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Positioning for Professionals: How Professional Knowledge Firms Can Differentiate Their Way to Success

Positioning for Professionals: How Professional Knowledge Firms Can Differentiate Their Way to Success

Tim Williams

ISBN: 978-0-470-87752-4

Jun 2010

208 pages



It’s not the best companies that prevail in the marketplace, but rather the best brands. The goal of business strategy is not just to be better, but different. Learn how to build a differentiating value proposition by clearly and carefully defining your brand boundaries: Calling, Competencies, Customers, and Culture.

Positioning for Professionals shows how a well-defined value proposition can help professional service firms create their own success instead of copying the success of others, including such concepts as:

  • How and why professional service brands become homogenized
  • Why standing for everything is the same as standing for nothing
  • Why there’s no such thing as full service
  • Deep and narrow as a strategic imperative
  • Why it’s better to be a profit leader than a market leader
  • Differentiation and price premiums
  • How to map your brand on the matrix of relevance and differentiation
  • How to define a value proposition that will make your firm intensely appealing to the customers who want you for what you do best

Based on the proven premise that the most profitable business strategy is not to aim at the center of the market, but rather at the edges, Positioning for Professionals is written for leaders, managers, and other senior executives of service companies in with a particular emphasis on professional service firms.


Chapter 1 Size Is Not a Strategy.

Maintaining Pricing Integrity.

Better to Be a Profit Leader than a Market Leader.

Why Bigness Doesn’t Lead to Greatness.

Hired to Be Effective, Not Efficient.

Chapter 2 How and Why Brands Become Homogenized.

The Urge to Copy.

The Folly of All-In-One.

Line Extension Is Not Branding.

There’s No Such Thing as Full Service.

The Natural Fear of Focus

Chapter 3 The Mature Company’s Identity Crisis.

Differentiation and Price Premiums.

Columbus, Not Napoleon.

The Diffusion of Identity.

Landing in No-Man’s Land.

Strategy at the Edges.

Not Best Practices, but Next Practices.

Chapter 4 Expanding Business by Narrowing Focus.

There’s No Such Thing as a General Market.

Vertical Success versus Horizontal Success.

The Strategic Value of Going Deep. 

Chapter 5 Positioning as the Centerpiece of Business Strategy.

What Are You Really Selling?

Becoming Hard to Imitate.

Two Critical Dimensions of an Effective Value Proposition.

A Category of One.

A Brand Is the Customer’s Idea of the Product.

Natural Outcomes of a Powerful Value Proposition.

Chapter 6 Building Brand Boundaries.

Brand Boundary 1: Calling.

Brand Boundary 2: Customers.

Brand Boundary 3: Competencies.

Brand Boundary 4: Culture.

The Confluence of Calling, Customers, Competencies, and Culture.

Chapter 7 Validating the Value Proposition.

Be Rooted in the Future, Not the Past.

The Value Proposition Team.

Asking the Right Questions.

Chapter 8 Without Execution, There Is No Strategy.






Executing a Positioning Strategy with Alignment Teams.

Rebuilding Your Ship While at Sea.

Chapter 9 Getting Paid for Creating Value.

The Perils of Cost-Based Compensation.

Changing the Language.

Pricing as a Core Competency.

Why a Value-Based Approach is in the Client’s Best Interest.

The Alignment of Incentives.

Creating a Virtuous Circle.

Chapter 10 A New and Better Way to Price Professional Services.

Forms of Value-Based Pricing.

The Right Clients for Outcome-Based Agreements.

The True Meaning of Partnership.

Uncovering Missed Opportunities to Make Pricing a Core Competency.

Key Questions in Setting a Value-Based Price.

If Complex Global Companies Can Do It, So Can You.

Better Time Tracking Is Not the Answer. 

Thinking of Compensation Plans as a Stock Portfolio.

Setting the Stage for a Value-Based Approach to Compensation.

A Declaration of Value.

Appendix A: The Before-and-After Survey.

Appendix B: More Ways to Differentiate Your Brand.

Appendix C: Indicators of the Firm’s Success.


About the Author.