In House Advisors - how commercial are you?

In House Advisors – how commercial are you?

As a Commercial Director, I remember with sharp focus, a board strategy development workshop.  When looking at the challenges that faced us, one of my colleagues, quite vocally threw on the table that we lacked ‘commercial innovation’.  Being the only person in the room with the word commercial in my title all eyes looked to me.  The challenge was of course, no one really understood what this mythical thing called ‘commercial innovation’ actually was!

Whilst on that occasion I was the person in the spotlight, it’s a spotlight that can and often does fall on leaders of any function or in house advisors, be that finance, legal, or procurement.  And often the focus is around how well aligned are you with the business outcomes and how in tune are you with the clients’ needs.

Whilst from my experience functional teams and in house advisors, in general, are populated with skilled professionals, they often are perceived as support functions rather than key strategic enablers.  To change the dial on this what is needed, and often lacking, is evidence of how they understand and deliver in alignment with the business and client desired outcomes.

In my experience a small amount of investment in this area can pay disproportionate returns.  The best place to start is probably the simplest, to ask for feedback.  What you will often find is this action, whether performed by your team or an independent party, will firstly provide you with a wealth of insights, and secondly often turn the most ardent adversary into a strong advocate.  From experience and research, often one of the biggest complaints about in house advisors is that they ‘lack commerciality’.  Using the ‘7 habits of a commercial adviser‘ is as relevant to in house advisers as it is to your external advisers and as a framework can help you to understand your internal clients views and aspirations. It can help you develop focused plans and actions which can make your time in the spotlight a more pleasant experience!

Commerciality - a game of two halves - do you give actionable advice?

Commerciality – a game of two halves – do you give actionable advice?

In Chinese philosophy the concept of yin-yang is used to describe how seemingly opposite forces in the natural world are interconnected and interdependent.

Commerciality can also be looked at from two perspectives, which whilst not strictly opposing, are equally important and interdependent in order to achieve success.  These perspectives are: context; and delivery.

As laid out in our ‘7 habits’, context is about understanding: the client’s desired outcomes; the business; the economics; and the people.  It’s about: the why; the where; the who. In an ever increasingly complex and interconnected world there are many options and solutions to even a simple challenge. Understanding as much as possible about the context is critical to being able to filter, and make trade-offs between options.

Delivery, it could be said is what professional advisers have been traditionally about. After all advisers are only as good as the last piece of advice they gave.  Delivery is fundamental to success, however, this is where a ‘commercial adviser’ differentiates themselves in the eyes of the client.

Increasingly, clients are looking not just for advice, but ‘actionable advice’ and the way that this is achieved is by providing advice that fits the client’s context.

The art of ‘actionable advice’

‘Commerciality’ is about creating balance between the context and the delivery such that you better understand the context and you adjust the delivery approach to ensure that the advice and the context converge.

Balance, in the context of commerciality, is multi-dimensional, being different for each client, each opportunity, and varying over time during an engagement.  Only when professional advisers achieve it in a dynamically stable way are they seen as ‘commercial’.

The ‘7 habits’ provide a framework that helps identify and articulate the context, and then deliver against it in an adaptable way with the balance between the two tailored to your client’s desired profile.

Defining the amorphous - a definition of commerciality

Defining the amorphous – a definition of commerciality

If I asked you and a group of your peers to create a definition of commerciality then it’s likely that after much head scratching the responses would be more questions rather than answers.  Like ‘innovation’, or ‘creative’, ‘commerciality’ as a term is fairly amorphous and means different thing to different people and often depends on the context of the moment.

As terms, they’re all aspirational and have positive connotations.  It’s therefore not surprising that people and organisations like to proclaim proudly that they are ‘innovative’ or ‘commercial’.  In reality though, the real success stories in these areas are acknowledged as such by others rather than themselves.

However, without clarity around what it looks like and feels like to achieve success, it’s difficult to get there and be recognised for it.

In creating the ‘7 habits of a commercial advisor‘ we have used insights from both clients and advisors to create a layered framework that at the top level identifies seven areas that can lead towards success.  In order to then link the ‘7 habits‘ to actionable improvements we have identified competencies for each habit, and defined what it means to attain differing levels of maturity in each.

In short we have created a robust, consistent framework that can be applied throughout the life-cycle in order to, for example:

  • understand what you client means when they identify ‘commerciality’ in client feedback
  • provide a consistent language for conversations with clients and demonstrate that action is taken based on client feedback
  • turn client feedback into actionable feedback and measurable improvement plans
  • focus, tailor, and measure investment in L&D
  • provide a mechanism to help align your firm with your clients such that you’re seen as ‘easy to do business with’

The ‘7 habits‘ framework is simple enough to be memorable, yet deep enough to provide robustness and consistency.