How Professional Services Organizations Can Increase Revenues

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.    CRM

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.

Table 1: Percent of Revenue from New Clients
Table 1
Source: Service Performance Insight, May 2015

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
Figure 1
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 2
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
Table 3
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.

How to Speed up the time between Quote and Money in the Bank

By Jeanne Urich, Managing Director, Service Performance Insight

Drive profitability for your professional service firm

This is the second of a two-part series. Part one of this two-part series explores breakdowns in the quote-to-cash process for service organizations. This article provides recommendations for integrated business applications to streamline and automate the quote-to-cash process.

moneyIn today’s economy, cash flow rules. Every organization must focus on cash flow to maintain a solid financial position and maximize profitability and liquidity. In professional service organizations, this process begins with a client quote and ends when payment is received and the money is in the bank. This macro process of converting sales opportunities into paying customers is often referred to as quote-to-cash. Its optimization is essential for financial well-being.

Application integration improves cash flow
To improve the quote-to-cash process, PS executives turn to core business application integration to provide visibility, transparency and control. The three primary business applications used to improve and automate the quote-to-cash process include the following:

• Client relationship management supports the management of client relationships with improved visibility to lead generation, contact management, deal capture and pipeline management with the goal of enhancing sales and marketing effectiveness. CRM allows PSOs to track clients throughout the sales lifecycle, and to specifically target customer segments and offers by understanding details of the relationship.

• Professional service automation solutions provide the systems basis for initiation, planning, execution, close and control of projects, resources and services. PSA improves service delivery, resource management, project management and collaboration. It ensures accurate and timely time and expense capture. Over the past decade, PSA solutions have become more popular as a means for improving resource management and service delivery effectiveness, while the applications have matured to become easy to use and implement.

• Financial management is the primary solution required to accurately capture, bill and report financial transactions. It collects and manages all financial information — time and expense, invoices, procurement, etc. — to provide visibility and determine service cost and profitability. Every firm surveyed uses some financial management solution.

Benefits of integrated service resource planning

All three primary business applications improve financial performance. Although each individual application is critical to organizational success, it is their integration that offers the greatest benefit.

Figure 1: System Integration Improves Visibility, Productivity and Profits
Figure 1

Source: Service Performance Insight, October 2014

Services delivery and the front office

With this integration, sales and service delivery are aligned, and a smooth hand-off is assured as opportunities are closed and projects are initiated. Trust and cooperation are enhanced when all functions — sales, service delivery and finance — have access to the same single source of customer information.
PS executives can better plan and staff projects within PSA based on a detailed understanding of the time and costs involved, and can accurately forecast resource requirements based on up-to-date sales pipeline information. Cost and revenue data is brought together to show project, resource and client profitability. Visibility, transparency and control are all enhanced through management reporting and real-time dashboards.

The important workflow elements of CRM applications track the progress of leads into prospects, into proposals and into orders, ensuring timely reviews, approvals and hand-offs. CRM applications are typically set up as a single source of the truth for all client-related correspondence, proposals and contracts. Tight integration between PSA, where the project is managed, and CRM, where the client is managed, is critical for keeping the sales and service delivery teams in alignment.

Once a bid is accepted, the order is passed to the PSA solution to build the project and resource plan. Staffing and hiring decisions are expedited while ensuring the best available resources are assigned. The integration of CRM and PSA provides the PSO with visibility into the sales process and client contracts and commitments and allows the PSO to forecast resource and project requirements based on expected deal close dates.

Once work is initiated, PSA provides the necessary visibility to assure schedule and cost compliance. In the event of project changes, the combination of PSA and CRM facilitates sales and services delivery collaboration to generate and secure change orders.

Services delivery and the back office
Tight integration between PSA and the ERP application ensures accurate and timely invoices are generated and sent to the client containing all the necessary detail to expedite payment. Integration between PSA and ERP ensures employee details and costs are continually updated and reflected in the resource management application to guarantee the best, most cost-effective resources are assigned.

PSA and ERP integration virtually eliminates manual data re-entry and associated costly manual errors. Integrated systems provide a better understanding of and visibility into a PSO’s actual costs, project margins and revenues. And as with any automation, administrative overhead is decreased and accuracy is increased across the board. Table 1 depicts the reported 2014 PS Maturity Benchmark level of integration between the core applications used by PSOs and the financial system.

Table 1: Business Applications Integrated with Core Financials
Table 1

Source: Service Performance Insight, October 2014
More than 78 percent of the 238 organizations surveyed use a commercial PSA solution, 89 percent use a commercial CRM solution, and 90 percent use a commercial financial application. CRM and PSA have become increasingly important for success in the professional services sector, and many PS executives now realize that integration adds to potential benefits.

Table 2 highlights the benefits of services resource planning based on integrating PSA and CRM with the core financial application. These results show that in every phase of the quote-to-cash process both operational and financial performance improve because information flows seamlessly from one application to another, empowering executives to make faster and more accurate decisions that ultimately improve project profitability, increase personal productivity and increase bottom-line profit and cash flow.

Table 2: The Benefits of PSA and CRM Integrated with Financials
Table 2

Source: Service Performance Insight, October 2014

Ensure your professional services firm’s highest profitability
To drive profitability levels higher, PS executives are taking a more holistic approach to the quote-to-cash process, perhaps the most critical of all PS processes. Delivering services efficiently and effectively is just one area of importance in improving profit margins. Ensuring the organization is focused from the beginning on selling, delivering and collecting from the best clients who buy and use the most profitable services is paramount to success.

While there are many collaborative tools organizations can use to inform and educate their employees on which clients to target, what services to sell and at what level of expected return, the use of client relationship management in conjunction with professional services automation, each integrated with the core financial solution, offers the best chance of improving profitability.
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Get a Free Copy of the 2015 PS Maturity Benchmark Report!
Take the survey!
It’s that time of year again — time for the 8th annual Professional Services Maturity Benchmark! More than 1,500 professional services organizations have participated in this important research in the past eight years.

If you are running a service organization:
• Do you know how your organization stacks up against industry metrics?
• Do you have the industry data you need to support your strategy?
• Can you objectively quantify your organization’s strengths and weaknesses to create an actionable business plan?
• Do you know where you should invest to yield the highest impact?

The 2015 report promises more insight and analysis into the market with a view of the key success factors that drive exceptional performance.

Click here to take the survey.

Complete the survey by Dec. 1, 2014 to get a free copy of the 2015 PS Maturity Benchmark Report ($995 retail) when it is published in February 2015.

About Service Performance Insight
Over the past seven years, more than 10,000 PSOs have used the concepts and KPIs from SPI’s PS Maturity Model to pinpoint their organizations’ current maturity and develop improvement plans to advance in lagging areas.
SPI Research works with PS firms to create a maturity scorecard to compare to the benchmark maturity definitions. It analyzes current performance and helps prioritize future improvement initiatives. At the end of the project, leaders not only understand the maturity model, but also have the tools to identify, frame and prioritize strategic improvement priorities required to accelerate performance.

To learn more about SPI Research services and how SPI can help your company, please contact Jeanne Urich at jeanne.urich@spiresearch.com or phone (650) 342-4690.

