How to Differentiate Yourself Online and Off – Forrest Dombrow
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All customers want and expect certain things from the businesses they conduct business with, good service, efficiency, and friendliness, just for starters. But what else can you, as a product or service provider, do to make sure you stand out from your competition? In other words, what makes you remarkable?
With the help of Forrest Dombrow, we dig into what businesses can do to differentiate themselves from their competition.
Rich: My guest today is a serial entrepreneur and a sales consultant with 17 years of experience in online marketing. He has worked with hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses and has sold millions of dollars in digital marketing services to some of the largest brands in the world, including SEO to Amazon and conversion rate optimization to Costco.
He was named one of Online Marketing Institutes, Top 40 Digital Strategists in Marketing, and is a featured speaker at some of the industry’s most prestigious conferences. He lives, works, and golfs in Denver, Colorado.
Today, we’re going to dive into how to differentiate your business online and off with Forrest Dombrow. Forrest, welcome to the show.
Forrest: Thanks for having me, Rich. That was a very nice introduction.
Rich: Thanks. I practiced once or twice before you came on. So you’ve got a new book coming out, or has come out, and it’s called Clone the ACE. And it’s written with a specific audience in mind, digital agencies. But in reality, most of these ideas could work for almost any business, especially the chapter on differentiation. So why did you focus your book on digital agencies.?
Forrest: Yeah. Well, there’s simple answer is that’s where most of my background is. Certainly I’ve worked with clients outside of the digital space, but I owned a digital marketing agency, I’ve worked for several. Many of my clients have been digital agencies, so it was just kind of a natural fit.
Rich: Awesome. But today we’re going to be broadening those horizons a little bit, because I know you have experience working with a wide variety of different companies. And you dedicated at least one full chapter to identifying your business’s differentiation, your unique selling proposition, the thing that makes you remarkable. Why do you feel this is so important?
Forrest: Well, you know, sales and marketing is challenging, right? You’ve got to get leads. It’s busy out there on the web. So to attract attention, it’s hard, And then selling and differentiating yourself during the sales process is also hard. So if you can do some work upfront to really set yourself apart, it makes literally everything else about marketing and sales easier. And that’s why it’s so important.
Rich: So one of the things that you say early on that I love is, you have to identify your ideal customer. Like that’s where a lot of this differentiation starts. So walk me through the why and how of doing this.
Forrest: Sure. Yeah, so ideal customer is a critical starting point, because ultimately, we need to market to people, not concepts. And so the idea of client profile is important to help you identify where you can win. Maybe looking back to clients you’ve worked with in the past that went well and trying to find some trends and things that you can key in on so that when you get to more full-blown positioning and marketing to ideal client profiles, you’re keying in on things that you already know work for you.
So it’s kind of a function of looking back. If you’re just starting out, it’s more about doing some research, getting out and talking to people. And the other thing I like to add in, because sometimes people get really keyed in on the person, ideal profile, it gets a CMO at a company of this big. And of course that’s part of it and that’s important, but I actually like to start with something that I call ‘population in pain’.
So finding that problem to solve, and then kind of going into well, who has that problem? And it might be a specific, ideal client profile, or maybe there’s three different ones, but they all have that core problem. So it’s kind of a combination of finding out what problems you can solve and who has those?
Rich: Can you give me an example of one of the times when you worked with somebody where you first identified perhaps what the problem was, and then you worked your way backwards to the person or the ideal person?
Forrest: Sure. Sure. So I actually have a newer client who is starting a brand new agency and he was focusing on real estate agents. He didn’t really have a background in that, he didn’t know what was going on there. He only picked up because his domain name happened to fit that, which is not a good way to position yourself. So we kind of dug in and I asked him the types of digital marketing problems he’s good at solving. And it turns out he has a deep background in the political arena. In fact, he ran for national office. And so we dug into that and really figured out what are the problems that campaigns have. And we were able to then go from there and build his ideal client profiles and build this whole positioning. And in fact, he’s changing his whole agency. We just redid a new logo, and it all is based on the problems that political campaigns have that he can solve with digital marketing.
Rich: That sounds like it’s in much better alignment. Another idea you bring up in the chapter is that you need to determine where you’re going to fish. And you use the phrase, ‘the profitable pond’, go out and find the profitable pond. So how do we do that?
Forrest: Sure. So as I talk about in the book, you’re referring to the fishing framework, and there’s actually four ponds that I sketch out.
