Getting It Right with Zain Raj

Some insight organizations have more impact on their clients and companies than others.  This podcast focuses on those organizations that are doing a good job making an impact – and in different ways.  The podcast series features leaders from brands and from suppliers that have made a lot of these steps and missteps.  We’ll cover the definition of success, how you know if you’re being successful, how to organize around that idea, and other related topics.

The episode’s guest is Zain Raj, Chairman, and CEO of Shapiro+Raj.  Zain entered the insights industry just 6 years ago after identifying a need in the marketplace.  Prior to that, he was CEO for Epsilon Agency Services, Hyper Marketing, and Euro RSCG.  In addition, he has published two books – Marketing for Tomorrow, Not Yesterday and Brand Rituals: How Successful Brands Bond with Customers for Life.

Shapiro+Raj intentionally reduced the number of clients by 90% and doubled their revenue.  The purpose was to become a strategic partner to their clients.  This shift allows them to focus more on the relationship and less on projects – creating stronger connections, more impact, and happier staff.  Zain discusses the vision, defining success, the organizational shift that had to happen to meet the vision, and much more.

Please read the transcript or listen to the interview for more about his perspective and the transformation of Shapiro+Raj.

Gregg Archibald

Managing Partner, Gen2 Advisors.



Gregg Archibald

Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us for our podcast, Getting It Right: Achieving Success and Insights. I’m Gregg Archibald of Gen2 Advisors, and this podcast is part of a series focusing on how various organizations are finding success within the insight’s world. And we’re talking to a lot of different kinds of companies. We’re talking to brands, we’re talking to suppliers of different types, and talking about success. What is it? How is it defined? How do you do it? Trials and tribulations of getting there and what the future holds.

Today, I’m joined by Zain Raj. Thank you for being here, Zain. He’s a leader, an entrepreneur, an investor, a philanthropist, an author, and we were just talking about how busy he actually does stay.

So currently, Zain is the Chairman and CEO of Shapiro+Raj. Also, the founder and CEO of ZedNext which is an incubator focused on data-driven approaches to help marketers and leaders. He spent, four years as CEO of Hyper Marketing and Epsilon, plus leadership roles at Havas, FCB, and J Walter Thompson. And he’s written a couple of books, Brand Rituals: How Successful Brands Bond with Customers for Life and Marketing for Tomorrow, not Yesterday: Surviving and Thriving in the Insights Economy.

Zain, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate you taking the time.

Zain Raj

Gregg, it is a pleasure and an honor to be with you for the next hour.

Gregg Archibald

Six years ago, you bought Shapiro+Raj, and it was a very different company six years ago than it is today. Can you talk a little bit about what you saw then, and we’ll start moving into where you wanted to move from there?

Zain Raj

Well, six years ago, I reached a point of time in my professional career where I’d spent a long time working at agencies, building companies, and then I sold the last company I built for private equity to Alliance Data which is how I got to Epsilon. After I got done with that sale, as I was looking into my future, I decided that it was a good time for me to go back to my roots.

My roots are all about solving strategic business and human problems. How do you do that in the world that we were living in six years ago? And the world we’re living in today? All the rules of marketing and business and growth that we’d grown up on were changing so dramatically fast.

Digital-first had become a reality. Social media was driving a lot of the conversation, and everything that marketers and business people had learned in the prior few decades was becoming irrelevant. And the interesting part — because I was running very large organizations for very large companies and working with clients across different sectors that were dealing with the change – I identified a gap in the market.

The word “insight” had become completely misunderstood and completely commoditized. Because we suddenly started having data coming from all the transactions people were doing. We had data coming from business operations. We had data coming from syndicated sources. Plus, primary research was also delivering data.

The problem was senior clients, senior marketers, and the ecosystem had no way of figuring out, where is the true human insight, and where is the true– in some cases– human beings within the context of the world we were living in? And I saw that as a potential problem that most clients were struggling with.

I decided to go back to my roots in strategy. As such, there was an opportunity to create something that could be very, very helpful to the people who had given me a career that I’ve had. And that was what I wrote about in my last book, Marketing for Tomorrow, Not Yesterday. There is a lack of insight in companies. The opportunity is to build an insight organization that can deliver insights, versus just a lot of data, a lot of observations that people call insights.

