What makes an expert?
Is it an advanced degree? A certain number of years working in a profession? Industry accolades? A lengthy list of articles published or speeches delivered? It is all of these things: each one speaks to your credibility as a leader in a given field. Yet it is also none of these things. That’s because when potential clients evaluate your expertise, they are looking for more than a specific skill set, years of practice or a winning track record. They are trying to determine if you have what it takes to open their minds to new ways of thinking. To suggest new possibilities for their business. And to guide them to new opportunities.
Communicating that you have what it takes is one of the most important things you can do to build your reputation and grow your business. It’s also one of the most difficult. You’re competing with hundreds or thousands of people and organisations that might claim to be as good, or better, than you. The Internet is awash with millions of articles and books by self-proclaimed experts. A lot of the information they provide is imprecise. A lot of it is completely wrong. And a lot of it is outdated. But it all dilutes the expert field on which you need to stake your claim. Just adding more information to the never-ending flood of available data – no matter how interesting and cutting-edge it may be – will rarely make you stand out of the crowd as an expert. A disciplined and integrated approach to expertise management will.
Show. Don’t tell.
True client-centric marketing conveys an engaging story that resonates with customers and places you at the top of the list of providers they turn to when they need help. Your expertise is a core component – some would say the core component – of that story.
The challenge comes in making sure your target audience recognises you as an expert – and, importantly, that you will apply your expertise to help them succeed. You can tell them how great you are. With glossy marketing materials and flashy websites, there’s plenty of opportunity for you to engage in unabashed self-promotion. But your customers want more. And, frankly, they deserve more. They need to believe the hype. They need to understand what you will do to help them. They need for you to show your expertise in relevant and meaningful ways.
To show clients that you are the right choice for them, you first need to understand the many factors they might consider when evaluating your expertise. Some of those include:
Your experience and knowledge. Your expertise is grounded in what you know and what you have done. Your successes speak volumes about your abilities – and do so concretely, in terms that customers can understand and appreciate. Your ideas are equally important. Whether they are disseminated through your writing, formal presentations or causal conversations, your ideas will set you apart as a visionary, an entrepreneur or a trusted advisor. They demonstrate how you learn and process information. How you assess trends and develop insights. And how you apply those insights in new and interesting ways. Client-centric marketing brings your know-how and knowledge together to demonstrate what makes you different from – and better than – your competition.
Your confidence. Developing your expertise starts with knowing yourself: what you do well, and what you can improve. This self-awareness allows you to zero in on what you bring to the client relationship. Clients need to understand that. They will not hire you because you are an expert. They will hire you because you are an expert with the relevant skills and the confidence to help them in their situation.
- Your entrepreneurial spirit. To be successful, you need to show your client you can be innovative, responsive, flexible and insightful. They want the security of knowing that you will identify opportunities to help them as their needs change. Expertise and trust go hand in hand.
- Your ability and willingness to share your expertise. You can’t be an expert in a vacuum. Your expertise only has value if you share it with your colleagues and your clients. Collaboration, knowledge sharing and coaching are vital ingredients to a successful expert-customer relationship. Those are the things that strengthen your reputation.
- Your understanding of client needs. From a client’s perspective, a provider’s expertise should deliver results – and, equally important, peace of mind. Few things give clients more confidence in your abilities than your interest in understanding their world. They believe that if you know their pain points, their circumstances and their objectives, you’re much more likely to provide the service they need. And they’re right. A customer looking to grow in a declining industry will need different expertise and a different skill set than an enormously successful start-up. If you can’t demonstrate that you understand their situation, you won't get a seat at the table.
Making your expertise count
To have your customers consider you an expert, begin by asking two fundamental questions:
1. What is your expertise? This one sounds easy. It’s not. You need to distinguish those areas in which you are competent from those in which you are truly extraordinary. That may require a granular level of self-analysis. You may conclude you are a great intellectual property lawyer, but a true expert at questions relating to European patents. Or perhaps you are a highly accomplished marketing generalist, but have exceptional knowledge and experience in developing branding strategies in a particular industry. In answering the question, think about where you truly excel. What do you do that no one else does (or can)? What is your speciality? What do you think would really set you apart at a client meeting?
2. Who cares? Why? Your expertise only matters in the context of your target audience. That might be a particular business sector, certain decision-makers, or three or four specific prospects that you hope to one day count among your customers. Once you’ve identified the people that you want to influence with your expertise, ask yourself why they should care about your expertise. What can it do for them? Who are the specific individuals for whom your expertise is likely to make a lasting difference? This sort of self-assessment will help you hone your potential audience, as well as the messages you want to convey. Your final audience may end up being quite small. That’s ok. In fact, it’s preferable to be a highly valued expert in the eyes of a few well-placed individuals than to be considered a mediocre provider by the masses.
You should answer these questions as honestly as you can. The objectivity you bring to the exercise will help you position yourself as the expert-of-choice, capable of tailoring services that meet the needs of a select few. That positioning makes all the difference in closing a deal. In conducting hundreds of win/loss reviews for companies around the world, we have seen just how important expertise is to the decision-making process. This is just a sampling of what we’ve heard (paraphrased):
- We were impressed with the organisation’s expertise – particularly in the technology space.
- The team’s understanding of the business case was quite good. What they missed, however, was articulating how they would deliver the value we needed.
- The group gets credit for helping us with a project before. But our technical evaluators expected a demonstration of how their solution would help us now.
- It’s fair to say that if we were looking for a partner for another project, we would have selected that organisation. Their expertise seemed to be focused in another area.
- A few more people with direct and relevant experience would have changed my mind.
- I wish the organisation had a better handle on the risk they would be taking on, as well as the optimisation opportunities. They could have then priced themselves more competitively.
Releasing your inner expert
Over and over, we see that honestly evaluating one’s expertise and audience paves the way to turning deal losses into wins. Answers to the questions above will help you produce the right kind of content and present yourself as more than a ho-hum, one-size-fits-all expert. They will help you identify opportunities for growth. You may, for example, uncover a new set of potential customers. You may realise the value of extending your field of expertise. Or you may see the benefit of partnering with other experts to create an unbeatable team.
Most important, the answers to the questions will prepare you for a disciplined approach to expertise revitalisation. Such an approach will allow you to identify the channels best suited to publicise your abilities. It will help you calculate the value of expert recognition. It will identify opportunities for training and development. It will help you establish an accurate cost for the initiatives you and your marketing organisation need to undertake. And it will help you calculate – and achieve – the returns you want from your investments.
Your marketing department will help you avoid stumbling blocks. But for more in-depth assistance, you and your marketing team may benefit from the guidance of a true expert. Gelst is ready to help. We have a proven record of positioning organisations and individuals as leaders, recognised and valued by those they want to reach. Let us help you be a real expert in your organisation, your field and beyond.