Making the Case for an Independent Professional Services Team

A common question facing Professional Services teams is how they fit in an organization. Unlike adjacent teams like development, marketing, sales, or product, PS doesn't have a typical fit when it comes to being represented at the management level or at the top of an organizational chart. I've seen, and experienced, countless occasions where a PS team is organized under marketing, product, or even sales.

I've personally reported to a VP of marketing, managing director of sales, or a chief product officer at different times in my career. There are fantastic advantages to being coached by someone of a different discipline, foremost being able to understanding the pressures and motivations of adjacent colleagues. However, the common problem in these scenarios is that the PS team loses the objectivity that is truly required to stand for itself and to delight customers.

Consider this example: a PS team has identified that a client is going to face some scaling issues in the near future. Those scaling issues can easily be resolved if the team invests a couple of weeks to work with the client and internal teams to modify an existing solution., However, the VP of sales that lead the team has decided that all PS cycles will be dedicated to rolling out a feature to new clients only. As a result, PS has to go back to the client, inform them that they are not going to address those scaling issues. The client feels they're being let down and starts questioning the relationship they have with the organization. A few months later, when the scaling issues finally come to a head, teams now have to play catchup and burn emergency cycles to address those issues.  PS gets the rap for not addressing those scaling issues when they were first identified, and the trusted advisor relationship with the client ultimately suffers.

What happened here?

The problem is we have a mismatch of mandates that resulted in lost objectivity. The PS team's mandate is to build trusted advisor relationships with clients, but the VP's focused on its own sales objectives. This leads to a very common result: PS being used as a tool rather than as an independent team that brings unique value to an organization.

Poorly structured PS teams that are not independently structure tends to suffer in a variety of ways:

  • Lack of Objectivity - The team knows what they need to execute to be great trusted advisors, but seemingly are handcuffed because they're constantly asked to do the opposite by someone with a different mandate
  • Measurement - The team seems to always be "underperforming" because they're being measured on a yardstick that isn't aligned to what the team does or how it operates.
  • Organizational Understanding - Because the team is represented at the management table by someone who doesn't truly understand how to truly unlock the value of a professional services team, the organization tends to not really know what professional services does
  • Underutilization - Professional services is often used as a tool to achieve goals for another part of an organization, and as a result much untapped potential to service clients as trusted advisor is never unlocked

The above consequences isn't academic - it happened in every organization I've worked in where PS reported to someone in sales or marketing. Eventually, team members stop growing, good people leave, clients question their commitment to the organization, and the organization wonders - where else can we fit professional services to truly unlock its potential. The answer to that question is: try letting the team stand for itself.

What does that mean, stand for itself? It means transforming consequences into the foundations of great professional services team:

  • Set Unique Objectives - Focus team objectives that no other team in the organization is responsible for: Building trusted advisor relationships by identifying and solving client pain
  • Set Unique Measurements - Define the measurements of success that apply uniquely to the team and its objectives, and drive the team to meet and exceed those success metrics
  • Lead and Represent - Ensure the management team includes a strong voice from the professional services organization - someone who can build understanding across the organization on the importance of the team's objectives and deliverables
  • Unlock Limitless Value - Build and grow the team by hiring and retaining those who truly align with professional services objectives, and continuously train the team on the unique skills necessary to be great trusted advisors.

How do we get started? Start by looking within your organization for a leader who is aligned on the importance and value of an independent professional services team. There are natural leaders in every team, and given the opportunity and coaching, that professional services leader can help your organization define the right objectives and measurements to drive success for your professional services team.