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How To Differentiate Your Firm: A Case Story

Finding your firm’s differentiators, those characteristics that set your firm apart and give you a competitive advantage, can be quite a challenge for most professional services firms. As a matter of fact, it is a challenge that most firms never quite get right.

But take heart, it can be done. And when it is done well it can yield some pretty impressive results. Today’s case story is a perfect example.

Webmarketing123 is an online marketing firm based in the San Francisco bay area. Nothing unique there. They offer a suite of services including Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC) and Social Media marketing. Still nothing special. For that matter they also have great people, care about their clients results, and love puppies and small children, just like every other professional services firm.

A High Growth Success Story

But consider this. In 2012 they were recognized as one of the Top 10 fastest growing private companies in the entire Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times. This came right on the heels of their inclusion in the INC 500 list of the fastest growing firms in the country. Clearly they are doing something right!

I first met their CEO, Paul Taylor, as part of the research behind Spiraling Up, our book on high growth professional services firms. Since that time they have continued to build an exceptionally strong firm that does many things right.

An Evolving Marketing Strategy

For example, they have long practiced content marketing, offering a popular webinar series and a growing library of relevant eBooks and other publications. They have recently broadened this mix with some well-done video that tells their story in a compelling way.  This has been supplemented with targeted event marketing that adds balance to a well-crafted marketing strategy.

They have also developed a sophisticated tool that allows them to calculate the cost of not using their service. This is a very effective way to demonstrate their value to prospects who are on the fence or need to justify their decision to their superiors. It also opens the door to value-based pricing.

But to my mind one of the most interesting aspects of their success is how they differentiate their firm. They are one of the few firms that have managed to differentiate themselves based on their process. But before we go into more detail, let’s revisit what makes for a good differentiator.

Criteria for a Good Differentiator

A good differentiator must meet three basic criteria.

  1. It must be true.  While it seems pretty obvious, many firms try to use differentiators that are simply not true. Don’t attempt to use a differentiator that you can’t deliver on.  In the end it will damage your reputation (and hence your brand) and erode trust.
  2. It must be meaningful to clients.  Just because a differentiator is true doesn’t mean it matters to clients.  Technical expertise is a perfect example.  Many firms try to use their superior technical expertise as a key differentiator.  The problem is that most clients assume that most firms have sufficient technical expertise, and they simply are not in a position to appreciate different levels of expertise. The net effect is that it fails to become a differentiator.
  3. It must be supportable.  Simple assertions rarely work, especially for qualities such as personal characteristics. “We care more.”  “We give better service.”  “We care about producing results.”  “We have better people.” These are just a few of the often-heard assertions that typically fail the test.  Unless you have a solid answer to the “prove it” challenge, don’t waste your time. 

Differentiators Based on Process

Is there something about your process that is both demonstrably different and has a significant benefit for your client? Simply giving your process a name or illustrating it with boxes and arrows doesn’t cut it.  Sorry.

But some firms do, indeed, have a demonstrably different process.  Webmarketing123 targets technology and manufacturing firms.  While that specialization is something of a differentiator in and of itself, it also sets up another more significant process-based differentiator.

They have developed a unique online marketing implementation process based on Kaizen and 6 Sigma principles.  There are several key advantages to their process.

First, it is much faster to implement than the typical online marketing process. Second, it is very familiar to their client base. Many of their clients already are users of Kaizen or 6 Sigma principles.  Finally, it is very conducive to accountability within their clients’ firm cultures.

Taken together, these benefits are different, verifiable and meaningful to their clients.  In short, it passes the test of a good differentiator. 

One of the things that we have learned about high growth firms is that it is never just one thing that sets a firm up for remarkable success. In that regard, Webmarketing123 is probably no different. They do many things well.

Having said that, I believe that their very different and very effective process is an important component of the value they bring to their clients. It’s a part of their formula that will continue to drive their remarkable success.

For more on high growth firms and their strategies check out Spiraling Up: How to Create a High Growth, High Value Professional Services Firm.

 

Free Book: Spiraling Up - How to Create a High Growth, High Value Professional Services Firm

Author: Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D. Who wears the boots in our office? That would be Lee, our managing partner, who suits up in a pair of cowboy boots every day and drives strategy and research for our clients. With a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, Lee is a former researcher and tenured professor at Virginia Tech, where he became a national authority on organizational behavior management and marketing. He left academia to start up and run three high-growth companies, including an $80 million runaway success story.

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