By Tim Williams

By Tim Williams

“The essence of positioning is sacrifice” is an axiom that has guided many professional service firm transformations.  Sacrifice can also be characterized as “trade-offs.”  Every strategic decision you make about the direction of your firm involves some sort of trade off.  Increasing salaries may mean decreasing year-end bonuses.  Trading a live receptionist for an automated phone system may increases efficiency but will probably decrease client satisfaction.

Deciding that your firm will stand for something instead of trying to stand for everything requires sacrifice.  Deciding that you’ll focus on some markets but not all markets and offer some services but not all services means sacrifice.  (Of course sacrifice is probably a bad word to apply to these decisions because it usually connotes that you’ll be receiving something less, when in fact a focused strategy produces much better business results — which is why I prefer the term “trade-offs”).

[propulsion chart 1]

But here’s an important point to consider.  In a business relationship, both sides – the firm and the client – are involved in forms of sacrifice. To the extent that your firm doesn’t sacrifice (focus), you make your clients sacrifice.  Clients who work with unfocused firms get suboptimal results.  The most focused firms are the ones who excel at their work and provide clients with the most value.

As a professional knowledge firm, you goal should be to reduce client sacrifice by increasing your own sacrifice.  By increasing yours, you reduce theirs; the concepts are interrelated.

[propulsion chart 2]

As a wise person once said, you can stand for something, but you can’t stand for everything.  Trying to develop a sacrifice-free business strategy is not only an illusion; it’s a poor way to cultivate satisfied and successful clients.