Good, Bad and Ugly References

Client satisfaction


Why do firms only give out good references?

Before making most purchases—large or small—I do my research. Amazon, Yelp, REI, Angie’s List and retail sites all give me opportunities to read reviews. When I read reviews, I first read the five-star reviews and one-star reviews. I want to hear what people love about a product and what they hate.

Five-star reviewers represent the most loyal or generous clients. Often, they are the most ignorant/naïve about the product/category or they often have a completely different buying criterion than I have. One-star reviewers are usually disaffected Internet trolls, but many times they have very valid feedback on the product that comes from unique demands and uses.

When products or services do not have any bad ratings, I wonder what I am missing. More importantly, I question how the company would respond if I had a bad experience. I want to know the good, the bad and the ugly. Ultimately, I make purchases because I am confident in my ability to see the truth between the two extremes.

Professional services firms don’t share references with such transparency.   They share feedback provided by their happiest and most loyal clients.   Herculean effort goes into maintaining “happy” clients lists.   I say Herculean because one day the client may be happy, and the next day there may be a problem with delivery, billing or a promised result. Why do firms go to all this effort? That’s easy: they think it will get the business.


But, the thing is, that is not how clients buy.


I seldom buy a bike or related component without tapping the collective knowledge and experience of my cycling race team. The same is true for the services I buy: design, accounting, legal—painting. Information flows quickly and easily in our highly networked world. By sending just a couple of emails, I can almost always find someone connected to a potential service provider. We cannot hide from our reputations. I propose an alternative approach.

Let your prospects speak to any of your clients—satisfied or not. Did that make you shudder? If so, then you have other things to worry about before getting new business.

Clients are smart business people; to think otherwise is to be condescending and naive. Smart clients know that no service provider is perfect. Smart clients know that problems arise during complex projects. Smart clients know that all engagements do not realize their potential. Smart clients know that it is better to work with people who will work with them to resolve issues.

Sharing good and bad client references alike allows you to demonstrate to a prospect how you work to resolve issues when they come up. Do you nickel and dime clients? Do you hold to the letter of the contract? Do you have skin in the game? Are you willing to change direction or people? Are you weak and cut and run?

Take away

There are legitimate reasons to not give a client’s name as a reference: confidentiality requirements, on-going negotiations or simple troll-like nastiness on the part of the client. Beyond that, there is no legitimate reason not to share.

I have found that at the heart of most firms’ reticence to share is the most telling and debilitating reason: a lack of firm-wide confidence. Firms that believe in their capabilities are not afraid to have authentic conversations about their performance. In addition, they see past performance as a way to improve and deepen client relationships, most importantly, to build trust. Confident firms have the processes in place to enable learning and the operational prowess to feed back that learning into the firm’s delivery. Unsure firms don’t learn and fix problems. Rather, they make excuses and blame others for their under-performance.

If you are afraid to let a prospect talk to any of your clients, then you need to address your more significant leadership and cultural problems.

When clients ask for references, give them willingly: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Be prudent.



McKay_portaitJeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion. His strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.

The Quest for the Perfect Tagline


Firm leaders and marketers often look at B2C companies as the yardstick for taglines for their own firms. Nike, Apple and Coca-Cola are brands that often come to mind. We are familiar with them all and have probably been “inspired” by one of them to finish a marathon, to motivate a team in solving a pressing problem or to rationalize our services against an upstart competitor.

  • “Just Do It”
  • “Think different”
  • “The Real Thing”

Unfortunately, recalling a powerful equivalent in the professional services space is like finding a unicorn in the forbidden forest. At its best, a firm tagline might be recalled by some employees. At its worst, a tagline is a brand-eroding embarrassment; but most often, it is just a huge waste of time.

I wonder why so many firms try to breathe life into an ailing brand with the “perfect” tagline. Firms would be much better off if they moved on and focused on higher ROI areas. Here are three reasons it’s time to move on:

  1. Few taglines have wide organic pick-up. The famous ones have recognition as the result of hundreds of millions of dollars in billboards, commercials and celebrity endorsements. It is even more rare when a tagline speaks to the zeitgeist and catches fire own its own. Most are simply ignored like I was at junior high dances.
  2. B2C taglines are tied to emotional benefits associated with the product. The normal emotions tied to professional services purchases are anxiety and fear. The fear of making a wrong decision or committing a career-limiting move. These are not brand-magnet emotions. Before you even think about it, please don’t argue using the flipside of those emotions—TRUST—in your tagline. Trust is not a tagline. It is a result that is earned.
  3. Taglines in professional services firms are written/approved by committee. As a result, “Just do it.” becomes “We strive to design our client service with integrity to help you produce lasting results.” You’re laughing or moaning because you know it is true.

Memorable and meaningful taglines are not impossible to find. The best place to look is at firms with exceptional cultures. A clear, strong culture is the precursor to a tagline with any possibility of power and uniqueness.

Take, for example, Accenture’s “High Performance Delivered.” It is not particularly innovative nor original.  Accenture didn’t even create the concept. The tagline was not developed in committee. It was dictated at the highest level and established as a mandate. The intellectual capital engine of the entire firm was realigned to support and demonstrate it. And, most importantly, a culture of confidence was unleashed to deliver it. Then, Tiger came into the picture.

Take away

The graveyard of professional services taglines is crowded. If you are thinking about your need for a tagline, make sure you have what it takes to give it life. Otherwise, start carving that headstone first.

Instead of wasting time on a tagline, focus on being crystal clear about your culture, identifying your ideal client and delivering incomparable value to your clients. If you don’t have those three things straight, no tagline will save you.

Be prudent.



McKay_portaitJeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion. His strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.


Integrity Test

CALLOUT-Prudence Quote - Cicero

by Ted Harro

I was in a meeting recently where a leadership team was grappling with their long-term direction. They’re doing what many leadership teams must do – trying to discern how to kick-start growth in their business. It complicates things that they work in the healthcare industry where there’s enough upheaval to make anyone feel queasy.

This has led the team to consider all kinds of growth ideas. In this particular meeting, they were exploring an idea about reaching a particular market segment, one that is super price sensitive. For a company that built its reputation on personalized service, this would be a departure.

We had a few outside experts in the room with extensive healthcare experience. As the meeting unfolded, one expert shared what another company had done to grow profitably in this price-sensitive segment. As she shared the details of the business model, it became clear that this other company had achieved its remarkable growth partly be being a little less than forthcoming with customers. Was it downright dishonest? No. But in the immortal words of one of our past presidents, it may have been truthful but not very helpful.

The punch line of the story was simple: “That company made a ton of money in this segment.”

