Warning: You will not find any rehearsed platitudes or high minded theories here. This is a practical, step-by-step approach to build thought leadership for consultants. Discover the uniqueness no other competitor in your marketplace can emulate. It is a challenge to stop, think, and remember where your company is excellent.
If that is scary or uninteresting, you should close this window and continue on with you day.
However, if you find the challenge engaging (or perhaps even inspiring) you should absolutely read what’s below. Let’s get to work.
What is the problem?
The Internet has lowered the barriers to entry for those with expertise. It’s very easy to put up a website, quickly upload some content, and claim yourself to be an expert. So now there are many self-appointed experts offering varying levels of value to the marketplace.
For clients this can be very confusing...
For clients who need specific help with specific issues, it’s difficult telling one expert from another expert. The only way to stand out is to apply real strategy, with real intention, to your core marketplace message. Bottom line, you can’t mix words. You’ve got to (quickly) make it clear that you are the better option compared to all the other experts that exist in your field.
This problem isn’t new. In fact, many excellent authors have written books on the topic.
- Seth Godin calls it being a remarkable, "Purple Cow".
- Al Reis has written on the importance of positioning
- Chip and Dan Heath have studied what makes companies stick
However you’ve thought about it before, if your prospects are still confusing you for your competitors, haggling about pricing, and showing general indifference about working with you... something is wrong.
Your company needs to communicate it’s own unique point of view. It should be strong, clear, and compelling.
Why is it so difficult to explain what makes your business compelling?
It is NOT obvious. Your client doesn’t have a degree in this problem. They don’t study it in their free time. They don’t have significant life experience to give them insight on the best plan of attack.
But YOU do and since you are the leader of the business it is your job to explain why your business is the absolute best option for your clients. It’s your job to create a clear value proposition clients your clients can get excited about.
It’s scary. Why is it scary? Because the decision to differentiate means you can’t hide amongst your competition, copy everything they do, and “hope” your clients realize what you do is special. Instead you have to step out in front of your marketplace, by yourself, and tell your unique story.
It’s a decision that requires courage and doesn’t allow for excuses. However it’s a mandatory decision if you are going to stand out, establish premium pricing, and attract the clients you deserve.
What typical mistakes do consultants make in trying to position themselves?
In my experience, I’ve seen three main mistakes causing the most trouble.
Selling advice and not solutions. Offering advice is being paid to tell someone what to do. Providing a solution is being paid to solve a very specific problem for someone. If you’re going to be in the business of being an expert, if you’re going to be in the business of offering consulting services, then you’ve got to be in the business of solving problems. In other words, someone has a problem, they hire you and when the engagement is over their problem is fixed.
Thinking design builds a brand. The word “branding” invites a lot of theory and confuses a lot of people. Still, let’s agree now that logos, color-schemes, pamphlet styles, PowerPoint presentations, and fancy fonts on pretty letterhead do NOT deliver value to clients. There is a place for visual design. However, visual design is secondary to the core brand promise you’ve made. Your clients need don’t need pretty pictures “hinting” at what you do. Your clients need you to look them in the face, tell them exactly what you do, and how it helps them.
Being a “full service” firm. Sure, on the surface it sounds like a good idea. You can tackle “any problem” your client faces. But what happens when you try to build a business around this concept? You end up with many different clients, each receiving a different mix of services, and it’s an absolute mess trying to keep up with all of the details. Even worse, you accept just about every client project you can without ever focusing on your excellence. Ugh.
Leave No Doubt: Let Your the Market Know Where You Stand
Your company’s core value proposition can never be in doubt. Your BEST client needs to know exactly which problem you focus on so they can pen (not pencil) your name into the top of their vendor’s list.
Create Your Own State of the Union Address
This is the opportunity to present yourself, or your company, as a leader in your market. Just like the president of the United States comes forward every year to give his perspective on the big problems facing the US, you need to have a very clear statement that gives your perspective on the big problems facing your market.
The main purpose of the state of the union address is to clearly express the big problem confronting your market.
As the expert, you know there is certain conventional wisdom that harms your market. That conventional wisdom is outdated, but still being spread, and is therefore costing clients valuable time, money, and lots of frustration.
So, the first thing you have to do is point to the big problem and call it out.
What I have found is most experts are in touch with their state of the union intuitively but don’t have any words to express it. To get to the right words, here is a three-step process focusing on the noise, truth, and beliefs that exist in your market.