How do you find insights in the world that was surrounded by data, confusion, noise, and static that the clients didn’t know how to deal with?

So, to start my journey, I looked at who could be, and what could be, the organization that could become the platform for this vision.  I identified a company called Shapiro. Shapiro is a 60-year-old firm started by Leo, who was one of the three guys from the University of Chicago that used social science methodologies to change the way research was done in the mid and late 50s.

I had a history with Shapiro because they were one of my key research partners when I was at agencies and strategy consulting. So, I went and talked to the principals, and I said, how do you guys feel about this vision of the future? And they were all on board, so I bought Shapiro in 2014 as a platform for building that vision.

That was a great starting point and the first step. Before I go into what we did, let me talk about the vision. I believed there is a place and room, for a very strategic research and insights company that not only is able to give you high-quality data, and high-quality insights, but that can actually help clients spark transformative business outcomes.

Not only find the insights but translate them in a way that clients can activate in the market in a way that they can actually measure the results and learn along the way to build a virtuous cycle of ongoing success.

Shapiro became the platform because Shapiro had deep roots in social and behavioral sciences, and I brought the expertise to connect the gap between beliefs and behaviors.

The second thing I did was to buy a company called MutualMind, a leading social media listening and deep digital analytics company. It was started by a few guys from MIT. They were working with clients like IBM, and they were doing some really, interesting things in the digital world.

By adding them, I took the analog world that the Shapiro research team lived in and added a digital capability to start looking at the world in the three-dimension that exists. People call it “omnichannel” blah blah blah, but at the end of the day, there’s an analog with real human beings and a digital ecosystem that was changing the world.

The third thing I did to bridge the gap between research and strategy was adding Brand strategists. I brought them from advertising agencies and consulting firms. There are a lot of research companies out there that collect data and write an executive summary of 11 observations that —they present as insights.

That’s just data collection and data analysis. That’s not insights.  The research industry is stuck with delivering the ‘what’. The problem is, clients truly need “the now what”, and it’s not just “now what does it mean?” but “now, what do I do with it, and now, how do I do it?’’

That’s the biggest single point of failure, most of our clients have when they get data. Having been a client, an agency guy, and a consultant, I have had to be accountable not only for the insights but for ensuring activation successfully in the marketplace.

We built this company to be the most strategic insights partner to help clients spark transformative business outcomes. Clients care about the outcomes, the insights that we unearth are crucial input..  Our role is to use these insights to spark ideas that make brands great and businesses scale. That is the vision and the journey we’ve been on over the past five years.

Gregg Archibald

You set out on this vision of truly strategic insights that are integrating the real world– or the analog world– and the digital world, coming at it from a perspective of brand strategists that are looking for the next opportunity. So that’s your definition of success, which is that transformative activation of the insights.

As you structured around this and put the tools together to be able to achieve this, how do you know, as the CEO of Shapiro and Raj, that you guys are doing what you’ve set out to get done?

Zain Raj

So that’s a great question, Gregg, because, at the end of the day, this vision is great, but you also have to make sure that it’s working in the marketplace.   Let me answer the question by doing a prelude to the end because any vision needs to have a framework on how people operate.

My framework has three pillars.  It starts with a very fundamental premise. We want to be the company that our clients adore, our competitors’ respect, and our people love.

And why is that important? Because– step one– as a service business in the service industry, as an advisor and counselor, as insight generators, and outcome creators, we don’t have a reason to exist unless we generate tremendous value for our clients. If we do this, they will come back to us, over and over again, because they trust us to consistently deliver outcomes that result in their success.

By becoming the firm that our “clients adore”, we become their first call. And clients– as we know– are businesspeople, and they’re accountable for the success of the brand and businesses, and obviously, they want success. They only will love you if you consistently deliver success. That’s one.

The second thing we had to do was ensure that within the industry that we operate in– and as you and I have talked we are pretty much a very large industry. A $22 billion industry with about 44,000 companies. Which is a prototypical cottage industry. And within the cottage industry, we must work with our peers and our suppliers who are also competitors.

