Growing a firm or a practice starts with having a distinct perspective on clients’ challenges. Often, that perspective starts with research. Here’s how.
Articulating a clear, compelling, distinct point-of-view is critical to the success of any firm growth strategy or thought leadership endeavor. While your expertise is the backbone of your positioning (it describes the problems you solve and the types of organizations you solve them for), your POV presents a better way to solve them. It is the perspective that sits on top of your expertise like that top layer of rich buttercream icing on a chocolate cake. It attracts some people — ooh; I love icing. And it repels others — yuck, buttercream!
Often your POV derives from the hard-earned wisdom of your subject matter experts. It emerges over decades of working with clients and seeing the patterns that emerge repeatedly.
But that is also frequently not the case. Often marketing leaders find that their most important practices don’t have anything compelling or different to say. There are several reasons why:
- Most firms don’t create the time and space necessary in their culture for consultants to reflect on what they learn from their client work. People just aren’t given, and don’t take, the time necessary to step back and synthesize what they’re learning along the way.
- For many consultants, 4-5 years serving a handful of clients is more like a discrete collection of 15-20 disparate projects strung together over time. Yes, they’ve been working in a narrow band of companies or problem sets, but the way the work is being delivered in such a way that they’re not really building any meaningful accretive insight.
- Often the sample size is just too small. As a successful consultant, how many clients do you really work with over the course of a decade in a deep, meaningful way? 2 or 3? Maybe 5 or 10? The patterns consultants are seeing are deriving from a woefully small set of companies. What if you’re not working with ANY high performing organizations and you don’t even know it?
As it turns out, most compelling POVs are discovered through research. The Challenger Sale, Built to Last, Good to Great, Net Promoter Score, Reengineering the Corporation. Many of the most influential management insights — the POVs that shaped or redefined markets — started as tightly bound research inquiries.
If you’re struggling to derive a POV for one of your practices one of the best places to start is with research.
Start with a Foundational Quantitative Study
To do this type of research we recommend starting with a tightly bound leaders/laggards research inquiry. Focus on one mission critical problem that your ideal clients face and develop a study that explores how they’re currently solving it.
For instance, maybe you want to understand how manufacturers are navigating today’s supply chain disruptions and working to avoid them in the future. Maybe you want to study how Fortune 500 companies launch, nurture, and grow new ventures. Or maybe you want to understand how mid-market B2C advertisers are leveraging data to drive revenue growth.
Regardless of what your topic is, the quantitative study is designed to help you identify and characterize companies that are already solving the problem with remarkable success. What processes are they using? What structures do they have in place? How are they staffing and organizing teams? What behaviors do they bring to the task?
An effective study is usually 30-35 questions, and it includes a leaders/laggards identifier. This is a question you can use to identify top performers. You can identify them objectively — companies with the fastest revenue growth or the lowest employee turnover, for instance. Or you can identify them subjectively — let executives self-identify by indicating how they feel their company is performing on a given dimension relative to their peers (usually they’re right).
Regardless of how you do it, make sure you can make a comparison in your research of top performers and the general population. This enables you to find those characteristics, processes, and behaviors that the leaders apply to solve the problem that others simply do not. In a sense, it becomes the base ingredients of your POV — the sugar in that icing!
Leverage Qualitative Case Study Research
The next step is to spend 1:1 time with the executives from the identified leader organizations. Schedule structured qualitative sessions to perform deep case study research. Get underneath the data set. What are they really doing to solve this problem? What mindsets are they bringing to the task? What motivations? What is unique about their company culture relative to other companies you’ve worked with?
Your qualitative case study research is where you will identify novel ways to solve the problem you’ve not thought of before. It’s where Hedgehogs, BHAGs, and Challenger selling methodologies are really discovered. It’s the secret ingredient in that icing that makes it the best thing your clients ever tasted.
Synthesize What You’ve Learned
Your research findings will never be obvious. We all hope that the answer will just jump out of the data and the interviews — oh, solving this supply chain quagmire is a cinch! The reality is it takes some work.
The last step in the process is to make sense of what you’ve discovered. The key here is engage as many perspectives as you can. Work with your subject matter experts to see how the findings jive with their experience. Share your conclusions with some of your most trusted clients. Do they agree with what you’ve uncovered?
Your goal is to deliver a solution to the problem that is not only a better one, but also a more elegant one. A POV that can be easily understood if not readily applied.
Where to Start?
The best place to start is to look at the POVs for each of your firm’s collective practices. Which ones are clear? Which ones are compelling? Which ones pass the 7 tests of an effective POV? Pick the practice that has the most growth potential, needs the most work, and start a conversation with the practice leader.