Most service firms are run by people who are experts in their field. Many of our clients have advanced degrees, years of experience and a solid personal reputation. These are really, and I mean really, smart people.
The unique thing about service firms is that we sell the invisible. Services, after all, are intangibles. They’re not concrete or physical. You can’t hold them in your hands or feel the weight of them. There is no reliable buyer’s guide that allows you to compare the features and benefits of service A versus service B or C.
This is why growing a professional service firm is often so hard. For someone to give you money in exchange for your services, they need to understand how your services are going to benefit them. They want to know what they’ll get for the money. But how can they know this if there is no test drive available to them before they buy?
If I decide to buy a luxury automobile, I can go to a dealership and take a test drive. I can smell the leather and rev the engine and turn on the stereo and even push all the buttons on those cool new flat screens in the dashboard. I can get a real feel for the car before I buy it.
Is there a way for service firms to deliver a test drive? Can this test drive not be a discounted loss-leader initial service? Can the test drive deliver such a powerful experience that a prospect is totally convinced that they should move ahead – just the way a person really wants that luxury car after a test drive? The answer is absolutely yes. The answer is the generous brand.
Service-based firms who build generous brands never lack for leads and deals in their pipeline. Increased demand allows them to charge more and emboldens them to raise service fees, which increases profits.
What Is A Generous Brand
A generous brand is found inside a service organization who actively and freely gives away their best ideas. Rather than holding back great ideas and their best counsel until after someone becomes their client, until after money changes hands, they do the opposite.
Service organizations with a generous brand diligently and consistently gather their best and brightest minds and ask themselves these key questions:
- Who is our ideal client?
- What are our ideal clients’ top goals, opportunities and challenges?
- What is our best advice for people who are trying to achieve these goals, realize these opportunities or overcome these challenges?
- How do we organize and present our ideas so they are clear and simple and easy to understand for people who are not experts in our field?
Service-based firms who take these steps realize some pretty amazing outcomes. Here is what I’ve witnessed:
- They never lack for leads and deals in their pipeline. And these are usually not leads who never buy or who just kick the tires. These are leads who are looking for answers to their most vexing questions.
- The more specific and targeted the ideas are for ideal clients, the more their pipeline focuses and narrows to only include people who fit their ideal client profile. The riff-raff and time wasters disappear.
- The process of packaging up their ideas forces them to think clearly about their service delivery model and refine it. The benefit to them is that they serve clients better, faster and with greater efficiency and impact.
- Their revenues go up because increased demand allows them to charge more and emboldens them to raise service fees, which increases profits. I’ve seen some service teams add zero headcount while doubling profits.
- Their staff become trusted advisors and visible experts in their fields. They achieve near rock-star status where they become mini-celebrities.
- They enjoy their work a lot more and find it energizing rather than draining.
This is the power of building and deploying a generous brand. But before I talk to you about how to do this, I want to describe what a professional service brand actually is. I find that there is often a lot of confusion about this.
What Is A Professional Service Brand?
When most people think of brands, they picture major brands like Coca Cola or Apple or Mercedes Benz. When I say these company names, I’ll bet their logos pop up in your mind’s eye. In fact, logos are often confused with the term brand. This picture will not do for professional service firms because it is very incomplete and not replicateable for you. After all, you don’t have Apple’s advertising budget.
After working for nearly 25 years in this industry, I’ve come to identify 6 major elements for professional service brands:
- Your service offerings
- Your value proposition
- Your position
- Brand awareness
- Brand preference
- Brand identity
Your service offerings are one of the most critical parts of your brand. Over the years I have watched service firms struggle to offer new services because their clients came to think of them as only a provider of service X. This means those service firms missed deals because their service offerings pigeon-holed them into a narrow corner. Your service offerings define your brand.
Your value proposition, simply put, is the reason someone buys your services. Whatever the reason might be, that is your value proposition. Your position is the intersection of 3 dynamics: the needs of ideal clients, your core competencies and the degree to which you differentiate from competitors.
