How to be Taken Seriously as a Business Partner

Part of my job consists of working with General Managers & Managing Directors, talking about process and technology projects, and how we might leverage internal and external resources. I am no longer surprised that external consulting groups get more of the interesting and exciting projects – internal IT is often challenged by a lack of “latest and greatest” tech skills (in support of a modern digital strategy), available cycles (to take on the extra work), or communication & marketing skills.

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A diverse team …

But there is another set of skills – a subtler, more enlightened way of engaging with leadership – that is differentiating. And not all consulting firms have these skills; businesses often have preferred partners, external firms that demonstrate true partnership and empathy. One of the Area Leads that I know and like is very high on their preferred digital partner – and has a simple test to validate that standing; he is always looking for a partner that has …

  • Sense of Urgency: Not acceptable to start talking about a project in April, and get the response that “we can start in September”
  • Business Acumen: Must be able to glibly talk about the functional priorities and requirements, and not get caught up in the “new tech”
  • Creativity: Should have a sense of art and design, and be able to flip between out-of-the-box and drive-for-results at the right times
  • Cost for Value: After all else, this is always the sticking point; effective partners will address this “moose on the table” by quantifying benefits (at least, providing some sort of framework / algorithm / model for specifying where the value comes from).

Knowing this – how can “competitors” break through this Most Favored Nation roadblock? Specifically, how can internal IT get more of these projects?

The simplest approach is to run to the most difficult [for external firms] part of the list: Cost for Value.

  • Internal IT says things like “not until September” because they assume the zero-cost option – all work done by internal people. But Marketing apparently has plenty of budget for external resources – so why not figure out how to do a staff augmentation arrangement for less – freeing up internal time for less cost than the all-in approach of the externals.
  • I am amazed that most technology firms – software, hardware, and services – rarely provide well-structured cost justification models for their products. Concepts like Value Selling have been well established – why is it so rare to see simple, glib financial models for these very expensive projects?

I suppose it’s because the market is not asking for them …

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.