To Be a Generalist or to Be a Specialist? That is the Question.

Posted June 24, 2011 by Mike Wien
Categories: Having the right message

I was meeting with a prospect this week and he asked me if it was better to be a generalist or a specialist in today’s turbulent environment.

Poland Shale Gas

The person asking specializes in helping US companies in the oil industry figure out how to enter Poland to serve the significant needs developing around shale gas exploration.  (Ironic that the question would come from someone who is famous for something by being so specialized.)

For more on Poland’s Shale gas click on this link-

It was a great question and the answer is worthy of sharing with my blog readers.  Last month, the Wall Street Journal ran an article that featured five lawyers who made $1,000 plus per hour.  (Click on my $1,000 lawyer posting on the right.)  They were all very senior in their firms and specialized in one area.  Last week (June 15th,) the Wall Street Journal ran another article, “Lawyers Settle…for Temp Jobs.”   This article was about very qualified lawyers who were generalists.  Since they did not differentiate themselves from other lawyers, I am afraid they were viewed as a commodity.  Given the downturn in the economy, many of these generalists are now working as a contract employee for law firms “sometimes during graveyard shifts” reading and coding documents on line at a rate of $33 to $100 per hour.  Now, what was the original question….generalist at $60 per hour or specialist at $1,000 per hour?

When I give an example like this, I am often challenged that years of experience is essential for being famous for something.   Tell that to the lawyers who decided to focus on social media or mobile applications law last year.  They are now the experts and famous for something that did not exist three years ago.   Another example of the power of being specific.  Be famous for something.


Being Very Specific Generates More Referrals

Posted June 8, 2011 by Mike Wien
Categories: Having the right message

A couple of months ago, I was the guest speaker for a group of senior female professional service providers (lawyers, bankers, accountants, financial planners, consultants and commercial real estate brokers.)  My speech, Counterintuitive Thinking for Growing Your Business helped the women understand the power of being specific in business development.

At the end of the speech, we held a workshop to let each participant fine tune their message and harness the power of being specific.  After three minutes of encouraging a commercial real estate lawyer to become more focused, she finally told the group she was especially good at helping buyers and sellers of low income multi-family housing that is financed through HUD.  Before I could jump up and say YES!, one of the participants started screaming.  Here is what she said. “I have been sitting next to you for 90 minutes.  We talked about what each of us did. My husband is about to buy

a low income multi-family property and needs an attorney with HUD experience.  I knew you were a lawyer that handled commercial litigation, but I never connected that you were perfect for what my husband needed.”

This is just one example of how the power of being specific can produce results.  If you are specific, you will normally get one of three responses- A miracle, a referral or a transfer.

A miracle is when you are a perfect match to what the person needs.  And the reason it is a miracle is that it does not happen very often.  It is also the most common reason why people try to avoid being too specific.  However, the other two options are more likely and support the premise that being specific will increase the odds of producing a better outcome.

The second possible response is a referral.   This is when the person hears what you do and offers to refer you to someone who needs your exact area of expertise.

Finally, a transfer is when you impress someone with your experience in one area and they ask if you can help in a related area.  In the example above, it might have been buying or selling luxury multi-family developments.

By being specific, you have three potential positive outcomes.  By being general, the best you can hope for is a “how nice” or a “that was interesting” response.  The chances of generating a quality lead in the general approach is at best a long shot, not even as good as a miracle.

Stop Cooking Frogs in a Crock Pot

Posted May 10, 2011 by Mike Wien
Categories: Having the right message

Last week, Dean Minuto spoke to my Vistage Group.  Dean is a partner with SalesBrain, (  a consulting firm that applies basic neuroscience studies to improve the sales process.  One of Dean’s key messages was the importance of delivering your message to the Reptilian Brain.  (Behavioral psychologists have divided the brain into three:  the rational, the emotional and the instinctual.  The Reptilian Brain represents the instinctual.)

Dean demonstrated how the most effective business development plans focus on the six stimuli in the reptilian section of the brain:

–          Self-centered
–          Contrast
–          Tangible
–          Beginning and end
–          Visual
–          Emotion

I found the Contrast stimuli to be especially relevant to the power of being specific in attracting new clients.  The Contrast stimuli refers to our ability to differentiate safety from danger – flight or fight.  We need to see a difference in order to make a change.  Dean said that if we tossed a frog in very hot water, his immediate instinct would be to make a change and jump out.  If we put that same frog in water that was at room temperature, his motivation to do something different would not be so great.  When we slowly heated the water to a boil, the frog would not sense a significant difference and would probably recognize the need for change after he was Frog Soup.

So what does the power of being specific have to do with Frog Soup?   If meaningful contrast is a critical step to gaining a new client, then effectively demonstrating that contrast or difference with the prospect’s current provider is mandatory.  One approach is to attack the competitor and promote what is wrong with their solution.  Unfortunately, this has become a too popular option with politicians, but fortunately has proven relatively ineffective in business relationships.  A better approach would be to provide a service that is recognized as being significantly better than what the competition is serving up.

