Elizabeth Harr

COMMENTARY

7 overlooked opportunities to boost your value

In the strategy work we do for professional services firms, we frequently find they have the same core problems. We also find that there are a set of commonly overlooked opportunities to address those problems -- opportunities that help firms gain tangible advantages in competing for new clients and the best employees.

Opportunity 1: Clients don’t realize all the ways you can help them.

It’s easy for clients to pigeonhole you as only doing certain types of work. In our own research, we find that on average, 70 percent to 80 percent of clients simply are not aware of all the services their professional services vendor provides. This means that the next time your client needs an additional service -- even if you happen to offer it and they’re satisfied with your performance -- they’re likely to look elsewhere.

Recommendation: Be proactive. One buyer we talked to put it this way: “We expect our vendors to anticipate our needs and solve issues before they become problems. We don’t need a sales pitch, just a little education and the offer of some solutions.”

Opportunity 2: Your prospective clients find you confusing.

Many firms offer confusing messages about their capabilities, use intentionally vague terms, or speak in industry jargon. They may assume that the more general their explanations, the less likely they’ll be to leave opportunities on the table. Generic or jargon-filled messaging does little to convince a prospect. In fact this undifferentiated messaging keeps you in good company with the crowd of other undifferentiated firm – and that’s when you leave business on the table.

Recommendation: Make sure your message is specific and crystal-clear. Describe what you do, how you do it better than the other firm, and why that matters to your prospective audience (i.e. how they’ll benefit). The more you focus your message, the more visible your competitive advantage will be to potential clients. Remember: when you attempt to be all things to all clients, you are nothing to anyone.

Opportunity 3: You’re hearing what clients need, but not what they want.

Clients are often motivated not only by logic and strategy, but also by fears and emotions that they don’t necessarily openly share. But if you don’t understand their real motivators, you could have difficulty satisfying them.

Recommendation:When a client hires you to do a specific task, they naturally expect you to address their technical requirements. But if you can do that and address any emotionally-based expectationsyou will have a distinct edge over other firms focused only on the technicals. So pry a little, and learn what’s really driving them and what’s keeping them up at night.

Opportunity 4: Seemingly loyal clients actually don’t want to use you.

It’s not uncommon for long-term clients to feel locked into working with certain service providers -- a situation that the providers themselves may not even realize. Contractual obligations, inertia, or the hassle of finding a new vendor keeps these clients around.

Recommendation: Get an outsider to interview your clients. You’ll be amazed what unhappy clients will reveal to a third party that they would never tell you. Once you understand the issues, you can choose to fix them or find a low-pain way to end the relationship.

Opportunity 5: You don’t understand what your best employees want.

Your best people often have specific motivations and values that management doesn't understand. For example, you might assume that all employees are motivated by money alone. But often, one’s top performers have very different goals, priorities, and desires.

Recommendation: Go beyond meeting employees’ basic needs for competitive salaries, benefits, and work environment. By learning about the intangible qualities that motivate your best people, you can emphasize the values and benefits that will attract the right talent. Have an unbiased third party interview your best people and find out what keeps them around, and refocus your recruiting efforts accordingly.

Opportunity 6: You’re not leveraging your experts.

Professional services firms are teams of experts. At most firms, these experts remain relatively unknown. Their knowledge, however, is a vital resource that can significantly drive your firm’s visibility and growth.

Recommendation: Create what we call “Visible Experts” by encouraging your brightest stars to begin sharing their knowledge freely. Whether they start contributing blogs, speaking at events, authoring books, or other activities, our research shows that Visible Experts command higher fees and drive more business to their firms.

Opportunity 7: Your brand is scaring off referrals.

In the past, referrals came from people you knew and clients you’d served. But many more referrals could come from people you’ve never even met. How? People today learn about professional services firms online, often by consuming their free expert content. If your brand has marketplace visibility, these readers can turn into referrals.

Recommendation: Make sure you’re projecting not only a highly credible and trustworthy brand, but also that your messaging is clear and focused. Use the design, images and colors on your website and collateral to look sophisticated and modern, and also differentiate your firm when referrals come to check you out.

Be Opportunity-Focused

In our research, we frequently encounter issues like the ones discussed, usually to the surprise of our clients. The most successful firms distinguish themselves by looking for and seizing these hidden opportunities. I encourage you to look for similar opportunities to build a sustainable competitive advantage and increase your valuation.

About the Author

Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, [http://www.hingemarketing.com/] a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition; and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.

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