“If you are just incrementally better than your competition, then you will never have a stable business. The secret of long-term success lies in being visibly different.”
~ Debra Hilton
A Quick Word on Scarcity and Abundance to Set the Stage
We live in an abundant world in which opportunities for growth and prosperity are only limited by our courage and imagination. If you look back at the changes over the past 50 years, it quickly becomes clear that despite the very real threats to global freedom and human dignity, there has also been equally real progress in living standards and opportunities.
From a business perspective, you may feel threatened by the rise of Amazon and other forms of commoditisation and competition, but you have a genuine choice: either to let these factors drive your prices down and threaten your survival, or to refine and reinvent the way you do business so that you become so different, that you are the only desirable choice for a segment of the market.
You don’t need to corner the entire market, you just need to corner a profitable segment of it and do business with that select segment on your terms. That is what authority is all about and why it is a critical factor for you to consider.
The Balance of Power and the Authority Scale
The diagram above is probably familiar to most of you in some shape or form. It’s been used to describe societal structures since the days of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt and Babylon and applies to every known society since (including socialist and communist systems that are supposedly ‘flat’ hierarchies. Like many other natural laws, this pyramid defies social engineering and political correctness and manifests itself in many fields. Your choice is whether to ignore this reality, or use it for your own purposes.
At the bottom of the pile are the generalists or peasants. These people (or businesses) are easily replaced and mostly perform mechanical tasks. If one person leaves, another person can quickly be trained to take their place (eg. McDonalds staff, book keepers, data entry clerks). They play an important role, but in today’s society these are the people whose jobs are most threatened by AI.
At the next level we find increasing an degree of specialisation and managerial expertise. This may be a factor of skill, training, or knowledge. These people are slightly harder to replace because there is usually some level of pain involved in moving from one provider to another, but are often seen as interchangeable and differentiated more by price than anything else.
Above the specialist is a authority specialist. In the ancient world, these people were local landlords or priests and they could shape people’s destiny and happiness in many ways. In the business world, the authority specialist can choose who they work with and set the terms of the relationship. To a large degree, they can say quite happily to prospective clients, “This is how I work, if you don’t like it then please go and talk to someone else.” As a business, being the authority specialist will usually guarantee that you have more work than you can handle and are being paid well to deliver your unique services.
At the top of the pyramid is the celebrity specialist or king who effectively has the power of life and death and has an unending stream of applicants and supplicants. In today’s world celebrity (sometimes even notoriety) is more powerful and respected than authority, and a business who is perceived as the celebrity specialist in any field will never lack clients or income unless they act in such a way as to lose all credibility.
From a business perspective, your goal should be to achieve the minimum standing of authority specialist in your field, although if you can achieve celebrity specialist that is even better as a platform for your long-term success. This demands a combination of savvy and consistent marketing and some genuine skills that set you apart from your competitors. Both of these can be learned and applied by anyone.
The exciting thing about this, is that in today’s world being perceived as a celebrity specialist is open to almost anyone who is willing to work strategically and consistently towards that goal. You don’t need permission from anyone else, you just need to develop real skills and market yourself effectively.
The Key to An Authority Sale is Diagnosis
If you start your conversations with prospects by describing what you do, you have already given away your power. No matter how tempting it may be to begin by asserting your claims to credibility, it’s important for you to start by asking question, rather than answering them. If you don’t do this, it doesn’t really matter how you have positioned your business, you’ve already put yourself at their mercy.
When you start by asking your prospect targeted questions about their business as it relates to your services or products you are setting yourself up to provide a diagnosis of their problem and a prescription that will solve it. You are also demonstrating that you are interested in their situation, rather than merely looking for an opportunity to sell them your particular item. This is an almost irresistible combination.
One of my most exciting clients came from a diagnostic conversation that concluded with my saying, “Based on our conversation, I really don’t think that my services are what you need right now, you’d be better with [an alternative solution].” Later that afternoon I received a request to schedule an appointment from a well-known businessman whose friend had told him to give me a call because I had recognised that he had more pressing problems to solve, before he turned his attention to me. Ultimately, I worked with both of them at a time when my solution was the thing they needed to accelerate their growth. If I’d been hungry to close the first sale, even though I knew it wasn’t the best option at the time, I would not have ended up with as many referrals from both of them.
Authority and the Perception of Power
When you are perceived as an authority or celebrity specialist you get to set the terms of engagement with your clients because they recognise that you have determined how to serve them best.
My clients know that I’m not just being arrogant when I don’t pick up my phone when they call or answer their emails within seconds and they appreciate the fact that I put boundaries in place so that I can deliver them my best work in a timely fashion. It’s actually a self-fulfilling cycle of authority and excellence: because I put my existing clients first and set aside the time for research and delivery, they get better results and I am happier with the outcomes, so my authority goes up, my sales cycles get shorter, and my clients are better trained about how we can all get more of what we want.