What Do *You* Know?

When I applied in Minneapolis for what would become my first job as a consultant, the lean, crew-cut, brusquely dressed, ruddy-cheeked partner in charge of consulting in that office looked me, then looked at my resume, and said, scornfully,  "So, you've been in banking three years. What the h___ do you know?"

It was one of my first lessons in work place constructive humiliation.

Dozens of candidates competed for that slot. Somehow I managed to make the case that I could be put to good use quickly.  His question introduced me to the idea of personal positioning – expressing what is unique or valuable about ourselves for purposes of winning a job or an engagement.

Looking back, he wanted to know what I could do.[He didn’t respect banks much.]  More than that, he wanted to know whether I could express it clearly and, further,  how I could withstand the beady-eyed pressure clients would bring to bear on a 25 year old with three years work experience…. in a bank. They would want to know “what the h___ did I know?”   Or was I just another college boy with good grades and a smile, indistinguishable from thousands of others.

Many sales people we’ve worked with suffer in similar positions. They’re nice folks.  They think they can differentiate themselves based on their winning personalities, their companies’ products, or their companies’ marketing programs. They figure that, if something were important for them to know, their companies would teach it to them. And they are largely indistinguishable from thousands of others. They’re surprised when buyers buy based on price or choose other vendors.

Note to self. Whether you’re selling office equipment, mulch, or payment solutions, you are selling your expertise, not your products. Whether you’re addressing one client challenge or twenty, become an expert in one of them. This is your foundation. Read about it. Pick experts’ brains about it. Pick your clients’ brains about it. Go to meetings about it, even if you have to pay your own way. Develop an expertise that your customers would pay to tap.

Second, promote your expertise.  Speak about it internally, speak at community meetings, chamber events, conferences, places where your customers, prospects, and referral sources gather. Write about it in trade journals, the local press, newsletters your prospect and referral sources read. Tell potential referral sources about it. And deliver it to your clients.  You have to convince them you are the wizard in your area.

Case in point.  A client’s sales representative, new to the job.  His company offered about 30 products.  He chose one small suite of products, and the client challenges for which it was a solution, in which to become an expert.  His approaches to prospects, referral sources, and existing customers all started with the challenge that this product suite addressed.  He built his business based on addressing that challenge.  As word spread about his expertise, he broadened, bit by bit, but sustained  his  focus.  He became a top producer in his company within three years, selling a broad spectrum of his company’s products.

“Ah,” you might say, “but my company requires me to sell more than one product.”  Of course, as did his. Regardless, you need a platform, an expertise, on which to build your reputation, something that your prospects and customers will find useful, remarkable, valuable, and memorable.

And that’ll be what the h___  you know, next time somebody asks.

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