By Dave Hofferberth
The role of marketing and sales in an organization’s success
Cultivating new and repeat clients is the lifeblood of the services industry. Professional services organizations (PSOs) are in business to provide knowledge, expertise and guidance. Their sales and marketing organizations must define target markets and clients by understanding their key challenges. They are responsible for generating awareness and identifying and closing opportunities. The intangibility of services makes it more difficult to create concrete proof of the firm’s knowledge, experience and differentiation.
The effectiveness of the PSO’s sales and marketing efforts determines the quality and size of the pipeline, bid-to-win ratios, discounts, client satisfaction and the length of the sales cycle. Effective sales and marketing organizations consistently uncover new opportunities while ensuring existing customers continue to buy and refer. Today’s successful PSO, whether embedded or independent, is increasingly taking charge of its own destiny by investing in sales, marketing and services packaging.
Professional services executives know that, in good times or bad, they must optimize marketing and sales to improve financial performance. They use different marketing and sales approaches to increase revenue while holding down costs. A look at the results of the 2015 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark shows how PS executives can develop strategies to align sales and marketing to achieve superior results.
Develop strategies to optimize growth and margins
With visibility into the right information, PSO executives can develop strategies and tactics that will help their organizations grow profitably. Understanding the needs of their current client base provides insight into additional services that could be initiated and offered.
Services portfolio expansion helps the PSO maintain a consistent presence within its clients’ organizations. It also minimizes the potential for competing PSOs to come in and take business away. This understanding helps the PSO more effectively price services to existing clients, where it has a more intimate understanding of risk, requirements and acceptable price levels.
Focus on adding new clients
The secret to enduring success is to build marquee clients for life while continually adding new clients. This requires adding complementary services for existing customers and new services offerings to drive market expansion while ensuring the PSO remains current with emerging markets and technologies.
Table 1 highlights the impact of new client acquisition. The table shows that nearly 30 percent of the respondents derive between 20 and 30 percent of total revenue from new clients. There is clearly a direct correlation between overall revenue growth and new client penetration.
Firms that derive more than 40 percent of their revenue from new clients grew overall year-over-year revenue more than 14 percent. Smaller organizations tend to show higher growth rates as they are building new client revenue from a much smaller base.
Faster growth means more employees. The table shows that organizations with less than 20 percent of their revenue coming from new clients grew the employee base faster than actual revenue. This means the cost structure expanded more rapidly than revenue. It may indicate that the organization is hiring in advance of expected revenue or catching up with current demand.
But in those organizations achieving more than 20 percent of their revenue from new client penetration, employee headcount growth is lower than revenue growth. In this case, the organization is more efficient at resource management, despite the high level of new client growth. The size of the sales pipeline compared to the quarterly bookings forecast increases, leading to more revenue from new clients.
Unfortunately, there is a cost associated with seeking new clients. The slowest-growing organizations reported the highest levels of profitability as they did not incur high costs for recruiting and ramping loads of new clients and consultants. Concentrating too intently on high profit from existing accounts in the short term may signify the organization is foregoing market expansion that would ensure long-term prosperity and success.
Develop a winning pricing strategy
Some PSOs build pricing proposals from costs up by applying approximate cost factors plus risk multipliers. This pricing strategy does not contemplate or take advantage of business impact. Cost plus pricing usually results in low margins as the organization is not able to command a price premium for proprietary tools, techniques and intellectual property, which drive faster, more successful client outcomes.
With the right information, PS executives have the ability to create pricing models that optimize profits along with client benefit. These models balance the probability of winning bids with cost, revenue and expected client benefit as Figure 1 shows. Pricing a proposal too high virtually assures the bid will be rejected.
Figure 1: Pricing Strategy
Source: Service Performance Insight, May 2015
Pricing the proposal too low offers two negative potential consequences: 1) the bid will be accepted but the profit margins will be so low that it will negatively impact overall profits, or 2) the client organization will feel that the PSO does not understand the nature of the work, and therefore, the project will face serious consequences later in its lifecycle.
Leading PSOs have pricing down to a science. They understand their clients’ price tolerance, their competitor’s pricing strategy, their own capabilities and the value those capabilities provide to clients. Understanding cost, the competition, risk and client value all go into successful proposals that exceed margin requirements. Premium pricing comes with quality, repetition and reputation.
Discount at your own risk
Research has shown that discounting can create more problems than it is worth. Discounting diminishes value and may cause negative client perception. The client wonders whether the initial price was too high, or the firm is desperate or it doesn’t truly understand the nature and scope of the work. Any of these circumstances may lead to long-term dissatisfaction.
PSOs need to limit discounting, and only use it in the rarest of situations. Minor discounting may be appropriate for significant additional business or to demonstrate the value of the relationship. Unlike products, there are few economies of scale in the services business. An hour of effort is an hour of effort. The cost of an hour of labor is only reduced if less time is needed, less costly consultants can be used, or fewer non-billable hours are spent in developing client requirements or deliverables. The benefit of additional business with the same client primarily shows up in reduced sales cost and reduced risk but not necessarily in delivery cost reductions.
Table 2 shows approximately 75 percent of the organizations discount less than 10 percent. The comparison between those organizations discounting less than 10 percent with those that discount more is significant. Limiting discounting results in larger projects, shorter sales cycles and more wining proposals.
The major difference is in the average revenue per project, which is considerably higher for those organizations that shy away from discounting. Although counterintuitive, the negative impact of discounting shows up in longer sales cycles and fewer winning proposals. The only positive impact of discounting is in larger sales pipelines, but there is no guarantee that more deals will close as the result of a larger pipeline.
Service organizations must be wary of client demands for price concessions because they are an indication that the service is becoming commoditized, sales are not positioned at the right decision-maker level, or the value of service impact has not been quantified. In services, the lowest-priced provider is almost never the highest-quality vendor with the best reputation.
Table 2: Effects of Discounting on Sales
Table 3 highlights some of the impacts of discounting on performance. Both project margins and attrition are improved with lower levels of discounting.
Table 3: Effects of Discounting on Organizational Performance
Source: Service Performance Insight, May 2015
What PSOs must do to increase their chances of greater success
While delivering excellent services will always be an important objective of PSOs, increasing sales and maintaining a solid, stable revenue stream greatly contribute to organizational success. There has been a growing emphasis on sales and marketing activities that increase both the breadth and depth of relationships, while expanding markets through existing and new services offerings.
To succeed in the marketplace, PSO executives must align marketing and sales activities to increase both revenue and market margin targets. An initial dive into the bid-to-win ratio as well as the PSO’s pricing strategy will go a long way in helping the organization reach its goals.
Profitability analysis across clients, practices, geographies and service offers assures that each PSO is operating at its highest capability. Understanding revenues and costs helps marketing, sales and service delivery collaborate to improve the types, pricing and quality of the services offered. Through this alignment, the PSO will be in much better position to succeed.