Situation: A company has grown through its expertise consulting for other companies. For its next growth step the CEO and Board want to shift to a project basis. This entails several changes, from compensation to organization and focus. How do you shift culture as the company grows?
Advice from the CEOs:
Risks & Challenges
Biggest risk – dissatisfied employees who see less billable income per hour and may not see the “more hours” part of the picture.
The biggest personnel challenge will be those who have been with the company for many years, and who will see the most change – maybe not to their specific practices if they can bring in business, but on the project side.
Communication is a critical challenge, and also the best way to avoid landmines. Put a velvet glove on the presentation of the opportunity: “This is good news – we know that the low hanging fruit is now mostly gone, and that the remaining fruit is higher; to counter this we now have more options.” Carefully prepare communications to both management and consultant team members.
Another potential landmine – the impact on the company’s reputation if it blows up after a year. Set appropriate expectations – the company is introducing a new program rather than a wholesale rebranding.
Countermeasures to Mitigate the Risks
Maintain a structural option that preserves the old model for those who can bring in new projects and who prefer this model. For them, the new model is just an option that can help tide them over if there are gaps between the projects that they bring in.
Present the project option as new opportunity. Give more senior and experienced consultants priority in choosing whether to participate or not in new project work.
Plan and create the ability to assess the old consultancy model vs. the new project model. This will be especially important when individuals are spending part of their time in each area.
Create a set of metrics for each business – the consulting and project businesses – to measure whether they are on track. Identify and monitor the drivers for each business.
Keep the title Consultant on consultants’ business cards – Consultant, Sr. Consultant, etc. Allow them to continue to take pride in their role.
Move to the new model through a planned phase-in but retain the option to adjust the speed of transition between the old and new models. This will allow sensitivity to changes in the environment.
Don’t consider an immediate and complete rebranding – think in terms of introducing a new product under the company’s well-known brand. Plan a gradual transition of business to the new model. Introduce the new product as a new offering. As it picks up steam, gradually move brand identification and promise to the new model.
For the new project model, create incentives for project performance. Show team members that while the hourly rate may be less, if they perform as a team they will share the upside through project bonuses.
Situation: An information services company wants to launch a new product in an existing market. Their current brands are well-recognized with excellent reputations. Should they tie the brand to the company name or current products? How do you brand a new product?
Advice from the CEOs:
Brand specifically for each product or market – just as consumer product companies brand the same product with unique names for each consumer or commercial market.
A brand name is not the company’s identity – Apple as a company has created separate brand identities for computers, iTunes, iPods and serves multiple markets.
Attend conventions and survey the target market and current providers. Network to meet people and ask questions about what is important to them and to their buying process.
Think about the marketing funnel. The first element is awareness.
What are the company and its current brands now known for?
Build a brand with value that leverages the reputation and expertise currently valued by customers.
Define the current and planned market segments and tie branding to them.
Who are they?
How do they do it?
How will the new product fit?
Look at ROI for each market and create a strategy for the optimum combination of speed and profitability of market entry.
Tying meaning to a name can be a mistake. When one CEO named her company and service around a specific capacity, she limited the way that it was perceived. She is now considering a complete rebranding to open new markets.
Hire expert consultants with experience in developing brands. While this is an investment at the outset, these individuals are better, cheaper, and faster than doing this yourself.
Monitor the consultants to assure that they are spending the company’s resources wisely and addressing the company’s needs.
Hire someone with a network to gather the data necessary to support the branding exercise, a project manager. Use more expensive resources to plan and manage the exercise, and less expensive resources to gather the data.
Situation: A professional services firm has opened a new office in Silicon Valley. Their immediate priority is building clientele in their new market. They have an excellent reputation in their other markets, but are as yet unknown in in either Silicon Valley or Northern California. What can they do to create buzz and local awareness? How does a professional services firm get known?
Advice from the CEOs:
Hire a part time PR person who is familiar with the local community. For example, this may be an experienced Mommy Tracker – a woman who puts priority on being a mother, but who is also interested in working part-time with a flexible schedule. The role will be to schedule speaking engagements with local organizations, groups or companies.
Think about publishing a book, whether yourself or with a professional writer. Tweak it to include a section on start-ups and do a book speaking tour in Silicon Valley.
