Posts Tagged ‘Professional Services’

Education Technology To Trump Artificial Intelligence Buzz

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

I have had three separate occurrences this past month for family members needing quick advice for a range of more serious and less serious healthcare conditions. Here in the UK, the National Health Service’s Accident and Emergency Departments have become the repository for all conditions and advice outside of normal UK working hours, irrespective of the urgency or severity of the condition. According to one enthusiastic A&E nurse in a London hospital,  at a minimum 50% of patients don’t have a condition that warrants being there! We have a healthcare customer base that is

  • Increasingly uneducated about the resolution of minor and major health illnesses and injuries
  • Struggling with the increased automation in the healthcare system
  • Rapidly growing and drawn from very diverse backgrounds and cultures
  • Expecting greater access to world-class advice and near real-time resolution of all healthcare problems
  • Expecting free or near-free cost of advice and treatment
  • Reconciled by politicians that fear to speak out about the paucity of mass healthcare education
  • Comforted by a media that is only too keen to promulgate a sense of victim hood for a good headline

The response has been to rejig the supply of healthcare resources, the productivity of those resources and the automated processes. To channel all requests for help, outside of normal UK working hours, to emergency healthcare professionals, to ask them to enforce the prioritisation of all out-of-hours healthcare treatments, to perform to their best and to be on the front line taking the flak from patients and dependants frustrated at average wait times. Who would want to work in A&E?

Surely in this mobile-connected age there is a higher touch higher tech solution to the education, prioritisation, delivery of advice and resolution of illnesses and injuries? We are moving away from the archaic idea that every child gets the same textbook in school and in future embracing “adaptive learning”, where every child has materials updated in real time, customised to what they know and how they learn best. Using software to handle the basics and freeing children and teachers to spend the rest of the day interacting on group projects and personalised instruction. A back to the future revolution, not a dependence on online learning.

We have spent billions building “algorithms” that allow machines to ape human behaviour (artificial intelligence) but a tiny percentage of that on aiding humans to become smarter than the automation suppressing our talents and enthusiasm in the workplace. The NHS is but one example where we need to leverage technology to enhance, not replace us. To invest in human intelligence (customers, managers, employees and payors).

The same applies in almost every business. We suck the energy and life out of our employees and clients, asking them to perform basic activities without regard to the outcomes (onboarding clients, resolving complaints, adhering to redundant policies and procedures etc.). The automation is swamping their abilities to apply common sense, to provide outstanding customer service (speed and quality of response), to create loyal and “permanent” customers and in return obtain fulfilment from their work. How else explain the rising boredom levels in almost every professional workplace?

Yet executives in banks, insurance companies, professional service firms and others respond by deploying huge amounts of capital to harness big data and analytics, to make smarter artificial underwriting, investment and advisory decisions (models, augmented reality, robots and so on).  A tiny slither of that amount on enhancing their own managers, employees and customers intelligence, and when they do, it is on prosaic “one size fits all” training programmes, where they have close to zero understanding of the return on investment. Consequently, huge swathes of the workforce, management and customers are ill prepared for the disruption.

If you are not convinced that education technology from the children’s nursery through the workplace and into senior living represents a huge growth business and investment opportunity, you are sleepwalking through life.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.





Who Transforms The Transformer

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Large advisory firms (Big Four and large management consulting practices) have cornered an expertise in transforming how large businesses deploy capital, manage human resources and IT, accelerate innovation and implement strategy. Yet many of those same “expert” firms are desperately in need of transformation.

How else do you explain the increasing tension between the commodity end of their work (outsourced shared service offerings) and the desire to grow the high-margin, high-value strategic advisory business? It is a fraying piece of string for those, who desire to play in both segments.

The complexity of the advisory businesses is such that an increasing proportion of front line employees time is being reserved for internal issues (tweaking matrix organisation structures, new value propositions, problem solving and fees), at the expense of the client. Yet there are very few people in those firms, who have the skills and volition to want to lead the change (“champion”).

Safety lies in the belief that your brand will get you the first meeting with the large client. Yet a cursory google search reveals very few Partners in these firms, who are demonstrably centres of expertise or objects of strong interest to C-level operatives and the wider global media. Inherently, the transformation business is a pricing battle dressed up in pseudo value-based fees.

