Consulting Services & Skills

Like ‘Analysis’, ‘Consulting’ is a term used with widely different connotations in modern business conversations. Like analysis, consulting is also a term that gets you thinking once you start trying to define it. I found it invaluable to spend some time unraveling “Consulting” and figuring out how to be a successful, respected consultant.

Fig. 1. Consulting Services

See also: what-is-consulting-definition

“The purpose of consulting is to help people solve problems and move from their current state to their desired state, which they may not be able to do by themselves as effectively, or as efficiently” – Krishna Deva

This paper discusses introductory answers to four questions:

    1. What does providing Consulting Services mean?
    2. When are Consulting Services required?
    3. What does it take to provide Consulting Services?
    4. Which are the Distinctive Skills for Consultants?

1. What does providing Consulting Services mean?

There are many views on what consultants do and what services they provide. I thought it would be important to begin from the demand side, to understand what providing consulting services means to the customer. After all, that is the raison d’etre for consultants, and it should be the context in which everything else about consulting services gets defined.

In trying to understand what consulting services could mean for the customer, we need to consider the results – the deliverables and the outcomes – that the customer gets. The ‘how’ of consulting is also a component of what consulting services mean, but not from the customer’s point of view. That is more important for the consulting provider to know and be good at. More of the ‘how’ in later sections.

Let’s begin our exploration of consulting services by understanding the expected deliverables and outcomes of providing consulting services.

  1. Deliverables of Consulting

The core of the deliverables from a consultant is usually a Report. The report typically begins with an “Executive Summary”, and contains the “Objectives of the Assignment” for which the consulting was undertaken, the “Facts and Data” that were considered, the established and credible “Bodies of Knowledge” that the consultant used, and the “Recommendations” of the ‘solution’ or ‘answer’ to the customer’s problem, or question.

Report

      1. Executive Summary
      2. Objectives of the Assignment
      3. Facts, Data & Studies
      4. Analysis (with ref to established bodies of knowledge)
      5. Recommendations

The thinking and analyses done by the consultant is inherent in the recommendations, and we can say that the report is a result of the consultant’s thinking. Typically, the detailed analyses and logic applied is not elaborated in the report unless the solution is heavily research oriented, or if it is complex and difficult to comprehend.

I have also seen many reports of consulting assignments where the Consultant was expected to validate and coherently re-present the analysis and solutioning done by the customer. In such cases the Consultant is ‘used’ as a credible third-party offering recommendations on which the insiders want a stamp of external, neutral approval.

In every case, it is an expectation that the recommendations, if followed, will lead to the outcomes desired, and will not create any new or bigger problems than might already be there. If anything, the recommendations are expected to reduce current problems by leveraging on as many synergistic opportunities as possible.

Typically, the Report is not only submitted but also presented by the consultant so that all implications of the contents are grasped completely, and any follow-up questions are addressed responsively and coherently.

The deliverables can be summarized in one line as follows:

“A Report including the Investigation, Learning, Research, Analysis and Experience-based Advice that Solves the Customer’s target problem/opportunity.”

2. Outcomes of Consulting

The primary outcome for the customer has to be their success, once they implement the recommendations. Without this expectation of success being met, the customer would never value the consulting exercise.

Another important outcome of consulting is the reputation it creates for the consultant. For a consultant, their reputation is critical to build up, because their credibility is important for the recommendations to be accepted, as well as for growth in their engagements. For a consultant, the two important elements in their reputation are respect for their caliber, and appreciation for what they are able to bring as outcomes.

The two outcomes from any successful consulting engagement are:

      1. Success for the Customer
      2. Respect and Appreciation for the Consultant

2. When are Consulting Services required?

These are the four situations in which consulting services are sought by customers:

    • When the Customer doesn’t know what the solution is
    • When the Customer doesn’t know what the problem is
    • When the Customer doesn’t know how to implement the solution
    • A combination of the above conditions, in any proportion

It may be natural to jump to the conclusion that consultants provide solutions, but the truth of the matter is that consultants often need to be called upon when the problem itself is not known or identifiable. For instance, a client organization might be suffering dropping productivity for the last two years, and a few initiatives may have been tried out by the management but did not help.

This would be a good point to bring in a consultant with more/diverse experience in resolving productivity issues. The consultant would be able to assess and analyze the realities within and around the organization to put together and propose solution options to the management.

