Differentiate or Die…A New Twist (A Story for Professional Services)

How does a professional services firm differentiate itself in the vast sea of competitors?

Generally, the two ways often mentioned to differentiate are price and value. I propose a twist on the second – differentiate on relationship.

Not completely separate from value, relationships are a window to leadership. The abilities and mannerisms of all professionals in a firm, particularly the leadership, dictate the strength (or weakness) of relationships. The connections that clients feel to the individuals (and sometimes the firm as a whole) often decree future opportunities and successes.

Even though many opportunities proceed through the RFP process, the wide range of responses to be evaluated are often “first-cut” by the reaction to the name of the responding firm, which is often dictated by the relationships and reputation of the leadership.

Price-cutting or service reductions are short-term, negative strategies. Differentiation by value and relationships is the only positive, long-term strategy that will lead to future growth and prosperity.

Professional services have been falling into the commodity trap, particularly since the economic downturn. The absolute last thing ANYONE should want for the architecture industry is to be perceived as a commodity. Not all architects or architectural firms are the same! They do not produce the same innovation or creativity. The leadership of the firm should always be forward and vocal in the circles in which clients are active and in their professional organizations.

The take away…relationships and leadership should be positively memorable, distinctive and visible. That is the key to differentiation in this world of competitors of every scale and scope. That is the separator for the firm to win new projects, grow and be more profitable.

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