Creating Referable Moments

I was a fly-on-the-wall for a wonderful conversation about positioning between Jonathan Stark and Philip Morgan. I’m reproducing a version of the conversation here, and I will explain to you exactly what this means for a consultant looking at positioning their business.

The triumvirate of discipline, target market (TM), and expensive problem (EP) kind of need to be in balance

You can’t be narrow in all three. It’s too tight. At least for someone starting out

If you get super specific on one, the others can (and perhaps should) be looser

Sean DSouza goes narrow on the Expensive Problem leg, loose on the Target Market leg (i.e. Small business), and pretty loose in discipline (eg marketing)

If you want to maximize Word of Mouth, your Target Market should be the narrowest one, the Expensive Problem fairly specific, and the discipline mostly irrelevant

A narrow Target Market combined with an Expensive Problem that most prospects in your Target Market are likely to have seems like the combo most likely to trigger a Rolodex Moment™

  • “I help holistic practitioners get booked solid”
  • “I help over worked photographers make more money with fewer clients”

Either of those two instantly make me think of several friends in each TM and it’s safe to assume that all of them might have one of those EPs

How to Think About Your Positioning

When you consider your positioning, you want to make sure that you’re able to trigger Rolodex Moments™, as Jonathan Stark calls them.

These are moments when you’re describing yourself in such a way that you INSTANTLY make people think of friends in the target market that you’re describing, and the expensive problem you solve.

If either of these elements are off — you’re too deep or loose on one or more of them — then you’re in the unfortunate positioning of having weak, soggy positioning.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Example #1: Loose Target Market, Narrow Expensive Problem

I help small business owners get booked solid

With the first example, we’re communicating that we can solve an expensive problem, but we’re not communicating who — specifically — we can help.

Is this a referable positioning statement? Absolutely. But it could be so much improved with a little workshopping.

Specifically, what type of small business owner are you serving?

  • Dentists?
  • Consultants?
  • Retailers?

Specifying any of these would improve the positioning statement.

Example #2: Narrow Target Market, Loose Expensive Problem

I help dentists with their business

With the second example, we’re communicating who we can help, but we aren’t explaining how we can help.

People hire consultants to solve problems. If you aren’t describing how you can help a client or the type of expensive problem that you can solve for them, you make it much, much more difficult to earn a referral.

When someone goes to describe your business, what should they say about you?

“He helps dentists.”

Okay, how? With what?

“By… helping them?”

A narrow target market with a loose expensive problem isn’t referable. You do yourself a disservice with a positioning statement like this.

Example #3: Loose Target Market, Loose Expensive Problem

I help small business owners with their businesses

With the third example, we aren’t communicating anything valuable or relevant to the listener:

  • We aren’t telling them who we work with. The target market is incredibly loose.
  • We aren’t telling them how we can help people. The expensive problem is incredibly loose.

If you had a positioning statement like this, who would you want referred to you? How would you help them?

If your positioning statement is this wide and this weak, I recommend that you answer the two above questions:

  • Who would you want referred to you?
  • How would you help them?

Use your answers as the basis for a more refrained positioning statement.

Example #4: Narrow Target Market, Narrow Expensive Problem

I help dentists get booked solid

By combining a narrow target market with a narrow expensive problem, you make yourself referable. To anyone who asks, you easily communicate who you’re looking to work with and how you can help them.

Positioning statements like this get you clients. These are what cause Rolodex Moments™, where the person you’re talking to can immediately think of the type of business you work best with and understand the expensive problem that you solve.

These are the positioning statements that we’re aiming for.

Optimizing Your Positioning

When it comes to optimizing your positioning, there are three things you want to think about:

First, consider target market

You want to understand who you’re looking to serve. What type of business? How do they describe themselves? What words do they use to talk about their industry?

How narrow can you make this? The more specific you are in the target market, the easier it will be to communicate who you best work with and the easier it will be for you people to make referrals to you.

Consider this:

Narrow Target Market General Target Market Loose Target Market
Personal Injury Attorneys Lawyers Small Business Owners

When your target market is more narrow, it will be easier for people to make referrals to you. They’ll understand exactly who you’re looking for.

Think of it this way: did you ever have a single friend who was looking for someone to date? Which would be easier:

  1. If they said “Hey, I’m looking to date. My ideal match is athletic, likes spending time outdoors, is 30 – 35, has a college degree, and has a career”
  2. If they said “Hey, I’m looking to date. Know anyone?”

When you read that first example, someone popped into your mind, didn’t they? For this hypothetical person, you thought of one of your friends who is single and might be a match.

For the second, your mind completely blanked. Even though they were literally saying “I’ll take all comers!” you weren’t able to think of a specific person because the definition was too general.

It’s the same when it comes to the target market we define. When we have a specific idea of our best buyer, we’re able to be exact about who we’re looking for. When we define that target market for someone, it because that much easier for them to think of someone to refer to us. Because we were specific in the request.

So pick a narrow target market. No ‘Small Business’, no ‘Software as a Service Company.’

Be specific. Pick a narrow target market.

Then, consider the target expensive problem

You want to understand one of the expensive problems that the target market you’re looking to reach is experiencing.

You don’t need a complete or comprehensive understanding of all of the problems. Just one (or a few).

You’re a specialist, not a generalist. That means that you specialize in solving problems for your target market.

You do want to make sure that that you’re picking an actual, specific problem, and that it makes sense in the context of your target market:

How can you judge what would be a specific problem your target audience is experiencing? Research!

Ideally, you have some familiarity with the target market you want to work with:

  • You’ve worked with them before
  • You’ve studied their industry
  • You’ve been a member of the industry

Any of these will give you an advantage in understanding the expensive problems that are present in the industry. But outside of this knowledge, you want to study your target market:

  • Read books and popular blogs written for businesses in your target market
  • Study the schedule and talks at popular conferences in your target market
  • Conduct informational interviews with businesses in your target market

What are the issues and problems you constantly identify? What commonalities do you see? What repeated elements stand out to you?

Study those closer. Follow those clues, because those lead to expensive problems in your target market – problems that people are willing to pay to have solved for them.

It’s too easy to decide on a target market and then pick an imaginary or non-existent expensive problem, or to take a problem you already solve and try to backtrack and associate it with a target market.

You need to go Target MarketExpensive Problem → . Discipline. You cannot retrofit an expensive problem onto a target market, and your discipline is secondary to the other two elements.

You help Target Market solve Expensive Problem using Discipline. You’re not a Discipline which helps Target Market solve Expensive Problem.

Compare these two:

I help Personal Injury Attorneys increase their leads and Get Booked Solid by Increasing Their Website Traffic.


I’m a Search Engine Optimization Consultant. I help Personal injury Attorneys increase their leads and Get Booked Solid by Increasing Their Website Traffic.

The description of your discipline is irrelevant. What matters is the Target Market and Expensive Problem (and to a lesser extent, how you use your Discipline).

Triggering A Rolodex Moment

You’ll know you’ll be able to trigger Rolodex Moments when you’ve picked a narrow target market and a specific expensive problem for your positioning.

When you describe who you can help and how you can help them, you make yourself immediately referable. You make it easy for friends, colleagues, and potential clients to immediately think of someone that you can help.

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