Kathy Dunlay: Christine, you’ve been on both sides of the fence. You’ve delivered strategy and strategic marketing services as an outsourced consultancy, and you’ve been a member of the management team for tech firms, as you are right now. From which position is it easier to establish credibility, and why?
Christine: One of the core beliefs I have is that consultants need to come to the table from a perspective of openly sharing their expertise. You don’t sell for the sake of selling; allow your expertise to sell on your behalf. It’s a lot more powerful than trying to sell based on a title or engaging in hard selling. The most effective way to sell is to first establish that essential credibility with the prospect by proving you know what you’re talking about. The best way to do that is to share specific, actionable knowledge.
Here’s an example. Accept Corporation is launching a customer advisory board and user group and I was encouraged to meet a consultant who specializes in this area. I looked at the website and didn’t have a good feeling for his level of expertise. However, at lunch the consultant focused on sharing his best practices using the Socratic Method. I left lunch with a clear understanding that this person knew what they were talking about. He offered recommendations and advice that I could implement right away and sold me without selling me. This is much more powerful way of selling, and it earns you credibility right out of the box.
Regarding the process of building credibility as an outsourced consultant, I believe consultants have a responsibility to bring the most value to the client as possible. It’s not about delivering just to the project scope; it’s about delivering real value for what the client needs. Are you really effecting long-lasting change? Are you affecting some healing and learning within the organization? The client’s success rests in your hands, whether you know it or not. Otherwise they would not have hired a consultant. The CEO and/or board made a decision to hire a consultant because there is something wrong that needs to be fixed, quickly. Too often consultants drop a weighty report off, but it can’t be implemented.
I’ve run into situations where, this decision is perceived as a threat by the management team. To be successful, you need to overcome that right from the ‘get go’. As you start an engagement, ask yourself: What is the political landscape? Are you there to build the case for the removal of a team member? Trust must be developed with the management team and their direct reports. One way to do that is to sit and work among the staff. This conveys the message that the CEO is placing an investment in you. Second, you get to understand the grassroots workings of the organization.
Kathy Dunlay: What are some personal characteristics and traits that help this process?
Christine: Well, we’re all different people with different characteristics. Before I get into an engagement, I need to establish that we have a basis for a trusted relationship and chemistry. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long, hard road. Compassion, tenacity, and persistence have helped me, too. As a consultant you’re operating at multiple levels; the macro, micro and individual person level.
Early on I seek to first understand the relationships between all of the parties, the CEO, the board, management, etc. As I get into the engagement, I strive to understand what is going on in each person’s head. Understanding where people are coming from, their aspirations, fears, concerns go a long way to developing implementable recommendations that will work. Again, compassion comes into play. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO, or the receptionist, you have insecurities. An effective consultant helps each individual, as well as the company.
I’ll also pass on some good advice my husband gave me very early on – don’t take on bad business. It’ll cost you more in the end than a good client. I see a lot of consultants who like the consultant lifestyle, jetting around, etc. They’re more focused on the volume of business, brand names or lofty sounding engagements than they are on how successful their clients will be as a DIRECT result of their advice and work. The measure of success is what percentage of your business comes from referrals? If it’s greater than 50%, you have a good thing going. And that only comes from delivering real value and clients recognizing and appreciating it.
Kathy Dunlay: Do you feel the digital age (of recent years) has changed corporate expectations regarding technology marketing? If so, how?
Christine: Your customers want to have a relationship with the brand. They want to have a say in everything about the product, the company and even its policies and impact on the environment.
We’ve moved from the “Mad Men” model of marketing; “pretty pictures” world to a world where marketing is increasingly responsible for strategy and owning all market interactions – from customer attraction, acquisition and service. Marketing needs to establish unprecedented consistency across the whole experience. And this new charter for marketing is putting pressure on the marketing discipline. Some marketers are excited and welcome the new role; others are fighting it. In a decade or two, we will look back to this time and see it as a turning point for the discipline.
The challenge still remains, however, that the majority of board of directors look social media marketing and assume that marketing is now free. They think budgets can be cut and somehow, magically, that the same level of leads will come in from Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs as from traditional channels of direct mail, webinars, etc. They don’t realize that social media yet one more channel – not a substitute vehicle. We are getting better as marketers at educating how it all works, and how it can be measured. But every time a new social media vendor trashes traditional marketing and says their gizmo will ‘drive qualified customers to your site’, it makes marketing’s job twice as hard.
Kathy Dunlay: You’ve had to implement some pretty major overhauls at tech companies, including turning around organizations, and rebuilding brand strategies. Can you come up with a simplified explanation of what your initial approach looks like? Generally speaking, what are some of the first challenges that you need to get past in order to stand a chance of making meaningful progress?
Christine: My orientation to marketing from strategy and that gives me a very different perspective and approach. I always start with an understanding of the emerging trends in my markets, tangential and orthogonal markets. The best way to explain this is with an analogy of a painting. Unless you understand the backdrop and what the landscape looks like, you have no context for what the painter is painting the foreground.
To build this backdrop of emerging trends, I do a broad sweep of academia, the World Bank, governments, Wall Street analyst firms, NGOs, industry analysts, Rand and CIA studies, and relevant research from foreign governmental groups in the EU, etc. You want to look for trends that have inflection points and have congruency – where unrelated sources point to the same trend or potential event. It takes a couple of months to build a quality backdrop out and, done well, it will serve you extraordinarily well for 2-3 quarters. A lot of people won’t invest the time because is very data intensive and not a ‘sexy’ project. It’s not a crystal ball, but it’s the backdrop that tells you what direction the macro and micro forces affecting a company may move in. It’s an outside-in approach, rooted in fact, versus inside-out wishful thinking.
This gives you the context for your informed decisions and trade offs. It’s the heavy lifting but I swear by it and always find the work fascinating.
Kathy Dunlay: Thank you Christine.
Christine Crandell is currently the President and founder of New Business Strategies. She has advised over 100 CEOs and Board of Directors in North America, Europe, and Australia in areas including market category creation, company strategy, go-to-market, marketing management, and how to align people, processes, and technology outward to deliver customers’ expectations that drive company performance.
Kathy Tito Dunlay
President and Founder, New England Sales & Marketing