Analytics, Strategy, and Agriculture

Tag: consulting

5 Things I’ve Learned Consulting For Your Company

You may work for a corporation, medium sized business, or even a start-up. Since I’ve consulted for companies of all shapes and sizes, I may have worked at your company or a company very similar to it as a consultant. Perhaps I was helping you develop a mobile strategy, or performing work in the Business Intelligence space, or perhaps I’ve helped you manage a project or even brought a product to market.

As a consultant, the thing I love most about my job is helping a company see itself through a new set of eyes and help solve problems that prove the value of why I’m there at each step, in a unique way that is a value add both for the client and the company they work for. Despite all the bad buzz on consulting (primarily focused around management or strategy consulting), there is a lot of good consultants do for companies but there are also a lot of bad eggs out there, taking advantage of desperate situations and locking clients into contracts over steak dinners that they may very well look back on and regret.

Regardless of the purpose or your view on consulting, I’ve noticed a number of things that you and companies like yours have in common, regardless of the size. Some of these things you may very well already know, or perhaps suspected but could never confirm.

1. Politics and/or ego will be the thing that holds up progress on a project more than anything else

With all the MBA-trained consultants in the world, some projects are doomed to fail not because of a lack of resources but because there are decision makers in your company that are playing politics, which is causing blocking issues. Sometimes even, it’s more advantageous to let a project fail and point the finger at someone else then raise your hand when you see the project going off a cliff and bring the issues to everyone’s attention.

In cases like this (especially with so many projects going over budget, and beyond their deadline), the necessary skills won’t be having more do-ers or managers in the mix, but rather people that have the ability to see the situation for what it is and use communication, motivation, and internal salesmanship to remove bottlenecks and get a project back on track. When you see this happening, know you’re not alone, but also know that more than likely heads will be thrown at the project, hired to a certain tangible spec, when intangible people skills are really necessary.

Sadly, sometimes the project is out of your control, but even if it is, consider the skills you can bring to the table to not play politics but be proactive in helping calm nerves, relate to where project members are coming from, and work to simply defuse the emotion and drama in a given project.

This can often create resolution, and put you in a leadership role through gaining trust and influence which you can in turn use to get to the root of what’s causing the project delays (miscommunication, dislike between team members, lack of organization, etc) and work through resolving the emotion wrapped around those issues that keep people from thinking logically and instead continue to pull on emotions that only push the project further off course. Stress, panic, and fear are strong enemies but a calm approach over a 5 minute coffee break can go a long way helping someone to see what they need to do to contribute positively to a project, and help undo the issues bubbling up around the personalities or situations blocking progress.

In cases of ego or politics, it’ll become obvious to everyone once the hysteria has died down who is really getting in the way, which makes it much easier for a project sponsor to identify what on the project needs to change vs the project plan looking like a war zone, confusing the real problem.

2. An employee is only as powerful and influential as they choose to be

Often consultants are seen as super heroes in the corporate world, where people have come up and asked me how they can become a consultant because it’ll give them a significant boost in their career. If you’re having a hard time getting traction in your current job though, it’ll only magnify the difficulty as a consultant because you’re coming into new groups as an outside party with no authority, where it’s 100x harder to gain trust and work with a team than an employee who’s worked there for a period of time. “Tribal Leadership” can be far more influential, and help you succeed internally at your company much quicker, than if you came into that company as an external party.

What happens though is people use the “Well, I’m not a consultant” as an excuse for not driving change, and building bridges up to their executive leadership, leaning against something other than themselves to help make their point. The truth is that an employee is only as powerful as they choose to be, regardless of the role, and an executive would love to hear about an employee making a difference in their team or business unit. It’s not as common for employees to go above and beyond to the point someone two or more levels above them would hear about it, so consider what thinking outside the box, and making a difference beyond the job you have in front of you might do to get you the reputation and influence you need to really make a difference.

It won’t be a certificate, MBA, time machine, or new job that’ll help you be successful – it’ll be that still small voice inside you saying “This should work better, and I’ll work to make the difference” that’ll drive changes in your career far beyond anything else. It’s good to have help, but be sure never to use that help or lack thereof as a crutch. You’re far too powerful as a human being and employee to let an opportunity go, and your fellow employees need you out there making a difference for the good of the company.

