Advancing Your Vision and Mission
The role of a “client advocate” is to advance the vision, mission and objectives of the organization, business journey or project. Clients hire us to advise, educate and execute. Our job is never about us.
When I was on my first major project at Accenture, a partner accused me of being the ACLU for the client. At first, I was confused and offended by the accusation. Isn’t our job to advocate for the client? When a client makes a reasonable request, in alignment with the project objectives, our job is to execute. Especially when paying Accenture rates!
Although the client is not always right, their best interest always trumps the service providers best interest. As technology and business practices evolve, so must the procedures and engagement models of consultancies.
Unintended Adversarial Relationships
The vast majority of consultancies view themselves as service providers. Consultants all want to provide the best service possible to our clients. We strive to achieve the client’s business objective and delight them with our service! However, publishers and business practices have created systemic tensions.
Billing and Licensing Practices
Win-Win business transactions foster the best partnerships, However, billing practices created over time or forced upon consultants by technology giants and software publishers can create conflict between a service provider and their customer.
Time and Material Billing
Hourly rates are inherently confrontational and arbitrary. Hourly rates are either “usual and customary” or cost plus based. The value of an hour can vary widely, yet the customer must pay the same rate whether the outcome is success or failure. The efficiency between professional at the same billing rate can vary widely. The questioning of value per hour or whether the hour should be billed creates an adversarial relationship between customer and service provider.
The conceptual basis for subscription services is not adversarial. However, billing practices often result in conflict. Clients feel “cheated” when usage declines and service levels and prices are fixed over a long term. Monthly subscriptions often requires a one, two or three year commitment to the initial usage level. Incentives and discounts that “lock in” a price also lock in a cost which may exceed value.
- Decrease in user counts or seasonal usage patterns that allow increase but do not allow reductions.
- Unused entitlements, such as advanced features never implemented.
- “Customer Satisfaction Plans” (aka support) which are sold as a complete service but are limited by a number of use it or lose it hours within a month.
Although perpetual licenses can have a lower total cost of operation over a long term, they cost more in times of declining usage. A customer in the construction industry grew rapidly and bought licenses as operations expanded. Then the housing bubble hit and they had to let go over half their staff. The publisher did not allow for reduction of licenses, so the company opted out of maintenance putting their systems at risk.
Money Back Guarantees
I have seen many conflicts over the money back guaranty. Retailers are all too familiar with customers who use a product and then return it. This also happens to consultants. Worse is when a customer thinks they have a money back guaranty only to read the fine print after a failed engagement. Both parties may have entered the contract with best of intentions only to see the relationship explode due to unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances.
The New Client Advocate Model
Historically, the client advocate served as the liaison between the customer and the consulting firm. This “account manager” position helped find resources or sell services to the customer on behalf of the consulting firm. With the rise of subscription models, the role expanded to a head of a client satisfaction team which coordinated support and enhancement activities for the customer. For larger clients a Cloud Engagement Executive role is now staffed by a senior manager or partner level employee of the consulting firm.
In all these models, the focus may sound customer oriented. However, the models focus on maximizing revenue for the publisher through increasing subscriptions or selling more services for the consultancy. As an boutique firm, independent of publisher affiliations, the I-BN Client Advocate model places the customer at the heart of the service. Although we hope for long term engagement with our customers, our engagements focus on client outcomes. We have no publisher quotas, internal revenue growth metrics or conflicting agendas.
How a Client Advocate Pays Dividends
Engaging with a client advocate improves the probability of success and maximizes the return on investment for a variety of reasons:
- Risk Reduction– An experienced professional knows what to expect and how to react to unforeseen circumstances. Similar to driving a car, when you first start you think you know the mechanics, but often you have no idea how to really drive. New drivers do not anticipate the person who thinks they own the road or how the car will hydroplane over a puddle. Client advocates have the vision that comes with experience to anticipate and mitigate risk.
- Connections – When project complications occur an advocate can effectively escalate problems to hasten resolution. Advocates know executives at publishers, third party developers or consulting organizations and can call or message their connection in a way a single customer cannot.
- Liaison and Communicate – Service providers often talk in TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) and technobabble without even thinking about it. A client advocate can translate technical terms into English and visa versa. A “client side” professional who comes onsite and interfaces with the local client team can also translate business requirements into technical specifications.
- Cost Savings – The experience and connections can combine to create cost savings. For example, smaller businesses often do not have available resources for tasks which do not require extensive technical expertise, but benefit from familiarity with the product. Rather than relying on expensive consultants a client advocate with experience can suggest independent contractors, offshore resources or direct college interns for data cleansing and conversion or report and script development.
When Should You Engage a Client Advocate?
Client advocates have specific knowledge and expertise in areas which are not core competencies of a business. Companies utilize client advocates for projects and initiatives on an as needed basis to streamline projects and reduce their risk. I-Business Network provides CxO Services (Chief [Fill In the x] Officer) utilizing the breadth of experience within our community. Project examples include:
- Digital strategy and transformation leadership
- Integration strategy and planning
- Cloud strategy and selection
- System Selection
- Program and project management
An ERP implementation is a perfect candidate for engaging a client advocate. Typically, a company changes business management systems once per decade, or hopefully, even less frequently. Internal resources may have changed systems once or twice in their career. Client personnel often have their regular job duties to attend to during the project. In large enterprises, a full time project manager is assigned, or specifically hired for the duration of the project. Unfortunately, small to mid-size businesses rarely have the available resources or the appetite for a six figure project manager for a one time project. Our executives have each participated in hundreds of implementations and can help manage and guide a project and streamline communications between a company and its ERP implementation partner.
For a free consultation with one of our principals, complete our CxO Explore form.