Indeed, changing the operating beliefs that inform the behaviour of Partners and Directors in those firms is very hard. The outliers or mavericks in those firms are tolerated to the extent that they inject some colour into client relationships but they are very rarely embraced in the inner sanctum. So you end up with external market forces largely determining the future of these advisory firms.

A client wouldn’t take advice from Hilary Clinton on email etiquette or Donald Trump on diplomatic communication, why would they hire these folks? The only conclusion is that they feel safe in hiring lots of extra pairs of hands from a known brand so long as the price is right.

You’ll have a hard time convincing me that is right for the client and the advisory firm’s future.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Obese Businesses In A Healthy World

Monday, March 21st, 2016










If you hire a personal fitness trainer or financial adviser, you would reasonably expect that they visibly are the embodiment of the healthy lifestyle and prudent risk taking that they promote. If you hire a large consulting firm you would reasonably expect that they are the embodiment of  the reinvention and innovation they promote. Specifically,

  • How does our brand stand out in a crowded market when our buyers don’t see the differences?
  • How do we bridge the gap between our existing buyers’ perception about the quality of our work (high) and their propensity to recommend and refer us to new prospects (low)?
  • Which area of the market should we stake out and leverage digital technology to transform our clients’ future?

That thought crossed my mind at the recent launch event of Source Global Research’s UK and global consulting market findings. The hard evidence suggests that many of these large firms don’t have the answers in respect of their own market. Buyers report close to zero differentiation across their service offering and a low propensity to recommend or refer these firms. The consulting firms themselves are directing marketing resources to the entirety of the market without regard to their ideal buyers, largely reliant on foot soldiers knocking on client doors and service offerings driven by production capability rather than client need.

Indeed, I walked away thinking that many boutique and solo consulting firms including my own are actually way ahead of many large global consultants. Forced by necessity, small entrepreneurial firms have created strong and clear value propositions, identified and directed limited marketing resources to their ideal buyers not every buyer, prioritised building a strong marketing gravity to their brand and created a range of offerings at increasing price points that are tightly customised to their target client’s needs. For once, the grass is indeed greener on the small guy’s side of the fence.

This isn’t an isolated phenomena. Clients of large advisory firms in global equities and fixed income research, investment banking, re(insurance) broking, private equity, private banking and so forth are coming to a conclusion that the large firms and traditional value chain is not working for their benefit. While small firms are creating new value propositions, new ways to attract clients, new ways to integrate high tech into the client experience and so forth, the larger players are largely falling back on trying to sell more of the same in more ingenious manners (leverage) and defending their turf. The trouble is that they don’t have watertight doors. Technology is rapidly providing faster and more impressive ways to apply knowledge to capital and human resources. Size alone is not a guarantee of future survival.

Everyone talks about “disruption” today as if it demands a new or unique response before, during or after an event. I don’t look at it that way. I see it that many large and mid-sized advisory firms in different sectors have got away from the marketing focus, discipline and resolve to compete effectively. They have layered complexity (bureaucracy) over what started out as a simple business with a simple marketing structure and process. The world has and will always change (new regulation, new technology, new capital sources, new competition will arise).

If they prioritise, hire and develop the requisite marketing skills, have their people do the right things, hold them accountable and reward them appropriately, they will have control and relevance. If they sail away from that imperative, they will have increasing insecurity and fear, which ultimately will lead to increasing mergers or worse, extinction.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Inside The Executive Office: Compelling Stories

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

I have spoken to in excess of 750 customers of financial services, insurance and business services advisory and brokerage firms globally over the past 12 months. Hear are the 3 most important questions your clients want to know:

  • Your ability to fix a human problem
  • Your ability to satisfy a human need
  • Your ability to ignite the human spirit

5% of customers report firms providing “absolute clarity/absolute conviction” to all three questions, 55% report firms providing answers that are “opaque/self-doubt” and 40% of responses that are “totally unclear/disingenuous”. If you are an executive in the last two groups (the overwhelming majority), you have a lot of work to do, fast, to change your customer’s perception of your business, your people and the perceived value.

