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.

Blurring the Lines Between Products and Services

Business is changing. Everywhere you see product-driven organizations counteracting product commoditization through the addition of value-added services. Services-driven organizations are packaging their services into repeatable service offers and products to shorten time to value. The line of demarcation between products and services has become very blurry. Is software-as-a-service software or a service? Is Google selling software or a service? What about Linkedin and the host of e-commerce and social media applications are they products or services?
products and servicesOne thing is clear. Across all industries, firms are placing a premium on the total customer experience — lifetime value — not just the worth of the product sale. Aftermarket services are the cash cow of the automotive industry where product margins are thin, and competition is intense. This trend is good for customers because it means the days of selling and running are over.

Today, it’s about customer value creation. This means consumers expect usable products that actually help them do a job. They don’t want shelf-ware. This trend has also emerged in the professional services sector, as increased global competition has made it necessary for services-driven organizations to offer service packages and products, with tangible deliverables.

For the past five years, we at Service Performance Insight have tracked the percentage of total revenue generated by products in independent professional services organizations. Until recently, independent service providers reported about 5 percent of total revenue came from the sale of pass-through hardware and software. In the 2014 Professional Services Maturity™ Benchmark, this figure nearly tripled to 12 percent, and this is just for independents, such as IT and management consultancies. Figure 1 shows the percentage of service provider revenue coming from products.

Figure 1. Percentage of Revenue from Products in Independent Services Organizations
Percentage of revenue from productsNot all of the revenue comes from proprietary packaged services, as many independent professional services providers also sell additional off-the-shelf hardware and software. However, an increasingly higher percentage of revenue comes from their own internally developed products such as dashboards, report packages, data loaders and integration tools.

Is this an anomaly? We doubt it. Just like product-driven organizations have moved to services as a source of differentiation, now services-driven organizations are doing the same.

The good news: Products help differentiate services
Given the commoditization of many types of professional services, a packaged solution including products can help professional services organizations distinguish themselves from the competition. When hiring a service provider, customers look for demonstrable outcomes. The product could be hardware and software combined with services to create a unique solution. These solutions offer a proven complement of hardware, software and services that together solve a complex business problem.

This is especially evident in the IT consulting sector, as systems integrators are increasingly developing their own proprietary software to better help their clients use the technologies they implement. As the market moves towards greater industry specialization — with unique business processes, data and analytics — this trend will become increasingly popular.

The bad news: Both Products and Services are complex
Many products, while providing a competitive advantage, are very complex to develop and manage over time. It brings a whole new host of factors into play as services-driven organizations begin to develop and sell products. Complex products require additional infrastructure for long-term development and support, something many professional services organizations are not accustomed to providing.

In the past, it was all about implementing a product with a defined, albeit time and materials, statement of work, without any long-term support or ongoing commitment. Now there are upgrades, staged roll-outs and re-implementations of the product in addition to managed services and hosting. This new scenario keeps the service provider engaged with the customer for the life of the solution, demanding long-term contracts and relationships.

Profit margin of products versus services
Products and services generate very different profit margins. For instance, traditional software vendors sell software with a 90 percent margin, whereas their consulting services might only produce a 10 to 20 percent margin as shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Services Provider Percent of Revenue and Margin from Products and Services

Service Provider Revenues and MarginsObviously, executives prefer 90 percent product margins as opposed to 20 percent for services. Unfortunately, as products become more complex, the services component also becomes more complex and mandatory. Product executives must carefully consider the desired profit margin of services without degrading overall corporate profitability all while maintaining high levels of customer adoption and satisfaction.

An approach to consider
Products must be developed with specific services in mind and include the potential for additional service and support revenue over time. Executives need to agree on the specific goal of the product, as it might be a sales enabler for more services, and thus carry a minimal cost or margin. Or it could be intended to generate high levels of product profit with minimal service margin.

We have worked with organizations on both sides of this spectrum. The biggest issue is confusion regarding the realistic amount of services required to bring the product to life. Immature products or products that solve complex business problems may require loads of services. The question is: Can the required services be sold at a profit, or must they be discounted to garner the product sale?

When the goal of the product is to generate profit
In general, most technology products deliver high profit margins. However, as products become more complex, so do services. Failure to implement the correct services strategy could ultimately doom the success of the high-margin product if customer use and adoption are low due to poor implementation and training.

When the goal of the product is to generate additional services sales
Develop a services strategy that incorporates service importance at the time of sale. Most products require additional training. If this service is offered for free, then executives must closely monitor it, as it can eat into both product and service margins.
Conversely, services firms that have already begun to develop products need to watch their cost and the perceived value they deliver. Many firms that have had initial success developing a product get caught up in the “develop a product at all costs” mindset. Unfortunately, improperly managed products tend to eventually cost more than the value they deliver. Do not lose focus on the intended goal of the product.

Questions to consider
Before working on the development of a product to enhance overall revenue, all parties involved need to answer key questions and accept the answers.
1. What is the intended goal of the new product?
2. What are the projected margins for products and services?
3. Will the combination deliver the desired overall profit margins?
4. Is the services workforce required to sell, given the technical nature of the product?
5. What is the upgrade strategy, and how often will upgrades be delivered?

All firms care about bottom-line profitability. Whether it comes from products or services may not be the primary consideration. In many cases, products are more predictable than services, but without required services and enhancements, product revenue could quickly dry up.

What does it take to succeed in selling both products and services?
If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then products are from Pluto and services are from Saturn. The development and sale of both is very complicated. Companies with strong skills in manufacturing products cannot easily begin selling services. And of course, the opposite is true.

A team must be developed with specific skill sets and a collaborative framework to ensure the synchronicity between products and services. The IT infrastructure is especially important, particularly the enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, which should be able to manage both products and services in the same sales order.

As the economy strengthens, one thing has become abundantly clear: Product manufacturers are investing heavily in professional services, and services organizations are investing heavily in building products. Both of these are unfamiliar territories to the executives running their respective organizations. Managed correctly, both offer the potential for greater growth, client satisfaction and profit.  A complementary product and service strategy requires leaders on both sides of the aisle to learn from each other and collaborate to develop real solutions which solve real client problems.

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.