7 conversation starters to move your role from execution partner to strategic consultant

I’ve had several conversations with people at Seer now that I run strategy where they ask me how to become more strategic, I took that advice and put it together here.

First question to ask yourself is:

Does my client / manager see me as a consultative strategist, or an execution partner?

Note: Execution partners are key to driving results, never get too far from that while seeking to improve your consulting skills, your UBER X driver is an execution partner…they help you get from location A to B, and if that is a job interview or a big pitch, it’s critical to be there on time, it may not be strategic but it’s critical.

Anyone can talk, not everyone can back it up, always seek to be strong on execution!

Anyway with that caveat said…if you are wondering if your client / manager sees you as a thought partner do they ask you questions like these?

Here are sample “sights and sounds” I’ve seen when clients saw someone as a thought partner:

  • What am I not seeing coming down the pike that could impact the results we have?
  • How do our numbers stack up against competitors?
  • What am I not asking of you to do for us that I should be?
  • Should I consider solving this problem with another team?
  • Can I have a strategy session with you? I’d like to discuss more than the day to day. I have a BIG idea/challenge I want your optics on.
  • What else does your agency do that could help us?
  • Even if you don’t have skill xyz in house, I’d like you to manage the other consults we hire.
  • Note: if you are being managed by a consultant, you are the execution partner.
  • I have XYZ left in my budget, how might you recommend we spend it?
  • I heard about trend ABC, how would that impact me, how do I hedge against that, do you think its a risk for me?
  • If I took all my budget and gave it to you instead of other partners, what do you think you could do for me?
  • How big of a risk is this? Should I prioritize this in Q1, Q2, etc? Is this a 2017, 18, or 19 problem?
  • Can you help to connect these day to day tasks with our larger vision?

If you have read these questions and are thinking, I haven’t been asked these and I want to be more consultative & seen as more of a consultant. Here is the secret about getting questions like these:

The secret is that it was never executing what I was asked to do that made my clients think of me as a strategic thought partner, I had to show them something real that challenged their daily reality that made them think of me as more than the guy they hired for whatever task they thought they needed me to do.

The three ingredients you need to level up in that strategic consultant / thought partner level are:

1 — Opinions You have to be ok taking data making an opinion and saying to your client / manager, I might be wrong, but I believe (stress the word believe) that (blah blah blah).

2 — Never lose sight of the goal Understanding your clients true goal, be careful of confusing the outputs (tasks) you are doing with the outcome (why you are performing those tasks).

3 — Downside — Protect their downside on your big ideas, always find a cheap way to test, get data, refine, then go big.

With those three things, you can start asking questions like the ones below to start your client thinking of you more and more as a thought partner and an execution partner. Remember even if they say no, they will think of you differently.

Find a trend in their space and prepare a high level 5 steps to prepare for said trend:

We haven’t talked (trend) yet I’m seeing in your data, that (percentage) of your (task goal) could be impacted by (trend), which could long term have a (percentage) impact on (revenue goal). As such I’ve prepared an (duration) road map on how we can tackle this growing trend. If it remains at (percentage growth YoY), I believe (duration) works. However, if (percentage growth YoY) goes to (stretch number) then we should (accelerate/decelerate) our time investment in (trend) by x (months/quarters/years). Can I spend 5–10% of my time investigating this for you?

IRL message I’d send (given I’m in search marketing):

Hi Rich, we haven’t talked about answer boxes in search results yet, but I’ve put together an analysis that shows the impact to your traffic looks to be about 20%, which could ultimately impact your revenue via this channel by 10%, meaning you’d miss your annual goals. Here is a 12 month road map, that shows how with 2–3 hours a month we can start to understand the problem, monitor it, and take some small steps to address them. If for some reason this percentage jumps to 30% or more (which we will be monitoring) we might want to accelerate this schedule to 9 months to take advantage of these moves early. I’m recommending to all clients to take me up on 2–3 hours of work to take a look this month.

Find another channel that if invested in could accelerate revenue:

I know you’ve hired us for (service), but I’m looking at the entire landscape of ways to hit your (goal) and believe that an investment in (other channel) could get you to (goal) (x percent) faster. If it were me, I’d double down on (other service) cutting back (my service) by (percentage) for (months/quarters), may I spend 3 hours this month with one of my colleagues in (other service) to see if my gut is right?

