Today's highly competitive business landscape is burgeoning with entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups of all stripes--about half of which fail. Now more than ever, startups and consultants are striving to outpace their competition.
Being an expert in your own field is still important, but it's not enough anymore. To remain a high-growth company, it's imperative to learn more and continually build your expertise within the domains and industries of your target clients.
Fluency Equals More Business
We all know the efficacy of consultative sales in which salespeople take the time to get to know their clients' businesses and needs. This same deep-dive methodology and inherent curiosity is the superpower of both visionary leaders and trusted, sought-after consultants.
Because my company's expertise lies in lean technical consulting and software development, you wouldn't necessarily expect us to have a handle on art or real estate, but you'd be surprised. We didn't start out as experts in those domains, but we built out that background through extensive research and analysis in order to better serve the entrepreneurial community we work with.
For instance, a respected entrepreneur once came to us wanting to change the market for unclaimed property. It's not a transparent marketplace, and very little information is available to help find the people who have money or stocks but may never realize it.
We did our due diligence and came up with a data visualization product that discovers and coalesces data about the unclaimed asset, the original owner, and potential decedents. Then, using software integrations, we could track down a good address or phone number to try to reach them. This tool helps manage big data and create value for the entrepreneur by allowing him to successfully find other people's money--and that turns out to be a pretty good business.
Beyond 'Knowledgeable Enough'
Not every company will take the time to get this good. We read almost daily about this or that company's pains in the press--its software isn't working, its timeline is ruined, customers are unhappy, and stakeholders are angry.
Often, these situations result from working with a vendor who's just knowledgeable enough. Think about the delays around the rollout of the "Obamacare" online exchange. In reality, the "A-team" had to rebuild it to deliver on that big promise.
The happiest clients are those who get the A-team the first time around.
It all comes back to supply and demand. If there's a high demand for expertise in a certain domain but a low supply of consultants versed in it, a company with only passing knowledge could get the job. But as more companies enter the marketplace, those who are just good enough will lose out to those known for establishing real expertise.
The investment your company makes in learning becomes a virtuous cycle. In other words, when you develop deep knowledge in one domain, you earn word-of-mouth referrals in that industry and burnish your reputation as a full-service solutions partner. What's more, you'll benefit from transferability.
For instance, when clients come to us wanting to create a blockchain company, we show them the work we've done with others in the space and highlight the expertise we've developed. They can see they'll get a head start on reaching their market because of our knowledge base. This gives us a leg up on our competitors that are vying for the same project.
Acquiring New Domain Expertise
There's always been a competitive advantage in knowing more than the other guys; unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to that knowledge. There are, however, attitudes and approaches you can adopt and exemplify within your company to help you acquire that knowledge more quickly:
1. Always be learning. Boosting domain knowledge requires a deliberate approach. As tech consultants, our programmers and development team are in the unique position of having to know--and getting to know--the client's whole company and industry.
We're tasked with creating systems that integrate all of these different components. We don't listen to what just one person is telling us; we explore extensively to learn all we can from the whole system and then implement from there.
2. Hold on to enthusiasm, creativity and wonder. When you're always looking for ways to do it better and are enthralled in the actual process, you're not afraid to make mistakes on your quest for the newest and best information within a certain domain. That flow state is a generative space to work from.
Of course, it's not always an easy task. Expect moods of resignation, frustration and defeat. Then, look for ways to bridge the breakdown and pick the path back to more powerful and effective moods. In our experience, the road back to enthusiasm is comprised of meaningful work, great team members, visionary leaders and thoughtful processes. Take care--at the highest levels--to protect and strengthen all of these.
3. Hire knowledge from the outside in. Invest in efforts to attract people with knowledge in a hot domain that will serve your clients well. These days, it's easier than ever to staff up for a particular client's domain by hiring remotely from a global candidate pool.
How do you know whether candidates possess expertise in that domain or the capacity to transfer related skills? Check their portfolios online. Once you bring them in, empower them to carry the torch, teach others in your company, and build that expertise internally.
By cultivating a beginner's mind, you can avoid becoming the proverbial "old dog" that can't learn new tricks. To put it in academic parlance, you won't fall prey to the "earned dogmatism effect" and feel entitled to be closed-minded simply because you're an expert.
When you commit to developing expertise in domains outside of your own, your company gains value in a tight marketplace and grows its reputation as a trusted resource.