed tactics can be likened to a non-building industry person envisioning a building without knowing the detail that goes into constructing it. Good marketing really is that constant effort of study, experience, failure and corrections.
So we have to come up with a start to our marketing, and here is where we come back to this seemingly counterintuitive concept of “the value of not being the expert.”
Usually our first marketing step is to tell prospective clients how good we are at what we do, which seems instinctive, natural and wise. But beware presenting yourself as the super-confident expert who is the superior choice. Studies have shown, and you will know from your own experience, that superior doesn’t always win.
There are several layers to this reality. You may well present good logical reasons about why you are superior, but it is widely known that logic doesn’t sell - emotions backed by logic does. If you present as the clinical super-professional, you may unwittingly unnerve prospective clients into raising certain objections. Each situation and person is different, but here are three examples of likely objections to the expert:
The first is the “too good for me” effect, raising doubts. Prospective clients could assume you’re out of their price range, or that their business will not be important to you as the revered expert, or that you’ll be too busy and they won’t be able to talk to you.
Then there is the “familiarity” effect. More often than not, most people choose the familiar, even though it may not be superior. For instance, you are out with the kids and you all need to eat without too much bother. Nearby, you spot a McDonald’s and a nice café. You choose McDonald’s because you are familiar with it and there won’t be any surprises in service and quality, even though you may perceive the quality of the food in the café to be better.
Lastly, there is the “not enough time” effect. Rarely do we have enough time to do things with 100 per cent due diligence for making the superior choice, so we take what we perceive as "good enough" with the assurance that at least it won't be a bad choice.
We need to address these objections relating to our superior status...but how? Confronting them head-on may amplify and confirm them. A little humility added to into our sales presentation may be a better way, gently weaving the perception of a slightly more humble self-image into your marketing words, pictures and suggestions. We don’t need to prove ourselves as the superior choice, but we need to be an excellent choice.
We also need to add that little emotional something that tips the scales in our favor. How often do we hear from buyers the reason why they bought was “I just had a feeling,” or “it felt right,” or “there was just something about them”? Going on feelings is how people often buy.
Theoretically, if a client had to choose between you and your competitor down the road, and both of you offered the same expertise, service, fees, visitor parking, meeting rooms, after sales service and other amenities, who wins the job? It is the one who “felt right.”
Mix your professional expertise with intelligent, presentable, convincing marketing, then combine it with simply having a nice, caring human culture, and you will go a long way to setting yourself up to win more jobs while still being the expert.