Business Differentiation – We Don’t Do It Well – Why? | Business Technology

We know we need to. We think we do it. In reality, far fewer IT professional services firms are differentiated than you might think.The IssuesThe potential consequences of not achieving differentiation include:Stagnant growth relative to sales and revenue
Participation in more RFPs than sole-source opportunities, because we have not separated ourselves from the competition
Increased pricing pressure and resulting lower gross margins, because of more competition
Greater challenges in lead generation, because prospective clients are less able to single out our companies for the services they needHaving 30 years experience in this industry with the last six being a business growth strategy consultant to firms like yours, I can attest to the fact that most of us sound alike. “We have in-depth technical experience in __________” (fill in the blank).
“We provide business solutions”.
“We have the best (most-talented) team around”.
“We deliver quality on time and on budget”.
“We understand our clients’ industries and businesses”.
“We provide value to our clients”.
“We exceed our clients’ expectations”.These are just a few of the comments I hear repeatedly. Generally they are true. If not, our companies would not still be in business.Compounding the differentiation issue is the inconsistent manner in which companies deliver these messages. When asking a company’s leaders and its top staff how they would describe their firm, you typically get as many different answers as there are people in the room. If this audience is not in agreement, how do think the marketplace views the company? Also, this lack of internal clarity about the business strategy can cause conflicting messages to show up on the company website and in marketing materials further confusing the public.Why don’t we differentiate our businesses better? I often hear:

“We are differentiated”.
“We don’t have (or make) time”.
“We don’t have the skills”.
“We don’t know how to do it”.
“We don’t have the discretionary funds to do marketing”.For the long-term health of our businesses, we cannot afford to sweep differentiation under the rug for the reasons discussed earlier.How to Differentiate YourselfDifferentiation starts with a commitment to marketing. This is very important. Many firms consider marketing a cost center. You should think of it as part of implementing your strategic plan, not as a company department. Without marketing you cannot achieve two of your key business objectives – differentiation and qualified lead generation.Specific activities or steps to take include:1. Ask yourself a number of open-ended questions: So what is it that really makes your company different or unique?
Are you in your current business space (industry, customers, technology, etc.) by plan or by circumstance/accident?
What does the marketplace (prospects, clients, vendors, competitors) think about your company? Remember “perception is reality”.
What do you really know about your clients’ industries? Their businesses?
What is your company known for?
When do your clients or prospects think of you? Is it what you want them to think of you? Ultimately, how would you like them to respond to this statement? “When I need ____(type of service)____, I think of ____(your company)____.”2. Analyze your areas of business specialization based on three components – technology, industry and business function. Most IT professional services firms start with technology expertise and continue to be horizontally focused for the long-term. The issue here is that over time one area of specialization is not a differentiator. For example, Microsoft has thousands of partners that provide SharePoint services. Thus, in any market the competition is significant based on this expertise alone.So how do you identify more skill sets to refine your differentiators? Do an analysis of revenue for at least the last 2-3 years. Look at the number of projects and income by technology, industry and business function. Look for trends over time.
Determine where you have been most successful in terms of profit, client satisfaction and knowledge gained.
Identify where you have the opportunity to grow in your current (and planned) markets – size of industries, breadth of functionality, follow-on opportunities, prospects, competition, etc.
Talk to your clients to see what they need and determine their willingness to use you for other projects.3. Select the areas of specialization with the best upside potential for your business. Commit to them with the idea that eventually you will sell only those services and turn away from non-specialty work. Incorporate your specialization into your corporate strategic plan, and sell it internally across the company.4. Empower marketing to develop new or enhance the following: Messaging for the marketplace – standardized verbiage describing your company and services, elevator pitch (i.e., your 20 second, 1-2 sentence statement which generates interest to hear more), and key words to be used for Internet search engine optimization (SEO)
Standards for formats enabling you to present a consistent/common look and feel across all documentation
Collateral materials including – corporate brochure, service offering one-pagers, case studies, and testimonials/references
Website(s)5. Ensure that all written communication depicts your business accurately and succinctly. In many cases this is where true differentiation is not communicated well enough to convince the marketplace. Hire an outside business writing expert, if you don’t have the skill internally. It is a smart investment.6. Train all company personnel to ensure your messages, differentiators, etc. are delivered accurately and consistently. Remember that everyone in your company markets and sells for you either directly or indirectly. Equip them to do it well.

7. Ensure you have the skills to sell and deliver your specialized work. This includes sales people, technology consultants, subject matter experts and project managers.8. Participate in industry and/or business function (e.g., accounting or human resources) trade associations. This is where you begin to get the “When I need _______________, I think of _______________” blanks filled in to your advantage.9. Continue to build channel partner relationships. Be selective – focus on fewer partners with relevance in your chosen specialization. Being one of the best in your areas of expertise results in more leads coming to you from third parties, which is a cost-effective way to leverage your marketing.10. Collect and evaluate information periodically on how your company is doing and make adjustments, as necessary: Financial performance
Marketplace perceptions starting with clients, then prospects and vendors/partners, if possible – what they think is what counts
Web statistics – website hits, website ratings and search engine/key word effectiveness
Reputation analysis – comments on blogs, forums, Twitter, etc.These suggested steps require proactive, dedicated time and effort. And it is not a one-time project. You should review the differentiation process annually as part of your business planning and budgeting. If you do this effectively, you increase your chances for long-term marketplace differentiation and growth. As an added benefit, you will have more success with recruiting and retention of staff, one of the ongoing issues in our industry.Can you afford not to differentiate your business? Assume your competition is and will actively drown out your messages, if you do not proactively stay ahead of them.