Think about it.  Schlesinger is a key partner for us, Steve is a good friend, but Steve also competes with us in a lot of different ways. So, it is important that our competitors and our peers respect us because respect builds the ability to have access to the best in the industry. Unless we have access to the best partners, we can’t serve our clients at the highest level.

And then the third thing we must make sure is that our people absolutely love being part of this organization. The traditional research model has a churn rate of 20%+. When I bought the company, we were a little higher than that, because our model was more transactional.

We know that we have to find a way to bring the right talent, give them the right growth opportunity, create the right culture and environment so that we have can be the place where they can grow, they can learn and become really great insights professionals.

And if they have to leave that they were going to leave for a bigger, better opportunity somewhere else, because we’ve given them the opportunity. That’s my fundamental framework of how I structured the organization, and the mindset, and the purpose.

We use very simple principles to manage our vision. At Shapiro+Raj, we do what’s right. If you do what’s right for the client and it’s wrong for the agency, you will never, ever, have a problem. If you do what’s right for the agency but wrong for the client, you’ll always get fired.

If you can do what’s right for both, you will do well here.

So that’s, kind of, the framework. How do we know if this works?

Let me give you some data points. When I bought the company, the day that we closed on the deal, Shapiro had 179 clients. Because Shapiro operated under the traditional research industry model, which is, anybody’s got an RFP, send it to me. And we’ll spool a team-up.

We had clients that would give us one project, here, sometimes two, and then a couple of clients that give us, like 10 projects. But that was about it. So, the average revenue per client was less than $75,000.  We were a small company with a large client base.

How do I know we’re successful, today? We now have only 18 active clients. Despite this reduction, we have tripled in size in the last five years.  And this is without a sales force or a business development organization.. Why did we do that? Because the one way to break out of the transactional industry paradigm is by becoming significantly more client-centric. We focus on clients that want what we have to offer, and we’ve committed to them, and in return, they have committed to us by making us their strategic insights consultants.

Interestingly, when I started on this journey, a few of my clients thought I was crazy. “You’re going to go out of business,” they said. When I announced this approach to the people at Shapiro, I had eleven people leave in the next eight weeks. They thought I was crazy, and that I was just going to run this business into the ground.

And I think– I mean, there was a reason for people to react that way because this was an anti-industry posture. We decided to go down that pathway because I knew that clients would rather work with people that understand them, that understand their business, that they can trust to add value and help them be more successful.

We are all human beings. You know, we try to work with people we can respect, people we can trust. And if we can respect and trust somebody, they’ll probably be loyal. So that’s where we got. One way we look at success from a client standpoint is, are we growing with them? As I said, 18 clients, we’ve tripled in size in the last five years, right? That is an economic indicator that we’re going the right way.

Obviously, then our profitability is also going to grow because when you work with the same clients, you know the business, the learning curve is flat, you get more done in less time and with less effort.

I mean, we’re a fairly data-driven company. What have we done? The first thing we look at is, on every project that we do with all our clients, we get a rating at the end of the project. We ask our clients to rate us on a five-point scale, and anything less than a four is unacceptable.

That’s the first thing. Every client gets a call from me at the end of a project. Doesn’t matter how big or small the assignments are, they get a call, and we have three or four questions.

What did we do well? What could we have done better? What is our rating on a five-point scale? And then, would you trust us moving forward on handling your assignments and as part of your team? So that’s one thing. And it’s very simple. And what are the results?

Our growth has been highly organic, we don’t have a sales team. We don’t have a business development team. There’s nobody out there knocking on doors. We’ve grown because our clients love the work we do, and they give us more work.

Secondly, our conversion rate. When I bought the company, our conversion rate was about 25%. Today, our conversion rate is in the low-80’s.

The reason why it’s so high is that we get a significant number of non-competitive opportunities. And they’re by definition, larger. Because we’ve become the strategic partners with all our clients.

From a competitor in the industry standpoint, we obviously have two metrics. Very simple. How are we ranked and rated? You know about the GRIT Report.

We are the 14th most innovative agency. We’re number two in qualitative excellence, number one happens to be an app called Voxpopme. From a human basis, we’re number one.  And we’re number sixth strategic insight consultancy, we were above Bain and McKinsey on that ranking. I think– for me– that is important, that we’re seen that way and we have the respect of our clients and our peers.

