Perhaps you’ve noticed an emerging trend of professional services firms having a global identity crisis. If you work in a leadership position at a professional services firm, you’re probably faced with the ongoing decision to expand your services, focus on what you do best or create the illusion of both. How you determine the size and scope of your offerings is not a fleeting decision. And while the market demands may trend otherwise, the pressure to do more and sell more is ever-present.
But first, a random musing: For some reason, the transition from generalist to specialist firms reminds me of the cell phone sizing trends. When the cell phone started to become a popular commodity in the late 1990s, global product development teams had one overriding goal: how to continue to make smaller devices with every new model, without taking away from the primary focus. Fast forward about 10 years after the Motorola Razr phenomenon died off, and consumer demands started to dictate that “the smaller the better” mantra simply wasn’t practical. Suddenly, mobile product development teams started focusing on producing larger and more robust phones with more features to meet market demands.
This trend certainly isn’t limited to cell phones or professional services firms, and it’s not the first time an organization was faced with this decision to sharpen their focus or widen their offerings. Remember when the digital marketing industry started creeping its way into our hearts two decades ago? Firms had to decide if they were going to expand their services, and let’s be honest: it’s still not a true core competency that many firms can claim. [Feel free to post some links to any data you have that proves me wrong (or right).]
Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
Fact Or Fiction: Let’s Compare Positioning Statements Of Boutique And One-size-fits-all Global Professional Services Firms
Here are the primary selling points I’ve heard for both sides of the coin. These fall under the category of your “what”. (in other words, “what you do”)
What they say about themselves:
Our specialists focus on one (or a select few) key delivery area/s.
We offer a complete approach to everything you need in one roof. (One finger to point at)
What they say about the other side?
In today’s global marketplace, a generalist doesn’t have the same capabilities to deliver like a specialist.
In today’s complex, global marketplace, there’s no such thing as managing your business in a silo: the strategic decisions you make and the tactical implementation of those focus points are complex and intertwined.
It should come as no surprise that none of these are inherently true, but you can make them true to an uninformed audience. With the influx of successful boutique consultancy who seemingly have a strong sense of self and an even stronger capability to pivot, understanding the differences in how you communivate versus the little guys can provide some clues as to how customers are being (mis)educated.
Below, we created our own “snopes” to dispel the myths and help explain how common facts can be misconstrued.
CLAIM: Our specialists focus on one (or a select few) key delivery area/s.
FICTION. Narrowing the focus does not guarantee better quality of service delivery. Back to the cell phone analogy: if Apple or Android eliminated all of their features except the ability to call and take pictures, would that mean that calling and camera quality would be superior? If it’s superior, naturally customer service and support would also be impacted positively, right?
CLAIM: We offer a wholistic approach to everything you need in one roof.
FICTION. So much is wrong with this statement. First, are your deliverers all under one roof? Second, broadening the focus does not guarantee better quality of service delivery. If it did, that would imply that you have oversight and plans to foster the development of your services equally. Is your entire staff experienced specialists with exceptional interdepartmental communications? Have you placed the entire staff on site and are they capable to go as deep as necessary to infiltrate your customer’s organization to seek out, influence, and lead change? It doesn’t seem very consultant-like. We all want our customers to develop a sense of independence, right?
CLAIM: In today’s global marketplace, a generalist doesn’t have the same capabilities to deliver like a specialist.
FICTION. What exactly is a “specialist” and does it mean the same thing to you as your customer? To you, a specialist may mean that you are offering your customers someone who will focus on only one delivery area or task. However, customers may also expect this specialist to offer depth and years of experience beyond what you are capable of delivering.
The truth is, in today’s global marketplace, there’s no such thing as managing your business in a silo: the strategic decisions you make and the tactical implementation of those focus points are complex and intertwined.
From Fact To Fiction: Uncover Your True Purpose In The Field Of Dreams
Remember in FIeld of Dreams when the voice whispered, “If you build it, they will come”?
It’s such an inspiring message, yet so many take this all too seriously. You can’t just say you do everything and expect customers to come running into your arms in complete belief and trust. In today’s business climate, customers want to align with others who believe what they believe. They seek partners that they trust are authentically able to deliver on – and stand behind – what they promise.
You can do this by committing to the following principles:
- Sell yourself, not against anyone else. When you find others who resonate with your “why” (your purpose), they will believe what you believe; you don’t have to prove you’re better, just be better. Instead, focus on how to be true to your core values, and create meaningful results for your customers.
- Establish ownership. Identify an internal leadership position whose sole focus is on the internal supply chain and quality of the services.
- Make an insight-led plan. Include the internal supply chain and quality of services in your strategic plan. Have your leadership team establish metrics to drive value for customer service and support.
- Build the right bench of workers. Are you employing generalist staff to perform specialist functions? A niche firm implies the delivery team will be specialists with a certain number of years of experience. Do you have the right leadership to bridge the interdepartmental gap? If you have a flat hierarchy with only the experienced folks on the leadership team, you aren’t providing a value add.
- Execute on your plan. Evaluate the impact of your delivery via ongoing internal and customer satisfaction, and make it public.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking “Julie, how could you compare the evolution of a B2B service industry with a B2C product industry?” Well, I just did. I’m sure there’s some data somewhere that speaks to this kind of trend that waxes and wanes between being a specialist or a generalist, regardless of being product-led, service-led, B2B, B2C or otherwise.
When you’re ready to take the next step towards growing the core of your global professional services firm – or rediscovering it – give us a call. We love supporting turnarounds and helping organizations add value through renewed focus and purpose.