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The Long Game

One of the key tenets that we advocate for at MST Solutions is to always play the “Long Game”. What exactly do we mean by that?

At its most basically level, it means weighting long-term interests (costs and benefits) greater than short-term interests when deciding what to do in any given client situation. Of course, the further out something occurs, the more ambiguous or uncertain that thing is. Conversely, the closer something occurs (i.e. short-term), the clearer and more certain it is. All other things held constant, our natural tendency is to value that which is certain, over that which is uncertain. I believe the old saying goes something like, “A bird in hand is better than two in the tree”.  Well, in our case, what we’re saying is to go against conventional wisdom. For MST, sometimes the bird in hand is not quite as good as the two in the tree.  Sometimes, the optimal short-term decision is not the optimal decision in general.

Of course, sometimes, long-term investments do not pan out.  Sometimes, we make a short-term sacrifice in hopes of a long-term pay-off, and we lose. It does happen. That’s why we must assume a global posture rather than attempt to select on a case by case basis. En masse, the long game pays off for our business.

So, what are some real-world examples of playing the long game? Here are a few. One that has paid off. One that might or might not pay off, and one that is still to be played.

Last year, MST entered into a significant discovery effort with a key healthcare client. The work required a committed effort of six (6) weeks for a dedicated Business Analyst and fractional work over the same period from an Architect and an Engagement Manager. It was a non-trivial effort. For this SOW, MST received zero dollars. Nothing. Worse, our discovery output would become our client’s property and shared with competitors in order to competitively bid the project. Our main competitors also had established relationship with the client. They were both larger (“big four” types), but both were looking at a shorter horizon and had proposed less extensive discovery efforts – such that they would not risk as much in short-term costs. Of course, our client chose the more thorough option.

Why would we do such a thing? Why would we pay our resources for non-billable work whose output would be shared with our own competitors? Faith. We had faith in our relationship with our client, and we knew that if we did right by our client, it would build trust. And, if we did our jobs well, we would have a significant edge in bidding for the work and be more likely to be selected – and we were. As a result, we are engaged in a large, collaborative project that has grown our relationship with our client and yielded more mutual opportunities. We played the long game and we won.

From the summer of 2018 until early 2019, MST engaged in a series of small SOWs with a client focused on technology. These engagements were meant to establish credibility and faith in our engineering capabilities by helping them unwind their over-customized Salesforce org. We agreed to complete two SOWs and then explore an ongoing managed services arrangement (as the size of the initial SOWs were far too small to be financially viable for MST). After the two SOWs, the customer was not ready to commit despite being very happy with our performance. So, we stayed in contact and ended up doing two more SOWs because they addressed important business needs for the client.  While theoretically profitable, because of the small size of the deals, we barely broke even after accounting for the overhead of setting up the engagements. At the end of the additional two SOWs, we found out that our client had, in the meantime, engaged another vendor with specialized expertise in CPQ and entered into an agreement for extensive services. We played the long game, and we lost… or, at least we are losing so far. We still have a good relationship, and we value the fact that the door remains open to revisit in the future.

Now, just past the halfway point of 2019, we are making another long-term bet with that same healthcare client. We are providing services to support a partner (no compensation) to help their IT organization tackle a one-off situation which they had not expected. Unlike the last time, there isn’t a project to bid at the end. There is only doing right by our client and the opportunity to learn more of their business and organization. Over time, it will be interesting to see how playing the long game here has impacted the relationship.

The history of MST Solutions tells us that, in general, it is always a good bet to play the long game.  Our core values essentially require that we assume such as posture – and, honestly, it is easier to do right by the client as it creates a better partner environment for everyone. However, it is never a sure thing. There is a variability not in if it will pay off, but when, and how. It is almost like karma. That said, when long-term investments in client relationships bear fruit, it is one of the most satisfying feelings those in professional services can ever have.