And from our people’s standpoint, they’re very aligned on a simple principle we have here. They’re focused on what we call, “delivering a wow.” Remember when I was talking about client ratings? The rating is the wow. Did to get a wow from the client, and a wow is what connects to the numerical result.

One of our larger clients, we’ve been working with them for about six years rates use and our competitors on every one of the assignments. Our six-year average is at 4.6 out of a five-point scale — we must have done 250 projects with them. 4.6.

The second-highest rated company in our space has a 3.7-point grade. So that’s what our people do. And as I said to you, I mean our attrition– voluntary attrition– is less than low single digits.

And if you look at my leadership team. Most of my leadership team are people who’ve been here and have grown with the firm

Gregg Archibald

I want to talk a little bit about the industry and what we’re seeing in the industry, and you’ve alluded to this. On one side, we have a lot of things related to data. We have new types of data, new ways to analyze data, new ways to present data, et cetera, et cetera. And on the other side of that scale is the consulting work– the strategic insights component– which is where you guys have gone, and kind of in the middle I’ll put the traditional full-service agency.

You have pushed over and changed the mindset out of the kind of project approach. However, some of the things that are pressing from the data side are influencing how we move forward as an industry overall. The speed, the cost pressures, some of these things. So how do you think about providing what you need to for your clients on strategic insights and still dealing with some of the technology changes that are pressing from a different direction?

Zain Raj

You know that’s a great question. It’s an interesting dichotomy you bring up —but it should not be a dichotomy. Just because you think “strategic”, most people think we are slow, lumbering, with a long, expensive process.

It’s actually not true.. Because strategy is not necessarily about the length of time. Strategy is about the sharpness of thinking.  There are three ways we address that the balance between strategy and responsiveness.

Number one– we’ve built a very strong technology stack with partnerships across the world. We work with some of the leading technology providers. Every year, we go through a process of looking at all the new technologies in the industry.

We are very, very digitally driven. We look at all the technology options out there. Even options from outside the research industry.

We use CRM-oriented technology, loyalty marketing capabilities, and of course, social, and digital apps. The kind of capabilities most research agencies don’t pay attention to. But we look at that. This gives us the ability to target people, activate people, and leverage transactional data so that clients can calibrate the primary research data to bridge the gap between beliefs and behaviors.

The technology stack enables and amplifies our proprietary methodologies that are based on social sciences and behavioral economics.

For example, Remesh is a good partner. A big part of our business is driving new innovations and growth strategies. In the old days, we would do a ton of triads and groups.  Today, we work with Remesh, with a methodology developed around their capabilities so that we get really rich insights– data-driven insights—with the scale of quant..

We can pull rich and robust learning agendas organized literally in a two-week period, whereas the traditional approach would have taken almost four months. That’s how we’ve been able to be strategic while being agile, responsive, and efficient.

What we’ve also done it in a couple of cases where we couldn’t find an existing solution, we’ve built our own proprietary apps. We’ve built a fantastic product, called Shapiro+Raj AQuA that allows us to take all of the unstructured data from qualitative studies, structure it with machine learning and AI, to identify deep insights and expansive themes and ideas. The AI component comes from a product developed by MIT scientists.  We use this app to help our clients get more bang for their research dollars by being able to use the data from prior research to gain longitudinal insights.

We have also built a really cool data lake, in partnership with one of the coolest tech brands – Raw Cubes – to allow us to take all the quant survey data over decades and deliver huge longitudinal insights.

For example. If you have a question about loyalty – what are the core drivers of loyalty in each category? – we can answer this question across categories, audiences, time, brands, etc. pretty much in real-time. This is why I say “strategic” does not mean “slow”. “Strategic” does not mean “analog”. “Strategic” means “smart, fast, and effective.

And that’s why we bought MutualMind. We didn’t by MutualMind, to be a source for social listening… there were much better companies. We didn’t buy MutualMind because of the digital analytics.

We bought them because those MIT guys were really, smart with a bunch of patents and they had a vision of how you could take the analog world and bridge it to digital.

Gregg Archibald

What you’ve just done is destroyed the model that I’ve been talking about for four years, now, of this bifurcation in the industry. You’ve just slapped me around and said, no it’s both. It’s blended.

