Most well run companies spend a considerable amount of time and effort articulating their values and structuring their companies to provide a competitive advantage to their clients. These values and advantages are clearly reflected in their marketing materials and often become integral to their brand. They are the things that the company stands for, that its leaders believe in and that ideally distinguish it from its competitors. It’s curious then, when a company suffers a case of temporary amnesia – forgetting what is important to them and what they believe is important to their clients – when comes time for them to select the vendors they do business with.
For example, we recently met with a firm who had previously worked with one of the largest commercial brokerage firms for its real estate needs. We focused on the fact that our firm represented only tenants and that we had made a conscious decision NOT to try and be all things to all people. We did not represent landlords in the marketplace and, unlike the largest brokerage firms who are under constant pressure to grow revenues; we were not continuously trying to branch out into more and more business lines where we could not be the best. We chose to stick with the one thing we did better than anyone else–advocating for the interests of tenants. The company hired us. Why?
The firm concluded that our core principles were more in line with theirs’ and it turned out that their CEO proudly followed Jim Collins’ credo in “Good to Great”. He too strongly believed that to be successful in business, a firm must find the one thing it does better than anyone else and stick to that. This firm had positioned itself as a leader in its core competency and the CEO was adamant that if he expanded into other product lines and tried to be all things to all people, he would end up being nothing to everyone. By committing to the one thing he did better than anyone else, he best served his clients’ interests. This focus was integral to his branding and marketing platform and, by hiring us, he was validating his core business principles
Sometimes companies unintentionally stray from their core values when making their own buying decisions. We met with another company who had developed its own internal Code of Ethics which was prominently featured on its website. This Code was a fundamental part of their branding strategy as they were in an industry that had recently come under attack for questionable business practices. In their internal Code, the company made clear that they would not tolerate conflicts of interest. They stated that employees should at all times keep the interests of their clients paramount and avoid any situation where their clients’ interests could be compromised or even appear to be compromised by conflicting loyalties. They addressed these important industry issues head on and used their strong ethical stance as a key component of their selling platform. Interestingly, we found out that this company had historically used a commercial real estate brokerage firm that represented both landlords and tenants– the ultimate client conflict.
If this company felt so strongly about the need to avoid conflicts of interest, why did they seemingly disregard the issue when it came time for them to hire a broker? When we pointed this out in the meeting, the company reaffirmed their commitment to their core principles but conceded that perhaps they needed to be more sensitive to the issue when deciding which vendors they themselves should partner with. How could they tell their clients and prospects that their sensitivity to conflicts of interest was an important, distinguishing characteristic if they themselves failed to value it when they hired their own advisors?
Today business is more competitive than ever. As a result, it’s not surprising that more and more companies are putting stakes in the ground and defining their core values as a way to distinguish themselves and articulate a coherent and compelling value proposition. However, if companies are going to spend the time and money to develop their unique brand and value proposition, it’s important that they buy into their own message when it’s time for them to be the consumer. If they want their clients and prospects to believe in what they are offering as a value proposition, they themselves need to walk the walk. Because in the end, actions speak louder than words and “do as I say and not as I do” is rarely a compelling message.
For more information contact Glenn Blumenfeld