To be more successful, businesses should manage more strategically. There is at least one business that took its own advice and did just that, with outstanding results. This brief article discusses the early steps in that business's strategic management process, and provides a good example of how strategic management can dramatically improve a business's performance.
During the years from 1993 to 2001, KPMG's financial services consulting practice (FSC) in the United States grew at an unprecedented rate. Revenue for the practice grew during that period at a compound annual growth rate of just over 40%. Outside the US, this high rate of growth began a couple of years later than in the US, but once started the results were similar. From a starting point of less than $100 million in 1993, in 2001, after several years of significant growth, global revenue for FSC exceeded $1.2 billion.
There were many factors that contributed to this extraordinary growth. The purpose of this article is to discuss one of them, the market strategy that was defined for the practice. A strong case can be made that market strategy was the most important factor in the success of the practice, but regardless, it did at least represent the first step in moving the practice forward.
The market strategy that was selected for FSC was "business management". That market strategy proved to be an excellent choice for FSC, for a couple of major reasons:
- The "business management" strategy clearly differentiated FSC from competitors. At the time, firms in the market that were consulting to financial services organizations could be categorized into three major types. There were systems integration and managed services firms that approached the market with their functional skills and large pools of resources. There were general strategy firms that approached the market with their consulting process and corporate level reputations. There were also dozens of niche firms that approached the market with their knowledge and experience in a limited array of services. No firms in the market offered services where depth of business knowledge was a requirement. FSC chose that path, and quickly became differentiated in the marketplace.
- The "business management" strategy built on FSC's core strengths. Traditionally, FSC hired consultants with at least three years of industry experience. This hands-on business experience became a good starting point for developing even more depth of business knowledge and understanding of best practices across an industry.
The natural clients for FSC's "business management" strategy were the heads of the internal lines of business at the large financial services organizations. These were people who usually had Executive Vice President titles, or sometimes Vice Chairman titles, and who had full profit and loss responsibility for retail, corporate, capital markets, and other major businesses. Other firms were focused on the heads of technology, the Board of Directors, or at lower levels across the organization. Other firms did not identify strongly with the executives who had day-to-day responsibility for the P&L, and who were also the chief visionaries for their businesses in the market.
FSC's market strategy appealed to line of business heads, and they controlled significant consulting budgets. The market strategy demanded in depth knowledge of the business. Functional knowledge was also important, but only within the context of the business knowledge. Most of the time, the issues faced by line of business heads could not be segmented into functional components. It was necessary to blend various functional skills, such as strategy, risk, finance, operations, and technology, into project teams, all with deep business knowledge.
The line of business heads, who were FSC's natural clients, had two buying factors that could not be compromised when selecting consulting firms:
- There could be no learning of the business on the job. FSC not only embraced this buying factor, but tried to take it a step further. The goal was to assign professionals to projects that knew the business better than client personnel ever could. Therefore, best practices in the industry were introduced to clients in the normal course of consulting projects.
- Consulting expenditures had to have bottom line payback. Once understood, this buying factor became a benefit to FSC. The heads of business lines were much more inclined to spend money on consulting projects when there was a quantified known payback. FSC had the knowledge and confidence to make commitments when necessary on paybacks.
FSC enjoyed unprecedented growth during the 1990's. One of the major factors contributing to that growth was FSC's market strategy of "business management". The market strategy appealed to the internal heads of lines of business, who became FSC's natural clients. These natural clients had requirements for selecting consulting firms that demanded deep business knowledge and payback on consulting expenditures. The market strategy proved to be effective for FSC.
Taking the first step along the strategic management pathway required a tremendous amount of information gathering, analysis, insights, and hard work, but in the end, the results were worth the effort. FSC would not have been as successful during that period without, first, thinking strategically.