IRL message I’d send (given I’m in search marketing):

Hi Jenn, I know you’ve hired us for SEO, but I’m looking at recent changes with Google and realizing we’ve lost more organic real estate. That has to have an impact on organic’s ability to hit your goal this year, to be honest I think us taking a look at your paid search opportunities could help us hit your overall goal by October this year instead of eeking it out in December. I’d invest more of my time in finding ways for SEO to help PPC, which means I’m going to have to cut back a few hours/month on SEO tasks, to help bolster my PPC teams efforts. I think if I can do this for the next 2 quarters, we’ll be in a position to pick back up on SEO 100%, instead of my suggested 50% for the next 6 months. Can I spend 3 hours with my PPC team to see if the opportunity is as big as I think?

Looking forward / needing more investment:

What would you need to see from me in (duration) that would make you double down on your investment in us? What data points would be an early indicator to make you reconsider in 6 months?

IRL message I’d send (given I’m in search marketing):

Hi Bart, before we get started on this project, I’d love to see in your opinion what would you need to see in month 6 to make you want to double your investment with us? Also what would make you cut it at month 6? I want to build an early warning system so that if we are not on pace to hit the goal you and I both know it and can have the conversation early, and build a plan B.

Explain an execution risk:

In my opinion, based on my experience and the experiences of (my team/manager) who have seen (number) of projects just like this one, even on our best day if you and I are committed to moving heaven and earth for (project x) we have a (percentage) change of failure if we don’t get (department/person) on board. How could you and I work together to make them part of the solution at the onset, so we can realize (x impact) in (y time).

If we get to (duration) and we don’t have (percentage) impact, I’m going to be looking to pivot (project) into areas (a,b,c) where you and I have a greater sphere of influence, which would likely result in an impact of (x) instead of our initial project of Y).

IRL message I’d send (given I’m in search marketing):

Hi Crystal, I have gotten with 3 colleagues (including my director) who have seen 50 projects just like ours to ask them what makes projects like these successful and what makes them fail, given what I know about your goals and your business climate internally. I know you and I are extremely committed to the success of this project, you and I also know that we need others to care as much as we do to be successful. If we don’t get everyone on board in the design and UX departments, this project is highly likely to stall, even with our full efforts and the best of intentions, how might we get them involved? My manager and colleagues have given me these 5 recommendations that they have seen work in the past, let me know which one or ones you think would work for us, and I’ll get on crafting the documents, trainings, and presentations.

While we are best intentioned, I want to put on my calendar a “line in the sand” on execution risk. I believe that if at 5 months we have not hit the following 3 milestones, that we would have gone from an 80% likelihood to a 30% likelihood of hitting your goals of 3 million in revenue by Q3. As such, if we don’t, my plan B is to at that time do the following 4 things, which are less impactful, but more within our sphere of influence, so while I need everything to work out right to get that 3 Million, I think if we run into execution roadblocks we can get to 2.3 Million of that 3 with these other tactics you can I have more control over.

Realizing “full universe”:

Based on my experience & research, if we keep growing at (x), we’re likely to start hitting peak market share attainment, I have confirmed with (number) colleagues (or read x paper) who confirm that in the (x) industry, that is a reasonable expectation. Given current trends we are projected to realize that ceiling in the next (months/quarters/years). I recommend I spend (x) percent of my time, sniffing out new opportunities as the marginal value of (current thing I am doing) should start to dry up and not get the lift it once did, and I want to make sure we still are on pace to attain (goal x) set by the executive team. I can get started on this in 6 weeks if we approve this week. I’ll give you more details, just getting a temp check on this concept.

IRL message I’d send (given I’m in search marketing):

Hi Sara, I have done some digging and if we keep growing at 120% we’re probably going to start running into fewer and fewer opportunities at the current ROI we’re driving. I’ve done my digging across the web, and spoken with a few execs here at Seer who have come across this issue before. When I ran my projections by them they agreed that there is a chance we could start topping out our impact in the next 18–24 months. I’d love to spend 10 hours this month finding new opportunities, we’ve already hit goal for the year of 2 Million in revenue, and its 3 months to go till your fiscal year. The marginal value of getting 10 links a month just doesn’t seem to be paying the dividends they did when we started 3 years ago, I want to make sure we start planning for the changes to come next fiscal year, so we can have a game plan to hit goal for that year. Can I deploy that 10 hours and return to you what I found & my recommendations?

Show them a new reality that destroys current reality

I know you asked me to do (task) and to hit (tactical goal), I’ve attained that (x) (months/quarters/years) in a row. However in that time I haven’t had time to research (trend), and did you know that while I’ve been hitting your (tactical goal) I’ve been ignoring (bigger trend). Who is watching your back on the rise of (consultative opp)? May I work with them (or run it myself), to spend x% of my time this (month/quarter) to build a plan to help us take advantage of (new reality). I believe that even if I get (x) more of (tactical goal) the marginal value of that is smaller than the (wide open field) that (competitor 1,2,3) are not even seeing. I feel that we’ll have (months) to take advantage before all the others wise up.

