Know Your Competitive Advantage

Jun 9, 2010

Do you and your firm have a competitive advantage? Have you defined it?

Sanford Rose Associates’ Tim Tolan, speaking at the Fordyce Forum today in Las Vegas, says his competitive advantage is defined as follows:

Our competitive advantage is our ability to assess executive talent and match a candidate’s skills based on our client’s requirement. We do this by having real-world experiences and from being in our industry for decades. Our in-depth search process allows us to present candidates who will exceed our client’s expectations 100% of the time.

Once you’ve defined what makes you different, Tolan says, you need to define your market. Your niche. This may be a combination of industry, job function, and geography. Tolan believes that “experts attract prospects more than generalists,” and since you can’t be an expert in every field, you need to pick.

You need to know who your key accounts are, he says — which companies, and who you’re calling on. And you’ve got to keep a close on on your “touch points” with each of those accounts. Tolan says his company touches every one of his accounts seven times annually. He uses good ‘ol Microsoft Excel to keep track of monthly and quarterly communications with his clients.

He’s had success sending out Starbucks cards to businesses; he recommends others try a similar tactic. “They won’t owe you anything,” he says, but you’re certainly more likely to get a call back than without a little gift. Other “touch points” and tactics he uses:

  • Attending trade shows
  • Writing articles
  • Sending a congratulations email (or a handwritten note) to companies relating to their company news (e.g. “congrats on the Pfizer deal, John”)
  • Phone calls
  • In-person meetings
  • Sending newsletters and brochures to corporations. He sends one to companies that cost a pretty penny, and while he says it’s not what gets him business, he felt it’s something he needed to have.

Tolan says that when you’re touting your success — for example, on case studies on your website, or elsewhere — don’t just say you filled a job, or list the titles and jobs you filled. In addition, he says, described how you helped a client’s company improve its business.

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