The industrial revolution moved our society from rural agricultural economies into a world where factories, cities, dense housing, mass transportation and organized labor dominated.
The communications and technology revolutions brought about more changes that took us into the information economy that most of us have grown up in.
Today we are experiencing additional changes that are directly impacting those of us who work in professional services industries (law, accounting, consulting, education, banking, sales of all kinds, etc...). We are seeing a shift from the information economy to the relationship economy.
If you think I am 100% wrong and are not willing to explore the concept, then you might have your head in the sand. The above mentioned changes all took place in the last 120 years. My grandfather was born on a farm in Ireland and migrated to the United States as a teenager in 1900. He worked in manual labor jobs and the thought of an information economy, much less the next level of a relationship economy was not imaginable. I am his youngest grandchild and in just two generations the world is so different that it would have seemed far fetched science fiction to him. Basic realities morph faster in 2009 than they did in his time.
Throughout recorded history there have been changes in society, and there have been those who ignored the shifts until they were left behind. Sure, the lucrative horse whip industry was crushed by the automobile, and we all laugh at the thought by today's standard. But nobody who made whips was laughing at the time. You need to be thinking about what differences around the bend could cripple your company (or industry), and looking for ways to lead the change.
There are three areas that need your immediate attention:
1. Your Professional Network. Sure, you have all heard about networking, and most people think that they are good at it (but many are wrong). I hear all the time from professionals that they have a great network, but few people can point to the last referral they have given or received from those in their circle of influence (Key here is when did you last give a referral. If you are not giving, that is why you are not getting!).
All opportunities come from people and you must be committed to spending the necessary time to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships. You cannot turn your networking efforts on and off like a light switch or you will never see results. In the two weeks have you canceled a meeting with someone in your network, or skipped attending an event, because "something more important" came along? I see professionals all the time who rank every activity as an "A", "B" or "C". They tend to make networking a "C", and then they wonder while others do not appreciate the relationships they think they have built.
Make your network an "A" priority. It is your safety net in all economic conditions!
2. Creativity. If you are not being creative in how you serve your clients, then you are just part of the noise in your industry. We all naturally think we are unique and deliver high quality work product to our clients. But doing good work is just the ticket to be in the game. Everyone of your competitors is doing good work (well, most), and they are all claiming they are the "best" when they talk to your clients and prospects. It is confusing to the buyer, especially when your company looks identical to all others in your space.
When I visit the websites of law firms, accounting firms, consultants, banks, etc... I rarely see anything creative. They all play it safe, and thus they all look like twins. The same is true when I speak with these professionals. YIKES, most have a tough time telling me anything about their offering that I cannot follow up with "why is that different from you competitor?" without them looking like a deer in headlights. Professional services firms are vanilla. Buyers can get vanilla anywhere, and thus it comes down to price. Avoid being a commodity if you want to thrive in the future.
Explore creative ways to serve your clients at EVERY meeting. Make sure that your co-workers feel comfortable suggesting "out of the box" ideas and that you reward those who expand the collective thinking of your team. If you are not looking for ways to implement creativity into your company, you will die.
People are naturally drawn to companies and individuals who show ingenuity and are willing to try new things. Humans have never embraced "yesterday" or we would still all be living on the farms.
3. Social Media. I am not claiming that blogging, Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools are for everyone (LinkedIn is for everyone in business. If you do not have a vibrant LinkedIn profile you are considered out of touch by more people than you think!). But if your company does not have an online branding strategy that includes social media, you are being left behind. Not each professional in the firm needs to be active in this arena, but someone HAS TO BE. Clients and prospects are looking for you to be part of the conversation. Hide and you are invisible.
Make sure that your company has somebody who owns your online image and reputation. Do not assign it to just anyone, as this is like a garden in need of cultivation. Ignore it and the weeds will choke out all the value you can have from the online real estate.
If your firm has avoided all this social media hoopla up until this point that is a clear sign that you are missing the boat. This is NOT a fad! There has been so much attention paid to the various social media communities that if you have decided they are useless (without having explored them), you are being foolish. Rationalize it all day long, but there is something happening here.
So what now?
While the changes that are coming may be minor, and are you willing to risk your future on the idea that your industry will not be impacted by a "relationship" economy? What if you are wrong? Your connections to others and your personal and professional brand are more valuable than ever.
Take ownership of how you are positioned and ask the hard questions of your employees and customers about how you are doing in regards to what we have discussed in this article. There are many companies who mistakenly believe they are cutting edge, only to be viewed by everyone (inside and outside) as a disaster. OUCH.
Have A Great Day.
*** Thom Singer offers customized individual programs to help professional service executives explore and understand the best ways to create and cultivate their network, brand and online impact.