Professional services firms: Don’t miss this key brand message

Understanding what it’s like to work with you matters.

What’s it like to work with your organization? It’s a simple question; one that you might encounter on an RFP or get asked once you’re face to face with a prospective client. Whether you’re down-to-earth and friendly or razor-sharp and all-business (or any flavor in between), what it’s like to work with your firm is top-of-mind for your prospects, and it can be an important differentiator in a crowded professional services marketplace.

But how often do you see the question answered in a straightforward way in marketing materials? We don’t see it enough — and we think that’s a missed opportunity. Companies are adept at telling target audiences about their big ideas, the unique solutions and tools they create, and what drives them to succeed. But too few give clients a good idea of how they approach one of the foundations of good business: the everyday working relationship.

Define it, make it plain, and build it in.

You might want to start by asking yourself the question: “What’s it like to work with us?” You’d be surprised at how many businesses haven’t done that. And maybe even more surprised that agreeing on an answer for your company is not so easy. Uncovering what makes your teams and ways of working special will not only help you talk about them, it can also help you refine your processes and workflow and build consensus about the value you deliver — and how you deliver it. You can even include a trusted client in the conversation for a dose of outside perspective (but be prepared to be surprised again).

Once you have it, getting the message out there can be as simple as adding a section to your “about us” page or in your presentation materials that spells it out. But you should also think about baking it into the material you use to describe your solutions and services, because your clients don’t separate the two.

“Down-to-earth and friendly? Razor-sharp and all business? Whatever your firm’s working style is, it’s probably your communication style, too. The way you write and illustrate your “what it’s like to work with you” message should follow suit.”

What do you want to say?

The key to this exercise is figuring out the unique ways you work and serve your customers and how you can make that a part of your differentiating story. As you think more deeply about that, here are a few basic elements to include and strategies to get you started.

  • Set expectations. What to expect is perhaps the most basic part of a working relationship. This can be about your organization and approach, but being as specific as possible is better; “When X happens, you can expect us to Y.” Expectations go both ways, of course, and letting your clients know what to expect from you can jump-start the conversation about what you’re going to expect from them, too.
  • Make it as easy as 1-2-3. Most of the things you do for clients follow a defined path — getting started, up and running, evaluating and refining, etc. When it makes sense, lay out the steps for them. And be clear about what the inputs and outcomes will be, including how you’ll communicate and respond as you move through the process.
  • Humanize it. Working with your business means working with you. You don’t need to say exactly who does what (unless your people and their personalities are part of what makes you special), but be clear how different teams and roles will interact with clients, what they do, when they’ll do it, and how. This also helps the client visualize what’s going on behind the scenes and appreciate what really goes into meeting their needs.
  • Come at it from the client POV. Most important, put yourself in your clients’ shoes and think about how the way you work benefits them in tangible ways. For every “we do this” in your message there should be a “so you can do that” that the client can connect with. And how you work with your clients is also about how you fit into the way they work. Make sure your message addresses the ways you accomodate and integrate into your clients’ workflow. With all of the different technologies and operating platforms out there, this can be issue #1 with a lot of prospects.

Like any part of your brand promise, you can articulate this both at a high level and in ways specific to your solutions, services, and client audiences. There’s no one way to do it, but if you want to give potential clients the full picture of your value, don’t forget to tell them what it’s like to work with you (even before they ask).