We live in a world of bewildering choices. We face choices every day as a consumer. Do we shop online or in the supermarket? If so which store? Which range? Which flavour? Which price band? Or for some, how much do we want to save the planet?
Equally, choice extends to professional services; to our selection of lawyer, accountant, consultant or surveyor. Do we prefer the scale of a multinational or the service of a regional specialist? Should we plump for global coverage or tradition?
Scratch the surface though, and our real choices may well be fewer. In the supermarket, Tesco's supplier could well be the same as Waitrose's and may be the only one on the market. Similarly in the professional world, our regional lawyer may now provide identical services to the company with offices in every continent.
Despite the protestations of countless marketing departments, many professional service organisations are actually providing pretty much the same thing. As service offerings broaden, uniformity beckons. Accountants become consultants, lawyers absorb accountants. Regions begin to blur. Is Edinburgh the predominant UK regional financial centre, or is Leeds, or Bristol or Birmingham? The globe shrinks and merges. Canary Wharf resembles New York, which resembles Sydney, and ever more resembles Beijing and Mumbai. Despite local legal systems, professionals increasingly come from the same stock, through standardised courses, run by cloned universities and global business schools. In our barrier-free virtual geography of the 21st century, old-school expansion through territorial or sectorial acquisitions has become expensive, ungainly and potentially value-destroying.
So what can a professional organisation do to genuinely differ?
Try stopping and thinking.
By thinking we may solve our own puzzle. Traditional differentiators built on sectors, services and geography grow irrelevant. In their place, how you think and how you act, starts to triumph over what you do and where you do it. Thinking that bit harder, that bit cleverer, that bit more innovatively - that delivers genuine "thought leadership", and hard-edged advantage.
Simply put, clients progressively favour advisors whose thinking enables them to outwit their challengers. Thought leadership becomes a fearsome weapon in the competition war. But success is only achieved if the difference thought leadership brings, the competitive advantage, can be pressed home. Really smart thinkers adopt innovative concepts such as online video and social media to lift their clever thoughts above the rest. Indeed nailing the right method to steer potential clients to spot your difference, your thought leadership, is arguably cutting-edge thinking in itself.
This blog was written by David Mellor.