Technically, What is a Consultant?

I recently bought a new (used) car.   After 3 long days of testing vehicles—and many hours doing online research– success! But, the buying process is horrid. It should be joyful to buy something expensive that you want and need, but it can be dreadful. And most people I have talked to echoed these sentiments.

At the dealer where we finally bought from my Jeep, the sales associate we were assigned to gave us his business card, which listed his title as “Sales Consultant.”

Dictionary.com lists the definition of consultant as:

1.a person who gives professional or expert advice:

a consultant on business methods.

2.a person who consults someone or something.

I don’t use the title Consultant lightly. It’s what I do every single day at work, and I am proud of the knowledge I have to do my job. My role is to help organizations solve a problem.

All consultants have an area of expertise. If someone comes to me with a project that veers far outside my knowledge base, I will try to refer her to another firm or person who can help them.

The dealer’s “consultant” Vern (not his real name) was unable to help us fix ANYTHING. He couldn’t tell us anything about the Jeep that was not written down, help us negotiate price, give us the interest loan %, or even clean up the car.

Every question had to be referred to someone else, who was of course not standing in his glass-enclosed cubicle. I didn’t want or need to hear his unrelated stories—I just wanted to buy the car and get back to my life. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with Vern again.

His use of the title “Consultant” was insulting to me and perpetuates the assumption that all consultants don’t offer value. Not true.

If you are looking for a consultant to work with to help you with your database and/or audience development needs , be sure that she can communicate well, stay relevant, and most importantly—collaborate and offer solutions. Hopefully the process will be smoother than what I recently experienced buying a car.

If you are looking to hire a consultant, here is a post I wrote who-what-how to start your process.

The journey continues.  C

The Importance of Attending Events

Working for myself, by myself most days, it is often a welcome change to visit clients, meet with colleagues, and attend industry events.

Whether I am attending an event as a speaker or an attendee, I appreciate the change in venue and routine. Events can be a great way to broaden my knowledge of some aspect of the direct marketing/database management industry, expose me to a new subject or technology, introduce me to vendors and industry leaders, and keep in touch with contacts.

I consider a meeting worthwhile if I end up with 3 takeaways. These can be innovative ideas, learning something new, or starting a business relationship with one new person.

Networking is a needed but sometimes dreaded part of these meetings. It is not easy for me to introduce myself to others, but I think other people have similar feelings.  However, events are an excellent time to meet potential clients or have open dialogue with colleagues.  I have made some lasting acquaintances over a glass of wine, who I can now bounce ideas off of.

So step out from behind your desk, swallow those nerves, and go learn and interact a little. It can truly help your career.  And hopefully you might have a bit of fun.

The journey continues.

C

Heath Ceramics Factory to My Table

My sister and I spent a recent Saturday morning visiting Heath Ceramics in Sausalito,CA. Made in the US since Heath Ceramics was founded in 1948, I was fascinated to learn the history of the lovely, timeless ceramics created here.

Heath Ceramics

During a factory tour, I was impressed with the obvious passion our tour guide had for the products. She carefully handled cups and vases mid-production as she explained the next manufacturing step. Some of the builders, creators,and glazers have worked there since the 1970’s, a sure sign of loyalty for Heath Ceramics.

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As a business owner, I appreciate how the vision of the founder Edith Heath lives on in the current business. Even with an ownership change in 2003, Heath Ceramics has products at the Smithsonian and other museums, classic styles. They recently took control of their product distribution, after being sold at a high- end retailers like Gump’s.

What lessons for success can a small consulting firm learn from factory tour of a ceramics firm? Many, it turns out–

  • Enduring aesthetics/ design while remaining contemporary
  • Product line transformation and expansion
  • Attention to detail
  • Loyal client base
  • Listening to the customer
  • Willingness to change
  • Staying true to your products/services
  • Changing distribution methods as needed
  • Ongoing quest for improve knowledge and practices

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I purchased a simple white serving bowl for myself (and a couple gifts for friends).  Timeless, useful, and a reminder to always strive for more in my business.

The journey continues.

C

Narrowing the Consultant Search

Consultants, consultants, it seems like it’s raining (snowing, here in Chicago) consultants!

When you need to hire a consultant, how do you choose one from all the internet listings, online profiles, phone calls, voices in your ears?

A previous post discussed WHY you hire a consultant, which you can read here. Once you have a plan for why you want to bring in a consultant—even a rough idea, since the consultant should be able to help you to get to the details your plan—the search begins.

There are several ways you can find a reputable consultant to partner with you.

  1. Recommendations from colleagues.
  2. Search your LinkedIn network. Are there any who are recommended by people you know or respect?
  3. Someone you are familiar with from industry events.
  4. Someone who has written in industry magazines ,blogs regularly, speaks at events.

Get a few ideas. Talk to several consultants, then ask them for proposals. Questions before answers.

When you are talking to individuals, what questions do they ask? Do they have a clear direction? Do they offer ideas? Do you sense a good fit? OR–Do they try and dominate the call/meeting? Do they seem like they are talking down to you? Are they able to communicate with you? Do they have follow through?

Trust your initial intuition, but take it a step further.   Ask for references and follow through on checking them. Is their LinkedIn profile current? Does it match with what they told you? And if they don’t have a social media footprint, but that is part of the work you want them to do, what is their experience?

If they have a website, is the flow easy to follow? If they blog, is it recent? Do you agree with their direction, their tone?

If you know this person, what is their reputation?

As consultants, we all have varied life and job experiences to bring to a new project. It should be our goal to help you solve your problem. Do your upfront research well, and we can help you reach YOUR goals.

