By Mike Antonczyk and Matt Hirschland Ph.D.

One of the more common questions we are asked is how do I stack up to my competitors? We do a tremendous amount of work helping our clients answer this question and preparing them to win in competitive situations. However while important, how one stacks up against others in terms of capabilities, is not the most important factor. If the goal is growth, the more important question is:  Do we actually have relationships with the right decision makers so that we are always in the consideration set? The answer to that question is the largest determinant of winning work.

Knowing how one stands toe-to-toe with competitors is a natural area of curiosity. A firm that lacks enough staff in Asia, for example, would be at a disadvantage when it comes to winning work in the region. Knowing that is essential, but likely something that is already well understood. On balance, and as noted by so many of the rating agencies, when it comes to the largest advisory providers, there are increasingly fewer differentiators when it comes to capabilities, expertise, offerings, and geographic footprint. On these counts, the raters find only razor-thin differences.

So what is the real difference maker? With all other things being equal, providers that have cultivated relationships and know the executive buyers of services personally are 5x more likely to win the work. Don’t take our word for it, think about the competitive situations in which you have been. When you knew the buyer – had spent time in work and social settings – have you been more successful? Flip it on its head. When you have made an important buying decision yourself, did you choose the provider you knew or someone you did not? If your experience is like ours and that of our clients, the answer is almost always that people choose those they know and with whom they have a relationship.

Here are some suggestions for things to do in 2020 to raise your hit rates and associated wins:

  1. In those places you currently serve, identify novel ways of adding value beyond your own and your firm’s expertise, e.g., by linking those with whom you work to a broader network peers and colleagues both inside and outside their organization creating conversations that bread-crumb to new opportunities for you and them both.
  2. Expand your footprint across the leadership team  – choose three members you do not know well and for whom you can create value as critical stakeholders in work you are currently delivering via an informal lunch meeting, or through to more formal briefings or workshops where relationships do not exist.
  3. Formalize this type of outreach mindset and engagement in your firm. Spend less papering the world with articles; more time resourcing face-to-face meetings with those you seek to serve.
  4. Hold others in your organization accountable to look beyond the handful of clients they currently serve but think about who their clients will be in 12, 24, 36 months by embedding client development trajectories as a key performance evaluation measure.
  5. Finally, capture and share what are you are learning: where the opportunities are; where are there none. Note the trends are you seeing that inform your own work and perspectives. Detail the pain points are you hearing again and again, and ask whether you have an answer for them in terms of your own offerings and whether these are well supported in your own messaging and positioning.

Taken together, these steps will help even and tilt the playing field to your advantage, ensuring that you put your finger on the scale as you build new and expanded business. Let’s face it, all things being equal (and often when they are not), if you do not have the relationships then you don’t have much.