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THE ANATOMY OF A WORLD CLASS PROFESSIONAL SERVICES ORGANIZATION

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

“I would suggest to you that Professional Services are a critical component of any SaaS business – but, it does depend on how you structure, partner and organize, which is driven by market positioning, internal capability and capacity for growth.”

Jon Harrison, VP Services & Success Sage (Precursive Playbook, Traditional Services Delivery is Dead, 2021)


Professional Services (PS) shouldn’t be a necessary evil of implementation, delivery or ongoing commercial partnerships with your customer and they shouldn’t act as a barrier to entry. Services should be viewed as a part of the anatomy of a world class sales organization, being an enabler for customers to solve their problems through your product and achieve their desired outcomes.


Following our recent playbook, which looks at changes in the world of professional services in this Outcomes Era here we explore what makes a great Professional Services Organization. This post discusses the role that PS plays in a SaaS company and how you can create the right organizational structure to enable effective partnership with sales and customer success teams. Finally, it outlines some important considerations regarding operations, pricing and metrics for professional services organizations.


WHAT IS A PROFESSIONAL SERVICES ORGANIZATION?


A Professional Services Organization (PSO) is a business which provides the specialist services of a wide variety of skilled professionals such as lawyers, architects, accountants and IT consultants. Unlike other firms a PSO does not sell goods but instead the expertise required to help each client grow their business and reach their business goals. These services are most required when the specific skill set (e.g marketing, finance etc) is not available to the client in-house or the client simply doesn’t have the time to deal with all the different areas of their business.


THE PILLARS OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICES


A success-led services team is a critical component for modern SaaS companies which drives recurring revenue for the company.

Precursive's for pillars of Professional Services

STRATEGY FOR A PROFESSIONAL SERVICES ORGANIZATION

Consider the mission of your professional services organization. As Jon Harrison, VP Services & Success at Sage asks: “What are you for?”


There are several considerations: What are you selling and who to? Is PS purely for implementation or enablement? Are they required for customization?


Here are some elements you can consider to help you structure the PS organization to scale:


  • How does our vision articulate your position in the market for our team and for customers.

  • PS is NOT there only to implement product but to help the customer achieve their desired outcomes.

  • Do you have a partner ecosystem that needs to be managed and enabled? Make sure there is a cultural fit with partners that 'look like you'.

  • Our mission should be customer-centric but balanced against the need for profitable revenue that is re-occurring and durable. Your professional services delivery model will often need to evolve as the company scales and the product portfolio expands.


By setting the right attitude of thinking through your mission and then structuring to scale, you can establish a PS delivery model that works with your go-to-market (GTM) strategy and iterates as you grow. A simple example of a services mission is:


We help our custoers achieve their goals, maximizing ARR for our company without losing money.


PROFESSIONAL SERVICES ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

As you structure your professional services organization, it is vital to establish strong links between the PS, sales and customer success / client service teams. Facilitating collaboration between functions ensures that you have a smooth client journey from sales through services delivery, building long-lasting client relationships and increasing rebook rates. Organizational design will evolve as your team grows seeing the arrival of specialist capabilities such as a PMO (Project Management Offices), Services Sales, Resource Managers, and PS Operations.


SELLING PROFESSIONAL SERVICES


Selling services in consulting and software sees differences in the shape of the sales organization, for example in consulting - you will encounter partnership structures augments by sales teams or pursuit leads whereas in SaaS companies it can be the Account Executive who is ultimately responsible for positioning professional services. However across both ESOs and PSOs there are some core principles that make successful sales teams:


  • A consistent sales methodology that helps customers learn through the process and differentiates your team and/or product.

  • Knowing exactly when services should step in from a pre-sales perspective, with clear rules of engagement for sales vs. professional services in the sales process.

  • Good hand-offs and data transfer in the hand-over is the easiest place to build a strong relationship with the customer in the kickoff. A strong integration between your PS and sales teams ensures that clients get the solutions they're looking for from your delivery.


Check our professional services playbook for the sales-services checklist (page 9).


PRICING FOR A PROFESSIONAL SERVICES ORGANIZATION


Well-structured scoping and pricing is an important capability for any professional services organization. Time and Materials (T&M), Fixed Price or Milestones-based billing are all common pricing approaches for project-based work. Many services organizations are looking to package services for existing customers with service credits, drawdown models and managed services growing in popularity given the recurring nature of the revenue. Regardless of your preferred method, the need for accurate scoping is critical as well as an agreement with the customer on change requests.


Poor scoping, and in turn the pricing associated, can lead to big problems for the customer relationship and your ability to deliver profitable work; in the worst instance, this can equal churn. Make sure that you have an agreed process for change requests with the customer. It's always best to avoid confusion and give definite prices to give the customer the best experience.


This pricing guide outlines some of the pros and cons of different pricing approaches and you can learn more in our latest playbook, The SaaSification of Consulting.

