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Start with Z

8 April 2016 | Philip Ammerman 

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One of the most difficult things for a consultant is to think in terms of client outcomes rather than his or her own input.

After all, most tender documents are almost entirely input-oriented. For example, a specification for a commercial due diligence project might specify (inter alia):

a. Review and assess sales and profitability information

b. Assess internal technical, financial and commercial operations

c. Benchmark competitors

d. Develop a detailed sectoral supply and demand analysis.

Based on the spec, the consultant will try to estimate the number of work-days and financial expenditure required: travel, research purchase, etc. Once this estimate is complete, the entire project proposal is typically oriented towards proving how good the consultant is for that specific project, based on that specific RFQ.

But chances are, the contractor is thinking in entirely different terms. The private equity fund manager tendering a due diligence project, for instance, is probably thinking the following:

  1. I really want to invest in this target. What research do I need to back up my decision?

  2. How can I tell if management estimates are realistic?

  3. How can I identify and challenge inflated expectations?

  4. What’s the potential downside to my investment? What might I lose?

  5. If there is a downside, how and where will it become apparent?

So the challenge for a consultant is to pitch for a project by looking at tangible client outcomes, not the inputs required to complete a job.

This affects most consultants and other professional services providers I meet. I recently visited the Nicosia offices of a global advertising firm to review its digital marketing strategy and content. One of the challenges was to explain that in drafting a credentials document, for instance, to start with the tangible business outcomes in mind, not the inputs.

I read through their credentials document, which was pretty much exactly what was expected:

  • About Us

  • Core Values

  • Services

  • Work Examples

  • Staff Profiles

One of my recommendations was to customise this credential so that it would be more relevant to the client. The example I used was learning the alphabet.

How do you know when you’ve learned the alphabet? When you recite each letter and reach the letter “Z”.

Now, imagine that you are the client, and what you really want is the outcome. In the alphabet example, that’s “Z”. Of course you will endure A – B – C and L – M – N and T – U – V. But what you really want, what you are really craving to hear, is “Z”.

Once you hear “Z”, you can relax. Your consultant knows their alphabet.

So I told the advertising firm: Put Z first. Put it right at the beginning of the alphabet. Show that you understand what your client is asking for.

And what might “Z” be, exactly? We might not have exact details, but we can make some first order assumptions. Any client of an advertising firm will want to see evidence of three competencies:

  • The agency understands specific client needs and challenges;

  • The agency can deploy creative talent to craft unique messages that stand out in a saturated media environment, leading to tangible outcomes or results;

  • The ratio of expenditure allocated to campaign management is small compared to expenditure allocated to media spending.

With this in mind, what could a credential look like?

  1. It is customised with client name and logo;

  2. It uses case studies and material from the sector and geography the client is operating in;

  3. It documents the media environment in the country in question that is most suitable for the targeted audience;

  4. It uses detailed case studies that include inputs and outcomes of campaigns;

  5. It proves that staff talent and agency processes contribute to unique results.

The discussion of this last point was stimulating. We all claim that talent is our key competitive advantage. But how can we prove it?

During our discussions, we resolved that in order to be credible, the following equation needed to be proven in the credential:

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Just remember, that R – Results -- is determined by the client. Results are not that “we spent the budget successfully”. Results are “we spent the budget efficiently and drove tangible business outcomes” as determined by the client.


In other words, start with Z.


Philip Ammerman

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