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Successfully pitching and positioning advisory services to mature clients can often be a challenge for business advisors (be they independent advisors or from a professional service firm) who struggle with some fundamental questions:

  1. Why would a CEO seek external advice?
  2. How do they decide on a preferred business advisor from the myriad of options available?
  3. What are the key things to watch out for when pitching advisory services at a senior level?
  4. And finally, if the advisory business is actually won, what are they looking for next?

Rather than simply speculating, we sought answers ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ and invited three CEO’s to join a panel discussion at the recent Mindshop Advisor Conference in Melbourne, Australia:

  • Mark Dingley, GM – Matthews Australasia, leader in intelligent product identification and inspection solutions for the manufacturing industry
  • Glenn Lees, CEO – Connective, Australia’s largest mortgage broking network
  • Andrew Meek, CEO – SGO, CEO services to a community of SME’s linked by common values and aspirations
Why go external to your business for advice?

Mark: It’s true that we should know our businesses inside out, but this brings with it a danger of becoming too insular, and not seeing innovative opportunities or taking the step of looking beyond how it’s always been done. So it’s good to get someone in who can provide an open-minded perspective combined with impartiality; someone who is not involved in day-to-day politics of the organisation and has no agenda.

Glenn: There can be situations where our internal capabilities simply won’t cut it, and we need to leverage skills and experience not present in the business. A respected external advisor can ‘turn on lights in the house, in rooms we didn’t even know were there’

Andrew: We look to external advisors to take on a ‘parenting role’, for example in some cases we may already know what needs to be done but the process might be unpleasant such as an organisational restructure. In this case I would want the advisor to make sure we act quickly and not waste time looking in vain for other solutions.

How do you make a decision on which external advisor to use?

Glenn: There must be an alignment of values and a cultural ‘fit’ as well as an understanding of what we are trying to achieve as an organisation. A key characteristic of a successful advisor is one who has empathy and the awareness to navigate within an unfamiliar environment populated with a diverse range of personalities.

Andrew: We are interested in those advisors ready to challenge the status quo, but who are not chasing hyper-speed change, or change for change’s sake.

Mark: The successful candidate will be a subject matter expert with the experience to deliver insights and outcomes. We will only approach advisors or advisory firms who are very well referred and who can demonstrate the value they’ve previously delivered to others.

When selling to a senior executive or senior team, what are the key things an advisory firm should know and do?

Mark: When an advisor is pitching, I take careful note of the quality of questions asked rather than them simply telling me what they know. I want them to be able to demonstrate curiosity about my business and the challenges I face.

Glenn: A useful approach is if advisors tell me their story, that is, demonstrate the process they use to get to the desired outcomes.

Andrew: I want them to show me they take a whole of business approach, to become an extension of us with the ability to work at all levels.

When in an engagement, what is important?

Andrew: When you are in an engagement it’s important to demonstrate how you will actually implement the solution that you have come up with, rather than simply theorising and letting us get on with it, we need measurable, practical outcomes.

Mark: Focus on profitable and sustainable growth by changing behaviours and getting people on the ‘new bus’ and transfer knowledge internally, so you eventually get yourself out of the business and make us self-reliant through the creation of ‘internal champions’. This development of potential new leaders is critical to the sustainability of our business. This also applies to transferring knowledge and introducing the tools you use into the business so we have a common set to solve everyday problems.

Glenn: Be a ‘true’ friend and tell the truth, no matter how ugly. And lastly, please take small, incremental and sustainable steps, rather than advocating wholesale change (leaving us in a state of carnage).

So having heard what our three CEO’s think about advisory businesses, how will you evolve when undertaking your next client opportunity?

These insights highlight the importance for advisors to be focused on outcomes, listening well and demonstrating a capability to identify, develop and implement great solutions. Best of luck with your next client pitch.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the advisors of the three CEO’s for their input and assistance:
Andrew Thoseby, 1st Executive
James Atkins, Vantage Strategy and Marketing
Michael Burke, Burke Corporate Advisory Group