Zain Raj

And it is! I was a power user of research throughout my entire marketing career. I love the research industry.  I’m still a babe in the woods compared to some as this is only my sixth year in the industry. And it is a very distinct industry but I’ve gotten to really respect and like so many of the principals.

And it’s because the people in this industry are really smart, really brilliant people, but also really good people. And so, as we’ve talked– the problem with our industry is the bifurcation. We’re living in a world that is completely converged. I mean, technology has immersed itself in every aspect of our lives so even as human beings we have become completely converged.

We can’t survive as an industry if we think in bits and pieces and expect the customer who’s our client to try and put that jigsaw puzzle together themselves. We must help them.

Gregg Archibald

Zain, I want to come back to this idea of going from 180 to 18 clients. Not a lot of companies have done this. I can think of a small handful. You had the vision to go deeper, but 180 clients are writing checks, and now you’ve got to make this transition. Can you talk a little bit about the key steps along that path to get to where you wanted to go? That’s a difficult change.

Zain Raj

Yeah, it’s a difficult change. And that’s why it took us almost four years to get to now. And I appreciate that you invited me to be on the podcast to talk about the success part of it. I think we’re successful today, but I think our success will continue and get to a ‘true win’ over time. We’re in the early stages of actually winning.

But the steps were not easy. Like I said when I first declared that as an intention within the firm, we lost 11 people and we were not a big company. That was almost 20% of our staff at that point in time that walked out the door within eight weeks.

This is kind of like what happened to Basecamp, a few weeks ago, but that was on a different issue. But for us, it was bigger because the industry didn’t buy this idea. And obviously, the clients are responsible for the industry. The clients tend to work with a lot of different people, depending on the product, or the tool, or the method, or whatever they offer.

The first step was looking at our client projects and identifying the areas that were core to us and ones that weren’t. Shapiro as an agency, because it had been around for a long time, had landed up building lines of business, within itself that were necessary for the past, but were not necessarily moving forward.

For example, we had a focus group facility in our old offices. We had a group that competed with the Schlesinger Group for business. We also had recruiters that recruited respondents for qualitative research. Mostly for other research firms. We had a team that did legal research — brand trademark and IP issues. We also had a retail practice that had about 40 clients. We maybe did one tracking study a year. A new store opening study a year. That kind of work.

As we laid out the vision of who we wanted to be, we asked, what are the capabilities that are important to us? What are the capabilities that are critical? That was step one. Not just mapping out the economic framework, but more importantly, focusing on the kind of work we could do. This is very different than how most businesses define clients. They just go, who’s profitable and who’s not? Then, they let the nonprofitable clients go.

We didn’t start at the economic model, which is where people tend to start. We started with the strategic end in mind. What is best, where do we want to go?

And what we realized was, in the short term, we could walk away from certain things like the legal work which was narrow. It had a few people working on it. It was a good, profitable practice. One of the leading partners ran the team. We let that partner take the business away. That is how we started cleaning up the business model.

The second thing that we did was as we looked at all our clients, we said, what are the clients that our teams like working with? If you want to build an organization that people love, you’ve got to make sure that they actually love the idea of coming to work and like the idea of working with their clients. What we realized is there were a number of clients that we just worked with because they gave us projects, they paid on time, and we made some money.

So ironically, some of the smaller clients were pretty profitable. We then changed our pricing model, which made us price non-competitive for some of these smaller clients. We did this to ensure we could provide the right resources for clients who required the capabilities we were building. Our pricing strategy became a combination of time-of-staff, OOP, and margin, with incentive.

We also put in a deep ERP system, NetSuite, across the company to start capturing operating data and we learned where we needed to make pricing changes. And you know what happened because of the pricing model? About 44 of our clients literally said you guys are too expensive. And we said, yes, we are, for you.

Now, today I can tell you for a fact that we are not the most expensive at any of our clients. We’re definitely not the least expensive, but we tend to be middle, upper-middle, depending on the engagement. And because our engagements have become more longer-term learning agendas versus discrete little projects, it creates a lot of value for our clients.