I sat in the back of the room watching faces, starting with the leader of the business. Curiosity turned to surprise and then to… discomfort? Disgust? It was hard to put a precise word on the facial expressions, but it wasn’t good. It was the same look I see on some face when Donald Trump says how “incredibly proud” he is that he made a lot of money by taking advantage of bankruptcy laws. When someone pulls back the veil on their success and all we see is naked ambition, many of us recoil. We ask that person to please grab a towel and cover themselves.

The facial expressions in the leadership team told me one thing for sure. I knew we had stumbled on a core value. People post corporate values on walls all of the time. Usually they’re lies or wishful thinking. You know you’ve hit a true value when you’re willing to walk away from profitable revenue because the business model doesn’t fit with who you are.

My client’s company has a long history of building trusting relationships with clients and partners. They care deeply about serving others. They aren’t naive. They know that a lot of organizations and people are willing to cut corners with the truth. They know that in some cases – like the one they were hearing about in this meeting – those who are willing to make those compromises have an advantage when it comes to generating certain kinds of results. But they can’t bring themselves to conduct business in that way. It would be false. Unlike Donald Trump, results at all costs would cause them discomfort when looking at themselves in the mirror.
This is an Integrity Test. Integrity is about being truthful and upright. It’s about not fudging your expense report even when no one’s looking.
But it’s deeper than that.

Integrity is knowing what you truly stand for. It’s about grasping your real values – not the motivational posters on the wall – and living by them. Even when it costs you. Maybe especiallywhen it costs you.

In a recent Fast Company interview, Rose Marcario, the CEO of Patagonia talked about the ad her company put out during a holiday shopping season several years ago. “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” the ad blared, showing one of their high-end parkas. Of course Patagonia wants people to buy their jackets. But this wasn’t a clever piece of reverse psychology. Instead, the CEO talked about how the ad reflected the company’s core value of asking each person to have as small a footprint as possible on the Earth. That’s why they repair clothing for customers instead of simply offering replacements. That’s why they get behind low Earth-impact causes even when they have no direct benefit to Patagonia.

Ask yourself and your leadership team:

  • What would we stand for, even if it cost us in the marketplace? Usually those deep values come from somewhere in the organization’s history or the personal stories of founding members. I know of a university with roots in a religious tradition that emphasizes humble service. To this day, they’re drawn to preparing students to serve. They can’t help themselves. And I’m thankful for that.
  • When is the last time we took that sort of stand?  When did you reject a path that may have led to superficial success but would have violated your deepest beliefs? Ironically, Donald Trump is probably facing one of these moments right now. Staying true to what appears to be his core values – including achieving results at all costs within the letter of the law – will likely cost him a bona fide shot at the Republican nomination for President. This is integrity of a sort, though I wish Donald would go to the mat for something more noble than being a good Machiavellian.
  • Where can we demonstrate more integrity? There are few things more galvanizing to a team than the tangible expression of deeply held values. Look for those gray areas you’ve been avoiding, the ones that nag at you because you know they don’t really fit with your highest ideals. Search for the scary opportunity that would truly embody your company’s beliefs but carries risk or makes you stick out.

Ted HarroTed practices the art of linking strategy, everyday business and the long-term growth capacity of organizations to support their success. Ted led the professional services division of Wilson Learning Worldwide and has helped facilitate and implement plans for a variety of well-known organizations in technology, industrial, professional services and nonprofit environments in the U.S. and Western Europe. He holds a master’s degree in Organization Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Ted collaborates with Prudent Pedal to provide strategic facilitation, leadership coaching and keynote addresses to clients, as well.

How Much is Organizational Dysfunction Impacting your Growth?

Sheep HerdIt really doesn’t matter which professional services industry you call home—consulting, law, accounting, IT, strategy—firms are driven by the desire for growth. Growth provides opportunity and wealth—good things. Unfortunately, most firms never achieve their growth potential because they do not recognize nor address the fundamental issue limiting their growth.

Many blame brand awareness, marketing investment, marketing ineptness, lack of sales and marketing integration, CRM, cross-selling demands, website deficiencies, social media strategies, and even the absence of a brochure. But none of these are really the issue. These are just symptoms of a much larger issue lurking in the offices and cubicles.

Professional services firms attract some of the best minds in business. Why? The firms are savvy, global and progressive. In many ways, they’re the models for the modern knowledge-driven organization. Yet, in spite of their superior organizational structure, they’re far from perfect.

The real issue is that, while professional firms provide a great model for the modern organization, they are plagued with organizational dysfunction. We call this imperfection “messiness.” And, until firms attack the right problem, they will always be underachieving.

What makes pro services growth “messy”?

The messiness comes from a combination of attributes—human and structural. At the heart of firms are smart people who act, well, like people. They exhibit fear, laziness, intransigence, self-righteousness and a host of other human behaviors. All this humanness plays out daily as people try to protect their jobs, get on the partner track, and look good in front of clients. Each attribute by itself probably would go unnoticed, but combined with an organizational structure that rewards individual sales performance and utilization, it gets messy.

Here are the behaviors and structures that get in the way:

  • Partnerspower, ambition, ego, greed. They became partner because of ambition, talent, and hard work. They paid their dues, demand the benefits forthcoming, do not intend on losing them, and are rewarded to behave accordingly.
  • Limited resources—there are only so many billable hours and money to go around. Resources are usually allocated by partner power or line of business size, instead of strategic growth potential.
  • Path of least resistanceFirms are political and partners like to keep their powder dry. Most often growth initiatives take the path of least resistance and focus on “activities” that can be controlled by individual producers with bogey responsibilities.
  • Cultures of “optionality.”— Firms allow partners to opt-in. “If it doesn’t cost me my job or threaten my path to partner, no need to focus on it.”
  • P&L ownership swings like a pendulum—New managing partner, new P&L philosophy. Geographic responsibility get us more client focused, practice allows us to manage people, industry drives IC. (It reminds me of the practice of blood letting.)

How does marketing play into the dysfunction?

Marketing often doesn’t understand business. Marketing is seen as a partner productivity tool. As a result, marketing people aren’t given the time to understand the firm’s business. Expectations are too low and lead to under-hiring and utilization of marketing capability. Marketing is not seen as strategic (i.e. it throws parties and writes brochures).

Sales and marketing are disconnected. In most firms, neither appreciates the value of the other, and from the most senior partner to the junior consultant, most cannot tell you the difference between the two.

No one measures marketing’s impact, mainly because they don’t know how, don’t want to make investments to do so, or are afraid of shedding light on all that needs to be fixed. As a result, firms spend money haphazardly on growing the business.

