Compromise the product and screw the marketing...

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#SmallBizDiaries

Big visionaries behind small businesses share their insights and experiences in this series. Learn how to share your brand story here.

All #SmallBizDiary Entries by Melissa Wildstein
The views of this member do not reflect those of Tin Shingle.

Just hire the very best sales people in the world, arm them with something easy to sell and watch the money roll in. So recommends action Jack Barker, CEO at Pied Piper courtesy of my current HBO fav Silicon Valley. I hope that his portrayal of a tech CEO is just some tongue in cheek amalgamation of the worst parts of people, but I fear that it's not! I find myself grappling with this as a small business owner. For the last five years, we have focused our efforts on a specific customer segment delivering what I've always hoped was a high value service. We didn't have a salesperson - outside of me because really that's what I seemed to be selling - myself and the skillful services of the creative partners that I work with. But I've come to a point where I'm at a crossroads or a plateau or maybe both. For the last three years we have hit the same sales number and have been comfortable with that (admittedly maybe complacent). But this year, things are different. The work hasn't been coming to us as easily as it has in the past. A couple of clients have been bought by other larger firms, senior management has changed hands at others and we don't have the same relationships that we used to. 

So we've been going through a little bit of a positioning exercise. And I feel like I'm the numbers tell me that I'm supposed to toss the baby out with the bath water. If I look at our competition and other more successful companies as my benchmarks, it looks like the real money lies elsewhere - not with my specialized client segment. I also look at the new agencies that our client teams are now working with and they don't technically specialize in my client segment. So where I thought we had carved out a unique space and had created something that was meaningful, maybe specialization doesn't really matter. Maybe our clients don't want to change the world with their products. Maybe our clients just want someone to sell them a silver box with a pretty logo on it. 

And so my struggle is, do I try to hire a sales person to sell a new bigger pool of potential clients a pretty box so that we can get invited to the party to play? Is a sales pitch just the cover letter to get someone to read your resume which is just the foot in the door to the interview? 

Or do I stick to what's worked before but doesn't seem to be working right this minute?

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Comments

Hey Melis!

First of all, I've never known what tossing the baby out with the bath water really means. If the baby is dirty, do you get a new baby? Or do you get a new plastic bath tub? Because the latter would make more sense. Though my daughter thinks that we got rid of our leased minivan because it was too dirty. Anyway - sounds like you are in a rut and your industry has shifted, and client expectations have shifted. Technology will do that to ya! 

I'm not sure what you mean by specialization, because I do think that specializing does help. But it may be that exactly *how* you specialized, or *what* you're giving to them from within that isn't needed or wanted or desired anymore. And it may be that you need to take a step back and blow it up, and put the pieces back together in a different way. What if you didn't do it any more? Would that make you happy? Are there other ideas that you wish you could pursue, but you don't because your day-to-day way of running your business has you running at the same speed each day, with no growth in sight? 

Regarding a silver box with a pretty logo on it - I think that always helps :) But let's be honest - do your clients really want to change the world? Is that why they are hiring you?  

And finally, my last thought is that yeah - your clients may want something else right now. I'll give you an example: I used to design and produce custom built websites. There was a lot of coding involved. There were a lot of design mockups involved. But then DIY website platforms like Squarespace and Wix happened. And people started being able to make their own websites. And make beautiful websites. What they expected out of a web designer started to shift. Prices started to look steep. Management of websites started to look like money they didn't think they ever needed to spend. 

After a few years, it didn't feel the same, and I shifted away from building websites. People started making their own, and having support groups for it. But some people still didn't want to make their own. Or they made their own, and they were REALLY bad looking. Too much text. Not enough text. No formatting. Crazy loud colors that don't match. Etc. So the role of the web designer was still there, just in a different form. 

So step back. Blow it up.