Tag Archives: Consultant

How To Ask The “Best” Question

A client asked me about the “best” social game company the other day. Like most simple questions, this one had no simple answer. How was he defining “best?” The one that made the most engaging games as measured by how long users were playing? The one that sold the most games? The one that was most profitable? Or maybe the one that creates games that really are works of art? Each of those questions has a different answer in my mind so I did what a lot of we consultant types do: I answered his question with a question.

Putting my confusion aside, that simple question raises a good business thought.  Let’s ask it about TV.  What’s the best program on TV?  I might answer that as a fan – the one I like the most and which is appointment television for me:  Homeland, The Newsroom, and even a program that’s not on “TV”, House Of Cards.  Obviously, I’m defining “best” in a way that takes writing, acting, plot, and other factors into account.  I might answer it as a former TV executive (which I am!): The Voice, American Idol, and even Duck Dynasty come to mind.  They’re watched by some of the biggest audiences, they’re not particularly expensive to produce, and they take in a lot of money.

Which is the “best restaurant ”  If one of Thomas Keller‘s places come to mind, I’d agree answering as a foodie.  As a businessperson, maybe the right answer is someplace that feeds millions and makes over a billion dollars a quarter?  Not that McDonald’s tops any fine dining lists of which I’m aware.

The point is that how we answer questions is very much tied to our point of view.  If you’re asking them, it’s important to figure out from which perspective you want the answer given.  If you’re answering them, it’s critical that you ascertain the underlying reason for the question in the first place.  As with the above examples, your answer may be very different based on that.  A little clarity can go a long way in advancing business success. Have you found this to be the case?

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My Life As An Auto Mechanic

It’s been over five years that I’ve been out on my own working as a consultant to all sorts of companies. For all the clients I do and have had over that period, there are at least twice as many companies with whom I’ve had exploratory meetings and conversations and I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share.  One of the things one finds out pretty rapidly in the consulting world is that you’re pretty much in the same boat as auto mechanics. That may seem odd so let me explain.

Auto mechanics are a necessary fact of life.  Most of us own cars, few of us really understand how they work and, more important  how to diagnose and fix what’s wrong with them.  Some people try to do the simple stuff like oil changes themselves but recognize that doing your own brake job can kill you if you screw it up.  Enter the mechanic.  While grudgingly accepted as needed, he’s not really beloved and the things people do to them show that.  First, there are the people who will try to get a free diagnosis.  They drive in and spend a fair amount of the mechanic’s time telling him about what they think is wrong but refuse to spend a few bucks to let the mechanic devote an hour of his time to do a real diagnosis using his knowledge and  equipment.

Once car owners get past the acceptance that they need the mechanic and the diagnosis he made, they spend an equal amount of time haggling over price.  Now as a car owner, I recognize that a discussion with the repair person with respect to what’s really needed before the work begins can save you a fair amount of money.  However, haggling over what to charge for the agreed-upon work is insulting.  If the shop is too expensive, move on.

Then there’s the dark side of the unscrupulous mechanics who put used parts in cars and say they’re new.  There are the guys who do unnecessary work just to run up the bill.  Heck, there are shops that don’t do the work they say they did at all.   They give all the honest shops a bad name.  Finally, having a good mechanic can be a life-saver.  If you have an ongoing relationship with them, most will drop almost everything in an emergency to get your car back on the road for you.

Now go back and read that again, except change “mechanic” to “consultant” and “car” to “business.”  Just call me Cooter!

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Most Read Posts Of The Year – 2

One of the posts you all read and shard the most this year was a recent one from October.  It was a response to an article about how some charlatan was passing himself off as a social media consultant and taking his clients’ money while providing almost nothing in the way of value.  The screed was an extended invitation for he and those like him to go away.  It was called “Crappy Consultants” and is all about everything I certainly don’t want to be.

The screed today hits close to home since I want to throw a little sunlight on something going on in the consulting world.  While it’s been on my mind for a bit I read a piece this morning called How Social Media Consultants Dupe Their Corporate Clients from Dave Copeland of ReadWriteWeb that brought it front and center.  The piece talks about how a friend of Dave’s was underwhelmed by a consultant brought in to get the company up to speed with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and the rest.  Not only was the presentation the consultant made stunningly simplistic, but it may have been wrong.  As the article put it:

…the company has little digital expertise. That leaves it open to exploitation by so-called social media experts who take a one-size-fits-all approach to every client. These consultants often bill tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars before anyone realizes there is little or no return on the investment.

Amen.  As I’m out meeting with potential clients I often run into the work of some “consultant” who knows how to post on Facebook but doesn’t understand how Facebook is used as part of a business.  Forget knowing about the social graph – these folks don’t have a clue about asking the most important question – why social media in the first place?  After all, it’s not right for every business and there certainly is no standard implementation that’s going to work across the board.

I’ve had prospective clients hand me the “white paper” some other consultant did that was nothing more than a document grabbed off the web.  I’ve had another client think that someone had built them a solution when all they were doing was using a white-label provider and marking up the cost.  In each case the warning signs were there – the person they’d hired didn’t have a lot of business experience (it’s hard to claim a ton of social media experience – it’s s new medium!) and treated social as just another marketing megaphone.

It’s hard to convince anyone that there is an ROI to social, especially since it’s very resource intensive if done well.  It requires someone who can digest a 360 degree view of the business and align social with other marketing efforts, including the analytics to evaluate it all.  The charlatans identified in the article hurt clients.  They hurt folks like me who have to battle against their failures to get hired (usually to clean up a mess).  They hurt the industry.  I wish they’d go away – maybe a little sunlight will scare them off.

Have you had an experience with someone like this?

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