How to Focus on Your Business Expertise as an Executive
Executives have lots and lots of business expertise to draw from. The trick is which one to focus on and how?
When bringing in an independent executive, a client wants the best person to solve their problem. Part of building trust is showing how you are the right person to help them. They need some type of evidence beyond you telling them you are the right person. The more you can focus and relate your expertise and your background to their situation, the higher their comfort level will be that you are the right person. Part of that is drawing the connection for them. Take your history and package it up in a way that a client will start to see the picture and make the connection between what you have done and what you can do for them, often before even meeting you. This is where things can certainly get challenging. How do you take twenty to thirty-plus years of work experience and all that you’ve done and narrow that business expertise down into either a summary or overview, highlighting only the most important pieces?
Since you don’t have the opportunity to initially be in front of and have a direct conversation with all of your future clients, you must rely on someone else or your digital presence to convey your brand and your story. To accomplish this:
Your referral peers must completely understand what you do and always keep you top-of-mind when they are speaking to a client who has a particular need you can fill.
Your digital presence must quickly convey and relate how you can help clients—using the type of language they would use.
This is extremely difficult for most executives. Since most have either been hands-on or managed every part of the organization, narrowing it down to a few areas of expertise is not easy. This is further complicated by résumés that list job titles and not individual business expertise.
A Common Myth on Limiting your Business Expertise
The most common myth we hear is that if you focus on just one area, you may miss an opportunity or an engagement because you can help clients in a variety of areas. The reality is that you are more likely missing out on more opportunities because your peers don’t know when and how to recommend you. This is caused by casting too wide a net. If there’s an opportunity to refer someone, people are more likely to refer someone who is a specialist in the company’s need and situation, rather than someone who simply says “I help grow companies.”
As an executive, you do have a diverse skill set. You had to have it to get to the level where you are today. For example, let’s say you’re a marketing executive who eventually ran your own company, so now you know sales, marketing, and operations, and you’ve done various business deals that have given you lots of experience in contract law. Are you an expert in all of these areas? Likely not. So how do you pick just the ones in which you really are an expert?
Ask yourself this question: “Right now, if I had to get up on stage in front of fifty of my peers, what subject or situation could I speak to as an expert?” This includes being able to cite multiple case studies or examples. To make your point and relate it to real situations, you would relate a story about what had been happening, what you did to intervene, and why it was so successful. If you can’t stand up in front of your peers with confidence that you are an expert, teaching them something that they either don’t know or are being offered a new perspective on, be cautious of presenting yourself as an expert on the topic. Another way of looking at it: If you were to ask ten former supervisors, peers, or clients to rate you on a scale from one to five, with five being the highest, would they rate you a four or five in the area?
We see the term “expert” used broadly at the executive level. Here’s a scenario to help put that into perspective. You are an owner of a small marketing services company. Would fifty sales executives pay to hear you talk about sales and business development? Probably not. If, however, your audience is other small marketing service company owners and you are talking about how you grew your company from $250k to $5 million in two years, you likely would draw a paying audience. Narrow your focus down to what situations you can be dropped into and be the expert.
Find the Sweet Spot in your Business Expertise
Your sweet spot is a combination of what you are great at and what you love to do. It is about tapping into your authentic self. Your authenticity about who you serve, why you serve them, and how you serve them will help those things you are struggling to communicate come more naturally.
Start by identifying what you do best and what you enjoy most, both at the same time. This zone is where you are unstoppable. If you’re the go-to person for specific types of situations, people will want to know that, because this is where you are more likely to succeed and perform best. Compare that to “what a company is willing to pay for and what they see value in,” and you are headed in the right direction.
So how do you find your sweet spot? Try this little exercise. List at least ten accomplishments that you have been proud of in your past, and more importantly, ones which you thoroughly enjoyed the process. This list isn’t for your resume, but rather for your introspection, so stay honest and don’t focus on thinking it through too much.
When we are in a sweet spot, typically our competence is subconscious. Most of the time, we are not even aware of the different steps we take in performing activities we’re a master in. Think about your accomplishments and note what steps you took to achieve them. Itemize all the steps under each one of your accomplishments and you’ll likely notice a common denominator.
If you aren’t able to answer the single question, “What is your brand,” this may be a good place to start. This can help serve as the starting point as you determine your business expertise and your brand.
As difficult as it may be initially, bottom line—brand yourself!
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