Why Do Businesses Choose One Consultant (or Employee) Over Another?

Those of us who are consultants understand well that to get work, we must project both characteristics.

Businesses won’t hire us unless we appear credible and trustworthy. The questions come down to: 1) How do we project trust and credibility and 2) Why Do Businesses Choose One Consultant Over Another? The same questions apply to getting hired and being trusted as an employee.
Since 1983 I have either run a consulting business or served as a manager or executive within mid-sized or large business. Therefore, I have had to either prove the value of my consultancy or my own worth in the business world. Based on those experiences and having hired more than a few consultancies and employees and having had more than my fair share of both business successes and failures in terms of revenues and client relationships, here are the primary characteristics I think businesses look for in hiring consultants or employees.


    1. Values–What are your personal values and your business values and how do you apply them in your work?


      1. Personality–Are you someone who is easy to work with and a team player?


        1. Point of Reference–Do you understand what the business needs, where it is going, what solutions will work, and that your primary role is to produce results?


          1. Strategist or Tactician–Are you able to think and execute on strategies or are you a tactical thinker? Strategists make good consultants and leaders; tacticians make good employees and workers.


            1. Experience–What experiences do you bring to the business? Are they in line with what the business needs?


              1. Client List–Do you have a list of clients that make the potential client comfortable that you can meet its needs?


                1. References and Testimonials–What do they look like? Are they from executives, managers, and/or co-workers? Do they reference results and successes?


                  1. Presentation–How do you present yourself? Are your shoes shined and your attire suitable to the business culture? Are you confident and look people in the eye? Do you think quickly and answer strategically? Are you goal and results oriented? Do you ask questions about the business’s needs or only about yours?


                  There’s much more and please share your thoughts, as well. The point I want to make here is that at the end of the day a business hires a consultant or an employee because it trusts you will deliver the results it needs.

                  The Art of Blog Marketing

                  This is a story about building relationships online through blogging and how connecting and sharing is about the art of marketing. For this post, we will leave science aside, except for the technology required to blog.

                  Over Memorial Day weekend, a group of us met in NYC to honor CK and her recently passed momma, Sandra J. Kerley, with a tree planted in a corner of a Spanish Harlem family garden. The spot is a haven of green among the concrete, brick, glass and steel setting. Five of us gathered with CK, but many participated in the celebration through their generous donations. Some who could not join us called to speak with CK.
                  In the group were Drew McLellan,
                  David Reich,
                  Luc Debaisieux,
                  Valeria Maltoni, and me. Drew and his family flew in from Des Moines, David drove from the ‘burbs, Luc came all the way from Belgium, Valeria trained from Philadelphia and I took the commuter line from New Haven. If you want to read more about the event, each of us posted or you can click here to read my post and see the photos.
                  The gathering made me think about what brought us and so many of you together. The tool was blogging but the strategy that connects us is that of relationship building. Each of us believes that life and the part of it we call business require the art of connection to grow. Anyone can blog. It doesn’t require either great technical or writing skill to do so. But among the bloggers who I have met in-person and online, a sense of sharing, connecting and getting to know others is inherent within us. And that is a basic principle in marketing.
                  At the end of the day, marketing is not about products, services, technology, advertising, public relations, or traditional tools. It is about creating connections, what some of us may call experiences. Successful marketing gives people a reason to care about us. In business we may call the “us” our brand. That is also true in life.
                  Why did we gather in New York City, a group of strangers, some of whom had previously met, others who had never met face-to-face? We cared about each other. We had connected. We wanted to be part of the brand experience (honoring CK and becoming friends). This may seem a strange analogy. To some it may seem a bad and heartless analogy, as we are talking about a friend’s loss. But to clarify, I am talking about love for a friend and caring for her. I am talking about what we gained through CK’s loss.
                  And that’s what customers feel about brands that they are loyal to: Harley-Davidson, Starbucks, Apple, VW, Coke or Pepsi. Those companies have connected with their customers. They share their human sides, build relationships, and become friends to and with their customers.
                  They do so by telling stories and touching our emotional sides with those stories. The 40-something accountant who loves the rumble of a Harley. The 30-something mom who cherishes her escape to Starbucks Third Place Experience. The Mac lovers who hold onto their minority but special status.
                  These things don’t just happen. They happen because of the art of marketing. That same art applied to our personal lives and our businesses is producing enduring relationships, more sharing opportunities by writing for other blogs such as the Daily Fix, and work opportunities. All because of relationship building. Like me, I suspect most of you have a similar story.

