Differentiation is the Difference Maker

If that’s not a truism I don’t know what is. And yet if you were to look at the market positioning of accounting firms 97.5% all say the same thing about what they do and for whom they do it. They seek to be “different” by talking about their experience and skill, how long they’ve been in practice, how many offices they have, the range of services they offer, the quality of their service, accessibility to “experts” e.g. you’ll get to deal with a partner … blah, blah, blah.
When all firms look and sound the same the only point of difference is likely to be price although things like location may also be important and most important of all is the strength of a referral.

There are however at least 6 ways a firm can be demonstrably different from the rest of the pack. These are:

• They have key alliance partnerships that enable them to deliver significant value to their clients.
• They offer a unique service solution that delivers an outcome that clients can immediately relate to because it eliminates a pain they routinely experience or yields a gain they value.
• They employ a different pricing methodology and/or offer an iron-clad performance guarantee.
• They only work with one of two vertical client segments and offer deep domain expertise relevant to those segments.
• They deploy a unique relationship model that is tailored to the specific needs of their target client segment e.g. assume a position of virtual team member.
• They utilize technology and related processes in such a way that they are able to eliminate some of the costs their clients incur when working with their accountant while at the same time giving those clients a faster and more flexible service experience.

The key to differentiation is look at it through the eyes of a prospective client. They want to know you’re competent, that you take time to learn about them and their challenges, that your service goal is to make their life easier and help them build and preserve their wealth, and that you rest your case on your reputation for actually doing the things you say you can do.

In short, high growth firms focus their marketing message on what they do for their selected clients in terms of meeting (or exceeding) their needs and priorities. Average growth firms tend to focus their attention on their expertise and the raft of services they have available.

Recently I conducted a podcast interview with Brett Kelly, an Australian Accounting Entrepreneur who, in 8 years, grew his firm from a tiny startup in a serviced office to $24 million in revenue and 8 offices by implementing several of the differentiation points listed above. Most importantly, however, is the firm’s underlying philosophy that it practices consistently: it is totally focused on identifying the unique needs of each client and then taking care of those needs.

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