Professional Services Marketing Part 8

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* To have delivered mil ions of dol ars in recovered costs from insurance companies for manufacturing companies, costs that your clients didn't know they were ent.i.tled to? If so, where are the case studies and testimonials?

* To be the world's leading experts on consumer product innovation? If so, where are your articles and books? When are your industry conference keynote speeches?

* To be a unique firm-a firm like no other that exists? If so, how good is your reasoning for that?

Let's a.s.sume you claim to be the world's leading expert on consumer product innovation. You have a rich library of primary research you've conducted and case studies you've written. You have a history of publis.h.i.+ng excel ent articles in top publications on the subject, and your book on innovation is in its third edition. You run an active innovation research center. Credibility rating: very good.

On the flip side, anything that wil cause anyone-be they clients, prospects, partners, or potential employees-to question the credibility of what you say puts you at a disadvantage.

"The real-world story is you've got to get the organization to understand that there is a difference between just a.s.serting something and real research."

-Mike May, Professor at Babson College, former Co-Vice Chair of KPMG, and former Global Managing Partner of the strategy business for Accenture Buyers wil ask, "Are they reliable?" Buyers want reliable service providers. In your marketing and business development processes, you can do a lot to influence a buyer's perception of your reliability. And how do people judge reliability? They do so largely based on your history of making and then keeping your promises. For example, in the Wel esley Hil s Group and RainToday.com's How Clients Buy study, we asked buyers to reflect back on the past few times they purchased professional services. Some 18 percent of buyers reported service providers being late to meetings, and 30 percent reported that the provider did not respond to their requests in a manner that they deemed to be timely.

You might ask yourself, what exactly is "timely"? For al intents and purposes, it doesn't matter. The buyer's perception of you, should you not respond to requests in what is deemed to be a timely manner by them, wil likely be one of not being particularly reliable. If that's the buyer's perception of you, then it's a part of your brand.

The more someone feels they are in good hands with you, the more clout (substantiation) any claims you make wil have with them. For example, in one case, someone knows you have published wel -regarded research, books, and articles on the subject but hasn't read them; you may have credibility in general but no deep connection or emotional resonance (necessary to build trust) yet.

In a second case, someone has read your wel-regarded articles, books, case studies, and research and is thoroughly familiar with your models and methods. Thus begins the foundation for stronger connection, emotional resonance, and trust (and, a.s.suming your intel ectual capital is good, your credibility improves as wel ).

In a third case, you've never worked with a buyer as a client, but you've spent a year working with the company as a prospect in your long business development cycle, talking people through important issues, providing counsel, and helping them move their agendas forward. Even before they begin to work with you, their level of security to entrust you with something important has begun to bloom.

In a last case, you've worked with someone for years intimately as a client, though thick and thin and several touch-and-go situations. You've come through for someone repeatedly in good and difficult times. This client always believes that you have his firm's best interest at heart, and you've demonstrated this to be the case numerous times in difficult situations.

Now your connection and level of trust is very deep. Your value proposition strength is based on three legs of a stool: resonance, differentiation, and substantiation. Figure 9.4 shows what happens when one of those legs gets taken away.

Figure 9.4 Components of Value Proposition Strength In Chapter 10 we examine how you can uncover the essence of your brand attributes that wil contribute to developing your value proposition messaging.

10.

Uncovering Your Key Brand Attributes To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.

-H. J. Heinz, printed on the back of a ketchup bottle When it comes to marketing and branding, one very simple question seems to trip up firm after firm. That question is: What should we say about ourselves?

We know from the previous chapter that we can deliver messages of our value to the market and clients in a number of different ways. We also know that to build the strongest possible messages, we must combine resonance, differentiation, and substantiation. With or without this knowledge, firms struggle to figure out what the core components of their messaging should be.

The diagram in Figure 10.1 offers you a review of where we have been to this point. In Chapter 14 we'l address how to approach combining, crafting, and creating your messages from a core set of building blocks. In this chapter, you'l learn how to discover what those building blocks are for you and how to categorize them. And, when you are finished, you wil see how to figure out what to say about yourself.