3. Your company has problems, but so does every other company

Often I’m asked about what companies are better or worse than the company I’m at, by employees. Perhaps it’s because they’ve worked at that company their whole life, or often wondered what it would be like working for a different vertical or live in a different part of the world. As many companies as I’ve worked for, each has their own set of problems, and often the employees that I encounter that are unhappy feel like it’s just their company that has the issues, so they want to pursue a new job somewhere else in hopes it’ll be a greener pasture.

Each company certainly has different things going for it, but no company is perfect, regardless of the size or local. Instead of leaving your job because of the issues you have in your role or your team, consider what you can do to change your company for the better and take a proactive approach in making things work smoother. It’ll not only help you on a resume or interview, should you decide down the road to leave, but will help you rise above your peers as someone with initiative, that could get the attention of your management team and in turn find yourself with an entirely new opportunity within the company you work for.

4. Positive change in your company begins with you, regardless of your position, and will never become easier with a promotion, but may in fact become harder

I’ve spoken to many employees in the past that feel like their management is standing in the way of a new idea, initiative, or project they’re looking to get out the door and if they were a manager it’d be different. The truth is that management has a boss too, all the way up to the CEO, and more is on the line the higher you climb. For any manager, they have to balance what is good for their team and each of their employees along with hitting the numbers their boss has given them.

The higher you go, the more you’re responsible for, which causes you to measure risk in entirely new ways. What may appear like a lack of initiative, could be caution based on information you don’t have. Instead of blaming your manager for not making a difference, ask them what things are in their way that you can help them move out of the way so a pro-active change would be possible. There will be things they can’t share, but you’d be surprised how far empathy and a willingness to help goes because believe it or not, your manager wants to make a proactive change just like you do. A good company for you, is also a good company for them.

5. You aren’t a prisoner in your job, unless you let your fear or worry imprison you

The sad reality of most people that are unhappy with their role, is they feel like they have an obligation to stay in that role. It’s perhaps due to a family situation, financial means, “golden handcuffs” or any other number of reasons. The reality is that you aren’t a prisoner to your circumstances, and there’s always a way to make positive progress into a different role or career. Perhaps it’s small steps, such as working on your LinkedIn profile off hours, or a big one like going back to school. It’s often never easy to make changes, and it’s far easier to just stay where you’re at. But not being happy in what you do is a far worse fate sometimes than most of the things you’re afraid of, so consider what you’re gaining by being unhappy in the thing you spend most of your day on. It will always begin with a step, though the elevation may change, but have the courage and will power to keep taking a step each day and see where you’re at 30-60-90 days from now.

There are many other things I could share about what I’ve learned doing consulting, but these are the most common things I’ve personally seen working with companies. I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of great people at a number of companies, and have gotten some great experiences helping to make a positive change within a variety of different companies. There are other consultants like me though, that you may work with, and I encourage you to buy them coffee and ask what they’ve learned working at your company. You’d be surprised what they have to say, that can not only help you in your career but also help the teams and groups around you. It may not always be positive, but it’ll be productive, and not only help you understand them but also help them better understand your company which can have a positive impact on the work they’re doing.

Mobile Technology & Retail Environments

Summary

It’s long been known that the more information the customer has on your product line, the more likely they are to keep coming back. A well informed customer knows what tools can do what, what sales go on when, and who to ask what questions to, then they’ll be fully armed to take advantage of everything your store has to offer. This is why tools such as a website have revolutionized brick & mortar commerce, and helped to not only make products more available to the consumer, but also help to better educate and inform them on the full line of products available to them. Mobile technology however, has advanced to where this is now possible.

Not simply as a way to browse product information online while browsing the products themselves, but the means to better draw the customer into what products can do (ex: combining mobile grocery list app with your product line to show what tools could prepare what foods they’re making for dinner), but also better entice customers with store-only ad-hoc promotional campaigns or help to answer why someone would chose a more expensive blender over the discount store special they saw earlier that day.