IRL message I’d send (given I’m in search marketing):

Hi James, I know you asked me to work on improving quality scores in our biggest spending categories, as a way of helping us to hit goals for the year. I’m glad to report that for 4 months in a row within our top 5 campaigns, all keywords have quality scores over 7!! I could continue to do that work, and I know it would be fruitful, however we haven’t discussed the impact that app packs are having on our mobile traffic at all in the last 4 months, and I believe that with 4 months in a row of refinement on campaign quality score improvements, the time has come to spend some REAL time on some risks I see for the business. We’ve been ignoring this trend, and to be honest I think the lift we’ve gotten in QS isn’t as great as the lift we could be getting if I invested that same time in optimizing your app rankings on mobile.

Is anyone watching this at your company or is this report new to you?

I’m prepared to make the case and run the analysis to show the impact if you are game for me pivoting this months time. Our top search competitors do not seem to be noticing this trend yet either (that on mobile 32% of all results are showing app packs), now is the time to strike, our competition won’t be asleep at the wheel forever. We have 6–12 months before I think they’ll start playing with this too, lets get a jump on them before they even know what hits them, let them keep obsessing over the wrong metrics, we’ll be working on where things are going. I may have to bring in a consultant or two to help us execute, but for now I just want to pull the data and rate the risk and build a gameplan to make sure this pivot is worth the risk. The data I pulled shows that if this continues to happen, 75% of the traffic that drives conversions today will be unattainable by 2019. Rendering this channel ineffective. I felt I owed it to you to let you know that if I keep doing what I’m asked, I think we’re facing a MAJOR risk.

Show them you are studying outside of your day to day:

I’m really into (tangential skill that impacts project). Today I got certified in XYZ. I know it isn’t part of our project, but I’m willing to put in some extra hours (on me) to see if with my new skills in (x) I can find (y) ways to help you hit goals for the year and drive a wedge between you and your competitors for next year (they won’t even see this change coming), look at the attached examples of them (and us missing this opportunity). I believe that (current project) drives more value when (tangential skill) + (new skill) are brought together. I have already found these 3 ways that you can get more value from (current project) by integrating the two. We’re currently on pace to hit goal by (x date) I think if we can execute on these we can speed that up by (timeframe).

IRL message I’d send (given I’m in search marketing):

Kim, howdy! I’ve been really into the issue of how users go from the search engine to our client sites. I recently became certified in UX by the Nielsen Norman Group to better be able to bridge expectations of users with what we deliver. I truly believe this is a big miss by our industry, and with Google understanding better and better how users interact with search results, I think it is more important than ever for us to ensure that our top rankings are reliable for you to make forecasts on for years to come, or we could lose those rankings, not due to lack of content or links, but due to lack of understanding of what truly solves the users problem when they search for Hospice in California. I don’t want to stall our current project one bit, so I’m going to be going full bore with our plans, but wanted to know if on nights and weekends when I get some extra time to see my my new human factors skills can help you both with SEO but also to help ensure we are satisfying users.

Like I said before, I believe in the long term, Google will only get stronger (not weaker) at understanding if a top ranking truly solves a problem and that is why I got this certification. I’ve chatted with my managers and they’re behind me 100%, I’m asking my clients if we can start to put some time to future proofing their projects. Here are 3 examples of issues I found when I spoke to users looking to schedule an appointment with someone, I think if we fixed those, not only could we get more revenue from the traffic we’re already driving, but we’re also protecting those rankings for the future. This will not distract us from our goal of 70 leads per month, if anything it can help us get more, I project 77–82 leads per month as a result of this work, helping us to BLOW out the goal and to maybe hit your stretch goal for the year. While focusing on an area your competitors aren’t, setting us up for next year, which again Google will only be stronger at than they are this year.

Hope I got you thinking, here are 3 more fill in the blanks that I was going to delete but they just might help someone so I’m gonna leave em. :)

I want to get to know your customer better

I’m a better advocate for your and your customer if I understand them better. My tools (x,y,z) are great at telling me (thing), but they don’t give me the qualitative answers that would help me have more understanding of the bigger issue. May I spend x% of my time this (month/quarter) on (sales calls, UX rebuilds, customer support calls)?

Explain a cross functional opportunity:

I was reviewing your data and think there might be a larger opportunity for you to get more from the investment you are already making with us. Do you mind telling me if (channel x) is performing for you as well as it appears in the data?

Make a 3 year projection:

Over the next 3 years, I expect the investment you are making our work should have y dividends.I’ve built a chart that shows what we need to hit each month in (data point) to get to the 3 year goal your (executive) is seeking.

Originally published at wilreynolds.com.

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