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Professional Practice Positioning
Becoming a professional requires more than certifications. Beyond being what you are, it's also the way you encounter everyone.
What exactly are your clients asking you for?
Is it all about computer products they may want to buy? Not likely. Since the arrival of cloud computing, fewer and fewer companies are buying servers, storage, or other similar equipment. Instead, they’re subscribing to cloud services and need help to identify which ones would be best for them. They’re looking to you for that valuable advice.
But how do you evaluate which cloud services to recommend to them? You’ll have to know more about their business, their objectives, their operations, and more. You need to learn a whole lot more about them before you can recommend anything to them. Once you have learned, you can compare what you know about them with the cloud services you trust and figure out which ones are best aligned and will deliver the greatest value.
So what do you call all that?
In the purest sense of the word, the learning before recommending process just discussed is the definition of consulting. When you take the time to learn about their business and then use what you’ve learned to make recommendations and give guidance, that’s consulting.
Someone once said, “a consultant is someone who looks at your watch and tells you what time it is.”
But approach this from the client’s point of view. They know plenty about their business and their industry. That’s their expertise, that which pays the bills and keeps the proverbial lights on.
They don’t know as much about information technologies (IT). That’s not their core business. It is, however, yours.
Other things they don’t know as much about usually include the practice of law. They have lawyers for that. Or accounting, taxation, valuation, and all that financial processing. They have accountants for that.
As humans, they need to take care of their health, but they know little about medicine or the healing arts. They have doctors for that.
And for information technologies and communications, they have you.
What’s the difference between all those other professionals and you? Not much at all. You all provide important services in return for a fee. The fundamentals of those relationships really are just that simple.
So, again, what’s the difference?
The Differences Between IT Service Providers and Other Service Providers
Just like you, the lawyers, accountants, doctors, and others are service providers.
Unlike you, they have licenses, accreditation from educational institutions, and other things to assure clients of their professionalism. They are certified as practitioners of the services they provide.
In IT, there are certifications from manufacturers, or industry associations, but there is no professional accreditation following a defined course of study. There’s no appellation such as Doctor before their names, or Esquire after. Nothing assures clients that we are certified, approved, educated, proven professionals.
That may be the only difference!
Is Yours a Professional Practice?
It’s important to emphasize that I’m not indulging in semantics here. It’s not simply about what we call ourselves. Companies in the IT industry may see themselves as Managed Service Providers (MSP), Cloud Service Providers (CSP), Internet Service Providers (ISP), and some may view themselves as generalists who prefer to be considered information technology service providers (ITSP).
They may also call themselves systems integrators, network integrators, or simply integrators.
The point is not what they call themselves. The point is how they conduct themselves, position themselves with clients, and how they consider and regard themselves. As professionals!
“Professional” is not the creation of any certification. One may receive professional certification, professional accreditation, professional licensing, but that’s not what makes them a professional. Their behavior, the way they engage with clients, their commitment to delivering extraordinary service, those are some of the elements that make them professionals.
Professionals talk about desired business outcomes, and the value that comes with them. They aren’t just concerned about what they implement and integrate for clients. They’re most concerned with how those clients are going to use those technologies. How the technologies will help them reduce operating costs and increase productivity. How the work they do on behalf of the client impacts the client’s profitability.
It Shows Up in Their Conversations
The easiest way to determine if someone you’re interacting with is a professional does not require looking at any sheepskin they may have posted on their wall. Nor does it require examination of their educational transcripts. When you’re engaged in conversation with someone, and you immediately feel their concern for the welfare of your business, and you see them working hard to understand your operations better, and the dynamics between your people, these are the elements which assure you that you are dealing with a professional.
Going to Market as a Professional
We don’t necessarily see much advertising or marketing for legal, medical, or financial professionals. They tend to build their client base and grow their practice through referrals. Many ITSPs find themselves doing exactly the same. They don’t turn to a “marketer” who tries to get their message to “rise above the noise.”
Instead, they usually turn to their existing clients who, if satisfied, will gladly refer them to others.
So how does any ITSP “hang out their shingle” as a professional practice and go to market with that positioning?
It begins internally. Before you can convince clients that yours is truly a professional practice, your own people have to believe it, embrace it, and downright live it every day. They have to talk the professional talk and walk the professional walk. They have to see themselves as professionals before they or you can convince anyone else.
Clients quickly recognize a professional when they see one. It’s in the way they carry themselves, the way they speak. It’s their mode of professional dress and demeanor. When your people live the professional life, your company receives professional recognition.
It’s also in the quality of the methodology your people use, the precision and diligence they demonstrate in their approach to the work, and the refusal to accept inferior work.
Professional respect is the reward for professional conduct, and the quality that requires.
Is Your Company Positioned as a Professional Practice?
Do your clients see you as professionals? Or are you just the computer repair guys? I once brought my entire consulting team to meet the CIO of a major New York investment firm. When I introduced us using the name of our company, the CIO recognized our name and replied, “Oh yes. You’re the Dell laptop guys.”
Inside, I was devastated. Externally, I immediately set upon resetting his identification of us to be the professional consulting practice we really were. Clearly, our sales representatives had not done that, and had kept this executive happy by providing excellent price and delivery on laptops. In my head a voice was screaming, “we need a separate brand for our services.”
Today, you’re not as likely to be known for great price and delivery on products, and that’s great. You really want to be known as the best professional IT service provider around. Executives feel comfortable sharing challenging details about their business operations with professionals. Not with a computer repair guy.
Beyond the technical training you provide to your technology team, you’ll need to provide all your people with the personal presentation skills, the articulation skills, the business management and operations foundations, and much more to make this transition. Today’s ITSP must be able to discuss business strategy, operational improvement, marketing and sales actions, and anything else technology touches in any given business.
All your team members must be able to recognize and acknowledge the potential improvements they can make in their client’s bottom line, and translate the technology accordingly.
Many of our industry’s Learning Centers offer such training today. Look for a Professional Skills academy withing them. You may also want to check out the many educational programs of the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA – comptia.org) and learn more about the new National Society of Information Technology Service Providers (NSITSP.org) and also explore the venerable ASCIIGroup (ascii.com). These are strong, valuable communities dedicated to supporting everyone in the IT industry.
If there are similar organizations you can recommend, please be sure to let us know about them in the Comments section. For me, the IT community has nurtured me, supported me, developed me, and helped me to more deeply understand the professional path I have chosen. Let it do the same for you.