Announcing the 2014 Best-of-the-Best Professional Service Organizations

What Does It Take for Professional Services to Excel in 2014?

By Jeanne Urich, Managing Director, Service Performance Insight

Learn from the Best-of-the-Best

For the past five years, Service Performance Insight has conducted in-depth analyses of the top 5 percent of PS Maturity™ benchmark participants to uncover the reasons for their superlative performance. After a careful audit of their survey responses and in-depth interviews with lead service executives, the top performing organizations have been named “Best-of-the-Best.” The top 5 percent of firms scored 20 or higher on a scale of 25 on the PS Maturity Model™.

BestoftheBest2014

According to “The 2014 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark,” out of 238 participating organizations, 13 firms significantly outperformed the benchmark average by excelling in all five service performance dimensions: leadership, client relationships, human capital alignment, service execution and finance and operations. With much higher profits and more satisfied clients, these firms outperformed their peers and the benchmark average.

Meet the 2014 top performers:

  1. Campus Management provides robust, elegant and cost-effective software solutions for higher education institutions. Campus Management is a four-time winner.
  2. TOP Step Consulting provides consulting, implementation and training for Professional Service operations and software. TOP Step Consulting is a five-time winner.
  3. Logical Design Solutions, Inc is a strategy and business solutions consulting firm that envisions and designs emerging business ecosystems. LDS is a five-time winner.
  4. TopDown Consulting is a leader in designing, implementing, and deploying EPM solutions.
  5. SmartERP provides innovative, cost-effective, and configurable solutions and services to common business problems on the Oracle PeopleSoft platform.  Two-time winner.
  6. e4 Services, LLC is a healthcare information technology consulting firm specializing in clinical, hospital information management and revenue cycle services.
  7. Agencyport Software builds software solutions that the world’s top insurance carriers use to engage with their product distribution channels and technology partners.
  8. Charles River provides an end-to-end solution to automate front- and middle-office investment management functions across asset classes on a single platform.
  9. EAC Product Development Solutions  provides tools and services to help companies get products to market faster.
  10. Varrow provides technology solutions for virtualization, storage, managed services and disaster recovery through advanced consulting and design services.
  11. The New Office is a leading NetSuite solution provider specializing in helping businesses improve processes and collaboration.
  12. Informatica Corporation is a leading independent provider of data integration, data quality, and big data software and solutions.  Two-time winner.
  13. Trimble creates unique products and solutions incorporating positioning technologies that help customers streamline workflows and analyze complex information.

2014BoBComp

The table compares the 13 Best-of-the-Best performing professional services organizations to the other 225 in this year’s survey. The size of the Best-of-the-Best organizations is much smaller than the average firm in the benchmark. Six are embedded PS organizations within software or software as a service companies, five are IT consultancies and two are management consultancies. Several of the IT consultancies derive a substantial portion of revenue from the resale of hardware and software products in addition to high value consulting.

Unlike previous years, only three of the top firms grew PS revenue more than 25 percent in 2013. One surprising finding is that three top performers grew annual revenue less than five percent and two actually experienced a decline in PS revenue. Yet all of the best delivered high levels of profit and client satisfaction. It is interesting to note that not a single winner this year came from an embedded SaaS PSO. Times sure have changed as in past years embedded SaaS PSOs tended to garner top honors. Not this year. This is because SaaS software firms have shifted the charter of their professional service organizations to focus on client adoption regardless of the impact on PS profit.

While the latest Best-of-the-Best were smaller in size, they grew their workforces at a much higher rate than the others. They also had a higher percentage of billable employees, and depended much less on third party resources. These companies prefer to recruit and deploy talented staff without relying on subcontractors. This translated to higher levels of employee and client satisfaction.

One of the more exciting discoveries is that female leaders are at the helm of four of the top performing companies. Female CEOs are disproportionately represented in the Best-of-the-Best compared to the PS industry. Although there are few female PS executives across the industry, they’ve proven they’re capable of turning their companies into high performers.

Summary of PS Maturity™ benchmark results

Unlike prior years, this year’s best had fewer employees than most firms. Despite their size, they’ve become leaders in specialized markets. Because of their market dominance, they spend less on sales and marketing, and invest more in employees and clients. Their reputations for delivering high quality results manifest in repeat business and referrals.

One-quarter of this year’s best have female executives, a trend that should continue with more women joining the professional services ranks. Their people-centered leadership styles work well in the PS sector.

As these organizations grow, it will become more difficult to maintain their collaborative and innovative cultures. Focused organizations with solid leadership, engaged employees and a strong information infrastructure can overcome stiffer market competition and most hurdles they face. Congratulations to the 2014 Best-of-the-Best on delivering outstanding performance in 2013!

How does your organization measure up? Get your copy of the 2014 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark now. Cover_2014PSMB_sm

Are your organization’s numbers moving in the right direction?

2014 Professional Services Maturity benchmark preview
by David Hofferberth, Service Performance Insight

Based on completed Professional Services Maturity benchmark surveys to date, we at SPI Research expect 2014 to be a strong year for professional services growth. So far, year-over-year revenue growth in the market is 12.6 percent, compared to 11.5 percent last year. If this rate holds, it will be the third consecutive year of annual growth in excess of 10 percent, showing the professional services market has fully recovered from the recession and is in the midst of a big growth surge!

The talent factor

profit 12 2013But we wouldn’t say everything is rosy in professional services, as PS executives continue to convey their difficulty in finding, hiring and retaining highly qualified professional services employees. Last year, we identified a talent cliff as a result of the market losing baby boomers and the struggle to replace them with a supply of qualified individuals with the appropriate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

We expected this to be an issue for the next five to 10 years, and nothing has changed in last year’s assessment. For years to come, talent management will be the number one issue. In 2011, only 76,376 engineers and 43,072 computer and IT majors graduated from U.S. universities — not nearly enough to fill demand.

So far in this year’s benchmark, the average number of PS employees is 359. This figure is significantly higher than in the last three years, when organizations averaged approximately 220 employees. We haven’t had a higher average professional services size since 2009. All indicators show that PS firms are hiring and growing at an unprecedented rate.

Five Service Performance Pillars

Before digging into the latest findings, let’s review the key functional areas that we call pillars. Our hypothesis is that professional services organizations consist of five pillars that drive organizational performance.

The core tenet of the model is PSOs achieve success by optimizing five Service Performance Pillars:

  1. Leadership. This pillar represents the unique view of the future and the role the service organization will play in shaping it. Leaders develop a clear and compelling strategy, providing a focus for the organization to spur action. They also set the tone and direction for the organization.
  2. Client relationships. This pillar includes sales, marketing and partner relationships and effectiveness.
  3. Human capital alignment. This pillar focuses on recruiting, hiring, retaining and motivating a high-quality consulting staff.
  4. Service execution. Execution represents all aspects of project execution: resource management, project management, knowledge management and delivery methods and tools.
  5. Finance and operations. The financial backbone of a services firm that addresses planning, revenue, margin, billing, collections and IT infrastructure.

Five levels of maturity are defined to show progression for each pillar. It starts with Level 1, where processes are immature and employee roles are broad, and progresses up to Level 5 where the organization, methodologies, tools and governance are synchronized and structured. Level 5 optimizes and aligns all elements of the PSO for continuous improvement. On average, only 5 percent of PS organizations achieve Level 5 performance.

