Properly Positioned for Take Off
There are a few good reasons why positioning your professional service firm as “full-service” doesn’t work. For one thing, it is impossible to be everything to everyone. Not only is it exhausting for your technical team, but you’ll find clients are more often disappointed than delighted. Clients need you to define in very specific terms what your firm can do for them.
Describing your firm as “full-service” runs counter to how the rest of the consumer-driven marketplace works. Think about it. As consumers, we choose to buy the best and most reasonable option in the marketplace that meets our primary need all the time, several times a day, each and every day. I’ll use example as an illustration: airline tickets.
Travelers buy airline tickets based on how soon they want to get to the destination (morning or evening flight, stop-over or direct) and where they want to sit (aisle, window, or more leg room in the exit row). Domestic or international, in-flight entertainment, baggage fees, and even carrier loyalty can influence the buying decision. The cost of the ticket may be important and limit the choices, or make no difference at all when travelers are willing to pay whatever the price in return for some convenience, comfort or luxury.
All commercial airlines sell tickets that get travelers where they want to go. But here’s the key: airlines offer much more than tickets. Airlines actually sell options. Travelers choose tickets based on the options that meet their needs, the best and most reasonable option that satisfies what’s important to the traveler.
Commercial airlines view the complete population of potential travelers in segments, targeting the customers who are searching for the options that airline offer (also known as marketing). They don’t try to serve every traveler. They specifically position their services to cater to travelers who want to more legroom or fewer connecting flights.
In fact, there isn’t a single commercial airline that says they are “full-service”. Each airline instead focuses on the options they sell. The ticket (or the sale) is just an agreement with the customer to deliver the options.
Professional service firms shouldn’t be any different.
What I’m really talking about here is properly positioning your professional service firm.
Simply put, positioning is defining your niche in the marketplace so that potential clients can easily decide if your firm answers their need. Clients should be able to easily qualify or disqualify your firm based on your firm’s positioning. Equally as important is how you do it, or why you offer that service.
It’s your responsibility to make sure clients can understand that your firm is not merely one of the experts that can solve their problem — but your firm is the only one. Instead of trying to deliver every service to everyone, figure out why clients ultimately pick your firm to solve their problems. And then tell other potential clients why current clients picked you.
Strive to offer the best, reasonable option that meets that specific client’s need in the most impactful way. And then focus on serving that same kind of client searching for the same criteria over and over again. When your firm is positioned properly in the market, clients choose your services because the options you offer satisfy their specific search criteria.
Stuck at the Gate
Too many professional service firms remain silent on why clients engage them. They either don’t know — or worse yet don’t care to understand — what they really offer potential clients.
In an effort to say something, firms may resort to “we’re a full-service” firm. Which isn’t any better than saying nothing at all. Listing generic services is not helpful either. Too often, that service list is still too generic and too broad to help clients make a selection.
Broad and nebulous definitions for your firm hold no meaning and clients can easily dismiss you as unlikely to solve their problem. If you could have solved their problem, they reason, you would have mentioned it.
Instead of being silent, your firm should strive to clearly state that you’re are particularly skilled in managing tight timelines on incredibly large municipal transportation projects; or able to deliver innovative and efficient lighting designs for elementary schools; or your experts integrate renewable energy systems into existing mechanical infrastructure for universities. Each of the previous examples defines — to a granular level — how a professional service firm can use positioning to help clients select your firm.
Clearly, if you’re not thinking about the options you offer to potential clients, you are missing out on potential projects. You’re just selling a ticket to ride while your competition offers more legroom and no baggage fees.