The Specialization-Differentiation Imperative

By Michel Neray

In the olden days, when there was just one blacksmith in each village, it was easy to brand yourself as the best blacksmith around.  If someone needed a blacksmith, you’re the blacksmith they called. But then villages grew into towns and a new blacksmith moved into the neighborhood. All of a sudden, people had a reference of comparison and competition was born – along with the need for differentiation.

So what happens as more and more people enter into a profession, and as the profession itself becomes more widely recognized as a helpful service? The needs of the market get sliced and diced in a variety of different ways – and the professional that focuses on one of those slices is more highly valued than the professional who continues to try to be all things to all people.

That’s why we have doctors who specialize by part of the body – cardiologists, podiatrists and nephrologists. We have doctors who specialize in type of patient – pediatricians, gynecologists and veterinarians. We have doctors who focus on geographic regions. And we have doctors who work in small teams, in large corporations and as individual ‘freelancers’.

And as each specialty fills up with more people, it gets sliced and diced into finer and finer sub-specialties. Look at any profession and you’ll see the same pattern. Whether you’re a lawyer, accountant, consultant, coach or any other independent professional. You either focus on one of those slices, or you don’t get much respect in the market.

That’s the specialization-differentiation imperative. But how do you specialize if you are a general practitioner? And even if you are already a specialist, how do you differentiate yourself from the other specialists in your subspecialty?

The answer is authentic differentiation. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to align the differentiation that already exists within yourself or your company’s culture with the matching slice that already exists in the market.

‘Differentiation’ is the slice in the sales and marketing pie that my company focuses on. It’s your ‘Essential Message.’ – and it’s what enables generalists to command the same high status and privilege of a specialist, and what enables specialists to rise above other specialists.

Here's a powerful way to brainstorm your own differentiation possibilities using W5 – who, what, where, why, when and how. It’s not as simplistic as it sounds, so if you’re ready to start your journey of discovering your differentiation (and it is a journey), then get your pencil out and take a deep breath.

On a blank sheet of paper, draw a table with six columns. Label the columns with who, what, where, why, when and how. Then as you read the descriptions for each one below, jot down whatever applies to your business today as well as what you’d like to explore in the future.

Who: This refers to your clients – the different ways you can define and group the people you work with. The more you specialize in a specific target group, the easier it is for you to focus your sales and marketing budget.

What: Do you offer group coaching? Do you sell physical products? Do you hold weekend retreats on luxury cruise ships? Or do you sell an hour at a time? What’s the tangible part of what you provide that people buy?

Where: Proximity used to mean geographic proximity, but now extends to mean visibility – in person, online or in any media. Where are you most visible? Where are you most visible? And don't ignore the power of old-fashioned physical proximity. If you are the only coach in your geographical area -- and if geographic proximity is important to the buying decision of your clients -- highlight it!

Why: Traditional marketing approaches recommend you focus on the 'why' -- the benefit of what you offer. But in today's information overloaded world, benefits often sound like empty promises that people have heard before. A more compelling way to frame your ‘why’ is the flipside of the benefit – what are the problems that people need your help with and what are the risks if people do not use the solution you recommend? Be granular and list all the problems that you help your clients with. The more specific you are, the easier it is for you to identify the one problem that you solve better than anyone else.

When: In sales, as in everything else, timing is everything. For the purposes of discovering your differentiation, ‘when’ is closely related to ‘why’. What are the trigger events in your clients’ lives and businesses that bring a latent problem to the surface and cause people to (finally) do something about it? Simply by being visible at the same time and just prior to these trigger events, you can make it easier for potential clients to find you when they need you most.

How: How you do what you do is one of the best places to 'dig' for your differentiation. You might have a unique approach that comes so naturally to you, you may not even realize how powerful it is. That’s why it may be helpful to get assistance of a coach or consultant.)

More than just greater business success, your authentic differentiation gives you the confidence, momentum and resilience that can only come from being absolutely clear about your strengths and unique difference both as a company – and as an individual. That’s why discovering who you really are and using it in your life and in your work is perhaps the most satisfying, most rewarding thing you can ever do.

Read other articles and learn more about Michel Neray.

[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis. Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and requirements.]

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