Each Service Performance Pillar has guidelines and key performance measurements that correspond to levels of maturity, which provide a roadmap to service performance excellence. The following sections highlight some of the latest survey findings.

Leadership

As expected, the latest scores reveal employees feel more confident about leadership and the PSO’s future. For the past three years, PSOs have shown solid growth, thus increasing confidence and optimism. It’s clear from the higher growth rates that employees feel positive about the direction the leadership has taken to get there.

On the flip side, the talent cliff has yielded two challenges: 1) increasing sales and marketing and 2) meeting financial objectives. PSOs are struggling with finding qualified employees, which could slow growth rates and profits. We expect resource management to play a larger role in 2014, as PS leaders must maximize their resources. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough. They must find, hire, train and retain a qualified workforce. Doing this could be difficult considering the low graduation rates for STEM majors.

Client relationships

For the third consecutive year, PSOs are growing in excess of 10 percent annually. Although we see their sales pipelines increasing to one of the highest levels ever, we also see that it takes almost 10 percent longer — about 105 days — to close deals compared to last year. The bid-to-win ratio, however, remains constant. It measures the number of bids accepted out of every 10 submitted. Currently, the bid-to-win ratio is at five, the same as last year’s.

One change that’s evolving is the movement toward fixed fee engagements as opposed to the more traditional time and materials engagements. The two types of engagement are close to even. Because PS executives demand more and receive greater control over their services spend, we expect fixed fee to be the dominant type soon. This evolution will force PSOs to concentrate on better service delivery and scoping projects properly.

Human capital alignment

Because of the talent cliff, we anticipate PSOs to look at their own employee base, investing in the needed skills for the organization to grow and prosper. Although specialization remains important, PSOs must have more agility and versatility in order to maintain high levels of billable utilization and keep employees motivated. Talent management will become an increasingly important aspect in the marketplace.

Since talent management will be the most important issue for the next decade, we asked questions related to the age and gender of the professional services workforce, as Table 1 shows. Currently, the average employee is 38 years old, and two-thirds of the employees are men, presenting several interesting trends.

First, most might think of someone in professional services as a grey-haired business guru, but the fact is the majority of the workforce is made up of young, energetic professionals, just a few years removed from college. With the average age in professional services approaching 40, it signifies an older employee base than our initial expectations.

Second, not too long ago, men dominated the professional services market. If someone said 90 percent of the workforce was comprised of men, most people would have believed it. Data says this market has changed, and the emergence of women in the consulting ranks has opened up greater opportunities and viewpoints. We doubt the ratio will be 50-50 in the next few years, but it could get there over the next decade as more opportunities evolve for women.

Table 1: Age of Professional Services Workforce

t1 01 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading into 2013, one area concerned us, and that was employee attrition. So far, the predictions remain accurate, as attrition lingers around 9 percent, when it was only 7.2 percent last year. We’ve seen this rise in the past five years and expect to see the trend continue as the economy improves.

Service execution

PSOs continue to keep average billable utilization at more than 70 percent. This translates to more than 1,400 billable hours per year per consultant. While 75 percent or higher would be better, the past two years have shown the strongest average utilization in the benchmark’s seven years.

On-time project completion may be a potential problem, as it went from nearly 79 percent down to this year’s 75 percent. Considering most of the other services execution metrics have improved, this key performance indicator most likely correlates with the talent cliff. The market cannot afford for on-time completion to go down for it will ultimately reduce growth rates, profitability and client satisfaction.

Finance and operations

We’ve been monitoring two other critical key performance indicators: 1) annual revenue per billable consultant that looks at the efficiency and effectiveness of the consultants delivering services and 2) annual revenue per employee, which highlights the effectiveness of managing the workforce.

To date, revenue per billable consultant sits at $190,000, down from $206,000 in 2012, a notable decrease that needs close monitoring. The good news is that the revenue per employee has risen from $168,000 in 2012 to $178,000 this year, an indicator that PS executives are moving to get their houses in order.

2014 crystal ball

We’re expecting 2014 to be another banner year in the professional services market. Yes, in spite of the talent cliff negatively impacting the future growth for many PSOs and increasing attrition. Count on seeing changes in the next year with the need for mergers and acquisitions to grow firms. Stay tuned.

The Truth About Services Selling

How to pick the right ones out of hundreds of possibilities
by Jeanne Urich, Service Performance Insight

The race is on to outsell, outmarket and outpackage the competition with profitable growth as the prize. The professional services industry has switched from “controlling costs” to “growth” due to the economic recovery. Around the globe, services providers are re-examining their approaches to the market. They’re looking at the most effective sales, marketing and packaging techniques to determine the optimum investment formula with the greatest payback.

Truth Green ArrowsSPI’s 2013 PS Sales and Marketing Maturity Model Benchmark report analyzes professional services industry spending on sales, marketing and packaging. A total of 187 global professional services organizations participated in the study conducted in July 2013.

Prior to starting the research

When we began this research, we knew that most professional services organizations were dissatisfied with their sales effectiveness. For the past eight years, more than 1,500 PS organizations that have completed our benchmark surveys have consistently given their sales efforts failing marks.

The benchmark seeks to answer the following questions:

  • What are professional services organizations spending on sales, marketing and packaging?
  • What results are they achieving?
  • Which investments yield the most benefit?
  • Which investments are not worth the effort?

The benchmark report attempts to answer these questions while providing insights and guidance into the best practices used by the most mature professional services organizations to enhance their sales, marketing and packaging efforts.

The current facts:

  • The discipline of professional services selling is still in its infancy. Very few firms have well-established solution selling methods or trained and dedicated services sales teams.
  • Current expenditures on PS sales are significant. As a percentage of total PS revenue, the average investment in selling is 8.6 percent.
  • The results for the very few firms that have successfully implemented a PS sales discipline are extraordinary, with 47 percent of all services sold as packaged solutions, 29 percent net profit and $255,000 annual revenue yield per consultant.
  • The majority of firms have a dedicated solution selling team with an average annual PS sales quota of $1.6 million per person. Only 67 percent of PS sales representatives achieve their annual quota — yet this figure improves to 75 percent for the best organizations that significantly invest in sales training, systems and tools.

Market challenges

Based on the survey, the results revealed that the pressures facing PS executives primarily revolve around accentuating services differentiation and improving sales effectiveness. Accelerating client project time to value is also a principal concern. We looked at the differences between embedded services organizations and independent services organizations. ESOs are services organizations within product companies, and INDs are firms whose primary charter is to provide profitable consulting services.

Table 1 compares the survey responses of ESOs and INDs on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most challenging.

Novt1

With the return to a healthy economy, firms have started to focus on new market penetration and expansion of their services portfolios. Fewer firms fear commoditization of their services. PS organizations make investments in sales and marketing as they face increased global competition, strategic sourcing adoption, technological complexity and pressure to accelerate time to value.