Misaligned market opportunities, core capabilities, and brand’s relevance. Firms target markets for which they do not have the right capabilities and they have no market permission in which to play. They simply go there because other firms are.

Take away

In reality, messiness is not necessarily a bad thing. There are no perfect organizations or people in any industry. What is bad is not having the awareness of the dysfunction and mindlessly going about business.

A firm that is aware of the messiness sees the connections between avoidance and unproductive actions. Are we writing a brochure because it adds client value, or is someone afraid to sell and needs a crutch? Do we invest resources and time into a practice that is clearly off strategy because we can’t say “no” to a powerful partner? Do we blame bad data on an impartial technology tool when we really have a culture that lacks the trust to share relationships? Are we realigning our P&Ls to better serve clients or because of a power play that we refuse to address? Did we fire the marketing leader because he was unable to execute or was our business strategy complete pie in the sky?

The real problem with messiness in firms is that it makes it much easier to blame someone else or passively ignore them, rather than deal with the real issue.  If you embrace the messiness, it is amazing how the humanness comes to the fore and the dysfunction falls away.

Be prudent.

McKay_portaitJeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion. His strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.

Eliminating the Pain of CRM

Recently, I was in a meeting of senior accounting marketers. As we were discussing challenges, ALL were bemoaning the use of—or the lack of the use of—their firm’s CRM system. I heard complaints like:

  • “It’s like pulling teeth to get our partners to use it. “
  • “It’s too complex.”
  • “The partners don’t want to share their contacts.”
  • “The data is never right.”
  • “We don’t have emails for half the contacts.”
  • “We have tried everything to get them to use it, but nothing works.”

I wasn’t surprised. I have uttered many of these same comments or heard them from firms big and small for 20 years. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that this sounds like your firm too. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your current satisfaction with CRM?

According to Software Advice, a company that provides software reviews and information, only 37% of small business users (500 employees) are satisfied. If you have implemented CRM in your firm, how many times have you switched providers (from ACT to Goldmine to a proprietary system to Microsoft CRM to Salesforce,) searching for a panacea? If you have switched more than once, how is this last one working for you?

The promises of CRM in professional services firms are magnificent. CRM provides wonderful dashboards that detail pipeline, revenue projections, highlight relationships and provide much needed oversight. The most impressive thing about CRM systems is their providers’ sales guys. Man, do they sell the benefits and make it look easy to use! That is why they get those big commission checks.

I have developed, implemented, upgraded and integrated systems in every firm I have worked. I have concluded that ALL CRM systems suck and are a pain in the ass. But, nobody will tell you that. If you want to pound through the pain and get to the promises, you have to overcome two issues. And let me be clear: you, as managing partner, are the only one who can address them—not your marketing leader, sales leader, sales ops or CIO. If you don’t want to address the two key issues, then it may be better for your firm to just punt CRM.

The first issue is operational. You likely don’t have a clear, meaningful purpose and process for CRM. This is why people complain about the quality of data and GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). Fortunately—or unfortunately—there is only one way to fix it. You and your leadership team MUST use the information in CRM to strategically manage the business.

When implemented and used strategically, CRM allows you to forecast headcount needs, assess competitive performance, identify industry shifts, determine marketing effectiveness, manage the entire revenue cycle and exploit and correct sales strengths and weaknesses. None of these advantages come to fruition unless you expect—no, demand—them. If you find yourself unable to make decisions because of bad data and are asking yourself whose fault it is, look in the mirror.

Try this experiment at your next leadership meeting. Run a pipeline report or two and regardless of its validity, treat it as if it were 100% accurate. Ask questions about revenues, headcount and sales performance. Begin reallocating budgets and resources based on the information. When your leadership team and their direct reports start complaining, ignore them and keep going. You will be amazed at how the data quality will improve. Whatever you do, do not blame or capitulate, or your people will too. You must set the example of commitment and ownership. This leads us to the second issue.

The second issue is cultural. If the use of CRM is less than stellar, you probably have a culture that lacks collaboration, is recalcitrant or rewarded for not engaging. I understand that partnerships are politically sensitive. No one wants to rock the boat or push too hard. As long as a partner “hits his/her number,” it is easy to live and let live. But the fact of the matter is that if you have a culture of optionality, you will never successfully implement CRM and realize its competitive advantages.

Human beings take the path of least resistance. Partners do not want to have “Big Brother” watching them or to be called out in public about sales performance. It is much easier—and safer—for them to just avoid getting started. Additionally, if you have not established trust among your partners and your marketing team, no one is going to want to expose “important” relationships to spam and sales pitches. You again must set the tone by demonstrating these important qualities.

Take away

My advice to that group of marketers was the same advice I offer you. If you are not going to address operational and cultural issues head-on, pull the plug on CRM. Let your partners maintain their contacts in Outlook and manage their pipelines in their heads. You couldn’t do any worse than you are right now. Eliminating CRM would save money, increase productivity and improve morale. Here’s an idea. Give the CRM seat license budget to your marketers. They can invest it on a better marketing automation platform that drives marketing-qualified leads for the partners and adds upstream, useable insights that make CRM even more valuable to individual users. With marketing automation, willing clients and prospects can engage your firm as they want, maintain their correct contact information and manage all those blast emails for themselves. Most importantly, with the pain gone, you can focus on serving clients and everyone will be happy.

Be prudent.


Jeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion. His strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.

When Your Market Shifts

Leaning Tower Pisa

How do you know when your market is shifting? It is a fundamental question that should be asked in most firms much more often than it is.

Signs that your market is shifting include slowing sales, a remix of your service revenue, declining profitability, changing buyer titles and new competitors popping up, just to name a few. Libraries could be filled with books written on this subject. Some of my favorites include: The Innovator’s Dilemma, Blue Ocean Strategy, Great by Choice, Discovery-Driven Growth, Market Busters and The Marketing Imagination. You have probably read many of them. As you read this, you probably are thinking that a shift would be obvious and you would never get caught with your proverbial pants down. I love your confidence.

I have worked with very talented people at great firms, previously as a CMO and now as a consultant. No one is immune from the phenomenon. Culture, personal bias, arrogance, denial and ignorance are common precursors to getting left behind. If you do not want to get caught unaware, you must get clear on these three things.

  1. What is your new market opportunity?

If you don’t understand where the market is going, it is difficult to attack it. It seems obvious, but most firms can’t even agree on what is actually changing in the market. You may have visionaries who sound the alarm. Unfortunately, firms prefer the comfort of the known versus the discomfort of the unknown. The gravitational pull of past success will seek to destroy any attempt to deviate from the firm’s glorious past. Your leadership team must understand what has changed and what it means to you.   Are your services being commoditized, replaced by technology, or served by highly specialized niche competitors? Has the buyer shifted across functions or from higher to lower-level buyers? Has your traditional channel or product been disintermediated? Why has it changed? What are your options for growth? How will we get there?

