Thursday, June 18, 2009

Unleash More Velocity, Volume and Value

Consulting is a barometer of the professional services market overall and it is still struggling. Robert W. Baird & Co. is a financial advisory firm that produces quarterly research reports about the consulting industry. I recently caught a glimpse of Baird’s Q1, 2009 report and I took away these top three findings:

1. Weak and spotty demand: Current and predicted consulting engagement activity was weak across the board excluding restructuring work which was strong. While there’s still mostly the hint of work to come, the government consulting space is becoming more crowded as consultants are repackaging services in anticipation of a spending boom.

2. Competitive pressure is coming from David-sized firms at the expense of Goliath-sized ones: For instance, competition is being seen by laid off personnel attempting to enter the consulting market. And, smaller consulting practices are offering creative installment payment plans for cash strapped clients and lowering fees in an attempt to draw business away from larger competitors. As a result, Bill rates are under continued pressure.

3. Relationships harder to get and keep: Professional services firm buying decisions are increasingly made at the Executive level with declining buying power below that level. Plus, higher-than-normal management turnover at client companies leads to consultants having to “re-sell” their services and capabilities. It’s taking longer for client decisions to be made and for projects to reach completion.

Whether you’re a consultant, lawyer, accountant, or other form of professional services advisor, what can we do to win more business in an environment like this? Accelerate velocity, volume and value related to your client development efforts and service offerings.

1. Velocity: Existing relationships are fastest – Marketing 101 – what else can you do with/for your existing clients? But beyond that, if you and your team haven’t already done so, circle back to those most willing and able to help your practice including family, friends, colleagues from your community involvement, alumni from your firm, former clients, partners in kindred practice groups or offices across your firm. If they already know you, like you, trust you and, maybe even, have tried your services before – your odds of success and speed in getting work or referrals goes up significantly. Have you fully tapped these assets and helped equip them to drive work your way? Velocity also means proving that you can deliver results faster for your clients than any other competitor can – how else can tweak your delivery processes to accelerate project completion?

2. Volume: Volume of outreach matters more than ever. Existing relationships aren’t nearly enough right now – because it takes so much longer for any one opportunity to come to fruition, we need to dramatically increase the volume of outreach – look for leverage in your rainmaking. By leverage, I mean more opportunities for you to meaningfully connect with more than one prospect or referral source at the same time – this can be done through writing, speaking and other thought leadership activities but also through having meetings where you invite key contacts from different non-competing organizations and you’re the facilitator or match-maker. They meet each other and benefit from that but you get a two-for-the-price-of-one type encounter. We all ought to be asking ourselves “how else?” with regard to the internet as leverage – it’s a powerful tool for reaching out more broadly, more quickly through social media, e-mail, etc. Whatever means chosen, get the volume of outreach for yourself and across your office up to record heights – measure it – celebrate it – take it higher.

3. Value: Make ROI measurable, vivid and immediate – Not only do we all need to do a better job of highlighting and communicating the benefits of working with our firms, we need to be bolder than ever in measuring before-after results and finding ways to tighten our processes so the results are delivered with much greater efficiency and in nearly real-time. If you don’t typically measure quantifiable results in your profession, well now’s the time to start. If you already do so, challenge yourself to develop an offering whereby you can deliver the same results (or better) in half the time. Don’t imagine that it can’t be done. Nobody could run a four minute mile either until Roger Bannister did the impossible. Also: Value is a function of benefits delivered over price paid. If you’re going to get squeezed by clients squawking about “value” …and you’re gonna…get something back in return. Seek pricing quid quo pro. Make a concession if, quid pro quo, you get more ALL of the client’s work and push a competitor out. Make a concession if, quid pro quo, the client lets you do work for another division of their business that you’ve not before touched. Offer to work on partial or full contingency if, quid pro quo, the client pays a penalty if they impede your ability to get results for them - or put some other equal risk-sharing mechanism in place.

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