Analysis, Anxiety, Action

Yacht“He seemed to understand my business, but…”

I was sitting with a CEO of a $4 million business several months ago. Call him Jay. Like many small business owners looking for continued growth, Jay was wrestling with a thorny decision. He had contracted with Kevin (not his real name), a marketing consultant, to develop a comprehensive marketing plan for the business. At the time of our discussion, Kevin had just presented a plan that consisted mainly of an analysis of the business’s current situation: markets served and unserved, competitive strengths and weaknesses, market position, and so forth. Jay found the data informative, but kept pushing Kevin for detailed recommendations – suggestions for reasonable sales growth goals and action steps both short- and long-term to achieve those goals. Kevin seemed to be dodging that question, instead hinting that Jay could contract with him on a retainer basis to guide the implementation of the plan over the upcoming months. Jay was wary.

This situation is not unusual. It’s not really a communication problem as much as a perception problem. Both Jay and Kevin are focused on “results”. However, Jay’s mindset is that of an entrepreneur; Kevin’s is that of an analyst. For Jay, achieving consistent growth is the result. For Kevin, defining the market and competitive situation is the result.

Stated simply, Jay wants to be reasonably confident that “If I do this, then I’ll achieve that.”

This difference in perspective is why consultants have such a challenge selling small-to-midsize businesses on their services. When they fail to secure a contract, they chalk it up to the assumption that the entrepreneur didn’t really have the money to spend anyway. But they are often mistaken, and they’re missing an opportunity to participate in this market.

In Jay’s most optimistic view, Kevin has opened the gate to the lock that can elevate his yacht to the next level. Now Jay wants Kevin in the boat, as his “marketing first mate”, for the next part of the journey.

A key to unlocking the door to a win-win consulting agreement is the willingness of the consultant to be paid on a sliding scale, proportional to the successful achievement of longer term goals.

Agree or disagree?


5 responses to “Analysis, Anxiety, Action

  1. I like the sliding scale idea

  2. Agree 100%

  3. Sliding Scale is a great suggestion. It seems important for me to be very clear in my interviewing process of what my “end-game” need is. If they waffle and/or can’t demonstrate a history of results-focused work, they aren’t a good fit for my company. Always sounds easy….Am I clear?

    • Tricia,
      I like your use of the terms “end game”, “waffle”, and “demonstrate”. They punctuate the necessity of reaching crystal clear concurrence with the consultant.

  4. I can identify with Jay. Lately, it makes me feel uneasy when a consultant (or anyone working on a paid basis) can not be specific and concrete about what they will deliver and by when. When entering into a pay-for-work agreement, if the only thing that is concrete is the payment, then you have to really step back and think.

    I don’t think it is too hard to get specific about deliverables. That can be made much easier when you break bigger goals down into smaller chunks. As an analogy, I would much rather pay a fee for getting a first down every month, than pay a fee for winning the Super Bowl. Winning the Super Bowl is the end game of course, but that can be achieved through smaller shorter term goals that are easier to measure.

    If I pay for getting first downs, then it is easier to monitor and manage on a short term basis. I see the ball moving forward and I know where we are headed. Winning the Super Bowl is a long term goal, and much harder to manage and measure. I don’t want to wait until the end of the season to find out that there were undetected problems all along.

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