July 7, 2011 / By Tony Signore
During the past two months — since Harvard made available for sale its case study on Taylor — we’ve been engaged by industry trades, national business media and marketing conferences to share highlights of Taylor’s five-year transformation process with their respective audiences. Hopefully, the results of our conversations and panel discussions with industry influencers such as Steve Barrett (PR Week), Arun Sudhaman (The Holmes Report), Kathy Cripps and Matt Shaw (Council of Public Relations Firms) and Brent Hodgins (Mirren Business Development) will continue to be stimulating and thought-provoking for all current and aspiring leaders of the most innovative professional service firms.
Having thoroughly examined the 25-page case study, which details a multi-phase process aimed at providing greater value to an elite and select roster of client partners, the aforementioned journalists probed with hopes of uncovering the true catalyst behind our decision to transform what was, according to Cripps, “a successful, albeit fairly unremarkable, tactical publicity shop specializing in sports to a rapidly growing, strategic marketing communications firm.”
The sessions wouldn’t be complete without a clear understanding of the lessons learned along the way. For us, there were so many to share I could have waxed poetic for hours. That said, a senior editor representing a prominent business publication suggested I cut to the chase and articulate just one (1) valuable lesson. At the time, she was “looking forward to engaging in my thinking” but wasn’t quite ready to assign a story on Taylor. I believe her approach and journalistic style elicited the most provocative response thus far and so I thought it would be a good idea to share our Q & A with you while she decides whether Taylor’s radical transformation is apropos for her readers.
“If you were going to extract one lesson from your experience that would be useful to other business leaders in other fields, what would it be?”
THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON TAYLOR CAN SHARE WITH OTHER BUSINESS LEADERS IS THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY OF DEFINING THE ORGANIZATION’S VISION not in terms of internally-developed goals (typical goals might include number of clients, short term revenue growth, geographical footprint, etc.) but rather, ENTIRELY IN TERMS OF WHAT WILL CREATE IRREPLACEABLE VALUE FOR CLIENT PARTNERS. Providing value at this level is not only the key to establishing lasting partnerships, it also creates a deep desire among the ideal prospects to partner with your organization.
Central to achieving this, however, is a recognition that EVERY major business decision an organization makes must be measured against and must be in complete alignment with your vision. This is where even many respected business leaders fall short. Some of the most essential decisions will often have adverse financial impact in the short term. For example, Taylor’s transformation would not have been possible had we not made the difficult choice to walk away from over 50 clients – and all of the attendant revenue – to focus exclusively on the 15 true client partners who embraced our vision, and who desired a deeper level of partnership and more strategic value than they were getting from other professional services firms.
It is not a one-time decision, either. Sustained discipline is essential to achieving a transformational vision, because choices that deviate from the vision would not only impact credibility with external stakeholders like client partners; they would lead to a loss of credibility with the internal stakeholders within your organization who are directly responsible for living and implementing the vision every day.
Why has Taylor been willing to make the difficult choices and have the sustained discipline necessary to achieve its vision? Ultimately, we believe the choice for a professional services firm is a simple one: if we are not providing irreplaceable value for our client partners, we have by definition become replaceable. By contrast, decades of research from HBS and other top business schools has conclusively demonstrated that long-term client loyalty inevitably leads to sustainable growth and revenue performance.
This is only true, however, if an organization is generating loyalty from true client partners which share its long-term perspective, and are equally committed to it. This is why we have been so selective in the world-class companies with whom we choose to partner: category leading brands like Allstate, Capital One, Coca-Cola, Diageo, Gillette, MasterCard, Taco Bell and others. Additionally, it informs our assessment of the prospective client partners whom we admire, and with whom we would want to engage.
Photo Credits: Mirren New Business Conference & Taylor