TALKING SALES 42: "Competitor landscape in professional services"

John Smibert

Competitive Landscape business-sword-fightInterview by John Smibert - competitive landscape

Keith DugdaleIn this interview Keith Dugdale reminds us that our competitor today may not be who our competitor was yesterday.  And our competitor tomorrow will certainly be new to us.

In most industries the competitive landscape is changing at an accelerating pace.  Keith uses some examples in various professional services industries that are quite dramatic. Essentially we need to think differently about how we differentiate.

So what does this mean to us?  Keith talks about how we need to take initiatives to respond to these changes in order to succeed. He emphasises that knowledge is no longer a differentiator. He stresses that  we "need to have the confidence and the skill to hold the mirror up to our client and help them with their business, help them with their career". See more of the interview below

Keith is the owner of Business of Trust, the co-author of Smarter Selling, an international speaker and business coach.

See more of the 'TALKING SALES' series here

Interview

John: Welcome back! I've got Keith Dugdale with me again. Keith, you've got some great thoughts around what's happening in the competitive landscape, particularly in the professional services industries. Could you expand on that a little bit?

Keith: Yes. If you look back five years ago, maybe even three years ago, if you were a law firm you knew who your competitors were.

John: Other law firms.

Keith: Other law firms, obviously, because they were all competing on the same expertise basis.

John: And that's not the case any more?

Keith: It's not the case any more, and it's very much not the case, and they're all recognising it's not the case.

John: And it's not just law firms.

Keith: No. If you look at the accounting firms, typically they knew-you know, if you look at the big four accounting firms, they knew who the other big three were and what they're all doing.

John: Yes, and engineering firms, and...

Keith: Absolutely the same. So, what's happened recently is you're seeing... So, Price Waterhouse Coopers, for example, is now the 10th largest law firm in the world.

John: Yes, right!

Keith: And so to compete with that the law firms are setting up consulting businesses, and the engineering firms are similarly setting up full-blown management consulting businesses to attack the accounting. They've all got the same aim, and the aim is very, very simple. They've recognised that the knowledge that they have used as kind of a differentiator in the past is now a commodity, and that's proven by research such as the Oxford University research, which shows that 47% of jobs that exist now will not exist very soon.

John: We talk across all industries, that just about everything we're selling these days is becoming a commodity.

Keith: Absolutely.

John: So, it's the same issue in professional services world.

Keith: Oh, absolutely. I was talking to an accounting firm in Perth the other day, who said that they get their advice for their clients from Google, because it's more accurate and more up-to-date than their traditional research tools.

John: There you go - incredible!

Keith: Absolutely. So, what we're seeing now is that all these firms now are desperately trying to get their relationships with the economic buyers - to steal Miller Heiman's language - with the C-Suite. Since the C-Suites have very limited time, the C-Suite are being approached by everybody, and what we have been told is - by a number of people in global organisations who sit at that level - they will give their time to the people who give them the most value for that time.

John: Okay, but you're saying knowledge is not value any more.

Keith: Knowledge is a given.

John: Right.

Keith: Unless you're able to differentiate at a much broader level, and able to prove to that person that you are totally trustworthy. And you're not an expert in everything, but you have the confidence and the skill to hold the mirror up to that person and help them with their business, help them with their career.

John: Right.

Keith: When they need the thing that you actually charge for they would come to you, because they will trust you.

John: Okay. So, the knowledge is not value any more. In the words you've just said, it's putting the mirror up and helping them reflect themselves on the business and what they're doing right and wrong, and helping them improve their business.

Keith: Absolutely. The knowledge has to be there, but only when they need that knowledge. This is much broader than that.

John: Yeah. But, as you say, they've got access to the knowledge anyway.

Keith: Absolutely.

John: They don't have to come to you for it.

Keith: Absolutely. Occasionally there is a rocket scientist, occasionally there's someone who knows it - whatever it is - better than anyone else, but they're very few and far between.

John: But even with the rocket science, it's how you apply that science; it's how you apply that knowledge, it's not the knowledge itself.

Keith: Spot on. And so rather than just applying the knowledge for the sake of it, it has to be within the context of where that person is trying to take their business, as opposed to a "knowledge for knowledge sake".

John: And that raises another point in my mind. A lot of people try and get the cookie-cutter approach to every customer, and of course every customer's different.

Keith: Absolutely right, and every customer-we think of a customer as a human being.

John: Right.

Keith: So, it's not just every organisation's different; every customer is different.

John: Exactly. I think there's some real gems in there, and I really appreciate it. So, the bottom line is that the landscape has changed dramatically, and the competitive landscape. Now it's very much the world of everybody competing on a whole host of levels, but it's not the knowledge that is the basis for what they're delivering in terms of value, it's the way they help the customer with that knowledge.

Keith: Absolutely right.

John: Okay. Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to the next time we talk!

Keith: Thank you, John!

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Other interviews with Keith Dugdale:

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