Consultants with implementation experience are also sought out when the solution may have been identified and even detailed out to some extent to give the client confidence that it will work, but they may lack the capacity and capability to manage the execution/implementation. A consultant in this case would be a good temporary addition to their workforce to see through the solution to its effective implementation.

In general, consulting services are called upon in a wide variety of situations. Consultants may be sought out for any of the following types of solutions, and more:

Designing solutions to problems
Identifying the problem(s)
Competition analysis

Formulating strategy
Implementing new technology
Managing functions

And others…

3. What does it take to provide Consulting Services?

Consulting services typically follow the lifecycle outlined below. The sequence of stages/steps may be somewhat iterative depending on the situation and the ease/difficulty in accomplishing each stage, but the stages are all necessary to go through for the consultant.

The lifecycle of consulting can be visualized like the Greek symbol for ‘sigma’ (see Fig. 2 below). Starting at the point where the arrow points, follow the shape clockwise through the stages a, b, c, d, and e. The description of each stage is in the paragraphs that follow the figure.

Fig.2: Sigma of Consulting

a. Understanding the Problem from the Customer’s point of view

Consulting begins by building a good understanding of the ‘problem’ which the customer has articulated. It is important to identify all the opportunities that are being missed, as well as their effect on the ‘pain’ that is being created by those. Typically, the ‘pain’ is voiced by the customer and evident from data points of the outcome(s) not meeting desired goals.

P.R.O.B.L.E.M.: Perceived Risk of an Opportunity not Being Leveraged to Enhance the Meeting of goals. 

Understanding this ‘problem’ wisely is key to consulting.

b. Understanding the ground Realities 

Diving deeper into the causes and data, the next stage after identifying the problem(s) is to understand the realities of the situations in the customer’s organization and environment that have a bearing on the Customer’s pain points. Getting rid of biases and building a rich fabric of evidence and data is critical to correctly understand the reality, and therefore all the possible causes that lead to the effects.

This stage involves investigating all potential factors and functions, meeting various executives to understand their perspectives and experience, as well as to gather and analyze data for all relevant measures.

c. Applying Design Thinking & Problem Solving  

With a factual and unambiguous understanding of the problem and all the factors leading to it, this stage focuses on developing strategies and designing feasible solution options that have optimal impact and cost.

The steps typically follow this structure:

      • Define problem/focus/opportunity
        • Be Creative
        • Be Objective

Here is where lies the first opportunity for innovation. The creativity applied in finding new possibilities and definitions of the problem/focus/opportunity should lead to identifying obvious as well as not so obvious problems.

      • Conduct Causal AnalysisExplore all possible Cause-Effect relationships
      • Research for new/more causes/opportunitiesCritical Thinking

The findings of all research feed back into the earlier two steps above – Defining the problem, or Causal analysis.

      • Map and Correlate alternatives with impact areasDevelop Solution Sets

Going through the above steps helps in logical yet innovative solution sets, which can be compared for their respective benefits as well as costs and complexity.

d. Present Pros and Cons of Feasible Solution Options

The solution sets are presented to the customer stakeholders along with their pros and cons, and a Cost-Benefit Analysis for each solution set. Questions lead to refinement of the most suitable solutions.

e. Finalize the agreed upon Solution(s)

Build the Plan and complete the Consulting Report documentation for submission to the customer as the final deliverable.

4. Which are the Distinctive Skills for Consultants?

Distinctive Consulting Skills

This section calls out the skills and competencies that are critical for the consultant to demonstrate, for any consulting engagement to be effectively executed.

a. Customer orientation
i. Listening – to understand, appreciate the customer’s inputs and context
ii. Emotional Intelligence – to sense and prioritize pain points and opportunities
iii. Communication – specific, clear, relevant and up-front
iv. Retaining the focus on problem/benefit

b. Domain expertise – deep, broad, diverse – know/find out everything that could be relevant to the problem context, spanning all necessary facts, concepts, processes, procedures and principles of the domain and related domains.

c. Teleology – Inferences and conclusions based on teleology, discerning the purpose (effect) of every piece of information (cause) in the knowledge-map.
i. Critical Thinking
ii. Creativity
iii. Decision making

d. Communication skills
i. Language – must be the same as that of the client
ii. Written
iii. Drawn – [ref books by Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin, Draw to Win, Show and Tell)]
iv. Spoken – [ref Richard Chung (Compelling Communication-Oral Presentations)]
v. Presentation – https://summaries.com/blog/the-pop-up-pitch

e. ICT – Mastery of the Tools of Expression
Creativity has value only once it is expressed. Every creative person tends to be so because they master expression in the medium of their customer. When we are creating value for the customer, we need to master the medium(s) of creation that we (and the customer) choose to communicate in.