Firms adopting a well-coordinated plan to amplify their sales and marketing investments are reaping significant rewards. This report shows that although there is wide disparity in the amounts spent on sales and marketing, these investments pay for themselves in larger sales pipelines and better bid-to-win ratios. Ultimately, this translates into achievement of PS revenue and margin targets and higher levels of net profit.

PS sales effectiveness

In “The New Solution Selling,” Keith M. Eades provides the definition of a solution: “So what is the definition of the word solution? The typical response is, ‘An answer to a problem.’ I agree with this response but feel it’s important to expand the definition. Not only does the problem need to be acknowledged by the buyer, but both the buyer and salesperson must also agree on the answer.

So a solution is a mutually agreed-upon answer to a recognized problem. In addition, a solution must also provide some measurable improvement. By measurable improvement, I mean there is a before and might be an after. Now we have a more complete definition of a solution; it is a mutually shared answer to a recognized problem, and the answer provides measurable improvement.”

Common signs of services selling failure:

  • Client “pain” is not adequately identified or pervasive. The services portfolio does not resonate with the sales force or prospective clients, resulting in a weak sales pipeline and limited market penetration.
  • Wrong assumptions about product to services mix. Product companies want to increase product revenues and reduce services revenues, which mean they want to move solutions to partners to reduce the cost of services delivery. Without proper planning and solution testing, partners are ill-equipped to deliver new solutions.
  • Unreliable sales forecasts. Consistent misses in sales forecasting accuracy ripple through the PS organization, showing up in consultant over- or underutilization or poor resource scheduling and planning combined with the inability to achieve planned revenue and margin targets.
  • Poor sales effectiveness. Inability to generate enough interest and qualified leads to fill the sales pipeline. Poorly articulated services value proposition resulting in not enough qualified opportunities to support the sales forecast, along with poor win-to-bid ratios.
  • Lackluster sales results. Fewer than 60 percent of the services sales representatives surveyed achieve quota, resulting in failure to achieve revenue and profit objectives.
  • Poor estimating. Underscoping and underbudgeting projects results in project delays, overruns, poor project margins and dissatisfied clients.
  • Few reference clients. The PS organization is unable to convert clients into references and evangelists, resulting in lackluster repeat sales and referrals.

PS sales effectiveness metrics

Many firms want to know how to define sales effectiveness and what metrics they should use to measure the effectiveness of the services sales force.

The benchmark focuses on the following sales effectiveness areas:

Services sales quotas.

  •  Services sales quotas by person, by PS vertical market and by size of organization.
  • Percentage of services salespeople who achieve quota.

Spending on services sales.

  •  Total cost of the services sales organization as a percentage of total services revenue.
  •  Total number of services salespeople.

Sales effectiveness.

  • The size of the sales pipeline as compared to the quarterly sales booking forecast.
  • Win-to-bid ratio.
  • Average closed deal size.
  • Average services revenue by account.
  • Percentage of revenue from new clients.
  • Sales forecasting accuracy.
  • Services pricing accuracy — proposed price compared to actual delivery cost.
  • Length of the sales cycle from qualified lead to contract signing.
  • The number of qualified leads that are closed.
  • Percentage of reference clients.
  • Percentage of annual services revenue target achieved.
  • Percentage of annual services margin target achieved.

Sales enablement.

  • Sales methodology followed.
  • Days of sales training taken per rep per year.
  • Percentage spent on sales enablement, training and support.
  • Marketing mix and expenditure on supporting the sales effort.

Sales organization structure.

  • Charter of the services organization.
  • Sales reporting structure.
  • Sales focus: geography, industry, major accounts or competency.

Table 2 provides an overview of sales effectiveness metrics and shows the differences between embedded services organizations and independent services organizations. Embedded PS organizations reported lower sales quotas but a higher percentage of salespeople who achieve them. ESOs reported better forecasting and pricing accuracy than their independent counterparts.

ESOs have shorter sales cycles, but their average closed services deals and revenue by account are significantly lower than for independents. ESOs generate more business from new accounts and have higher win-to-bid ratios than independents, yet they posted lower sales effectiveness scores and have significantly fewer referenceable clients.

novt2

The nonexistent sales and marketing silver bullet

Almost every PSO surveyed or interviewed in the past seven years has committed to the importance of the sales and marketing of professional services. However, the role of professional services within each company is different. Services can be used for profit, product enrichment, client intimacy or some combination of each.

Regardless, very few sophisticated product organizations can survive without a strong emphasis on professional services. For independent firms, PS sales and marketing are the lifeblood of the firm, for without them, new business cannot be developed nor can the firm expand its presence within its existing client base.

Unfortunately, both embedded and independent PS organizations often think of effective sales and marketing as a magic bullet. They believe all their problems will be solved if they can just find an amazing rainmaker. Not so! Finding rainmakers is not easy. Even if it were, business development efforts would fail without a compelling services go-to-market strategy and clear differentiation.

A couple of surprises

Our study focuses on PS sales, marketing and packaging to gain insights into the best practices and realities of how PS organizations are approaching the market. The biggest surprise was how many organizations are not adequately investing in sales and marketing. Many don’t have a cogent plan or dedicated resources or funding to support business development. Without an effective front office — no matter how compelling an organization’s services delivery and experience are — the firm simply cannot properly address the market and will be doomed over the long term to lackluster growth and ultimately failure.

The other surprise is the poor levels of services sales quota achievement. Classically, fewer than 60 percent of salespeople achieve quota. The figure is a bit better in services industries, with 67 percent average quota attainment. However, underlying this figure, the reality is stark.

Fully 25 percent of the organizations surveyed reported fewer than 50 percent of their services salespeople achieve quota, while fewer than 20 percent of services salespeople attain more than 90 percent of their annual quota. The other surprising fact is that 30 percent of the firms surveyed offer no formal sales training. The fallout from inadequate sales enablement shows in their poor results!

A final word about effective services selling

According to the 2013 PS Sales and Marketing Maturity Model Benchmark report, effective services selling is very difficult to achieve. Few traditional product salespeople successfully transition to solution selling without significant consulting and domain-specific background and experience. However, investments in building charter clarity, differentiation, marketing and packaging pay off handsomely in terms of sales effectiveness. Sales enablement activities are well worth the effort and provide measurable impact.

Bottom line, the services market is in a major growth phase. Revenues and juicy margins are there for the taking. However, they require a consistent, well-organized approach to the market and emphasis on improving all aspects of sales effectiveness.

The 2014 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark

Review 2013 to prepare for 2014
by Dave Hofferberth, Service Performance Insight

We are preparing to begin our seventh annual Professional Services Maturity Benchmark survey. Much has changed in seven years, as the economy went from boom times to bust almost overnight. In the past two years, we have seen the professional services market regain momentum to traditional 10 percent-plus annual growth. While on the surface this growth gives many PS executives optimism about the economy’s future, it comes with a few caveats.

Dealing with lackluster results

2013Review.gifWhile the professional services market has grown more than 10 percent annually for the past two years, many professional services organizations still experience lackluster results. Professional services growth tends to be a leading indicator of the health of the overall economy because PS experts help organizations navigate change and growth while improving efficiency.

Although a long time coming, the North American market is finally stabilizing and recovering while the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions continue to traverse its sovereign debt crisis and China’s turbulent growth slows. Uneven market expansion combined with increased pricing and regulatory pressures have upped the ante regarding PSO efficiency and effectiveness.