Is Your Business Technology-Strategic or Technology-Dependent?

Security in the IT arena is not a new topic, but corporate awareness of its presence (or lack thereof) is at an all-time high. Not a day goes by without seeing a headline somewhere relating to stolen data, hacked company computers or leaked private information. When Sony’s Playstation┬« Network got hacked, there were estimates reported around $24 billion in losses. Then there were security breaches at Citigroup or Lockheed Martin. They were both juggernauts of industry with hardened defenses and yet were victims of stolen sensitive information. It appears no one is safe, but does obscurity or anonymity still qualify as protection for your small organization?

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a board room discussion with a couple of partners at a smaller private CPA firm and the topic of their network security came up. Mind you, these two gentlemen had a basic understanding of technology as most business owners do, but could not wrap their heads around why it was so important to purchase and install a firewall. A firewall! The most basic of network security devices and here I was trying to justify such a basic, yet mandatory, investment to any business, much less a financial firm.

It was a confirmation of a truth that is common no matter the size of the company. That truth is simple – most business owners have a difficult time appreciating or valuing technology unless they have experienced some type of pain relating to technology. That pain may be lost data, bad support, frustrating software… etc. Whenever I meet with prospective clients, one of the questions I ask in the beginning is “Are you ‘technology dependent’ or ‘technology strategic’?” This sets the tone for what direction we recommend.

Technology Dependent – This is most common among small, private firms. Your business may rely on your computers and networks, yet your decisions regarding technology are typically reactive and cost is commonly the biggest factor on whether or not you proceed. The inherent problem with technology-dependent firms is the unseen lack of efficiency and super high risk factors. Time and productivity are commonly overlooked as assets to the company. Here are some factors common in technology dependent firms:

a. Computers are older (4+ years old) and sometimes are even beige or off-white (a sign of age).

b. Few important proactive tasks are being performed, such as testing backups, patches and risk assessments.

c. There is no guidance on how to leverage technology to contribute to profits or increased productivity.

d. The company is still paying someone to fix things when they break on an hourly basis.

e. There is little to no network security.

Technology Strategic – A business that has seen the true purpose of technology and has enabled itself to do more is strategic. “More of what?” you may ask. It can be more productivity, more efficiency, more revenue and/or more contented staff. Firms that I work with that are “technology strategic” appreciate what technology can do for them and are not resistant to change. Here are some factors that make up a technology strategic firm:

a. Computers are maintained (optimized, clean and typically under 3 years old).

b. Network operations and security is being actively monitored.

c. Security policies are in place both in hardware and software.

d. An IT budget exists and is fixed.

e. The IT solution is a regular topic in your business planning meetings.

If you want to have growth in your firm, confidence in your IT security, and the best return on investment, you need to find ways to start moving to the strategic side of the spectrum. It will not happen overnight but the process needs to occur or risk falling behind your competition.

Where do you start? You need a trusted technology resource whether it’s a friend, your nephew, your executive assistant, or an established IT firm. Much like your clients rely on you for the best in professional financial advice and guidance, you should expect the same in terms of technology advice from a trusted technology partner. That said, have a look at this technology grocery list. If you don’t have these 10 items in place, you should seriously consider implementing them:

- Documented and tested backup process both local and off-site. You should be getting regular reports of these backups.
- Network security policy (passwords, data access, acceptable usage policy are examples).
- Basic alerts when there is a failure on your critical systems, such as a server or email.
- A firewall
- Antivirus and Antimalware software
- Anti-spam for email
- Data and email encryption
- Regular computer and network maintenance
- Secured wireless access
- Internet filtering

Implementation of the technology solutions above can get your company on the road to reaping the benefits of becoming “technology strategic”. An IT firm with certified engineers can develop a strategic and tactical plan to ensure you are getting the most from your technology.

Modern Business Technology For a Restaurant

For any restaurant, point of sale technology is important. And POS restaurant software has become an important part for many restaurants. It takes a lot of time to take orders manually and then pass it on to the kitchen. With this software, however, everything becomes as easy as the click of a button.

Touch screen menus, remote ordering, staff supervision, automated billing, and organization of customer accounts are all possible with the restaurant point of sale software. It becomes quite easy and simple to manage everything with this easy to use system. You can use point of sale systems in the kitchen, back office, and the front office. Managing and running the restaurant becomes much smoother and easier with this software. It allows you to keep track of the number of customers. Better customer services and better order management is what becomes possible with this system.

An administration software is present in the system and it includes electronic menu screens and monitors for easy order processing. A minute by minute record of the daily activity can be kept. Inventory management, stock management, security, and timekeeping are only a few of the activities that this software can indeed simplify.

The restaurant POS includes an input and output device. Touch screens and keyboards act as input devices. Electronic cash registers with printers and monitors attached to them work as input and output devices. They are located in various locations and are also connected to the main server that is located at the back office.

The POS systems control various activities in the restaurant. It is necessary to manage them very efficiently and properly. Even small retail stores and fast food joints have now installed these systems for efficient management of the point of sale. This has made it possible for them to compete with big organizations also.

Over the years, POS systems haave become cheaper. And this is why many small restaurants have also got it installed. Easy to run, simple to operate and easy to update makes them a popular option.

The POS applications are designed in such a way that you can easily install basic systems without much expertise. So there is no excuse to either start systemizing your restaurant or catering business today.