Why you should never outsource strategy
Let me just start by acknowledging the irony in a strategy consulting firm writing an article about why you shouldn’t outsource your strategy. But hang with me for a bit, and hopefully it’ll actually make sense!
I have been working with companies — both internally as a client, and externally as a consultant — on developing strategies for quite some time. Whether it’s a strategic plan to launch a sweepstakes campaign, or a digital strategy that repositions an entire marketing team, I’ve seen a lot of different strategies from a lot of different angles. But what I’ve found over the years is that a strategy (That is, an orchestrated plan that is designed to meet certain objectives) is never fully effective when it’s outsourced. One simply cannot hire a firm to come in from the outside and write an informed plan about a business. Sure, you can hire some really smart people. Maybe even people who have worked in your industry before. But if the goal is to have a firm tell you what your strategy is, it’ll fall nearly every time. Here’s why:
An outside company simply does not have the context of the inner-workings of your specific company by which to make the most informed decisions. They don’t see the relationships, the intricacies, the day-to-day culture, or the tolerance for change. They don’t see that tiny standalone app that Fred built in 1997 that is propping up your entire technology infrastructure.
All of these things are context, and they are critical to consider in drafting, but more importantly in implementing, an effective strategy.
Let’s be honest for a moment. When was the last time you asked for a digital strategy from a web development company that didn’t ultimately point to the “need” for a new website? Or when has your social media consultant told you that social advertising just isn’t practical for your audience? What about Google Adwords? Or marketing automation? If the firm you hire for strategy makes their money by providing other marketing and development services, there’s a good chance you’re not paying for strategy — you’re paying for a robust sales proposal.
This one’s a little more touchy-feely, but it may be the most important one of all. When you craft a strategy internally, you feel a sense of ownership and connection. You’ll be excited to get started because it’s “your baby.” On the flip side, if a consulting firm drops a strategy deck on your desk and walks away, there’s no real feeling of ownership. Instead, you (as the marketing manager) get a feeling of obligation and assignment. I.e. “Cool, a new strategy that I get to implement whether I like it or not.”
In today’s rapidly changing business environment (how’s that for a cliche?), a stale strategy is as useless as that stack of 3.5” floppy disks in your desk drawer. In fact — I always tell my clients that as soon as the strategy is done being crafted, it’s already out of date and needs updating. When your strategy firm drops the mic after their strategy presentation and walks away, they are ignoring the most important part of the strategy — making sure it works in practice. In order for you to get the most out of a strategy initiative, you have to be able to bend/fold/change/tweak/adjust all of the aspects of the plan to fit the day-to-day real life of your business. That can only happen if the strategy is conceived in the environment it’s ultimately going to be deployed in.
Maybe this is just me, but developing strategies is fun. It’s one of those rare activities that is both engaging AND important for long term success — Why would you hand that off to someone else?!
Ok, now that I’ve convinced you that you should never outsource your strategy work, am I saying that you need to become a world-class strategist, and buck all of your other responsibilities? Of course not (unless that’s what you want to do — then, by all means…)!
You can still rely on the help of experts to craft your strategy, but instead of outsourcing the effort, you bring them in to support you and your internal team. Your consultant works for you. You are the owner of the strategy development project, and the consultant (or team of consultants) is there to do the heavy lifting (E.g. research, problem solving, planning etc.). It still comes back to you and your internal team to to influence the process with your knowledge and strengths, and to completely buy in to every aspect of the strategy.