  1. Mastery over communication mediums.
    1. Written, Drawn, Spoken, Presented – Word, PowerPoint, diction
    2. Email – Microsoft Outlook (or any other email app of choice)
    3. Video conferencing – Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, etc.
    4. Contemporary with, and ahead of others

f. Soft skills
There are a host of soft skills that are important for a consultant’s success – focus, planning, patience, open-mindedness, etc. which are critical at various times, and a consultant picks the ones they need with experience.

Consulting is an immensely fulfilling engagement if it is done with integrity, sincerity, diligence, and also with curiosity, creativity, and passion. Consultants can be very influential in the trajectory of organizations and individuals. Consulting is one of the most respected professions, and gives you opportunities to study new and challenging situations, traveling and meeting people across the world. It is an engagement of responsibility and potential.

— O —

FOG: The Future of Growth…

Two years into the pandemic, everyone’s wondering again and still about the Future of Work. Talks and webinars and conferences are being organized to understand what organizations and people are going through. With Wave 3 (Omicron) peaking, it is pretty much agreed that the resilience of humans has ensured that we found ways to continue to operate, and economies are reflecting this resilience.

The Future of Work seems to be safe. ‘Hybrid’ is what the consensus is. But it is increasingly becoming apparent that the pandemic is in for a longer spell than we had hoped for, and the question we now have to start thinking about is – “What is the Future of Growth?”.

This question gains significance because the fresh workforce which was recruited during the last two years would have never experienced ‘pre-pandemic’ work in offices, and some of these people would also be coming up for their first role change into a bigger role, maybe supervising people remotely. But what does that mean?

We need solutions for the new problems being faced today. Many instances of “I don’t want to attend meetings” are being reported. We need to address the root of the problem (meetings were not effective nor defined with required agendas), not try to replicate what used to happen. The new joinees have never experienced in-person meetings, or workshops where they could see their colleagues face-to-face, or eye-to-eye, nor do the old KRAs/KPIs make complete sense when used for determining promotions.

There are new questions that the #futureofgrowth will need us to think about, from everyone’s point of view, the subordinates’ and the supervisors’. The realization is stronger now of the social fabric in any organization. What is the social fabric made of, what does it enable or inhibit, and how can it be replaced with wholesome and productive mechanisms.

Some questions that may have interesting answers now…

Questions From the Subordinates’ Point of View

  • How will my performance be assessed?
  • How will my promotion be decided?
  • What is the extra I can do beyond what is assigned to me, and which will win me brownie points?
  • How will I Learn by Observation?
  • From where will I Absorb Tacit Knowledge
  • Who are the Leaders? From the Social Media universe, Influencers are the leaders, do they become organizational “Gurus” as well?
  • Interpersonal motivation – how and from where do I get it?

Questions From the Supervisors’ Point of View

  • How will managers develop subordinates?
  • How to assess the competencies of subordinates?
  • How to identify the potential growth areas for subordinates?
  • Situational Leadership? What is that going to be driven by?
  • How will coaching and mentoring evolve?

Challenges For Everyone

  • Many of the familiar ways of working no longer help in the new Organization Dynamic
  • Mastering/Leveraging New mediums of self-expression – text, voice, video, language
  • How will we learn emotional intelligence?

Many questions like the ones above are beginning to gain importance, and we will have to find new answers. It is an exciting future for sure!

— O —

Money is Only Worth its Spend

Many years ago I had come across a truism I liked: “The riches of a person are reflected in how they spend their money, while their wealth may be measured by how much they have.”

There are many sayings I’ve heard about ‘the color of money is the same’ regardless of where it comes from, but over the recent years I’ve realized that the ‘quality of money’ can be established too.  I did think of the sources of wealth, some honorable, some dishonorable.  I thought of the names we give to sources of funds, and to heads of expenses.  Nothing seemed to pass all tests until I hit upon a very useful test for the Quality of Money.  The quality of money depends on what it is spent for, what it makes happen, or what causes it funds.

