Tag Archives: professional service organisations

Being “Best in Breed” may not make you “Top Dog”!

In services it is very difficult to differentiate yourself from your competition and it is even more of a problem for professional service organisations. It is very difficult to be distinctive, memorable and stand out from the crowd when everybody is qualified, capable and seems to be the same.

One route you can take is to become the very best at what your business does – what you might call a “Best in breed” strategy – but is this the best way forward?

“Best in Breed” Strategy

In a dog show, such as Crufts which has just finished, the best in breed winner is the dog which most closely matches the “breed standard”, it ticks all the boxes and has no faults but you have to ask whether the fine distinctions which gain favour from the judges are noticeable let alone memorable to the general public. And of course, there is only room for one “best in breed”.

Moving into the business arena, being “best in breed” may be a useful approach if you have a very narrow niche or have the resources to get ahead of and stay ahead of the competition but it won’t work for most businesses. You need to be different, you need to have personality and you need to build a community of customers who value who you are and how you do what you do. That’s what makes you “you”, makes you distinctive and makes customers [and employees] come to you.

Distinctive and Memorable?

Family DogYou need to have the key elements of the “breed standard” demonstrate capability but it is the other factors which make you distinctive and memorable. Unless you want to compete in Dog Shows, you don’t pick your family dog because of how closely it matches the standard!

All your competitors will have similar:

  • People [qualifications and experience]
  • Processes
  • Experience

Or they wouldn’t be in the business. You need to find a way of being different and that is best achieved through your people and your processes [what you do and how you do it]. To turn some customers on you may have to take the risk of turning some off, not everyone will like what you do and if you try to please everyone, you will end up being bland! You need what my friend Andrew Thorpe calls a “Marmite Pitch”

Very good but very ordinary

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t be ordinary and it is very easy to be very good but very ordinary. Barry Gibbons then of Burger King was quoted by  Tom Peters’ as saying “Even when we did it right, it was still very ordinary”

Ordinary is not memorable and it’s not distinctive.

Extraordinary Expertise

Whether you are in:

  • Accountancy
  • Law
  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Project Management
  • Financial Services

You and your people need to be extraordinary and that means paying attention to how you do things and how you interact with your customers, it’s not about getting better at what you do. That is obvious and easy to copy – if you can do it, everyone else can do it. To be distinctive and memorable and maintain this, you need to get brilliant at things that your competition doesn’t take seriously.

This means building outstanding customer care, building strong customer relations and giving your team extraordinary expertise by developing what are often called “soft skills” but they are not soft, they are hard and they are crucial to your business success. You need to encourage enterprise and build distinctive capabilities.

You don’t get to be top dog by being best in breed!

Successful Professional Services – the three types of people you need and how to get them

Long term success for professional service firms [lawyers, accountants, architects, professional engineers etc] depends to a large extent on developing the right balance of:

Grinders – to complete the work in hand
Minders – to build and maintain relationships with existing customers
Finders – to find the next generation of customers

The right balance is different for each business but someone must take on each of the roles if the business is to survive and prosper.

Each role also needs a different combination of:

  • Technical [what the business does]
  • Personal and
  • Interpersonal Capabilities

Often this is not fully recognised and results in the wrong people being promoted to management and business development roles. I’ve seen many examples where the best “technician” has been promoted to become a poor manager. The business gets a double hit – losing capability in one key area and getting a less than satisfactory performer in another area. This can also lead to frustration, demotivation and loss of self-esteem – again with a negative impact on performance.

Richard Boyatzis suggested that for any role, the threshold competences required to perform the role were different from those which differentiated star performers. Top performers aren’t  just better at the job, they have skills and capabilities which others don’t have.

The competences required for each role are different; so your best technical performer may not have what it takes to be an adequate minder or finder, let alone a star. So rather than automatically promoting your best technical performer, it could make sense to select the second, third or fourth best performer who has the necessary attributes for a broader role. It is rare to find individuals who excel in and are excited by both technical and managerial roles.

It makes sense to offer parallel development routes for your technical and management / business development professionals – each group is important for the future of the business. Many good technical personnel feel pressurised move into management roles to develop career even when they know they are not suited to it or motivated by it.

There are three key steps to getting the right mix of people for your business:

  1. Understand the differences between the roles and the attributes required for each
  2. Identify which attributes and capabilities can be developed and which cannot
  3. Recruit a good mix of people and have development plans in place for each of the roles.

Most of all, you need to take it seriously, it will be good for your wealth.

An updated version Fulcrum’s “Encouraging Enterprise” programme tailored for professional service organisations has just been launched to address these important issues. You might also like to check out our review of the literature on Developing Customer Relations in Professional Services.