Let’s face it. No technology CEO gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror, and says, “I wish we had more consultants.”
I know how they feel. Throughout my operating career, I have resisted hiring consultants too quickly. Consultants are expensive. Their ability to help is hard to evaluate in advance. While good consultants elegantly work behind the scenes to catalyze success, bad ones can mess up your team dynamic, undercut your leadership, and leave critical employees asking, “what the heck just happened?”
But I did, and do, hire consultants. In some circumstances, they – we – are absolutely the right solution. Chris and I continue to hire consultants today as we build our own business.
Consultants are like the professional pit crews at Indy Car races. They can’t drive the car or win the race on their own, but they help the car go faster and keep the driver safe. And sometimes the speed with which a car comes out of the pit determines who wins, and who loses, the race.
I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about working with consultants to help you with one of the most important tasks you will complete as a CEO: crafting your go-to-market strategy.
When should you hire a consultant?
The short answer is usually “change.”
- Internal change: you are launching a new product or service, spinning off a business, attacking a new market, or deploying newly-raised capital.
- External change: new entrants into your market, new markets forming, more aggressive competition, or a big “wave” forcing change (e.g. “big data”).
- Urgency: you need to move quickly, not when everyone’s “day job” allows you to move.
- Uncertainty: the answer to you question isn’t obvious, and you would benefit from a structured process that creates a common understanding of the answer among your team.
Why should you hire a go-to-market strategy consultant?
Most leaders want their own teams to define and implement go-to-market strategy. But ample research has found that more diverse teams make better decisions – especially when the process is managed to leverage the diversity. Outside experience – supported by a structured process that speeds time-to-market – drives better results, faster. So, why bring someone in?
- You value alignment: Perfect strategies can fail when sales and marketing aren’t aligned, and often these only come together at the CEOs office. Great consultants can help you bridge the gap without forcing agreement. Great consultants take consensus building as a primary objective – they know that alignment is as important as having the “right” strategy.
- You need a little outside perspective: Your sales or marketing leaders may be ninjas in your current market, but lack experience in the market you are attacking. Or they may benefit from a deeper understanding of how markets form, and how winners attack those markets. The right consultants bring those perspectives, and personal experience in those situations.
- You want to participate in the discussion. A good consultant will take the planning, facilitation and consolidation burden off of you, so you can be more present and productive, contribute more to the decision, and build the team dynamic.
- You need surge capacity. Consultants are hired, do a job, and (the good ones) leave. Hiring a consultant can be a more cost-effective way to accomplish go-to-market planning without hiring permanent staff.
How should you hire a go-to-market strategy consultant?
In my years as a professional management consultant, I was shocked to see how often clients stumbled into consulting projects – with bad outcomes. But there were many who made great decisions, and managed consulting projects like the critical deployment of time and resources that they represented. Here’s what those great clients did:
- They defined success. They had a clear idea of the outcome they were looking for, and could succinctly describe it using dates and numbers.
- They defined the consultant’s role. Successful clients know whether they need a consultant to deliver insight, a strategy, a plan or an implemented result. They know what roles their leadership team will play as well, and they take care to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- They bought deliverables linked to outcomes, not advice. Successful consulting engagements – for both clients and consultants – our founded on a shared understanding of scope, approach and tightly defined deliverables. For go-to-market strategy, these might be a customer segmentation framework, a positioning story, a messaging platform or a trained sales force.
- They did independent reference checks. Many of our clients take a significant career risk by hiring us. We expect they will ask us for references. We hope they will also do independent reference checks with friends who work for our former clients.
- They avoided the bait and switch. Savvy clients demand that the promised experience and skills they are buying shows up – personally, at their company – in the form of the person doing their work.
Consultants aren’t for every CEO, every company, or every situation. But when leaders need to get to market quickly with the right positioning strategy, confident that everyone on their team is working together, then engaging the right consultant the right way might make the difference between winning – or losing – the race.