Accenture: A Culture of Client-Centricity | In Practise

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Accenture: A Culture of Client-Centricity

Former Head of Sales, Financial Services at Accenture

Why is this interview interesting?

  • History of the IT consulting market landscape
  • The importance of client-centricity and how self-cannibalization drives innovation
  • Why Accenture has outperformed competitors
  • How to analyse the culture of consulting companies from the outside
  • Pricing power across different lines of consulting business
  • Economies of scale pre and post-cloud consulting work

Executive Bio

Guido Tamburini

Former Head of Sales, Financial Services at Accenture

Guido has 25 years of experience in IT consulting and is the Former Head of the sales organization at Accenture for North America financial services accountable for several billion of dollars annually. He has experience selling all lines of consulting business from management consulting to application development or standard ERP. Guido spent 15 years working in sales at Accenture before becoming Partner at Capco where he led the New York business at the specialised consultant. Guido currently works for Iron Mountain, a company that specialised in content management and transformation services. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Could you provide an introduction to your role and responsibilities, including your historical work in IT consulting?

I have been doing this for 25 years. I started in technology transformation with a company called EDS. Electronic Data Systems no longer exists, but they invented the outsourcing market and were later acquired by HP, which eventually flowed into the current DXC, which is still one of the market leaders in technology outsourcing. I did a brief stint there for four years and then was recruited into Accenture, originally in the IT transformation space. This is the early 2000s, so remember the dotcom bubble had burst and crashed and there was a global recession.

You are obviously barely old enough to have been alive back then, but it was quite the recession; nothing compared to the 2008 crash, but suddenly IT transformation became a pressing concern on at least three counts. Firstly, the market was not growing, so cost efficiency was a big factor. Secondly, there was much untapped potential driven by the fact that, during the 80s and the 90s, companies focused on growing larger and becoming more powerful and industrializing many mergers and acquisitions. The banking sector, for example, had left many inefficiencies which were ripe for the picking, especially given the cost pressures.

The third phenomenal disrupter started in the United States, where the biggest pioneer was JP Morgan. All global companies, particularly financial institutions, saw the arrival of labor arbitrage and globalization of IT services. For the following eight years, in various capacities, I balanced these three pressures – the drive to industrialization – doing things better and more efficiently and displacing cost with lower cost sources of labor, using global provision.

I now live in the United States, but in that decade, I was still in Europe. The 2000s were an important era for growth and expansion of the European Union. The 2004 accession brought on many new countries and brought to fulfillment the process of market liberalization which began with the fall of communism in the early 90s. Eastern Europe had a population in excess of 130 million people, across several countries with high single-digit GDP growth rates.

That was an exciting new frontier for companies and most of those markets and economies got liberalized by foreign direct investment. That is an interesting way of saying Western European or global companies bought stakes or total ownership of local companies. That was the media I came of age in, during a decade bookmarked by two crises geopolitically – the dotcom bubble bursting and the financial market meltdown of late 2007, which devoured both 2008 and 2009 – launched with the terrible events of September 11th 2001 and marked, at the end of the decade, with the first Obama administration bringing a new dawn and hope.

I will not get too political on whether that hope was fulfilled or not; I am speaking to the mood at the end of the decade. In many ways, that was the cycle. A global recovery occurred after the financial markets meltdown, which launched the following decade, and started a new cycle in the professional services and consulting segment of the economy with the birth of the digital revolution era.

The first decade of the new Millennium was about information technology as a non-strategic source of cost; something that needs to work well but be as industrialized as possible. The decade we have just concluded sees technology as our friend. The end of the previous decade saw the large-scale adoption of social media and the mass diffusion of the smart phone, particularly the iPhone. All these phenomena, combined with great expansion of new and transformed customer experiences through Amazon, Google and many others, transformed the way citizens, let alone consultants or business operators, think about any business experience. That has defined the second decade. I spent 16 years swimming in that media with Accenture, where I moved from technology strategy consulting to large scale transformation. My position was head of the sales organization for North American financial services, which was annually accountable for several billion dollars. After specializing in financial services, I left Accenture and joined a specialized consulting company called Capco, where I led the New York business of the company.

The main clients were wealth managers and investment banks in New York. Today, I lead the strategic accounts organization suites of the top 150 global accounts at Iron Mountain, a company specialized in content management and transformation services. That is me in a nutshell in the context of what is going on in the market.

How would you compare best in class go to market strategy for consulting, from the early 2000s to today?

There are commonalities or threads of established best practices which philosophers call universals, that were true 20 years ago and are still true today. There are also incarnations of those models which vary through time; an interesting pendulum in that respect. A constant universal and classic business school concept is client centricity, which takes various shapes depending on the business in which you operate. In consulting and professional services, it means two things.

The first one is client intimacy, meaning you know your clients personally. You have a history with them, built over time, by doing things together. There is a misconception that relationship management in professional services is about playing a round of golf or buying drinks. My best ever relationships are with people where I have personally signed contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars and whom I may have socially seen three times, but who will always make time for me in their calendars.

That is a successful business relationship brought about by the fact that we have done successful things together, but whatever the outcome, they have seen me and my company put them first. That is the first meaning of client centricity. The second is more operational but not self-evident in many contexts. Being client centric is the opposite of being product centric, and means there is an organization and a set of individuals dealing with clients, whose job it is to mediate the complexity of their enterprise and bring it to a catalyzed form that makes sense for that specific client's needs in that moment. Today, many technology companies have a product-first approach and still approach clients differently depending on the product they are introducing. There are complex companies out there with a variety of professional services product offerings, whose sales people approach clients from many angles.

That is not client centric but often experienced as a confusing and frustrating way to be approached which can be opportunistic and tactical. This second layer is not only having intimacy, but also actively working to integrate the complexity of your product and bring it to bear in meaningful ways, to a specific person, in a specific situation and context.

A third aspect upstream from these two is to mediate the understanding and relationship you have with the client on one hand, with getting knowledge from institutional sources such as analyst reports and futurologists, to design your future capabilities and products.

The companies who have done that relentlessly over the past 20 years and focused on developing relationships correctly, simplified complexity and mediated client demand with a view to the future, are unfailingly the ones whose business results have been constantly outstripping the market. Accenture, Deloitte and many smaller companies have done that successfully, unlike the companies who have not gone through cycles of boom and bust or navigated the 2008 crisis. Those are the companies for whom the next decade will also be defined by their client centricity and ability to service and partner with clients through the current COVID pandemic.

What enables Accenture and Deloitte to strategically serve clients in that way?

My first-hand global scale experience at Accenture allows me to comfortably speak about that. Successful companies are informed by the fundamental belief that client value creation is the North Star, guiding their decisions.

It sounds very slick and marketing-like to say client value creation, but it really is. When you make a difference and try to decide how to approach any given client situation, regardless of whether it is a commercial decision in a negotiation or you get pulled into giving advice, it is about having client intimacy. People will then see you as the gold standard of all great consultants; the 'trusted adviser'. There is a burden which goes with that, where you get pulled into situation A, dealing with internal strife towards person B to get role C.

This happens all the time; we are real people competing in our workplaces and the marketplace. Consultants are constantly asked to provide advice while keeping their client's best interests in mind.

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Accenture: A Culture of Client-Centricity

September 23, 2020

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