Prospecting problems: Making space in a crowded market
Post #3: In which we help you create your own space in a crowded market
Much as we all like to think that there lies a vast and immediately obvious chasm that separates us from our competitors, sometimes we are forced to concede that this may not exactly be the case.
In an ideal world, every company would offer a unique product or service that meets a distinct and very real need. But, back down on earth (with a bump), we are often separated from a host of competitors by only the slightest, almost imperceptible, margin.
Our points of difference are usually by degree – and we sometimes have to do a fair bit of digging to unearth them. They typically rest in the not-so-fertile ground of ‘nice to haves’ or ‘added bonuses’ rather than the nutrient-rich topsoil that we would prefer to sow our seeds in.
The problem for prospectors
So, what can we possibly say in a 150/200-word introductory mail that will make someone accept that they not only need to invest in a ‘solution’, but that they also must invest in our ‘solution’?
Creating space for our voice to be heard in a crowded market is a very real problem for many engaged in prospecting.
The good and bad news
The good news is that it most certainly can be done – and we’ll explore some approaches that work in a moment.
The bad news is that it usually relies on you thinking differently about yourself than years of sales and marketing wisdom trains you to do. In a nutshell, you need to drop all that self-belief in being radically different from those competitors you usually define yourself against.
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Prospecting is not marketing
The prospecting mind-set must be very different from the traditional marketing mind-set.
Much of the marketing material that gets produced is aimed at an audience already pretty far down your funnel. A need has been established, a solution settled on and, now, it’s a matter of convincing someone to pick you to provide it.
Typical output would include: ‘Here’s a video about us in action’ ‘Here’s a comparison sheet of us against A.N. Other’ ‘Here’s a case study showing how others deployed us’ … And so on.
Earlier on in the sales funnel, marketers tend to rely on ‘content marketing’ to engage interest. This is a way of defining a brand as commanding (or, at least, occupying) a certain space.
Typical output would include: ‘Here’s an infographic about X’ ‘Here’s a video exploring how X affects Y’ ‘Here’s a webinar with industry experts chewing the fat over X, Y and Z’ … And so on.
In very simple terms marketing-type A goes into detail about benefits to close sales…
… and marketing-type B explores the general terrain but does not really try too hard to sell (and it has the luxury of time to do this).
It does not have the luxury of time to establish its brand’s credentials (But it must quickly establish a need) …
… Nor does it have the audience’s attention to win them over by finely wrought comparisons and case studies
(But it must inspire an action)
How to buy yourself space in a crowded market
In the ideal-world scenario – where your offering meets a definite need and is the only thing to do this – all the prospector must do is establish this need and drop the baited hook of its solution.
But how on earth are you going to establish a need at the same time as trying to outline your differences from other solutions – especially if these may end up taking you far from the initial need in the first place?
More to the point, how are you going to do this in a couple of short, bright, and breezy paragraphs?
Here are some tactics that can help you succeed when you are prospecting in a crowded market place.
1. Through force of personality
When material differences are slim, the tone in which your approach is made can make a very real difference.
Find out how competitors are prospecting and make sure you sound unique.
The possibilities here ere endless but you can easily cut through a swathe of distant, business-speak pitches with a jokey, informal approach or you can stand out from faceless, corporate pitches with a heartfelt, personal piece of outreach.
What happens here is two-fold.
First, you become memorable – and that can win hearts.
Second, the different tone helps plant the idea that yours is a different solution.
Either could result in a reply to your mail and both together will see you receiving a very warm response when you put in that requested call.
2. Through dint of experience
Where very real differences within your market may not exist, the sense that you have experience in the sector that you prospect in can gain you a great leap out of the blocks.
It may be that you just comment on a number of customers from a certain sector, and let the implicit assumption be that your solution is designed for this.
It may be that you spell out that the reason you have so many customers from this sector is [insert reason a, b and c].Here you have the added bonus of choosing the benefits that you choose to highlight as being those most relevant.
A rather more elegant tactic here would be to say that you are getting in touch because many [name of sector] businesses, like [name of company], have been in touch because [insert fault of other solutions or challenge that your solution meets]. You then enquire if this is something you could help your recipient with.
Here you have implicitly suggested that your solution is radically different to others and that it has been designed to specifically meet the needs of the sector you are in contact with. Both help to subtly set you apart and elicit interest from a well-trod field.
3. Through added value
While the cost-difference between your solution and others or its range of unique features/benefits may not offer too much to write home about, it may be that there are very real extras that exist to help you to carve a space to sell from.
Usually this space is occupied by after-sales or customer service, particularly where a poor track record typifies the market you operate in.
Here spelling out that you care and giving one or two examples of going beyond the expected levels of service can be extremely powerful, especially if your contact has been bitten before and is now twice shy.
As strong as customer service is to create a palpable difference there are other ways. For instance, you may focus on ethos if CSR is likely to be a concern or you could focus on a way of working, such as partnering rather than outsourcing. They may seem like small drums to bang, but place them in a receptive echo chamber and they can really make a lot of noise.
4. Through honesty
This approach sees you putting your hands up and admitting that there may be a lot of pitches being made from a lot of similar companies at the moment but …
Being honest is usually an endearing trait, so recognising that you are not pitching alone helps at least break down that knee-jerk response of ‘not another X pitch’.
Now, the trick is to find just one strong ‘but’ reason (see suggestions two and three above) or go for a humorous/whimsical close (see suggestion one above).
Sometimes honesty pays.
5. Through single-mindedness
If your struggling to define yourself the tendency can be to outline every small difference that exists. The problem with this is that:
You risk overlooking the big picture of why you may be needed in the first place
The more things you mention the less you sound like a person rather than a corporate brochure
You simply don’t have the space or the attention span to start diving into detail
The best thing you can do is to pick one thing and hang your mail on this.
You’ll need to have undertaken research to understand exactly what different sized companies, sectors, job roles, locations etc. will be most receptive to.
You’ll need to have faith to simply hone in on this.
You’ll need to carefully segment your mailing according to this.
You’ll need to watch carefully for responses and be prepared to reposition your mail if its not hitting that spot.
A crowded market is what most of us operate in.
It’s not unusual.
And it certainly is not insurmountable.
In our next ‘prospecting problems’ posts we’ll be looking at other ways you can handle your prospecting when things get tough.