Top 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Consultants
So you’ve contracted with an external agency or consultant for your product marketing needs––congrats! How do you ensure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck? After working on both sides of this relationship for over 30 years, I’ve boiled my closest-held learnings down into these hot top 5 tips for making the most of your work together.
1 Preparation is king (or queen)
Just like going on a first date, you don’t want to just jump off the couch and show up as is––you have to be prepared. In the same way, setting a consultant up for success starts even before day one. Before they come on board, spend time preparing a thorough, well-organized knowledge transfer about your company, your product, and the background and parameters of your work together.
Then, once the consultant has started, dedicate time to ramping them up with working sessions as well as regular check-ins. Trust me: the more time you spend here, the less you’ll have to spend correcting misunderstandings down the road.
Keep it simple
As an outsider to your company, consultants don’t know what they don’t know. Even after they are technically onboarded, a consultant often lacks the organizational context to understand what to prioritize, and usually can’t ask around within the company to find other people to help them. Focus on defining your processes and priorities up front so that you’re not leaving your consultant guessing or wasting time doing unnecessary legwork.
The onboarding process should also include meetings with relevant experts and colleagues, so gather those names along with their relevant expertise and contact information for handover on day one.
Define your runway
In every project, there are clear runways… but you are the only one who can give the go-ahead for takeoff. Be very clear from the get-go about where your product marketing consultant can and cannot get creative. For example, there may be areas like pricing that are set and you have no control over. Be sure to communicate that to your consultant so that time is not wasted investing in solution-ing areas that are off limits.
On the flip side, do let them know where they can and are expected to get creative and engage like crazy––with messaging, for example, or if you have budget or appetite for a splashy or unique product launch event.
2 Don’t just “Set it and forget it!”
Everyone loves Ron Popoil, and his tagline worked great for the rotisserie… not so much for consultant engagements. When managing consultants, you can’t just sign them up, introduce them, and set them free. (I mean, you could, but not if you’re expecting to make the most of your time and money.) You need to create a tight project definition, one with a starting point, an ending point, and detailed expectations of deliverables in between.
Make sure to schedule frequent reviews and working sessions for those deliverables, too. Think of the consultant and agency as a scaling factor: you are able to do more, but this doesn’t mean you can set it on auto-pilot. You need to commit your time and effort to ensure that all of the subtleties of your organization’s knowledge and culture help shape and guide the progress of the project. If the consultant is working on a bigger project, don’t go too long without seeing something––break it down into drafts or smaller sections. This will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
It takes two
Former Aventi Group consultant Beth Nagengast puts this point in a different way. She says that working with a consultant is like playing a musical instrument: you won’t make any music if you don’t work together. No matter if you buy a Stradivarius at auction or find a ukelele at a garage sale, great music isn’t going to just play itself. In the same way, you can’t hire a consultant and expect to make magic out of nothing––it takes time, preparation, and a clear understanding of exactly what you’re trying to create.
3 Trust AND verify consultant productivity
Too many times, after I’ve placed a great consultant with a client company, we kick off the project and the consultant jumps directly in––only to have the client respond with skepticism and doubt of this new “outsider.” Days and even weeks are lost to basic relationship building that impacts the teams’ ability to deliver immediate results.
To get the most out of your external engagements, your working relationship needs to begin and end with one thing: trust. If you’re hiring an expert to take care of your product marketing needs, trust that they are an expert, they will produce excellent results, and then equip them with what they need to do it.
As you engage with your consultant, start probing for their relevant knowledge and experience. Be curious and open, get comfortable with asking (and hearing) uncomfortable questions, and admitting what you don’t know. And, when in doubt, be sure to ask for their honest opinion––but make sure you are prepared to hear it.
4 Choose your meetings wisely
Set a balanced cadence of work and meetings that allows you to stay on top of deliverables. Consider setting up a weekly status meeting, or, for more dynamic projects, meet twice a week for only thirty minutes, similar to agile stand-up meetings. Whatever cadence you choose, keep the end result in mind.
At the same time, make sure you are not spending valuable consultant time on unnecessary meetings. You are paying for their expertise and focus, but too many meetings on unrelated subjects can dilute that. So while you should include them in relevant meetings––especially at the start of your engagement, as they are coming up to speed––beware of letting routine team meetings eat up all their time. If unsure, provide your product marketing consultant with a recording of the meeting to allow them to get to the key points without wasting time on topics that do not impact them.
5 Can you hear me now?
Clear communication is absolutely essential for managing a successful consultant/agency relationship. To start, make sure working expectations are clearly delineated. So, for example, time zones, expectations on response times, and preferred communication channels (Slack, Teams, or email, to name a few) are all good conversations to have on day one.
Paul Selby, a consultant here at Aventi Group, agrees, saying that it’s critical to figure out how you’re going to have new product marketing consultants engage within the company environment. If it takes them weeks to get into the systems, you’re just delaying their onboarding and costing them valuable time, which can be a huge barrier to the success of your project.
Feedback: early and often
A big advantage of our model here at Aventi––and the agency model in general––is that we provide experienced consultants who are used to adjusting course. What we need, and what is ideal, is frequent, honest communication with the consultant and/or managing partner.
So if a project feels wonky or there is even a glimmer or nagging thought that something might not be going right, it’s essential to surface it right away. You would do the same with any employee, but with a consultant, it’s even more important to give feedback and recalibrate quickly. We are highly skilled at course correction and also have the ability to switch out consultants if needed.
On the flip side, be open to hearing your consultants’ advice, too. If something isn’t working right or things aren’t going the way they normally do, listen to them when they send up a flare. The consultant wants to succeed at their goals every bit as much as you do, so be open to their ideas and to mutually beneficial collaboration.
Put your consultants on overdrive
Hiring a consultant or external agency to manage some or all of your product marketing represents a significant investment for your company. While I don’t think any of these tips will help you get a discount––and if they did, maybe you should question your choice of firm!––they will help ensure that you are setting yourself up for a successful, productive collaboration with the consultant of your choice and maximizing your consultant productivity.
To discuss hiring an Aventi Group consultant, please click here to set up a free 30-minute consultation. You can also learn more about product marketing’s shift to external expertise by reading our free survey report.