Spend vs Invest

When we speak of spending money in different ways, the question also pops up “Money can also be invested, how is that different from spending money?”.  A simple difference to understand between spending and investing money is to see that money that is spent, is consumed, it doesn’t return in any way except to sustain the status Quo.  In this regard, money is time, and vice versa.  Money invested however, returns manifold, or should return manifold if the investment is accompanied by attention, industry, and doing what it takes to meet the objectives of the investment.  In this way, money that is invested returns bigger, stronger, better over the time that we pay attention, are mindful, and industrious.

The Need and Money

In the bigger picture money gives us time, say by providing sustenance, shelter, and security for another few days/weeks/years, and we make our decisions of how to spend this time.  If we are blessed with fortune and wisdom, we invest this time to return stronger, better, bigger.  Which of our needs do we fulfil first with the money we have, defines a lot about the quality of money we have.

Mapping to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also gives some great insights into the quality of money that we spend or invest.

Examples of money spent or invested at various levels of Needs

Level of Need Spend Invest
Need for Self actualizationPracticing all what we are able to do, what we truly know.In Self – mind, body, soul
Need for recognition– Fees paid to enter competitions– Self improvement
– Excelling at meeting useful objectives
Need to belong– Socio-Cultural alignment (lifestyle)
– Fees for club membership
– Attending social events
– Build relationships Networking
Security needs– Maintain a house to live in– Educational qualifications
– Monetary savings and investments (stocks, banks)
– Agriculture
Biological needs– Food Shelter from natural elements

We can review the Quality of our Money, and what we are likely to achieve with it, by appropriately mapping our expenses to the needs, and classifying them as spend or investment.  This review of what we are likely to achieve with the time and money that we expend, can give us insights into how we should change, if required, our spending and investing strategies.

It is important to note that Time is a significant factor that affects the quality of money.  At different times, different needs become virtuous. The amounts of spend and investment at the various levels of needs will also change with time for each of us, across different phases of our lives – from child, to adolescent, to adult, with a family, through professional phases, etc.

What is the Quality of Your Money today?

— O —

I don’t have time for this now!

Whenever people hear of having to know something they don’t know, the common reflexive response is – “I don’t have time to learn this now”. This is almost as if regretting the fact that they missed knowing this earlier, when they may have had the choice to spend time on this. 

We only seem to have time to be more of what we are. Unfortunately so. We don’t ‘have’ the time to be different from what we are. Or at least to be different from what we think we are. We think we are bound to be the way we think we are. Think about it.  And think about where to get the time from, to be different from what we think we are.

I’ve realized that making time begins in the mind, and fructifies in removing waste reducers.  I just believe I have more time than my watch may tell me.  My to-do list is always longer than my day, but never so long that I feel defeated.  I always believe that if I’m doing something I’ve done before, I will take less time doing it again.  That’s where I ‘make’ time.

— O —

What does meaning mean to us?

We humans are a social animal. The structure of our needs has been shown by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs… from Biological up to Security, to Belonging, to Recognition, and finally of Self-Actualization.

Each one of these needs beyond the first two, from Belonging upwards, depends a lot on the meaning we build as our own from our community(ies), the recognition (appreciation) we gather, and the new (personal/original) meaning we are able to convey (add) to our community (the world we understand). What does meaning mean to us?

The book, “The Three Laws of Performance” makes the point so emphatically – “How things occur to us depends on the language we use”. What does this mean? Does language lead to meaning, or is it the other way around? Is its meaning important for us? And therefore to us?

Of course, language is a natural form of communication, and as such there will be varying degrees of ‘language’ used by different people, all of which we need to be accommodated in our understanding. That notwithstanding, does the widespread adoption of a wide vocabulary, clear, consistent, correct, and precise language have a direct correspondence with the growth and evolution of a community?

This is an invitation to a conversation on the meaning of language, and what it means to us, building from what it means to each one of us. You’re invited to be a part of this conversation right hereClick and post your thoughts and read what others are saying as well.

What does meaning mean to us?

What role does the (correctness of) language mean for all of us?

— O —

Discernment-Demands-Growth!

