Employees in professional services critical of business development teams

07 September 2017 Consultancy.uk

According to their own employees, professional services firms are failing when it comes to business development compared to other industries. Employees in professional services are very critical of their own colleagues, however, suggesting they set the bar much higher than expectations among other industries.

The professional service industry has been plagued with questions about the effectiveness of its business development operations for a long time. A 2015 survey of 530 professional services firms, conducted by Hinge Marketing, found that attracting and developing new business was the top business challenge facing professional services, with 71% saying it was a problem for them. The market for professional services has, meanwhile, become increasingly competitive, as the desire for transformational advisory services to combat digital disruption has fuelled a growth in new entrants.

Now, a survey from ViewsHub, a team-to-team ratings platform, has shown that business development teams in professional services companies, including law, engineering and architectural firms, and management consultancies, are ineffective and do not command the confidence of other employees. ViewsHub surveyed over 50,000 employees from 9 sectors, with the workplace evaluation company asking them to rate the effectiveness of their teams. Departments were then ranked according to three criteria: their ability to get things done; how technically good they are at their jobs; and how responsive they are to other teams. From this, a total average score was determined.

Quality of business development services

The result of this weighted process was that business development (BD) departments in professional services companies finished rock bottom. BD departments in professional services firms were deemed: slow to deliver results, under experienced, and unresponsive to criticism according to the ratings of fellow employees. The departments received an average effectiveness score of 3.36 out of 5, a distant result from the industry leaders of communications (4.10), automotive (4.03), and financial services (4.03) departments.

This will undoubtedly concern executives at top professional service firms, as the sector comes under increasing pressure from digital disruption and increased competition. Without improvement, such firms could be handing business to new market innovators, who leverage new technology to win over previous clients of market incumbents.

A wake-up call?

According to Ab Banerjee, CEO of ViewsHub, the results are a wake-up call for the professional services industry, which signify how they are falling flat when it comes to the effectiveness of their business development. Banerjee warned that unless the issue is tackled swiftly, it could ultimately lead to company failures.

"Many professional services firms have focused, understandably, on recruiting and training fee earners to the detriment of support staff – a category that business development staff often fall into at the largest consultancies and law firms. Our data appears to suggest that this approach is now coming home to roost. Professional services companies may well now be under-investing in business development to a dangerous level.”

Professional services versus other industries

However, while the statistics suggest that, from the perspective of fellow employees at least, BD departments will need to significantly up their game, this should not preclude other departments from examining their own practices to improve standards. In the data, professional services were rated as below average on every factor by employees. While it would be easy to simply conclude in line with the figures that they are underperforming while every other department is at least adequate, the standards of the employees in professional services departments may be different to those elsewhere in companies. Staff working in professional services are typically well educated, while committed to striving to find best practices and efficiency savings, which are some of the most basic aspects of their daily work. Implicitly this might indicate that they would also tend to be highly critical of their own services. Employees in other departments might be significantly less introspective with their judgements as a result.

When examined compartmentally, the poll still showed professional services firms’ individual departments were slightly below industry averages. However, other groups were not far behind, and certainly a long way from satisfactory. HR departments, for example, which scored the lowest rating of 2.5, were also poorly rated across the board, registering a 2.8 industry average, suggesting dire need for improvement in departments beyond the world of professional services. Closely following this were professional services sector product development departments, which scored a 2.8 – compared to a 3.0 industry average.

Still remarking on the key pattern for professional services firms, Ab Banjeree stated, “The challenge for many professional services companies is that they aren’t collecting data about how their different business units, from BD through to senior management, are performing in the eyes of both their own workforce and potential clients. To have a chance of success they need to follow the lead of big organisations in other sectors and roll out the latest feedback technology, so they can get real-time performance and effectiveness data across their company.”

×

Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.