I've been following the WWP principles for 10 years, ever since I went to a seminar that Blair and David (Baker) put on in Nashville. And I'll be honest, when they told me I had to specialize to succeed, I was skeptical at first. One of the challenges I thought I would face was a restriction—a severe narrowing—in my pool of available prospects.
But Blair posed this as a trade off: you'll have fewer clients to draw from, yes, but you'll be so much more relevant to the ones that do need your expertise that your life will be richer and more fulfilling.
I already had some real-world experience of this trade off. Back in the day, I used to sell by dragging around a portfolio full of our work. In fact, I had two portfolios, one full of the life science work that we got just because of an accident of geography: I happened to go to graduate school and meet my wife and settle in a place that had a high concentration of life science companies. So we got (more than) our fair share of this work, and I had a portfolio of good work to show a prospect who happened to be in the life sciences.
And I had another portfolio, full of all the other sorts of work we had done. It included a little bit of this and that. Marketing for a bank, an identity and some signage for a not-for-profit, rebranding and menus for a restaurant, some brochures for a local law firm. I had a little bit of everything in that “other” portfolio.
Back then I'd noticed that whenever I had to bring the “life science” portfolio on a sales call, I had a pretty good chance of getting the work. The prospect would watch me flip through the pages to get to the piece that I thought was the most relevant example and they'd often stop me half way through, “Wait. Stop. Back up. Oh, you did that work?” And we'd have a conversation about that other client and their challenges and how we solved them. And I'd manage to work the conversation back around to the piece I wanted to show them, and I'd start to flip through the portfolio again. And it was not unusual for them to stop me again, “Oh, wait, you did that work?” On at least one sales call, I never did get to the piece I wanted to show. The prospect took the portfolio out of my hands, and flipped through it himself. He asked some questions, and then asked for a price. We won that job, just like we won more than our fair share of life science work.
That was not at all the reaction I got when I used the “other” portfolio. No one ever stopped me as I was flipping through. And when I found the piece I was looking for I sometimes had to stretch to explain how it was relevant to their challenges. Needless to say, we did not win our fair share of this “other” work.
So I had some experience in the trade off that Blair mentioned at that seminar. And when I decided to commit to specializing as a strategic choice for my firm's future, the choice was obvious: we were going to specialize in life science marketing.
Fast forward ten years. I'm standing in line waiting to order my sandwich, and idly checking my email. And once again, here's an email coming from the “Contact Us” form on our web site. It's another prospect raising their hand. I check out their web site and I'm struck by four things, one after another.
First: they need help. Wow, their web site is…. well, let's just say they need help.
Second: they found us because I made the choice to specialize a decade ago. And now they're raising their hand, stepping out of the shadows of the Internet, asking us to please help them. I didn't chase them; they found me, and now they're chasing me.
Third: I've never heard of this company before. Like so many of the emails I get from this form on our web site. And that's when the fourth realization hits.
It's NOT a trade off, at least not in the way I had thought about it.
The truth is, there are plenty of clients out there. Even in disciplines and markets that are very narrowly defined, there are lots of clients. My business developer comes back from trade shows and we laugh and shake our heads about how many booths there are that are run by companies we've never seen before. And we've been doing this for 10 years.
There are plenty of clients. The trade off isn't what I thought it was, where you have to trade lack of relevance to lots of prospects for an increased relevance to just a few prospects. That is a “glass half empty” view, fueled by fear and uncertainty.
In contrast, I now realize that the trade off is simple. One decade ago, I made a decision to trade lack of relevance to many prospects for increased relevance to many prospects.
It's not a trade off that involves prospects and how numerous they might be. There are plenty of prospects.
It’s the truth; there are plenty of prospects. The real trade off? You're choosing to trade a mediocre future for one that is richer and more rewarding. Are you ready?