Example: A market research firm is seeing its revenues fall. Its traditional referral channel is failing because employers are terminating existing buyers and replacing them with social media and big data sources. Traditional buyers are not being rehired at new companies. Instead, they are hanging out their shingles and are now low-cost competitors.

  1. What are the core capabilities needed to attack the market?

Firms often overestimate their ability to go after a given market or buyer. A common market du jour for firms is the coveted “C-level” buyer, more often than not, the CEO. Most firms rarely have the capability or capacity to carry on a conversation with a CEO and, thus, misconstrue the CEO’s interest in an issue that the firm can help solve. As a result, firms run in circles trying to have CEO conversations. Firms can buy and/or develop capabilities to target the new opportunity, but they cannot attack the market until they have the capability in place. What capabilities do you need? How are you going to develop the core capabilities to attack the market?


A value-added reseller of IT infrastructure is seeing its traditional data center, application delivery and networks being cannibalized by the cloud and the BYOD phenomenon. Hardware sales are commoditized and buying decisions are application-driven, and often now made by business unit leaders instead of the CIO or CTO. Its sales team is made up of product experts not consultants, who neither fully understand nor address the new buyer’s issues.

  1. Is our brand relevant in the new market?

I often say that McDonald’s restaurants have many brand/business strengths. Their marketing prowess is exceptional, operationally they are impeccable and the geographic locations are coveted. These are all attributes that might apply well to, say, selling automobiles or liquor or clothes. Would you buy a car, Scotch, or a little black dress from McDonald’s? I assume not, because McDonalds sells hamburger and french fries. The McDonald’s brand has no relevance in those markets. Could it be relevant? Absolutely, but how much time and money would it take to change the market’s perception?


One of the nation’s top project management firms has penetrated more than 80% of the life science industry and is seen as the industry leader. Outside that niche, the broader market perceives project management as a commodity of check-the-list taskmasters. The firm believes that its project leadership and methodology are exceptional and applicable to many business issues like M&A, supply chain optimization and product development. Its brand name includes the words “project management.”

Prudent Pedal Triangle

Take away

Be it regulatory, technological, demographic or geographical, no market is immune from shifts. Buyers demand cheaper, faster and easier approaches to solving their problems. It behooves us as firm leaders to accept this fact and be vigilant in seeing the shift. It is not a matter of when, but of where, because it is already happening. The best firms understand this and have the early warning systems in place to respond and exploit changes. They move when they have capacity, resources and cash to weather the shift. Those that wait too long lose options.

Before you can respond to a shift you must answer these three fundamental questions:

  1. Where is our best market opportunity? You must agree on the opportunity as a firm and you must be willing to let go of the past. Vacillating will confuse your team and potentially destroy your chance at success.
  2. Do we have the capabilities to pursue it? Competition is too strong to fake it. Clients can easily tell those firms that have the expertise and results to deliver.
  3. Is our brand relevant to winning where we want to go? Just because you want to play in a given market does not mean that you have earned the right to do so.

I love the adage “There are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.”

Be prudent.

McKay_portaitJeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion.  His strategies have helped the world’s top consulting firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Follow @jeffmckay

A Marketing Manifesto


For four weeks, I have the pleasure of being in Rochelle Moulton’s inaugural Instant Authority program with a group of talented professionals from firms big and small.  The goal of the group is to parlay our talents, experiences and point of view into a one-of-a-kind platform that delivers “instant authority.” Our first task is to articulate and share our “manifesto.”

If you are unfamiliar with a manifesto (outside of a communist worldview), this description from the offers an excellent summary: “The word manifesto traces its roots to the Latin manifestum, which means clear or conspicuous.  A manifesto is defined as a declaration of one’s beliefs, opinions, motives, and intentions. It is simply a document that an organization or person writes that declares what is important to them. A manifesto functions as both a statement of principles and a bold, sometimes rebellious, call to action. By causing people to evaluate the gap between those principles and their current reality, the manifesto challenges assumptions, fosters commitment, and provokes change.”

RochelleMoulton says, “You need to give it the light of day, talk about it, share it, use it to discover and connect with your people.” The manifesto starts by completing a (deceptively) simple statement: “I believe…

Here is what I believe:

Oh, I almost forgot, Be prudent.  

Learn more about Rochelle Moulton at or @consultingchick

Following Clients Home

Empathic Market Research

I spoke to a former researcher for Leo Burnett recently. She was describing her passion for getting to know her clients’ customers and their ideas through focus groups and one-on-one conversations. She enjoyed the “intimacy” of following customers into their homes to see how they use companies’ products. She spoke about how amazing it is to see how people store, open and close, apply and otherwise consume products—often in unintended ways. While it may seem weird to follow someone into her house and get into her personal space, many simple innovations were created that way.

For example, when the makers of Cheerios went out into the field, they found that in certain households Cheerios weren’t primarily a breakfast cereal. Instead, they discovered that parents of small children were bagging, carrying, and doling out Cheerios one-by-one as a tidy snack to occupy their restless tots– anytime, anywhere. (Spark Innovation Through Empathic Design Dorothy Leonard & Jeffrey F. Rayport HBR)  This simple insight led to new products and new ways of positioning a well-established mainstay.

We probably wouldn’t want someone following us into our houses to study us, but in professional services, we do that everyday with our clients. To a large degree, we see how clients use our “products.” Yet, what we often don’t pay attention to is how they perceive our products—and how and why they ultimately choose to buy them. We miss obvious clues that clients give us because we have a built-in bias for how we want the product to be designed, built and consumed. Let me give you another example.

A good friend and former IBMer, developed a unique approach to raising revenue for professional services firms. Instead of the trite “rainmaking” approach focused on creating “super salespeople,” he posited that a firm could drive more incremental revenue by getting technical practitioners to be more mindful and attentive to issues and client needs while they were with the client. There is a theme here.

He developed a methodology to help firms do just that. His idea and execution was excellent and he had early success selling to practice leaders. Unfortunately, the downside of selling to practice leaders was that they often provided limited scale to lift the entire firm because they represented only a fraction of its potential. My friend began approaching managing partners, chief HR officers and training leaders to get broader buy-in and scale for the firm. Sales came to a crawl.

When he came to me for advice, I told him his problem was straightforward and the solution was simple, albeit difficult to swallow; he had to build his solution the way prospects wanted to buy it.

