Bill asked me to help improve their marketing in EMEA. After some intial work, it was clear to both of us that the scope should be widened to look at Kalido’s market positioning and their process of acquiring customers.
Immediately after the project, Bill said ‘The work Matthew did for me at Kalido was a significant factor in shaping our future direction’.
In a recent phone conversation I dug into how Bill makes effective use of external advisors.
MG: When you wanted to improve your EMEA marketing, what options did you have, and why did you choose to get external advice from me?
BH: At the time, there were many conflicting opinions about how our performance could be improved. I needed a way of focusing on the problem to bring things to a head.
I could have asked my US based marketing team to look into it, but their understanding of how the EMEA market operates wouldn’t have been deep enough. If I’d been able to spend the time, I could have investigated what was needed myself. But most importantly of all, I needed objectivity.
It’s not that you can’t trust what you hear from your colleagues, but it’s inevitable that what they tell a CEO will have some degree of sugar-coating or bias, no matter how small. What you get by going outside for advice is investigation and opinions that you can trust will be free from that internal bias.
So hiring the right advisor is crucial. Tell me what you looked for?
In addition to objectivity, I needed really deep knowledge of the EMEA market, which you’ve got, but within the context of how a US company should operate there, which you also know a lot about.
I also needed whoever worked on the project to be able to rapidly build trust with my people. After all, what’s the point of getting some recommendations if they can’t be actioned, because my colleagues don’t view their author as a trusted friend of the company?
The process we went through involved me talking to a lot of people inside Kalido, as well as your customers and industry analysts, and then coming up with some detailed recommendations. How did you feel about the recommendations I presented you with?
You were clear about what you were going to do, how you’d do it, and you kept me in the loop whenever necessary. That was all great.
Along the way, you gained the respect of the people you dealt with, which was vital. The report you delivered was a platform on which I built consensus in my team about what needed to be done. Everyone who you’d consulted could see a little bit of their version of ‘the answer’ in the bigger picture you presented.
More than that, what you recommended was actionable. Too often, you get advice which is too vague or theoretical; you used your hard-edged experience of having to implement change, so everything you said to us could be acted upon.
So, if a CEO is looking for some external advice, what else should they be thinking about?
Being clear about which problem you need to solve is crucial, and you can use an external advisor to help frame the questions even before they’re hired.
That’s what you did with me – you got me to think about precisely what the scope of the project was, and then advised me to change it once we’d got into it.
An external advisor should, if they’re good, ask challenging questions all the way through their engagement with you – just like you did.
If you’re thinking about working with someone outside your company to improve its performance, I believe Bill’s comments will help you see how you can do that most effectively.
And if you’ve already done that, write a comment to share your experience of making good use of external business advice.