The Art of Effective Digital Consulting: Strategies for Client Success
So you are responsible for the digital elements of your business and you know that the overall results for your business are dependent on digital success.
Where do you begin? How do you make it work? Can anyone provide you the pointed guidance you are looking for? Enter digital consulting.
Digital consulting can be thought of as simply a polished execution of product management techniques deployed in a directed way to a particular problem.
It is typically a way to effectively augment your team with external resource to provide you with the direction you are looking for, leveraging proven methodologies and techniques, grounded in facts with strong data points to back up the thinking.
I can personally testify to the fact that this approach works; having delivered campaigns that yielded 233% ROI and digital changes that resulted in a 70% reduction of service calls using these techniques in my own working history by way of a couple of examples.
This article will focus on how to get the most out of a digital consulting engagement as someone representing the business and engaging with a specialised digital consultant.
Define your needs and goals clearly prior to the engagement
Having a clear understanding of your needs and well defined goals before you engage with a digital consultant is the best way to manage expectations and get the most out of your engagement.
A good digital consultant will work with you to define all of these as part of their initial engagement, however having these already well thought through prior to the engagement will both expedite this process and ensure alignment.
Instead of spending large parts of the engagement working on defining what you want to get out of it, you can swiftly move on to the ‘doing’ of the work which will maximise the return on the investment.
Skilled consultants will work with your brief and instead of brainstorming ideas, they will test and expand on your work, providing simultaneously more focus and unlocking of new areas of coverage that are related to what you initially planned to get out of the work.
1. Prepare by doing your own research
Invest time in conducting some research about your business, the market, and competitors. Make sure that you have any and all information that you have access to at the ready and read through it carefully to ensure you are going into any engagement well briefed.
No one knows your business better than you do, however there are many elements that you can’t learn just by living and breathing your business.
Seek external data points, review captured insights - like your results, any data analytics, any communication you have with your customers.
In essence you want to make sure you are well prepared, remember you are paying someone for their time to work with you to optimise your business. So be smart and get the most bang for your buck.
2. Have a view and be ready to discuss the best form factors for communication
Bringing everyone along on the journey is the only way to ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction. The importance of communication is something I have written about before.
If you have clarity on what is needed and why, but your team don’t have sight of your vision - they are most likely going to make decisions in their day-to-day duties that will take you away from your goals.
Make sure everyone is on the same page and communicate what you want, what your vision is, your mission, your values, and your goals to the consultant and work with them to refine these and transform it into something that can bring everyone along with you to achieve success.
3. Understand the benefits of an effective digital consulting engagement
Whenever engaging with a digital consultant, both parties should be very clear about the process and the deliverables involved.
Digital consultants typically will be able to talk you through their process and timeline for the engagement clearly, providing you with a solid understanding of how to track progress and eliminate confusion.
It is the elimination of confusion that is most important here, violation of expectations can taint even the best of results.
An analogy I often give is iced coffee. When you forget about your hot coffee for a little too long and take a sip you will want to spit it out in disgust, yet you may order the exact same beverage as an iced coffee and thoroughly enjoy it. It is indeed the fact that you expected hot coffee that induced the intense feeling of disgust and this carries over well with any external engagement.
Regular communication to keep across progress and provide feedback is key
We touched on the importance of expectations in the previous section, and regular communication is another way to keep expectations aligned with reality.
Product management reinforces the approach that whilst an initial direction is critical for success and having a clear outcome in mind will provide you with this direction to get started, things typically change when the rubber hits the road.
You are likely going to want to still move in the direction of where you initially thought you should, but changes to the market, discoveries during execution, and improved understanding over time will inevitably result in questions and necessitate change.
A strong communication plan with a regular schedule will afford you the opportunity to discuss this matters and
1. Maintain a regular communication schedule with your digital consultancy
Simply getting the regular sessions in the diary is the first and easiest step to ensuring alignment.
I would counsel you to keep matters regular, and brief - taking a stand-up style approach often works best in these situations. The time is kept short, the conversation is well structured, and anything that requires a deep dive or troubleshooting is deferred to a separate time with only the relevant team members to resolve.
In person is often best, though I do firmly believe that remote interaction (leveraging audio and visual options) can even be more effective now with the ease of integration with interactive tools and techniques.
That being said, you do not want to be talking to the consultant all day, every day as you have other priorities and you need to attend to. Your consultant also needs time to actually do the work so less can be more.
The tools that exist now to facilitate task tracking (we love things like Notion for its ease of use, powerful set of capabilities, and low barrier for entry) and visualisation (we love tools like Miro for similar reasons to Notion) are stronger than ever before and typically easier to use as well.
