By Robert Craven, MD of The Directors' Centre

Most growing businesses are service firms. As such you must stop yourself from looking like the mass of undifferentiated competitors that you have. Otherwise you will only be able to compete on price only. And that is a mug’s game!

It seems like a no-brainer that you need to be better than your competitors at (the word you hate), selling. Your marketing needs to be more compelling and it needs to be different from the rest. After all, why should I buy from you if you are the same as the competition?
With that in mind, and looking at our successful service firm clients over the years, we have compiled a manifesto — more than a white paper; almost an aspirational doctrine — to lead service firms away from selling on price.

The Service Firm Manifesto

We will not become a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’- we are a specialist with specialist expertise in a specialist subject. We are not just another general practitioner with the same general set of guiding principles as our competitors. To do so would be commercial suicide.

We don’t do sales pitches — we have far less futile and humiliating things that we can do to win business. But we will talk to you. We like to talk to people and find out what they are really looking for and what they are really like. We want to make sure that there is a real fit between how we work best and what the client is looking for. We need to understand you and what your problem really is.

We are not suppliers — we are partners in the growth and development of our clients. Suppliers are ten-a-penny; they sell and compete on price and not on quality. That is not us.

We don’t do endless freebies and beauty parades — while we are happy to do pro bono work for our chosen special causes, we do not and will not endlessly give away our intellectual property on a gamble that you might think we might be able to deliver some more (but in likelihood you will steal our ideas or ask us to use the ideas you have stolen from others).

We don’t get interviewed by you - we will interview each other and make sure that the fit works for everyone. We will walk away if the chemistry and dynamics isn’t working or if we don’t believe that you believe in us. We are not whores; we will not work with anyone.

We will make no recommendations - unless we have done the initial audit/healthcheck/diagnostics. Would you trust a heart surgeon who didn’t put you through all the diagnostic tests before making a recommendation to operate? Thought not.

We will apply all aspects of ‘The Expert’ model - we will talk and write and deliver to a select audience with a specific set of problems. We have evidence and proof that we can address and resolve their issues. We have a proprietary point of view; we deliver wow work!

We will not compete on price - being the cheapest is not our goal. It doesn’t help the client and it doesn’t help us if we cut corners or simply look for quick wins when fundamental, deep-seated change is required.

We will not sell time - we will deliver a value-added service and avoid charging by the hour or by the day. Clients are buying our years of experience and the originality of our ideas. How can you put a price on that?

We will talk money — we won’t pray that no-one mentions budgets. We explicitly talk about money to make sure that we do not waste our time or theirs. We know we deliver stunning added value. We are not ashamed of our fees. They enable us to invest in delivering even better value.

We will define the overt business benefit of working with us, explicitly — we will explain the actual numbers of working with us eg ‘our clients typically see a 30% uplift in profit within 90 days of working with us’.

We will give a real reason to believe that we can deliver — evidence, proofs, testimonials and word-of-mouth reputation.

We will be dramatically different from the competition.

We will enjoy ourselves.