Look at your marketing collaterals, exhibits, media comments, speeches, client and prospect conversations and ask

  1. Internally and externally (clients, business partners, media partners), where can we improve in 1 week?
  2. What needs to change first? (priorities, quick wins)
  3. How will we know we are successful? (what ideally do you want to see, hear and feel)
  4. How can we sustain that level of improvement? (better accountability, enhanced performance, changes to feedback and rewards system)

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Illusionary Growth Plans

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

I remember a middle ranking executive of a US$3 billion US multinational approaching me for help in articulating his growth plans for the Latin America region. “You consultants are experts at wow presentations. I need to impress my boss”. After a little bit of further digging he wanted me to take his strands of thought, apply some magic and craft them into a meaningful growth strategy presentation with his name on it. In so doing create an illusion that he was the master of his own destiny.

There is a point at which consultants hide their ego and help clients. When they do, I believe ethically it needs to be with appropriate attribution. “Oh no, he’ll see it is not my ideas!”

I find with many executives they want the glory without the risk.

They fear being exposed sometimes rightly, as an imposter.

They fear that visibly paying for help will be seen in the organisation as a sign of weakness rather than strength. As if it is right to use scare resources to hire a consultant but not admit they helped.

They fear that presenting ideas that are not their own will diminish their own credibility amongst their peers.

They fear themselves. They don’t trust their own judgement when they look in the mirror.

When you walk into a meeting dangling your ego and constantly seek validation from others, this is what happens.

When your mindset is that there are others smarter than me. I would be wise to seek their input. I am confident defending the reasons for hiring them. The shared wisdom when applied to key organisational issues will help all of us dramatically accelerate the speed and probability of meeting or exceeding our goals, it is easy to move forward.

There is enough set backs in profitably growing a business to humble all of us but if we don’t take stock of our own mindset and self-talk, we are deluding ourselves that we will be successful.

Are You Thinking What I Was Thinking No.1

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

From time to time, I get requests to share my expertise with members of my professional communities. I am delighted to respond briefly and encourage you to email me requests to

Q: I would like your perspective, it is no longer good enough to be an order-taker or a passive account manager in market-leading businesses. In today’s economy, companies with high growth opportunities need to recruit people who can close business and fast. Robert McGarvey, Chicago

A: Robert, outstanding account managers and their brands have learned to adjust their approaches, behaviour and attitude in the following three ways:

1. Account managers do not wait for the right time, they make now the right time. That means identifying or creating a client need, which the client is willing to write a check for now, not in six months time.

2. Account managers adopt a process of constant reinvention and communication with their best clients. Their mindset is that the world never stands still and neither does the competition. Their weekly routine would consist at a minimum, most if not all of the following:

  • Rapid completion of existing client assignments
  • Progressing the discussion with prospects towards clients
  • Contacting past clients, seen or spoken to them and presented 1 new, relevant product, service or relationship offering
  • Creating 1 new alternative way for their target buyers to utilise and purchase their products, services or relationships (for example, a workshop, a video, live-streaming meetings, a tool or template, a breakfast seminar and so on)
  • Eliciting three referrals per week from their highest potential clients and positioning the introduction to each referral candidate
  • Investigating and formulating a plan to attend 1 networking event
  • Contacting and proposing a speaking opportunity to a meeting host or sponsor
  • Identifying and developing a relationship with an internal or external alliance partner
  • Routine calls outside of current assignment to target buyers without a particular agenda
  • Sending targeted mailing or newsletter with relevant information to a target group of buyers or prospects
  • Identifying opportunities for an article in media regularly read by their target buyers
  • Disseminating ideas and gaining internal support (financial and non-financial) amongst peers and subordinates for additional client development activities

You would be right to say that requires a lot of focus and discipline but that is precisely the pace that the very best people in your sector are running at. They have learned to adapt their behaviour, skills, experience and resources to get to this level. They have become much more time concious (meetings attended, time usage in meetings, travel to/from meetings, email management, other technology disruption and so on) Why can’t you?

3. Education is the “currency” of outstanding Account Managers. Repeat business success and an abundance of referrals creating an overflowing pipeline of new opportunities is largely about people with the skills and volition to educate their customers. That presumes that they have built first, a peer-level trusting relationship with the buyer. My observation in professional services, re(insurance) brokerage, private banking, financial services and so forth is that selling in a conventional sense is fading fast. The remnants lie in the commodity ends of those businesses but even there technology is acting as a dis-intermediating force for change (price comparison sites, business to consumer capabilities and so on). The future for traditional transactional sales is weak. Who wants to be sold to? Corporate buyers want to be better educated, make more informed decisions and enjoy a collaborative relationship with experts that creates impressive results. That means harnessing data and technology, transforming it into information, knowledge and ultimately, wisdom consistent with the buyer’s goals.

