Michael Porter’s famous value chain did NOT have me at hello. I’ve never found it a particularly valuable tool in crafting professional service firm strategy. Most firms don’t talk about “Inbound and Outbound Logistics” or have “Procurement” as a major support function. Distinguishing between “Operations” and “Service” in a service business is just plain confusing.
In the spirit of further developing the theory of the professional service firm, here’s my go at a professional services value chain…
WAYS TO ADD VALUE
Firms can add to their profitability and competitiveness (my definition of adding value) in the following ways:
#1 Profiling and Pitching
#2 Resourcing and Communicating
#3 Delivering and Controlling
#4 Connecting and Innovating
USING THE MODEL
Where to invest
The value chain model can be used to assess where resources are currently deployed and where they should be. For example, most law firms put a lot of time and energy into just five areas: Brand and Network Building; Technical and Commercial Capability; Service Delivery, QA and Billing; Team Engagement and Client Relationship Management. This means that seven other value-adding areas are potentially sub-optimised. A more deliberate focus in each of these areas could add up to a significant improvement in profitability and competitiveness.
Where to innovate
Many professional service firms are looking to innovate and “digitise” their business. The model can be used to determine what elements of the value-chain should be the focus of change and investment. For example, rather than spreading themselves too thinly, a firm might want to focus their energy and dollars on getting closer to their key clients and enhancing client connectivity and engagement. This would mean an emphasis on Client Engagement and Co-creation, Client Relationship Management and Client Education and Support.
What should we make, buy or borrow
By analysing its value chain, a firm can decide which elements it should make, which it should buy, and which it should borrow. So, for example, one of my accounting firm clients has engaged a specialist lead generation company to help out with Sales and Pricing. They recognised that prospecting for new clients was a key weakness, and that re-training the firm’s partners would be like flogging a dead horse. They pay the consultancy $500 for each meeting they set up within defined ‘right client’ parameters.
How do we compare
The value chain model can be used for head-to-head competitor analysis. Further insights can be gained by examining each of the 12 areas, assessing where a firm is ahead, where it’s at par, or where it’s behind its key competitors. A firm can then use the model to decide its core strategy, that is, how it’s going to win and what capabilities will be needed for success. For example, if very few direct competitors are focusing on Resource Planning & Project Management, this might be a source of competitive advantage in the period ahead.
How do we organise
The final application area of the value chain model is to ensure there is oversight of each of the value-adding areas or categories. For example, a firm may elect to create a Resourcing and Communicating SWAT team, with a blend of Practice, IT, HR, Finance and BD executives, charged with identifying and making improvements.
I’ve stuck my neck out and come up with an alternative value chain model. What do you think?
Sorry, Michael. Nothing personal. Just business. Professional service firm business.
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