One is the empty pond. That’s if you go try and fish for clients in an industry or a space that just doesn’t really have any hungry fish in it. The crowded pond being one where there’s certainly a lot of hungry fish, but there’s a lot of competitors. And then the satisfied pond is one where there are people there, but they’re not really going to use digital marketing or Google to find you.
And so the profitable pond is like the Goldilocks, right? It’s just the right fit. There are enough people in there, they have some problems you’re good at solving. There’s not too much competition and they’re also easy to identify and go after. And so there’s a few factors that kind of make a pond profitable.
Rich: And how do we find this profitable pond? Whether we’re a digital agency or whoever we are? If we’re just starting out, or maybe we just haven’t been super successful, what process do you take your clients through to help them identify that prime fishing ground?
Forrest: Sure. So first again, if they’re already existing, we look at their past clients. And so we’ll certainly work with the executives to figure out where have you been successful. But I also like to include the employees if they have employees, because they’re on the front lines a lot dealing with customers and they have a different perspective. So if you’re existing, it’s kind of looking backwards.
Then you could do some traditional things like keyword research, trying to find areas where there’s search volume, but maybe the click rates are not super high. So there’s some research tactics you can use. And especially if someone is a newer brand new agency or you have a client that is kind of a newer business, it’s digging into their personal story, their personal history, just like I referenced with this other client. As soon as we started talking about politics and marketing, he just lit up.
So finding that energy, that thing that resonates within you, especially if you’re newer. And then getting out and talking to people. I just like to hit the phones, talk to people, interview people, and then do keyword research and that sort of information gathering to kind of confirm your assumptions.
Rich: So you also talk about we need to do a better job of focusing on what our customers ultimately want. And they ultimately want results. So what’s that line about you’re selling drill bits, but everybody’s actually searching for the hole. So it’s like, how do we shift our mindset and how do we start thinking about selling results, rather than the products and services that we’ve spent so much time honing?
Forrest: Right. Well the easy way to do that is to go back to the problem you identified at the beginning, right? What is the problem? How do people articulate that problem and speak about it, and what is the outcome they want?
So a simple example is if you’re sick, you go to the doctor. You don’t want a prescription, you want to feel better. So it’s just tracing the problem all the way to the solution and then saying, well, what is the actual solution? What does it give them? And that’s kind of what you’re ultimately selling.
Rich: Do you feel that everybody’s looking for what the ultimate results are? I mean, I always think about this. So using your doctor example, some people are searching for being pain-free or whatever it might be, not having a stuffy nose. But other people are looking at the problems that they have right now. So the stuffy nose or the pain or the headaches, whatever it is, when you’re starting to craft your marketing message, how much of it is going to be focused on the results versus possibly the problems that people are having? And then also maybe the products and services. Maybe some people are educated enough to know that they want email marketing, or they want a specific type of drill bit, or whatever it might be.
Rich: Right. So yeah, that’s a great question. What I talk to people about there is, even though you might ultimately be selling the hole and not the drill bit, or health or whatever it might be. When you talk about marketing and you have to start where your customer is, you have to meet them where they are. That’s why keyword research is such an obvious thing to look at.
I had a client number of years ago that was a really high-end executive coach. Working with President of the Broncos and big time stuff. And his solution as an executive coach was very meditation focused, very spiritual, not your traditional hard hitting sales kind of coaching. And he wanted to lead with that stuff. In other words, the ultimate solution. But I said, you have to meet people at the front door in a pinstripe suit, look the part, talk to them about what they think they need, usher them into your tent, and then you can break out the purple robes and the Kool-Aid later.
So it’s really about meeting customers where they are, talking how they talk. If they say, “I need email marketing”, you say, “We have email marketing.” And later you can talk about your differentiation and the end results of email marketing.
Rich: Okay. I know a lot of businesses make their money by crafting cookie cutter solutions, one size fits all. And other ones are all about crafting that very customized, tailored solution or experience. Is one inherently better than the other?
Forrest: Personally, I feel that it is. But in reality, there are different kinds of customers. And what’s good for one customer is not good for the other one. I think it’s also important, we’ve talked a lot about the population and paying the customer, but it has to come from inside of you, too. So I’m not comfortable personally selling cookie cutter programs. So for me, that’s an important factor. That said, if you’re a tiny little business and you just need a little exposure on Google, you know, business, and someone has a little basic service, that might be perfect.