My advice for outstanding account managers who want fresh and exciting challenges and the commensurate rewards:

  • What new, relevant value are you capable of bringing to clients now that you weren’t able to do 3 years ago? (the benchmark at a minimum should be an additional third of your capabilities. Anything less and you are plateauing, whether consciously or not)
  • What are you doing to re-invest in your educational competencies? (at a minimum each year, you are reading 5 new publications, you are listening to 5 new influential opinion-makers, and you are regularly taking advice from 5 new powerful voices, largely operating outside your industry sector)
  • What new skills and behaviours can you readily acquire and apply profitably in the short-term for your best clients? (at a minimum, each year you should be able to pint to 3 new skills or capabilities)
  • Can others readily see a strong “fit” between your skills and the opportunities in today’s markets? (at a minimum, quarterly you should be able to point to 3 occasions where buyers have remarked on your strong alignment with their needs)
  • Are you  emphasising those skills and results in your conversations, presentations and credibility statements regularly or sporadically with target buyers? (at a minimum, monthly you should be able to point to 5 different marketing activities where visibly buyers can see your new, relevant skills) If not, why not?

Success goes to those who are the fastest to adapt in today’s global economy.

Life Immitating Art

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Bob Hoskins’s sad passing this week reminds me of an intimate Grand Classics screening, almost 10 years ago to the day, when he shared his inspiration for a career in the movie business, Jules Dassin’s crime movie, Rififi. For those not familiar with the French crime film, it is an adaption of Le Breton’s novel of the same name. The centrepiece of the film is a 30-minute heist shot with barely any sound or music. The viewer is drawn to the difficulty of pulling off the heist at the heavily alarmed rue de Rivoli jewellery shop, the ability of the gang leader to communicate successfully through his actions and in so doing, to inspire the other gang members to follow him without fear for their own well-being.  While the rest of the tale revolves around rival jealousies and settling of old scores between different gangs, there are some interesting lessons for business leaders entering into highly ambiguous growth markets.

  1. Effective leadership is largely about “doing” (action), not “saying” (empty mission statements).
  2. It is about discipline and a clear line of sight  on the long-term objective (goals or improvement), while navigating foreseen (customer preferences, market demand) and unforeseen short-term obstacles (entrance of a large competitor) that might trip the alarm bell along the journey
  3. It is about setting clear accountabilities for everyone in advance (sales and marketing, operations, finance, human resources etc.)
  4. It is about establishing trusting relationships and powerful alliances with key individuals, who you implicitly trust and are critical to attaining your goals
  5. It is about coming to terms with your fears and maintaining the right perspective. “Perceived” but not real fear (failure, embarrassment),  “actual” fear (growth projections disabled by incorrect market assumptions) and those that might have catastrophic consequences (loss of personal wealth or your position).
  6. It is about doing a small number of things that you are competent and passionate about exceedingly well and often.
  7. It is about making the complex (breaking into a new market), simple (practical actions others can routinely undertake with measurable results and a clear understanding of the value).

Whether, you are a private banker targeting new Chinese billionaires, a senior partner in a Professional Services firm expanding into Indonesia or an global insurance company seeking to exploiting demand from your corporate customers for increased protection from cyber crimes, it is not so difficult to accomplish, so long as your focus is on what really matters.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Business Acquisition: A Winning Mindset

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Why do first meetings with the owners of businesses you want to buy or the team or key producer you want to hire, reveal so little about them and so much about your own insecurities? If the objective is to profitably grow and expand the business, then we should first check that we are able to maintain a “winning mindset” and provide a lasting first impression. That is not difficult to achieve unless we consciously or unconsciously ignore the other party’s best interests.

