Have you ever gone shopping for new shoes, clothing, electronics or whatever – and come across a product that is exactly right? The features you need, in the design that works best for you? That suddenly becomes a “must have” purchase for you – and the price isn’t much of a factor.
It’s not a coincidence. Manufacturers put a lot of effort into consumer research and testing – focus groups and other ways to find out what customers are looking for. Their purpose is to create a product that will appeal to the customers they want to reach.
As a businessperson, that should be your purpose too – to understand your prospective clients so well that you can design a service offering that becomes a “must have” purchase for them.
That’s why, in your own work, you’re more likely to win the work if you show that your service for your clients is tailor-made – “bespoke” – to fit their needs. You may even be able to charge a higher price for your services, just as you’re probably willing to pay more for a product that absolutely delights you.
Learning from an apple corer that multitasks
I saw this approach recently in my quest for a solution about apples. I want to bring more local food into my own diet (mostly, to reduce my carbon footprint), and also what I serve to guests at our dinner parties. That implies more apple-intensive recipes – apples being about the only fresh fruit available year-round from local sources in my often-frozen country.
But peeling, coring and chopping a dozen apples can be a pain. So I looked online, and found a device that provides a pain-free solution. It looks like cross between a miniature carpentry lathe and a nineteenth-century kitchen device. I bought it, and it rocks.
The design of this device holds a few useful business lessons, which can point you towards developing articles, blog posts and other content that attract the perfect clients for you.
The designers of my apple-solution device must have known that most people planning to buy something are actually looking for a way to solve a problem, as I was. They realized that most bakers don’t want to just get the core out of the apple. They want to solve a problem, which is how to get the apples into a form that can go into an apple pie. This means that they need something that will core the apple, but also peel and slice it.
So, the designers produced a gizmo that does all three. It cores, peels and slices. The apples slide out of it in a tidy white spiral that I can chop into quarters with two knife strokes and drop into the baking dish. It fits the need.
But the designers also realized that bakers need options. Some people want the skin left on the apple, and not every recipe calls for apples that have been sliced (like, baked apples). So, the device can be adjusted to leave the skin on the apple, and also so that it doesn’t slice the apple. That’s thinking with the end purpose of the customer in mind. It’s a solution to a problem, not just a piece of hardware.
You, too, need to design your service offering so it’s a solution to a problem, rather than just a series of functions you perform.
Why solution-focused content helps you do better work
To do this, take a step back from thinking of it as you selling your services to your clients. Consider the issues your clients are facing, and how your work helps them deal with those issues.
The designers of my apple gizmo looked at the world through a baker’s eyes, and it helped them design a product that met a range of needs.
That’s why you need to grow your ability to look at the world through your clients’ eyes.
I saw this recently when working with a PhD employed by one of my clients. Janice (as I’ll call her) specializes in the narrow field of remote sensing – in her case, analyzing the images taken from satellites. She uses images taken with satellite-based LIDAR (like radar, only using light instead of radio waves) to determine whether there have been changes in the earth’s topography.
To me, that sounded really, really geeky. But interesting, in a geeky way, specifically this PhD was clearly in love with her work. That came through in what I can only describe as the sparkle in her voice. Have I mentioned recently that I really like working with people like that!!?? People who just love the work they do?
Anyway, my job was to help Janice author an article that would be published in a trade periodical, to demonstrate the value of what she was able to do.
I asked Janice how her remote-sensing skills are applied. She told me that much of her work was for the mining industry. The tunnels of abandoned underground mines sometimes collapse, she explained, and this can cause subsidence of the surface topography above, or even sinkholes.
That’s a bad thing, because it can cause changes to watercourses and even entire drainage basins, which is an environmental violation. Collapses and subsidence can also harm foundations of buildings, roadways, railroads, airports and other surface installations, which can result in lawsuits.
Janice told me that before satellite-based LIDAR, the only way to determine subsidence was from the ground – crews of surveyors walking over a site, measuring topography changes with theodolites and other survey instruments. It was slow, painstaking work that was hard to do with accuracy when there was snow on the ground. This meant that mining companies tended to not commission subsidence surveys all that often, and those that they did commission, could only be done at certain times of the year.
So, I asked Janice what her work did to help her mining company clients achieve their business goals. There was a pause at the other end of the phone line. I could almost hear the wheels turning inside her brilliant brain. She had, despite her evident intelligence, not thought much about what business purpose there was for the work she was doing.
