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Chapter 11: The Relationship Between Specialization and Trust

The journeymen of trust-earning have specialized. They have done this because becoming an insider, an articulate craftsman, a guide, or a visionary requires  specialization.

How You Can Be Average and ** Trustworthy**

As we continue to examine the landscape around us and observe what others are doing to earn trust, we notice that some consultants seem to lack extreme smarts and pedigree, but have an easy time earning trust from buyers because they "speak the buyer’s language" or are quickly able to socialize in a beyond-the-surface-level way. These folks bring an average level of expertise to the conversation, but an above-average ability to earn trust.

These folks have often specialized vertically.


30: E-commerce is a pseudo vertical because, while it is actually distributed across many verticals, its market dynamics (watering holes, sense of identity, etc.) are similar to that of a true vertical.

By choosing one market vertical to focus on or one pseudo vertical like e-commerce, [30]  they have made themselves insiders to their prospect’s and client’s world. They know their prospect’s language and jargon. They know what kind of changes are going to hurt and which are merely business as usual. They know how the money gets made and how it gets spent. And they understand who generally has hard power, who has soft power, and who has both. If they were challenged to define a "Maslow's hierarchy of needs" for the vertical they are focused on, they could do it easily.

A deep understanding of the needs, problems, aspirations, constraints, and opportunities facing a market is market insight . Market insight is really what helps vertical specialists earn deeper trust.


31: Example: A bank refers clients who have a difficult land use approval process ahead of them to a PR consultant who specializes in difficult land use approvals.

32: Example: A business strategy consultant refers prospects who want to sell a business to an M&A specialist.

Some of these average-expertise-but-above-average-at-trust-earning consultants seem to "engineer" referrals (and the trust those confer) by cultivating relationships with complementary service providers. Those complementary service providers might be in the same vertical [31]  or in the same horizontal market. [32]  The "engineering" of the relationship isn't nefarious or mercenary, it's simply building intentional business relationships.

How Appropriate Fit Earns Trust

Some of these average-expertise-but-above-average-at-trust-earning consultants seem to earn trust while they are clearly explaining how precisely their standardized solution fits a prospect's problem. It's not that the consultant is great at earning trust; it’s more that their solution feels trustworthy because of how well engineered it is to solve the need or problem the prospective client has.

We see this form of trust-building most often with those who have specialized one or more of their services, even if their business as a whole is not specialized vertically or horizontally. The sales process for the specialized service is usually developed in a way that creates a feeling of safety for prospects, and this feeling of safety—along with the aforementioned appropriate fit—is what earns trust.

How Narrow Mastery Earns Trust

And finally, we see some consultants who seem incredibly smart about a specific topic and seem to get buyers’ heads nodding along very quickly in a conversation.

In reality, they may not be all that impressive in terms of intelligence or life choices, but when in a conversation with prospective clients, they are able to quickly focus on what's important and problematic to the prospect, and from that conversational beachhead, they are able to build a lot of trust quickly.

We notice this form of trust-earning skill when we are observing those who have specialized for a while—at least two to three years.

Partial Truths Earlier in This Book

I told you some partial truths earlier. I did this to incrementally build up a model without the burden of excessive complexity, not to deceive you.

For example, I said "Specialization is a lever to help you get more out of your investment in visibility." That is partially true. Specialization is also a lever to help you build trust.

Really, specialization is a lever to help you get more out of your investment in visibility and  augment your ability to earn trust from prospects.