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Curious about how expertise particularly translates to advantage within professional services firms, Pierpont set out to answer these questions with the help of The University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communication. In establishing a permanent endowment for the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations, Pierpont is supporting faculty research that brings to light such issues—and how they impact the business world.
Given the deluge of “experts” today—coupled with the growth in professional and business services— Associate Professor Brad Love and Assistant Professor Jeffrey Treem set out to uncover how expertise correlates within professional services firms. In other words, how do experts—whether internal employees or external partners—support the growth of organizations through ideas, communications, strategies, financial analysis and other intangible assets. And how do these professional services organizations become experts in their fields?
In their white paper, Love and Treem identify several key differentiators that organizations can leverage to help quantify their expertise.
From blogs and podcasts to tweets and videos, the evolution of digital and social media content has proliferated the idea of expertise. If you have a computer and an idea, you can be an expert, right? Actually, as Love and Treem point out this increase in accessibility of information demands that organizations more closely quantify their expertise by carving out their niche and defining what sets them apart. How? Love and Treem point to several key factors, such as deepening your workforce’s knowledge base, giving your teams autonomy to execute and innovate and consistently evaluating outputs—bringing to light and communicating those often intangible results. According to Love and Treem, “It is this confidence and creditability that is at the heart of what expert professional services firms provide.”
Said another way, your reputation matters. A lot. Building your brand—and following through on that brand by consistently delivering on your commitments—cannot be understated when it comes to elevating your reputation as an expert. Yet, professional services firms often struggle to articulate their results, as they are are often intangible. That’s why illustrating your tangible outputs of success through case studies, consistent work samples and awards is critical to helping others understand your organization’s capabilities. And of course, make sure that brand—and your proof points of success—are consistently and clearly articulated through all of your organization’s internal and external channels (newsletters, website, social media, etc.).
In addition to branding, Love and Treem point to another key differentiator when it comes to illustrating your expertise: commoditize your knowledge. Through their research, Love and Treem found that developing what they call “knowledge products” enables organizations to identify expert processes and codify their approach. “Capturing knowledge as a distinct asset offers a way to bring more perceived certainty to the work of professional service firms,” explain Love and Treem. “Also, such behavior offers another way for professional service organizations to communicate that they are able to provide value to clients that would be unobtainable otherwise.”
The other key benefit in establishing greater process, and sharing that through knowledge products, is that it frees up teams to keep innovating. Specialist and generalist team members can communicate knowledge across domains in innovative ways. In the white paper, Love and Treem encourage professional services firms to consider co-opting expertise by working with established experts in emerging domains to develop a more robust knowledge base.
Far too often, organizations claim to be the best-kept secret. And while they may very well be experts, unless others perceive as you as such, you are not leveraging that expertise to your organization’s benefit. Simply put, building relevance within your industry goes beyond pretty packaging or tweeting. Elevating your brand, sharing your knowledge and communicating solid, tangible results—is the heart of an expert.