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7 Keys to Professional Services Value: A Client-Side Perspective

Today, professional services teams must help clients do more with less — less staff, smaller budgets and fewer resources in general. The idea is to deliver the right expertise at the right time, so clients can meet their objectives while keeping headcount down, plus not pay for training or staff to handle occasional tasks. When all of this comes together, the client gets the best value. It's a win-win for the client and the professional services team.

Any definition of value centers on solving problems. But which ones? How? What's the ROI? To define value clearly, a professional services team and its client must have mutual understandings.

Here are 7 best practices to help determine value, from the point of view that matters most — the client's:

7 keys to value for professional services teams & clients – By following these best practices, the Professional Services team and client will share the same idea of value. (Source: Neustar / Click to Enlarge)1. How Well Do You Know Me?

Clients expect your team to get up to speed quickly, typically on your own time (non-billable time). They count on you to learn their business and technical environment, plus their biggest problems and the business impacts. To meet this expectation, you need to invest in discovery. The trick is spending sufficient time but not too much. A good yardstick is 10% of your total time. Much less than that won't yield the details you need to get started, much more and the client will think you're dragging your feet and wasting money. Whether you charge an hourly rate or a flat fee, your client expects returns sooner rather than later. The good news is that clients respond well when you're genuinely interested in learning about their business processes. They'll even give you on-the-job briefings from time-to-time — so long as you remain attentive and don't forget what you're hearing.

2. How Fast Can You Find the Problem?

Speaking of quick results, you won't get them unless you quickly identify the problems. And of course, the client is anxious to zero in on root causes ASAP. One great way to make that happen is to enlist the client's help. Ask them to provide clear details on the problems they're experiencing. What are the immediate symptoms? How are they hurting the overall business? Are there existing metrics that can serve as benchmarks? If you don't get what you need at first, keep asking until you do. It's a natural part of discovery. Most clients are glad to assist.

3. Are You Sending the Right People?

If you're the client, you want to work with talent that matches the task at hand.After all, more than anything you're paying for expertise. Smart clients ask lots of questions about relevant skills and experience. For instance, what industry certifications does your team hold? Which certifications are most applicable? Can you share sample reports similar to your client's deliverables? The client may even want to interview members of your team. In fact, you can proactively offer this information before the client requests it. You'll show confidence in your expertise and start building trust.

4. Do Your Methodologies Work?

Clients looking for value put a premium on efficiency. While creativity is appreciated, it's even more important to show the soundness of your methods, the structure you bring to the job and the depth of your technical thinking. It's important for clients to see professional services as a discipline, one with proven methodologies and sound supporting processes, but with flexibility and room for fresh ideas and creative thinking. Be ready to provide examples of relevant past engagements, noting how your processes helped deliver results. Or supply references, especially former clients willing to vouch for your methodologies. Prospects want to know your team's not just winging it.

Evaluating Professional Services: Key Questions to Ask (Download PDF)5. How Do You Measure Success?

Progress, and ultimately value, must be quantified. But first, you and the client need to agree on the measurements. KPIs (key performance indicators) are vital. Whichever ones you use, however you express them, make sure to explain them clearly and get client buy-in. Again, invite the client to share their ideas and aspirations. What does success look like to them? Beyond making problems go away, which metrics complete their picture of a successful engagement? Once you've nailed them down, use KPIs to demonstrate progress on a regular basis. One tip:Figure out a manageable number of KPIs. If you have too few indicators, you lack sufficient data. Too many and you suffer death by process and reporting.

6. Show Me the ROI

With the right expertise and methods, your PS team should be able to deliver faster resolutions, which in turn should generate faster ROI. If they're like most, your client is eager to include results in their next weekly report, highlighted in yellow and festooned with snazzy clip art. Some returns, however, will be more apparent downstream. If you're solving a problem that costs the client $X a month, it may take several months for the savings to have real impact. Do the math so the client knows. Help them understand, in dollars and cents, all the ways your work is paying off.

Keep in mind a client ROI may be qualitative, not just quantitative. A qualitative ROI for one client, for example, may be expressed as a "comfort level", as in the case of knowing you have adequate disaster planning for your network resources.

Quantitative returns may take a while to realize, as in the case of reduced headcount due to improved efficiencies, or lower risks due to improved infrastructure. In all cases, you should seek agreement on the ROI timeline up front so that longer timelines aren't a cause for disappointment later.

7. At the End of the Day, Help Me Do More with Less

Your client will want to know:

  • Can you solve a wider range o problems than my in-house team — or specific problems faster and more effectively?
  • Are you the best alternative to adding costly headcount?
  • Can I skip the expense of specialized training my staff won't use that much?
  • Most all, will you make me look good?
  • If you can answer yes to these questions and prove the value of your expertise, you'll be on your way to a solid relationship and a new contract.

Conclusion

Successful professional service organization's walk a thin line. On one side, they need to deliver high-value, low-cost, flexible services. On the other side, they must deliver high-margins through high utilization, with just enough resources from their own company. When you collaborate with the client, you can align their goals with yours and manage respective constraints. These Seven Keys offer a framework to get that dialog going.

Neustar

About Neustar – Every day, the world generates roughly 2.5 quadrillion bits of data. Neustar isolates certain elements and analyzes, simplifies and edits them to make precise and valuable decisions that drive results. Learn More

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