Figure 10.1 Value Proposition Strength and Delivery Nine Questions: Finding the Strength of Your Value Proposition In order to articulate the messages about your firm that wil contribute to your growth by connecting with the market and helping you sel , you first need to answer nine questions dealing with two topics: value and differentiation.

You need to know your clients' and your markets' perception of value regarding:23 1. Your general category of firms and services.

2. Your firm.

3. The specific services you offer.

4. Solving particular problems that clients currently have.

5. Solving certain problems clients can antic.i.p.ate having in the future but do not perceive as priorities.

You need to know your clients' and your markets' perception of your overal distinction in the market and their perception of how difficult it would be to get services similar to yours or to solve the problems you solve in other ways. Thus, you need to find out what different options clients and decision makers in the market perceive they have regarding: 6. Different categories of companies that can help to solve problems (or achieve goals).

7. Specific companies that can help solve problems.

8. Specific services available to help solve problems.

9. Other options available to help to solve problems, such as internal staff.

Let's look at each of the nine questions in turn in the context of different examples and see how the answers wil affect your messages to the market.

Question #1: What value do clients and decision makers perceive about our general category of company and services?

It's no secret that the pharmaceutical industry is a large purchaser of management consulting. But the question is: What do specific buyers in the industry value about management consulting? Do they value functional expertise, such as marketing or industry experience, in the pharmaceutical industry? Are they likely to buy services from smal firms or large? Does it matter? Do they perceive that 6 times out of 10 they do not get the value they wanted out of consulting? When they got good value the 4 out of 10 times, what did that look like? Would they likely spend more on prestigious thought leaders, or wil experiences of the team win out?

The dynamics of your firm, your industry, and your target markets wil drive the specific questions you need to ask about the category of your firm.

What you discover wil inform the general positioning and messaging for your firm.

Question #2: What is the value clients and decision makers in our target market perceive about us as a firm?

If there is a fundamental question to which every service firm should know the answer, this is it.

You should know what your clients think of your company. The answers can, among other things, drive opportunities for service improvement, uncover opportunities for cross-sel ing, and shape messages of value you can bring to the market. In almost al cases when you speak with clients, you'l learn perceptions about your firm's personality and what it's like to work with your team. You'l learn how they perceive the value they receive from working with your firm. You'l learn how they think you're distinct.

It is important to stress that what you think you know about how clients perceive your value and how they truly perceive the value you offer are often worlds apart. In our work with professional services firms, we often interview our clients' clients. One of our clients, a midsize certified public accountant (CPA) firm, wanted to grow faster than just through referrals. The firm had always offered great service and believed its value was comparable to or better than what other like firms offered. In speaking to the firm's clients, we heard comments much like the fol owing, from the president of a client firm: "The CPA I had 10 years ago was nothing more than a tax planner. He provided me no advice at al , not managing the business or ebb and flow of cash flow in manufacturing, no balance sheet projections, no strategy . . . nothing. It is important for a smal business to understand its risk profile and balance sheet. My comptrol er and I devised a formula with our current CPA firm [our client] to be debt free. This al owed us to make some very good growth decisions, not knee-jerk. We weren't laden with debt and didn't have to chase cash flow. They were very progressive. They do think outside the box. They are very creative in the way they a.s.sist in capital planning, handle al facets of the business, and are very familiar with the finance side of manufacturing."

This is great stuff to hear from a client, but the CPA firm had no idea how strongly its value as a partner and advisor came through. Talk to clients (or have someone do it for you) to make sure you know how valuable you are.

Along with clients, you should know what the buyers and influencers across your markets think of your company.

