In this article I explore the difference between service capability and expertise. And why it’s important we train ourselves to begin our pitch by leading off with expertise.
We’ve all had the conversation, whether in a personal or professional setting. You’re asked the generic question, “What do you do?” If you’re in the service industry the answer is usually just as generic as the question. “I’m a… operations/IT/management consultant, mechanical/structural/electrical engineer, marketer, physician, attorney, financial planner, etc.” And if your generic answer inspires the “explain” question, your follow-on response usually relates to the tactical delivery. “I/we… do the electrical engineering on commercial buildings, work with manufacturers to improve their operations, manage investment portfolios, perform orthopedic surgery, etc.” My point in this is your entire thought process is related to the service you’re able to provide. The prescriptive ingredients that anyone in your competitive space offers. The issue with this information is it’s the least differentiating and interesting information about your business and professional life.
What Your Clients Buy
“People buy what you know. Not what you do.” I can’t tell you how many times my father-in-law has expressed this to me. It’s been enough that the insight is stored front and center in my brain. His context has always been in relation to the importance of education. It’s like the old adage states, “People can take away the tangibles in your life, but they can’t take away what you know.” At the core, this statement is related to understanding your value and knowing how to make yourself indispensable. Professional service firms need to market with this thought in mind. Your clients aren’t buying your services, they’re buying how you know how to apply those services. And it’s this nuance that begins to separate your service offering (a non-differentiator) between your expertise (your primary differentiator).
It’s Time to Lead with Expertise and Not Services
When you look at the formal definition of expertise and service as pulled from dictionary.com, you begin to understand why it’s important to lead with your expertise and not your service capability.
- Definition of Expertise: Expert knowledge or skill in a particular field.
- Definition of a Service: The action of doing work or act of assistance.
I’ll give you my own example. “I’m a marketer. I work on the agency side. I can do branding, digital marketing, and thought leadership.” Has that left you inspired? Want to know more? Ready to pay for that capability? Do I seem unique to you? The answer is, or at least it should be, no. I came across flat, uninteresting, didn’t connect with your emotions, and ultimately non-differentiating. There’s a lot of people in this world that can say that exact statement. But the information is eventually important because that’s what you might eventually buy from me. The keyword there is eventually. Let’s reverse my introduction. “I’m a marketer. I spend my time helping professional service firms look and sound like the experts they are.” Different right? You immediately know where my expertise lies. It connects with your emotion and feeling and might even have you self-identifying with needing that expertise. You want to begin knowing more and ask, “How do you do that?” And my response is then “Well, I take our clients through one or all of the following exercises: branding, digital marketing, and/or thought leadership development.” The important point here is you need to know your hook. And your hook lies in your expertise, not your service capability.
It’s Classic Storytelling
All good stories start with pain and peril and end with resolution. Yet when we market the story of our firms, or even ourselves as individuals, it is too often we start with resolution. In the business setting, the resolution to one’s pain and peril are services. However, our cognitive ability is built around helping address someone’s pain and peril. For example, maybe you’re an architecture firm who prides itself on innovative design, being industry leading and disrupting the status-quo. You’re the perfect fit for the land developer who is tired of traditional commercial design and wants their new land development to be a beacon in the community. That land developer needs someone with expertise in thinking outside the box and innovating never before seen solutions for mixed-use development. It’s a job not any architect can do as it requires very specific expertise. And the only way that commercial developer finds you and identifies with you is when you lead off with your expertise to address their specific pain and peril followed by introducing the services you use to apply that expertise to deliver a resolution.
My Final Point:
My final point to all of this is you need to understand how you add value as that is where your expertise lies. Begin your pitch there and then transition into how you apply service capability to deliver that expertise. It’s the only way you’ll differentiate either yourself or your company.