Leaders of professional services firms are loathe to make firm-wide decisions and apply firm-wide methodologies outside of their core competencies.   Doing so requires hard choices, costs political capital, constrains flexibility and demands STRONG leadership. Firms prefer the path of least resistance and a live-and-let-live approach. Budget control and decision-making are decentralized. As long as you hit your number, nobody cares what you are doing.

When my friend accepted this reality, he designed a platform that met the needs of practice leaders and their technical people, and his sales rocketed once again.

Take Away

“Build it and they will come” is a great movie line but a horrible approach to meeting client needs. Clients allow us into their “homes” every day and show us how they want to use our products. Unfortunately, few of us pick up on the subtle, but meaningful, clues that our clients are telling us. When we take the time to truly understand what they want, not what we have to sell them, real innovation, trust and results occur.

If you want to begin to understand your client’s mindset, then read (or reread) the David Maister classic How Clients Choose. He reminds us that we are in intimate relationships with our clients, and we should honor them as such.

 Be prudent.

Two Schools of Thought on Professional Services Marketing


Every year about this time cyclists ramp up an enduring argument. If you are a cyclist, you know where I am going. It is the great base-building debate.

There are two schools of thought. The first is traditional, laid back and longstanding. The second is new, “market-focused” and intense. We will call the first school the low intensity, high volume training school and the second the high intensity, low volume. Firm leaders host a similar debate about the role of marketing in driving performance. First, with a little help from, let’s look at the cycling argument:

The aim of training at the start of the season is to create adaptations to the aerobic system so that the body is ready to handle greater stresses during the later training phases and race season. Traditionally, long, steady rides have been used to generate these adaptations but recently high intensity training has been put forward as a possible substitute.

But, according to Mike Robertson, President of Robertson Training Systems, the body adaptations brought on by high intensity training are completely different than those brought on by low intensity, high volume training. The two can be in direct competition to one another. For example, the adaptations are very different because the aerobic and anaerobic systems produce energy in very different ways. So, adaptations to one do not necessarily benefit the other. Also, aerobic and anaerobic (low intensity vs. high intensity) training cause very different adaptations to the heart.

Aerobic training increases heart efficiency. More blood is forced into the left ventricle, which stretches the walls of the heart leading to an increase in size. But anaerobic training, on the other hand, increases the thickness of the heart wall. The heart becomes trained to get blood in and out as quickly as possible. The heart adapts to working at a high beats per minute. EdEHuffing

… traditional base training and high intensity training produce very different physical adaptations. They are training two different systems and are working in competition with each other.

Now, let’s look at the professional services debate. I divide the two schools of thought about marketing into the Productivity school and the Growth school.

The Productivity school sees marketing’s objective as increasing the personal output and utilization of highly paid consultants (lawyers/architects/accountants). This school believes that simple economics dictate using $30/hr. “marketer” to write proposals, proof read documents, design presentations, enter data and manage events versus having a scarce resource who bills out at $250-$1000/hr. do it. Marketing exists to keep consulting productivity high. Work is often outsourced to the cheapest labor and the consultants add value by serving the client and setting the marketing strategy for the practice. Marketing is a cost to be managed and its value is “making things pretty.”

In this approach, the marketing emphasis is put on cosmetic “branding” (a logo, taglines, and visual identity) that provides an “umbrella” that enhances the personal productivity and accommodates the “personal” brands of select consultants. Key performance measures include marketing headcount, brochures produced, proposals written, events held, and, most important, partner satisfaction with the order taker.

The Growth school views marketing’s role as strategic. Marketing operates as big-picture thinkers with strong business acumen and a focus on addressing clients’ needs. The objective of the Growth school is strategic impact that maximizes profitable growth. The marketers drive growth by helping the firm to anticipate client needs, develop capabilities and build solutions that meet them.

Instead of cosmetic brand, these firms emphasize culture (i.e. reinforcing behaviors that build and differentiate the firm’s reputation). This school of thought emphasizes strategy and organizational effectiveness. It uses a portfolio approach to services and a collective focus on an “ideal client” who provides cost-effective scale and values the firm’s capabilities and solutions. In the Growth school, marketing’s metrics and goals are tied to firm-wide strategic goals. Key performance measures are pipeline contribution, market share, brand relevance and marketing qualified leads. 

Take away

According to a recent brand survey by Greenfield Besler, more than half of CMOs and CEOs believe their brand to be “veryto extremely important, ”but only a quarter of respondents feel their brands are “very helpful” to their success.

I suspect the disconnect exists because firms are expecting their “brands” to carry a weight they never can. Leaders believe that a logo and a tagline can somehow generate leads, develop a strong referral base, maintain loyal clients, develop new services and grow individual practices all on their own. It is argument that will never win.

To achieve competitive advantage and sustain long-term growth (shall we say fitness), firms must constantly be focused on their ability to communicate their promise to the market (Productivity school) and deliver on that promise to the market (Strategic school).


Many partners believe in the clean division of labor of the Productivity school. As I said in a previous post, they believe that they have the voice of the client and strategy under control. The results would indicate otherwise and partners are the proverbial blind man feeling a single part of an elephant. Partners overestimate their ability, wrestle with balancing competing obligations or are not rewarded to complete the important tasks. As a result, firms squander marketing investments to optimize productivity instead of driving growth.

Meanwhile, back to the cycling world. If one is an experienced rider who has noticed their progression plateauing, it might be a good idea to give high intensity training a go as a replacement for normal base training. The introduction of new stresses might help get one off that plateau. For the recreational cyclist, if one is only looking to do a couple charity rides rather than race, low volume, high intensity might be perfect for you (straight from

Be prudent.

Prudent Pedal is conducting research to identify the practices of firms that have developed a superior, strategic marketing approach to drive growth. We are quantifying how these firms outperform peers, build competitive advantage and sustain superior growth.

It is a strategic assessment for Managing Partners, Practice Leaders, Chief Sales Officers and Chief Marketing Officers. The survey examines 3 areas: Strategy, Operations and Delivery.

The survey is confidential and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.

Please take a few minutes to take the survey, share it with your firm’s leadership and forward to your peers.

The Black Eye

Last weekend, I cross-trained on the hockey rink with my bicycling buddies. After nearly two hours of play, I got tangled up with an opponent and went down. While I was relieved to not need dental work or stitches, I was bloody and bruised.

My wife was horrified to see me walk through the door with weeping abrasions and both a lip and an eye that were, by that point, hugely swollen. She couldn’t understand how I could come home from a friendly, pick-up game of hockey looking like I had just come from a bar fight (clearly, she hasn’t any brothers). Likewise, my kids were shocked to see their seemingly invincible “super dad” so injured.

