How to position yourself and stand out in a crowded marketplace

The first 20 years of my career were spent interrupting businesspeople at their doorsteps and through their phone lines.My hope for success depended on my prospects’ moods at the time of my calls.Perceptible sighs and body language often told me these people were straining to be polite and hide their annoyance at my persistent sales calls. But I’m a pretty cheerful guy and was able to establish rapport in enough cases to open relationships and develop some business. It was an uphill battle in almost every situation.Described above is the classic cold call/follow-up/proposal/close model of “business development,” the respectable way to say sales. The method worked for a long time. It was common for company lobbies to have streams of salespeople strolling in with no appointment to call on a purchasing agent or executive to sell everything from copiers, computers, printing, office supplies and business services to custom software and industrial raw materials.Before the advance of Internet search and e-commerce, companies actually relied on salespeople to bring them the latest industry and product information. In those cases, vendor sales calls were welcomed. Even so, the salespeople with the best relationships and strongest brands always won the lion’s share of business.Without a strong brand and best-in-class reputation, every company needs to push, and push hard, to gain new business. That means proactive entrepreneurs or salespeople introducing their wares to unsuspecting and uninterested prospects. It means interrupting people during their busy days, and in their minds, wasting valuable time.Pushing often does just that. It pushes buyers away, especially today when they have all the product information they need at their fingertips. So what are salespeople and entrepreneurs to do now?Move to the positioning model. Build a brand — a personal brand congruent with your business. Earn a reputation in the marketplace by being a valuable resource. Create a strategic awareness about yourself and your business. Be known for the reasons you want to be known.Now here’s the challenge: Give yourself the time and apply the effort needed to achieve enough positive brand awareness that prospect invitations start to replace your sales call interruptions.This doesn’t mean eliminating sales calls. It means that your targeted, well-planned calls will be more welcomed because people have heard of you and are intrigued by your perceived value messages.What exactly is positioning?Positioning what you and your business uniquely stand for in a crowded marketplace. It’s your distinction from being another commodity. It’s what makes you special and unique in the market. You must first believe it’s real and then you must clearly articulate its message consistently and frequently — and you must deliver.A few big-brand examples are: Volvo (safe cars), IBM (smart business), Google (search and Web tools) and Southwest Airlines (be treated like a person).There are many smaller local examples: Steve Gamlin of Jigsaw Consulting (motivational firewood), Bill Phenix of Nassau Broadcasting (comprehensive radio advertising knowledge), Kathy Bacon of Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce (the people connector), Tom Raffio of Northeast Delta Dental (giving back to the community), and Deb Titus of Human Capital Solutions (confident engagement and leadership). These people have personal brands that harmonize well with their respective organizations. They are known for a specific reason. They all worked hard to achieve their strategic awareness. These companies and people are all measurably successful as a result of their positioning and consistency of messages. Prospective customers call them, already interested in doing business.My hope is to be positioned as the go-to wordsmith; to be known for writing the best marketing and public relations messages. I’ve been at it for a while, and now I’m getting inbound calls more frequently than ever. These aren’t returned calls; they are inquiries from people I may or may not have met and never called on.At networking events, strangers recognize me and want to introduce themselves. It sure beats elbowing my way into a conversation as I did when starting out, and still I have a long way to go.Chuck Sink, an independent marketing consultant and writer, can be reached at This article is the first of two parts.