If you are just another professional services shop, how do you differentiate yourself in the undifferentiated world of services? The question can be answered several ways: we could talk about messaging, positioning, company culture, decision-making processes, employee empowerment and trust.
However, since the only thing that truly matters these days is happy, new customers, let’s talk about the founder’s ability to build new relationships and how that ability to scale can be a major differentiator when it comes to landing new clients.
Many professional services are started when a founder with a strong customer relationship leaves a senior position to start his or her own company. The loyal customer follows the founder as he builds a new company. This loyalty was earned over time through interaction, integrity, success/failure, transparency and consistency.
The problem starts when the partner or founder wants to find the next new customer – another whale-sized account that is just as profitable and farmable as the first account. The challenge is finding ways to quickly establish a trusted relationship with a stranger. How does the founder scale with prospects with what tended to naturally with the first whale?
The answer (and the currency by which the trust is established, earned and scaled) is “usefulness.” In sales processes, the conversations, the relationships, the personal network and persuasion have always been de facto currency.
If people buy from people – and if a brand is really the sum total of a customer’s interaction with a company – then it follows that in b-to-b sales, especially during the start-up phase of a professional services firm, the personal brand of the founder is the foundation from which to build a business.
The Web and social media did not create the notion of a personal brand. Emphasizing relationship value over a quick transaction has always been the hallmark of a successful professional-services organization. The only difference social media makes is that it facilitates the age-old human dialog of value exchange.
The tendency of people to become known through repeat encounters is as old as walking upright; establishing a brand of credibility and openness to repeat transactions is earned by being accessible and broadly useful to the challenges prospects face.
In transferring knowledge to new whales, the more useful encounters you have with the prospect/customer, the quicker you can get to being a trusted advisor. Armed with social media, a willingness to be useful and a solid CRM system, a founder can rapidly scale his ‘usefulness’ by at least an order of magnitude. For that reason, as the firm evolves a dedicated emphasis on personal branding may overlap and start to eclipse “traditional” marketing tactics. The highest value of these personal-branding activities is how they reach past the product attributes and get into the underlying, human issues beneath the problem that the prospect is experiencing.