Looking for support, my wife texted a picture of me to both her sister and her mother. Before the night was over, she had posted it to Facebook where it received more than 50 comments like: “Ouch!” “How are his TEETH????? “Looks to me like he is a member of fight club.”

I was not surprised by any of the reactions of my teammates, my family or my close friends. They all expressed concern and surprise that the guy they knew could look like this. What surprised me the most, and what is the impetus for this post, is what happened when I went out in public.

On the afternoon of the accident, my wife and I went to a funeral with about 200 people in attendance. As we walked in, hung up our coats and went to our seats, I noticed no fewer than 20 people do double takes to look at my face. After the service, I talked to several people and only one of them asked me what had happened.

Later that evening, I went to a microbrewery to attend the going-away party of a good friend. I met several new people and had lengthy conversations with them– yet not one asked about my face. On Monday, I spoke from the podium at Toastmasters and, you guessed it, no one in the audience asked what happened. Human nature is fascinating. Black Eye Crop

Why did some people ask what happened while most did not? Why didn’t the churchgoers ask? Why didn’t the complete strangers (who had been drinking and would never see me again) exercise their curiosity? Why didn’t a Toastmaster audience member inquire? Was it politeness, avoidance or disinterest?

As firm leaders and consultants, we may act within our own firms like these polite or disinterested people. We may witness the obvious, unacceptable behavior of a fellow partner, but do nothing for fear of discord. We may see a subordinate wrestling with a personal issue but let it go for fear of HR complications or the threat of tears. We may see an absurd strategic choice being made yet keep our mouths shut because stronger players think that it is the right choice. As consultants, we may see a client or prospect going down a wrong path but let him go because we don’t want to lose the business. We rationalize his actions to avoid confrontation.

Take away

What is the proper action: to stay quiet, to be polite and to ignore what is right in front of us or to respond to it in an authentic way? Ultimately, your response is a deeply personal one that only you can make, but before you make it, ask yourself these prudent questions:

  • What really scares me about the response that I may get if I engage?
  • Why do I feel that asking a question is not my business?
  • What is the real payoff of disinterest? of engagement?

Several years ago, a CEO client told me, “Jeff, I always respect your insight, but I don’t always welcome it.” This is the same CEO whose strategy was going in another direction before I challenged him, the same CEO who asked me to join his leadership team, and the same CEO who had me sign off on his new CMO. I wear that CEO’s words as a badge of honor. Firms—leaders—cannot create the necessary cultures or make tough strategic choices unless they are willing to enter the fray.

You might get a black eye, but like I told my wife when she said I needed to start acting my age, you could trip on the sidewalk as easily as you could fall on the ice.

Be prudent.    

The State of Professional Services Marketing 2015 Research Study

Are the top firms growing because of a strategic marketing approach or in spite of it?

Prudent Pedal is conducting research to identify the practices of professional service firms that have developed a superior, strategic marketing approach to drive growth. We are quantifying how these firms outperform peers, build competitive advantage and sustain superior growth.

This is not a survey about social media or digital marketing. It is a strategic assessment for Managing Partners, Practice Leaders, Chief Sales Officers and Chief Marketing Officers. The survey examines 3 areas:

  1. Strategy
  2. Operations
  3. Delivery
Assessment Areas

Research Areas

The survey is confidential and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.

Why your firm should take the time to complete the study.

Marketing in professional services firms can be messy.  Organizational structures, mixed expectations and unhealthy cultures often complicate the function and hinder strategic impact. To exacerbate the issue further, technology, disintermediation and buyer sophistication have drastically changed the world of business development and marketing from where it was five years ago.

  • Benchmark your firm’s growth capabilities against your industry peers.
  • Identify areas of strategic strength and disconnect.
  • Pinpoint the capabilities you maybe neglecting that are sub-optimizing your growth investments.

Please take a few minutes to take the survey, share it with your firm’s leadership and forward to your peers.

Prudent Pedal is a Chicago-based, marketing consultancy that helps professional services firms set smart growth strategies in motion. Prudent Pedal’s Founder, Jeff McKay, has helped the world’s top professional services firms achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.

For more information, visit or email

Be prudent.

The Roles You Need on Your Marketing Team

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Professional services marketers fight hard to achieve their titles. Newbies start out as coordinators, move to managers, if they prove themselves, become directors, if they stick around long enough, and often become CMOs when they jump ship and negotiate the title into their new job descriptions. On the line side, there is some usual progression from associate to managing partner. Everyone knows where he/she stands in the pecking order and there is balance in the universe.

Unfortunately, this approach is antiquated, ineffective and harmful to delivering strategic results and superior ROI from a marketing function. It is time for firms to eliminate these job titles and build a team that is playing starring roles in driving the growth of the firm. With a little help from Hollywood, here are the roles casting needs to fill:

The Strategist

Many firms delude themselves into thinking that they have this role covered because they use a complex, months-long business planning process at the start of each fiscal year. While the process often uses buzzwords like SWOT, adjacencies and growth targets, firms seldom ask the basic strategic questions: “What problem do we solve?”, “Who is our ideal client?” and “What do they value?” The Strategist’s role is to get the firm focused on the most important questions. The Strategist is a big-picture thinker with strong business acumen and a passion for meeting clients’ needs. He/she is measured by the firm’s ability to anticipate needs, develop capabilities and build solutions that meet them.

Hollywood example: Moneyball

The Futurist

Business life is like fashion. Consulting fads come and go, historical events happen, demographics change, technology evolves, markets expand and collapse, etc. China, marketing automation, the Internet of Things, mobile, cloud, consulting industry disintermediation are just a few areas of recent import. As the world turns, most professional services firms are content to be followers. The Futurist’s role is to go up on the mountain and think about “What if…?” Having the ability requires the time to think, ingest huge quantities of seemingly irrelevant information and synthesize a hypothesis that provides competitive advantage for the firm. This person is a constant learner, antagonistic, a born problem-solver, impractical, expensive, innovative and, more often than not, annoyingly brilliant.

Hollywood example: Dr. Emmett Brown

The Enforcer

Many partners think they are marketing gurus because they have seen an Apple commercial that is cool, read a book on emotional branding or served a big client– none of which qualifies them to layout marketing strategy for the firm. The Enforcer role tells the partner(s) to sit down and shut up (metaphorically speaking). This person possesses the understanding of the firm’s business, strong operational and business acumen and the gravitas to push back on loud, intimidating partners to intelligently build a winning argument. The Enforcer calls a spade a spade, does not take the path of least resistance and is not intimidated by titles. His success is measured by his ability to build consensus, do what is right and move the firm in the direction of its strategic goals.

