Digital Consulting -- Where does it fit in your marketing team?


As digital consultants, we often talk about how we serve "the umbrella" of digital strategy -- meaning our team has expertise across the gamut of digital marketing services, and we can help develop strategies from edge to edge. But from the client's perspective, how do you know how/where/when/why to engage with a digital consultant (or consulting firm)? Is it even a role that has a place on your team?

Unsurprisingly, the answer varies. Some organizations have no need for external help; some organizations need directional guidance, but no tactical support; some organizations need an external consultant to come in and fully run the show.

So, which organization are you?

We got this -- no digital consultant needed

If your team is pushing the upper boundaries of marketing maturity and has the results to prove it, chances are you don't need the help of a consultant. That's obvious, right? But let's break it down a little further and talk about this high level of digital maturity: 

  • You know the purpose of your team -- When the CEO asks what you're up to, you have 100% confidence in explaining to her exactly what your team is working on, and why it's critical to the success of the company.
  • You have a clear operations structure -- Not only do you know the purpose of your team (what you strive to achieve and why), but you also have the blueprint to build from. You know the disciplines necessary to achieving your business goals, and you have resources in place (or identified) to make the right things happen.
  • You have the resources you need to fulfill your vision -- You have the right team members working on the right things at the right time in the right way. Your team also has the tools and educational resources they need to keep moving forward.
  • You've purged any and all waste from your processes -- Your team works seamlessly with each other, you have tools that are scaled to fit your exact scope of work, and you have a diligent process for determining the return value of your activities to help prioritize only high-value work.
  • You have a forward looking roadmap that outlines new trends and initiatives your team will pursue to stay ahead of the curve.

If this describes you and your team, you are officially rockstars! You should be proud of the fact that you've achieved a higher level of maturity than virtually every other marketing team in existence.

To put it simply: A digital consultant can't help you.

We have the pieces, but we don't know exactly which moves to make

In my opinion, this is the scenario in which most true digital consultants shine. As the client, you have done an amazing job in wrangling resources, team members, and even overall vision for your department, but it may still feel a bit like controlled chaos. You haven't experienced the "click" of everything falling in line to work harmoniously with one another.

If this describes you, you may find that the outside perspective and experience of a consultant can be exactly what you need to get over the "controlled chaos" hump. A consultant can come in, assess your current state of operations, and serve as a strategic advisor to help you shape the department into what it needs to be.

Did you notice the wording of that last sentence? "Serve as a strategic advisor TO HELP YOU shape the department..."

A good consultant doesn't want to come in and take the reins from you (the marketing leader). Rather, they want to do everything in their power to enable you to drive the results that you want to see. A solution can and will only be a long-term one if it is fully owned and operated by embedded leaders. After all, when the consultant disappears at the end of the engagement, the strategy has to continue on -- meaning it needs your leadership to stay alive.

A consultant who comes in and simply tries to take the steering wheel from you is probably not one to be trusted. Sure, they may be smart and well intentioned, but they do not have their eyes set on the long term.

In this case, a digital consultant will partner with you as the leader to fully assess the capabilities of your team, and compare them to the ideal state of operations. From there, they will help you to identify those key areas of improvement that will help "connect the dots", or bring your pieces together to serve your company's vision.

We're a new team, and need digital consulting services to help us figure out what to do

As the market demands "digital transformation" from companies, we find a lot of teams or individuals are thrown into the role of digital marketing without much direction or guidance. In extreme cases, we find teams that are simply assigned digital accountability, even when they have no digital experience.

In these extreme cases, the role of a consultant can be much more all-encompassing. Not only do you need to assess the capabilities of your team, but you need to define an ideal state, formalize the vision of the team, establish operations standards, set goals & objectives, define roles and responsibilities, develop marketing strategies for digital, and ultimately execute all of the above.

Again, a digital consultant's role is not to swoop in and do the marketing work for your team (if that's what you're looking for, you actually would benefit from a marketing agency, rather than a digital consultancy. But don't even think about hiring an agency until you have a sound digital strategy). Rather, your consultant (or in this case, consulting team) will help you build your digital program from the ground up. Starting with the most foundational aspects of team operations, all the way through channel strategies and tactical planning.

A consultant can be a hugely instrumental member of your team in this scenario, but remember -- it's still YOUR team. Whatever strategies, models, methodologies are implemented, they should not hinge on the participation of the consultant or their team. They are there to help you build your internal capabilities -- not to design a system that ensures their future involvement.

Where do you go from here?

Your next step is to assess your current state of digital marketing & operations. As you were reading through the 3 different scenarios, did you find yourself nodding along to one more than the others? If so, there's a good chance that's where your digital marketing maturity falls.

If you read through the scenarios but are still stumped, you may benefit from a digital marketing maturity assessment. This is where a consultant is brought in purely to help you assess the current state of affairs. A good consultant will be fully transparent about what they find, and at times, brutally honest about opportunities for improvement. But the result of this assessment should give you a crystal-clear understanding of how you should move forward -- with or without external strategy consulting.

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About the Author
Justin is the owner/founder of Fox Consulting Group, and a lead consultant for strategy engagements.

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