What Is Strategy?

What Is Strategy?

Big word “strategy,” but what exactly does it mean? Are you doing strategic or tactical work  ? What is strategy for consultants?

Strategy is a critical skill because it helps you to connect your work with clients to the bigger picture of what they’re doing in their businesses. Strategic thinking can help you add more value for your clients. In your own business, strategy can help you focus and simplify so you don’t feel like you’re doing a million different, disparate, disconnected activities.

In this episode of Profitable Joyful Consulting, find out what you need to know about strategy to elevate your consulting business and bring extra value to your clients.

Key areas discussed in this episode

  • 0:00 Introduction to strategy for consultants
  • 0:30 Why strategy?
  • 0:43 What I learned about strategy in my interviews at The Coca-Cola Company
  • 2:29 The two roles you need to be able to play in business
  • 3:22 How my client Dani sold a training for 9 times (9x!) more than she originally thought by plugging into the client’s strategy
  • 6:10 Be seen as a strategic partner and not a contractor
  • 8:02 How many marketing strategies there actually are (because there aren’t a million, or even a hundred)
  • 11:11 High-level strategy as part of your marketing plan
  • 11:53 My big question for you when it comes to strategy

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    Podcast Transcript

    Samantha Hartley: Hey, it’s Samantha Hartley of the Profitable Joyful Consulting Podcast. This season we are talking about consulting skills, and the skill that I want to talk about today is strategy.

    Now, somewhere in some academic corner of the world, somebody is giggling at the idea that I can cover “What is strategy?” in 20 minutes, and they’re probably right.

    However, I’m going to do my best to talk to you about what you need to know about strategy in order to add value to your consulting business.

    Why strategy?

    It is an important skill because it helps you to connect your work with clients to the bigger picture of what they’re doing in their businesses. I’m going to go into more detail about how we do that.

    But first, I wanted to share with you a story. When I came from the field working with the Coca-Cola Company to corporate, I did a series of interviews. You talked to, you know, 200 people on your way in, probably more like seven.

    So I was interviewed by all these people and the feedback that I got, even though I was hired, was that one of the guys had said that I was not strategic.

    I think you can imagine that I was not in love with that feedback and I was a bit cranky about it. And part of my response was, I’ve been busy in the field growing a business from $30 million to $100 million dollars. What have you been doing here in your ivory tower?

    However, he probably was not wrong because as the marketing manager of the Moscow bottler, what a lot of my work consisted of was activities, events, day to day tasks and task management. And that work is necessarily tactical.

    It’s tactics, it’s tasks, events, activities. So that’s the opposite of what strategy is.

    And so it wasn’t necessarily big picture work until, you know, once a year we would do a business plan that would have a marketing plan in it, and we would talk about strategy. But for the most part, I was doing tactical work.

    So the more I worked at corporate, the more I began to connect to, “oh, this is what the big picture is.” And in some cases, I was even working with senior leaders on countrywide strategy. The brand of a certain country and how that combined with our brands. So that was very high level work.

    So you can hear that strategy is high level, big picture work. I want to disclaim, real quickly though, that being strategic doesn’t make you a better person than if you’re tactical. A lot of tactical people are the ones who help us to actually get the work done.

    So those of us who are big picture, visionary people, we tend to work on a strategic level, and there are those who are project managers and task managers, and people who actually like to get a lot of that work done. We need both of those pieces in the conversation as leaders and managers.

    Morally, neither a leader or a manager is superior to the other. We definitely need both of these roles in business. It’s just that a lot of times in consulting you’ll bring extra value to your clients if you’re able to have a strategic conversation.

    So I had a client, Dani, who was trying to sell a training. She’d come out of corporate where this training that she was selling, they understood its value. But when she was taking this training to smaller clients, more like mid-sized clients, they didn’t immediately see why this training of middle managers would help them to have more skills. They just didn’t get what was valuable about that.

    So she had been trying to sell this particular training for $50,000, and then less and less and less, until it was like $22,000. And she said, listen, people should be eating this thing up for this rate, and yet I can’t get anybody to bring in this training to help me, help their organization. So what can I do?

    So we worked together, and what I said to her was, “nobody wants a training. What is broken in their organization that they might understand that this can solve? How can this help them? You need to connect your training to the larger issues of organizations that might need a training like this.”

    I say this because I have a lot of clients who think of themselves as trainers or they have an e-learning course. They have a training that they do and they really want to market the training when the truth is, nobody really understands the value of their training.

    What they understand is, here’s what hurts us, here’s our problems, here’s our challenges, here’s our issues.

    So Dani got a lead, who was a company that was really struggling with their sales. They were growing so quickly that their current salespeople could not keep up with the demand. They really had to promote people to leadership positions who weren’t ready to lead, and then their existing salespeople just couldn’t keep up with what all had to be done.

