Quantify your strengths.
Growth is the ultimate test of business vitality. Yet, questions about growth haunt business leaders. What percentage will we grow this year? How much growth do we need? Can we balance revenue growth against margin improvement? Do we want to increase our ability to cross-sell? Can we expand into new markets? Once we know where we want to be, how do we get there?
The best recipe for sustained, profitable growth is simple. Grow from a position of strength. What does that mean? Drive growth by quantitatively verifying
you do well.
Why is it important to quantify?
Pull out a recent proposal you submitted and read it. Put aside your intent and look at the words through your clients’ eyes. Are you really differentiating your firm? Or, are you saying what every other firm with similar expertise says? Before you dismiss this, consider this example from a proposal by Acme Engineering.
Acme Engineering has developed a project approach for stormwater projects that yields successful outcomes on projects throughout North Carolina, and even more important, here in Raleigh. This project approach, which includes a strong collaboration and listening component, has resulted in numerous project awards on behalf of our clients.
I’m sure everything they say is true. Let me ask you though, how many of their competitors’ proposals look the same? Can you imagine Acme Engineering or any of their competitors writing this?
Acme Engineering has developed a project approach for stormwater projects that creates challenging outcomes for our clients throughout North Carolina, and even more important, here in Raleigh. This project approach, which is mostly siloed with occasional team meetings and a "we know best, so we don’t need to listen to our clients," attitude, has resulted in very few project awards on behalf of our clients.
Are you laughing? I hope so or at least smiling. Clearly, no firm would include a statement like that in a proposal.
But what is the real value in the first statement? Although designed to demonstrate expertise, the generic verbiage does not differentiate Acme from its competitors. Instead, it demonstrates what Acme "thinks" clients want to hear. What they fail to recognize is if everyone is saying the same thing, then everyone looks the same to the prospective client. When trying to leverage your strengths to capture new opportunities and grow your firm, differentiation is critical!
How do you quantify?
The example above comes across as boilerplate marketing. To your prospective client, it says, "we’re terrific, look what we’ve done." It doesn’t say, “here are the specific ways we have created value for our clients.” If you have a voice of the customer program, your submittal can include real metrics and comments, from existing clients, that speak to your firm’s ability to execute. You can quantify the ways your firm is different and specific ways you delight clients.
Figure 1 shows the feedback metrics from Smith Engineering's voice of the customer (VOC) program. Unlike Acme Engineering, Smith Engineering asks their clients for feedback at project milestones to ensure they give them the chance to tell the team working on their project how they are performing in their service delivery process compared to their expectations. This gives Smith an advantage when they submit on all proposals. Especially on those, they submit as they seek to leverage their strengths in new markets
. Instead of saying what everyone else says, Smith can speak of the successful outcomes on their stormwater projects with actual client metrics.
Another benefit of having VOC metrics occurs when your firm is seeking to position a new project or client manager. In Figure 2, you see how Smith Engineering uses this information when proposing Mike Mills, an unknown
project manager, to a new client. Instead of the typical statement, “Mike Mills has an exceptional record of responsiveness on the projects he works on,” Smith can demonstrate Mike’s responsiveness with clients using quantifiable metrics. This removes hesitancy from the prospect to engage with Smith Engineering. Before they even meet Mike, they know he has received rave reviews from other clients for responding to their needs.
Achieving growth by leveraging strengths
Using your VOC program, your firm has quantified its position of strength both internally and externally. You are now ready to leverage those strengths to achieve your strategic growth objectives. Following are three approaches your firm can take to leverage strengths.
- In-market leverage: seeking new growth opportunities among your existing clients in your core market(s) as currently defined (aka cross-selling new services to existing clients).
- Near-market expansion: pursuing opportunities in unfamiliar sectors. This approach is also known as expansion through adjacencies (aka offering existing services to either new geographic markets or verticals adjacent to your existing market).
- Disruptive growth: responding to a newly identified need in the market with an entirely new (but related) service offering. This approach to growth requires additional planning. It should be taken when your firm has a clear idea how to link existing capabilities to the new service area (aka offering new services to new markets).
