Paul Friederichsen is the founder of BrandBiz, a company that specializes in PR, media strategy and placement, sales incentives, training and mobile marketing as well as social media. Visit his website www.brandbizinc.com
An Outside Perspective Can Be Beneficial
The floor covering business is part of the entire home environment industry that includes design, construction, remodeling, manufacturing, retailing and product development. The Great Recession and lethargic recovery have intensified competition among the surviving companies and brands. The need for a competitive edge in spite of reduced headcount and budget cuts results in the increased necessity of working smarter, not harder. The right consultant, bringing an informed outside perspective, can make the critical difference, regardless of company size. Let's take a look at the role of the consultant and the use of the offsite meeting.
Part One: The Role of the Consultant for Your Organization
The notion of using a consultant has become tarnished in recent years for a variety of reasons and is probably due primarily to shortcomings and misunderstandings on both sides of the business relationship. I myself have had good experiences in consulting with companies and facilitating their most critical meetings and want to share a few insights learned along the way.
The Consultant Is a Facilitator of Change
For many companies, the challenges to make needed changes or alter course can seem overwhelming. The day-to-day burdens on management's time, the entanglement of internal politics or simply the limitations of the insider's perspective can stifle the ability to capture the breakthrough thinking that could send the company and its brand on a positive, upward trajectory. The old saying often proves to be true, sometimes you really can't see the forest for the trees.
The Consultant Brings the Outsider's Perspective
However, the outside consultant can see the entire forest quite well; in fact he or she should know the entire forest with all its beauty and potential hazards. I have been just that person for floor covering manufacturers and have helped them assess where they are, what their goals are, how to navigate the "forest" to reach them, and what the end game should look like. Could they have figured out all of that on their own? Possibly. Eventually. To some degree, perhaps. But being competitive in today's highly dynamic marketplace requires dynamic action. More and more, victory goes to the swift and sure-footed competitor.
Where the Consultant Can Help
As an owner, CEO or COO, or VP in sales or marketing for your company, you may already be at the realization that you need an outsider's perspective for the sake of your brand's growth and prosperity. For example, your team may be at loggerheads with the home office over the best marketing strategy. Or you and your team may have a sense of direction but you could really use the help of an experienced guide. Or you may have no idea where to take your next steps or how best to solve a perplexing situation and need someone who can act as a stimulant to draw out the latent ideas within your team and act as a catalyst to coalesce this thinking into an actionable plan. The qualified outsider has distinct advantages over an equally qualified insider to accomplish these tasks simply because they can function objectively to achieve the stated scope of work.
There are five things you should look for in a consultant:
1. Experience and knowledge of your industry, sales channel, or category. Notice I didn't say knowledge of your particular business. That comes from the engagement of the consultant. More about that later.
2. Expertise in whatever field you're needing help in. If it's marketing or branding-related, it's best that the consultant have a background on the agency-side instead of, or in addition to client-side marketing employment on the resume. Time spent in the ad agency, PR firm or similar environments equips the consultant with skill sets and experiences with clients from other industries unavailable to someone who's only background is the industry you're in. This individual can pull from his or her inventory of transferable problem-solving experiences to your industry, sometimes with highly creative insights as a result.
3. Track record of consultation. A consultant is a good listener as well as a good communicator. In exercises like off-sites, the consultant must know the ropes in how to draw-out ideas, encourage participation and diplomatically discourage domineering personalities or agendas from taking over. Many individuals may have the right experience and expertise as described above but lack the necessary ability to use it effectively in the context of a consulting relationship as a facilitator.
4. Asking the right questions. While you may believe you have a grasp of the challenge you need help with, the consultant should probe beyond your briefing. The initial interview with you should not be your questions of the consultant, but rather the consultant's questions of you.
5. Chemistry. As in any relationship, it's not unreasonable to expect you and the consultant "click." If personalities clash, even a little, then this may not be a good match for either of you because you will be spending a lot of time working together.
Next: Part Two, The Offsite Meeting ...