What’s Your Niche?

Way back in the good old days (circa 1984), when I was just a young whippersnapper, my wife and I started our business.  Well, actually to be correct, she started it and I joined in after about a year.  We were a small (4 person) company focused on developing solutions for IBM minicomputers.  We had an expertise in an ERP product on that platform and we were looking to grow. An opportunity came along from IBM to join a Marketing Assistance (or Partner) Program. We joined up and dutifully went to the first few meetings.  We had the requisite skill set on their hardware and operating systems.  The IBM partner coordinators asked us, what is your specialty?  How can we determine who to send to you?  Being the smart marketers that some of you know us to be (NOT!), we said “We can work with any customer.  We know the programming language and the operating system.”  Of course, for the next 6 months, the only sound not coming from our office was the ringing of the phone from our partners at IBM.  There was, however,  wailing and crying and asking “What is wrong with us?”, mostly from me.

We went back to our IBM partner advocates and told them about our prowess with Distribution Systems, including a product that they sold. We talked about our technological expertise and then about some success stories helping customers solve distribution issues.  From that point on, we finally got some leads from IBM.  Over the course of the next 13 years, I would venture that this distinction allowed us to book over $3M of revenue.

We had a common problem.  Our problem was not that we weren’t good at what we did.  We were and we had revenue paying clients to prove it. Our problem was that we had to get over the fact that we couldn’t be all things to all people.  We needed to put a line in the sand and proclaim to all that solving distribution software problems for companies were what we were best at.  Once people (clients, partners, recommenders) have a hook, they can then help you get to the next step.

Most young companies don’t want to skinny down the possibilities, afraid of closing doors. My recommendation is not to worry about closed doors. Worry instead about making your open doors a clear priority, with an easy to understand differentiator and a clear value proposition.  Oh, yeah, it helps if you are really good at that niche.  But to paraphrase Seth Godin, Be Remarkable.  You can’t be remarkable if you say you can do everything for everybody.

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