Becoming The Expert.

The difference between success and
failure is often not in knowing
what to do, but in doing it. One of
the areas where the getting it done
problem routinely arises is in living the
firm’s positioning. When working with a
firm I routinely see this pattern:
We’ll narrow the focus of the firm, we’ll
craft a consistent claim of expertise,
we’ll identify the assets the firm has to
support the claim and begin adding
those it’s missing. Then, when it’s time to
start selling, the business development
person, whether principal or employee,
will continue to bring back all the wrong
types of engagements – from tiny tactical
projects to assignments that have
nothing to do with the firm’s new focus.
The positioning has changed in language
only; not in reality.
It’s in business development where the
firm begins to live it’s new positioning
(strategy) and transition from order-
taker to expert. You can only reinvent
your firm one new client at a time, and
if the size or nature of the client
engagements is not moving you toward
your positioning, you’ll never get there.
Sometimes the challenge is rooted in the
innate hard-wiring of the individuals
involved – asking them to do things they
just cannot, but most of the time the
challenges are institutional.
My colleague Cal Harrison at Beyond
Referrals sites the 85-15 Rule from
William Edwards Demming, the father of
Total Quality Management. “Demming’s
rule suggests that when things go wrong,
there is roughly an 85% chance the
system (management, machinery and
rules) is at fault. Only about 15% of the
time is the individual employee at fault.”
So, what is it about the system (firm,
management, policies) that is impeding
success in implementing the strategy?
For employees, it could be their
compensation (pay) plan. I’ve previously
written that the incentives in most
business development employees’ pay
plans are not properly aligned to the
goals of the firm . But there’s more going
wrong than poorly constructed pay
plans. What is that keeps people and
firms from making the positioning real?
Thankfully, the guru of all professional
service firms has written a book on the
question and its answers. David
Maister’s Strategy & The Fat Smoker is
all about, as the subtitle says, Doing
What’s Obvious But Not Easy . For you as
an agency principal and for me as a
consultant, the million dollar question is
How do we get you and your people to do
what we both agree needs to be done?
The short answer is meaningful
measurement and a willingness to
incorporate that feedback into
performance appraisal and rewards. The
shorter answer still is the Business
Development Scorecard, described
The Scorecard
For every new client you bring in, large
and small, ask yourself these five
questions and grade the client/
engagement to see if it’s moving you
toward or away from your strategy. At
the bottom I’ll explain how to ensure
that the feedback from the scorecard
keeps moving you forward.
Yes (+1) Maybe (0) No (-1)
1. Does doing this work add credibility
to, rather than
detract from, our consistently articulated
claim of
expertise (positioning)?
2. Is this client aware of our minimum
level of
engagement (MLOE approx. 10% of
annual fee goal )
and is he likely to meet it over the first
12 months?
3. Were we able to direct or affect the
buying process,
instead of being forced to follow the
4. Were we able to secure the
engagement without
parting with free or poorly compensated
strategic or
creative advice?
5. Did the engagement begin with us
being paid to
first diagnose the problem and
recommend a
strategy before we developed creative?
Explaining the Questions
Question 1: Add Credibility?
Everything you and your firm does –
everything – either sharpens the
perception of the firm as an expert or
muddies it. Generalist firms can try to
claim that pretty much everything they
do adds to their positioning, but they’ll
suffer when answering the remaining
questions. Any firm that has properly
declared a true specialization will have
less leeway when answering this
question, but this is the gut-check
question: does taking this work deepen
our expertise or does it merely broaden
our focus?
Question 2: Meet our Minimum?
This one is tricky to score; there are two
variables. First, is the client aware of
your MLOE, meaning, did you tell him
that you’re not in the project business?
Did you tell him you’re looking for a
small number of new clients who will
spend $x with you over the year? If yes,
then you get to score at least zero. The
second variable is the question, Is he
likely to meet that minimum? If this is a
one-time project that will not lead to
other work or meet your minimum but
you did tell the client about the
minimum and he understood you made
an exception for him, then score a zero.
If the client understands your minimum
and has committed to meeting it or says
he is likely to meet it, then give yourself
a point. No and no equals -1.
Question 3: Affect the Process?
You can answer this question in one
millisecond. Little control in the buying
process means you were not seen as the
expert and you will have little control in
the engagement. Any short-term gains
(money) came at the cost of impairing
the firm’s ability to do it’s best work and
move it toward the expert firm. You’ve
probably left margin dollars on the table,
too. If the client didn’t allow you to lead
and didn’t make concessions in his own
process for you then your firm wasn’t
seen as different enough to merit the
inside track. If you did lead or the client
did make concessions in the buying
process, score 1.
Question 4: Free Thinking?
Be honest. Free strategy is free pitching,
Question 5: Paid to Diagnose?
If you were allowed to lead in the buying
cycle then you will be allowed to lead the
engagement, and it will show up right
here. Were you allowed to begin at the
beginning or were you forced to jump
right into a creative brief and execution?
Did the client dictate the working
process or did you? The real proof is in
your first invoice. If the amount billed
ended with anything other than three
zeros, then you were billing tactical work
by the hour.
Using the Numbers
If you really want to live your declared
strategy, simply use this report card for
every new client, publish the scores
within the firm, and tie incentives to it.
Track your annual average and your
moving 12-month average. Further, if
your business development people have
any incentives in their pay plan, make
sure they are at least partially tied to the
scorecard results.
The goal isn’t necessarily to score a
perfect 5 every time, rather, it’s to drive
continuous improvement, and to be
aware of how each new client is either
moving you toward the strategy of living
your positioning or taking you away
from it. There will always be
compromises – project work, even when
not actively pursuing it, and occasional
prostitution where you do something just
for the money. But the scorecard should
help to reduce the compromises and
keep your occasional prostitution from
becoming your career.
Try it, and let me know how it works.
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