110308 Just One Thing

In which we are reminded that focus helps us build our success faster.

When I took my first full-time sales position as an independent “manufacturer’s rep” representing more than 20 different products, one of the most experienced, successful reps told me,


“Pick one product and get really good at that. Focus all of your prospecting efforts on that. Produce results better than the next guy on that. When you get really good at that, then expand your focus.”

Seemed counter-intuitive. Since we had 20 products, why wouldn’t we sell all of them, all at once?


His answer was: “Pick a place to start”  and “get known for something specific.” Although we carried 20 products and we could solve problems in departments ranging from H.R. to finance to manufacturing, he was telling me I would enjoy more success faster if I picked one problem and one solution set as a starting point. The one thing I would be “known for.”


Like it or not, prospects and clients “simplify us” to a few words or “one thing” by which they remember us and categorize us. It’s their mental file name for us.  When they go looking for resources or when they refer us to others, they typically use those few words. They sound something like “she helped me….” or “he’s good at…” or “those guys do….”   or “I got … from them.”


Their words are NOT likely to sound like, “She can sit with you and help you figure out all of your challenges and then recommend an integrated solution drawn from their wide array of products or she can refer you to other great resources.”  Even if we can do that brilliantly, that’s not it!  Our marketing people may say that. Our clients don’t.


(Since I had to learn my own lesson,  I used the “we can do anything” positioning for a while, and I didn’t really start to build success until I focused on… one thing. 15 years later I can trace some of my clients back to that original focus.)


We can see this impact even in Presidential politics. Think about the two major party candidates. For each of them, ask yourself “what’s his ‘one thing’?”


Here’s the Boston Globe, October 16, 2008, commenting on the third U.S. Presidential campaign debate:

“McCain was supposed to be facing Senator Barack Obama, but by the end of the debate McCain had invited in Hugo Chavez, the 1960s radical William Ayers, pro-abortion and environmental “extremists,” and someone named Joe the plumber. He peppered Obama on his spending and tax proposals….


All the while Obama kept a steady eye on … domestic policy…”


In the time since that debate,  McCain has been doing “20 products.”  Obama has been doing one: domestic policy and, within that, ‘middle class economics’ and within that…. ‘middle class taxes.’ McCain is struggling to gain traction. Obama has found his issue, with all the traction he needs.


As in a political campaign, our “one thing” can change as conditions change (e.g. economy goes from good to bad) as we learn what our clients (the “voters” ) are concerned about.  Yet over time (two years or more), we’ll do better if our “one things” cluster around “one BIG thing” that fills in the blank in “she helped me ___”.  

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