* Perhaps they don't know about your company at al . While it's not impossible to reap the benefits of marketing and be successful at business development if you are not wel -known among the buyers and influencers in your market, you'l always be at a disadvantage as long as you hang on to your "hidden gem" or "best-kept secret" status.24 * Perhaps the marketplace's perception is that you are a specialist in a particular industry or service area: "Oh, they're great at technology consulting, but they don't have a strategy capability." This is the chal enge Mike May at Accenture (Andersen Consulting at the time) faced in 1993. "Think back to 1993. Andersen Consulting, with little strategy capability, was very good at and known for technology, process, change management, and systems integration. The then chairman/CEO of Andersen Consulting said, 'The new game is cal ed "business integration."

We're going to have four competencies: strategy, change management, technology, and process. Our value proposition to clients is we're going to bring those together seamlessly around client problems. But guess what? We don't have the strategy thing we need to build on."'

Many firms are known for one thing, or known for different things by different buyer sets, and see the opportunity to grow in a number of areas.

Before you answer the question of how to influence the thinking of the market, you first need to know: What do they think?

Question #3: What value do clients and decision makers in the market perceive about the specific services we offer?

This question gets less attention than it should (or no attention) in many service firm research initiatives.

a.s.sume you're an accounting firm with a specialty in bank auditing. When you ask clients about the value of the banking audit service, you may find that your audits consistently find ways to save them tens of thousands of dol ars in hidden areas as you help them to create efficiencies and tighten up processes. You may find that they value your auditors' commitment to their success, evidenced by the auditors' consistent extra effort and wil ingness to talk them through issues that help them think strategical y about their business.

"Marketing communication strategies in the legal industry are often disconnected from what the lawyers really need. We have produced our share of brochures, carefully written with, by, and about our attorneys. Our clients didn't really care about them. Firms that first take the time to understand their clients and markets (and compare them to the firm's strengths) will be better able to develop strategies that will make a real difference in the firm's ability to grow."

-Kevin McMurdo, Chief Marketing Officer, Perkins Coie For a manufacturing company, your firm's operations consulting process helped increase supply chain efficiency by 25 percent. This is a very tangible value of that service, indeed, that you can build upon in your marketing.

In another scenario, let's say your firm has five distinct service areas. You may ask clients to give you their thoughts on each service. They may know of two services, and not know of three. That may signal the opportunity (or need) for marketing the other services.25 Question #4: What value do clients and decision makers in the market perceive about solving the particular problems that they currently have?

This question uncovers the value of solving explicit needs, needs that clients already know they have. a.s.sume you're a human resources consulting firm. If you were to say to your clients or buyers in the market, "Tel me about your priorities as they relate to people practices for the next year," you might hear that they need to: * Decrease unwanted turnover by 20 percent.

* Increase the skil and performance of people, particularly the sales force, since the industry has been changing so much.

* Increase the effectiveness of leaders, including intense focus on developing high-potential leaders.

* Contain benefits costs, as they're rising out of control.

* Support, promote, and manage an increasingly global and dispersed workforce.

Your objective is to explore each area for specific details, learn what success looks like in each area, and discover which areas are perceived as most important to solve and why.

Question #5: What value do clients and decision makers in the market perceive they might get if they could solve certain problems, or get certain things done, that they aren't focusing on right now or might not perceive as priorities?

Professors Ian MacMilan and Larry Selden argue in their Harvard Business Review article "The Inc.u.mbent's Advantage,"26 "Market-leading companies get attacked when they focus on products and geographic locations rather than on what compet.i.tors and disruptors actual y target- unmet customer needs."

Consider the case of Everon Technology Services. For years, smal business technology industry veteran Michael Cooch saw deep frustration at smal businesses that complained of: * Difficulty managing technology problems and issues internal y at businesses too smal to hire a dedicated technology support team.

* Inability to get in touch with their "man in a van" technology provider when they needed to, and inconsistent levels of service quality with said man.

Mike also confirmed with business leaders that they were not reaping the benefits that technology could provide them in their smal businesses because they lacked knowledge of what was possible and lacked knowledge of technology successes at other smal businesses.

In 2003 Mike founded Everon Technology Services to offer the market solutions to these problems and frustrations.

SOLUTIONS TO BUSINESS NEEDS OFFERED BY EVERON.