Mobile technology has the power to connect the product to the customer, in a way they know and trust, and allows your product line to become a part of their life, even before they’ve made the purchase. It’s the ultimate sales and branding tool, because the relationship no longer has to be between your brand and their persona – but rather, the brand connects with their specific device, to which they’ve already customized and personalized. The relationship is almost instantaneous, from the moment they walk into the store.

Web Today, Gone Tomorrow

Mobility Shaping the Customer’s Decision Making

Today, information you place on your website is largely isolated to the desktop consumer, and hasn’t translated into significant benefit for people going into stores (except for the occasional “print, grab, and go” customer). You have a tremendous amount of information you’ve made available, and rendered in such a way to give anyone a pleasant experience while learning more about your products, and placing orders via the ecommerce portal. However, other than branding & positioning, very little of that experience translates into the B&M customer as they’re walking through your stores. Some of this is due to channel conflict, not wanting people to become solely reliant on the web or the store, so the customer ultimately uses both in conjunction with each other. However, there’s no clear way to bring both the web & the store experience into the same location at the same time – meaning the investment in one customer avenue vs. the other is largely a separate effort and expense.

Mobile technology however, is largely becoming the driving force for accessing website content. It’s reported that, by 2013, people will browse more web content on their phones than their desktops1. Not only will mobile devices continue to dominate the web, but the computing power in any given mobile device will continue to become more powerful and more capable, rivaling PC’s that were state of the art 5-8 years ago, with the gap closing day by day. With this amount of computing power entering your stores each day, it’s never been more important to develop capabilities that your customers can utilize, to connect their devices as well as themselves with your product line.

The key sales principle for years is the more a customer trusts the brand, the less resistance they’ll put up against making a purchase. If I know and trust something, I’m more likely to come back and buy more, or even pay more; because it’s something I know and trust. It costs more to make new customers largely because of the hurdle of establishing the initial relationship, and translate that trust into an ongoing relationship between your brand and their purchasing decisions. Mobile devices can help, because it’s already a device customer’s use and trust – much like the trust they have sitting in front of their computer at their home.

The difference is, you have the combined power of your B&M presence on top of utilizing the trust relationship the individual has while browsing information on their device. The typical consumer knows that a salesperson has an agenda, and is most likely dealing with a commission. Even in a store, or elsewhere, the typical persona is one of hesitance. However, when accessing mobile applications with the whole purpose to simply inform and educate, then the consumer is less likely to throw up emotional barriers and allow the information in. Furthermore, utilizing deals and incentives can help to ease the concerns of even the most frugal customer.

These are all technics that mobile devices can take full advantage of, and have largely gone unexplored.What the web was yesterday is no more – people want to interact with their environments, and use their technology to help them – web sites have to connect through social networks, through forums, and through blogs & posts. A brand that will thrive in the years to come, is a brand that knows how to engage the customer – how to draw them in and make them feel like a part of the company and the product lines. Mobile devices are shaping this new direction, and it’s in linking your stores and online content that will make or break your business going forward.

Store to Phone – Phone to Consumer – Consumer to Sale

A Hypothetical Story on utilizing Mobile Connectivity

Jan, a 28 year old house wife, is in the market for a new blender. She lives in the Shoreline neighborhood, in the greater Seattle area, where there are a number of stores and locations nearby from which she could chose to purchase her ideal blender from. Being an internet savvy consumer, she hops on the web, heads over to Google, and types in “blender reviews”. ConsumerSearch.com is the first link to pop up, so she heads over, and the website’s professional look and feel help her to gain a sense of trust right away. She clicks on the first blender she sees, the one branded “Best” and is instantly taken to a product description place, along with a number of online retailers that sell the product (Amazon, eBay, etc.)However, she knows from past purchases, that kitchen accessories need to be felt and experienced before being bought, because the process to ship back and refund is a hassle, plus she is making dinner for in-laws tomorrow night and doesn’t want to pay for overnight shipping. So she makes a list of a handful of the “top rated” blenders on her iPhone’s note pad, listed on ConsumerSearch.com, then begins a search for nearby blender retailers. Wal-Mart, and Target are the first two on her list, but figures since she’ll be in the Alderwood Mall area, will stop in there to explore some of the kitchen stores as well, because she’s always been someone more concerned with quality than cost, when push comes to shove.

