Stand Out in the Era of Commoditization

By Jeff Beals

You are a brand. You are a business of one.

As a hard-working professional, you have a personal brand, a reputation that must be carefully maintained and zealously promoted. In today’s economy, effective personal branding has never been more important.

Regardless of your occupation, you are probably fighting two major challenges: the economy and “commoditization.” You may be the best at what you do, but there are still so many competitors in your marketplace. In an era of commoditization, consumers have more choices than they know what to do with. Clients often assume all providers are competent, so they end up making their choices based on a professional’s personal brand.

So, when someone is ready for the services you provide, how can your personal brand stand out in a crowd? If you’re a good self marketer, you have little to fear. You need to be the professional whose name pops into the client’s head when it’s time to buy.

Building a bigger image takes work, but anyone with at least moderate talent can do it. The key is to follow certain steps:

1. See yourself as a business entity, not just a person
2. Think like a marketer – apply classic marketing principles to yourself
3. Determine who is in your personal target audience
4. Exploit the part of your expertise that is most interesting to outsiders
5. Live actively and network everyday
6. Foster relationships with local media
7. Become a writer and speaker within your area of expertise
8. Promote yourself 24-hours-a-day on the Internet
9. Use social media

You have sole ownership of your personal brand, but it comes with a burden. You bear the responsibility for building that brand, shaping it and promoting it to the general public. As a self marketer, you can recruit the services of others, but the responsibility to carry out a marketing strategy is ultimately yours.

Don’t let other people or any haunting feelings of self doubt stand in your way. Self marketers have to stick their necks out and take risks. Not only is it worth the risk, but establishing a well-known personal brand is essential in today’s ultra competitive marketplace.

Ask Probing Questions to “See the World through Johnny’s Eyes”

No matter what you do for a living, “knowing where you stand” is critical to your success.

Former Texas A&M University football coach R.C. Slocum says that the ability to listen is the number-one skill set a football coach must possess. Why? Because college football coaches are locked in a brutally competitive, never-ending, cut-throat battle to recruit the best athletes for their teams. As the winningest coach in A&M football history, Slocum would know. He was a prolific recruiter, who put together several solid teams. His Aggies lost only four home games during the 1990’s.

Slocum had a saying he often used to remind his assistant coaches to listen and empathize: “If you want to sell what Johnny buys, you need to see the world through Johnny’s eyes.”

Too many football recruiters miss the boat, Slocum believes. Such coaches will meet with a high school player and his family and spend all their time talking about what the coaches think is best for the young man instead of going slowly at first, asking probing questions and getting the young man to open up. This gives the coach a better understanding of what the player is all about and what he really wants from a college.

In order for listening to be effective, one needs to ask the right questions, the kinds of questions that yield useful answers. When Coach Slocum prepared for phone conversations and personal visits, he would first formulate a plan. He identified certain questions or discussion areas that he wanted to explore.

Before each meeting, Slocum knew what information he wanted and was prepared to get it. “Don’t just get on the phone and say, ‘how you doing? How was practice today?'” Slocum said. “You’re not finding out anything. That’s just chit chattin’. You should always have probing questions. It’s okay to have some chit-chat, but while you’re doing that, ask questions to find out what he’s all about.”

In addition to providing selling cues to the coach, probing questions help him determine whether the player is truly a fit for the team. “If you ask a lot of questions, you might find out that football is not all that important to him,” Slocum explained. “Maybe he just played ’cause his dad wanted him to do it. You might think this guy down deep isn’t burning with the desire and willing to make the sacrifices you have to make to be a big time football player.”

Probing questions are important in any business, not just football recruiting. Too many salespersons, executives and entrepreneurs go to networking events just for the sake of networking. They grab a cocktail, enjoy the free appetizers, say “hi” to a few people and then go back to the office. Many of us simply “chit-chat” instead of deliberately seeking valuable information from our conversations. If you sell copiers, you need to move beyond small talk and ask questions that lead you to businesses that must replace their aging machines. Insurance brokers need to probe to find out who is experiencing a life-changing event. Real estate agents need to ask, “Who do you know who’s thinking about moving in the next year?”

Having a plan before we start conversations, makes our interactions with other professionals more fruitful. But regardless of what information we seek, and regardless of how much we learn from a given person, it is paramount that we focus and truly listen to each person. Showing deep and earnest interest in a person is a critical part of listening.

When a savvy professional spends time with a prospect, client or colleague, he or she listens actively and makes that person feel like nobody else matters, that for at least that moment, nobody else exists in the whole world. If you can do this, the results are powerful.

Jeff Beals delivers presentations to a wide variety of audiences nationwide. Presentations are adapted to fit your organization’s goals and can be keynote speeches (30 to 90 minutes) or workshops (two to four hours) covering the following topics: 
  1. “Self Marketing Power: Branding Yourself as a Business of One”
  2. “Tons of Room at the Top: the Attitude of Success”
  3. “National Signing Day: What All Professionals Can Learn from College Football”
These presentations are energetic, humorous and packed full of valuable information. To discuss booking a presentation, go to or call (402) 637-9300.