One of the most common challenges I encounter with businesses is their inability to accurately identify their ideal prospect. And I’m not talking about start ups. Companies ranging in age from a few years to a few decades seem to suffer this malady. Mostly, I think they just haven’t taken the time to think seriously enough about it. It doesn’t seem important so they stay busy with other activities.
Our business vocabulary is dominated by words like expand, grow (I’m guilty), enlarge and other terms that depict making something bigger, not smaller. Why should we give any time to thinking about making some aspect of our business smaller? It’s counter intuitive. But it’s the wise course when we’re thinking about our marketing and our overall business model.
Lessons Learned (And I’m Still Learning)
The temptation is to go BIG or go home. It’s one of the many things that sounds good, but it’s often pretty foolish. Logically it makes sense to want to sell or market to as many people as possible. We all need and want more customers. To restrict the people in our sales funnel just makes no sense if we want the output at the bottom of the funnel to grow.
But that’s exactly what many of us get wrong.
You’d think that simple math would apply, but you’d be wrong. The greater the number of people you’re attempting to get into the top of your funnel should result in a higher number popping out of the bottom. What you may not be considering are the actual number of people you can actually corral into the top of your funnel. You’re likely focused on all the living, breathing people you could attempt to get into your funnel, but they’re never going to enter. You dream about them entering though. In fact, you’ve got those spreadsheets with some terrific – seemingly realistic numbers – of prospective customers. You think if you just get a little bitty conversion rate the bottom number of customers will be HUGE.
It’s unreasonable, but it feels so logical. That’s why you hang onto it. What if you could make those numbers happen?
When I was still a teenager selling hi-fi gear I’d sometimes get called to meet with a competitor who wanted me to consider jumping ship. I’m not sure if it was my intuition or what, but I remember one time sitting down with a shop owner who was attempting to lure me with visions of bigger commissions. “You could earn X,” he said. I don’t remember what X was, but I do remember it being more money than I’d ever made. Without thinking about it, I blurted out the question, “Do you have anybody making that right now?” No, he didn’t. And without hesitation I asked, “Has anybody ever made that kind of money working here?” Again, no! He instantly followed up, “But it’s possible.”
And that’s how we approach our marketing numbers. We keep on thinking it’s possible, even though we’ve never done it before. And we don’t know anybody who has. But we’re going to be the ones who are able to tempt mass volumes of prospects into our funnel where others may have failed.
This is where our romantic notions blind us to the realities of the market. We fall in love with notions that may not be realistic. Like a high school boy who dreams of dating the most popular girl in school…it’s nice to fantasize about, but it’s not going to happen. Eventually, we think that boy is delusional. That’s what we become in our businesses, too. Delusional.
While I sat in the C-suite I never had trouble niching down. I knew exactly who our prospects were and it made for effective marketing. It influenced and directed our messaging, the words we used and how we sought to gain the attention of the right people – our ideal prospects. But about 8 years ago when I stepped away from running bigger businesses and set about to start my own one-man-band coaching and consulting company I lost my mind. Well, not literally, but I did lose my learning. It’s as though I forgot what I’d learned and practiced all my life.
I just wanted a customer. Initially, any customer. You know the feeling. Every business owner and leader knows the feeling. There are many times when we just need to make a sale. We need somebody to buy something. Sometimes we feel desperate for it. Sometimes we are desperate for it.
I felt like that. Some days I still feels like that. And I know I’m not alone. You sometimes feel like that, too.
The Internet is so vast that it creates these false impressions, often intentionally. We like others to think we’ve got our act together – and that every step we make is the right step. While I enjoy what Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, calls “positivity,” the reality is I’m sometimes annoyed by people who always act like they’re setting the woods on fire. You ask them, “How’s business?” and they’re likely as not to answer, “Man, it could NOT be better.” During my lifetime of experience I have frequently found these are the people often suffering the most. They just feel compelled to put that mask on, hoping to fool the rest of us who are mere mortals struggling sometimes to get by.