Meeting requirements does not grow an organization, meeting discerning demands does.  As customers, we must have discerning demands.  This is what causes our supplier organizations to grow.  So many of us will be able to relate with the growth that our own organizations had, because we had some discerning, demanding customers.  These are Premium customers to have, and every supplier is blessed when they have one.

“It’s not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It’s the customer who pays the wages.” – Henry Ford

Customers who have discerning standards, and demand their standards be met are the reason for learning and growth for their suppliers who (go through the ‘good’) struggle if they are committed to deliver quality.  Unless there is something more and better being delivered, it isn’t growth for anyone – neither the individual, nor the supplier, nor the customer.  As long as there is something good and better, the ‘more’ makes sense.  If the quality isn’t what it could have been, more just means more of the same.  This isn’t growth.  So what is Quality then?

We’ve heard promotional claims from sales pitches about the quality of products and services that will be offered by a particular supplier – “the world’s best”, “most economical”, “in the shortest possible time”, “easy to work with”, “better than the competition”, “most comfortable”, etc.  Of course there’s an asterisk(*) in every case, pointing to the fine print of the T&C (terms & conditions) that apply.  In most cases however, we, the consumers (or the customers) convince ourselves to decide to buy those products and services despite some loopholes or risks we may observe in the promises.  We take a chance.  The suppliers depend on our gullibility to swallow that impossible promise along with the compromises and discounts we may make with our own values or standards.  In a sellers’ market, goods are scarce and sellers can keep prices high.  And there are enough of us customers in this world.

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” – Ayn Rand

What do we do as consumers when we go through and experience the purchase?  We cloak our disappointments in the rationalization we do to let the supplier go scot free, without even them knowing that they fell short.  Suppliers couldn’t be happier.  We’re lapping up whatever is meted out, maybe happy in the retail therapy it provides us.  We compromise our demands for quality.

“I don’t pay good wages because I have a lot of money; I have a lot of money because I pay good wages.” – Robert Bosch

There’s always the balance between quality and price to think about.  What people may be able to afford, may not be good enough in their opinion.  In a buyers’ market, goods are plentiful and buyers can keep prices down.  Both, the suppliers or the customers could make compromises in quality, and in their demands.  Their wisdom and discernment defines the quality of their compromise at any given point in time.

“Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shuts down for ten years.” – Warren Buffett

This compromise is the beginning of the end, as far as economic growth goes, if it isn’t made with discernment.  Quality Professionals will jump up to say, “But Quality is meeting the Customers’ Requirements!”.  They will not take responsibility for the requirements being laissez-faire or their implied promise not being kept (they are covered by the T&C, you see, even if they started with the best intentions).

“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

So we seem to be faced with the question – Does the replication and scaling up of laissez-faire goods in larger volumes have a positive impact on the economic growth?  Or does the discerning refinement of product features and value propositions, and then each scaling up (albeit to a lower scale) have a bigger positive impact on economic growth.

“If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.” – Henry Ford

My own take is that as we go up the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our discernment must increase, we must demand of ourselves to be more discerning, whether we are the customer or the supplier.  The higher up we are in Maslow’s Hierarchy, the more discerning we must be.  We must develop our own discernment to match the responsibility that we take at our position in life.

A mentor once told me that our wealth is defined not by how much money we have, but by how we spend it!!

— O —

Want to Grow? Change the words you use…

Take more responsibility, be more responsible, how to use language which helps you take responsibility, even makes you take responsibility rather than give it away at every turn?

Hindi is my mother tongue, but there was something my Father used to say which struck me in a flash of insight years later!  Our language itself points us to give away responsibility and to not take it.  If what we say is also what we hear, every time we use such phrases or statements, we are telling ourselves that we weren’t responsible.

For example, take what happens when we misplace something.  In Hindi we say “cheez kho gayi, mil nahi rahi hai”.  Now note very carefully what we have done by framing our words like this.  The fact that the thing (‘cheez’) has been misplaced is expressed as if the fault was its own that it is not being found (‘mil nahi rahi hai’).

This needs more thought from us to figure out why we as a people of one language, or some other people, of another language, speak and behave differently.  One more responsible than another.  And I go back to one of my earliest writings Career Self-Reliance, where I had realized that growth happens when we take more responsibility, not when more responsibility is given to us.

Our Customers are Different! The Edge of Knowledge

We often talk about how selling in the Learning & Knowledge industry is different from selling in other industries.

