This post, first published in February 2014 and edited in 2023, offers examples of well-positioned consulting, advisory, investment and IT services firms for each of five proven positioning models. Use it to help visualize effective positioning in action.
POSITIONING IS FUNDAMENTAL TO FIRM BUSINESS STRATEGY
A well-positioned firm is one that has the ability to attract the types of clients it really wants, to perform the work it finds most rewarding, on its preferred terms, while making more money doing it. As a fundamental business strategy, positioning is a means of narrowing the marketplace.
Instead of marketing to every company on the planet that could conceivably benefit from your services, focus on a much narrower market segment. Position around a segment where you can deliver the greatest value and more successfully tailor your services to better solve the needs of an ideal client type.
Done correctly, positioning simultaneously narrows your field of vision while reducing the readily available number of substitutes to your offering (i.e. it minimizes the competition). Well-positioned firms have identified a space in the market where they become not one of hundreds or thousands of choices, but one of just a handful of choices for their ideal clients. Their marketing is more efficient and effective. Setting them up to win more of the business they pursue. On their terms.
THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SUCCESSFULLY POSITION A FIRM
We recently revised an article on 5 Proven Ways to Position a Professional Services Firm, which takes a deep dive into the nuances of the most successful positioning models that firms can employ. Here, we offer additional examples of firms that are doing positioning the right way within each of these categories.
Firms using this model have deep expertise in a relatively narrow service offering, capability, or process specialization that can apply to a wide range of clients across various industries. They’ve segmented the market based on what they do and their unique way of doing it, rather than the specific kinds of clients they do it for. Nevertheless, they narrow the market to a group of potential clients and buyers that have a specific need and/or align with a specific point of view. Some examples:
- Darkhorse Analytics is a data analytics and data visualization consultancy that helps organizations leverage their data to inform the public or enhance decision-making.
- Delve is a digital consulting firm that specializes in helping companies manage their first-party data and activate it to drive brand and performance advertising.
Vertically positioned firms serve a range of needs for clients within one or a handful of select industry verticals. They narrow the market by industry and position themselves as experts in solving problems specific to clients’ needs in those express verticals.
Smaller firms typically do better with just one industry. Larger firms can successfully straddle multiple industries, which affords some revenue diversification and helps reduce risk. However, this only really works when a firm has sufficient resources (capital and people) to devote deeply and meaningfully to each industry segment. Some examples:
- HT Engineering is extremely specific about helping oil and gas pipeline operators in the Midwest with their end-to-end energy transportation infrastructure needs including engineering, integrity management, regulatory compliance, and automation support.
- TBM caters to the closely related industries of manufacturing and distribution, providing operations and supply chain consulting expertise with deep expertise in everything from management systems to leadership, talent, and technology.
- Impact 21 also focuses on closely related industries—retail and wholesale—with solutions focused on customer centricity and transforming business to realize new profitable growth through better customer experiences.
- Clarkston Consulting is a slightly larger organization that could best be described as a diversified firm that serves the life sciences, consumer products, and retail industries with a range of services covering technology, sales, marketing, human capital, change management, and supply chain challenges.
- Tercera is a technology-focused investment firm the differentiates itself by investing in (and empowering) people (not products) who make technology work, including the integration, consulting, and managed service providers who are leading the ‘third wave of cloud computing.’
Market Size or Maturity Positioning
Another effective way to segment the market is to focus on businesses of a certain type or in a specific stage of their growth journey, such as venture-backed start-ups, upper middle market companies, private equity-backed companies, or the Fortune 500. This positioning approach touts unique business models and services designed to address an ideal client’s challenges at key points in their maturity or that are specific to their unique business situation. Some examples:
- Jump Associates works with the world’s most admired companies—Google, Nike, Samsung, Target, and Virgin, to name a few—to help them overcome their most pressing growth challenges.
- The Family Business Consulting Group supports family-owned businesses in planning for the future of both the family and the business, ultimately helping to strengthen organizations to thrive for many generations to come.
Professional service firms can also align their offerings with a specific role or function within an organization and aim their marketing directly at those professionals’ most pressing challenges. Some examples:
- Alexander Group works with chief revenue and sales officers looking to drive sales ROI and improve revenue through data-driven insights and actionable recommendations.
- Teneo is positioned as the global CEO advisory firm providing financial, management, people, risk, strategy, and communications counsel to help the most senior organizational leaders address their most complex issues.
IT service firms often find their market niche by positioning themselves as experts in an emerging or established technology platform. Some firms further differentiate themselves, and narrow the market even more, by pointing to capabilities for optimizing specific features of the technology or helping organizations achieve specific goals with a technology-set.
- Stitch is an IT services firm that specializes in helping marketing leaders drive customer engagement through the pairing of technologies Braze and Segment.
- Coastal Cloud is a Salesforce expert partner providing consulting, implementation, and managed services for businesses, nonprofits, and the public sector.
- Anavate Partners is an Anaplan partner bringing unparalleled focus, dedication, and expertise to helping companies build their connected planning capabilities.
- Black Diamond Advisory, a Tercera portfolio company, is the largest global advisor of OneStream Software committed to offering industry-specific expertise to deliver a world-class user experience.
- Hakkoda, also a Tercera supported firm, is a data engineering consultancy specializing in Snowflake and offering a cloud-like subscription model with on-demand access to experts and services.
Take note of how many firms are now mashing up different aspects of positioning. Firms are becoming more focused in the clients they serve, the problems they solve, and the approach they use to solve them. One could argue that Stitch is simultaneously positioned around advancing the needs of senior marketing leaders and helping them leverage the technologies of Braze and Stitch. Or that Delve is positioned both around direct-to-consumer brands and their unique ability to help marketers advance data-first marketing activities. Both firms are narrowing in on their ideal client vertically, functionally, and horizontally at the same time.
WHERE DOES YOUR FIRM FIT IN?
Is it easy for your firm to identify with one of positioning models above? And if so, is your positioning as crystalized as it is in the examples we’ve shared? If you’re not sure, take a look at our article, 7 Ways to Determine if Your Positioning Works.
If you think you’re falling short, consider investing some time in better defining the types of clients you most want to serve, the specific problems you solve, and where you add the most value. The more buttoned up you can be when articulating these details, the more success you will have in building a high-performing marketing program.