If you had an unresolved problem for which you wanted a solution, would you rather speak to someone who is a specialist in solving such problems or a generalist? All things being equal, even if we had a great relationship with an existing generalist supplier, we might prefer to talk to a specialist.
We assume that because the person is a specialist they understand the problems in greater depth than the generalist. This may actually be an illusion. The generalist may have more experience in that area than the specialist, they just do not focus attention on it. In winning new customers, being a specialist will often give you a competitive edge. Remember, most people do not like taking risks with important buying decisions. The perceived risk is lower when going with someone who has a track record of solving similar problems.
I have managed to quickly turn around the sales fortunes of many businesses just by helping them to specialise in one specific area. Often they have had several areas they could have specilised in and sometimes there is a reluctance to let go. In some cases we specialised the whole business into this one area. For others we focused marketing communications on the specialist area and then used cross-selling and up-selling once an account had been established.
Saying you are a specialist is not good enough. You have to be able to demonstrate it. Most generalists will have lots of examples of great work and its a case of going into the detail and finding not just the specialist areas but also the types of client that they want to specialise in. Saying you are a specialist in a laundry list of areas will not work. People will see through it instantly and you will lose credibility.
Specialising can make a dramatic difference in the sales growth of a smaller business but it does require letting go. Until you have a sales team large enough to specialise in different areas, you need to focus on a specific area. Once you do, however, you will find it much easier to find unresolved problems and to come up with unique solutions for them. You can always generalise when your business is bigger and you have established a significant brand identity in the market place.