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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  May 01, 2010

Become a Must-Have Expert Everyone Wants to Work With

Originally published for RainToday.com

In these days of free webinars, free speaking, even free projects to “build the relationships,” buyers have plenty of opportunities to discover your value. They take that content and either 1) file you under “not a good fit” and move on, 2) keep in touch to pick up more free stuff, 3) pick up the phone and call you with their latest challenge.

How do they decide who is a “go-to” person and who has nice ideas but aren’t worth paying for? One word: relevance. Let’s explore these three comparisons buyers use to separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. Buyers use these filters to decide who is relevant now and who can wait for next year’s budget.

Your Priority

Most of you are pretty good about being clear on what you do. Once buyers know your offer, two questions determine if they need to act now. The first question they ask themselves: will your expertise help them with something they know they need right now? Will you help them get something they already covet? You must be a conduit for something they already want badly.

Here’s an example: one of my Turbo Charge clients is a best-selling author who wanted to expand his brand into a new area. He wrote another book that publishers wanted so badly that they started a bidding war. Why did the winning publisher fight for that book? Because they wanted to expand into business books and they saw my client’s project as the conduit to make that happen. Yes, they liked the author’s brand, but they also saw what the book could do for the CEO’s top priority. So before writing that article, ask yourself this: what do the decision makers already covet and how can your expertise help them get that?

The second question buyers ask themselves: is solving the problem worth this price point? Here’s where your fee strategy really plays a role. Your investment forces buyers to explore what the solution is worth to them. And they compare your fee with what else they can do with the money. Even in this recovery, there’s a lot of competition for the same pot of dollars.

I’ll use myself as an example. I just heard from a prospective client that she’s weighing two options: working with me or hiring staff. Isn’t that interesting? My competition isn’t other brand consultants — it’s administrative help. In the got-to-have space, your competition is not only other experts; it’s also other priorities. Everyone has more things to do then money to spend. This is why the got-to-have experts position their focus as a conduit for something bigger than themselves.

Your Scarcity

The second things buyers do to determine whether they must have your services is compare your expertise with theirs. There are two assessments buyers make that can put you into nice-to-have status. First comparison: our insights vs. what they already know. I call this the invisible Vulcan mind meld. Decision makers invest in what they don’t already have. So the question buyers ask themselves is do you know something they don’t?

Must-have experts show the market that they have something not readily available. Many talented, nice-to-have folks focus on the clever title or analogy. Buyers see right through that. They are looking at the insight, the point you are making. The analogy, the story, and the cleverness make your point come alive. If your writing is better than your insights, you are a nice read but not worth reaching out to. If you give a speech and hear, “Hey, nice reminder of what I already knew,” you failed the invisible Vulcan mind meld and are in the nice-to-have category.

After passing that test, buyers make a second comparison: your high-end services vs. information they don’t have but can easily get from you. The second bias — all things being “good enough,” the low-cost or free route will prevail. Notice what I didn’t say: equal. Even if you are better than the free resources you provide, even when prospects have a budget, buyers want to make sure they are getting the best option for their money. So another question they ask is can they get your insights from other free sources such as your book or white papers on your website? Is that “good enough” help for them?

This economy has created a lot of free and low-cost education. And it’s good stuff. A must-have expert provide high-quality content but always leaves the impression that “there’s more where that came from.” My favorite example of this strategy is Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonimics. His way of thinking appeals to so many situations that folks can’t get enough of him. And yet everyone knows that if they want their situation examined, they have to pay him his fees.

Your Approach

The third thing buyers look for is agreement. Before hiring you, even before talking to you, buyers want to get a sense of your approach and the way you think. The question they ask themselves: do they agree with your world view? They want to know this because they plan to implement your recommendations.

Think about it: we facilitate change, and change is confronting at the very least. Clients are willing to go on that journey with us as long as we don’t throw them under the bus. And that’s what buyers are really afraid of. They want to make sure your solutions won’t create too much brain damage. Your approach is their early-warning system.

And just saying your solutions are easy won’t cut it. Buyers are now in what I call “discovery” mode. They credit you with any discoveries they make about themselves while reading your materials or hearing you speak. They believe their opinions about you more than they believe what you say.

No More Spaghetti on the Wall

The days of just getting your insights or story out there and hoping for the best are over. In this noisy marketplace, either you are relevant or you are ignored. When we tap into the three things that buyers look for — priority, comparisons, and agreement in approach — not only will we get attention, but we will get the incoming emails and calls, too. And isn’t that the whole point of getting our message out there?


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.