The significance of professional services companies is rarely discussed. Let’s face it – it’s not your typical dinner table topic of conversation. Yet, you would be hard-pressed to find any business that is not employing several of them.
Boiled down to a quick definition, professional services are services provided in the tertiary sector of the economy which call for specific training in the arts or sciences. Some professional services require licensing in order to practice, while others involve providing specialist support to businesses.
Small to large, most businesses have the need for various outside services. Accounting, advertising and marketing, consulting, IT, and legal are some of the most popular types, just to name a few. Our own professional services company (marketing) employs IT, legal and accounting firms. And many of our clients are professional services companies themselves! Needless to say, we've covered a lot of ground in this field.
Now, what decision-making factor comes into play before you run head-first into a contract? The all-important interview, of course! Also part of the sales process, the interview phase is where both interested parties get to know each other and decide if engaging in a working relationship is a good idea. This should absolutely be a two-sided conversation – not just a simple Q&A. Feel free to read more about the interview process in our “Outsourced Marketing Gone Wild: How to Spot a Disaster in the Making.”
Our vantage point from both sides of the table has allowed us to see the good, the bad and the ugly in professional services companies. Hence, we’ve compiled this list of 5 Things Professional Services Companies Should Be Telling You to ensure you start off your next engagement with eyes wide open.
1. How much experience they really have
Experience is often one of the first topics highlighted in an interview setting. Unforunately, companies sometimes combine the experience of their key staff to come up with some silly number like, 85 years of experience! Really?! How relevant is that experience from 1929?
The better question is: “Could you describe your experience working in our industry with this type of business?” Your mission is to hire a company that can speak your language and understand the nuances of your business. Sure, some companies specialize in one or two areas, which appears to make things easier as a firm in the hiring position. However, you should still discuss the nitty-gritty in order to get a true sense of your potential partner's work experience and how it may relate to yours.
2. The last time they got fired
Well, this certainly takes the classic “What’s your greatest weakness?” to a whole new level! Bringing up this issue during the interview may throw some companies for a loop, but it really is a fair question. The fact of the matter is... not every business relationship works out. Posing this question certainly demands honesty, and if your potential vendor is not willing to engage, do you really want to do business with them anyway?
Our motto is Excellence * Integrity * Flexibility * Fun. When all of these priorities are not being met, we have suggested disengagement ourselves. What? Yes, you read that correctly. If we do not see the relationship as a productive, good fit, we have recommended different agencies to clients. That’s how committed we are to our own motto. And if you ask us during the interview process, we are sure to tell you what types of situations do not tend to work out and how to avoid this.
3. Who will be handling your account
Once you are through the sales process, then what? More often than not, the person that got you there is not the one you’ll be working with on a regular basis. This fact is often overlooked. Though it may not seem like a top priority at first, it’s important to feel at ease with the account manager or team BEFORE you engage. Ask to have this person or group included in a meeting to get a better sense of your comfort level. Are there other options if this account manager isn't the right fit? Will you work with a select committed team or will the players rotate? Ideally, the working scenario will remain consistent, and ramp up time will be minimalized.
4. The communication schedule
Communication is the core of a harmonious business relationship. Especially when engaging in communication with new clients. Does your prospective professional services company have a system in place? At PMG, we have too much going on to not to be SUPER organized. We use Basecamp for project management and strongly encourage our clients to participate. This way, everything any team member needs is in one place. You can view all of the moving pieces and any participant can jump in at any time and catch up.
It's also important to have regularly scheduled big picture meetings, as well as ongoing smaller meetings to keep projects moving and everyone involved accountable for their respective tasks and deadlines.
5. The metrics of success
We always ask about this subject during the interview process. We want to know up front what is important to you. Of course, any agency can spit out an array of generalized values, but what truly matters most to you is how we gauge our relationship and the potential for it to flourish.
What has and hasn’t worked with previous professional services companies? Pinpointing these facts is a great exercise for both sides and substantially helps in terms of setting up a healthy relationship moving forward.
We believe the interviewing process is the foundation for a successful partnership. We don’t want to waste our time or yours, so the vetting process is a key component. I mentioned our motto earlier, for which we hold both our employees and clients accountable. This is marketing, not brain surgery. Let’s have fun with it and do great work together!