Insights

What Should We Call It?

What business are you in? Do you sell products or services – or both and thus consider yourself a solutions provider?

The evolution in government services companies over the past twenty years has been an interesting case study about how companies think and talk about what they do, how they do it, and what they call themselves. When KPMG spun off their consulting group, they chose the name BearingPoint, a navigational reference to set a clear direction for clients.[1] When SAIC spun off part of their business, the name for the entity became Leidos, clipped from the word kaleidoscope, to express the ability to solve difficult problems by applying different perspectives.[2] These names were chosen for strategic purposes, both for their employees, partners, and most of all, clients.

During my time at an association with professional services in the name, when approaching a potential new member company, their feedback sometimes was: “I’m not interested. We are a product/ software/ hardware/ etc. company.” But what that statement is missing is that many of the best companies acknowledge that they are professionals at providing solutions – often as a service. Front-line and back office employees make up companies, which, regardless of industry, include professionals with knowledge, skills and abilities on numerous value propositions, complexities, and challenges. Indeed, many are trained, certified “professionals” providing a service.

The professional services industry is not monolithic or homogenous. The pandemic taught government and industry much about these dynamics. Industry associations[3] have helped promulgate a Department of Defense taxonomy for services[4] as well as considerations around how contract type aligns with risk mitigation and innovation. Yet, despite this, leaders in government as well as industry are quick to label or categorize companies into something simple and easy to understand. What is the name or term that is associated with your business?

During a recent meeting with a specialized client, I was asked if the company should call one of their offerings a professional service, a custom service or something else. My advice was to be careful. A government customer may hear that you provide “professional services” and immediately go to their menu of “professional services, best-in-class contracts,” determine that your specialty does not exactly match a type of professional services, and exclude you from their consideration.

Not sure how to categorize your company when talking to teaming partners and government clients? May I suggest four considerations:

1. Take a broad view of your customer’s underlying problems.
2. Understand how the customer speaks about their problems and how they buy. Meet the customer where they are. Eliminate or mitigate the “hassle factor.”
3. Determine if your best route to market is directly with the customer or if the customer benefits more from your specialty as part of a solution team.
4. Avoid market confusion with similar sounding names in the customer’s lexicon, but consider what could still have broad appeal and adaptability to other clients with similar problems.

What is the name or term that you think is associated with your business? Do your potential teaming partners or government clients agree? If they do, is that connotation desired?

Bradley Saull is a Vice President at Jefferson Business Consulting with nearly 20 years in government contracting. Prior to this, he was a Vice President at the Professional Services Council (PSC), an association of more than 400 government contractors.

 

[1] Dunham, Kemba. The Wall Street Journal, “KPMG Consulting Inc. Picks BearingPoint for Its New Name,” found at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1033598317323402673, October 17, 2022.
[2] Leidos website, found at: https://www.leidos.com/insights/whats-name-origin-leidos#, October 17, 2022.
[3] PSC Taxonomy for Services Contracts, found at: https://www.pscouncil.org/__p/ca/GovResources.aspx, October 17, 2022
[4] Shay Assad, Department of Defense. “Taxonomy for the Acquisition of Services and Supplies & Equipment,” August 27, 2012, found at: https://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/policy/policyvault/USA004219-12-DPAP.pdf, October 17, 2022

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