I admit it. I have sometimes struggled. I’ve not always had it right. If that blows your opinion of me…well, I never told you I was a guru or somebody impervious to the pains of being in business. Business is hard. It’s very hard. I don’t care what industry you’re in. And I don’t care what competitive edge you think you have, or what edge you legitimately enjoy. The market is tough. It chews up the best of us at times. And because it’s organic and ever changing…we have to stay on top of our game to give ourselves a chance for success. Failure is easy. Success is hard.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our greatest lessons came from our wins? But we both know that’s now where our most valuable lessons have come. No, they’ve come from the times we got our brains beat out of our head. All those times we tried something that failed. Sometimes colossal failures taught us the most valuable lessons.
I’m experienced enough to realize there are at least a couple of fundamental truths about business building…
One, there is such a thing as luck, serendipity, timing or whatever else you’d like to label it. Good ideas require a degree of effective execution, but they also require correct timing. Plenty of people have had an idea whose time just wasn’t right. There are many fragile moments in the course of our careers and businesses where things need to work out just right, or we’ll fail.
Two, winners have stayed with the fight through the failures until they’ve found success. Some winners have failed a lot. Others, because of that first truth, have fought though a limited number of failures and found success fairly quickly. It’s different for each of us. Which is why there are NO secrets. There’s just our own persistence to press past the failure for as long as we must until we find our own success.
What’s that got to do with niching down? Quite a lot really. Niching down can speed up our learning curve and help us achieve success more quickly. And that’s worthy of our consideration all by itself. But that’s not where I want to focus. Not today anyway.
Niching down helps us serve better!
For me, after a lifetime spent building businesses, it wasn’t about confidence or experience. Or even know-how. I don’t mean that I’ve learned all there is to learn. Quite the contrary, the more I learn the more I realize I have to learn. But as I embarked on doing hardcore business coaching nearly 8 years ago, I didn’t lack the skills or confidence to do it. I knew then, as I know now, that I had quite a lot to offer. Enough to offer to make myself valuable to somebody.
My early error was my failure to concentrate on WHO. Who am I going to serve? “Anybody” or “everybody” is never the right answer to that question. Logically, I knew that. Yet, that was really my answer. WRONG.
My mind would race with people in all sorts of spaces who could benefit from my help. I knew this because I had served people in all sorts of spaces and my work had benefited everybody I served. It didn’t matter if they were a retailer, a manufacturers, a service professional or anything else. Business building and leadership aren’t so different from industry to industry. The verbiage may differ, but the principles don’t. That just added to my marketing confusion.
So for a few years I was pretty much all over the place. Working with businesses with nothing in common so far as industries were concerned. I was being a marketing generalist and it resulted in very sporadic, unpredictable marketing. Sometimes feast. Other times famine. Up. Down. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Sure it does. Many of us operate much larger businesses than my little one-man-band enterprise in the exact same way. We put one foot in front of the other day after day, week after week, month after month.
I kept doing this in spite of knowing better. Proving another point: it’s one thing to know, it’s something else to DO. I was guilty of not closing that knowing-doing gap. I was doing one thing in the face of knowing something else. Until I regained my senses.
It all happened over the past year or so, but it only recently culminated in a renewed focus and hard-headedness. The kind of hard-headedness required for success. You might prefer the words grit, tenacity, determination or resilience. I’m calling it hard-headedness because for me, that better describes it because for me it involved a sense of anger. Anger at myself for being so foolish for so long. Anger at others for trying to distract me, no matter how well-intended. Anger at failing to do the very things I knew were necessary for my own success.
Don’t underestimate the value of getting mad, as long as you direct it where it belongs. Anger can bring about the clarity you need to really focus on WHO you can most serve – that ideal target market that desperately needs what you have to offer.
That’ll be our focus in part 2. In the meanwhile, think about all these things and spend some time coming to terms with your own need to scale down who you’ll serve. I know you want to think you’ll change the world and maybe you will, but not before narrowing down a specific – very narrow – group of people who can benefit the most from what you do. Your service may have universal value and appeal, but there’s somebody – some group – that values it more than anybody else. And you’ve got to be congruent with who you are, and who you most want to be.
So as you can see, there are many moving parts to niching down. But for today, we at least got our toes in the water. Keep soaking on these things and let’s work this out a bit more so we can work toward growing great – both in our personal and professional lives…and in our organizations. I want your business to grow great, but I know that’ll best happen if you can grow great as a business builder. So let’s make sure we’re doing the work.
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