Facing the talent cliff

Second, the professional services market is at an interesting juncture in terms of talent. The looming “talent cliff,” in particular. Research shows that professional services organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to find, hire and retain highly qualified staff with the skills necessary to succeed in a demanding market. In the U.S. and other developed countries, workers with requisite science, technology, engineering and math education and skills are becoming increasingly scarce. Furthermore, older workers with these skills are retiring at a never-seen-before pace.

With immigration being a sensitive topic for politicians and business leaders alike, many PSOs are going offshore to less developed regions to find personnel with adequate skills. Regardless, for the professional services market to grow, it will need to incorporate a more active role in the development and retention of its talent. In the upcoming survey, we will closely explore this topic, as it can affect the future of the overall economy.

The combination of a talent shortage and return to double-digit revenue growth have driven both billable utilization and the percentage of employees who are billable to higher levels than the past six years have seen. While these results show PS executives are more focused on eliminating overhead and non-billable staff time, there is a point at which voluntary employee attrition due to burnout and demand for higher compensation and benefits will begin to hurt these organizations.

Packaging services

Another perennial area of concern and attention are all of the activities associated with the marketing, packaging and selling of services. Independent and embedded PSOs constantly look for rainmakers who combine industry and domain knowledge with the ability to grow business relationships and a book of business. These rare individuals are not made overnight. Drive and innate business acumen must be cultivated over years, if not decades, to produce consulting leaders who can effectively develop new business.

While the ability to find and retain qualified consultants is still of primary concern, all PS executives must constantly keep their eye on sales. Their focus is to create services that clearly demonstrate value to their clients, and to do it repeatedly. This evolution has given rise to the demand for packaged services, which our research began to discuss a few years ago. The alignment between marketing, sales and services has never been more important.

Conducting business planning

Another area of concern is professional services business planning. Typically, at this time of year, PS executives begin their focus on next year’s goal setting. While the organizational charter might not change from year to year, each year brings new challenges and opportunities in the professional services industry. Clients combine our annual benchmark with their own assessments of strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. The net result is the creation of a strategic and tactical plan for growth and improvement.

A look at the Professional Services Maturity Model

The core tenet of the PS Maturity Model is that service- and project-oriented organizations achieve success through the optimization of five Service Performance Pillars:

  1. Leadership. Based on vision, strategy and culture, this looks at how executives create a vision and supporting strategy and lead the organization to achieve.
  2. Client relationships. This area is based on how the organization markets and sells services while focused on growth and client retention.
  3. Human capital alignment. This area looks at how the organization hires, develops, manages and retains its workforce.
  4. Services execution. This area considers how the organization delivers services efficiency and quality at the forefront.
  5. Finance and operations. This area is based on how the firm manages itself from a financial perspective, as well as on its reliance on information technology to support all operations.

Within each of the pillars are guidelines and key performance maturity measurements. These guidelines cut across the five service dimensions, or pillars, to illustrate the benefits of business process maturity. This study measures the correlation between process maturity, key performance measurements and service performance excellence.

The Professional Services Maturity Model is specifically targeted toward billable PSOs that either exclusively sell and execute professional services or complement the sale of products with services.

The difference between maturity levels

The model has five levels of maturity. It begins with level one, where the organization operates in a heroic manner. And it goes up to level five, where the organization operates in a structured and repeatable mode of continuous improvement, eliminating much of the uncertainty and waste that negatively impacts other firms. Level five performance is very difficult to attain, as it should be. However, it’s generally worth the effort as highlighted in organizational profitability.

Organizations that operate at levels one and two average approximately 6.7 percent net profit, whereas those operating at levels four and five average almost 30 percent. The difference is significant. Higher levels of profitability naturally allow the firm to hire and retain the highest-quality employees, command the highest billable rates, and have money left to invest in growth, which in professional services is critically important to long-term survival.

Maturity is determined through alignment and focus both within and across functions. For example, although financial measurements are of primary importance, they are equally weighted and correlated with leadership and sales and quality measurements to ensure organizations improve across all dimensions, not just in terms of financial performance. However, if the organization is profit-motivated, as most are, increasing maturity levels do show up in significant bottom-line profit.

The formula for sustainable success

Six years of results and insights gained have confirmed the original hypothesis that services organizations must develop a balanced and holistic approach to improving all aspects of their business as they mature. The emphasis on individual service pillar performance shifts as organizations mature. Excellence in only one particular service performance pillar does not create overall organizational success. Rather, it’s the appropriate balance and alignment within and across performance pillars that ultimately leads to sustainable success.

More than 1,500 firms have participated in the PS Maturity Model Benchmark since its first year. These organizations are global and come in all sizes and shapes. However, the consistency that exists among all of them is their focus on delivering project-based services, and generally all are for-profit or part of a profit-driven product organization.

Many of the firms, especially in the consulting sector, are heavily focused on growth and organizational profitability. But many of the embedded services organizations, such as those responsible for implementing hardware and software sold by the parent company, are more focused on areas such as sales, client retention and expansion. In other words, their mission is not necessarily to drive margin.

Pick up a copy of the survey

For many organizations, completing the annual benchmark is a rite of passage. These organizations’ executives understand the value they gain from its insight. It helps them better prepare their organizations for the challenges that lie ahead. Please take the time to download a copy of the benchmark survey so you can better understand the value this research could bring your organization.

6 Lessons Learned for Packaging Service Offerings

Ensure that your organization sees success in service productization
by Carey Bettencourt, Service Performance Insight

TimetoLearnOver the last year, my team at Service Performance Insight (SPI) has worked with dozens of companies and trained hundreds of professionals to implement sustainable service productization, or packaging, programs.

Lesson 1: “No market, no money, no mission.”

First and foremost, many services should not be packaged.

Service packaging investment requires an overall business plan and a business case that outline the target market, competition and your differentiation. Service packages must be services that can be successfully sold and delivered for tens, if not hundreds, of clients. If the problem is not urgent, not pervasive and clients are not willing to pay to solve it — don’t package it!

You must have a compelling answer to the question “Why should we package this service?” Too often firms begin packaging services to correct internal problems. Instead, focus should be on the market and the
pervasive business problem the service solves.

Companies would never dream of developing a product without an understanding of the market. So the same standard must be applied to services.

Lesson 2: “Walk before you run.”

Product management has come into its own as a specific function and discipline to ensure that products are developed with the client in mind and based on sound market and competitive analysis. That said, service productization must attain the same level of focus and specialization to be successful. A key finding is that service productization relies on and requires sound fundamentals to be in place in product management, marketing and solution selling — all disciplines which typically sit outside the professional services organization and its core service delivery competency.

At the same time, the PSO must have attained at least Level 3 (Project Excellence) PS Maturity in the Service Execution Pillar with fully deployed systems and processes for service delivery methodology development and enforcement. Professional services automation and knowledge management systems must exist to provide the service productizing team with insight into project artifacts and best practices. Further, the PSA solution is required to measure compliance and productivity improvements.

Lesson 3: “Implement a structured service packaging method.”

