Strategy, Revisited. Part 1

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Last week’s article about ideas had its beginnings in why I benefit from sharing my experiences.  But as my editor-in-chief pointed out, people are not much bothered about what I get, but more about how they can find solutions to their problems. (Fussy editor: Pointing out that I didn’t see the elephant in the room).

My wounded pride responded, eventually, by asking why had I done this?  It is the starting point of any business strategy that customer comes first.  If it is going to be of benefit to the business or organisation it is advising, consulting must be seen to add value in excess of the cost of services provided.  A well-known IT consulting company ignored this point recently, and by serving its own interests through jaw-dropping scope-creep, has mortally-wounded its chances of ever doing business again in the country concerned. So how do you develop a coherent consulting strategy?

It starts of course with having a very clear understanding of your customer, and what their needs and wants are.  Get this wrong and you are doomed, as every failed business finds out. Take for example taxi-drivers: They have for a very long time had a monopoly in most large cities for picking up passing trade.  Private-hire vehicles were until recently a cheaper but less convenient alternative because they had to be booked in advance.  Uber, and other slightly different operators such as Grabtaxi have massively reduced the inconvenience of private-hire.  In addition, they have more or less solved the problem that it is near on impossible to get a taxi when it is raining or during peak-periods.  Taxi-drivers have just seen their strategy shredded, because they disregarded what their customers wanted.  This genie isn’t going back in the bottle; Uber has had an early mover advantage, but even if their business model gets ruled out by law as has happened in France, newer legal alternatives will be developed.

For consultants the strategy revolves around firstly understanding who your customers will be, then finding out what their specific needs are.  As an example here, the Cosmapec* strategy is to address supply chain problems for companies wanting to source from, sell into or operate in developing markets. Our consultants know how to do this, and I know that they can alleviate a very great source of pain for companies that are struggling to understand the developing world.

However, this alone isn’t a useful strategy, because it doesn’t clearly specify the customers.  Large companies will not employ small consultancies, except in exceptional circumstances, because they feel there is too much risk for them to do so. Small companies do not have the financial resources to pay consultancy fees.  Cosmapec then needs to reach customers in medium-sized companies.  Again, this is still not enough to be useful, because ‘supply chain problems’ is too broad.  The type of supply chain problems we solve needs to be more specific. (At this point I will not do a detailed sales pitch, but if you are interested, follow the links to the Cosmapec web-site).  In short though, Cosmapec provides customers with the resources to establish projects and initiatives, and rescue failing ones, in places where they have limited internal resources.

That is the first part of strategy, defining what outcomes you want to see.  The next part is how you get there, which I will be talking about next week.

*Blatant and obvious self-promotion alert.

Strategy development is a critical issue for business success, please do share what works for you in the comments section.

If you want to learn more about the Cosmapec approach to strategy development, visit us at http://www.cosmapecsupplychainmanagement.com or contact us

About :  Rob Ward has extensive global experience working in supply chain organisations.  He co-founded Cosmapec to help companies and executive teams establish, develop and optimise their supply chains.

Is Industry Expertise Essential?

In the LinkedIn group Strategy & Corporate Strategic Planning Xchange  (membership required)  Aaron Birney asked the following question:

“Industry expertise:  To what degree does a consultant need to be experienced with the industry or industries of certain clients?”

The discussion that developed gave interesting insight into the backgrounds of management consultants, and how their different approaches can be of value to clients.  A frequent categorisation of the consulting industry is either ‘niche’ or ‘general’ and whilst this is somewhat arbitrary, it is useful.    Niche consulting usually refers to specific industries or business management processes, and general consulting to the often large companies that cover a significantly wider field of businesses and management disciplines.

The discussion did converge on one main area of agreement:  It really doesn’t matter how the consultants are classified, the important point is can they address a client’s needs.   Industry specific consultants may be essential in some cases where there are skill gaps, a need for industry specific resources or subject matter expertise.  In other cases industry or process experience may act as a hindrance when a wider understanding of the potential solutions for a client is necessary.   This may be particularly relevant when innovations from other industries can be applied to create a new competitive advantage.

The argument was also made that a good consultant should be able to operate across any and all industries, however some cautioned that there are disciplines that can be supported only by those with the relevant background and experience.   Technical fields such as engineering and IT were particularly quoted as being better suited to consultants with industry expertise.  Business strategy and transformation efforts were promoted as better supported with more generalist business change specialists.

But back towards the important point, and one that I will keep at the forefront of Cosmapec’s approach in everything we do.  Our clients’ needs are paramount and we must strive to achieve a clear understanding of what these are before we commit to providing a solution.  There is an old adage:  If all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.  Competing for contracts when we have the wrong tools for that client will not generate repeatable business.   Our clients’ success is the key to our long-term success.

Another stage on our journey to long-term success begins when we unveil and launch our new website detailing how we are supporting our clients.  Check here next week for more details on this key milestone!