Let's face it, Most professional service firms' value propositions really suck. There are two reasons for this sad state of affairs. The easiest to fix is when your firm has a good value proposition but you just haven't figured out how to communicate it. The other more common reason is that you just don't have a strong value proposition to offer. You do pretty much the same thing your competitors do for just about the same price. Hard to make that one very compelling. Hold the pig down and pass the lipstick.

Value Proposition Defined
Let's start by nailing down what we mean by a value proposition. A value proposition is a marketing message that conveys the benefits a client receives for the costs they incur. “Our average client saves over $12,000 per year on their IT costs” for example. Pretty simple concept. Here's another: “We offer superior customer service and world class technical competence at a competitive price”. A lot fuzzier and less compelling, but still a value proposition.

So how do you improve your value proposition?

There are four key questions for you to consider. We developed these as part of an overall firm self-assessment that accompanied our new book Spiraling Up:How To Create a High Growth, High Value Professional Services Firm. These questions focus on the key issues that trip up firms as they try to communicate why a customer should choose them over another competitor.

1. Does your service produce a direct economic benefit for clients? Can you prove it?
Yes, I know it's really two questions, but they are closesly related. Knowing that your service produces an economic benefit without being able to prove it is not much better than not being able to produce an economic benefit in the first place.

Money saved or money made is perhaps the easiest benefit for potential clients to understand. It's also very compelling. So if you believe that your service does have a direct economic impact, the first thing you must do is set about proving it. Do a study or collect case studies and testimonials that talk about specific savings or increased profits. The more specific the better.

If your service does not produce an economic impact, consider changing what you offer so it will. This may be easy or difficult, but it is one of the best ways to directly impact the growth prospects of your firm.

2. Will it clearly make their life easier? Can you prove it?
This is the other main benefit area for professional services. If you don't save or make money for your clients, do you save them time, worry or inconvenience? If not in absolute terms, perhaps your service is easier to use, faster, or more flexible than your competitors. Sometimes this area veers into psychological considerations such as reducing worry or conveying piece of mind.

This is often an important consideration for firms that charge premium fees. Why would someone spend more to produce a comparable result. Perhaps so they can rest easy knowing that they have the top team on the job.

Of course the key issue in this area is proving your claim. Often this is done through developing a very strong brand image or reputation. Case studies and well presented testimonials are also very helpful. Harder support evidence such as studies are certainly not out of the question, though.

3. Does your service address issues that potential clients really care about?
Ah, there's the rub for many professional services firms. While their benefits may be solid enough, many firms are not addressing issues of top concern to their clients. I talk with many firms that lament that their potential clients should be concerned about X, Y or Z, but are not.

With a little education, you can help a clients understand the importance of an overlooked issue. But trying to get potential clients interested in an issue that they just don't care about is typically a losing battle.

The best course is often to retool your service offering to address a problem that clients do care about. It is certainly true that you can get in front of an issue that you know will generate interest in the future (for example a new government regulation). But if clients aren't interested and they will not be forced to deal with it, it will be hard to be a successful missionary.

4. Can you communicate the value you bring in a clear and compelling way?
Be clear about the specific benefits you bring to your clients. If you understand them, it is much easier to communicate them. Of course, the more specific the benefit the better.

Start with your satisfied clients. Ask them to describe the benefits of working with your firm then listen to the words they use and the stories they tell. These client stories are great fodder for case studies and testimonials, and they can help you articulate your firm's benefits.

If you are having trouble on this front it is usually because you don't have a strong value proposition to start with. Then it's time to rethink what you do and who you do it for.