                  10 Tips for Keeping Your Blog Fresh

                  Even the best bread goes stale in a few days. After a year of blogging and sharing marketing ideas, is it possible bloggers go stale, as well? I think the answer is yes. But does that mean we should shut the doors on our blogs and fade quietly into the background?

                  I think not. There is hope for refreshing and reinvigorating our posts to keep our readers interested, and I don’t believe it includes writing less.
                  Here are some of my thoughts. What are yours?
                  1. If you haven’t already done so, create a plan with measurable goals. Doing so will keep you focused and consistent, helping your readers understand what matters to you. If you don’t know wwhy you blog and where you are going, how can your readers follow your journey. And if you aren’t tracking goals, how do you know the impact of your blog.
                  2. Search the news and business wires for today’s hot business topics.
                  3. Cover those topics using a slightly different angle and ask questions for your readers to think about and reply to if they wish.
                  4. Write shorter. Most of us don’t have time to read a long treatise on any subject.
                  5. Inject your opinion but not so strongly that your readers feel no room exists for their thoughts.
                  6. Write the way you talk. Write simply. Save the big words for your great American novel. No one wants us to prove how smart we are. The writing shapes the ideas, not our vocabulary.
                  7. Keep to the subjects promised in your masthead and “About You” page. If you are a marketing blog, mostly stick to that subject. Readers seek familiarity when they visit.
                  8. Throw in a fun post once a week, such as interesting tidbits about others or music or books or TV or movies. Make it a regular feature so your reader’s expectations are met.
                  9. Occasionally, be provocative, which is a great way to get readers involved in big ideas. Be sure the subject is big enough to handle provocation.
                  10. Use names, pictures and stories of other bloggers. We like to see our names in print.
                  Finally, write for readers, not links. When we write for readers, we create words and ideas that are authentic, heart-felt, credible and worth reading. Readers are the audience, and in writing for our audience, the links will come. Going back to my first professional writing job, my editor told me repeatedly to write for readers, not for myself. All of my subsequent editors ensured that I remembered that lesson.
                  Your turn. Agree or disagree, share your secrets and ideas. How do you keep your readers coming back? What works and what doesn’t?

                  Happiness and consumption

                  When we first hear the headline “Happiness and Consumption”, the first thing we think of is the discussion whether consumption leads to happiness or not. There are several approaches to this question and we will deepen our analysis in some of the most representative ones. In any case, the issue about “Happiness and Consumption” could be understood the other way round: does happiness lead to consumption? This approach, although not evident, might be plausible, as well.

                  Seek of happiness is a relative recent concept; what is happiness? The first approach to this question might be satisfying Maslow’s pyramid of needs (of course, each individual is in a different level in each period of his/ her life). Coming to our point, mankind has always tried to achieve the levels and in the order explained by Maslow, but nowadays we need much more complex achievements to be content with the degree we perform in each level of the pyramid. Performing well in every level has become a more difficult duty, and this is the point where consumption steps in. We try to satisfy our needs with material things, which is linked to the materialistic culture of Western society, which is also spreading to the industrializing countries. There are several detractors of this view and we are going to analyze them as well.

                  MICROECONOMIC VIEW

                  We start with the most classical economic view of “happiness”:The microeconomic view of utility and goods is a consequence of the Western view of happiness.

                  Economics explains consumer behaviour and its seek of happiness in terms of utility, which is thought to be a positive function of the level of consumption of goods and services. In other words, the more an individual consumes, the happier he/she is.

                  When economists expose this theory, they portray a consumer that chooses between consumption of two goods, between consumption and leisure, and between consumption at different time periods. The consumer tries to maximize his/her utility depending on his/her prior needs. As it may become clear at this point, the needs are covered by material things. In fact, several authors define the entire subject of economics to examine how limited resources are allocated in alternative ways to satisfy human wants. According to them, the goal of economic activity is to achieve efficiency, which is usually to maximize the production of goods and services.

                  Consequently, consumption is seen as the driving force of the economy, providing people with the incentive to expend their time and energy to obtain more and better things.