Here are the distinctions I draw from my very best clients in professional service firms (insurance, legal, accounting, architectural, art, advertising and so on):

  1. They establish clearly defined minimum and maximum objectives before the meeting. At a minimum, a common set of beliefs, a sense of each other’s destiny and timing, why it is important personally and professionally. At a maximum,  they have established trust, both parties are open about their objectives for any future collaboration, what represents progress and success, and the value derived from the collaboration and the contribution being invested by each.
  2. They are able to tilt the power in the conversation (astute preparation and visualisation of the conversation) with people they have never met quickly and impressively.
  3. They invest time in understanding their own fears and those of their colleagues before they walk in the door and they take assertive steps to prevent those biases clouding good judgement.
  4. They willingly provide immediate value to the other party (ideas, insights, self-disclosure, suggestions how to accelerate the conversation) that is demonstrably in the best interests of the other party, not just their own situation.
  5. They readily admit what they don’t know to the other party (high-level of self-esteem).
  6. They are accurate in identifying the other party’s comfort zone and readily able to adapt their own approaches (pace of discussion, objections expressed and self-evident fears, and suggest alternatives)
  7. Their language and discussion focuses on the future value they can create for the other party (results), not their “past” history or their current methodology.
  8. They know where they are in the conversation at all times, what key questions they will ask next to move the dialogue to where they want to go (the finishing line) and what responses demand immediate push back or even running to the exit door.
  9. They willingly embrace and have the means to hire third party help (facilitating meetings, resolving conflicts over objectives and alternatives, formulating strategy, independent valuations and so on), where it is reasonable and appropriate to do so without fear of others’ opinions (their own self-worth).
  10. They maintain a strong resolve to see the conversation through to its’ natural conclusion (prioritising time and in-person presence, garnering support from others, acting as an exemplar, overcoming -changes of direction, accepting push back and so on)
  11. They establish clearly defined next steps (time, date, action) for any future follow up.

The next time an acquisition target appears on your radar screen, invite them to a comfortable setting, offer them generous hospitality and remind yourself that they represent a fabulous opportunity, not a threat. Ask yourself how they might leave eulogising about a really positive experience, no matter what you decide to do together. Put yourself in their shoes. Achieving that small goal, might have a bigger impact on your business growth than you ever imagined.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.




Choreographing Client Acquisition In Professional Services

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

We are at the stage of determining the right school for our four year old daughter. Living in South West London, there is an abundance of great day prep-schools, some of whom have branched out overseas in search of further growth and expansion. Ownership is in the hands of family members, charitable trusts and private sector businesses. All have great facilities, strong teaching faculties, excellent exam results and attract a diverse group of children from homes in the surrounding area. As a prospective Parent on your initial visit, you are welcomed through the School’s front door, given a tour by a Governor, a senior teacher or a child near graduation. There is a fleeting few minutes to pose the odd question to the School Head and Admissions Officer. Then comes the stiff envelope dropping through the mailbox with an invitation to the School’s “Assessment Day” or in a small number of cases, a conditional offer. A brief hour ensues where the academic staff make judgements about the suitability of your child.

For many Parents in London, it is the first real “test” their children have ever faced or rather their Parents have faced.  For some of the latter, there is a huge sense of self-worth at stake. Mothers dress up immaculately (think Sotheby’s preview attire). Time-pressed Fathers dash from the McKinsey Boardroom or Citibank Towers to be “present” (the blackberry slipping out of the breast pocket in the dimly lit corridors between the Reception class and Year 1 smiling faces). Months of feverish gossip are going to end within 7 days in elation or a sense of failure, when the letter arrives with the “offer” or polite declinature.

Making decisions as a Parent comes down to a small number of qualitative judgements: our relationship with the Head Teacher or Headmistress, our feel about the “fit” between our child and the school environment, and the other Parents. Equally, one must presume there is a small number of qualitative decisions those schools make about the children, and quite possibly, the Parents. Those judgements are fine.

The same experience applies to the choices many customers are asked to make between the top 5 brands in most professional service sectors (accountants, lawyers, architects, advertising, PR and so forth). How well do you choreograph the customer experience from the moment they first hear, read or see your brand? Do you even think about choreographing the experience? Can you easily identify the “touch points” along the journey to welcoming a new client? Do you prioritise time, money and resource deliberately towards the “high touch” (the in-person moments) rather than the “low touch” (website, social media, media interviews etc.)? Do you train and develop your people to engage in meaningful conversations or merely rely on symbolic gestures? Do you measure the quantitative and qualitative impact changes in your approach have on your firm’s business acquisition results? If you don’t, you can sure bet your customers are.

© James Berkeley 2013.