In today’s fast-moving world even professional services firms including accountants, lawyers and financial advisers are defining their personalities and using them in their marketing to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

What is your business personality?

Although you’re not likely to get a big assignment just from sending a prospect your firm’s promotional materials, everything that carries your firm’s name has to also communicate a sense of your business personality – who you really are and how you relate to your clients.

There are three valuable sources of information which can be of tremendous assistance when you’re trying to define the personality of your firm – your team, your clients and your competitors. Nobody knows you better than they do, and their impressions collectively will help you see yourself as other see you rather than just be a reflection of your own perceptions.

Talking with your team

Unless the firm is too large, it’s good to get the whole team together over some sandwiches in the boardroom. Keep things informal so everyone feels relaxed and will speak freely, and make notes of everything that’s said.

Begin by explaining to those attending that you’re working to get a definition of just what your firm means to those who are a part of it. Then ask them the following questions (changing the wording if you wish):

– If you could put it into words, what does our firm mean to you?
– What do you think we do really well?
– How do you think other see us?
– What makes us stand out from other firms?
– Why would somebody want to work here?

Take as much time as needed to get everyone’s answers to each question. Encourage people to speak up and be sure to get contributions from all those who are there. Even negative comments will be helpful.

Talk to your clients

You don’t need to talk with all your firm’s clients, but make a representative list of those who are a broad cross-section of your entire client base. Five or six is a reasonable number.

Tell them you’re doing some market research and invite them into your office for a ‘group discussion’. You could either make it a working lunch or hold the session after work and offer drinks and nibbles.

Just as you did with the members of your team, keep things informal and cover one question at a time. Make notes and get their input with answers to the following questions (amended as required):

– What does our firm mean to you?
– What do you think our strengths are?
– What makes us stand out from other firms?
– What kind of business would you recommend us to?
– What sort of personality do you think we have?

You should consider using a market research firm to handle this part of the process if you’re uncertain about getting a group of clients together in your office. It will naturally be more expensive but the results will probably be worth it.

Talk to your competitors

This is definitely something that should be handled by a third party. Put together a list of those firms (again, five or six is sufficient) whom you see as your major competitors and engage the services of a market research firm to conduct a series of telephone interviews with their principals. These are the kinds of questions that can be asked:

– Are you aware of (firm name)? If the answer’s no, thank them and hang up.
– Do you see them as a competitor for your firm?
– How would you describe them to someone who didn’t know them?
– What, if anything do you think they do particularly well?
– What, if anything have you ever heard about them?

Note that the firm conducting the research will have their own suggestions as to the exact wording of each question and the order in which they’re asked. This is normal and part of what you’re paying them for.

Turn research into action

You’ve acquired a lot of valuable information that can be used as the basis for marketing that will differentiate your firm from its competitors and accurately and attractively present it to the outside world.

Naturally, you can try to interpret and use this information yourself, but it’s really best to use a firm of professional marketers to do this and to reach actionable conclusions that will enable you to successfully market your firm.

What’s the value of this? Your firm will have a new image that’s accurate, powerful, and will make you stand out from your competitors. You will also have a marketing platform you can leverage into everything from the design of your letterheads through to presentation folders and promotional literature that will make a big contribution to growing your business.

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