The CLIENT Is The Bottom Line


In an industry such as online brokerage, one would assume that the client would always be at the center of focus, and most of the time this is true—firms create products and services that respond to client needs in order to grow their business.

Yet the constant attention on the bottom line of a publicly traded company demands executive focus, which at times can obscure the importance of best practice methodology which exposes client insights, and ultimately, an ongoing internal conversation on how to make innovation a reality.

Financial expectations from the street is a huge variable when planning for both the short and long-term; how teams ensure that such strategies get designed and built in optimal fashion is a daily problem that comes down to a simple solution.

Invest In Collaboration

If clients recognize the value proposition of an offering, firms will find clientele. That’s a rather understandable equation, but as stated above, the cost of doing business (time, resources, friction, etc.) can drive decisions that affect the quality of and focus on product iterations, let alone how teams work together.

Without a clear charge from executives to invest in true cross-functional collaboration, management gravitates towards wall building in order to better control outcomes. Working within such restricted parameters creates risk in the mid to long-term—gaps in the user experience get wider, as individual contributors design with limited context and avoid more inclusive frameworks.

If the goal of an organization becomes operating in a manner that supports client needs without risking the short-term health of the business, then everyone needs to step up.

Harder Than It Sounds

Imagine a company divided into five primary organizations:

  • Business
  • Design
  • Technology
  • Marketing
  • Sales

In this example, nothing could be accomplished with efficiency or quality without close collaboration.

  • Sales, Marketing and Design need to invest in and share quantitative and qualitative client insights to assist the Business in developing an explicit understanding of client needs.
  • Once needs are qualified, these findings can then be prioritized by Business and Technology in terms of viability and feasibility
  • Business, Design and Technology collaborate during all phases of product design in order for goal-directed and innovative experiences to become a reality. This collaboration is crucial, whether first to market or iterative improvements is the goal.
  • Marketing partners with Design to ensure that brand communication meets brand experience. Both orgs must inform one another to continuously evolve the voice, tone, and visual language guardrails in play

Yes, this is oversimplified, but the point is that successful public companies aren’t led by management that hunkers down, walling off their teams and agendas from other groups. There will always be friction, no matter the domain; collaboration and prioritization across silos is essential to the success of not only the product and overarching brand, but the bottom line expectations of the street.

For example: The current buzz at Ameritrade has shifted from only touting our top operating margin in the industry to making transparent a commitment to designing an organization around the needs of our clients, while keeping our industry leading operating margin. After a major merger (Datek Online), we’re living and breathing collaboration, as Design has become an understandable and value-providing team, rather than the black box we were once perceived to be.

While we live in the Technology organization, we also work intensely with both Marketing and the Business. Cross-functional involvement in design reviews has become necessary as everyone involved understands that they bring a unique perspective to the table. As we move forward, we do so with a common understanding of what’s most important, why that’s the case, and how we plan on executing.

Keeping a competitive experiential edge in this industry while reaching business outcomes is tricky business, but representing the needs of clients within such a pursuit doesn’t need to be.

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