Building an IT Staffing Firm Niche Practice: The Practice LeaderMany general IT Staffing organizations think about how to create a more defined message in order to put them in a competitive place of differentiation. One way to stand out in the crowd is to build an IT staffing firm niche practice that influences the value of the relationship between your company and the client. Building a technology focus within a niche can be used to leverage new account penetration and drive more opportunity within certain areas of IT.
If your intention is to build out a more defined practice with deep technical expertise, it might be a good idea to recruit and hire a practice leader to head up the new business line. Most “specialty” companies have a distinct competitive advantage because of the subject matter expertise that anchors confidence and trust with top technology executives. A practice leader is a key role, but it’s vital that this person has the right characteristics.
We see these 8 skills as being the top areas if criteria when looking to assess the key attributes of a highly successful practice leader.
- Sales Mentality
By itself, being really smart in a niche area is not nearly enough. This person has to possess the drive, mentality, and endurance to acutely listen, pose intelligent questions, position capabilities, and deliver proposals that are pin-point accurate to the pain and need of the prospective client. Unless you have a sales team that can carry the heavy lifting in a solution selling process, the accountability for sales will rest on the shoulders of the practice lead. (You may want to also read our article regarding top sales skills of a sales champion).
- Writing Skills
This is a big one. Someone needs to be able to ascertain the exact need of the prospect, digest it into a solution, and then present it in a highly intelligent document, presentation, and/or proposal. Typically, competing for and winning projects requires some sort of proposal generation and solution delivery in written or visual format. Since the practice lead is usually the person leading the effort, he/she should have the writing skills to deliver a well thought out and concisely communicated documents.
- Presentation Skills
If your Practice Lead can’t get up in front of an executive team and deliver an exemplary presentation, you probably have the wrong person. Your leader should not only know the technology, but also be able to convey the skills and capabilities of your company in a way that executives can easily buy into.
- Estimation and Financial Modeling
This skill is an essential trait that could ruin your business if not taken very seriously when selecting a leader. We’ve seen scenarios where firms end up eating large fees and putting their entire organization at risk because of poor project cost estimation. It is vital to have a leader that has accurately scoped projects in the past with a low degree of variance. If your model is to stay solely within T&M pricing, the risk to your company is far less, but keeping within budget is still the expectation with the client sponsor.
- Entrepreneurial Thinking
We’ve seen a number of cases where firms hire ex-IT Directors or ex-VPs of IT from F1000 companies to be practice leads. With a high degree of confidence, we can tell you with that this almost never works out the way that people expect it to. Even though this person may have been a leader and expert in certain areas of a top global organizations, they have never had to deliver and sell a project for an external client; very different than an internal client. It may seem attractive to have a big name in your organization who has bought millions of dollars worth of consulting services and software, but the reality of the situation is that your leadership role requires a completely different mentality and an ownership line of thinking.
- Project/Program Management
If the practice is new, it’s likely that the leader is involved in each and every detail, from sales through delivery. This person is required to be a fantastic multi-tasking individual who can manage all types of people (sales, developers, client staff, etc.). They must also be great at managing multiple projects and effectively handle a schedule that is challenging, fluid, and unpredictable.
- Politically Savvy
Maneuvering around a client organization, especially when deliverables are at stake, can be challenging and daunting. When projects are taken on, there are usually factors involved that are highly political in nature. There are always politics involved, even when providing staffing services, but not nearly to the level of visibility that projects evoke.
- Relationship Building and Networking
Since the skills of the leader must include sales execution and client development, they should have the ability to cultivate executive and C-level relationships. Spending time with clients and your sales team outside of the project is critical, and we’re not just referring to golf and lunch. Furthering the relationship value to a degree of implicit trust, especially with client sponsors and champions, is key to transforming your organization to the next level.
Moving a staffing company into specialty niche is a large task and hiring the right people to build the service offering is only one aspect of the renovation.
This article is an excerpt from our highly popular eBook, titled “Swimming Upstream: Migrating from a Staffing Firm to a Solutions Company.” Feel free to download a free and complete copy of this eBook on how to build an IT Staffing Firm Niche Practice for your organization.
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