In the early days of my business, it took me months to overcome my anxiety when clients or prospects were visiting, and I’d go to extremes to dress up our offices. Before one pitch, we spent an entire weekend improving our space. We borrowed furniture from my uncle and another tenant. We even took pictures of where we put everything, so we could set things back up if the prospect returned.
I was especially anxious the week The Discovery Channel and Roche Pharmaceuticals were coming. Our office was in a distressed part of Philadelphia. Our space was rough by anyone’s standards and looked like a war torn country compared to these clients’ office complexes.
When the client from Roche came, he looked around, paused and then said, “This is fantastic. I know I’m not paying for any unnecessary overhead.” The Discovery Channel client had the same reaction. I was frantic about how we’d be perceived, and our clients actually saw this as an advantage. They liked the fact that we weren’t wasting money.
Space wasn’t our only perceived problem. When we were small we were concerned about winning pitches and selling against larger competitors with more resources. We won when we embraced our small size:
- The senior people you see at the pitch will work on your business.
- You’ll get great service.
- We don’t try to do everything. We focus on being great at what we do.
- We can innovate, because we’re nimble and have no bureaucracy.
Of course, when we became large our strategy for selling more changed:
- We’ve done hundreds of similar projects.
- We make it easy; we can do all of your work and not just a portion.
- We have paid staff who focus only on client innovation.
I’ve seen small software startups that don’t try to pretend they’re established; they sell the fact that they can customize the offering to their first few clients. Large MD offices that don’t pretend they can build a relationship with patients like their smaller competitors but stress that since they’re big, they have a 24-hour help line and there is always an MD available. If you try to pretend to be something you’re not, you won’t win.
You may want to improve your perceived weaknesses when you can afford to do that, but in the meantime, figure out how your weaknesses are also strengths and position them that way. If you look at them as strengths often your clients will too.
What do you think?