Professional Services vs. Consulting Services

This week I received an interesting inquiry from a member:

“What do product companies call their project based services, “professional services” or “consulting services?”

The perception of the senior management team at this company was that more companies in the technology industry were using the term “consulting services.” Also, the feeling was “consulting services” connoted higher value higher value to the customer. Well, this may not have been the most strategic member inquiry I have ever received, but the question did peak my interest. After all, I wrote a book titled “Building Professional Services.” So, I did a little research.

The Services Spectrum

First of all, let’s put taxonomy on the table. Over the years, I have found technology  companies use terms like “professional services” and “managed services” in very different ways. To help normalize that conversation, TSIA published a document that defined the services spectrum that exists in the industry:

The Services Spectrum

So the above chart defines everything from support services to outsourcing services. In the TSIA taxonomy, professional services is defined as “paid for what you do.” Consulting is simply another name for that type of service offering. So, from the TSIA perspective, the term  “consulting services” and “professional services”  can be used interchangeably.

But, what term are companies ACTUALLY using? Professional services or consulting services? To answer this question, I turned to the companies in the TSIA Service 50 and surveyed how they refer to their project based services. Drum roll please. As shown in the image below, over 60% of the companies in The Service 50 use the term “consulting services” instead of “professional services.”   Of course, not all companies do. Cisco, Siemens, and Symantec are all companies that use the term professional services.

Companies Using "Professional Services" vs. "Consulting Services"

Once again, not my most strategic missive, but an interesting observation. Are “professional services” now considered low brow? Are “consulting services” the preferred name for project based services offered by technology companies? You tell me.

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5 Responses to “Professional Services vs. Consulting Services”

  1. Trevia Martin Says:

    I am an executive in an IT organization. We use both terms however “Consulting Services” I believe is used more in the commercial environment and the term “professional services” is used more when dealing with federal government customers. Consultanting Services also has the perception of being “higher value” and more of an “expertise” than “professional services” which implies “implementation of a product or solution”.

    • Thomas Lah Says:

      Trevia:

      Thanks so much for the observation. I have to say, I do not see the same trend. I see many technology companies that offer “professional services” to enterprise (or commercial) customers. I do agree that “consulting services” may be perceived as providing higher value (and of course, being more expensive.)

  2. Sam Says:

    The word you are looking for is “pique” not “peak”. The former means “excite interest or curiosity.” The latter refers to the top of a mountain.

  3. Thomas Lah Says:

    Thankyou Sam, good catch.

  4. Dean Dennis Says:

    Interesting discussion. I am an exec in a global telecoms firm and I see this issue regularly. For instance, we sell products that are designed and delivered by Pro Serve resources which are billable. However, I have a GTM team that are made up of highly skilled and experienced resources that are non-billable. These guys provide consultancy that develops the ‘need’ in clients and then pulls through product sales wrapped in value added Pro Serve to provide, as an example, integration of the product into the customers legacy environment.
    Also I agree that consultancy is perceived as higher level than Pro Serve which indicated delivery.

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