Tag : specialists

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146: Marketing Less to Sell more

Right after World War I, military plane builders scrambled to find a new market for their products. While some looked for ways to adapt warplanes for civilian use, Gianni Caproni set about designing the largest commercial plane ever. The famous biplane engineer’s ambitious vision was the Transeareo (also called the Caproni Ca.60), a floating plane capable of carrying up to 100 passengers.

To carry its unprecedented cargo, Caproni designed the plane with not one, not two, but nine pair of wings. No, really. I guess the math makes sense: “If two sets of wings lift X kilograms, then nine sets of wings should be able to lift four and a half times that weight.”

Ca.60 Under Costruction
Sadly, though, the design didn’t make sense. On its second demonstration and first real attempt at flight, the flying Erector Set crashed onto Lake Maggiore in Italy. (You can see pictures of the carnage here.)

I can relate to Caproni. Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of Biplane Productions opening for business. During the first few years, I thought the way to get profitable in a hurry was to promise as many services as possible. Auctioneer August 2003My company brochure was an 8-page catalog with lots of small print filled with insecure words. I even ran this embarrassing ad in Auctioneer. It was immature, shoddy, and poorly proofed. I tried to do a bunch of things “good enough” rather than focus on doing one or two things well.

I made a lot of mistakes. At least two big, reliable accounts crashed and burned within the first few years.

Fast forward a decade. I don’t run ads in Auctioneer. I don’t have a company brochure. I don’t have a booth at trade shows, and I don’t promote a wide range of services in any medium or environment. I’m generating far more business each year with glacial rate changes and next to no advertising.

How? The same way I tell university seniors and young entrepreneurs to build their businesses: find both a proficiency and an underserved niche that benefits from that proficiency. Then dive full force almost exclusively into that fishing hole.

One interesting thing about the Transaereo: it was designed without a rudder. Caproni thought that the pitot could create the same steering input by varying the action of the three columns of wings. I find a lot of small businesses like Biplane Productions used to be: rudderless, grabbing any updraft it can and taking it where it leads. For me, though, that led to an unstable, unsustainable flight. The business slowly gained altitude, but it was a fight.

Now, I focus on two things: print design & industry education. With that focus, it has been getting easier to estimate time and costs. I’ve been getting faster and faster at the same tasks, which has allowed me to give myself a raise without changing my rates. My “past & present client” list has been consistently growing. Specialization has given the impression of expertise, and people hire experts—especially the ones teaching their marketing classes.

Auctioneers ask me regularly how to grow their seller base. One of the main things I recommend is focusing on a narrower range of asset categories and/or geographic service areas. It’s impossible to specialize in five or eight types of auctions, but I see auctioneers claiming that all the time. Even if you do other services or sell different assets, you don’t have to market them all. I still write press releases, post auctions on listing sites, and help companies with social media. I just don’t market those and other services, because they dilute my brand.

One of my good friends flies Boeing 777’s for United Airlines. He told me that his international flights leave the ground, weighing more than half a million pounds. He said that some 747’s leave the ground, weighing roughly 750,000 pounds. Both of those international jetliners carry way more than 100 passengers, and both have only one pair of wings. Granted, those two wings are much bigger than the Transaereo’s contraptions. The power is more concentrated and efficient—something aeronautical engineers figured out well before the jet engine, even before the second World War.

We should follow their lead into “less is more.” Let’s be jetliners instead of lumbering origami. Let’s concentrate our brands. Let’s look like experts. Let’s stop telling people we can auction just about anything.

Then, let’s watch our brands and revenues soar to 30,000 feet!

61: Sell Only Your Core Competency

Power CordThis is one of the two times a year when work is typically less frenetic for me, which means it’s one of the slower times of the year for most of my auctioneers. So, I’ve been working on more auction company promotion than I do during the spring and autumn—company brochures, trade show displays, proposals, solicitation pieces, etc.

As I consult with clients about the concept of their respective pieces—the core messages on which to build the text and visual impression—the question I keep repeating is, “What is the one (or two) benefits you are promising the seller?” See, there’s a tendency amidst small business marketers to try to sell every possible aspect of their service in one swipe.