Based on our research and consulting experience, more than 80 percent of initial service productization attempts fail to achieve hoped-for objectives. Key root causes include ad hoc approach, lack of executive commitment, no dedicated roles, and no program vision or clarity.

To improve the success rate and shorten the time to value of service product development, my team developed the SLM3 framework, as shown in Figure 1, a methodology and tool kit that enables the service product team to implement a holistic and sustaining service productization program.

Implementing this framework compels the service product team to pursue a disciplined approach to establish the following:

  • Articulated and well-understood services strategy.
  • Service productization program vision.
  • Active executive sponsorship.
  • Market-driven focus.
  • Global company adoption of program.
  • Dedicated resource commitment.
  • Cross-functional participation.
  • Common sales and delivery methods, tools and templates.

Figure 1: SLM3 Framework

SLM3

Source: Service Performance Insight, 2013

The contents of SLM3 include:

  1. Critical success factors. The required conditions for service productization success.
  2. Organizational structure. The teams, hierarchy, roles and responsibilities leading and supporting the program.
  3. Program foundation. The critical service productization program capabilities and activities — project management, change management and portfolio management — that are required for startup and ongoing program operations.
  4. Service productization methodology. The five-phase lifecycle process that compels the team to develop a strategically aligned, market-driven and high-quality service product focus.

Lesson 4: “Incorporate change management.”

Based on my team’s years of service packaging experience and research, I believe that organizations should approach service packaging as a transformational change to the traditional way companies currently sell and deliver services. Service packaging requires cross-functional disciplines to work together to define a consistent approach to selling and delivering in-demand services.

I suggest organizations think of service packaging as a new and better way to develop solution value capture, which requires behavioral changes. In order to gain organizational buy-in and support, it is important to launch the program with clear communication, incorporating answers to the following questions:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Why are we doing this now?
  • How will we work together?
  • How will this impact me?
  • What do I need to do to be prepared?

Effectively communicating the program’s important purpose and stakeholder’s role will not only create a positive perception, but it will also accelerate service packaging program support and participation.

Lesson 5: “Name that team!”

Successful service packaging requires a long-term view with dedicated, empowered and experienced team members; executive and cross-functional support; and consistent long-term funding.

Committing the required resources and placing the right people in the right roles is a critical success factor for this programIn fact, inadequate resource commitment will lead to frustration with the service packaging effort and results. And not assigning and aligning qualified people to program roles will lead to individual and team anxiety and, most likely, lack of productivity.

Expectations that service packaging will provide a quick fix for effective solution selling or service delivery consistency are false, but the effort is worth it if organizations go into it with eyes wide open.

The only way to guarantee success is to follow a service lifecycle management methodology that clearly outlines the program charter and governance structure for decision-making and funding. Clearly defined and empowered teams should be assigned. Appropriate measurements, metrics and compensation are needed to cement the program into ongoing operations and measure progress.

Lesson 6: “The proof is in the numbers.”                                                             

Following the development of the Service Lifecycle Management Maturity Model, my team scored 102 survey participants in the 2012 benchmark. The most mature firms follow a disciplined, methodical, market-driven approach to packaging services and deliver excellent financial results.

As presented in Table 1, the revenue and profit key performance indicators for the most mature firms show material differences between the lowest two levels of maturity and those that are at Level 5. The numbers in the colored boxes represent the percentage of companies that are at each maturity level.

Table 1: Service Lifecycle Management Maturity Model Metrics by Maturity Level

slm3numbers

This table should remove all doubt about the efficacy of service lifecycle management, as the most mature are able to achieve superlative net margins while exceeding their annual revenue and margin targets.

The value of productization

Productizing services is difficult. But more than likely it is necessary in an era of greater service complexity, global competition, economic indecision and a more enlightened client base. Properly managed, investments in service productization can pay off handsomely — with significant improvement in margin, revenue per person and ability to manage larger projects.

I hope that sharing these lessons learned helps your organization better prepare to launch — or improve — your service packaging programs.

Awesome Services Marketing – Part 2

Five steps to become the professional services firm of choice
by Jeanne Urich, Service Performance Insight

qualityLast month we began a two-part series designed to provide five practical steps to create a winning services marketing approach, by outlining the first two steps. This article provides the last three steps to help turn your organization into a premium professional services firm.

This is part two of a two-part series designed to provide five practical steps to create a winning services marketing approach. Part one outlines the first two steps. This article provides the last three steps to help turn your organization into a premium professional services firm.

Here are the five steps for designing an awesome marketing approach:

  1. Understand the business development value chain.
  2. Focus on high-impact business development activities.
  3. Know and reinforce the qualities that are most important in selecting a PS firm.
  4. Create memorable positioning and messaging that tells a story.
  5. Bring your go-to-market strategy to life with sales tools.

With this “cookbook,” you’ll energize your professional services marketing efforts.

What qualities are most important in selecting a PS firm?

Companies today have more professional services choices than ever before. And they have better tools to research and evaluate potential providers. If this is their first experience with a new technology provider, they’re likely to seriously consider the technology vendor’s services or a large system integrator.

The playing field becomes broader and more competitive for companies considering an upgrade or migration to a new release. After using current technologies for a while, buyers now have internal knowledge and competency. They must evaluate risk against flexibility, geographic coverage and price.

They want their services providers to provide specialized knowledge and expertise. They want straight talk about competitive technologies and alternatives to help them make the right decisions for their business.

So how do prospects select a PS provider?

As Figure 1 shows, research suggests that today’s professional services buyers make decisions based on specialized knowledge, experience, techniques and reputation. Loyalty to the technology provider’s PS firm can be undermined if clients feel they don’t have strong relationships with senior firm managers, they believe the future of their technology provider is in doubt or they think they overpaid.

The more tech-savvy marketplace increasingly expects unique business processes and vertical industry knowledge from their professional services providers. They also increasingly demand fixed-price or value-priced alternatives to transfer more technology and process risk to their professional services providers.

With more research tools at their disposal, they’re willing to search for and select new specialized providers with the deep expertise they require. Although a one-throat-to-choke buying strategy still provides leverage, clients are more willing to try new providers if their vendor investigation uncovers some with a quality reputation, deep technical knowledge, business process expertise, local coverage or better value for the price.

Figure 1: What Qualities Are Most Important When Selecting a PS Firm?

SelectingPSFirm

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit.

Positioning made easy

Selling and marketing professional services means creating a tangible and differentiated point of view (what your brand stands for — why you are different). Your point of view — based on your specialized qualifications — makes your firm unique and compelling.

To be effective, your market position must tap into your prospect’s critical business issues, such as time to market, cost reduction, risk reduction, improved business visibility and business consolidation or expansion. And do this all while showcasing your competitive strengths and past successes.

You reflect this through a positioning statement and messaging. A positioning statement, sometimes called an elevator pitch, should reflect your competitive position in the market. Messaging involves creating a consistent storyline. There is a theme, a plot and a set of key ideas.

To succeed, your positioning and messaging must:

  • Be accurate.
  • Be succinct.
  • Be differentiating.
  • And most important … be relevant!

Distill your positioning into a memorable, simple two-sentence story:

For [target customer] who [statement of need or opportunity] we provide [service name], which is a [service category] that [statement of key benefit; compelling reason to buy]. Unlike [primary competitive alternative], our solution [statement of primary differentiation].

