The bounty of focus: Renown, profits and fun

To build a remarkable firm with above average profits and no wasted effort requires the right mix of knowledge, challenge, and employees who “click” with clients.

Seth Godin, uses the phrase “people like us” to describe the clients who have the values, attitudes and needs which allow us to do our very best work.  Enough of such clients and we will build a business noteworthy for its soul as well as its service. The wonderful thing about this phrase “people like us” is that it acknowledges there are people not like us. And its okay to choose. Okay to focus. Indeed to be successful in business, focus is essential.

It is tempting to provide services to everyone, but that is like having a dinner with guests that come from all ages, cultures, and political affiliations.  The idea is great on paper, but when they all sit down to dinner there lacks a commonality that makes the evening convivial. There will be much stress behind the scenes as meals are matched with beverages, diets, table placings and so on. If funds are vast several cooks will be available, otherwise some guests will eat inexpertly prepared foods. The chance for error and disappointment, is high.

The opposite is the situation where guests are drawn together because of common interests and attitudes, even better when the goals align as well: say a sporting group whose members compete at the same level, and are working towards national championship. The commonality now brings a level of intimacy that makes the dinner work well.  Simplicity is the story behind the scenes, things go smoothly all around. Sparks are added not by disappointed guests but the flash of brilliance introduced by the host who knows everyone so well.

A successful service provider, like this successful dinner host, chooses clients with care paying close attention to their attitudes, wants and needs, then providing services to tantalise. Simplicity and focus create a product without fuss: Streamlined and delivered with ease.  Reputations come from constancy, not solo performances. Focus enables this more easily.

The ultimate goal: No competition

The ultimate goal for any business is to create products and services which have no competition. In the majority of markets this is unachievable. However, by restraining what is offered the a firm can create something unique that matches the personality and wants of each buyer.

Focus strategies

Lovelock describes 4 focus strategies that are employed by service companies:

Fully focused is where both services and market are restrained. Shouldice Hospital in the USA only offers one surgery (hernia) to healthy men who are generally 40 – 60 years old. No need for worrying about childbirth procedures, or intensive care support here. Only the relatively low costs of hernias are supported. This allows for attention that general hospitals cannot provide.

Market focused has a narrow market segment, but many services. Women’s health spas can include physical fitness, massage, yoga, health education, hairdressing, restaurant quality meals and so on. As each new service is added, new capabilities are required, and with it additional costs and potential for lowered standards.

Service focused is where the services are restrained, and the market is broad. Different markets will have slightly different needs and so research and development costs can be high. A few days ago the annual Fringe World Festival started in Perth. Its patrons are all ages, whilst its offering is constrained – it runs for only a few weeks, opera is not included though circus type performances are.

Unfocused is where the majority of service enterprises sit. The lack of clarity means resources are spread thinly in comparison to other strategies. It’s hard to remain superior when competition is everywhere, and clients’ desires are exhaustive: There are just too many to watch. The result is average service at best. Existing in this space is a rapid road to invisibility as there is nothing at which the firm shines.

What is your situation?

Is your firm focused or at the market’s mercy, adapting to each new client’s desire? I put it to you that its much more enjoyable to have control over what’s offered, and build the skills and structure that allows all to shine, than to be spread thin and risk low performance. Being focused allows the firm to build itself a personality attracting people (clients, investors and staff) who feel comfortable with this personality, thereby making it stronger.

Focus carries risk.

Yes. There are consequences with every choice made in life. It is possible that the service or market will disappear. The history of photography is a case in point. Its history contains major changes.  The impacts of which were seen years before they were felt. The firms who were caught out, were caught napping. Protection comes from constant evaluation of what is happening within and external to the firm.

The goal is to find a niche that is large enough to support the business and too small or too difficult for others to access, at least until the supplier’s made its reputation known.

The benefits of focus are relevant even when competition is close.

Professional services firms, like Big 4 accounting firms can be hard for clients to separate as they each work with data and provide regulatory and business support.  Given each has revenue in $Billions its tempting for each to  stay broad. This is what PWC has done positioning itself as a general consulting firm: broad based, and broad scope.

Deloitte on the other hand, also Big 4, has decided to focus on technology, yes its still a consulting firm but its become known for its digital savvy and cutting edge knowledge. Indeed enter its homepage and you enter a page of research. Its Services are found via the root menu at page foot, discretely removing clients who are techno laggards. Deloitte’s strategy has meant that in 2017 with revenue of USD $38.8B, it was the largest of the Big 4. It wasn’t that long ago that it was the smallest of this group. Its Annual report notes how its strategy is working:

Consulting revenue grew at 10.2 percent, powered by the urgency of clients to accelerate their business model transformation in disrupted markets, and by its growing momentum through strategic acquisitions, alliances and investments in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive, creative digital consulting, cloud computing, blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT).  Emphasis added.

In conclusion:

You and your competitors are in the same situation. It’s a level playing field when all is said and done. What is needed is a pathway to difference. Focus makes this cheapest to run, simplest to maintain, and easiest to communicate.

There are of course unique challenges facing each firm, but that just makes this truism truer. And that makes it more fun.  So now go away and test your market and services against these focus strategies and see what you find. Then push yourself further to narrow the band to the “people like us” who will be tantalised by the best you can bring.

Let me know how you go.

Other papers you may find interesting

How to communicate perceived value in services: Positioning

Four truths in decision making

What is your CEO leadership score?

Further resources:

Lovelock, Christopher H, 2015 “Services Marketing / Christopher H Lovelock, Paul Patterson, Jochin Wirtz, 6th edition” Pearson Australia

PWC Australian homepage, accessed 8th February 2018

Deloitte Australia homepage accessed 8th February 2018

Deloitte Global Revenue Announcement, 2017, accessed 8th February

Jennifer is a business and executive coach who helps leaders turn their strategies into remarkable results. 

She assists executives and business owners to achieve goals such as improved profit, productivity, leadership skills, business value. Her services are Business and Executive Coaching, Group Facilitation and advising on Board Governance. Her straight forward process help leaders achieve results without delay.

 To find out how she can help you, call +61 439 520 182 or email.