                  OTHER ECONOMIC VIEWS

                  Referring to other economic views, as a brief introduction, we could compare the levels of happiness between different periods of history in which income levels vary considerably. For instance, income in the United States has risen a lot since the end of the Second World War and yet, the proportion of US population that assures to be happy remains more or less the same. More generally, time series data in individual countries that have experienced significant increases in income and consumption do not lead to significant increases in their level of happiness over time (the same applies to individuals, not only whole countries). Analyzing levels of self-reported happiness among different countries in the same period of time, we also get the same results: those that evidence higher levels of per capita income and consumption do not report to have a higher level of happiness beyond a certain level of income. Some authors show empirical proof for this, such as Deiner and Shigehiro, Frey and Stutzer, Andrew Oswald and Easterlin (who created the “Easterlin paradox”).

                  There are some possible explanations for this; first, human beings look over their shoulder all the time to compare what they own with what others own. They are on a “hedonic treadmill”; once basic needs are satisfied, humans care rather about relative than about absolute levels of income.

                  To expose the second explanation we draw back to the microeconomic view; utility grows when income does so, but each additional increase of utility is smaller than the previous one. In other words, marginal utility is decreasing. After a certain level of income, utility does not increase anymore (actually, according to the microeconomic theory, it may even decrease). Some studies suggest that in the short term people are happier – even if temporarily – but then their happiness level diminishes again.

                  Friedman and Savage propose that there are indeed some income increases that lead to increasing marginal utility; according to microeconomic theory, people are enemies of risk and therefore no one should have any incentives to take part in a lottery game. As lottery proves to be very popular in a lot of countries, Friedman and Savage conclude that marginal utility is increasing with respect to very high income growths that can change one’s life.


                  In any case, this is a very special case and we focus on the idea that happiness cannot be measured through income.

                  There are some authors in favour of the existence of a strong link between happiness and consumption, such as Frijters, Haisken-DeNew and Shields (2004), who analyzed the changes in happiness of East Germans after the transition from communism. However, their findings seem not to take into account other socioeconomic changes that took place due to the transition.


                  What if we cannot measure happiness through GDP anymore? The solution proposed by many economists is the introduction of GHL (gross happiness level). Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Buthan’s King in 1972, invented the term Gross National Happiness (GNH) to substitute GDP in order to measure quality of life and social progress in a more holistic way, introducing aspects that GDP did not contain. This approach is based on the Buddhist mentality, which states that beneficial development of human society takes place when development is not only material but also spiritual. Buddhism relies on four pillars and GHL divides these four pillars in eight categories: time-balance, social and community vitality, cultural vitality, education, living standards, good governance and ecological vitality. Bhutan proves to be a “happy country” but this is highly affected by their concept of happiness they have: Buddhist economics proposes alternative principles such as minimizing suffering, simplifying desires, nonviolence, genuine care, and generosity. Buddhists do not expect to achieve great things to be happy, but they are content when minimizing suffering. In this sense, we could quote Fontenelle`s words: “expecting too high happiness is an obstacle to be happy”.


                  One thing is not completely clear in this definition: according to what has been discussed up to this point, the question is whether we should rely on income to seek happiness, but actually income is not exactly consumption. However, we dedicated this space to talk about income and not directly about consumption because the level of consumption is usually proportionate to income. One could go a bit further and add that consumption does not necessarily imply buying things. It only implies that goods and services, independently from where they come from, are a source of happiness but we could get them by other means, such as creating them by ourselves, but we will not explain this kind of consumption in greater depth as we prefer to concentrate on consumption of purchased things, which can be expanded on consumption of ideas, lifestyles, etc.


                  Coming directly to the point of consumption, we could continue the path that we started when talking about Buddhism; the view of religions towards consumption is usually against materialism and in favour of strictly buying what we need (by the way, what we need and what we do not is another interesting issue). From the religious point-of-view, religions are supposed to give meaning to life and, in this sense, the purpose of consumption should just be to provide safety, food, shelter, etc. but in recent times consumption is competing with religions; the “religion of consumption” is being created. According to “Young and Rubicam”, one of the most prestigious communication agencies in the world, brands are now a new religion; people rely on them seeking the meaning of life. The agency compares itself with the missionaries who spread religions all over the world. The general opinion of religions is that they, just like brands, are based on powerful ideas, but whereas religions do provide a meaning to life, products just create the false sensation that we are more valuable in the eyes of others. Materialism is a disease of low self-esteem. Saint Francis of Assisi or Gandhi did not own superfluous objects that distracted their attention from the others and from God.