As an aside, the capabilities that already exist with virtual and augmented reality will, at least in my opinion, dramatically improve this type of interaction in the near future as more and more people adopt the hardware and this, along with software, continues to improve.
2. Monitoring the progress and providing feedback to the digital consultant
Often your digital consultant will tap into interactive tools like the ones I mentioned above. In the event that this is the case, do take the time to try to familiarise yourself with these tools. Seek some direction from your consultant, or look online for some basics to help get you started.
If your consultant doesn’t tap into a toolset you can still provide feedback and monitoring effectively, though you will need to align with them to determine the best form factor. I would raise alarms if you cannot have the option of more regular updates from your consultant, particularly one that would say something along the lines of “you will hear back from us when the work is complete and we will present it to you”.
Marking things up, documenting clear feedback in writing, and verbal feedback are all very useful - they also compliment one another. Some will be better for you and other form factors will be better for your consultant. The combination is best.
Simply aligning on the form factor and content for the deliverables that will support the agreed communication schedule is the best way to get you started.
3. So why should I work so hard when I am paying the consultant to do the work?
Well, I think you have answered your own question. You are paying for results, these results will be better if you are engaged and an active contributor to the outcome. It is as simple as that.
Building up trust and a rapport with your consultant through transparent and value accretive communication will always lead to better outcomes.
I would challenge you to identify a time where this is not the case.
How do you assess the work that your digital consultant produces?
You’ve hired an expert for a reason, you need help with your digital performance and the consultant’s job is to provide you with a recipe for success.
That said, you need to know if you are being provided a plan that is grounded in reality, steeped in appropriate theory, and of high quality. Otherwise, what is the point?
1. Data is the guide to follow
Something that consultants typically leverage is an approach called MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive). This is simply a way of categorising and splitting the issue they are looking at to ensure that they organise any work and presentation of findings in a structured way. This is not the only way of doing things but is an example of a structured, logical approach and it is this aspect you should look for.
Within this they should tap into data points to provide evidence for their conclusions. This should, ideally, include multiple types of data e.g. digital analytics, customer interviews, market research, etc.
When assessing the data that they have provided as evidence, you want to make sure that they are of high quality and are reliable. If their recommendations are based on weak data, they should not be relied upon for implementation. Testing them should include reviewing the bona fides of any source of secondary research, and ensuring that the source of, or process for collection of, any primary research follows industry best practices.
2. Ensure that you can measure and test any and all recommendations that you implement
Once you have your set of recommendations, you should ensure that they should follow SMART criteria, if not directly - at least at the detailed level.
You want to be able to track progress for implementing the recommendations, something agile and informed by proper process.
From there you need to make sure you can measure the effectiveness of each recommendation. You ideally want to have a hypothesis of what the outcome should be and effective measurement in place (e.g. through digital analytics) to measure it.
If you don’t know whether something was effective and close the loop, you can’t possibly know if the recommendation was a good one.
3. Consider combining a digital consulting engagement with other services
In the world of digital consulting, there is a perception that they charge by the kilo of PowerPoint slides. That they will take your watch and tell you the time.
This is not the case with good digital consulting of course, but a broader engagement and increased knowledge within your team are excellent ways to mitigate this perception (and avoid the reality should you have been unlucky in your selection of partner).
Support to execute the transformative work in digital can help ensure alignment and provide accountability. You aren’t going to engage someone for deeper/additional work if their recommendations are not helpful.
Upskilling the team, with or without the digital consultancy, can help provide a deeper understanding of the nomenclature used and the methodologies implemented. I’ve spoken about external training and how this can benefit a product manager or product management team before.
Now that you are informed, it’s time to get the most out of a digital consulting engagement
We’ve talked about the importance of being prepared prior to the start of your engagement. This means gathering up any and all data insights that you can from a multitude of sources and reviewing them carefully. It also means having a clear view on what you are looking to achieve as a result of the engagement.
We know that keeping on top of the engagement with regular communication and ongoing engagement and participation will produce much better results. If you provide clear and concise feedback, you will keep them on track and working towards your goals.
Lastly we touched on the importance of validating the results. Ensuring that there is sensible process and structure followed, that you can effectively test and evaluate the recommendations, and the benefits of upskilling to improve the engagement.
Working with a digital consultant can be a great way of achieving more for your business and these tips will help you get the most out of such an engagement.
If you want some help with a digital consulting engagement, some help to evaluate your other engagements, or just to learn more about digital consulting, reach out to us and we would love to chat.