The journey continues.

C

Holiday Sharing

It is a gifting time of year.  We share sentiments, cards, gifts, money, time.  As a business owner, I think it’s important to show my customers special appreciation each holiday season.  Frankly, I am surprised each year that fewer of my suppliers say “thank you” at all, even via a card.  It is a simple way to strengthen relationships, market our companies, and stay front of mind for our current customers and prospects.

A small gift, for my readers, is a copy of my recent presentation given at both AAMP in LA and MCA in Chicago.  This presentation was on Better Using Customer Touch Points to Build Audience Relationships.  Several people have asked for a copy of the slides, so here they are.

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Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Tune in next time for some of my predictions of what I think the Hot Topics will be for audience development in 2015.

The journey continues.

C

Reviewing your Online Customer Touch Points, Part 2 of 2

My recent blog post discussed how and why you should occasionally review the string of web pages and messages that your customers see when they take an action on your website such as purchasing, subscribing, registering for membership or an event, downloading a paper.

While you are creating the flowcharts in the previous post for each of the customer interactions, look at the follow up messages (if there are any) for tone/format/look. Are the messages consistent? Current? Are you promoting other products?

So often we work in our silos, this is the perfect time to work with other departments. Work together to define a common message/tone to promote your brand the same way. Lay out for each channel the timing and messages a customer will get going forward. You can see a sample layout in the attached tactics slide .

Going through this exercise may seem basic, but it can create more vibrant and interactive thank you messages and follow ups. Here is a perfect example of a revised thank-you page that promotes other brand-related products.  These messages are focused on someone taking an action on your website, so they are already vested in your brand.

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Here is another up-sell sample of ordering the digital edition with bonus material, once someone subscribes to the print:

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Keep your customers engaged with your products.  As our days become busier and information more fragmented, we rely on our go-to brands and websites for information.   Your customers do the same.

The journey continues.

C

Improving Use of Customer Touch Points: AAMP synopsis

Last week I was privileged to speak at the AAMP (Association for Audience Marketing Professionals) annual conference in LA.  I had not attended one of their events before; I met, listened to, and networked with many new-for-me industry colleagues. It was enlightening and inspiring.

My presentation had the complicated but very real title of “How to Better Utilize your Brand’s Customer Touch Points to Build Audience Relationships.” As marketers today, I think this truly what we need to do every day as information becomes even more fragmented, email boxes full, our customers’ attention spread across many projects.

We need to build engagement with our current customers, so we become their go-to brand, their go-to website, their go-to media.  We need to continue to show relevance, that we can solve their problem, satisfy a need.  To do this, we need to review and make sure that we are using each touch-point, especially on the web, is enticing.

Our customers want TARGETED offers that show we know where the industry is going, bring knowledge they need.  People are opting out of unfocused messages at an alarmingly high rate.

Internally, departments need to work together to share data, create a common branding message, and stagger sending messages. My presentation gave specific ways to examine your current touch points, improve your  branding and messaging, and why all marketers should be doing this right now.

It’s that simple. And that complicated.

C

P.S. Please comment, email or call if you want a copy of my Power Point presentation.

P.P.S.  Next blog post will include some valuable things I learned from other AAMP presentations.

Hiring a Consultant

When should you hire a consultant? Simple–when you need to solve a problem that your staff cannot fix. A consultant can help you train current staff, give you a temporary extra body during busy times, give an outsiders’ view of current work, give you an expert to help you when you need someone to oversee a project or departmental area, help you review an area of business if you are expecting change, help you get a new area of business off the ground for a couple years while training internal staff how to handle the work long-term after phasing out (or staying on in an overseeing capacity).

It can be helpful to see a consultant as outsourced personnel, bringing you expertise and helping you fill a role in which no one in your organization has knowledge. Consultants can work on a project basis, hourly or on a monthly retainer. The billing will  depend on the type of work you embark on. From a consultant with 15 years experience, I think that when starting work together, the consultant should:

  1. Be honest about her experience in a new project. Take on challenging work, but know that is okay to say “no” to a project completely outside her area of knowledge.
  2. Clearly outline the project, the expectations, the deliverables and the costs in the proposal.
  3. At the start of a project, it is important to agree how best to communicate progress with the client. A weekly email, monthly report, in-person or phone meetings–various clients may have different needs, but they should be reasonable.
  4. Be timely and thorough in communications throughout the project.
  5. Be fair and impartial in assessments of reviewing current work, if that is the assignment. I know from experience that it can be intimidating to have a consultant review current work and business practices. An less-than-ethical consultant could shade the results with a clear intent to phase someone out and insert themselves into the role, but this is wrong.
  6. If hours or time will exceed the original proposal, let the client know so there are no surprises. Be prepared to give your client a breakout of the time and work spent on any project.
  7. Be honest with yourself about the bandwith of work you can take on. A harried, overworked consultant who cannot focus enough time on each client is a sure way to make mistakes, lose clients.

I think that the client has responsibilities throughout the project as well.

  1. Be clear in stating the goals at the front-end of a project, which will allow the consultant to be as thorough as possible in her proposal.
  2. Reply to requests for information in a timely basis.
  3. Know that the scope of a project can change. Once a consultant starts delving into a project, there may be underlying issues that need to also be addressed. The consultant and client should discuss if the work might need additional time, expense, or breadth.

Both the consultant and clients should work together as a team to complete your project. Forming a partnership and building trust will ensure that goals are met on schedule. And know that occasionally a relationship doesn’t work. End those smoothly and professionally when needed. Your paths may cross again.

C