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?