Learning to get the best advice, to buy in expertise

A client of bquest recently said “I’m a production expert; I’ve got a great new product but I am not an expert in marketing and selling. Help!” Nothing new here then. There are obviously zillions of people good at one thing who need help from people good at other things. (Production people – I also know a number of great marketing people looking for good new products to promote and sell.)

The problem for our client though was how to find the right marketing and sales people to connect with. As a small business, he has limited funds so, in my opinion, he should consider the social media route as this seems to give small businesses a good chance to compete in the market with the big players with big budgets.

But….. we are inundated with people promising all sorts of wonders if we buy their social media services. But the promises are often about the activities they will do (the inputs, the processes), and about intermediate results (such as, be on the first page of Google, or get your name in 10 forums, build a 1000 back links,etc.), but NOT promises about end results, such as great sales and riches!

So, how to choose?

This is the topic of our client’s ‘learning contract’. (Sample learning contract in Word.) His goal is to learn not to be an expert in social media, but to learn how to choose the right expert.

Our client’s learning will include:

  • Speaking with other people about their experiences and to avoid making the same mistakes. (Why should we all individually have to learn from making the same mistakes as people who have gone before us? Surely we can learn to avoid the obvious ones by talking with others, by doing a little research.)
  • Looking for a suitable checklist of good practice. From “The 10 things to remember…” and “The 6 steps to…”  and the many other guides on the web, you can gradually build a commonsensical checklist of do’s and don’ts.
  • Developing a simple set of criteria – for assessing social media suppliers, one that you could perhaps use when dealing with any people from outside your own company (echoes of another blog posting):
    • What results do I want? Are these people offering activities and some intermediate results? Or are they offering me the end results I want?
    • Are these people credible? Do they have a track record or, if not (and don’t discount them if they don’t; everyone has to start somewhere and in newer sectors like social media it may be the new kid on the block who is the most successful), do their ideas make sense? Common sense? Real sense? Feet-on-the-ground sense?
    • Can I get on with these people?
    • Are these people flexible? Do they listen, will they adapt if necessary, do they have alternative options for me, can they solve problems?
    • Are these people prepared to share some of the risks if things don’t go to plan (and perhaps benefits if they do)? You are new to social media, they are new to you, so there will be some uncertainties. And where there are uncertainties, there will be some risk. They will show they are prepared to share these risks if, for example, they accept some or all payments based on end results and not just their activities or intermediate results.
  • Inviting several social media companies in to present their ideas. Let them do all the work! Get them to ask you all the questions. To offer ideas. To propose a strategy for you. To ‘educate’ you. They are supposed to be the experts. (It should be as if you employed them as your in-house marketing team.) And as they talk, act like the CEO and ask questions based on your set of criteria above. It’s not a bad idea to have some colleagues involved; they don’t have to be experts either, just critical listeners who can help you by asking pertinent, thoughtful, challenging and probing questions.
  • Making a systematic selection. Scoring each supplier as objectively as you can against the criteria. Just as you should do when selecting a new employee.

And all the time, bquest will be there to coach and support.

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