Extending Client Relationships: An Interview with Andrew Greenwood, ZS

Andrew Greenwood is Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for ZS Associates, a management consulting and professional services firm focusing on consulting, software, and technology, providing services for clients in healthcare, private equity, and technology. He has more than 20 years of experience leading marketing and communication teams within business-to-business large IT services firms. In this interview, Andrew shares his insights on working with a third-party consultant to foster stronger relationships with C-level customers by creating a client strategy council.

ZS is an established services firm with 40 years of experience. What triggered you to explore creating a strategy council?

“The mission for my team is to help architect strategies and orchestrate relevant experiences for key audiences. We’re really in the client experience game. We want to make sure that we are creating the right kinds of stories and experiences to engage with clients, prospective clients, employees, and alumni in the right way, at every touch point. While we’ve thought about advisory boards or client exchanges over the years, we hadn’t done them in a programmatic way.

I previously worked at larger firms where a lot of energy was put into client councils and advisory boards. I saw this as an opportunity for ZS as well, particularly as we grow our business. We know our clients think highly of us, but we thought an Advisory Board might elevate our relationships to a CXO or EVP. As an example, some of our clients may think of us as operations and analytics people that can help them with their commercial strategy. They may not have had the opportunity to view us as an enterprise-class consulting firm that can help them with broad-based transformation projects. Establishing more senior-level relationships and exposing them to our thinking capability was key for us.”

Why did you choose to work with Farland Group to establish the council?

“Over the course of my career, I’ve found that in some cases, to make change happen, it’s useful to bring in someone to provide a third-party perspective. In this case, working with Farland Group, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Across ZS, we’ve talked about client councils, boards, or user forums, but we didn’t have a structure in place to think about what is a strategic advisory board, an executive exchange, or even a round table. I worked with Farland Group early on about how we might think about those different categories, and Farland Group clarified a strategy that we shared with a few key ZS principals. We showed the opportunity tied to developing an advisory council that the ZS principals thought made sense to try.”

What were the council start up considerations?

“Recruiting: We put a lot of thought into the council membership, including the right type of role and responsibility of the participants, as well as the size of the firm. We looked at where we might have the opportunity in some of these relationships to get the ball rolling in building a nucleus to make it easier to invite other global commercial CIOs that we don’t know as well. We wanted them to be able to say, ‘I see the people that are part of this group; this is a group I see myself in.’

With Farland Group we focused on:

  • How many members do we want?
  • What’s the right level of membership?
  • We wanted a group set of peers, not one person with this role, or five, six flavors of roles, because that’s not going to be productive.

As we approached potential members, people were very open to this concept. At the time, in the pandemic, people were already comfortable with Zoom-like technology, being on camera, having conversations. In some ways, I think the pandemic helped. People weren’t traveling, so their calendars might have been more available.”

Tell me more about your thoughts on selecting members for the council?

“There is no doubt relationship was a key component to this. But it’s not just relationship building, we want to expose the clients to some of our thinking on how we can help them. In the spirit of forming this council, we wanted to facilitate discussions because it’s a peer network. It’s not just hearing from ZS—we want the members to talk to each other, get to know each other, and find out what what’s working at their firms. There may be learnings from this person or this firm that others could take to their own organizations. It’s all about that collaborative environment; that is a big part of our culture at ZS.”

Tell me more about your partnership with Farland Group. What is their role in the success of your council?

“Farland Group brings structure and best practice to this process. They are always a good sounding board in making sure this is a community that our members see value in. This is more about sharing perspectives and thinking about what we’ve seen across our client base and then getting the members engaged with a discussion about what makes sense for them. What’s working? What are their thoughts about this? It’s more about planting the seeds for conversation, as opposed to just speaking at them.

Managing the program is the real value of these councils. It’s not only what’s happening in the meetings, but also what happens after the meetings. What did we hear, what do we want to talk about next? How do we build the agenda for the next meeting? The meeting itself is 2-3 hours long; for that to be impactful and useful for the community members, it’s the work in between meetings that must happen. Within ZS, I don’t have the team staffed up for this. That’s where Farland Group really helps, with their processes, programs, and dedicated people.”

“We know our clients think highly of us, but we thought an Advisory Board might elevate our relationships to a CXO or EVP… Establishing more senior-level relationships and exposing them to our thinking capability was key for us.”

So often, one of the early hurdles is getting the host organization’s client teams on board. Holding a meeting with their clients to which they are not invited can be an issue. How did you approach that?

“We hadn’t done this before at ZS. There was some degree of uncomfortableness with the approach, but we were able to overcome that by having a senior executive as a sponsor of our initiative. As in any client-facing organization, we have a lot of requests into our client service leaders to get access to their clients. A client team leader knowing that the senior executive was behind this really helped us break through.

We constructed this council under Chatham House Rule (participants are free to use information disclosed in the meeting but the identity of the speaker is not revealed). Naturally, there were some concerns around how this would benefit the client service leader. We’re still working through that but as time moves on everyone is becoming more comfortable with it.”

How do you measure success?

“The way I think about it is the members vote with their time. If they give us time, that means they see value. Our members are engaging with Farland Group and our ZS council leaders on follow-up calls to prepare for the next meeting. After two virtual meetings, one of the members asked if we could do the next one in person and volunteered to host it. That says that the member is seeing value.”

What’s your view on the council’s return on investment to ZS?

“It gets back to the relationship play. Can we build relationships not just with the members, but—in working with them—also build relationships with their teams or other executives? We’ve already started to experience that extension of relationships.

There’s a qualitative and quantitative perspective to the value to ZS. The qualitative is simply, are we building relationships? Are we furthering our connections with the members? Are the council service leaders hearing positive feedback? Good qualitative input is important.

The quantitative is not easy to measure but is equally important. Always on my mind as a marketer—are there engagements that we’re winning or projects we’re launching that were influenced by this council? How’s this going to impact business with any specific client over the years? I suspect the positive impact will continue.”

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