Did it work? The firm was founded in 2003. In 2008 Everon was named to Inc. magazine's list of the fastest-growing companies in the United States.

Not al unmet need is hiding in a new or novel business model. Perhaps, for example, it's simply the case that larger accounting firms have raised the bar on their client revenue level targets. They might say to themselves, "Only clients generating over $150,000 in annual revenue for us and targets that could generate the same are our priority. We wil continue to service our smal er clients, but not with the focus and energy that we serve our larger clients." What happens when firms start focusing their energy on one client base versus another? Satisfaction drops across the stepchild client base.

If you find this trend and if your accounting firm targets clients in the $50,000 to $150,000 fee range, you could tailor your messaging to capture business with firms whose needs are no longer being served as wel as they could be.

Question #6: What different options do clients and decision makers in the market perceive they have regarding different categories of companies that can help to solve problems or achieve goals?

Let's a.s.sume you are a graphic design firm and you help clients build and implement web sites and other Internet marketing strategies. When it comes to web sites and Internet marketing, what types of companies do decision makers turn to? Would they look to a creative design firm or a Web development company? Do they think of Internet marketing primarily as graphic design, as the ability to get found on Google, as e-mail marketing, or as online public relations (PR)?

Many a branding guru has said something to the effect that if you can create a new market category and if you can be perceived as the first player in that market, you can dominate the market as its leader. As we mentioned earlier, this is general y not particularly sound advice for most service firms and serves only to muddle service firm marketing strategy process with unnecessary complexity. It is, however, quite useful to know what buyers perceive as the different categories of firms from which they can get different services.

Question #7: What different options do clients and decision makers in the market perceive they have regarding specific companies that can help them solve problems?

It's a fundamental question, and it has a fundamental effect on your ability to compete for business. First, do clients and the market perceive your firm as a company that can help them solve particular problems? Second, whether they consider you an option or not, what other firms do clients and the market perceive are available to solve particular problems?

Most buyers don't have long lists of companies in their files or in their minds for each need they might have. Even if buyers can remember names of many different firms in different categories, they typical y have a handful or fewer with which they a.s.sociate the ability to solve particular problems.

For example, ask us to list a number of management consulting firms, and we can start rattling off names: McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), PRTM, Accenture, BearingPoint, Monitor Group, and the list goes on. Ask us if any of them can solve a particular problem for us, and the answer is: We don't think so. If we were at a bil ion-dol ar corporation, al of these firms could probably do something for us, though we couldn't tel you right away what specifical y that would be. (In their defense, these firms aren't trying to market to our firm, anyway.) We perceive our firm, probably rightly, as too smal to engage the services of any of these management consulting firms and get value from them.

The list of consulting firms that might be able to help us looks much different, and it's very smal .

Question #8: What different options do clients and decision makers in the market perceive they have regarding specific services available to help them solve problems?

A CEO may say to himself, "I believe there are hidden sources of profit here at my company, but I haven't figured out yet how to find or tackle them. I know that any number of the major consulting firms would say that they could a.n.a.lyze my company and find the profit. But the only company that I know that has a specific service dedicated to finding profit is Bain & Company through its Profit Hunt service."

Bain describes a profit hunt in its marketing materials as folows: A profit hunt is a 6- to 12-month initiative focused on identifying and understanding a company's key drivers of profitability and then designing and achieving quick-hit profit improvements. Typical y, more than half the profit uplift comes from revenue increases. The remainder comes from reducing both internal costs and supplier costs.

A buyer might then think, "I know that not only can Bain help me find sources of profit, but the results are quick hit (I need fast returns!), and they're revenue focused as wel as cost focused (I need to drive the top line!), and they're not just going to give me a report and walk away (I need help implementing!). I know who Bain is (who doesn't?), and I read right here on the Bain web site a client success story where they back up their claims (gives me reason to believe them)."