So what it really comes down to is what are the end results. And is the service you’re selling designed to deliver them. In a lot of cases, cookie cutter services aren’t well-designed to deliver the end result, which is more leads and sales. But if they do fit that, then that’s fine.
Rich: Of course. I think the conversation we’ve had so far is about really kind of differentiating yourself and saying like, these are the kinds of people I want to go after, this is the type of product or solution I’m going to offer, these are the kinds of results that you should expect. And in many ways, it feels like we’re really narrowing down who we can speak to. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that say that’s great, but the bottom line is, I want to be able to sell to everybody. I don’t want to turn anybody away. What do you say when you hear comments like that?
Forrest: Don’t do that. First of all, I like to set people’s minds at ease by saying look, even if you have a pretty narrow focus, it doesn’t mean if someone calls you next week and it doesn’t quite fit that and you determine you want to take that business, go for it. The problem is there’s so many marketing tactics. You only have two arms and two legs, and you can only do so many things unless you have millions of dollars. So focusing just improves your marketing focus, it improves your service delivery. Because you don’t have to have different services for everybody.
So there’s so many benefits to specializing and being a bit narrower that they far outweigh losing a little bit of business on the fringes, in my opinion, and my experience, and my client’s experience.
Rich: Let’s talk a little bit more about that, because in business and in medicine and everywhere else, there are specialists and there are generalists. And I can tell right away that you prefer to be the specialist. So what do you think the benefits of being a specialist over a generalist are for a company, whether it’s a digital agency or not?
Forrest: Right. So the first one is on the marketing side, right? Let’s take myself as an example. My book, my business, is all about helping digital marketing agencies. So if I decide I want to go speak as a marketing tactic, I know where to go speak. At marketing conferences and not lawyer conferences. Right? So it helps you focus your marketing and then you can be more efficient. You can tailor your marketing messages, et cetera.
When you’re in a sales process, it also helps because you’re usually in front of everybody. I had a client that was focused exclusively on e-commerce businesses, and so in a sales process people would often say, “Hey, you guys focus on e-commerce, no other agency we’re talking to does.” They’re already more interested in you, so it helps you close more deals.
And then lastly, once you get finance on board, because you’re doing similar sorts of work for the same kinds of clients, you get those operational efficiencies. You can hire people in the sales, marketing, and delivery areas that don’t have to be top of the line. Because you have checklists, you have set processes, the benefits just go on and on and on, quite frankly.
Rich: I completely agree. And I had mentioned to you when you first reached out to me that one of the reasons why you really caught my imagination is because I was doing a presentation on how to become remarkable in a business. And some of the research I saw was what a general practitioner doctor makes per hour. And it’s awesome. It’s like in the U.S. it’s averaging something like $175 or $200, whatever it was. I don’t have the numbers in front of me. Which sounds great until you look at specialists. That’s like three times the amount per hour that the regular general doctors are making. So it seems as a society, we reward people who have narrowed their focus and gone deeper in one area. They may not be good in everything, but they’re good in the one thing that we want.
Forrest: Yeah. And that goes back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago. You’ve got a problem, you want that end benefit. And the specialist presents themselves as a better option right out of the gate before they even open their mouths because they solve that exact problem.
Rich: So you talked about one way that you can become a specialist is by narrowing the audience, so you can focus just on that audience. Are there other ways in which we might narrow our focus?
Forrest: Sure. Yeah, you can do it by industry. You can do it by the type of person you’re targeting, like CMO versus marketing manager or owner. But you could also do it by services. So you could say we only do SEO. And then you can mix them together, we can only do SEO for software companies. And so, yeah, there’s the people, there’s the type of problem, there’s a type of services you offer them.
Then you can even get into how you offer those services, how you price them, paper performance versus a one-year contract. So there’s lots of different ways you can slice and dice things besides just being a specialist to set yourself apart.
Rich: So once we’ve done this work and we’ve really worked on and we’ve really worked on not just how do we differentiate ourselves, but really like crafting the message and identifying our ideal clients and all that sort of work. This is a digital marketing podcast. So give me some ideas of how we might take the work we’ve just done and implement it into our digital marketing. Whether that’s SEO, blogs, podcasts, social media, email marketing, whatever.
Forest: Right. Right. So that’s the beauty. I actually just had a call with a coaching client an hour or two ago, the political one I was referencing. We talked about him writing a short book about how to use digital marketing for political campaigns. Then you can take that book and advertise it on Facebook. You can write blog articles about bits and pieces of the book and do content marketing.