It is not only because our offerings are different, it actually begins with how our customers are different.

The purpose of the L&K industry is to enhance the ability of people to perform more and bigger tasks so that they can make their own industry grow!

We must realize that the customer in this industry (Learning & Knowledge) is usually different from customers of other industries, in several ways.

1.  The first and most significant difference is in the customer’s ability to spec what they want. Because the need being addressed by them has resulted from a lack of knowledge or skill in the first place, the customer themselves do not have the ability to solve the problem by specifying the solution.  Else they would have solved the problem anyway.

This leads to a paradoxical situation.  Where business and management gurus tell us to meet the customer’s requirements, in this case the requirements need to be developed by us, the professionals, to address the needs of our customers.  At best our customers can give us their needs, their preferences, their expectations, and their constraints.  This actually is the highest domain of selling – diagnostic, consultative selling.

2.  The second difference in customers of the learning & knowledge industry is that they also do not know whether the solution we are proposing is going to solve their problem or not.  This challenge emerges because of the unpredictability of human behavior, and the managers’ inability to predict accurately what the result of better trained staff will be, beyond the hope that they will perform better.

3.  The third difference is that customer delight is rarely achieved by the same level of delivery again.  The level of delivery – in terms of content, presentation, insights, creative and critical thoughts presented – needs to keep progressing for our customers to remain consistently delighted.  This is where our industry fails when quality improvement models advocating consistency are implemented, like ISO 9001.  The models are mistakenly interpreted by us to lead towards consistency of delivery, while actually to succeed, we need consistency of customer delight, which is rarely achieved by the same product delivered again.

 

4.  A fourth difference is that our services are ‘invisible’ to the untrained eye.  It can often be presumed that it is just communication that we build, and how hard is that for someone good with language.  In reality, language is only the medium of the art of instruction.  The art of instruction involves a keen appreciation of the context and motivation of the learners, and then to address their needs and wants with and experience that satisfies them, that brings ‘content’ to the ‘discontent’.  These two necessities require the Instructional Designer to not only be sensitive to the personalities and environment of the learners, but also to the concepts and practices of the domain they will benefit from.  This leads to the art of leading from learning, much beyond the mashing of words to ‘build’ learning material that reads right.

These Perspectives  highlight the need to consult and collaborate with customers, on the identification of the design inputs for the solution as well as on the benefits of the solution once it is implemented.  The professionals servicing the needs have to be experts, with knowledge to add to what the situation demands.

This is the primary reason why selling in the Learning & Knowledge industry is always consultative.  The business that is there to be had without consultancy is low value, competitive, effort-based and routine.  If we consider the Learning & Knowledge industry to involve Creativity, the business that is there to be had without ‘selling’ also will not require very ‘creative’ contribution from the suppliers, and will be far lower in value.

It is only fair to accept that every professional in the industry cannot be an expert at everything to begin with.  But that’s the key – to selling, and to delivering knowledge or skills.  So how do the professionals address this gap?  By making sure they are the fastest learners, they learn faster than the speed at which the situation changes.  They may not be experts to begin with, but with a reasonable and structured approach to learning, they can assimilate expertise faster than anyone else, and then simplify and deliver it to the customer scenario while there is still value to solving the ‘problem’ they want to address.  By the end of a project, the professionals certainly become the experts at the topic, and they take the least time to become such solutioning experts.

This makes it amply evident that the most fundamental skill to hone for professionals in the knowledge industry, is learning.  To learn how to learn is what we become the best at, and this gives us the edge of knowing more, the edge of knowledge.

— O —

Business Development

Business Development is the strategic growth driver that every business depends upon, to continue to remain a business, and a growing one at that.  Businesses are developed at two levels, first from a strategic visionary level, and second from a go to market and execution level.  While the strategic vision sets the right business framework in place, the go to market and execution delivers output to customers and growth to the organization.  Business Development remains the greatest challenge even for established businesses and corporations worldwide.

Lets understand ‘business’ in a way that can help us understand what we need to do to develop business.

According to the Dictionary, Business has three meanings:

Business (noun)

1.  an occupation, profession, or trade: His business is poultry farming.

2.. the purchase and sale of goods in an attempt to make a profit.

3.  a person, partnership, or corporation engaged in commerce, manufacturing, or a service; profit-seeking enterprise or concern.