Focusing on a specific industry, or a specific issue, or a specific challenge and developing implications and best practices around that specialty is a great start in illustrating meaningful Contrast or a compelling difference.  Developing relationships with prospects based on providing value through insights and implications will create such a dramatic change in the water temperature that the frog will jump out and be very receptive to hearing more from a new service provider.

It is just another example of the power of being specific.

Going From Homeless to a Celebrity by Being Specific

Posted March 1, 2011 by Mike Wien
Categories: Having the right message

Last December, NBC Nightly News ran an interview with a lady in Florida to capture the challenges some viewers are facing with the holidays approaching.  She told the reporter that she had lost her job five months ago, was about to be evicted from her house with her three children and desperately needed a job.  Then came the moment of truth.  The reporter asked,  “What kind of work are you looking for?”  Did she go specific or did she spread the net as wide as possible?  She spread the net wide and said, “I can do anything.  I am desperate.  I really need a job.”   We all know what happened.  Nothing.  She missed a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to connect with hundreds of potential employers.  Instead, she went for trying to connect with millions and ended up empty handed.

Imagine how different it might have been if she said something like this.  “I have spent the last 5 years working as a cashier in a local grocery store.  I loved my job and loved dealing with the customers.  Someone must be looking for a loyal and dedicated cashier out there.”  That is being famous for something.  My guess is that while she would have limited her search, she would have made her message more compelling and memorable.  The power of being specific.

Now, I appreciate the fact that some of you still might not agree with this example.  So, let’s look at a similar situation that took place in January.   A videographer  from the Columbus Dispatch interviewed Ted Williams, a homeless man who had a criminal record for theft, admitted to abusing drugs and alcohol, and looked like he had been homeless for a long time.  When Ted’s moment of truth came, he had the sense to be specific and told the world what he was famous for…a great radio voice.  

Ted Williams in Columbus

That video made the NBC Nightly News along with over 10 million hits on YouTube.  Within days, Ted received offers that included being the announcer for the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers, and the voice behind Kraft Foods new TV campaign.  He also was invited to most of the network morning talk shows and is in contract negotiations to be the host of the the reality show, Second Chances at Life

Ted understood the power of being famous for something.  And it works!

How do Lawyers Bill at Over $1,000 per Hour?

Posted February 26, 2011 by Mike Wien
Categories: Having the right message

Do you think the attorneys making the big bucks are able to command top rates because they can handle any legal matter?  Is it reasonable to think major companies can justify paying top dollars to a generalist who handles everything?  The Wall Street Journal ran an article this week about the $1,000 plus club and here is what I thought was the most important sentence.  General Electric is willing to pay what it must when it needs a lawyer with “unique” expertise.

The article features five different lawyers and all where famous for something:

  • Kirk Radke advises clients on leveraged buyouts and forming private-equity funds
  • John Reiss advises clients in mergers and acquisitions
  • Brad Scheler advises clients in bankruptcy
  • John Huber advises clients on capital markets
  • Michelle Gon advises clients on trade and investments in China

If specialists command better rates than generalist, why do so many client service professionals try to position themselves as generalists?  I have found through the hundreds of clients I have worked with, either in one-on-one meetings or when facilitating networking groups, that the primary reason is fear of missing an opportunity.  They position themselves as generalists so they do not miss anything. 

The problem is that by being a generalist, they will  never be viewed as someone who has a “unique” expertise and that will prevent them from charging the higher fees.  More importantly,  a general message usually prevents the most client service professionals from breaking through the clutter of claims and attracting enough attention to generate any interest.  They end up missing everything.

It might be counterintuitive, but the specialist with a focused message usually “catch” more clients than the generalist with the wide “net.”

Did Wal-mart Forget What Made Them Famous?

Posted February 24, 2011 by Mike Wien
Categories: Having the right target

The Wall Street Journal reported in their Tuesday edition that “Wal-Mart is in the midst of its worst US sales slump ever.”   In an attempt to be more competitive, the $300 billion retail chain tried to broaden their target audience beyond the American working class and appeal to a broader audience.  So they added organic foods and skinny jeans and cleaned up the aisles to attract a higer income customer. 

Appealing to an audience that is too broad will usually result in connecting with very few.   Segmenting the market into specific targets and serving the unique needs of that target is an approach for connecting with many.  It is counterintuitive, but unfortunately for Wal-Mart, so true.  You can’t be all things to all people.  The surprise is that even bright people at the biggest discount chain in the United States can make that basic mistake.

If Wal-Mart can fall into that trap, how easy is it for someone providing professional services to do the same.  Being famous for something by being laser focused wins over being a generalist and chasing everything. 

A Wal-Mart Store