So once you have that problem and solution and the target pretty well defined, then it’s about just infusing it in all those things with the same messages where you’re basically saying, hey, we’re experts in solving this problem and let me show you at least a little bit of it.
Or sometimes, you know, my book, I kind of give away everything, knowing that some people will use it on their own and some people will hire me. But it’s about taking that problem solution message out into all of those different marketing tactics. And of course your website and landing pages and things of that nature.
Rich: Do you ever hear from some of your clients it’s like, “But wait, why am I going to give everything away?” Why do they need me if I’ve written this book or put on this webinar or written this blog post?
Forrest: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So some people are worried about that. I’m not at all because I have a basic philosophy, I want to be of service first of all. And I know there are some people out there that will never hire me. They don’t have the money, they don’t have the inclination. They are self-doers, if you will. And I’m happy to help for the people that do need more help. The book serves, I call it an expensive business card, and it proves I know what I’m talking about.
And in fact, that same client I just referenced a few times, he read my entire book in one day and then called to hire me to coach him. And I actually asked him right on the first call, “You read my book, why do you want to work with me? It’s all in there.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I know, but I need guidance. I need someone to push me. I need someone to keep me accountable,certain things I might not completely understand.” So the risk of losing business from that is basically zero. The people that weren’t going to hire you are not going to hire you anyway. And the people that really need your help will just see that as proof that you know what you’re talking about.
Rich: That’s absolutely been my experience, too. When I wrote my book, the same thing. It’s not a book I ever expect to see on a bestseller list, but for my ideal customer, it’s exactly what they want to see. And many of them ended up hiring me afterwards. So if you can get that information out there, I find the book – even a self-published book – can make a huge difference from a business standpoint. So that’s great to hear.
Forrest: Yeah, I did the same thing when I used to speak a lot more out on the speaking circuit. You know, my presentations were super actionable, and people used to rate me very highly as a speaker. Not because I think I’m some super charismatic keynote guy, but you’d have people up there from big companies talking about their amazing social media campaign that they had a million dollar budget and 30 people. And the people can’t even really resonate with that because they can’t do it. So I always took the same approach when I was speaking. I’m going to give you a whole bunch of stuff that you can do as soon as you get back to the office. And some of you I’ll never hear from, but one of you will, and you’ll pay me a bunch of money.
Rich: The other thing is, I think a lot of people realize in the audience, whether it’s a webinar, book, what have you, is that great, you’ve given me all this information, but it’s information that’s for everybody. Or in your case, it’s for digital agencies. But there’s a lot of different kinds of digital agencies. So the bottom line is, if I want the expertise that you brought to this book tailored for me, that I’m going to hire you.
Forrest: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Rich: So one last question before I let you go. When we’ve identified this ideal client and we figure out our messaging and our differentiation, how do we create a website that really is going to resonate with our ideal customer? When you’re doing this, are you thinking about the images, the copy? How do you put everything together so that when the ideal customer arrives, they’re like, I’m in the right place?
Forrest; Yeah. So I tend to be more of a copy guy. I’ve done a lot of copyrighting. The images, the design, all important. So it’s kind of a comprehensive approach, right? If you walked into a Mercedes dealership, it has to look a certain way. So when you talk about a website, I start with, again, just identify the problems. Do you have a flat tire? Yes. Okay, cool, this website is for me. And so it’s about problem solution unique value. So do you have this problem? Yes. Great. We specialize in solving it. Here’s how we do it. And here’s why it’s better and different. That’s the basic formula. And I just kind of build that throughout the website.
Rich: Awesome. This has been great, Forrest. If people want to learn more about you, if they want to find your book, if they just want to check you out, where can we send them online?
Forrest: Sure. The easiest way to get the book is just to go to Amazon, it’s called Clone The ACE. In terms of reaching out to me more specifically, you can visit our websites, solvesales.com, like solve a problem. And there’s even, you can get the beginning of the book, the first several chapters are free right there on the website. So those will be the two best places.
Rich: Yeah. And I told you, I was checking you out, primarily focused on the chapter about differentiation. But great book, really enjoyed it and plan on continuing reading it. This has been great. Thank you so much for your time today.
Forest: Rich, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Forrest Dombrow helps his clients figure out what makes them stand out from the competition, and how to leverage that to get more sales. Check out his website, and don’t forget to grab the first few chapters of his new book!
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.