Starting with 179 clients in 2015, I think– then when we got down to– about seventy clients two years ago. Then what we went through was the next stage of our evolution. This may sound a little arrogant, I don’t mean it that way. We started looking at the reasons why we lost our talented people? And what we realized was there were certain clients that our people worked on that they didn’t enjoy. And the irony was they didn’t enjoy it, and they didn’t do great work. That made the clients more difficult, which made them put more pressure, which made our people more miserable, and it just became a vicious cycle.

We resigned three of our top ten clients. Despite it being scary, it has become a huge benefit. Our people are happier, our work is better, and our clients are successful. And then the final thing we did was to transition our focus group facility and recruiting teams to Schlesinger.

Having the facility was one way for us to host clients, but, we realized that the only thing holding us back from getting to where we want to be was that group– a completely different business.  That’s when we talked to Steve Schlesinger and we worked the deal to transition our people and all the recruiting and facility clients.

Which is a great partnership. —We now had our people at Steve’s working on our clients. We didn’t miss a beat with revenue and with great service so it was a win-win. We began 2019 with a very clean slate. Staffed, aligned, and focused on a strategic insight consultancy model. This is truly how our model has gotten refined over the last 6 years.

Gregg Archibald

And all of that makes sense, and I like that it’s all really structured around the end goal in mind, including the pricing model.

I’ve said it before– if someone wants to pay me a million dollars, of course, I’ll wash your house. Absolutely, But I’ve kind of priced myself out of the house washing business. You guys have made a significant change moving down the value chain towards strategic insights. And you’ve mentioned being embedded with the learning agenda a couple of times. Can you talk just a little bit about how you engage with your clients outside of a project that you’re working on, but in that maintenance and growth of the client?

Zain Raj

Yes, so I think it’s a full circle.  Because we are now engaged with a limited number of clients, and because we have been engaged with them for a while, we understand their business, we understand their challenge. And because we work across multiple industries, we have a broader set of experiences — plus the kind of people we brought in terms of talent — we have the ability to help address a majority of their needs, not just from a research standpoint, but from a business outcome.

For example, we brought on a lady called Cindy Tran last year as president of the firm. She spent 12 years at Unilever in brand management, a few years as a strategy consultant, and then at ad agency groups in the health care space. She’s very well-rounded. A Stanford, Harvard grad, a world-class caliber of talent.

And obviously, at Unilever, she worked on brands. And, you know she knows what a brand manager, a brand leader, needs for success. And as a strategy consultant, she got experience on the other side, in the agency she got a third. I’ve had a similar career track and we have a bunch of people like this at the firm.

When we see the problems our clients need to solve, we know the business reason and the expected outcome. It doesn’t matter if they come to us, for example, for segmentation study.  We determine the outcome they are trying to accomplish and frame a learning agenda to deliver that. I’ll give you an anecdote.

One of our clients, a company that we have a three-year relationship reached out and said, we’d like your help in building a consumer segmentation. We said, great. What business problem are you trying to solve? What’s the outcome you expect? What are we trying to accomplish in terms of business metrics? Their answer: Well, we’ve been trying to win in this part of the marketplace, and the last strategy that we implemented in the campaign hasn’t worked, and so the team decided maybe our segmentation was off, and we need to get the right segmentation. And we’re talking to you because we would like the new approach to segmentation that you guys are talking about.”

Based on their business needs, we turned around and said, that they didn’t need a segmentation. They already had three segmentation studies done in the prior four years.

A new segmentation schema is not the solution. We took their data– the prior segmentation data and reports, and synthesized it to find the answer for the brand. This is where our brand strategy capability comes into play because segmentation is a means to an end.

What we discovered was the fact that there was no place in the market for the brand to play the role it aspired to play. However, we found that the brand could play a completely different role that gave it a broader, expansive opportunity. All three segmentation studies had resulted in different segments with different personas, but the core structure of the segmentation was pretty much the same.

One of them had seven segments, one of them had six, one of them had nine. You know, from a business standpoint– when I was a CMO, and you’ve been a client, so you know that most businesses have difficulty executing even four segments.

So we took the data, mapped the market, ran a quick study, and showed them an alternate IdealSpace that was perfectly aligned for their brand. It’s fascinating. Their business has seen double-digit growth over the past two years.