Positioning has four core components:

  1. What are your target customers’ unmet needs? What problem do you solve?
  2. Will your target customers recognize they have this problem? What triggers a need for your services?
  3. How will you satisfy those needs in a unique way (differentiated value proposition)?
  4. How can you prove it?

Positioning and strategy are two sides of the same coin. You should be able to write positioning statements for every market you pursue and every solution in your strategic plan. Statement of positioning is not the tag line. Tag lines and press releases reflect your positioning.

Why PS firms must care about positioning

Positioning focuses on customer value and ensures you don’t get lost in the details. It also helps you think about the critical reason the customer wants to buy and how you will be different. Your statement keeps you in line when describing the solution you’re going to build. Furthermore, your team will stay on track with the customers’ — not your company’s — critical elements.

When the company understands the positioning statement, they’ll be on the same page and consistent in all communications. Positioning should be done before designing solutions. And it will contribute in the development of selling tools that demonstrate customer value.

Figure 2: Positioning Made Easy

Positioning

Source: Service Performance Insight, July 2013.

Make your go-to-market strategy stick with sales tools

Too often great marketing programs fall short of expectations because they don’t empower the sales force. In addition to capturing prospects’ attention and unmet needs, your marketing programs will come to life only if you build a comprehensive set of sales tools to engage and ignite your sales force.

Start with an understanding of your sales methodology and design sales tools that reinforce your go-to-market approach. For example, translate your market positioning statement into a sales qualifying questionnaire and train your sales force to recognize the target buyer’s business issues and buying triggers.

To effectively launch your new marketing program, create a series of focused internal sales training events to roll out your new sales tools. These could include qualifying questionnaire, customer presentation, customer references, sales success stories, solution datasheets, estimating guides, solution project delivery plans and so on. Refer to Table 1 for an example of sales tools and when you’d use them.

Your services sales management should certify the sales force on the new go-to-market program. They need to verify that the sales force clearly understands target buyer’s business issues and your positioning. Prime your selling efforts by creating a targeted prospect list and calling campaign. Reinforce your launch with monthly prospect webinars, white papers and case studies.

Once you’ve launched your new marketing program, follow up with initial clients to get feedback and suggestions for improvement. With your initial clients, do whatever it takes to turn them into delighted references and possible sources of follow-on work.

Table 1: Selling Stages and Sales Tools

SellingStages

Source: Service Performance Insight, July 2013.

Final advice before building your awesome marketing program

Awesome services marketing takes the same amount of energy, focus and planning as creating your delivery methodology and tools. You wouldn’t dream of assigning junior consultants who lack an understanding of project delivery to create your methodology, right? So why relegate your services marketing efforts to a junior team that doesn’t understand your customers’ business issues and how your firm is different and unique? Bring together your strongest business developers along with experienced solution architects to design your go-to-market program.

Run your awesome marketing projects the same way you run your client projects: Create a project charter and project plan with a dedicated project manager. Also, ensure all members of the services marketing project team have the time and knowledge to develop awesome sales and marketing materials.

After you’ve created the initial program, develop multiple waves of sales training and cement the program with high-quality sales tools. Pilot the program with an initial set of target prospects and continue to refine and improve it. Make sure your clients are delighted with the engagement and will provide great references.

Awesome marketing programs galvanize and cement your business value and market positioning while energizing your sales and delivery team!

Awesome Services Marketing – Part 1

Five steps to become the professional services firm of choice
by Jeanne Urich, Service Performance Insight

Target MarketThis is the first article in a two-part series that provides five practical steps for developing an awesome services marketing approach.

The goal of any good “Go To Market” strategy is to tap into your prospect’s compelling reasons to buy and to simplify and differentiate your services offers. Too often, professional services marketing programs start with “how we do it” rather than “Who are our target buyers? What business problems do we solve for them? What business issues trigger a need for our services? What makes us different?”

Awesome services marketing programs start by focusing on clients and their business issues. Positioning answers to “What do you do?” in a way that communicates value and the benefits clients get from buying from you. After properly positioning your services to provide value, create effective sales tools to ignite your selling efforts and bring your marketing programs to life.

These are the five steps for designing an awesome marketing approach:

  1. Understand the business development value chain.
  2. Focus on high-impact business development activities.
  3. Know and reinforce the qualities that are most important in selecting a PS firm.
  4. Create memorable positioning and messaging that tells a story.
  5. Reinforce your go-to-market strategy with sales tools.

Understanding the business development value chain

The key to winning business in professional services is based on properly positioning your firm to be the most known, respected and valued in your market. Effective services marketing starts with your strategy — understanding who your target buyers are, what business problems you uniquely solve for them and why you’re better than your competitors.

Once you’re clear on your strategy, these steps will ensure you’re the premium firm as represented in Figure 1:

  1. Generate a reputation. Develop a unique and differentiating point of view. This may be based on past client success, research, or special tools and competencies you have developed. Show how your point of view drives client success.Demonstrate your deep understanding of your clients’ business issues and the value you provide. Market your differentiating point of view as widely as possible to your target client base. Collaborate with complementary partners to create more comprehensive solutions.Ensure every client engagement is a success — even if you have to provide more than you originally planned. Constantly improve your knowledge and skills so your firm is the best in its field. Word of mouth travels fast — if you establish a great reputation, new prospects will beat a path to your door.
  2. Generate clients. Here’s where marketing and selling come in. Spread the word, get known and be unique. This will help with referrals, one of the most effective ways to generate new clients and repeat business. Demonstrating thought leadership through speaking, writing, serving on boards and participating in conferences are all effective strategies to land new clients.Prematurely creating a proposal reduces the scope of your engagement and the value to your client. Instead, take time to understand your client’s challenges and jointly design the expected outcome. If possible, quantify the business outcome in measurable terms. When the solution to the client’s problem produces significant value, pricing will never be an issue.
  3. Generate client impact. The impact you produce for your current clients is crucial to enhancing your reputation, getting referrals and securing new client engagements. Investments in training, methodology, skill improvement, knowledge management and repeatable frameworks increase your chances of producing superior client outcomes.Strive to understand and measure the value you produce for your clients and communicate that value. Client value should be the basis of your pricing. Meet and exceed expectations on every project and every client will become a reference and source of referrals.

Figure 1: Professional Services Business Development Value Chain

SPI PS BD Value Chain

Exceptional client outcomes come with repetition and experience. Superior engagement results and client value will improve as you continue to deliver similar projects. Trying to be a jack-of-all-trades is a good way to ensure that you are a master of none.

Focus on high-impact business development activities

Unfortunately, all business development activities don’t have the same impact, as Figure 2 shows. Most of the time, more tactical activities — like cold-calling, email blasts, social marketing, tradeshows and advertising — have a short-term effect and do little to enhance your brand or build long-term awareness. These tactical activities yield the best results when they are targeted and demonstrate your firm’s deep understanding of the prospect’s business issues.

