As you know, Omicle moved from being a design and web company to helping companies connect their culture with their branding about a year and a half ago. Not only did the purpose of the company change, but so did its market, the approach to get in front of the market and I, as owner had to change as well.
I have spent a good portion of the last year and a half doing research to find out if this new focus was viable, who my market would be and what would appeal to them. Overall, I think I have found some amazing results. I say found because what I thought going in was not entirely what I discovered to be true. I have been able to identify a unique niche that no one has and now I have the knowledge to fulfill it as well.
In identifying this niche, came the challenges of defining and describing it. Defining it has been fun, because there is no right or wrong when you create something new. Describing it is another story. When speaking about a new concept to someone, you should try to put it in the context of what they already know. When people relate, they understand—or at least they think they do! Getting them to relate is good, because then they are thinking about how you are truly different from anyone else on the market. When they are thinking like this, they are thinking about who could and how to use the services you offer.
So back on topic, because of the challenge of explaining an intangible, I have had a lot of opportunity to practice and get it wrong. It is still not perfect, but I describe it MUCH better today than I did a year ago! I also took to the opportunity to do some casual market research, once I was able to identify what I needed to clarify! That is the key; market research for research sake will tell you nothing. Research with a purpose will tell you something.
In all of the practice I have had explaining the new focus; I noticed that people kept associating what I did with a business coach, a marketing consultant or an executive coach. (For the purpose of this survey, the terms coach and consultant are used interchangeably.) To me, the three of these are distinctly different and do not describe the services I offer. I will agree there is some overlap with all of them and the services I offer but, I do not describe the services I offer as any one of those.
So I put together a quick survey that took about eight minutes for someone to complete. I promoted it on LinkedIn, my blog, Twitter and via email. The goal was to find out how people perceived the services offered by business, marketing and executive coaches (keeping in mind that coach and consultant are assumed to mean the same thing for the purpose of this survey). While I did accomplish this goal, if I were to distribute the survey over again, I would add a few clarifying questions to make the results more accurate and more specific. I was so focused on finding out about the perception of the services offered that I forgot to ask who was taking the survey. Where they coaches or consultants themselves that were telling me about the services they offered? Or, were they people that had hired a coach? Having that information would have helped me target my market better and explain to other consultants how we could work together instead of view the other as competition. (Which I do not believe in, but that is a topic for another article.)
Since I was focused on the perception of the services offered I asked about the top three services you would associate with each. I then compiled a huge list and asked them to check which they thought would be offered by the said coach. Conveniently, I included the services that I offer into all of them. At the end of the survey I compared the three to see if they were perceived to be the same or different.
I found the results to be very interesting. Some of the results proved what I suspected, while others I found to be a surprise. In short, the survey proved that those are generic terms that really do not mean much of anything. While I am sure I will upset a few with that statement, it is not about what YOU say about your business, it is about how OTHERS perceive you. By using a generic term, you are confusing your prospects and doing yourself a disservice.
In the survey, I started with business coaches. As the name suggests, it can cover anything. The results showed just that, business coaches are expected to be a jack of all trades. People associated everything from performance improvement to IT support to sales help to marketing as a service offered by business coaches. The list goes on and on to touch every element you could possibly think of for business.
This is good and bad for companies that claim to offer business consulting as their service. It is good, because they can go into a company at any stage for any reason. It’s bad, because now the client does not know when to call for help. They also may question whether you have enough experience with ‘their’ problem to help them.
I then covered marketing consultants. These answers were a little narrower, focusing in on the sales process and training, design, PR, research, tracking, and connections to contacts. These results surprised me because generally speaking, most companies view these areas as separate, but when they look for help, the perception is they are together.
The good for companies offering these services is that it is easier for a client to identify when they will need your help. The bad is each of these areas is so highly specialized and interconnected to others that it can be a challenge for your client to identify what they really need, when they need it.
Continuing on, I covered executive coaches. These answers were more varied than I expected. I was expecting to see these answers focus more on one to one work and individual challenges to accomplishing the client’s job. Instead, the results included personal coaching, business planning, leadership building, branding, and mission and culture assessment.
I concluded the survey by comparing the perception of the three types of consultants. Over 85 percent of the people perceive the consultants as different. While I personally agree with that, the results from the previous questions suggest this is not really the case.
All of this information is interesting, but what does it mean?
Well for companies that offer these consulting services, I recommend they reevaluate how they talk about and promote their business. Yes the general terms are easy for a quick conversation, but they can devalue the services you offer making you a commodity. You cannot charge a premium price for a product or service that the client can get anywhere. Also, by being a commodity it means you have to do more work, more advertising and more marketing to show prospects why they should choose you over the consultant sitting next to you.
For my business, it confirms that I am not a business, marketing, or executive coach in a literal sense even though my services overlap some of the general perceptions. It also confirms that I do need to continue to refine the explanation of my services to prevent being pigeon-holed. Perhaps the most value I received from the survey was it gave me a better understanding of the top of mind reasons people reach out for help. It also showed that in a pinch, I can say I am an executive consultant. This is where the difference of a coach and consultant come into play. My services are more closely aligned with a consultant than a coach.
As this piece is much longer than I intended, I will share the results of the survey with you and let you draw your own conclusions.