It could be that you’ve got a great skill-set and knowledge base. But is the service you want to sell in congruence with what your clients want to buy? As in, are you showing your abilities to solve problems and access opportunities, that your clients are actually concerned about? Or are you focusing on advantages that don’t matter to them – or worse, presenting yourself as something they’d rather stay away from?
As an example -- in my work with engineers and other professionals, I find that many of them are obsessed with accuracy. They want to determine exactly the mercury concentration in a coal-fired power plant’s stack, the valuation of a closely-held company, or the EBITDA (that’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of a startup business.
And I have to love them for that. I feel safer crossing a bridge knowing that some quant jock engineer has determined whether, the weight of my vehicle will exceed the carrying capacity of the structural steel.
But all business professionals have to sometimes take a step back from their work and evaluate it. Are the areas of concern that they’re focusing on, the same as the areas that the client finds most pressing?
What might you be “selling” in your blog posts, videos and other content might be at variance with the client’s concerns. Two often mistaken areas of focus for business professionals are:
Accuracy. Okay, the report you produce has to be credible, and the numbers defensible. But the client is not going to pay more for that report, or tolerate a late delivery, if the extra charges or lateness are just about providing a level of accuracy that’s more than necessary.
Innovation. Many technical professionals just love trying new things, and again, I’ve got to love their interest in making the world a better place. But too often, when the client hears the word “innovation,” as in “We’ll be trying a new solution for this project, one that really pushes the innovation envelope,” the client gets upset. Their response is, “I want a solution that works – I don’t want to be a beta test site for your ideas.”
So, don’t be pushing your ideas on how to be accurate beyond what’s necessary, and I suggest you keep your innovation to yourself too.
So what are clients buying, that you need to present in your content?
Reduced or eliminated cost
If you can point out ways to keep costs down, or remove line items from the budget entirely, you will be welcome. Verifiable numbers, based on a study conducted by a neutral third party, help with acceptance of this message. Case studies are particularly good for demonstrating reduced costs (see Post #1 for more on effective case studies).
Risks come in all different colors: risk of paying more for a commodity if the price jumps, risk of social unrest disrupting a company’s plans, risk to the company’s reputation (think Volkswagen) and others. If you have a solution that improves certainty, even at a price, your ideas will get a hearing.
For instance, one of my clients helps mining companies create economic opportunities for people in communities near their mining operations. By working with local businesses to help them supply food and other products to the mine, the company is able to build goodwill, strengthen bridges to the community, and reduce the chance that their access roads will be blocked by angry stakeholders. The content I developed for this consultant talked about the value of investing in the local community, from a risk-management perspective. While the mining company might want to do the right thing just on principle, it’s more motivated if the “right thing” also carries the ability to reduce risk.
A problem off their desk
Clients welcome you if you show your ability to take a problem off their desk or to-do list. Show that you can reliably take care of an issue.
In my case, my work with Global Reach Communications started out as mostly just writing what is now called “content.” But I soon found that clients wanted more that. The professional firm marketers I reported to, wanted me to work with their client-service professionals to develop the article concept, find the right publications, present the idea to the editor, ghost-write the article, work it through the internal approval process, and work with the editor on getting it published. I still do all of that, and have added search engine optimization and social media to the mix. I’m able to charge two to three times what a garden-variety ghost-written article would be able to charge for the same written content – because I’m taking a problem off the marketer’s desk.
So, look for problems you can take as a package deal off someone’s desk, so that they can focus their attention elsewhere.
Reliability in the timeline
Timelines, particularly in the extractive industries (oil & gas, mining, and quarrying) where many of my clients’ clients work, can be frustrating. The project proponent may think that it has all the environmental permits that are required, when one of those permits becomes undone. So I help my clients create content on ways to provide more reliability into a process – fewer moving parts to go wrong – and this shows their ability to help make a timeline more reliable.
Insights into potential problems and opportunities
Potential clients want to be alerted if there are any future problems and opportunities. For example, many of my clients want to create content around new environmental regulations. The US Environmental Protection Agency is a steady stream of new regulations – for example, new regulations on the management of water that has been contaminated from passing through a pile of coal ash – and much of the content I produce has to do with this new issue.
I find that creating this type of content works best if the trend or new development is from your world, but is going to affect your clients’ world. This can be in two forms:
Newsjacking – the creation of content wrapped around hard news, such as a new US-EPA rule (I’ve dealt with newsjacking in Post #6)
Trendspotting – creating content that unwraps a gradual trend, as I’ve discussed in Post #22.
I’ll be interested in other ideas on this topic – what do you find that your clients are buying?