Home > Business > Niche or Pigeonhole?

Niche or Pigeonhole?


Author

Do I have a “Niche” with this customer or have I been “Pigeonholed”… and what’s the difference?


Most salespeople have used these two expressions to describe their relationship with a customer (or a prospect) and they are very similar in some ways, but very different in others. Here are my definitions of these terms (as they relate to selling) and a few personal observations.

Niche

  1. A recess in a wall, as for holding a statue or urn
  2. A cranny, hollow, or crevice, as in rock
    • A situation or activity specially suited to a person’s interests, abilities, or nature: she found her niche in life
    • A special area of demand for a product or service

Author

For our purpose, definition 3.b is relevant to today’s topic. As a salesperson the niche can be your best friend. It’s your foot in the door; it’s your competitive advantage. It’s the thing you do better than your competition.

Throughout my career I’ve found it’s been a great way to begin a relationship with a customer…I always try to look at my company and our products from the customer’s (or prospect’s) point of view…and from their perspective I always ask the same questions:

What’s in it for me?

How does your product or service make me happy, pretty, stress free, rich, etc?

When you have a credible answer for something that’s been causing them problems, you have the chance to carve yourself a niche.

It’s at this point you just might get a chance to earn a piece of that person’s business by being better than that “other guy” and always remembering the following words of wisdom: “All things not being equal, people prefer to deal with their friends”. I don‘t know who said this first but I use it a lot so I’ll take credit. This becomes relevant later, stay tuned.

Earn is a key word here, nobody coasts into a new relationship, you have to differentiate yourself and if you work hard you may earn that highly prized niche…YESSSSS! It’s a good chunk of business and your boss gets excited. Your competition curses you. People look at you differently. Life is good!

Then what happens? Well, sometimes we become complacent, we have this nice niche, we pitch them new stuff and get good feedback and expect to get more business and feel pretty satisfied; hey, I won this business, good for me, time to focus on the next big opportunity. Time passes and one day you are meeting with your now “customer” (they are not a prospect anymore) and you discover he does a lot of business with other people…and it’s for products or services that you offer! What? How can this be?

You’ve shown this stuff to him and you ask them, “why not me?”
Answer: “Oh, you guys do that, too?”
ARRGGHH! You have just been pigeonholed.
Yes, it is a legitimate word, adverb if you will:

Pigeonhole

(transitive verb)

  1. to classify
  2. to put aside indefinitely

Author

That niche you were so proud of has become the dreaded pigeonhole. It’s that set aside place where the orders come for that one, single piece of his business, which you worked so hard for and now you need to figure out how to get a shot at all that other stuff and how do we do that? By being a friend and not just a vendor.

Author

Step one: Pay Attention, this is where we really get to know our customer and learn what matters to them, first and foremost, how to make them look good in their job. Helping your customer find solutions to problems that aren’t even part of what you do in business is how you become their friend. Remember that all things not being equal reference? Well here’s how that applies.

If you can walk into your customer’s office and spend 45 minutes not even talking about business… they are your friend.

When he or she is working on a problem and they ask you for feedback, on a topic that is, or is not, related to your business… they are your friend.

You’ve crossed over to a place where you aren’t just a guy who does this one thing for them. You are now their resource and confidant.

Confidant

(noun)

A close friend or associate to whom secrets are confided or with whom private matters and problems are discussed.

Author

Here’s another great way to tell if you are a friend and not just a vendor. When you (or your company) screws up, they tell you about it and they don’t pull any punches. If your product failed or your service sucked, you hear about it quickly and in great detail. If you are just a vendor, they may feel the need to be polite. A friend will let you have it, it’s actually a good sign, it means they feel you let them down and if a friend lets you down, you really get upset.

So go for that niche, that foot in the door, that one thing that you can put against anybody and come out on top, but after that:

Keep in touch but be relevant – don’t just call to “touch base” or “follow up.”

Offer good referrals if you have a solution and when they tell you about a problem that’s not something you can handle personally. Do some research and share it with them, this is a big one!

If you are sincere and your information is relevant you will become their resource, not their vendor.

Friends give good advice and vendors push their product, so look at this from your customer’s perspective and ask yourself: who would you prefer to talk to, and do business with?

About the Author

Mark Nardoni is a Strategic Account Manager at Optima Graphics.
He has been in the Trade Show industry since the early 90s.

  1. November 8, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Very well said Mark . . .

    When you (or your company) screws up, they tell you about it and they don’t pull any punches. If your product failed or your service sucked, you hear about it quickly and in great detail. If you are just a vendor, they may feel the need to be polite. A friend will let you have it, it’s actually a good sign, it means they feel you let them down and if a friend lets you down, you really get upset.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: