You’ve heard the positioning formulation countless times. You must communicate What you do, Who you serve, and How you are “different.”

Logical, perfectly straightforward, and counter-productive if you want to drive highly-profitable growth. Like with so many best practices, this one reflects what most people do rather than what is most effective. Playing to the lowest common denominator never generates out-sized rewards.

Positioning Your Firm to Whom?

The problem is one of perspective. You see What. . . Who. . . How. . . Your prospective clients see something entirely different. They see: what YOU do, who YOU serve, and how YOU are “different.” YOU, YOU, YOU. Further, how you’re “different” usually appeals to your sensibilities more than the client’s desire to improve their business.

Clients don’t want to talk about you. They want to talk about their business.

What you do–your products and services–and how you do it are secondary to how you improve the client’s life or business. Only after they are confident you can improve what they care about most–their life or business–do they have any interest in the specifics of what you do and how you do it.

The deeper you can go, the more attractive you become to the client. An example helps.

  • Scenario 1 – Not so good: When you sell a drill, you focus on telling the client why they need a drill, and why the features of your drill make it better. Feature supremacy is hard and expensive. Focusing on your high-temperature, cobalt-coated steel and patented flutes over time typically leads to a low-margin business.
  • Scenario 2 – Better: Selling the drill’s benefits is a step up, but we’re still in marketing textbook territory. Heat-treating and patented flutes allow the user to cut faster and remove more material, but the customer has to internalize why that is important–and how it benefits their business. Noting the client uses drills during their widget manufacturing process isn’t enough.
  • Scenario 3 – Home Run: Upending your perspective to make the entire conversation about the drill’s impact on the client’s company does something remarkable. It establishes, and then reinforces, an entirely different relationship. Instead of “Buy my drill, and here’s why,” the discussion you have is about accomplishing the client’s business goals. “I can help you scale up to enter that new market by increasing widget manufacturing speed.” The client may want proof your drill performs as promised, but by that point they’re already sold. A few bits of key data–or maybe just a testimonial from someone they trust–and the deal is done.

Positioning for an Easy Selection

Logically, this approach is a winner. However, there’s more. By taking the conversation straight to the impact on the client’s business, you establish an emotional bond as someone who is helping them. Research consistently shows that people make decisions emotionally, and then use logic to justify the decision they’ve already made in principle. While your competitors are contorting themselves explaining how they are “different,” the prospective client has moved on and is scanning to see if there are reasons they shouldn’t select your firm.

Clients won’t hand you a PO without being comfortable with your products and services. The key is knowing what information the prospective client needs to consider your firm, and what they need in order to select your firm. When you focus on how you improve their business, you’re almost certain to pass the should-they-consider-you test. They will then ask you for information to confirm you can credibly deliver on your claims.

The better you get at doing this without resorting a data dump on your products and services, the less you’ll have to battle competition to grow your firm. The less you have to battle competitive firms, the easier it is to tie your price to the broad impact on the client’s business and frame what you charge in terms of investment rather than some (now meaningless) measure of hours or tasks.