    So what I had her do was quantify with the CEO, what are the problems here? What are they costing your organization? And if we can solve those? Don’t talk about whether it’s a training, or whether it’s a magic wand. Or whether it’s you working, consulting and coaching–nobody cares about that. What they want to know is if we could solve that problem, what would things be like for you?

    So she had that conversation with the CEO. We talked about how she would come in and basically do whatever it took to solve those problems, within her skill set. She made that promise to the CEO and at the end of the day, instead of a $22,000 training, which she was able to sell, the proposal that she and I worked on together ended up being a $198,500 engagement.

    Why wasn’t it $200K? Because she didn’t like the round number. So she got like a nine times increase in the value by connecting it to their overall challenges. Instead of saying, I’m going to come in and do a tactical thing, which is this training.

    So if you’re looking at doing something like that, there are two words to help you to plug into the strategy of an organization: Zoom Out. So whenever I’m talking with a consultant who says, “they won’t really entertain my training and they don’t really want to have a conversation with me, how can I get them? How can I get a seat at the C-level table to have those C-level conversations?”

    What I want you to do is Zoom Out when you come in and you’re on a discovery call, in conversations, whether this is a call, Zoom meeting, live meeting, whether this is a single meeting, or a series of meetings, you’re going to listen to them talking about their challenges. Or maybe they’ll say, “hey, we’ve heard you’ve got this cool training, tell us a little bit about what you would do for us with that.”

    Any time you’re talking about a tactical thing, meaning it’s a one time event or activity, or short term activity. What I want you to always say is, “hey, I’d love to share more about that. Before we go any further, is it okay if we Zoom Out, and talk about your organization’s overall goals for your leaders, your overall goals for the DEI program? What are your overall goals as an organization for the thing that your project plugs into?”

    And that way you begin to be seen as a strategic partner and less as like a contractor who’s going to fulfill a certain aspect of the work. Usually that kind of high level work and strategy work is of higher value to clients than implementation of a training or “Hey, would you come in and execute these few things for us?”

    So I’m asking you to Zoom Out with your clients and plug your work into that higher level strategic planning.

    The last example that I want to share, years ago I was in a program with someone and it came to the part where he was sharing marketing strategies with us, and he said, “well, you know, there’s just like dozens and dozens of marketing strategies. And so like, here’s a few of them.” And I was like, “no, there’s basically like ten strategies.” And then I went away and worked on it and I came up with like 11 marketing strategies.

    You can be creative and there are many strategies in the world, but in marketing, you can pretty much put most marketing activities into 11 buckets. And then I went away and did that and he included that in his program.

    So for example, posting on YouTube. Well, that is a visibility strategy. It can be a content marketing strategy, but other visibility strategies are going to be like social media. Or we’re going to go out and we’re going to be present in a market. Well, that’s an event strategy, which is part of a visibility strategy.

    So I’m not trying to constrain your creativity. But I am saying that you can roll strategy up into all these tactics, like I’m going to do YouTube or I’m going to do TikTok. You can group those together and hear that they fit into a larger thing. And that larger thing is usually going to be connected to a major initiative.

    So the word strategy. If we go back all the way to the Greek, it connects to the word for “general,” and also the word to, “how to lead an army.” So what does an army do? And I wish all marketing wasn’t like campaigns and all of this language from war positioning. It’s you know, it’s tedious.

    But anyway. How to lead an army. So what’s an army doing? Well, they’re like, “capture that hill, or go take that thing.” Or as I was saying, what I did in Moscow, “grow from $30 million to $100 million.” Those major initiatives, the major how you’re going to do this thing, that is a strategy.

    And so for most of us in your marketing plan, you’re going to have like maybe three strategies that you’re going to work on. And sometimes, if you’re a one person business you’re going to be like, this quarter, I’m going to do one thing. I’m going to do one strategy, and there will be a few specific tactics, or activities that fall under it. But that way you’re not overwhelmed with like there’s a million strategies we can be doing.

    So, for example. If you want to have a visibility strategy that focuses on video, then that’s going to be for your Q4. Then maybe you’ll get on a video podcast. Create weekly content for your YouTube channel, and that could be enough. That can be it. Maybe you add, you know, one webinar or a Zoom event for LinkedIn under there.

    So I hope this is helping you to see that strategies are high level initiatives that can help you add more value to your clients, and will be perceived as more valuable. In your own business, strategies can help you simplify so that you don’t feel like you’re doing like a million different, disparate, disconnected activities. They can roll up and align under different marketing strategies, or business growth strategies.

    So if you’d like that list of the 11 marketing strategies that I identified, then you can find that at samanthahartley.com/super. That’s where I’m putting all my podcast bonuses.

    And if you’re taking away one thing from today, what I want you to think about is: What are the strategies that you do for your clients, and how can you plug your work into their strategic initiatives?

    And what’s the strategy, the number one strategy, that I’m going to use to grow my consulting business in the next six months? Okay that’s some good homework for you hopefully.

    As always, I would love to hear from you on any of my social channels, and I am wishing you a Profitable and Joyful Consulting business. Good luck with your strategies.

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