Movie example: Good Will Hunting

The Idealist

Hitting your number or making partner often takes the front seat when evaluating business decisions. The Idealist’s role is to keep the firm on its highest plain, whether it is fulfilling the mission, living its values or delivering a brand promise. The Idealist is often the voice calling out in the desert. This role is often filled by the naïve, but s/he keeps more seasoned and cynical people aligned with their more noble selves and keeps them from succumbing to greed and vanity. This role reminds us of why we are here. While perfection is unachievable, the Idealist calls us to the quest nonetheless.

Hollywood example: Mr. Smith

The Quant

Marketing is often accused of wasting 50% of its spend. That may be generous for many firms. In a data-driven world, the Quant has become a very hot commodity. Leadership teams rightfully are demanding proof that the earnings they are allocating to marketing are paying dividends. Substantiating the investment should be low-hanging fruit. The Quant’s more important role is to enable all the other roles. To do this, the Quant must possess more than mathematical ability. He/she must be curious, client-centric and understand the inter-relatedness of the roles and other parts of the firm. Number-crunching for the sake of number-crunching is not useful. The result must be applied to learning and competitive advantage.

Hollywood example: A Beautiful Mind or Moneyball  (I love them both).

The Creative

Often professional services firm marketers are relegated to “making things pretty.” The Creative role is not about making it pretty; it is about making it understandable. The Creative plays the trifecta roles of translator, storyteller and designer. All three combine in a meaningful way to communicate to prospects in an attention-deficit world how the firm is different and can help. You probably know a person like this. They are the go-to-person when a bad idea needs a huge shove to knock it off center. The skill set is unique and the person can often name his/her price.

Hollywood example: Alton Brown (nobody does it as well)


RolesThe optimal marketing organization can take many forms depending on the firm’s priorities, but marketing’s role never changes. Its role, as Peter Drucker so eloquently described it, “is to make and keep a customer.” A firm with strategic market capability is not satisfied with titles du jour: social media coordinator, digital marketer or chief experience officer. Instead, they focus on strategic roles.

Many partners fancy themselves filling these important roles, but they don’t. They overestimate their ability, wrestle with balancing competing roles or are not rewarded to fill them. As a result, firms 1.) don’t ask the tough questions, 2.) take the path of least resistance and 3.) squander marketing investments trying to drive growth.

How many of each of these roles and how they are aligned in your firm are ultimately driven by your matrix and level of investment. Recognizing the importance of these roles and admitting that they are not consistently fulfilled is the critical first step in eliminating the wrong marketing jobs and adding strategic value.

Be prudent.

Tell Me a Story

I am astounded at how asinine marketing messages can be, particularly in the consumer world. The latest commercial to catch my ire is the Lincoln commercial with Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey. The commercials have McConaughey riding around in a Lincoln product expounding “big” thoughts on life, including environmentalism, existentialism and the mind reading of a “big bull.”

I like McConaughey. I enjoyed him in Dallas Buyer Club, The Lincoln Lawyer and even The Wedding Planner, when he annoyingly threw away all but the brown M&Ms. This is not an anti-McConaughey diatribe or a rant against celebrity endorsements. What I hate about this commercial, and so many like it, is the premise that buying a Lincoln will make my life complete. Before McConaughey and Lincoln, the “Designed by Apple in California” held the top spot on my product-as-savior list. It was the pinnacle of Apple as a religion.

I dislike any commercial that tries to tell me that a product or experience is going to complete me as a human being. It is absurd that making a purchase–be it a car, a phone or a beer–is going to make me more successful, hip or attractive.

Having said that, you may be wired completely different. You may find the ads and the message appealing. Perhaps you share the values that McConaughey expounds. You may love the styling of the Lincoln MKC or recall vacations in the family’s Lincoln. An Apple product “designed in California” may have changed your life. You’re OK. I am OK. My point is that we all define value and values differently. Why do I share this?

Last week, I was in a peer group of technology CEOs. One of the owners was sharing his concerns that he may be overcharging some of his clients for access to his REIT documentation platform. When asked why he felt that he was overcharging, he replied that while many clients were satisfied with the system they where not regularly accessing all of its functionality or taking a discount for an annual subscription.

As we talked about the issue, it became clear that he didn’t have his arms around what value the client actually saw in the system. Some were using it as a cheap, secure, disaster recovery solution. Others were just using the due diligence portion, but were dormant in acquisitions. Perhaps others didn’t pay because the subscription terms were better for their cash flow versus saving money by paying up front. Or, the client’s low-level contact lacked the power to exploit the capabilities of the system. We concluded that while the business’ platform delivered value, the company was not completely clear on what value it was offering each buyer and segment of its market because each one saw different value in the system.


If we are not mindful, we get caught in the trap of thinking that everyone sees the world as we do. If they do not, then they must be irrational. I am dumbfounded at what consumers will buy and why. The Kardashians, Joel Osteen, and the QVC Shopping Network are just a few more “marketers” on my list. Who watches this stuff? Apparently, a lot of people do—Kardashians (3 million viewers), Osteen (7 million viewers) and QVC (up to 16 million viewers). Like I said, we all define value and values differently.

“Storytelling” is the rage in marketing. Stories work because they are more memorable than simple facts and figures and excite emotion in us. Stories play a more important role in marketing, because buyers look for stories that complement the bigger story that they are already telling themselves about who they are. Buyers use the stories to reinforce their self-images–seeing, believing and buying the things that reinforce it.

According to MarketWatch, sales of Ford’s Lincoln vehicles surged 25% to 8,883 vehicles this past October.  The MKC saw a big leap in sales between September and October from 1,763 vehicles to 2,197 vehicles, during the same time frame the McConaughey ads began airing.

If you are going to be a great marketer, you have to know your market AND yourself. More importantly, you have to be able to tell the difference between the two.

Be prudent.

Professional Services Cultures vs. the Local Dry Cleaner


Professional Services Cultures

When I shop at Target, eat at McDonalds, buy a new bike at a local bike shop or even get my shoes shined, I expect the people I interact with to have integrity, provide great service, give me a quality product and be accountable for delivering what the company has promised to deliver. I suspect most people have these seemingly modest expectations for any customer relationship.

Why is it that so many professional services firms display these “values” as if they are unique differentiators and somehow make their firms something special to their clients? While all are important values, are they not the qualities to be expected from any service provider—be it a Big 4 accounting firm or a dry cleaner?