Consider sponsorship of prominent local organizations. In Silicon Valley this could include incubators or entrepreneur groups. These are companies who could benefit from professional services.
Offer seminars to target clients, or those that invest in target clients – for example venture capitalists or angel investment groups.
Get to know the WI Harper Group (wiharper.com) – connected with Walden International. This is a San Francisco venture capital group with limited partners from China, and with a focus on US/Asia technology transfer.
Highlight past success in helping clients to gain funding.
The suggestions outlined here can be applied to opening a new office in any new location.
Situation: A company’s reputation is based on quality of work. The CEO notes that occasionally they have mishaps due to suboptimal documentation. They are considering a concerted quality effort. Based on your experience, would you do this whether or not you were bound by ISO requirements? If so, would you hire an outside consultant to guide your efforts? How do you optimize quality improvement?
Advice from the CEOs:
Some companies have successfully used ISO to force documentation. ISO provides a structure to enforce keeping the company and employees diligent and honest.
Other companies have used standard operating procedures (SOPs) for field as well as internal functions to speed completion of documentation and accelerate invoicing. These companies may or may not have ISO requirements.
One company tried to go cheap – implementing process improvement without a qualified consultant. While the effort was eventually successful, it took way too much time and money. From this experience, they recommend hiring someone who is experienced and who already has a template to guide the process.
To test the experience of an outside consultant, start with a small project to get the company accustomed to the process and to evaluate the consultant’s efficacy.
If the choice is to work on this yourself with your employees, start by documenting what happens correctly. Once you have done this, work on improvements to address problem areas.
This is not a simple exercise – plan for it and use the right inside or outside person to guide the process.
Situation: A company has just learned that a new, much larger competitor is moving into their market. They are concerned that this may severely impact their growth and even their existence. How do you respond to new competition in your market niche from a much larger new entrant, particularly if the new player comes in with a low pricing strategy to buy market share?
Advice from the CEOs:
Take a lesson from those who survive a move by Walmart into their territory:
Boutiques and high service specialty stores survive Walmart – especially those that focus on personal service. Walmart does not provide the level of service that you find in one of these stores and doesn’t know their customers as individuals. Boutiques may lose some price conscious customers, but these are not the customers that provide good margin to them.
Use your personal knowledge of the marketplace and your long term relationships to your advantage – including your reputation with existing customers when going after new customers.
You may remain more profitable than the larger company, especially on a per transaction basis, based on your knowledge of the territory or business niche. Walmart can’t tell you the best product to perform a home repair.
Focus on your strengths in the market, and don’t assume that all large companies are Walmarts. Walmart has a unique set of talents and a tightly controlled process. This may not translate to other markets – especially services which are very personal.
Research the reputation and business practices of the new entrant in their other territories. What are they known for, and what are their weaknesses? You may be able to learn this by networking with their current competitors and customers.
If you are a multi-generation family business, consider promoting your “old world skill” and established reputation and expertise.
Situation: A mid-sized company has learned that a much larger company is entering their geography and market niche. This company is known to enter new markets with a low pricing strategy to “buy” market share. How do you respond to significant new competition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Accept the fact that you will lose some business; particularly from customers who driven more by price than quality and service. The flip side is that these customers are likely not your best customers.
Research the reputation and business practices of the new entrant in their traditional territory. What is their reputation? What are their weaknesses? Do your homework by networking with their current competitors and customers.
Take a lesson from those who have survived a move by Walmart into their territory:
Boutiques survive Walmart – especially those that focus on personal service. Upgrade your customer base based on personal service.
Use your knowledge of the marketplace and your long term relationships to your advantage – including your reputation with existing customers when going after new customers.
You may remain more profitable than the larger company, on a per transaction basis, based on your knowledge of the territory or business niche.
Don’t assume that all large companies are Walmarts. Walmart has a unique set of talents and a tightly controlled process. This may not translate to other markets – especially those involving personalized service.
If you are a family business, consider promoting your “old world skill” and established reputation and expertise.
Key Words: Competition, Geography, Market Niche, Walmart, Price, Personal Service, Reputation, Contacts, Boutique, Profitability, Family Business