At the recent Professional Marketing Forum conference  there were a number of sessions where the topic of strategic positioning arose.

At an early point in the proceedings, Simon Slater talked about competitive positioning strategy. He mentioned Rita McGrath’s book “The end of competitive advantage” who argued that “strategy is stuck”. Developing themes from Michael Porter, she argued that we now need to think about transient competitive advantage. In future, we should manage the evolution of a new position or market or product/service as if we were managing a wave: land, ramp up, exploitation, reconfigure and disengage.

Key processes and competencies will be organisational agility to spot opportunities and move quickly. To learn how to invent and exploit new cash cows. And to close down products and services when they no longer provide value to the organisation or the market. There was a veiled warning that the drivers of sustainability and stability will act as inhibitors to this new approach.

The underlying similarity to the product life cycle and the dissemination of innovation (remember the innovators, early adopters, late adopters, the majority and the laggards model?) was striking and therefore will appeal to those who studied such concepts in their professional marketing qualifications.

But in terms of the professional services sector I fear that his message may fall on deaf ears. For a long time I have urged firms to consider their processes for listening to the markets, to innovating new products and services, their research and development (R&D) systems and to challenge convention by striking out rather than simply following the competitive crowd. I fear that professional service firms struggle with adopting any major change so the concept of continuous reconfiguration stands little chance. I particularly liked Simon’s choice of the following quote which encapsulates my concern: “Culture eats strategy for lunch” (Peter Drucker).

However, Simon’s 12 step approach will prove useful to professional firms:

  1. Understand your competitive strategic positioning
  2. Respond more quickly to Michael Porter’s five competitive forces
  3. Spot and create clusters and arenas of the future
  4. Recognise shared values and social consensus
  5. Follow the wave of clients – and reconfigure service offerings
  6. Get better at your core competencies for changing
  7. Decentralise
  8. Disengage from declining products/markets early
  9. Get faster at reconfiguring your organisation
  10. Become more agile and creative
  11. Create new arenas (markets)
  12. Develop a new leadership and culture