She also adds the food she needs to get from the grocery store, to her iPhone’s shopping list app, to make some juices and soups to try out with her new purchase. She heads out, and hits target first, she zaps each of the barcodes for the blenders with her barcode scanning application, to quickly price compare to other nearby retailers, to make sure she’s getting the right price. She checks her list with the products at target, avoiding the frequent offers for a salesman to answer any questions, and finds a couple she likes based which were on her blender hit list.She then proceeds to head to a handful of other stores, before arriving at Alderwood Mall. Walking down the aisle, her phone begins to vibrate. She takes it out of her purse and a notification pops up that there’s a deal going on today at Williams-Sonoma, which was triggered by being in proximity to a Williams-Sonoma store, and the receipt app she’d downloaded last week having set notifications for sales when the device is within 1000 feet of the store.

The sale was for food processors, but she thought she’d stop by anyways, and see what the store had for blenders. After walking into the store, the phone once again vibrated, asking Jan if she’d like to pair the phone via Bluetooth with the store for information & sales on products. She clicks yes, and is then asked to download the Williams-Sonoma application for 10% off all products within the store. Once again, she clicks yes, and downloads the store application. After quickly downloading the application, the app launches and asks what she’s interested in – she hits blenders – and the application directs her to the blenders in the store. Once she’s standing in front of the blenders, the Bluetooth triggers product specific information to appear along with device comparisons and promotional deals in the store and on the web.

She looks around at the models in front of her, flipping the app to her list of products, but just then the phone once again vibrates and asks her if she wants to know what blenders will make what foods on her shopping list. She clicks yes, and the grocery list she prepared is displayed in a handful of receipts with the blenders & food processors on her list displayed by what device can make what foods.After looking through the application, she finds out that all the foods on her list can’t be made with a blender, in fact for soups, she’s much better off with a higher end food processor. She then clicks on the model in question, and is directed to that product in the store. She is a bit taken by the price, but looks down at her iPhone, and the actual price of the product minus the in-store sale & 10% off for the application is displayed, as well as price comparisons to local retailers as well as the online price, along with product reviews, etc.

She quickly accesses the product comparison tab on the Williams-Sonoma application, to make sure she’s getting the best food processor, and a quick matrix pops up with features and information on what the difference in models are.After looking at the product check-marks in the comparison, she’s confident that this is the best model for her. She then takes the product up to the register, where her phone once again vibrates, and asks if she’d like to securely transmit billing information for the purchase, and if she’d like to join the mailing list. She didn’t want to fumble through her purse, so clicks to accept the secure transaction, with the receipt for the food processor being e-mailed to her. Furthermore, she joins the mailing list for further deals on accessories for the food processor she just purchased. The individual behind the register bags the food processor, and asks how Jan’s experience was.

She declares “Well, I came here for a $79 blender, and left with a $200 food processor – how did that happen!” The cashier behind the register chuckles, having been told similar comments on being up-sold several times that day.Jan leaves, excited to head to the QFC grocery store near her house, and using the Williams-Sonoma iPhone application to help determine what foods she can make with her new purchase, as well as get new receipts from the product-specific lists. Later the next week, she gets notified by the iPhone app that the pasta making accessory is on sale, along with a handful of pasta-specific ideas for dinner. Once again, Jan hops in the car, and heads to Alderwood Mall….

Conclusion

Though situations like transmitting purchasing data in real time as someone approaches the register may be a bit far out there, the story highlights ways in how a retail store can help influence decisions without ever taking the person away from their mobile device. The goal is making the customer feel comfortable with their purchase, and the mobile device can help to make sure the individual thinks it was their idea to purchase more, than when they initially set up on their trip, for example.

It’ll also help to keep them well connected beyond their visit, and help provide a useful function (ex: receipts for the kitchen tools they own) making the relationship between food preparation and your product line that much more of a reality.The mobile device is a conduit to the things that the consumer knows and cares about, and the more closely aligned your products can be, with that information, the more successful you’ll be in not only selling more but selling more efficiently, helping to drive up the ROI on Bluetooth proximity systems and store-only discounts.

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