I’m free to say that, because I’m a recovering over-seller. My first company brochure was eight pages of magazine-size type, trying to prove my worth. (Now, it’s on two plane tickets.) The last ad I ran in Auctioneer (August 2003) was a full page ad that listed the 15+ different services that biplane productions could provide. I was trying to be all things to all auctioneers.

I don’t remember getting any clients out of that ad. And I’m not surprised. Foundational truth rests in the adage, “The jack of all trades is the master of none.” It’s the reason your family physician doesn’t perform brain surgeries, why athletes are sorted by positions, why we pick majors in college. A century removed from an agrarian culture, we now have local or regional access to enough service providers to be choosy.

We want specialists.

Your clients are no different. So, sell them on your primary area of expertise.

I laugh when I see auctioneers list five or seven (or more) areas of specialty. It reminds me of this entrepreneur’s sign I saw in Peru last month. If an auction company claims to sell all of those asset groups with equal dexterity, it gives the impression that it performs each at one fifth or one seventh of the proficiency as the auction firm that advertises only one niche. Which company would you hire: the one that does things at/near 100% competency or the one that executes at 15% or 50% competency?

“But we do sell farm equipment and commercial real estate,” you might retort. My response question would be, “Do you sell yourself to farmers and retail developers the same way—with the same materials?” I hope not. If you do, there’s a reason your auction company isn’t growing at the rate the firms you see sprouting around you. Sellers don’t care how well you chant from a podium, the part of the process many auctioneers think is “selling” something. They want to know you’ll have the most butts and the right people in the chairs in front of you. They want to know you have a top secret list of MVP’s who are waiting for you to show them opportunities. They don’t want someone who promises them they can put any number of things on an auction block.

If they wanted their property to be sitting next to random acts of other assets, they’d grab a booth at a flea market.

So, sift what you do down to one or two main services. Then frame those in terms of the primary one or two benefits they provide. Determine which venues and/or media would most efficiently reach the people who want those benefits. Then choose graphics that accentuate and illustrate those benefits to make sure your message stands apart from the other people shouting into that niche’s marketplace.

You may end up having different marketing collateral for different environments, but you’ll need fewer of each to reach the same people you were trying to reach in the first place. You’ll have less-worried sellers who have more confidence in your skills. Yes, you might see your number of auctions drop (at least temporarily); but you’ll be more efficient and effective on the sales you do have.

I wouldn’t suggest all of this unless I had seen it work for me.

Taking It Personally

God wired me “wrong.” I’m not left-brained enough to be the architect or auto engineer my junior high years dreamed for my career. I’m not right-brained enough to see concepts nobody else has dreamed; I’d be worth little to a Madison Avenue ad agency. In college, I took a brain-sided test in a creative writing class. I placed dead center. On top of that, I have the attention span of an inebriated goldfish.

I’m grateful for God’s wiring job, though. Because I don’t have to sift through a mental flood of creative ideas, I’m faster than many professional creatives. Because I like numbers and columns more than the average designer, I’m decent at organizing advertising that auctioneers would rather not touch. Because my mind bounces like a kindergartner on a trampoline, I can jump back and forth between the six to thirty auctions I have on my desk at any given time. I’d be unemployed or underemployed in most advertising settings; but in the auction industry, I’m in demand—working long shifts for good wages. If I tried to be a graphic designer for every industry, I’d be working in a corporate basement instead of my own. And I wouldn’t have over 120 state, national, and international awards.

Last week, I heard this advice from Andy Stanley’s leadership podcast: “Only do what only you can do.” I can confidently and humbly say, I’m one of a small handful of people in a world of billions who do exactly what I do and can do it at the level that I do. And if I’d chased the world, instead of the the relatively-tiny auction industry—God’s destiny for me—I’d be frustrated as an overwhelming misfit. By embracing my uniqueness, I find fewer outlets into which to plug; but I don’t bend my prongs trying to fit into places I don’t belong.

So, how has God wired you? And how are you embracing that wiring?

Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com

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