Delivery Model

Pricing

Benefits

Challenges

Project-based work which can have a variety of pricing approaches

- Fixed Fee

- T&M

- Delivery Milestone

- Value based

  • Fixed: Simpler to position and sell

  • T&M: Easier to forecast and recognize revenue

  • Milestone: Clear deliverables for team

  • Value: Skin in the game for you and brand differentiator

  • Fixed: Need to manage scope creep carefully

  • T&M: Aligning agreement on what is 'billable' internally and with client

  • Milestone: Slow delivery delays billing

  • Value: Do customers agree on a fair exchange of value

Consumption based where clients drawdown on services within a given period of time

- Fixed Fee

- Usage Based

  • Flexibility for customers

  • Can be more profitable depending on level of consumption

  • Boosts utilisation of teams if you can deploy staff between projects to reduce bench time

  • Pushback if there are low levels of consumption - "what am I paying for?"

  • Managing capacity if there are surges in demand

  • Understanding which client prefers flat fee of pay-per-use

Subscription-based where the client has an on-going contract which renews and is paid upfront

- Annual

- Quarterly / Monthly

  • Opportunity to maximize services recurring revenues

  • Easier to recognise revenue

  • Helps to deepen relationships with clients

  • Challenges to clearly define the scope of what is included

  • Over-servicing eats margin if not properly controlled



OPERATIONS FOR A PROFESSIONAL SERVICES ORGANIZATION


Professional Services Delivery is inherently complex with lots of moving pieces which makes it a fun, interesting, and challenging place to work at times! With this in mind, optimizing processes and investing in technology to support them is key to managing a complex professional services organization well. Time is so valuable that your technology MUST be an enabler of productive work not creating an admin burden for you and your team.


Resource management is the #1 discipline for any world-class services organization, playing a key role in customer success, operational excellence and employee experience. Give your resource managers a seat at the table so they can map out your pipeline, forecasts, margin and revenue. Effective resourcing will also help sales, customer success and delivery teams make good on promises by providing a clear view of demand, capacity, backlog and availability.



PROFESSIONAL SERVICES DELIVERY MODEL - PARTNERING WITH CUSTOMER SUCCESS


Partnership with Customer Success (CS) is a blend of art and science - when do they engage and does it make sense for services and success to work concurrently? Ultimately both CS and PS teams have responsibility for helping customers to achieve their outcomes throughout the customer lifecycle. As you scale and seek additional revenue and growth, CS plays a critical component to identifying such opportunities.


When planning the structure of a professional services organization, focus on an integrated services and success approach. Create robust connections between your PS and CS teams and ensure that you:


  • Engage CS early in the customer journey alongside services

  • Establish rules of engagement and who owns what with the customer

  • Train both teams to understand the value layer and the delivery layer

  • Keep the business case and desired outcomes as your North Star


Furthermore, services can also manage a succinct partner ecosystem (either internally or externally) that avoids support issues falling on CS shoulders; you want them to act as an enabler of the customer, not simply existing to field support issues. As part of this partner ecosystem consider the following:

  1. What delivery options do I have?

  2. What delivery options will I require to scale? (Direct? Sub-contracted? Partner-led?)

  3. How competitive is that delivery landscape and what are your differentiators?

  4. How can your partners have an equal commercial opportunity?

  5. Are you charging for your delivery?

  6. What are the pros and cons to the above?



PARTNER ECOSYSTEMS FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES


Furthermore, services can also acquire and manage a partner ecosystem that helps you accelerate sales through channel partners as well as augmenting internally delivery teams with third parties. As part of this partner ecosystem, consider the following:


  • What delivery options do I have?

  • What delivery options will I require to scale? (Direct? Sub-contracted? Partner-led?)

  • How competitive is that delivery landscape and what are your differentiators

  • How can your partners have an equal commercial opportunity?

  • Are you charging for your delivery?

  • What are the pros and cons to the above?



PROFESSIONAL SERVICES METRICS AND REPORTING


The numbers always tell a story. Here are some of the key metrics for professional services:

  • Revenue

  • Gross Margin / Gross Profit

  • Customer Health: NPS and/or CSAT

  • ARR

  • Services Recurring Revenue (SRR)

  • Billable Utilization

  • Productive Utilization

  • Project Margin

  • Time-to-Value

  • # of reference able customers

  • # of projects delivered on time

  • Revenue per Consultant

  • PS Attach Rate

The best professional services teams invest in refining their sales and service delivery methodologies resulting in profitable revenue and customer retention and growth. The SPI research index profiles the impact of efficiency gains in services as they progress.


 


The Anatomy of a World-Class Professional Services organization is mapped out in our latest playbook, Traditional Services Delivery is Dead. Download your free copy today to get all this and insights on the true value of PS, how to partner with customer success and what it means to win in the outcomes era.
Book a demo to discover how our Salesforce Integrations can help your professional services organization with PSA Salesforce to ensure your resource management and customer onboarding is seamless.


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