Who exactly is your client?

Many professionals want to improve the way they talk about what they do. However, nearly everyone that I’ve worked with has discovered that the best way to do this is to sharpen their description of who they work with. Once the “who” is clear, the “what” is easy.

Even large global players can learn from this distinction, as the following story illustrates. Graham Kennedy is the principal of Alexoria. Graham works with large global system-integrators and service-providers who want to maximise IT-related opportunities in the UK public-sector. One of his key specialisms is partnering with SME’s in such a way as to deliver “agile at scale”, as he describes it.

So how did a large systems-integrator profit from a deeper understanding of “who” the buyer really was? And how did Graham’s insight enable them to do so?


The UK public sector spends around £190bn per year procuring products and services from suppliers. In many markets public sector spend constitutes between 10% – 15% of that market. The UK public sector therefore represents a large market opportunity for SMEs, provided they can find a cost effective way of accessing it.

Alexoria’s clients include Accenture, Hewlett Packard (HP), Prudential Assurance, The World Economic Forum, The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, United Utilities, Shell and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Graham is often retained by service-providers to assess future trends in public procurement and to help them position themselves for future IT-related contracts.

Once of Graham’s recent assignments stemmed from a change in the UK’s political direction. Central Government (CG) has a history of large IT projects and contracts not delivering what was promised when it was promised… while costing a lot more than planned. In addition, CG perceives the costs associated with making changes to large IT contracts as being excessive, and delivery timeframes for IT projects and contracts as being too long. So the Cabinet Office was in search of new ways of delivering large, complex IT projects.

Graham’s client (a systems-integrator) wanted to know how they should position themselves in this new landscape. If they simply carried on as before, they risked being tarred with the same brush: as being seen as yet another large, expensive behemoth. And with public-sector spend accounting for a significant chunk of their UK revenue, they simply could not afford such a “tarring”.

Depth of understanding

One of the characteristics of Graham’s approach is an in-depth understanding of the “client world”: not just the priorities of a few “key stakeholders”, but a thorough mapping of decision-makers together with their issues, concerns, complications and crucial questions. By the time he gets to do a presentation to senior managers, he is expressly seeking a “I-see-you-know-our-world” level of response. So he set about this assignment with his characteristic vigilant search for insight: a new depth of understanding of how his client’s services would be bought in the future.

As insight-seekers will readily understand, the results are often surprising. In this case, the surprise was that, among the key departmental buyers (usually the Chief Digital Officers), Graham’s client was not perceived as “large, expensive behemoths”… because they were not perceived, at all! To anyone in the private sector, this might be hard to believe, as this organisation is well know for its system integration work. But among the Chief Digital Officers and those who advise them, the reality was that this large global player actually had no reputation whatever with some of the key decision-influencers in individual public-sector departments.

Once this understanding is reached, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the way forward: relationship-building, awareness… you can fill in the plan for yourself. As always, solutions looks like “mere common-sense” once an issue is accurately understood. They key is to have that “depth of understanding” of the issue (or insight), exactly as Graham helps his client to identify.

Intuitive or Rational?

Some will say that insight is intuitive rather than rational. No doubt, this is sometimes the case… if only because intuition plays a key role in defining which questions to ask. But – as Graham’s story illustrates – there is often no depth of understanding without a really diligent fact-find.

The search for insight is a bit like the work of Sherlock Holmes. There is a role for intuition (often born from experience) in knowing where to look, divining the questions to ask, often challenging one’s own thinking as well as that of others. But, as with any fact find, there is an equally significant role for “slog”: asking the same question of twenty people, setting up meetings, checking understanding… the daily unglamerous grind of many professional activities.

Perhaps what’s most significant is intention.  The intention of many professionals is to find a solution as quickly as possible. Graham’s intention is to first achieve a depth of understanding that nobody else has achieved… and then to co-create the solution with the client. He is consciously searching for insight (understood as depth of understanding) before putting forward solutions.


The insight game is one that requires mental stamina. But for those who love the joust, it’s a hugely rewarding and energising game, too. Graham describe the feeling of elation when he saw the shocked faces around the table, the “we-never-thought-of-that” expressions, and the warm congratulations at the end of his presentation. At the human level, being a “bringer of insight” has very real rewards: both in terms of mental and emotional energy.

If you can look back at certain iconic moments in your career to date: moments where you brought fresh perspective, new eyes, deeper understanding or a connection that nobody had made beforehand, you will already know firsthand the boost this gives to self-esteem and motivation. If, like Graham, you consciously seek depth of understanding, you can confidently expect many more of these moments in the future.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding” – Leonardo da Vinci


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