Three Principles of Service Offering Design

There are six modules in our Total Business Reset, and my favorite might be the third, where we work through Service Offering Design (SOD).

That's partly because by that point in the engagement we've already made a provisional decision on positioning and articulated it in a tagline, but also because SOD has to be unique for each firm. Also, it allows us to look into the future: "what is likely to become more important in the next few years?"

Here are the three critical principles you should consider when thinking about SOD.

How a Relationship Kicks Off

First, strong SOD should have a roughly standardized way to kick off each relationship. I don't mean the paperwork, but rather what you explore and how it's packaged (and probably priced). If you can include some scientific data gathering, all the better.

Imagine that you're sitting next to someone on a plane and you strike up a conversation with your seat mate. It turns out that she's a CMO at a firm directly in your target market. The exchange progresses quicker than you could have imagined and you know for sure that you'll continue the conversation after you go your separate ways, but she surprises you even further and says: "That's really interesting. As it turns out, we've been considering a change. The current agency's work has gotten a little stale and we're being taken for granted. If we worked with you, how would we get started?"

When you hear that question, there's no stumbling around or hesitation, but you close the email you've been writing and pull up another document. It's an elegant one-pager. It's named, represented graphically, and has some indication of timeframe and probably cost. Essentially it's some sort of road mapping or diagnostic exercise. It takes 5-10% of the total budget and helps everyone spend the remaining 90-95% smarter in pursuit of a specific economic goal.

Think of it as:

  • An alternative to the 90-page proposal you would have written for free just six years ago when you were desperate to land an RFP. (Don't listen to this episode on how to write one of those.)
  • Or, step by step directions for the very capable client-side department to take and run with over the next 18 months after hiring you, an outside expert, to help them see things in a different way.

Oh, and it can be executed by mid-level staffers who are armed with the tools that promote consistent discovery and don't require your very smartest people using their non-reproducible intuition.

How a Relationship Unfolds Over Time

I've written about this extensively, so in the interest of keeping this article at a manageable length, I'll just refer you to this article about how most of your clients should use most of your services most of the time.

It should be enough to note that getting this wrong is the most common source of long-term unprofitability: entire departments that remain staffed but not busy. For SOD in this category to be effective, any decisions you make here have to extend far back to what sort of new clients you look for, too. Part of that "right fit" definition isn't just about size or culture or decision making or transparent budget...but also whether they are going to use all (or at least most) of your services.

How a Relationship Comes to a Controlled Landing

Much like that pre-emptive break-up episode on Seinfeld, you want to control the situation. There's lots more to say about this (and another article coming up on it), but don't design your client relationships like timeshare condos in Florida where your heirs are still scraping funds together after you die to stay out of court. Instead, assume that there will come a time when you move from the liberating force to the occupying force, and phase things down gracefully. Think more like this: "Our work with you isn't done until you don't need us anymore, and that's what we'll work toward."

When we talk through this last phase, we always end up designing some really interesting ways to stay valuable to the client...and still involved enough to spot later opportunities to ramp things up again.

That's it. Those are the three important principles.

Great service offering design doesn't just react to client opportunity, but:

  • Reaches back to bring more intentionality to your new business efforts, evaluating prospective clients on the basis of what they'll use you for.
  • Reaches far forward to anticipate where the market will be over time, thus giving you a leg up over your competitors.

Let me know if you want to explore a Total Business Reset, which works through those six modules, or a New Business Audit, which looks at modules 2 (positioning), 3 (SOD), and 4 (lead gen).

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