Simply *Not* the Best

Have you ever heard of a man named Braxton Key?

Let me give you a hint: He’s a professional basketball player.

Still not ringing a bell?

Don’t feel bad. I had never heard of him either until I did some Googling (who says I don’t do research?).

That’s because, among those who play in the National Basketball Association, Braxton Key stands out, skill-wise, for just one reason: He is arguably the worst player in the league.

He plays for the Detroit Pistons – the team with the worst record this past season – and he scored the fewest number of points on the team, averaging just 1.3 per game.

He is, not to put too fine a point on it, the least valuable player on the least successful team.

So, is Braxton Key a good basketball player?

Well, he…

… led his high school team to a 45-1 record and a national championship;

… won another national championship playing for the University of Virginia;

… plays in the NBA, which makes him one of the 450 best players on Planet Earth (our home planet).

The fact is, if Braxton Key were to show up to play at my Tuesday night basketball game (hey, a fella can dream), he would be so much better than the rest of us, the difference between his skills and those of the best player in the NBA would be both imperceptible and irrelevant.

In other words, the distinction between “fantastically amazing” and “very fantastically amazing” is lost on those of us outside the profession. Any profession.

And that, my very fantastically amazing professional service provider friend, is your marketing problem:

None of your clients – present or would-be – have a good idea as to how technically skilled you are.

Compared to them, you and your peers are so good that it doesn’t matter.

They don’t know or care whether you are Braxton Key or LeBron James. Both can get the job done just fine.

Stop Focusing So Much on Your Expertise

One of my favorite questions to ask of professional service providers is, “What makes you better?”

Along with the usual blah blah about “customized solutions” and “high-quality service,” there often are actual differences cited.

But it’s all inside baseball stuff (sorry for mixing sports metaphors) which, even if true, are lost on the rest of us who can barely hit the ball over the net (now I’m just trying to mention as many sports as possible).

So, if it’s not expertise, what matters in standing out from the crowd? Four things…

#1. You Need a Network

Nearly all of your clients come from word of mouth and referrals – people you know sending people they know in your direction (if not themselves).

So you need to know who’s in your network and find a way to stay in touch with those people.

It need not be fancy – a spreadsheet, CRM, even paper note cards all work. But you want to be systematic and consistent in keeping the flame of relationship alive.

#2. You Need a Specialty

As someone advised me long ago when I was starting my own business, “People want to hire experts. You need to become the leading expert in something.”

Which is why the broader the range of things you claim to do, the less likely you are to pop into my head when somebody in my aforementioned network has a need.

Find something you can become known for – a problem you fix (e.g., barking dogs); a population you serve (e.g., recently divorced middle aged men); an unusual aspect of how you work (e.g., I charge as a percentage of the money I save you).

Then let the world know this is what you do.

You can even combine these: “I specialize in helping recently divorced middle-aged men stop barking.” You get the idea.

#3. You Need a Point of View

There aren’t that many things in business that are absolutely correct (except maybe that).

But as a professional in whatever field you occupy, you need an opinion – about what matters, what works, what’s irrelevant, what to watch out for, who to pay attention to, etc.

There are a thousand ways to be good at basketball. Your profession has just as many. Figure out what you believe in and talk about it.

#4. You need a Voice

You know that friend of yours who’s been happily married for years and nobody can quite figure out what she sees in him?

Well, it doesn’t matter – you are not the target audience. My wife is. 

It’s the same with professionals. There is no “right” personality or approach. The best clients are the ones who connect with us, for whatever reason.

You might like that your accountant wears a tie while working from home because to you, it suggests, “seriousness.” I might prefer one that brings a (non-barking) dog into the office because to me, it suggests, “friendliness.”

What matters is that prospective clients are able to “hear” who we are, so there is a good match.

Your job, in that regard, is to make sure your marketing – web site, LinkedIn profile, newsletter, presentations, company name, podcast, and all the other outwardly-facing aspects of your business – reflects that.

In other words, if I removed your name from these things, would I still know it was coming from you?

Here’s the bottom line.

When it comes to professional competency, you are way, way over the bar (track and field metaphor). That’s not what’s holding you back.

Spend your energy doing things that will help you stand out and be remembered for who you are and what you believe, and you’ll hook a lot more clients as a result (don’t make me say it).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you now or have you ever been a professional athlete?
  2. Do you have a favorite sports-related metaphor?
  3. What aspect of your marketing is the best reflection of who you really are?

Share your answers below…

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5 thoughts on “Simply *Not* the Best

  1. Evelyn Starr

    Despite the title, this edition was one of your best Michael!

    The aspect of my marketing that best reflects me? My handwritten cards and notes. They are the most memorable marketing tools too. It’s amazing how long people save them, refer to them, and recall them to me.

  2. Michelle Morris, CFP®, EA

    1. I have never been an athlete of any kind.

    2. Getting out of the stock market because [it’s down], [a weirdo was or might be elected president], [a talking head on TV told me to] is an unforced error. A wealth-destroying one at that.

    3. My newsletter!

  3. Peggy Staver

    1. Not a professional athlete. Not much of any kind of athlete. I like to hike and ride my e-bike. Does that count?
    2. If you want to hook a fish, you need to use the right bait.
    3. My blog. I use my own voice and try to talk directly to my reader.

    Thanks for the advice. But now I have that “simply the best, better than all the rest” song in my head.


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