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Passion, People and Principles

Stop Chasing The Prom Queen and the Star Quarterback

post # 151 — August 4, 2006 — a Client Relations post

Rick Telberg, who writes a great blog (CPA Trendlines) about the accounting industry (profession?) has an interesting post , based on research, about who decides when companies choose a new audit or accounting firm. He reports that:

“(outside) CPAs are apparently under the impression that company owners are the Dudes of Decision….Only seven percent thought the CFO, controller or internal auditor makes the decision. Just five percent said it’s the CEO, and only two percent thought the board of directors decides.”

“But when we asked corporate accountants who makes the decision, we got a whole ‘nother point of view. CFOs seem to think that they, the CFOs themselves, make the decision. At least 56 percent of them think so. Only 26 percent said it’s the owner.”

It’s been my experience that everybody makes the mistake of thinking that THEIR project is so important to the client enterprise that it must be the client CEO who not only makes the buying decision, but wants to meet all the possible providers (i.e. them.)

Even for a relatively small company, this becomes a ludicrous proposition once you start looking at how many different service providers are competing for the CEO’s attention. A typical company might, on a regular basis, need to buy:

  1. Legal advice from more than a few law firms (different firms for different issues and jurisdictions)
  2. Advertising advice from an ad agency
  3. Public relations and public affairs advice from one or more PR firms
  4. Accounting services (audit plus) from one or more accounting firms
  5. IT services from a technology firm
  6. Executive Training from an HR consulting firm
  7. Executive search for a new top officer from a headhunter firm
  8. Financial or merger, acquisition advice from an investment bank
  9. Asset reallocation in pension plan restructuring from either a money management firm.
  10. Real estate strategy for office, manufacturing, distribution, retail operations from a real estate firm
  11. Supply channel (logistics) advice from either a possible partner or third-party advisor.

What’s amusing to me about this list is that examples of ever single one of these firms has asked me to conduct seminars for their people about how they can become their clients’ key TRUSTED ADVISOR , focusing on the CEO. But they can’t all be, simultaneously!

It seems that everybody wants (to use the American terminology) to date the prom queen and the star quarterback, and, as a result, is probably negelecting or treating badly someone else who might really want a relationship!

The problem is, of course, that most CEOs don’t want this number of close personal advisors, so, they delegate the details, the relationship and hold their subordinates accountable.

The neglected, less glamorous people around the beauty queen and the captain of the team may actually be the very people who can give you what you want!

Providers who are still trying to meet (and sell to) the CEO probably overestimate their own importance and misunderstand the priorities of a CEO.

(Thanks to Dennis Howlett for directing me to Rick’s post.)


david foster said:

I once heard Jack Welch speak on this topic to a group of GE people. He suggested that there was too much talk about “high-level selling” and that people would do better to practice some “low-level selling.” He pointed out that for a GE Division General Manager to call on, say, the CEO of a utility company was nothing special—”he sees guys like you all the time”—but if that same GM were to call on, say, the manager of generation planning, it might be a much more significant event.

posted on August 7, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Great example, David. I think the general rule here to get hired is “who could we make look really good in the eyes of his/her company? Let’s focus on that person!”

This is sometimes misinterpreted as “Let’s find our champion”, but I think that’s too self-oriented and leads to getting the tone wrong.

posted on August 7, 2006