That’s how we go from projects to building cohesive learning agendas, that result in longer, mutually beneficial relationships.  because we went from “hey do a segmentation”, to that’s not the way to get your business outcome, so we’ll use your data to find the scalable business opportunity that delivers success.

We’ll take that segmentation work you’ve done, create a market map, validate the space that we believe you can own versus the space that you say you want to own, then we’ll go and test it in the marketplace, validate its impact so you can launch with a higher degree of confidence.

Gregg Archibald

So, Zain, this is fantastic. And this is doing more by doing less. Yeah, so that is a wonderful story to talk about how that engagement and that trust is built and guided. And if you had done the segmentation study it may have been a $200,000, or $300,000, or $400,000 project. And you saved money and given direction.

Zain Raj

Yeah. Can I just give you a data point on that? The prior research firm that did the segmentation for these guys, charged them $453,000, for nine segments. We literally did the entire learning agenda in half the time those guys took to do the segmentation study, using three distinct methodologies, and we did it all for $350,000. That’s what I mean by strategic and agile.

Gregg Archibald

Yeah, that’s the way to win– make sure the clients adore you.

Zain Raj

That’s why the client comes back with five other problems in the last six months, and they’re not, give me a segmentation. It’s, here’s the problem my brand teams are dealing with, and the brand team lead is on the ball, and this is the issue we’re struggling with. Can you guys frame up and answer how we might deal with that.

Gregg Archibald

I want to get to one last question. You guys have been on this amazing transformation over the course of the past six years, including the digital and analog integration, the digital capabilities, the partnerships, and I love the fact that you’ve brought in the brand strategists to help guide the direction and implementation. You’ve made all these steps. Where do you go from here? What’s next for you?

Zain Raj

Yeah, it’s a good question. I think where we go from here is still the destination we set up when we started the journey. We’re at the midpoint of the journey. Or maybe we’re in the early stages of the journey, only time will tell. I don’t know. Even though our vision is to be the most strategic insights consultancy that sparks transformative business outcomes for our clients, I think we’re just scratching the surface of the kind of stuff we can do, the kind of problems we can solve, the kind of innovations we can drive.

And so, for us, that is still the vision, and that is still the endgame. Our principle, and it’s taken us a while to get here, and it’s going to take us a while to get wherever we go, we’re not trying to revolutionize anything. We’re not going to wake up and say, tomorrow, we’re going to do something dramatically different.

We operate a very simple rule, called our 1% rule. What we talk about is, how can we do what we’re doing today 1% better tomorrow? Across the board. With everybody.

And our transformation continues to happen because– every day– we’re trying to find a new way, a new something, or a different way to make what we do better or solve our client’s problems more effectively. Our future is there [gesturing to the horizon.] We want to be the most adored by our clients. We want to be the most respected company among our peers. And we want people here who are growing, doing unbelievably well, and who are driving the growth in the field to believe they work for the best insights company in the world.

It is a journey, not an end. And so, the 1% rule is what drives us. The 1% rule. The point at the end of the day — revolutions don’t happen overnight.

It’s not like one fine day you’ve got a rocket to go to Mars. It’s an evolution, you evolve, evolve, evolve. And then the tipping point happens, and you suddenly revolve. That’s how you create a revolution.

And for us, I do believe we have transformed one step at a time, over the last six years. And I also believe– and this is not humility, I think it’s just a recognition of a fact — that we are just a couple of inches away from where we can be. The most strategic insights consultancy that sparks transformative outcomes for our clients.

Gregg Archibald

I used to be in the music business in Nashville, and you had people come through that had their first hit and would be described as overnight wonders. And yes, that’s true if you assume that overnight is the past 25 years.

Zain Raj

Well said.

Gregg Archibald

It’s one step at a time, and you guys are being recognized for the kind of work that you do if you look at the GRIT, if you look at your retention. I want to just say, congratulations to you for seeing your vision and that vision being compelling in the market. Zain, thank you so much for taking your time to be here and talk with me today, and I hope everyone gets a lot out of this I know I did. Thank you, Zain.

Zain Raj

Well, Gregg, just a final thought– it was a pleasure.

Gregg Archibald

Appreciate it.

The post Getting It Right with Zain Raj first appeared on GreenBook.


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