Sent by Jonathan Stark on March 31st, 2017
Today you’re in for a special treat...
Positioning guru Philip Morgan and I were chatting about my recent series of messages on intangible benefits.
The conversation turned to the topic of differentiation in the context of intangibles (i.e., me focused vs you focused intangibles).
Philip dropped some major knowledge bombs on me, so I asked if he’d like to pen a Very Special Guest Message™ for you all.
He said sure! Here it is:
Three Levels of Differentiation
Jonathan invited me to summarize a few thoughts on differentiation for you. Happy to oblige! I’ll keep it brief.
If you’re trying to crawl out of the crab bucket of generalist development work, your core marketing challenges are: being discovered and being remembered.
You can more easily resolve the discoverability and memorability challenges if your services really are different in a way that matters to your clients. That’s differentiation.
Depending on your prospect’s previous experience with people like you, they’ll respond well to one of the following 3 levels of differentiation:
1. ”I don’t suck”
Some clients simply need you to not suck. I’m not kidding.
Maybe their last freelance developer went dark during Burning Man and things went haywire for 6 weeks and they just need to know you won’t burn them like that dude did. (Burn… har har. See what I did there?)
Or maybe the last developer left them with a hot steaming pile of crappy code that they’re still suffering under or artfully managed to squeeze 3 months of hourly work into 700 hours of billing.
Point is, not sucking is a completely legitimate form of differentiation, and it’s the starting point for most developers.
Master reassuring prospects that you don’t suck first, then move on to the next level of differentiation.
2. ”I’m a semi-rare specialist”
Your work is a strange combination of expert, artisan, and Howard Stern-with-better-manners.
As you move up the value chain, the artisan part of your mix of skills becomes the less critical part. Not unimportant, just eclipsed in importance by your ability to solve problems (expertise) and your ability to get prospects to tell you about the important/interesting stuff (Howard Stern-with-better-manners).
Note that expertise is NOT the arcana of your craft. Your craft is important, it’s just not nearly as important to your prospects as it is to you.
What expertise matters to your prospects?
I don’t know, but they do.
Make like a polite Howard Stern and interview them.
About Howard Stern… I’m 100% NOT kidding. I know Howard Stern is not everybody’s cup of tea, but dude is a master interviewer. Listen to this interview if you want some insight into getting important/interesting information through conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGHrYS-1IWo
3. “I’m a very rare expert”
The “final boss” of differentiation is when you can credibly say that you are the expert in [valuable, desirable thing]. Not an expert in that thing, but the expert in that thing.
People on the cusp of this level of differentiation (usually) already know how to get there. They know what book they need to write, or what talk they need to give at what event to cement their status as the go-to person for [thing].
Jonathan or I could help you figure out what basket of marketing activities will help you achieve this kind of differentiation. BUT most people don’t get to skip level 2. So if level 3 seems out of reach right now, it probably is.
Three closing thoughts
You’ll notice in this progression that the supply of alternatives to hiring you (Blair Enns’ terminology here) keeps going down, ideally to 1 as you get to the expert end of the spectrum. That’s exactly how differentiation is supposed to work. The well-differentiated world-class expert is Bjork’s “Army of Me”.
When you are getting your differentiators in front of prospects through your marketing or sales process, demonstration (showing) beats telling every time. It’s not possible to avoid a bit of telling, but look for every opportunity to demonstrate your difference.
Finally, if you can’t link your differentiation to something your client cares about, just nix that potential differentiator and move on to the next option. It’s not worth getting excited about a differentiator the clients you want to attract don’t care about.
P.S. Today is YOUR LAST CHANCE to schedule a coaching call with me before the price jumps. If you’re enjoying these emails but having a hard time applying them to your specific situation, book a call and I’ll get you unstuck
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