Guest Column | August 5, 2021

How To Gain A Key Competitive Advantage – Become A Visible Expert

By Kelly J. Waffle, Hinge Research Institute

Business Leader Talking To Group

In today’s VAR marketplace, competition is growing, and it does not take much for your firm to get lost in the noise. So, how can you compete and stand out? You can lower prices. You can offer services others do not offer. Or you can be recognized and trusted as a Visible ExpertSM.

What Are Visible Experts?

Visible Experts are professionals with high levels of marketplace visibility and reputations for specific expertise. These are individuals who are the keynote speakers, thought leaders, and industry experts who drive their professions forward and propel their firms to new levels of profitability and growth.

What does it take to become a high-visibility expert? Where do you start? How do you know where to focus? What are the best ways to build visibility? Should your company try to encourage your professionals to become more visible?

Studying Visible Experts

Visible expertise is such a powerful and valuable differentiator to an individual, a firm, and a client, that The Hinge Research Institute studies high visibility thought leaders and the clients that retain them every few years.

In fact, at the end of 2020, The Hinge Research Institute studied 220 Visible Experts and 275 clients that retained the services of recognized subject matter experts. This study is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive study of its type.

In it, we found that Visible Experts vary in their approach to their work. Some are very focused on the newest ideas, while others are natural collaborators and accumulators of best practices. We have identified five distinct styles or “personas,” shown in the chart below.

Chart, bar chartDescription automatically generated

Overwhelmingly, the most popular Visible Expert persona in our research was “The Bridge Builder,” represented by 41.3% of the respondents. This persona typically spans two areas of expertise—making the combined expertise truly unique and a great differentiator.

Many Types Of Visible Experts

Beyond personas, there are many types of experts, covering the whole spectrum of VAR expertise. These experts differ not only in the subject matter they master but in the level of expertise they aspire to and the strategies they embrace.

We have identified five levels of visible expertise, ranging from individual experts known only by their coworkers and clients (Level 1) to those internationally known superstars whose influence extends well beyond their profession (Level 5). The accompanying table describes and defines each of these five levels. 

Chart, bar chartDescription automatically generated

Level 1: The Resident Experts. Though recognized as experts by clients, staff, and colleagues, they are not well known outside of their firms.

Level 2: The Local Heroes. Their expert brand is starting to be known beyond the boundaries of the firm, occasionally attracting new business. They are starting to engage in promotional activities such as speaking engagements and blogging.

Level 3: The Rising Stars. Their reputations are moving onto the regional or even national stage—attracting better business and higher fees.

Level 4: The Industry Rock Stars. These experts have become nationally recognized names within their niches—driving top-tier business opportunities and commanding premium fees for themselves and their firms.

Level 5: The Global Superstars. These elite experts have garnered considerable exposure outside their niches. In some cases, their names have become synonymous with their areas of expertise—and major firms clamor to be associated with them.

Key Benefits Of Becoming A Visible Expert

There are many benefits to becoming a Visible Expert, but I would like to focus on two of them. The first one is the “Halo Effect.” In 1915, a researcher named Edward Thorndike conducted a study to learn how people judge each other. He discovered that if a person had one strong positive trait—such as being attractive—it would positively influence the rater’s perception of that person’s other traits. Intelligence or work ethic, for instance, tended to be rated equally as strong. Thorndike called this phenomenon, the Halo Effect. Subsequent studies determined that the same effect applies to businesses, which explains the importance of marketing and brand-building activities.

For Visible Experts, the Halo Effect means a buyer who sees an expert in a positive light is likely to believe that the expert’s firm is wonderful too. In this way, Visible Experts elevate their firms in every category that counts, including growth, new business, reputation, partnerships, billing rates, and the ability to close sales.

The second benefit is an increased earning potential for both the Visible Expert and his or her company. The chart below shows the premium (above the billing rates of an average professional) that clients of Visible Experts expect to pay for experts at various levels of visible expertise. Even at the lowest Visible Expert levels, clients expect to pay a premium to access the expertise of these valued professionals. The higher the Visible Expert level, the higher the earning potential, and the higher revenue potential for the company.  

Chart, waterfall chartDescription automatically generated

Delivering Exceptional Value to Clients

As compelling as these benefits are for Visible Experts and their companies, there is an equally compelling set of benefits enjoyed by the clients who engage Visible Experts. The chart below shows that getting the specific problem solved (e.g., “They get the job done” and “The ability to solve complex problems”) is not even the top benefit. Well over half of the clients (56.1%) value what they learn by working with the Visible Expert! And an almost equal percentage say that the Visible Expert came up with solutions they had not even considered before.

Chart, tableDescription automatically generated

The list of benefits goes on. Working with a well-known Visible Expert can help the client’s visibility, credibility, and new business efforts. Complex issues can be solved more quickly, with lower risk and a higher return on investment (ROI). Clearly, using a Visible Expert can be a win for the client as well as the Visible Expert.

How Experts Become Visible 

High levels of marketplace visibility rarely happen by accident. In fact, the average expert employs 6.5 marketing techniques. The top 5 marketing techniques and the proportion of experts using each are shown in the next chart.

Chart, tableDescription automatically generated

Referrals and social media are the two most frequent ways Visible Experts get in front of prospective clients. Rounding out the top 5 list of frequently used techniques are speaking engagements, attending networking events/trade shows, and writing articles or blog posts.

But widely used techniques are not necessarily the most effective. And in fact, some of the most widely used techniques are losing their effectiveness, even as other techniques become more effective. Download The Visible Expert Research Summary to see the effectiveness and usage of the full range of techniques. The Visible Expert Research Summary also includes both quantitative data and quotes from high-profile Visible Experts.

A Final Thought 

Visible Experts are the new rainmakers of the professional services and VAR communities. They not only enjoy exceptional professional success, but also propel their companies to stronger brands, faster growth, and higher profitability. The results of this research both make the case for developing Visible Experts and show you the path to success. Where are you today with your visible expertise? Where could you be tomorrow? You might not ever become a Level 5 Visible Expert but climbing up one or two levels will have a significant business impact on you, your company, and your clients.