Narrow your niche for more leads

Sonja Jefferson

Struggling to position your company effectively and generate leads? Step back. Stick your stake in the sand and target your marketing efforts at a particular niche. This post looks at focused positioning and the benefits of ‘going niche’.

The subject of niche specialisation is a contentious one for many small consultancy companies. The fear is that if you focus too narrowly you’ll miss out on opportunities: seeking general appeal in large markets is seen as the safer option. You see large, successful companies that are broad-based so you assume your company must be too. The truth is that most successful companies don’t start out broad.

Former chief evangelist for Apple, Guy Kawasaki describes the niche dilemma well:

“The more precisely you can describe your customers the better. Many entrepreneurs are afraid of being ‘niched’ to death and then not achieving ubiquity. However most successful companies started off targeting specific markets and grew (often unexpectedly) to great size by addressing other segments. Few started off with grandiose goals and achieved them.” Guy Kawasaki in The Art of the Start

As a small company if you fail to specialise you run the risk of trying to be everything to everybody and failing to be remembered – your messages effectively disappear between the cracks. The more precisely you can describe your customers, address their issues and deepen your knowledge the more success you’ll get.

5 solid reasons why niche specialisation makes sense

  1. It is far easier to market a specialist proposition – marketing starts to make sense. If you commit to an area of focus you have a very specific audience to market to and clear messages to communicate. The Internet makes this more of an opportunity for you than ever. Focus you efforts on a narrow niche, build targeted content and get found.
  2. Clients like to know that you work for people just like them and understand their specific needs. Know what your customers really want and build services, messages and content just for them. You’ll deepen your knowledge and build a pool of expertise to refer to over time.
  3. If you want to be seen as a leader in your field you need a field to lead – what do you want to be known for?
  4. If your proposition is specialist and clear people you are easier to refer. Specialisation means more inbound leads through referrals.
  5. Stating your niche doesn’t mean that you won’t get work outside your niche occasionally. As Charles H. Green says:

“You’re better off giving concrete examples of what you can do; people in other niches can abstract to what they do better than they can assume capability from a set of generalities.”

To make your life easier start by identifing a target market and develop your service to be ‘remarkable’ in that niche. Anchor your pitch by telling your chosen customers how you will solve their specific problem.

I’ll leave you with this from Guy Kawasaki:

“Put one niche in your basket, hatch it, put another niche in your basket, hatch it…and soon you’ll have a whole bunch of niches that add up to market domination.”

Examples of companies who benefit from niching themselves

Their knowledge, passion and focus is compelling:

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11 Comments

  1. I completely agree, Sonja. To many companies are afraid to miss out, so market for, and accept, any work coming their way. Better to be a small company doing what you want to do than being a larger company doing stuff you don’t want or enjoy.

    A second point is that if you market to a niche, you will actually pick up other work in addition. But you are more likely to be noticed if you have a specific story people can pick up on.

    Reply
  2. That’s so true Chris. As Charles Green says, people will abstract whether or not it is relevant to them too. Thanks for the comment.

    Reply
  3. Completely agree Sonja – personal experience shows it’s a really hard call to make but when you do, it makes your story so much easier to tell. And of course, it’s so much easier for people to understand and retell your story for you!

    Reply
  4. Classic MBA truth in this article and well described. It’s also what you know in your heart when you’re struggling to cover the ground necessary for great marketing communications. Suspect most small businesses shy away from applying this wisdom, not so much because they don’t get it, but simply because of the focus on short term issues, which leads them to grab any business while it’s passing.

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  5. Thanks Jo and Christine. It’s a hard call I know but a hugely powerful approach if you want to get some serious traction. Sonja

    Reply
  6. Sonja, I think your photo rightly emphasises the importance of niche marketing as “bullseye marketing”.

    Customers buy when they find that you are in their bullseye – i.e. exactly what they are looking for.

    But the more bland and boring your marketing message, the more you become one of many in the outer rings of the target.

    Perhaps unfairly but I pick on accountants as an example and suggest that people play Yellow Pages Bingo. Just go to the Yellow Pages and you’ll see virtually the same marketing message repeated time after time.

    The first one sounds quite interesting – not a bullseye but perhaps in ring three – but then as you see more and more, you realise that they are all virtually the same.

    But when you have a niche – either by who you serve or by what you do – then you stand out as a specialist.

    It’s taken me a long time to realise this because much of my prior success has been based on being a generalist with wide ranging skills, first as an employee and then as a consultant who benefited from a lot of repeat work.

    It took a life threatening illness for me to realise understand the appeal of a specialist because my GP (who is very nice) is so far out of his comfort zone.

    Reply
  7. Thanks Paul. Love the ‘bullseye marketing’ analogy and your comment:

    “When you have a niche – either by who you serve or by what you do – then you stand out as a specialist.” Exactly.

    I’m interested to know if you think things have changed. You mention in the past that your success was based on being a generalist. Has the world moved on and if so, why?

    I’d welcome your thoughts.

    Reply
  8. I have no doubts that the world has moved on.

    The Internet and other communications technologies have made the world a much smaller place.

    In the old days, where contacts were mainly local then a generalist position was for many very viable. It was difficult for a specialist to find enough work and for potential clients to find a specialist.

    The Internet and Google have changed that and promote what Chris Anderson calls the long tail. Suddenly very small, specialist niches are viable because markets have opened up from local to global.

    It doesn’t apply for all products and services – you want your GP and dentist to be convenient – but knowledge of specialists is now available in seconds when you want an expert.

    There are downsides to dealing with a specialist which means that generalists still have a valuable role to play.

    There’s a saying that “if you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.”

    For example, if you tell a sales trainer that you want more sales, then you can expect to be sold sales training. Say the same thing to a marketing consultant and you’ll be told that you need to invest to attract more leads.

    It’s different solutions to the same problem but neither may tackle the underlying problem. In this example, your lead generation and lead conversion practices may be fine and the problem lies in not getting repeat business, either because you don’t have extra products to sell or the customer service is lousy.

    But sometimes the opposite happens as I found out with my medical problems of the previous year. You see an ENT specialist who says that “it’s not in my area, you need a neurologist.” So you go to see a neurologist, have the tests only to be told that it’s not in that area and you should see an ENT consultant when sometimes you just want something done about the symptoms.

    Where I think specialists have the edge is that there is intrinsic appeal in dealing with an expert. We all like to think that we are special and different and it takes an expert to understand those little nuances that matter so much.

    Reply
  9. Thanks Paul. That clarifies it brilliantly. I agree, the Internet has changed how people buy and how we should market dramatically.

    Your sums up the power of niche so well:

    “Where specialists have the edge is that intrinsic appeal in dealing with an expert. We all like to think that we are special and different and it takes an expert to understand those little nuances that matter so much.”

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  10. Sonja, I just found your article from one of @ReCourses tweets. As you’ve noticed, my firm, Newfangled, certainly agrees with your position here.

    We’ve noticed that of the ad agencies we partner with, the ones that have committed to a strong market position do the best through both good and bad economic times. This isn’t just a theory, it’s sound business sense. Thanks very much for the link, by the way.

    Reply
  11. Thanks Mark. Newfangled is the perfect example of success from a niche approach. Good to hear that strong market positioning is working for your clients. Will follow your company with interest. Sonja

    Reply

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