Each area likely seems familiar. Your firm may have discussed them over the years and even explored pursuing opportunities in one or more of them. Quantifying your position of strength using objective metrics enables your firm to take one or more of these approaches to enter into a cycle of ongoing growth. While your arsenal of quantifiable metrics will assist you in each approach, the discussion of the disruptive growth model is beyond the scope of this article. Let’s look at how you can use your quantifiable metrics to drive growth with both the in-market and near-market expansion models.
Firms frequently overlook growth opportunities right in front of them. Sometimes they are tempted by attractive-looking opportunities in other markets or lured by the idea of diversification. Sometimes, they simply have not spent enough time trying to imagine how their approach in one market can change to unlock additional growth. The answer lies in finding headroom or potential new business in an existing market.
The headroom for in-market leverage is the client revenue (increase in share of wallet) a firm could have beyond its current business with that client minus that which it is unlikely to get. Let’s look at Smith Engineering’s stormwater practice area. The firm has clearly identified its strengths to its existing clients most of which are in the public sector (eg cities, counties, etc.) Smith Engineering also has an aviation practice. This discipline provides clients (regional to major hub airports) with design services as part of their renovation or expansion projects.
How can Smith Engineering leverage its feedback metrics to increase its share of wallet leveraging its stormwater practice with airport clients? Clearly, when the airport requires stormwater services as part of a renovation or expansion, the airport team will likely bring in the stormwater group to assist. But what about the scenario in which one of their clients has an identified need that the stormwater group could serve, but it is unrelated to a design project? Does the firm know about it? Is the airport team comfortable letting a different group serve their
This sounds like a slam dunk. The reality, however, is this is not always the case. Individuals from different practice areas can get siloed in their own work and may not recognize opportunities for their firm outside their own expertise. And, even if they do, there can be a sense of, “What if my colleague doesn’t provide them with the same level of experience, they have come to expect from me? I can’t afford to lose them as a client.”
This is where having quantifiable metrics and an approach to taking advantage of in-market leverage can help the firm increase its share of wallet. Sharing client insights across different teams, creating a strategy to identify cross-selling opportunities, and celebrating successes encourages members of your firm to identify and leverage existing headroom. The firm’s airport clients have likely used other firms for stormwater services in the past so there is a percentage of the work that your firm will not get. However, the ability to demonstrate to different team members and their clients the strength of the proposed team can lessen concerns and increase wins.
When firms think about growth, one of the common areas they look to is in adjacent geographic markets or related verticals. In a recent post, we shared insight on How to use your blog to expand your growth
. We referenced a post by Tim Asimos from circle S studio
offering reasons professional services firms should be blogging. Reason #6 – Attract prospects and generate leads. Our focus was on sharing your technical expertise through your blog and then using social media to target potential clients in adjacent geographic markets or related verticals.
One client used this very strategy to expand into a new geographic market. As part of this strategy, they added the results from their VOC program to their website. This meant that when potential clients read their blog, they had quick access to what the firm’s existing clients were saying about their expertise – quantifiable metrics!
Again, these metrics tell prospective clients what your existing clients are already saying about you. It’s not about perfection, you are letting these potential clients know that you keep your finger on the pulse of what is important to them. Their website goes on to say:
We’ll never be 100% in each area – but because we discover early where any gaps may be, your project team is able to adjust and deliver better results, every time.
Today clients and prospects search Google, read blogs, check out websites, and consume as much content as they can before
making a purchase decision. Quantified metrics on your website are powerful. Research indicates the bigger the purchase, the more extensive and thorough the research will be. It makes sense. When your firm is trying to move into an adjacent market, you want to provide content to help prospects see your firm’s strengths even before they meet you face-to-face.
A cycle of continuous growth opportunity
The goal of your growth strategy is to create continuous opportunity, so your top-line revenue increases steadily. Combining in-market and near-market growth strategies backed with quantifed VOC metrics will continue to increase your share of wallet with existing clients and expand your opportunities with prospects in adjacent geographic markets (or verticals).
Where should you begin? That depends on where you are right now.
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