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When it comes to closing new business, generalist marketing firms are at a distinct disadvantage, says Blair Enns, president of business development consultancy, Win Without Pitching. Yet many firms still resist specialization---even though it ultimately would allow them to get off the RFP merry go-round and stop participating in unpaid pitches.

The following are three reasons marketers resist specialization (despite it being the key to true differentiation and getting paid what they're worth), according to Enns:

  1. The marketer's personal need for variety is at odds with the business's need for focus.
    Enns says that, as creatives, marketers are hard-wired to look at problems from different perspectives and to bring new perspectives to old problems. This strength attracts them to problems they have not yet solved, which creates a conflict between the deep personal need for variety and the business’s need to focus. Enns says that solving the same problems many times gives people the opportunity to experience and conquer the full gamut of possibilities within that situation, which results in the carving out of deep expertise. And deep expertise, says Enns, is the only meaningful way to differentiate a marketing firm.

  2. They lack the ability to say no to work outside the business’s area of expertise.
    Hefty overhead, bloated payroll, and uncontrolled expenses are the biggest obstacles to the development of a niche practices. Demands on cash flow prohibit leaders from declining any work, no matter how underpriced, says Enns. He also notes that most firms also would be better off limiting their capacity, thereby forcing principals to be more selective about the opportunities they pursue and accept.

  3. The benefits of specialization are not apparent.
    And the benefits are myriad, says Enns. He says a narrow area of expertise will make you exponentially more relevant to far fewer potential clients. This may seem counter-intuitive, but reducing number of potential clients actually makes business development and marketing efforts much more focused and manageable. And because there are few, if any, other firms able to offer such deep expertise, the specialist firm is able to attract better (read: smarter and more profitable) clients. Unwilling to pay premium fees, bad clients flee to generalists who have no other option than to compete on price. Good clients have no problem paying because they understand the value of the services they’re getting.

If you’re a generalist tired of filling out RFPs and being beaten down on price, and you can temper your need for variety and create the financial and other conditions required, specialization is worth considering. For more information about how to win new business without pitching, check out Enns's website, where you also can read his new book, “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto,” online, gratis.

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Helena Bouchez is principal and owner of Helena B Communications ( Reach her via or follow her on Twitter (@HelenaBouchez).

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