Developing Expertise

About six weeks ago, we wrote: 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.

Several readers wrote to ask: “How do I do that?” or “How do I pick?” – perhaps feeling like teenagers who are asked by well-meaning adults, “What do you want to do (or be) when you grow up?”

1) Develop a list of possibilities.

Two ways to start:

“Inside – Out” (you think about what you like, what you’re interested in,  what you’re most likely to be curious about when you’re speaking to clients, what you do well, what you are passionate about) or

“Outside – In” (you start with your clients’ challenges, decisions they struggle with, or mistakes they make and think about the knowledge or expertise needed to address them).

2) Choose your focus.

From the possibilities you’ve identified, choose the one or two on which you want to focus, related to the products or services you sell. Ideally, related to the products or services that make the most money for you. Ideally something you like and are interested in, so you’ll be willing to invest some “nights and weekends” time to learn more.

Make this choice without a lot of agonizing. You’re choosing a place to start; there are many paths from that point, and you can change your mind later.

For example, if you’re selling houses, maybe it’s beach-front houses. If you sell banking services, maybe it’s one issue – receiving payments from customers. If you sell to many industries, you could pick one industry in which to become more expert. Or, you could pick one challenge common to your clients in all of the industries on which you call, for example, succession in family-owned businesses, or managing payment cycles, or recruiting and retaining staff.

[Remember, your goal is to develop expertise that your clients value, that differentiates you from other sales people who call on them, and that opens discussion related to at least one of your products or product sets.]

3) Become an expert

When you’ve chosen a particular expertise focus, you read, attend trade shows, and pick experts’ brains to answer questions like:

  • What is the challenge, why do my clients face this challenge, and what does it cost them to have this challenge?
  • When should clients address this challenge?
  • What are the different tools and approaches or “schools of thought” about addressing the challenge?
  • When do each of these particular approaches work best?
  • How do clients best think through the options and decide?
  • What is my point of view about how clients should address this challenge?

You’ll know you’re beginning to reach the right level of expertise when your colleagues begin asking you to teach them what you know.

4) Project your expertise to your clients or prospects

Project” means, “deliver your message.”  This can be done through word of mouth, sales presentations or conversations, seminars for your clients and prospects, sales letters, web sites, presentations to industry groups or community groups, volunteer work, white papers, emails, columns in industry publications, or casual conversation on soccer field side lines.  Lots of ways.

5) Make money with your expertise

This is the sales part. Help you clients think about their challenges. Help them evaluate their options. Make a recommendation. Help them decide. And, if appropriate, sell them or refer them to the products or services that will address the challenge.

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