How many times have you been asked to think "outside the box" at work or on a training course? Countless times, no doubt. It is a cliché now although it remains a good practice for problem solving. But when you are finding new clients the one thing you need to do is to find out about your prospects or customers and their challenges or opportunities. You have to get to know them, to 'think inside their box', so that you get to know what it feels like from their position.
An example of this from my military experience was learning about an Army officer serving in Northern Ireland who had become the most successful platoon commander to that point in finding caches of terrorist weapons. He and his platoon became experts in finding where the IRA hid their weapons. The officer thought like the enemy and began to understand their methods and soon cracked their modus operandi and forced them to rethink how they hid their weapons.
And today, in a regular business breakfast networking I attend, I heard one business who was thinking inside their customer's boxes. His business supplied telecom services to small businesses which is a fiercely competitive market. Many of his competitors had far greater resources to market themselves, with slick sales teams and slick marketing. But his competitors failed to live up to their promises of what they would provide and constantly called their customers and prospects to sell them more products even though they had failed them.
He understood this and some of his competitor's customers were at the networking meeting and told us how they had been treated. His business revolved around being straight and honest with his customers. He simplified and lowered their telecoms bills and regularly checked whether their solution was working. He found new customers by networking, relating to his customers and by doing what he said he would do.
And this is where larger business are going to face major problems from now on. Because marketing is no longer about slick brochures and coiffured salesmen. It's about being useful to your customers and prospects and providing them with an experience that will make them believe you and come back for more. Giving away some of your expertise for free through your blog, web site, through Twitter or at a networking event are just a few simple ways to win against fierce competitors with deeper pockets but less ability to understand the customers.
So, before you start thinking outside the box, do some thinking inside the box. It will give you a competitive edge without costing you an arm and a leg.