Working at and with the world’s top professional services firms—as an entry-level employee, executive leader or consultant—has shown me the challenges of setting values and demonstrating them. I have seen leaders put their own careers at risk to help others. I have witnessed the hypocrisy of firm leaders who pontificate values, but demonstrate through their actions that they care only about power, title and money. These experiences have taught me that without a different type of culture a firm has little chance of separating itself from others. As a result, I can quickly assess which cultures are made of “solid oak” and which are covered in “veneer.” Here are the prudent attributes and the thinking behind them that I have observed in firms built of oak.

Spirituality and Purpose

A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps. Proverbs 14:15

It takes most of us decades to learn that life is about more than power, fame, success, wealth and possessions. Some are blessed early with a clear vision of a higher purpose, their contribution to the world and to individuals. Prudent firms know the difference between fleeting, superficial rewards and a legacy of impact. They are driven by a mission to change lives for the better—theirs and all with whom they come into contact.


“The essence of statesmanship is not a rigid adherence to the past, but a prudent and probing concern for the future.”  Hubert H. Humphrey

Great firms live beyond individuals. A prudent leader understands that his/her role is to preserve and enhance the value and reputation of the firm for the next generation. He does not think in terms of “me” or “gettin’ while the gettin’ is good.” He makes smart decisions that may not benefit him or his practice but that enhance the value of the entire firm. These leaders expect to leave the firm better than they found it.


“That man is prudent who neither hopes nor fears anything from the uncertain events of the future.” Anatole France

It has been said, “Life is a series of crises interrupted by good times.” Prudent firms develop the strength to withstand crises, learn from them and exploit them to their advantage. Doing this requires teamwork and “grit”—the ability to persevere in spite of the overwhelming challenge of the moment. Firms made of oak build this capability over time and have the stories and legacies to reinforce it.


“Prudence has two eyes, one that foresees what one has to do, the other that examines afterword what one has done.” St. Ignatius

Prudent firms nurture awareness and introspection. They know themselves. Prudent firms do not get caught up in fads, booms and busts and hysteria. Decisions and actions are not driven by impulse. Prudence is about truth: the truth of what is, what is right and what must be done. We must know what is true before we are free to do what is right. This includes an awareness and acceptance of our own moral values. The best firms take the time to reflect on actions before they are taken, and again after they are done, to learn more about themselves and the world around them.


The prudent course is to make an investment in learning, testing and understanding, determine how the new concepts compare to how you now operate and thoughtfully determine how they apply to what you want to achieve in the future. Dee Hock

Prudent firms encourage the taking of smart risks. They reward initiative and, more importantly, learning. Professional services firms are driven by knowledge. So, prudent firms create a culture that makes it safe for their people to explore and experiment with new ideas. They do not penalize failure. They couple it with knowledge-building and encouragement.


“Life has no blessing like a prudent friend.” Euripides

I witnessed inauthenticity that was so bad at one firm that partners used the term “grin f’ing” to describe it. This was the experience of receiving a smiling nod of agreement followed by a clandestine plan to do just the opposite. Prudent firms have the self-confidence, openness, safety and courage to have the crucial conversations necessary to make tough decisions. They do not shirk from this responsibility and they are true to their word.


“Prudence directs choice by means of counsel.” St. Thomas

Humility and vulnerability are not signs of weakness. To prudent firms, humility is an act of strength, courage and self-confidence. Humility creates an environment that enables people to share fears and aspirations. Humility allows us to say, “I do not know” or “I need help.” Without humility, associates lack the fundamental building block to spiritual and personal growth.


“Prudence implies a transformation of the knowledge of truth into the decisions corresponding to reality.” Joseph Pieper

Firms often misconstrue anecdotes for data and feelings for facts. Prudence demands openness to the whole truth of the situation, including long-held beliefs, prejudices and agendas. Prudent firms are completely honest about decisions with clients and themselves. As Arthur Andersen said, “Think straight, talk straight.”


Happiness exists on earth, and it is won through prudent exercise of reason, knowledge of the harmony of the universe, and constant practice of generosity.”   Jose Marti

Prudent firms have, at the core of their being, a compassion for people. While they demand responsibility, they do not measure a person’s value solely by economic production. The Golden Rule lives and breathes within these firms. As employee lives ebb and flow, prudent firms treat people lovingly through life’s transitions. They always keep the well-being of the person at the center and do not use platitudes or throwaway lines like, “people are our greatest asset.”


While Prudent Pedal is not a human capital firm, we understand that if the culture is broken, then the firm is broken. Many of the issues we address in marketing strategy and effectiveness have their root in culture, not the marketing function.

Values like integrity, trust, excellence and service are important attributes, but they do not differentiate firms and they do not inspire people in the same way as the attributes above. Love, spirituality, humility, realism, resilience, learning, authenticity, restraint, stewardship and mindfulness create a unique culture and attract virtuous associates and clients. These attributes may be too touchy-feely or not speak to you. But, if you want to differentiate yourself from your competition, McDonalds and your local dry cleaner, then you must choose yours. Choose prudently.

Be prudent.

Love and Prospecting

Love and ProspectingI never take brochures or PowerPoint decks when I meet with firm leaders at prospective clients. Instead, I take two things: a legal pad for taking notes and a book that I leave behind at the close of meetings.

The book is not a self-promotional diatribe or even a business book. It is The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. Handing it over guarantees I will receive a stupefied reaction in response. (This is not my goal, of course; it 5_love_languagesis simply a bi-product of the gift!) Some recipients even become physically uncomfortable when they see the title. I tell them that I understand that it is odd to get a book about love in a business meeting, but I give it for several reasons.

First, the book changed my marriage and family life. It showed me how to communicate and demonstrate my love to my wife and kids in a way that they understand. When you read a book that has a personal impact, you want to spread the word.

Second, I believe that the quality of life is predicated on relationships. It is incongruent to be one way at home and another when managing people at work. If you do not have your house in order, it is difficult to make meaningful and sustainable headway in your work life.

Third, professional services are about trusted relationships. The book is about how we speak love and support in our most important relationship, but the message of the book has great application with clients, managers and staff.

The most important reason I give the book is that it communicates who Prudent Pedal is philosophically. In effect, the book helps our potential clients self-select. Prospects understand upfront that we are not in business just to make a buck and that meaningful (not just trusted) relationships are what it is all about for us.

Do we lose some potential clients to this approach? Yes. But does that bother us? Not at all. Our ideal client is one who understands the value of the strategic marketing capabilities that drive revenue growth AND the value of personal growth.


Being true to yourself has an associated cost: you cannot please everyone. I have spent a lifetime building the courage to be true to what I believe. Are you clear about the value that you deliver and what is most important to you for your firm? Do you have an inviolable value that helps prospects self-select? If it is not love, what is it for your firm?

Be prudent.