If buyers of Bain services know about Profit Hunt, Bain has a leg up. Let's say the buyer is interested in improving his profit and knows of Bain and Profit Hunt. He expresses his interest in Profit Hunt to Bain by fil ing out a contact form on Bain's web site. He also contacts two other major consulting firms and expresses his need. If the other firms don't have named, wel -packaged, wel -described, wel -supported services in the area, even if they've "done it a mil ion times," they're at a disadvantage. If the other firms prepare a custom proposal to deliver consulting services aimed at the problems the CEO faces, they may get in the game and they may even win.

But Bain has the advantage.

Additionaly, inside the Profit Hunt example, we find al the elements of a strong value proposition. And this is just what we can see on the web site.

BAIN'S ADVANTAGE Remember, al of the questions outlined in this chapter are meant to help you define the key elements of your value proposition and deliver that value proposition to the market in the most effective ways.

Companies often confuse the concept of value proposition with their firm's elevator pitch, a brand promise statement, or some other short sentence that describes the essence of the firm. These statements are helpful, but would an elevator pitch describing Bain include Profit Hunt?

Probably not-it would be too granular. However, is Profit Hunt a part of Bain's value to the market? Of course. You just don't deliver the message or its value through an elevator pitch about Bain in general.

Question #9: What different options do clients and decision makers in the market perceive they have regarding other options available to help them solve problems, such as internal staff?

Quick, who is your compet.i.tion for your services? Did you think of other firms? It's a natural instinct to do so. Yet the compet.i.tion a professional service business faces is not always other firms.

A core service of the Welesley Hils Group is Services in DemandSM, our service package (a la Profit Hunt) focused on lead generation and business development. While we sometimes run into other service providers during our business development process, more often than not we're faced with two other compet.i.tors: 1. Internal staff 2. Client doing nothing If internal staff is a major compet.i.tor, the strength of your value proposition depends not on how wel you position your services against the other firms, but on how wel you position the services vis-a-vis the company building the capabilities in-house with its own staff. For your particular service, perhaps: * It's important to have a team working on something, versus only one person.

* The client needs to be able to calibrate the level of service up and down depending on business conditions.

* The client would need to build a technology and management infrastructure in-house that you already have in place.

Your team has already proven its success; whereas, if the client hired internaly, it would need several years to discover whether team members wil actual y succeed (a.s.suming they stay long enough to even have the chance).

Comparison is part and parcel of the concept of differentiation. Many firms sel only against other firms. For example, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance work must be delivered by an independent third party. Accounting firms that deliver services here must, by their nature, compete against each other. If, as it is in many cases, your compet.i.tion is internal staff, then you need to be able to position your value against that option.

You can do this only if you understand the nature of the other option.

Consider also that your compet.i.tion is often the choice of your client or prospect to "do nothing at this time" or "postpone until the third quarter."

Services firm leaders in this position express to us, "Wel , our clients either pick us or do nothing." In these situations, there is no other service provider under consideration. When your compet.i.tion is the decision maker's indifference or lack of urgency in moving forward, your chal enge is less in the area of differentiation and more in the area of resonance or substantiation. If they don't see the value (resonance), they won't take the plunge. Perhaps they see the value in your message but don't believe that you can deliver it or get it to work for them (substantiation). They perceive the risk to be too great and don't take the plunge.

Brand Attributes: The Building Blocks of Brand Messaging The answers to the nine questions wil yield a veritable cornucopia of data points about you from your market and clients. These data points are the planks you can use to build your brand message platform. It's in this area, however, that many marketers (and marketing consultants) make colossal errors. They find an abundance of great information about their firms, their compet.i.tion, their services, and their value to the market, and then they jumble it up in the messages.

To translate the data you've colected into useful marketing ammunition, you need to understand how to categorize the data and then apply the data the right way.

Essentialy, the data breaks down into three major areas: (1) attributes of similarity, (2) distinction, and (3) experience. (See Figure 10.2.) Figure 10.2 Value Proposition Research and Strength Brand research yields a portfolio of attributes that you can sort into two buckets: things that make you valuable and things that make you distinct from other available options.

Professional Services Marketing Part 8

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Professional Services Marketing Part 8 summary

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