Find the Noise, Truth, and Beliefs
The NOISE is the distraction. This is the irritating static on your car radio that keeps you from hearing the music clearly. This is the talking head show on television with a panel of pundits to discuss topics each day with no new insight. This is the constant media barrage filled with doom and gloom stories that scare us, but don’t prepare us. This is all noise that is keeping your BEST client from making good decisions.
You have to call out those thoughts; the conventional (unhelpful) wisdom that surrounds your client each day.
In 1947, the United States had just come out of World War II. Then president, Harry S. Truman needed any remaining disagreement about the war to be ended so the country could focus on a new set of priorities. Here is what he said in his State of the Union address.
President Truman knew there was existing noise, in the form of disagreement, that could distract the country from focusing on what mattered most. Before he suggested what to do next, he had to addressed the current noise that would distract healthy decision making.
The TRUTH grounds the conversation. This is the air, water, and gravity of your industry. Those are three things you have to confront as a human being. You have to breathe air to fill your lungs. You have to drink water to hydrate your body. You have to respect gravity so you can sit down in a chair and not float off into space.
In your marketplace, you have undeniable truths that cannot be avoided, escaped, or outsmarted. You should begin by addressing those things.
Gerald Ford began his 1975 address with a very clear and strong assessment about the status of the nation.
Though brutal, he owed it to his audience to tell them the truth. He supported his assessment with a string of facts, “Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too slow. This year's federal deficit will be about $30 billion; next year's probably $45 billion. The national debt will rise to over $500 billion…” He would later move on to highlight some encouraging statistics, but it was incredibly important to call out the truth first.
Your BELIEFS are what separate you and open the door for true leadership. Given the noise and truth, there are specific beliefs unique to your company. What do you believe is possible if your clients avoided noise and confronted the truth? Put those ideas forward.
This is your opportunity to inspire your audience with your unique point of view. Show them vision. Show them possibility. Show them the "light" at the end of the tunnel. What unique experience will they have as a result of your leadership?
In 1941 Europe was already engaged in World War II and President Franklin D. Roosevelt could see that the fighting was going to have a direct effect on the United States, sooner rather than later. He was specific about the coming threats and suggested a number of ways the US could proactively be involved.
He closed by outlining what he believed was possible “In the future days”.
There was a certain goal he believed could be achieved. Here is his direct quote from the 1941 State of the Union address:
"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation."
Given the noise and the truth, President Roosevelt suggested a course of action and stated what he believed was possible as a result of that course of action. It was a result he believed was better than the current state and worth the sacrifice required to get there.
Pardon the interruption. I just wanted to make sure you didn't forget to download your State of the Union resource guide. It gives you access to this framework and two others you can use immediately. --> download it here
How to Structure Your State of the Union Address
The good news is, you don’t need to give a formal 45 minute speech every time you interact with with your client base. What is important is that you are able to summarize the challenges of your market and articulate your response on demand.
Here is a template you can use to develop your own State of the Union Address for your market.
STATE OF THE UNION TEMPLATE:
Ladies and gentlemen, it has come to my attention that [adjective] people are suffering from [problem]. At the end of the day they just want to [accomplish a goal], but they can't because the situation is just too hard to navigate.
Here is just a sample of what the market is struggling with
-Conventional wisdom says, [thought #1]. I agree that [truth] is correct, but [noise] is not. I believe [belief] is possible
-Conventional wisdom says, [thought #2]. I agree that [truth] is correct, but [noise] is not. I believe [belief] is possible
-Conventional wisdom says, [thought #3]. I agree that [truth] is correct, but [noise] is not. I believe [belief] is possible
The widespread issue of [problem] is can no longer be ignored. This is a situation [company] plans to resolve.
How to Use Your State of the Union Address
This is about creating tactical, practical statements you can use to communicate and establish a clear point of view with your client base. These ideas are the foundation for any interaction you have with a prospective (or current) client. Some everyday examples include:
- Your elevator pitch at a networking event
- Your opening statement at your next speaking engagement
- Your first page of your next whitepaper
You should never be at a loss for words when it's time to present yourself or your business. You now have fundamentals that apply in every situation.
Here is the best part…
Your competitor isn’t likely to do ANY of this. Being “authentic” takes too much work and “copying” is so much easier. So while your competition is busy copying each other and sounding more and more alike…YOU will be cutting through the chatter with a message that actually resonates with your BEST client. All you have to do is follow the steps here.