Why Professional Services Companies Struggle To Differentiate Themselves

The Differentiation Dilemma – why professional services companies struggle to differentiate themselves… and what they need to do to fix it.

Differentiation. What you do differently from the other guys. What you do better than all the other guys. Why your customers should choose you…and maybe pay a premium for the privilege of working with you.

Differentiating your business from the pack is vital if you are to grow sustainably and profitably – and avoid a price-driven ‘race to the bottom’. So why are professional services companies so often downright awful at differentiating themselves?

Think I’m overstating it? Take a look at these examples of how 3 leading professional service companies present themselves on their websites:

Company 1: “we use innovative systems and processes to ensure your work is delivered intelligently, efficiently and reliably. We care about the markets and communities we work within and constantly strive to make them better.”

Company 2: “we listen well in order to understand how and where we can be most effective and add the most value. We shape our advice to the unique circumstances and challenges of each project and ensure the right people are in place to offer insight and certainty.”

Company 3: “we put clients at the heart of all we do and recruit and develop exceptional people empowering them to do and think differently. We serve clients as a team with a common focus on innovation, efficiency and agility.”

Spot the difference. Its almost impossible isn’t it? These excellent, highly professional, market leading companies are virtually impossible to differentiate from each other based on the way they present themselves to the world online.

And, surprisingly, this chronic lack of differentiation is the norm in much of the professional services world.

Is it any wonder that a major Google/Gartner survey of around 3,000 professional services/B2B buyers found that

“86% of B2B purchasing managers are unable to differentiate between suppliers in any meaningful rational way”.

Wow!! And, more than ‘wow’ – woe!! Because if purchasing managers cannot differentiate between suppliers guess how they make their purchasing decisions? That’s right – they go for the guy with the lowest price. And that makes profitable growth very hard to sustain.

So – what can be done about it? At Think Again Growth we coach companies to build a Meaningfully Differentiated Proposition on 3 core elements:

i) What You Do Best.

We call this your ‘Irreducible Core Equity’. By this we mean that unique set of expertise, passion, experience, values that make you, at your best, different from and better than all competitors. Identify what this core equity is (all companies have it – most have lost sight of it) and concentrate on exploiting it to the exclusion of all other ‘me-too’ qualities.

ii) Where You Fit Best.

Identify the profile of customers whose most important needs fit most closely to your Irreducible Core Equity. Accept that this will be a sub-group of the market- but this is where your greatest potential for profitable growth lies. Focus on this group relentlessly.

iii) Connect Emotionally to secure Long-Term Loyalty.

Sustained loyalty is delivered by emotional connection – not by small technical differences in functional attributes. Identify your target customers most important emotional needs and show how your business empathises and meets them. Emotional connection drives loyal customers – its how we humans work. We can show you how to do this.

If you’d like to know more about how to apply these 3 crucial principles to your business so that you can resolve the Differentiation Dilemma for your business then come along to one of our ‘Differentiation Dilemma’ Workshops.

We’d love to see you there – if you aspire to sustained, profitable growth then Meaningful Differentiation is not an option – its simply essential.

Written by Andrew Brent

Andy Brent is the founder of Think Again Growth. He is also the author of 'The Growth Director's Secret' published by Bloomsbury and nominated for FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2017, Chartered Institute of Marketing Business Book of the Year 2017 and Business Book Awards Book of the Year 2018.

An experienced executive board member, strategist and marketer, Andy has held senior roles in major blue-chip companies in the UK and around the world. Andy spent 13 years at Procter and Gamble in senior marketing roles in the UK and Europe before moving into retailing as Marketing Director at Iceland Frozen Foods.

He spent six years in Asia in senior strategic roles for Hutchison Whampoa, helping build businesses across Asia.

Back in the UK, Andy was CMO for Burger King International, overseeing the global expansion of this business, he spent three years as Marketing Director at Boots the Chemist in the UK, and then held CMO roles at Sky broadcasting and at Barclays Bank. He has also worked with small start-up businesses in a number of sectors and as an advisor to a number of P/E groups in the UK and beyond.


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