Figure 2: The Impact of Business Development Activities

SPI PS BD Impact ValueIf prospects show interest by downloading a white paper, coming to your booth or listening to a webinar, encourage a senior member of your firm to make the follow-up call, not a junior telemarketer reading a script. Assuming you’ve done your homework by thoroughly researching the target prospect’s business and solution fit, assigning a qualified suspect to a senior business developer enhances your reputation and lays the foundation for a valuable long-term relationship.

Today’s professional services buyers need to be assured they’re working with a high-quality, reputable firm. That’s why referrals work so well in generating new business. High-impact business development activities involve giving a taste of what prospects can expect if they engage with your firm.

Let prospects self-qualify that you’re the right provider by experiencing samples of your work — through your website, demonstrations, presentations, client testimonials and white papers. Clients buy professional services from firms they trust and that have shown they’re the right fit for the way they want to do business.

To enhance your referral base, help your firm be prominent in the associations and networks to which your target buyers belong. Do more than just show up at a conference. Target prospects in advance by letting them know your firm will be presenting and senior consultants will be available to discuss business needs. If a good prospect attends your session, gauge the level of interest with a follow-up call and a copy of the presentation.

Your website is a primary vehicle for market awareness and visibility. Thus, it must reflect your unique positioning. The design needs to be clean and the copy needs to speak to prospects in their language. Hire a professional website development firm to design a website that reflects how good you are.  This article shares the first two steps for designing an answer marketing approach.  Read part two for the final three steps to help your PS firm become the provider of choice.

Sales and Services Alignment

How to eliminate gulfs and fix dysfunctions
by Carey Bettencourt, Jeanne Urich and Dave Hofferberth, Service Performance Insight

In a highly competitive environment, a company must successfully differentiate itself and effectively orchestrate the sales cycle. Unfortunately, many times schisms between the sales and services delivery organizations surface during the sales process. This results in deal closure delays or, worse yet, losing the deal.

qualityThe winning formula for sales and services delivery collaboration is based on a combination of aligned business processes and measurements reinforced by a supporting technology platform like customer relationship management and professional services automation. This article examines the root causes underlying dysfunctional sales and services delivery relationships and identifies common business process breakdowns, as well as the path to alignment.

Background

Most organizations struggle with a lack of cooperation between the sales and services delivery functions. Based on six years of professional services industry benchmarking with responses from more than 1,500 professional services organizations, we have discovered that few professional services organizations are satisfied with the relationship between sales and services delivery. According to the 2013 PS Maturity Model Benchmark report, sales effectiveness received a poor score of 6.4 out of 10; marketing effectiveness was worse at 5.2 out of 10.

A lack of alignment and trust between sales and services delivery leads to lost opportunities, miss-set client expectations, underscoped projects and poor resource utilization. Best-in-class organizations have found a way to bridge the sales and services divide to reap rewards in terms of larger pipelines, higher win-to-bid ratios, higher levels of consultant utilization and more satisfied clients.

The complexities of identifying professional services opportunities and developing them into successful client engagements demand a more structured approach to business development and a seamless information flow between sales and services delivery. This ensures opportunities are properly prioritized, scoped and staffed.

While the consulting market currently experiences healthy growth, both up and down markets accentuate breakdowns between sales and services. When fewer deals are available and sales cycles are longer, heightened pressure and a sense of urgency to close deals may exacerbate an already dysfunctional sales and services relationship. On the other hand, when opportunities are plentiful, resource imbalances and heightened risk aversion may also strain sales and services liaisons.

Sources of sales and services dysfunction

Gulfs between sales and services typically emerge in the choppy waters between functions where the overly optimistic sales tide meets the risk-averse services shore. Who, and which function is in charge of piloting client opportunities through these brackish seas?

Typical sales and services breakdowns occur in the following areas:

  • Proposals. PSOs often demonstrate a lack of clarity around which opportunities to pursue, how to create a winning proposal or who is ultimately in charge. Ambiguity can lead to procrastination; excessive bid costs; acceptance of egregious terms; and not enough time, tools or resources to bring all the pieces together into a compelling value-based proposal.
  • Pricing and scoping. In many cases, it’s unclear who has authority for discounting and contract terms. Poorly defined or unknown requirements, weak estimating tools, vague discounting limits, and inadequate or no pricing or contractual reviews contribute to mediocre financial results and unacceptable levels of risk.
  • Forecasting and staffing. Many PSOs are deficient in what it takes to move a suspect to a high-probability deal or how the sales forecast is translated into the resource plan. A lack of alignment and trust are exacerbated by noncongruent sales booking and services margin goals. Unreliable sales forecasts lead to disconnected sales and resource planning processes and insufficient functional interlock regarding opportunities and required staffing. The outcome is the absence of integration between sales, staffing and recruiting, resulting in not enough or too much services delivery capacity.
  • Services execution. Inconsistent communication between services delivery and sales regarding project status often occurs. No project dashboards, improper planning, and poor execution of scope changes and change orders lead to project overruns, nasty surprises and unhappy clients.

Business process requirements for sales and services alignment

A lack of agreement around key business processes that cross organizational or functional boundaries is at the core of dysfunctional sales and services delivery relationships. Issues are typically the result of differing views of the processes, unknown or misused levels of authority, and ambiguity around decision-making and measurements.

The foundation for all high-performing organizations comes from clear business process understanding and ownership tied to congruent goals and measurements. Table 1 illustrates how a simple method of assigning ownership and measurement of cross-functional business processes provides clarity and enhances performance.

t1

The impact of sales and services alignment

Effective sales and services delivery teamwork is at the heart of performance in the services industry. The integration of sales and services delivery business processes and systems is paramount to success.

In our 2013 PS Maturity Model Benchmark report, the “best of the best” embrace sales and services delivery alignment, and their results as shown in Table 2 speak for themselves.

t2

CRM and PSA integration drive performance

As Table 2 shows, integrated customer relationship management and professional services automation applications are key to breaking down the barriers between sales and services by providing accurate client and project information throughout the client life cycle. Running a knowledge and skill-intensive business like professional services with disconnected applications, spreadsheets and email is no longer a competitive option. Efficient execution across core business processes demands visibility, transparency and control.

Ideally, information flow mirrors and illuminates core business processes, beginning with prospecting and extending through the client life cycle. Time, cost, engagement progress and quality are critical elements that must be tracked throughout. Integrated applications provide visibility, alerts and work flow to ensure following of proper steps, securing of approvals and flagging of variances.

Executives and other involved personnel should be able to track information from the initial bid through project completion and invoicing. With this information, both management and consultants can monitor deals to ensure high levels of client satisfaction with acceptable revenue and profit margins.

The integration of PSA and CRM helps the sales organization to better understand the entire client relationship and discover opportunities to sell additional products and services. Sales and services cooperate to decide whether work should be bid, and at what price to win the opportunity and meet margin requirements. Both organizations can share information to be included in the proposal with the appropriate staffing plan and financial forecast as backup.

Accurate information enables the services delivery team to proactively plan and staff projects with the right resources while supporting the sales team in closing opportunities. The executive team is armed with real-time visibility into revenue and costs to support effective decision-making.

The 2013 PS Maturity Model Benchmark report demonstrates the power of CRM and PSA integration as an important foundation for improving sales and services delivery alignment. The benefits of sales and services delivery collaboration speak volumes.