 

Also, BUSINESS as a bacronym reads:

Benefits Upscaled from Solutions Implemented for Needs Experienced by (customer) Segments, Sustainably.

 

Trying to define Business

A Business is the result of our efforts to sustainably grow our profit from solutions we define and implement for target customer segments, which they benefit from. 

There are several key words in this definition of Business.  These key words are critical for Business, and therefore Business Development.

The first key word is “efforts”.  We must make efforts to reach our goals.  It is these efforts that give rise to the enterprise.  Without efforts, there can be no change in state.  This is very much like Newton’s Fist Law of Motion.  Our efforts become our industry.  It is because we are industrious that we make the change happen, make the benefit happen.  It is clear also that our efforts have to be focused on the benefit being worked towards.  Efforts that are not directed, not aimed at the desired benefit are a waste of our resources.  Efforts are justified by the results alone.

The second key word is “solutions”.  Our efforts have to result in solving our customers’ problem(s).  If we do not solve any problem, or do not address any opportunity that is valued by our customers, we cannot have a business, let alone grow it.  Our solutions are the ‘value propositions’ which our customers value, what they benefit from.  Of course, we can only deploy solutions for which we have or build competencies. Our competencies depend on the abilities that we have or build towards our vision for our usefulness in our world.

The third key word is “profit”.  Profit is the margin between price and cost.  The amount of profit that a business is justified in making has many principles, but let us understand it in one simple way.  There would be an amount the customers would have to spend or invest (customers’ cost) if they were to meet their needs by their own efforts.  This would typically be much higher than what a supplier’s costs would be, because for the supplier it would be their core competency, while for the customer it would typically be a digression from their core business.  The amount of profit agreed upon therefore, lies between the supplier’s cost and the customers’ cost.  This ensures that its a win-win business relationship, so that the supplier gets more than what it costs them, and customers pay less than they would have to.  Both customer and supplier profit.  In the economic sense, profit is essential for businesses to not only survive, but to grow as well. This leads us to the fourth key word – growth.

The fourth key word is “growth”.  Growth is imperative.  Without growth businesses are not be able to survive.  The reason for this is simple.  Unless our profits grow at least as much as inflation, we wouldn’t even be able to maintain a livelihood or a lifestyle.  Lets take inflation as it is, typically at 10% per annum.  Given this rate of inflation, 10% growth in profits is neutralized by inflation itself, and we’re back to the same level of profitability as before.  To satisfy the growth aspirations of the business and individuals associated with it, the business profitability needs to grow by multiples of inflation, first to grow the profitability, then to support growing individuals, and finally to reinvest in the growth of the business.  Again, growth is imperative!

The fifth key word is “sustainably”.  Sustainability of a business is a key differentiator between a business and an initiative.  The sustainability of the growth in business and profit is what makes one business stand taller than others.  Without sustainability, businesses become seasonal rushes of commercial and developmental activity.  Sustainability comes from a critical mass being achieved, and with the investment in the vision to develop people and processes to focus on “efforts”, “solutions”, “profit”, and “growth”.

 

The Eight Practices of Business Development

1. Identifying Core competences and differentiating value

2. Validating the Needs Analysis – for the Business and the Customer

3. Identfying the Target Segments – Business and Consumer – Market scope and size

4. Defining Value Propositions – Entry points, Sustainable, Scalable

5. Plan for Development and Delivery of Value Propositions – make/buy,

6. Establishing Partnerships – G2M, Consulting, Expertise, Suppliers, Execution

7. Supply Chain Management – Roll-outs, Execution

8. Developing and Implementing Business Improvement Strategies and Plans – Continually

 

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Competency, Performance, Achievement, Growth

Over time we all realize that the most important competency we need is the competency to assess competence. Without it we have no hope of leveraging the unfathomable potential of humans towards any achievement, and we become limited in what we can achieve ourselves.

In the beginning of our contributing and being useful in life, we contribute with our own achievements, driven by our own competencies. As we achieve more in response to the perpetual need to achieve more, we reach the thresholds of our own limitations. It becomes imperative then to be able to help others achieve more with their competencies, to stay together on the growth path, growing in what we achieve together.

We shall soon explore how competencies lead to achievements, what are the intermediate stages and steps, and how we can direct them better.