I regularly interview candidates for management and senior management delivery roles and one of my standard questions relates to their client exposure. Of course, everyone confirms they have client experience and that throughout their careers they have served various internal shared service center (SSC) or external BPO clients.

However, in digging further I often notice that for some, their contact with customers is limited to service reporting, operational issue resolution or user satisfaction discussions. Their counterparts are usually functional managers in the local organizations focusing on SLA’s and KPI’s within their scope. For me, this marks the difference as to whether a candidate is better suited for a Service Delivery Manager (SDM) or an Engagement Manager (EM) role. The questions I typically ask to determine the right placement include:

  • Does the candidate see the bigger picture?
  • Do they know what kind of business challenges their clients have?
  • Do they regularly talk with decision makers?

It’s also important to consider the qualifications from the client’s perspective, either a CXO or someone a level below who is accountable for a business area, including end-to-end processes and process outcomes. This person’s job is to positively impact the business and create value for their firm. Their executive agenda considers a mid- or long-term horizon, and securing good quality service is just a base for further strategic moves. Therefore they need a peer on the service delivery side who understands and shares their views, executing on a business-driven action plan. And that is the role of the Engagement Manager.

I would summarize the focus of the SDM and EM roles as follows:

In my previous blog I highlighted the importance of a Competency Model in an organization. Capgemini has deliberately distinguished the SDM and EM roles into two job families: Service Delivery Management and Engagement Management, assigning required competencies and proficiency levels to each. And to be crystal clear – it’s critical to have mix of the two skillsets in the service organization.

As mentioned above, you cannot drive a strategic agenda if you don’t have a strong base i.e. good quality service. Comparing the two profiles, professional competencies such as the foundation, service & delivery, people management or technology skills tend to look generally similar. The difference is in the area of client acquisition and development and business leadership where higher proficiency is expected from an Engagement Manager. The latter role also requires some extra skills specifically negotiation, change management and financial analysis. But for me the most critical is an ability to build a long-lasting rapport with the client. A successful EM becomes a trusted partner, someone who the client calls when she or he needs a piece of advice. Someone who understands ‘what’s in it’ for the client and their firm and supports that journey.

Vince Lombardi once said that “leaders aren’t born they are made”, and the same rule applies to Engagement Managers. Within your SDM pool you will likely find some talented individuals who clearly have the potential to step up and become peers to their client counterparts. A service organization should be able to recognize and develop those individuals because such an investment always pays off in the long run. So why not start now?