Brand awareness is the number of people who fit your ideal client profile who know your brand name. Brand preference is the number of people who fit your ideal client profile, who know your brand name and who would pick your company over any others.
Brand identity, the very last element, concerns all of the visual touch points that comprise a brand. This is often described in the term look and feel. The look and feel of your logo, tagline, imagery, website, e-books, PowerPoint documents and the like all make an impression.
All of these elements combined – services, value proposition, position, awareness, preference and identity – comprise your service brand. But there is another very simple way to think about all of this.
I often say that your brand is roughly synonymous with your reputation – what you’re known for. I’ll give you a specific example. Certain law firms who have been around a long time in certain cities and who are well respected for what they do, make the short list of people to call when you need legal services. The law firm’s reputation gets them business.
That’s a nice position to be in if you are that law firm. But what if you are not that well known, not all that visible in your market? Is there a way to build the type of credibility that well-known firms already have? Can you build this credibility quickly with people who fit your ideal client profile so they choose you instead of a competitor? If yes, what does this strategy look like?
A Case Study
In my experience, any mid-size professional service firm who has been in business for 5 year or longer and who has a track record of delivering value and impact to their clients can benefit from a generous brand. The benefit to you could very well be in the millions of dollars of new revenue.
I want to bring together here three ideas that I’ve already outlined: the generous brand, the 6 elements of service brands and the service test drive. I’m going to do this with a case study.
Let’s say Janice is a CFO at a medium-sized widget manufacturing company. Janice walks into an executive team meeting one day and gets blind-sided by complaints about the email server crashing yet again. This is the fifth time it’s happened in the last 6 months. Her colleagues are unhappy. Janice feels the pressure.
Janice has lost confidence in the IT team at her company to fix the problem. She feels as if the IT team doesn’t get the urgency of the situation. She also knows that the server crashing is just one of many problems that needs to be addressed, the tip of the ice berg.
Janice believes that unless she takes some serious action, this trend will only continue or get worse. What does Janice do? In that meeting, she decides right then and there that she’s going to find and retain an IT consulting firm. Janice knows of several other companies who have done this.
She starts building a list of criteria about what she’s looking for in such a firm. But the truth of the matter is that Janice is not an IT expert. She finds herself feeling hesitant and uncertain in trying to build that criteria list. She knows what some of the problems are at her firm. She knows the outcomes that she wants to experience – better, faster, more reliable and secure IT systems and data.
But Janice has no idea how to achieve this. She asks some colleagues for their recommendations on providers. She does some internet searches herself. One such search reveals an IT consulting firm who has written an e-book called 10 Strategies For Manufacturing Firms To Leap Forward Via Better Technology.
Janice is intrigued. She registers for the e-book, full-well recognizing that the company might call her, using a Gmail email address. She reads the table of contents and already sees more good ideas in the first 30 seconds about how to achieve her goals than she could ever come up with on her own. Janice reaches out to the IT consulting firm, this time using her business email address, for a consultation.
How To Build A Generous Brand
This case study is based on a real-world client experience. I’ll tell you how you can do this at your firm.
- Gather your best and brightest minds.
- Ask yourself who you are ideally suited to serve.
- Ask yourself what their biggest goals, opportunities and challenges look like.
- Ask yourself what resources they have at their disposal – construct a straw person.
- Ask yourself what steps you would recommend that someone take to achieve the goals, given the resources that are available to them.
- Package up your ideas and answers into a set of short-form (blog-post) and long-form (e-book or action guide) content assets.
- Provision your content onto your website. Make the short-form pieces ungated (no registration required) and the long-form pieces gated (registration required).
- Consistently promote your ideas through every available channel – digital and analog.
- Watch what happens to your brand and reputation – you will be amazed.
If you do this, you will transform your brand. You will build a reputation for being a thought leader and a trusted advisor. Your brand awareness will soar. You may very well become the preferred brand in your space. The revenue impact could be in the millions.
How To Get Started
If you want to accomplish these goals, I have a recommendation for you. I’ve developed a great e-book called 10 Things Professional Service Websites Must Do To Drive Revenue. This free resource is a great next step on your journey. Best of luck to you.