Then she came out with an answer: “I can help mining companies get their survey results faster, so they can find areas where underground workings are collapsing,” she said. I asked what this meant for the mining companies. “It means that they can take action early, and backfill the mine workings to support them, while the problem is still manageable.”
It seemed clear to me that in the process of developing an article for a mining publication, Janice had learned a great deal about the application of her work.
I find this really common in mid-career technical people. They put all their focus on being technically watertight – producing reliable, accurate findings. And that’s a good thing. But sometimes it means that they lose focus on the purpose of their work, which is generally to solve a business problem, or access an opportunity (for more on what I call “fear and greed,” see post #24).
In Janice’s case, creating an article on how her work is applied gave her insights she could apply to improving her service in facets that mattered to clients – such as the need for speed in completion of her reports. As well, if her initial study of the results pointed out a what seemed to be a serious problem, she could let her client know which parts of the survey area seemed to be most cause for concern, so that work could be focused on those places.
That’s one good reason to create content around the needs of your client – it requires you think through the issues they’re facing. Then, armed with those insights, you can modify your service offering, if needed, to be in tune with the issues facing your client.
This being a blog about marketing, of course there’s a marketing spin to this. Through your articles, blog posts, speeches and other content, you can show your clients that you “get it” about how your work needs to serve the business situation. This helps your message sound less like “Here’s what I want to sell you” and more like, “I can help you meet the challenges you’re facing.”
How “narrowcast newsjacking” helps you serve your clients
One of the best ways to do this is “narrowcast newsjacking,” which I covered in Post #6. Briefly, what it means is looking for news items that matter to your client, and creating content based on the news (that’s the “newsjacking” part) but making sure it’s news that your clients are not likely to find elsewhere (the “narrowcast” part). Look for:
- New regulations and laws (environmental, health & safety, consumer safety) that affect your clients’ world
- The reports of industry fact-finding commissions
- Studies and surveys that are relevant to the client
- New technologies, materials, processes (think Uber, 3-D printing, self-driving vehicles) affecting your client’s world
- New standards produced by highly influential organizations
The search for narrowcast newsjacking topics can help pull you into your clients’ world, and that’s a good thing. You’ll need to read their trade media, their LinkedIn groups, their Twitter, influential blogs, and association websites. You’ll go to their conferences, industry events and meetups. All of these things give you a better understanding of your clients’ issues.
One of the benefits of this is that you learn the vocabulary, jargon and acronyms of the industry you want to reach. That helps you sound like an insider, and people tend to trust people who can talk like them.
Creating client-specific content builds your client connections
In blog post #64, “Why publishing a book gives you an edge in winning business,” I mentioned how researching a book gives you a chance to connect with the leaders in the sector you want to reach. Writing a book is seen as a praiseworthy cause, and many businesspeople are eager to help out an author. It helps if the sources you want to reach are persuaded that your book will help their industry or profession.
This works in other kinds of content creation too. For example, you might invite a member of the industry to co-present with you at a conference – interacting with this person to create the presentation will give you a keen understanding of their perspective on the world, and the issues they’re facing.
In my own experience, it’s much easier to call up someone who happens to be a potential client, when my reason for calling has to do with a book or blog post I’m writing, rather than asking if they want me working for them.
Of course, it’s counterproductive to try to switch the purpose of the call midway through: “Actually, the real reason I was calling is about asking whether I can be part of your next project…” That is, quite rightly, viewed as pushy. Save it for another call, maybe after they’ve come to know you better through other means.
Summary: blogging your way to meeting client needs better
To sum up: Many business professionals, particularly those with a strong technical twist to their work, think that their client is buying really great science. Accurate, elegant, maybe even pushes the technical envelope a bit.
But clients aren’t buying really great science. They’re buying a disappeared problem. Patrons commission your work not from a sheer love of science or a quest for knowledge, but to solve a business purpose. Often, that’s around finding information they can apply to their work, or to meet a regulatory requirement.
So, don’t focus your articles, blog posts and other marketing around your ability to pump out really great technical solutions. Show that you can be good to work with, meet your client’s business realities (like, deadlines) and match your service offering to their needs.
Creating that content presents a great opportunity to learn about your clienteles’ needs, which can point to opportunities to morph your service offering so it meshes more closely with your clients’ needs. You may be able to find extra features and services that your client will pay more for.
That helps you stand out as a preferred vendor, even if you do charge more.