I had a prospect tell me today that he appreciated my time, but did not want to work with me because I wasn’t an expert in his industry. While this is completely true, I also think he is using the wrong criteria in evaluating his advisors (and that is completely frustrating). I am not an expert in his industry. I am an expert at solving the problem he has – which is marketing as a small business with limited budget and limited staff.
Most small businesses think they are unique, and they are. They have to be to succeed in the mass-produced, big box world of consumerism we currently live in. Most businesses were started by people who were technically excellent at something and wanted to make a living from it. What most small businesses miss is that they are also in the marketing business.
If this prospect were hiring me to do direct sales for his company, I would absolutely consider that industry knowledge is a requirement. I need to know enough about the business to understand the competitive options that I sell against and be intelligent enough about the business and topics to relate to the customer that you hired me to sell to. But we weren't talking about sales. We were talking about marketing. And the conversation we had wasn't about how well, today I could create a compelling ad or write great copy, but instead, it was about putting in a marketing system that will allow him to effectively attract prospects that he can sell to.
The reality is that I would have had really deep industry expertise to work with – his 40 years in his industry. Our goal in working with clients is to help them learn how to do marketing for themselves. That is what coaching is all about. What we do for clients is to help them narrow their focus, articulate their differences, verify the difference and value they bring to customers or clients and work with them to implement a system to communicate this value.
Our “industry” expertise is in marketing. We know how to help small businesses find new prospects and customers, and to help them do so without spending a great deal of money. Do we know the best publications or websites for a particular product or service? Not usually. What we do know is how to ask the right questions and evaluate the answers against the goals a client wants to accomplish within the budget they have to spend. Eugene Ionesco said it very well - “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question”.
One of the benefits our clients get is multi-industry experience. When you hire an expert in a particular field, you also get all the biases that exist in that person’s background. That expertise is really important in statutory fields like law or accounting. It is a liability in the social sciences like marketing or research. Some of the most amazing breakthroughs in science today are coming from researchers who are cross-trained in multiple disciplines. They look at the problems with a fresh set of eyes.
What do our clients that sell cookies, day care services, telemarketing services or software have in common with your business? Maybe nothing or maybe there is a strategy that worked well for them that can be easily and inexpensively adapted to your situation. What all my clients do have in common is that they dislike consultants that come in and tell them they know the right way to do something. We don’t know all the answers. We know the right process to follow to get to the answers.
We know that as a client’s business grows, they will outgrow our services. They will get to a point where they hire a full time marketing person on staff and that person will have some portion of the industry expertise that is needed. What we also know is that they will be better able to evaluate and hire that person because they have worked with us and worked to develop a system for marketing their business.
So as you evaluate the experts and advisers you want to work with, consider: Do you want expertise at their craft or expertise in your industry? You will be very hard pressed usually to find both and if you do perhaps find one, you must be prepared to pay a significant premium in price.