I’ve learned a thing or two about standing out in a crowd over the years.

Standing out in the crowd is a scary prospect, there’s no doubt about that.  The only thing I can think of, personally, that would be worse, is blending into the background and never being noticed by the people you need to connect with in order to be successful.

In a very crowded field of competitors, it’s often difficult to stand out, to differentiate yourself, from the rest of the pack.  But it doesn’t have to be.  I’ve got a few easy tips for you, simple enough to master, and smart enough to make sure you are standing out from your competition in a positive light.

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There’s nothing complicated about my list, but it does require you to do a bit of soul searching, perhaps, if you haven’t already addressed your personal strengths and weaknesses; you’ll likely want to take a closer look at how your company is structured, if you own it, or how your department works, if you’re the head honcho at the ranch.

#1 – Make an honest list of your strengths and weaknesses.

This might sound silly, or it might sound stupid, but if you don’t start out knowing where you stand, you will have a very difficult time convincing others of your sincerity.   Every time I talk to a new prospect, I make sure they understand our approach as a company, and my personal thoughts, on how we can work with their business.

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I am super quick when it comes to thinking on my feet, and I often see solutions before others figure out that we have a problem.  And occasionally that can lead to some confusing conversations with clients or even my partners.  I often have to slow down and remind myself that I have jumped six steps ahead in moving forward when I haven’t elucidated where the actual issues lie and why they are problematic.

#2 – Explain yourself to prospects and clients so they can relate to you.

Going back to #1, when I find myself jumping ahead and expecting everyone else to keep up without giving them adequate information to understand where I am coming from, rather than getting exasperated with them, I take a step back and work to make them see my point.

If you cannot clearly convey your thoughts to the people you are interacting with, then you cannot develop a plan or a method of working together.  And when your first explanation does not clearly identify the situation to those you are trying to collaborate with, it’s on YOU to figure out another way to explain it.

#3 – Don’t attempt to hide the negatives.

This one is tough sometimes.  We’re told, over and again, that we should accentuate the positive, keep the negatives on the back burner and try to present the best outcome to the world.

WRONG. 

If you aren’t willing to admit to prospects, clients, potential partners, etc that you see the potholes in the road ahead of you, they’re going to think you are either nuts or that you are lying.  Nobody wants to deal with nuts, and most everyone deplores a liar.

I recently sent out an email to our prospective and current clients, detailing a new product we’ve added into our mix.  I set up the mailer with a list of all the great things about the service, and then followed with a list of what I considered to be the drawbacks to using the service.

I had several people ask me why I had included a specific item on the list of drawbacks, and while I don’t personally think it’s that big of a negative, I knew there would be a group of people reading the email that would think it was a big negative and might keep them from doing business with us.

Instead of trying to bury the potential negative in the fine print, I put it out there front and center.  When asked about it, I explained to each person that the reason I put it on the negatives column was because I felt that there was a potential for misunderstanding the terms and I wanted to make sure we were all clear on things.   I had one person decide it was too much of a drawback, and I have to say the guy was super polite about it; from a closing ratio perspective, I came out the winner in this instance.

#4 – Be clear about what your potential clients can, and should, expect from you.

I cannot stress this one enough.  I have a tendency towards disorganization, and I hate to talk on the phone, for this very reason.  I need to have a written record of things in front of me, whether it’s an email, a Skype conversation or a series of text messages.  Without it, I’m lost, even if I have my calendar in front of me.

I make a point of letting people know this about me, so they understand that when I ask them to email me or give me some other written point of communication, I’m not doing it to be difficult, I’m doing it because I know they will fall through the cracks otherwise.  I would rather admit this up front than have angry customers wondering why I didn’t call or how come I forgot something they told me on the phone last week.

#5 – Last but not least, set reasonable expectations.

If I think it’s going to take us a week to finalize something, I will tell you it’s two weeks.  If I think it’s marginal that you will get approved by the bank for a processing account, I will tell you that I think they’re unlikely to approve you but that we will do our best.  That way, most of the surprises are pleasant ones, and the disappointments are within the scale of expectations.

I absolutely hate it when we promise something and cannot deliver it.  Personally I find it annoying, and I feel like I’ve alienated someone for a future relationship when we could have handled it differently and found another way to work with someone.

Of course, not all prospects will become clients no matter what you do.  Some simply won’t mesh with your style, some are too difficult, and some get all crazy with their demands.  I also find that it’s best to send these people on their way, especially if others in your organization have a hard time dealing with them as well.

 

At the end of the day, standing out is a simple matter of being willing and able to present yourself and your company honestly and accurately, and conveying that to those you wish to partner with or work with going forward.