JULIE LITTLECHILD'S BLOG


Why ‘Having’ a Niche Market Isn’t Enough

If you’re a Seinfeld fan you’ll remember the ‘reservation’ skit.

In his unique style, Seinfeld reflects the seething frustration felt by anyone who travels – the fundamental difference between ‘taking’ a reservation and ‘holding’ a reservation. Click here for a walk down memory lane (or if you’re too young to understand the reference).

It’s funny because it’s true.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a group of advisors, all of whom are registered and approved to work with NFL players through the NFL Players Association. (It was quite cool but more on that another time.) The experience reminded me about the connection between working with a niche market and client engagement and, as it turns out, Seinfeld.

The reality is that many say they work with clients who are part of a defined niche, but few build a business around that niche. They have clients in a niche but they are not intentionally structured  to serve that niche. It’s the sitcom equivalent of taking, but not holding, a reservation – we’re only getting part of the equation right.

Saying you work with a niche market is not the same as building a business around the needs of a niche market. It’s all talk and no action.

A Momentary Digression

We may also want to think about the language we’re using. It strikes me that we talk far too much about ‘niche marketing’ as if working with a niche is a way to get clients in the door. In fact, working with a niche is as much about delivering an engaging client experience and a way to build deeper relationships. Perhaps Niche Relationship Strategy might be a better fit. End of digression.

Connecting Niche Marketing with Client Engagement

Based on the research that I’ve done with advisors and investors over the years, it seems clear to me that client engagement is created when we design a client experience that reflects the specific needs of our clients. I’ll assume there’s no argument there.

So here’s the challenge. If you work with some business owners, a few doctors, an engineer or two and a gaggle of folks who’ve already retired, the only thing they have in common is working with you. So unless you’ve set yourself apart on the basis of having some technical expertise that makes you the go-to person on a specific issue, client engagement becomes challenging without a niche.

At the heart of client engagement is an experience that reflects the unique needs of your clients, an experience that is co-created and differentiated. Delivering on that experience means you know and understand the problems, lives and challenges of your clients better than anyone else. The reality is, however, that diverse needs diffuse your effort. By trying to engage everyone, you engage no one. And while that won’t lead to client dissatisfaction, it may limit the chance of true client engagement.

Diffused effort

Imagine the power if, instead, every waking moment was focused on understanding the common needs of a defined group of clients. Imagine what that would mean to those clients and imagine what it would mean to your own efficiency.

A Niche Is More Than Words

But it’s not enough to say you work with a particular niche market; client engagement is driven by action not words. Since I started with the NFL, let’s continue with that example. If your goal is to work with professional football players, which of the following describes your business today?

  • I can work with professional football players
  • I do work with professional football players
  • Every aspect of my business is built to help professional football players meet their goals and reflects their unique challenges

If you answered yes to the first or second statement, you may not look that different from other advisors. If it’s number three you’re on the right path to a truly differentiated and engaging offer.

The Path to Your Niche

So what can you do to get there? As with most things, it starts by taking stock of the needs of your clients and of your business. The first question we need to ask ourselves is this. What are the unique needs, challenges or goals of this specific target market?

Consider professional football players. The group is comprised entirely of millennials, they face ‘sudden money’ at an early age, they face uncertain financial futures based on the average tenure in the NFL, cash flow is ‘chunky’ and there is significant risk of an injury that can take them out of the game. Just as importantly, many enter this phase of their lives with little or no financial education. It seems clear that if you built your business, process and communications strategy for this group it won’t necessarily work for a different group and that’s really the point.

So let’s examine how you can bake your niche into the way you do business, looking from the inside out and the outside in.

Your Niche from the Inside Out

How do your internal processes and structures reflect the needs of your niche? Using the same example you might:

  • expand your offer to incorporate basic education/financial literacy for players
  • extend your educational programs to the families of players
  • create more formal relationships with other professionals (e.g. agents),
  • hire based on a passion to help this group of individuals
  • change how you communicate with clients, incorporating simple things like text
  • upgrade your skills in very specific ways. For example, you would probably take a hard look at the education provided by Susan Bradley at the Sudden Money Institute.

Niche process 2

If you’re interested in hearing an interview with two advisors who have done all of this in their respective niche markets, click here.

Your Niche from the Outside In

You’ll also want to assess how clients experience your business, walking through every aspect of the process in their shoes. You may find client journey mapping helpful here.

Client journey mapping examines how clients experience each key aspect of the process – how they hear about, connect with and work with you. However, it examines those things based on the many different ways in which people connect with you including phone, your website, social media or in person. For example, is there a consistent message about the work you do if someone calls your office, goes to your website, finds you on social media or sits in a meeting with you?

Client journey_niche 2

Your goal is to ensure that every message, experienced in every way, helps your niche recognize that you understand who they are and what they need.

A Final Word

Let’s face it – it’s entirely possible to run a successful business without focusing on a niche market. However, I’d suggest that having true expertise in a niche will become increasingly important. What has worked in the past may not work in the future, as advisors fight to be heard above the noise.

Perhaps more importantly and as it relates to the topic for today, we need to recognize that working with a niche is more than words. The needs of your niche should influence every aspect of your business if deep engagement and explosive referral growth are in your plans.

Thanks for stopping by,
Julie

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3 Responses to Why ‘Having’ a Niche Market Isn’t Enough

  1. Dominique April 27, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    Excellent article on a very interesting topic !

    In the wealth management market, even very small niches can be great markets and with the development of social, one can know use behavior and social graphs to identify/define niches.

    Social graphs. that’s where the definition of niche becomes questionable. Are 100’s of afflluents following the same small group of influencers a niche?

    Yes and No. It is an accessible group of people and if the influencers are consistent, such as Financal influencers covering crowdfunding or Professional Sports, or Biotech Investment, then the “graph” IS defining a segment.

    It’s similar to your inside out niche but with a different starting point.

    Best

    • Julie
      Julie April 27, 2016 at 6:03 pm #

      Hi Dominique. Interesting point for sure. It seems there might be an interesting difference between defining a niche you can reasonably target in order to attract them to the business and then ensuring you can build a business to service their unique needs. Different sides of the same coin that may lead people in different directions.

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