The leaders of Kodak used to say ‘yes’ to that question. In 1976, they had 90% of the photographic film market. Kodak was considered one of the five strongest brands in the world at that time. Today, even though they invented digital photography in 1975, they are no longer relevant to the markets they used to serve.
How can you stay relevant in a world that keeps changing fast? Here are three positive actions to consider:
Choose your tribe. Seth Godin, author of the book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, suggests a tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.
What tribe do you want to lead? What meaningful ideas or services do you want to share? What can you do today to demonstrate your relevance to your tribe?
The fastest way for you to become irrelevant is to try to serve everyone who can use your service. It’s impossible to be all things to all clients. Choose your tribe wisely, know where you can add unique value, and start taking positive action every day to earn the right to be your tribe’s trusted advisor.
Keep getting better at what you do. Once you decide where your business development efforts can flourish, start a continuous improvement program. If you are going to be a go-to trusted advisor for your tribe, you need to keep challenging yourself to get better and stay better than your competition. Where should you start getting better? Begin with these three areas:
Get better at knowing your competition. Understand their strengths and the value they add to clients. Trusted advisors help their clients make intelligent decisions. You can’t honestly help people evaluate their options if you don’t have an accurate understanding of all the resources available.
Don’t forget to include non-traditional competitors or trends. I believe all professional service firms are at risk of losing business over the next few years to companies or technology that don’t exist today.
Get better at knowing your clients. The expectations and needs of your clients can change dramatically. You have to make the time to meet face to face with key decision makers and really listen to their story. Understand their business models, opportunities and threats. I’m not suggesting you learn more about your clients so you can sell additional services, although that often happens. I think professionals have a responsibility to help their clients stay relevant. There were a lot of accountants, attorneys, bankers and consultants who made a good living off Kodak in the 70’s and 80’s. Unfortunately, most of those professionals lost their relationship with Kodak when they entered bankruptcy.
Are your clients staying relevant to the markets they choose to serve? If the answer is ‘no,’ decide what you and your organization can do to help them move in a positive direction. If you wait till they have to change—like Kodak—it will be too late.
Become a better trusted advisor. Find a coach or mentor that will help you grow personally or professionally. You can’t excel alone. In any field where performance matters, the superstars have someone to bring out the best in them. A good coach or mentor will teach you new skills and systems and hold you accountable for staying relevant to the clients you want to serve.
Without the challenge, support and encouragement of a coach or mentor, you run the risk of becoming content with your current level of achievement and may start taking your clients for granted. To stay relevant, you must have a relationship with someone who keeps you moving out of your comfort zone.
Be more empathetic. Professionals are good with facts, but a client or prospect won’t consider you relevant unless you are able to connect with them on an emotional level. When you have empathy for another person, you demonstrate a natural sense of urgency to help them succeed. You take their matter more seriously and you are passionate about doing whatever you can to help them solve their problems and take advantage of opportunities. In fact, their battle becomes your war.
With empathy, there is a greater chance that you and your client will have a thriving relationship. Without empathy, you tend to focus on the problem—not the person. You justify not returning a phone call on time or missing a deadline because you had a ‘good’ excuse. When empathy is low, you are more concerned with facts than feelings. You can be successful doing transactions without dealing with feelings, but your clients will not see you as their trusted advisor unless you demonstrate sincere empathy and really care about what’s important to your client.
No matter how relevant you think you are today, it’s time to raise your relevancy in the eyes of the people you want to serve.
Take one positive action today that will increase your relevancy to one person. Relevancy is a daily journey — not a destination and, like all journeys, it starts with one step.