Perspective: The Skies were Green and Trees were Blue

How to differentiate your business from the masses. 

I recently had breakfast with my three year old niece at one of those restaurants that gives kids a box of colors with a paper placemat in order to help the parents (or in this case an uncle) keep them occupied. As I watched her, she began by pulling out the green crayon and filling in the sky. Soon she started on the trees with her blue crayon.

While I studied her blissfully and creatively continue to color her picture, I couldn’t help but think how many of us would have insisted on coloring that sky blue and to save the green for the leaves of the trees. It got me questioning if we are “coloring” our professional lives in exactly the same unique manner or do we look like everyone else. In business, when your “picture” looks exactly like the competition, how are you able to stand out from that crowd?

In his book, Get Slightly Famous, Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort, Steven Van Yoder says, “If business seems harder and more competitive, that’s because it is.” He goes on to say, “Against this backdrop of increased competition, every business must fight to avoid blending into a sea of look-alikes.”

There are many benefits for being different and standing out. One of the most important is that when you’re different people sit up, take notice and will be more likely to see you and remember you. It’s hard to sell if you can’t be seen. I live in Austin, Texas where the city’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird” and my wife and I do see some unusual individuals – some very different individuals. In fact, these individuals are so memorable that they have been immortalized in a coffee table book we own that documents many of these folks through pictures. They are being seen.

So, what are the steps to differentiating your retirement plan business from the masses? I think the first place to start is with your client in mind. Conduct a bit of field intelligence. Start by giving your clients a little Ed Koch and ask, “How am I doing?” What you’re trying to uncover is: What do my best clients want? What benefits are they looking for? What services interest them? You can easily turbo-charge your differentiation by creating it based on the wants and desires of your best and favorite clients.

Then, armed with the answers from the questions above take a few minutes to simply fill in the following blanks:
"What sets me and my retirement plan business apart is __________."
"What makes my retirement plan business different is __________."
"Something our clients get with us that no one else offers is __________."
“The thing that clients said we do best is __________.”

The answers to these statements could lead you in several directions. For instance, you may discover something everyone else is doing but you do it better. Or, you may discover a service that no one else is providing. Whatever the answer, it is something that you can capitalize upon, something that you can begin to brand.

Finally, once you have determined your differentiating factors, you need to communicate those to your existing clients and potential clients. Examine all of your branding and marketing materials with an eye towards what they say about your discovered difference. The easiest and quickest place to offer up your differentiation is through your value proposition and your introductory brochure. If you don’t have a value proposition statement, write one. If you don’t have an introductory brochure, create one.

Then, at every client or potential client interaction, state or restate your value proposition and share your introductory brochure. Be sure to state clearly and often why you are the best choice, the different choice, for them when it comes to selecting a consultant for their retirement plan.

So the next time you have an opportunity to let the kid in you rise to the surface as you sit with one of your children, grandchildren or a nephew or niece, resist the urge to color the sky blue. Save the blue for the trees as you break out from the norm and create new ways to differentiate yourself and your retirement plan business to the world around you.

Gary A. Weuve is a Registered Corporate Coach with CPI, Qualified Plan Consultants.