Power in Expertise for Solution Providers:

Power in Expertise for Solution Providers


In our January (link) newsletter, we wrote the first element of excellent positioning for solution providers reduces or eliminates your competition We call this crucial first element Differentiation.  In this newsletter we’ll drill down further into what differentiation means for solution providers.  We’ll discuss why we ferociously believe in it (our own business model is proof of it — the ultimate “practice what you preach” case study).  Then, we will examine how solution providers can achieve differentiation with great success.  


You may think differentiation is a pretty easy concept to grasp.  Be different, hence you are differentiated.  But just being different, by itself, isn’t enough.  In the channel — as the climate, products, services, manufacturers, provider models, and technology all constantly evolve —  it’s not nearly enough.  The goal of true differentiation is to be meaningfully different, to make what separates you mean something.  


In the channel, before embarking to differentiate, you must first realize you have a chance to be meaningfully different at all.  IT is a complex, high-dollar, and consultative world.  Even if your business model is product-centric and  transactional, you should stay in the consultant (the complex and high-dollar) mentality and act accordingly.  Technology products and services are not commodities.  They cannot not be successfully marketed with weak and mostly disposable messages.  They are not toothbrushes (price), groceries (closest to home), or oil changes (convenience).  The vast B2C world of commoditized products and services in the world have NO CHANCE to convey how they are meaningfully different - because they aren’t.  The messages we see from them appeal to basic needs (price, convenience, location), image (cool, hip, the latest thing), or emotion (best customer service, loyalty, love).  This is why marketing has earned a well-deserved bad rap over the years.  Marketers have been tapped with the impossible task of making a difference where there is none to be made in the first place.  


As a solution provider, you don’t have these problems.  You have massive opportunity.  The B2B world you live in means you proactively reach out with sales-centered efforts.  You have the control and the power to reduce or eliminate your competition through your marketing message.  




Through the power of EXPERTISE.  The power of the EXPERT.  


Successfully differentiated solution providers follow this simple formula: 

    1.  Experts are meaningful and valuable

    2.  Experts specialize

    3.  Experts tell the truth, they are not salesmen

    4.  Specializing means a narrow focus

    5.  Narrow focus of WHO (market)

    6.  Narrow focus of WHAT (your specific offering


Step One:  Experts are meaningful and valuable. 

Everyone knows this so we won’t belabor the point.  Think of musicians, doctors, surgeons, pilots, or Tom Brady.  When someone is an expert, they are valuable.  


Step Two:  Experts specialize. 

Forget “The Most Interesting Man in the World (link)”, he’s made-up.  True experts are not Renaissance men (or women) and skilled in many different areas — but focused.  Tom Brady is not an expert football player, he’s an expert quarterback - put him at any other position and he’s a liability.  At quarterback, he’s the MVP.  If you need heart surgery, you don’t find the best surgeon, you find the best heart surgeon. 


Step Three:  Experts tell the truth, they are not salesmen.  Here is where you make or break your differentiation.  What you do and the message you convey must be authentic.  It must be true.  You must walk the walk.  Any effort to differentiate based on a false claim will fall short and fail to deliver.  Your claim must be above reproach, so just be honest.  There is no need for outlandish, exaggerated, or untrue claims - honesty trumps all.  Experts are in the business of practicing their craft and far too busy to spend energy defending a hollow claim.  They don’t make them and neither should you.    


Step Four:  Specializing means a narrow focus. 

The first three steps are designed to set up proper thinking.  They are the why.  The next three tackle the how.  You might be thinking: We’re not the best, the first, or the only (the only ways to truly differentiate) anything we do, so how can we be honest and still differentiate?  

I hope you’d ask that, because it is exactly the right question.  The answer is by narrowing your focus.  It means diving deeper and being more deliberate in who you target and what you offer.  Narrowing your focus is how solution providers become specialized.  It is very hard - and a waste of time - to become the best in the world.  Stop trying and start narrowing your focus.  This is the simple most important part of the process.   By narrowing your focus you can become the best, the first, or the only at what you do - if not all three.  


Step Five:  Narrow the focus of WHO. 

Who are your best customers?  What customers do you do the best work for?  Which are the most profitable?  Which are all three?  Asking yourself these hard questions will help you get away from hollow positioning like: “The midwest’s leader in Information Technology services offering turnkey solutions, managed services and unsurpassed customer service.”  

Who really do you offer expertise to?  Can you narrow who you serve geographically?  Yes, replace midwest with Northern Iowa.  

Can you narrow who by size?  Yes, small to medium size businesses is our niche.


Can you narrow by type?  Yes, professional Services firms are a majority of our customer base.

Now put them all together:  Norther Iowa’s leader in IT services for small and medium sized professional service firms.  


Step Five:  Narrow focus of WHAT (your specific offering)  If you’ve completed step five, you’re almost there - now it’s time to narrow your offering.  Stop being broad and forget about all that you can do, instead think of what you do well.  What offerings help you customers the most.  What offering you enjoy the most.  What offerings make you the most money.  Scour your history, talk to you people, get down to the roots.  I bet it will be pretty obvious you have the capabilities of a total solution provider, but you are really a networking and continuity solution provider.  Or primarily a managed service provider who helps clients virtualize and get to the cloud.  Or something else that is specific.  Norther Iowa’s leading managed service provider for small and medium sized professional service firms.


After you’ve done the heavy lifting and narrowed your focus, you need to test it.   

We began this newsletter by saying that differentiation will reduce or eliminate the competition.  So does it?  Take our example from above:


Norther Iowa’s leading managed service provider for small and medium sized professional service firms.


The midwest’s leader in Information Technology services offering turnkey solutions, managed services and unsurpassed customer service.  


If you were the principal in a law firm in need of managed service solution, there is no question.  You have erased your competition before the game even started.  This exercise will make many of you uncomfortable, you will see it as a flat-out reduction in your sales opportunities.  You will see it as walking away from business.  You might be right, but I’ll leave you with this, are you walking away from actual business or the opportunity of business?  Many of us become paralyzed by the thought of narrow focus, we want options should the occasion present itself.  That model is fine, but it’s weak and reactive.  Focus, get narrow and be rewarded with the sharp spear of a proactive hunter.  Focus, and YOU choose your fate with power.