Differentiation is a huge challenge for professional firms, and it is often made more difficult by their business models, culture and governance systems.
The good news is that most firms are differentiated; they just need to understand the multiple levels of value that they deliver, and translate those into behavior and marketing strategy.
Most professional services firms think of the value they deliver in one-dimensional terms – the technical expertise that they apply to their client’s problems.
But most of the clients of professional services firms we have interviewed over the years perceive only onion-skin-thin nuances of difference between the expertise of one firm versus another.
And yet clients make choices.
The key is to understand and orchestrate the four levels at which professional services firms deliver value to their clients. Each of those levels of value offers a path to differentiation:
▪ The business problem you solve for your clients (functional value)
▪ The relational support you deliver to your clients (emotional value)
▪ The personal validation you deliver to your clients (ego value)
▪ The greater good that your firm exists to create (societal value).
A lot of firms assume that their professionals and clients have a clear, shared understanding of who they are, what they do and why they’re valuably different. But that’s often not the case – even among the leadership team.
If you’re not really clear about those things, then decisions about everything from mergers and acquisitions to what new practices to launch, which ideas to invest in, which clients to attract and what kinds of people to hire become arbitrary and difficult.
Identity and value proposition, if thoughtfully and diligently developed, provide the compass that guides everything else. So they really repay investment.