How do you differentiate a law firm?
What makes an ad agency relevant?
How can you tell one accounting firm from another?
Can brand-building really help a consulting firm win more business?
The business of professional services is to take away problems and to capture benefits. This is why they exist. This applies law firms, consultancies, advertising agencies, architects, wealth management or private banking services, creative agencies, and accounting firms. If they do it right they are rewarded with long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
Professional services are fascinating and offer amazing lessons in strategy and management for businesses in any industry. In fact, Tom Peters, management consultant and author, has said, “The professional service firm – with its obsession with clients and projects – must be the new organization model.”
Professional services are tough businesses and tough to brand. They offer intangibles that hopefully lead to tangibles and, in my professional experience, need help in branding, marketing and business development.
Professional Service Essence
Whether it be a consulting, accounting, law, advertising or architecture firm, common characteristics apply. Each involves a specialty that demands highly talented people (who can be highly demanding). Most firms also share the pursuit of a new and big idea that can be repeatable and trainable to efficiently and effectively grow revenue. And though their services are offered to a broad spectrum of clients, they must be delivered in a customized manner through high levels of face-to-face interaction.
The essence of professional services is that they prepare clients for the future, preempt the undesirable, control what can be controlled, and identify new opportunities.
Based on these commonalities, firms tend to share the same business model. They often rely on the notion of leverage in organizational design for profitability, structure and process, and career path strategies. They quickly develop the posture of being either a hunter or farmer. Then they endlessly debate how best to go to market and usually arrive at an unnecessarily complex matrix involving some combination of service, geography, industry, and/or client segmentation. This means they end up boring the market because they are talking to themselves.
The vast majority of firms are challenged to define their own strategy. Firms are dominated by those who react to any opportunity and any expression of interest from a prospective client, making them quite willing to deviate from “strategy.” Or they chase management and service fads. Or they bluntly apply defined service offerings to a broad range of client business problems, epitomizing the maxim, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”