Archive for February, 2010

Is “professional” still relevant in 2010?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 at 11:43 am

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Well if you look at it’s antonym (it’s opposite) you find the word “amateur.”

How many businesses have you worked with that could be considered amateur?  Hmmm… wrong line of questioning maybe….  What do you deem to be professional in business and what do you deem to be amateur?  And who gets to decide?  An umbrella group or association?  Some kitemark that proves professionalism to the public?

The reason I ponder the question is because of the proportion of services we deliver to the “professional” services sector.  We’re talking with law firms, accountants and ifa’s most days of the week.

And if I can be allowed (well it’s my blog so I think i’ll brave it), the professional services sector seem almost obsessed in being professional at all cost.  We discuss business with them, we talk about how they think clients view them ahead of undertaking a feedback exercise.  More importantly we ask them what they WANT to be viewed as.  And 80% of the time (unscientific but accurate) the first word that passes the lips is……


My perception (and coming from a professional services background I’m qualified to say this) is that professional is a bit of a nondescript word.  It’s a bit like “satisfied” a bit like “ok”…. it hardly gets you excited about things does it?  It doesn’t say go-ahead, it doesn’t say proactive and it definately doesn’t say dynamic.

Accountancy, law and financial services to the outside world are seen as dull. So consider this…. how are you going about showing that your firm isn’t dull?  And what vision does “professional” conjure in your mind?

Is there a pin stripe suit in that vision?  A small meeting room with pencil pot, branded paper pad, telephone and insipid wallpaper that’s neutral so it doesn’t offend anyone?  A standard Ikea type table, royal blue chairs, beige/ grey/ bland carpet.  Do you imagine the bowler hatted people that used to mark the Bradford & Bingley logo?  Is the temperature you feel a little chilly, the air a little dry?  Do you feel comfortable thinking about that situation?  Is it one you relish being in?

Have you been offered a drink?  Out of a machine?  Is the cup a plastic one even fine china, maybe royal doulton, maybe a denby mug? 

You may see all this as an exaggeration of one end of the professional services spectrum, but it’s more common than you might think.

The true reality is that most accountants are professional.  As are solicitors, as are financial advisers.

So if that’s the case…. what sets them apart?  Why do people buy from an IFA, lawyer or accountant as opposed to another?  Apathy or recommendation.  And because the bar is set quite low, these professional services organisations meet the standard.  Don’t surpass, simply meet.

We’ve never met someone who wasn’t technically able.  Or someone who wasn’t too bright.  But we have struggled to meet someone in the professional services sector who stands out radically from the crowd.

Our challenge if you’re in the professional services sector.  Be different.  Dare.  Ask your clients what they really want… blank canvas.  And be prepared to stand out from the crowd.

Professional may be the traditional standard term for the industry… but is it still relevant in 2010?

Have Britain’s Businesses gone DIY mad?

Monday, February 8th, 2010 at 8:56 am

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We don’t mean have businesses brought in Phil, Kirstie and Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen (whatever happened to him?).

Think about this.  Go back just over a year.  Let’s start the page on 1st January 2009.  The new year’s in, the end of 2008 was filled of uncertainty, the UK is now in recession for the first time in 17 odd years.  Worrying times.  We spoke to businesses across a variety of sectors and the mood was one of doom and gloom.  We spoke to accountants and they were fearful for their client bases and their own potentially dwindling revenues.  Remember how it was?

Pay squeezed, investment held.

Fast forward to the present day.  Now looking back…. what did you cut?  Marketing?  Training?  They are the usuals.

We have a theory.  We think UK plc took up DIY.  Not with a hammer and spirit level but shifting from an outsourcing mentality, to bringing things back in house.  Finding a cheaper way to do the things they feel they needed to do, while taking a blunt axe to those things that weren’t essential.

Our marketing contacts weren’t very busy, our accounting and legal contacts weren’t as busy as usual.  Builders and tradesman starting to twiddle thumbs more.

All because we were collectively squeezing profit out of the equation and doing things ourselves.

Ask yourself why social media was so popular in 2009.  Was it because everyone was generating oodles of new business?  Was it because every twitterer couldn’t get enough money earned from this new marketing space?

Or was it because the activity was deemed to be free?

After all…. can’t anyone type ramblings (well judging by my tweets and blogs yes!!!)… can’t anyone put their details in LinkedIn?  So all of a sudden UK plc tightened it’s belt by doing things on the cheap.  DIY websites (CMS), DIY marketing (social media), DIY training (or maybe that was none at all), DIY business advice and internally driven change (aside from distressed change).

Our question in all this.  Is going down the DIY route the best?  How wide is the skills gap when compared to PSTDIFY (Pay Someone To Do It For You!)?

We’ve seen it in our sector too.

Just the other day, mentioning no names but you know who you are!?!?!  One of our contacts gave us a call.  Just a simple catch up call.  They’d been quiet for almost a year after we’d asked them for some information.

The nutshell….. they had gone and DIY’d a survey.  Not an online one.  Not a paper one.  A telephone one.

A girl internally (with a business or research background I wonder?) had been charged with ringing clients.  Now…. in our experience, if there is anything that is highly skilled, it’s speaking with business owners who are fretting about their business future!

So picture the scene, business owner sat at their desk.  The phone rings.  They answer it because it’s from a supplier.  And then they are asked a range of questions.

We don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush here…. and please don’t think less of us for saying this.  But do you always tell the truth?  Not in a bad way… but in a way that sort of helps people and doesn’t hurt or upset them?

So if a girl from a supplier calls you and asks how things are… there’s a better than average chance you might slightly pass over the slow service you had the other week, or that prices went up or quality diminished or that you never hear from them other than when they are trying to sell you something.

There’s a place for telephone interviews.  The danger of DIY though is the effect of ignorance.  You can lead without realising.  You can coerce without realising.  And as a result, you can find out nothing of value…. without realising.

The more personal you make a feedback exercise, the more in danger you are of glossing over the truth.  It’s essential to find out the bad stuff so you can fix it.

Finally, consider this.  If you do it yourself, you save cost.  Other than the labour you use and any allocation of fixed costs and obviously the costs directly associated with the exercise, phone, print and so on.  However…. are these costs that you might save worth more than the loss of value, missed opportunity and failed understanding by asking the wrong questions, in the wrong order with an influencing tone of voice?

The clients who are too nice to tell you the truth,  the contacts who are influenced to give you a positive answer and therefore distort the results…. and maybe the lost opportunities to generate new ideas and maybe some new business leads.  

Is it time for business to start shifting away from DIY and adding value again, instead of saving cost?