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
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.
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
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!
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
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
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
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.
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