                  And so we come to the question already suggested above: does consumption lead to happiness?

                  All successful brands convince consumers about the fact that they –the brands- are able to satisfy the consumer’s needs. If satisfying needs is creating happiness, brands make consumers happier. The problem comes when brands keep creating new wants in consumers so that these have the impression that they never fulfill their needs completely. First, consumers need to believe that consumption will satisfy their needs and secondly, their expectations about happiness must never be achieved because they have to keep growing or changing. And in this case consumption will not lead to happiness.


                  The ideal kind of consumption would be sustainable consumption: substantial reduction of consumption (to avoid depletion of resources and to leave room for those who do not have much money), eco-friendly consumption and tradition-friendly consumption when it is a suitable option (small farmers, homemade products…).

                  Focusing on the problem of waste of resources, there comes a point where using more resources actually reduces your quality of life (and quality of life is connected to happiness). This can be seen on this graph; in this view, we do not only compare “income” with happiness, but we also include the effort to get this income, but this is usually like that in real life.


                  When you use a lot of resources and you spend a lot of money and effort on something, you eventually end up feeling overwhelmed; your mind and your life are crowded. The more you have and the more you do, the worse you feel. If you start using fewer resources, you find yourself with more free time, eating more healthily. There is a point in the middle called the point of habituation where you do not feel happier with more achievements. The goal is being exactly in the point where you are really conscious of what you use, you do not take things for granted and you understand that your actions have consequences for other people and the planet. It is the point between asceticism and waste, between self-denial and self-indulgence and it is similar to the view that religions have about consumption (only that religions do not refer directly to eco-friendly consumption).

                  The materialistic view thinks the following about those characteristics:

                  – Happier with more consumption

                  Happiness is commonly associated with a high material standard of living and many purchases are driven by the expectation that they will make life more satisfying, especially the purchase of durable consumption good and the spending of money on holidays.

                  Not happier with eco-friendly consumption

                  Consumers are optimistic and think that technology will solve the problem of resources depletion.

                  Not happier with tradition-friendly consumption

                  The fact that these products tend to become obsolete (sometimes due to planned obsolescence) is seen to convey that modern products are more attractive.

                  BRANDS AND HAPPINESS

                  So in the previous section we come to the conclusion that there is a point where we cannot be happier anymore through consumption. Let us imagine that we are not at this point yet. We start with a practical example:


                  In this case, Apple is not just selling a mobile phone, which is used to communicate with others (practical use); Apple is selling identification with a brand that target consumers value a lot (Maslow’s self-esteem level), belonging to a group of latest technology-owners (belonging level), being unique because of having a very special device (self-actualization/ self-esteem)… In this sense, the IPhone is satisfying needs that the consumers wants to satisfy in order to be happier. This needs could be satisfied by means that would not require any money, but here Apple has managed to offer something which consumers have to pay for and which Apple profits from. Whether this is ethical or not is another issue (some people could think so, but this is not the issue in this essay).

                  The question is whether the brand satisfies the need completely or it keeps stimulating wants in the consumers so that they always desire new products. This is the case for example of planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is deliberately planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so that it becomes obsolete or nonfunctional after a certain period of time. Planned obsolescence has potential benefits for a producer because the consumer is under pressure to purchase again. Products produced this way have not necessarily designed to fail technically; “fail” can simply become obsolete because they are not fashionable anymore. Examples of this can be:

                  – The creation of new IPhone models every year with new applications that Apple consumers do not want to miss.

                  – Fashion in clothes every new season (bell-bottoms are not used anymore and some years ago they were the last word in fashion)

                  – Printers designed to print a specific number of pages and high reparation costs if the consumer wants to repair it instead of buying a new one

                  – IPhone battery designed to last very little

                  – Printing cartridges that stop being produced or that have a slightly different shape from the cartridges used in new models of printers of the brand; the printer may work perfectly, but it has no suitable cartridges


                  Coming back to the personality of the brand, to make consumers identify more with them, brands try to communicate their positioning and the benefits belonging to it in their communication campaigns. Advertisers rely on topics such as happiness, youth, success, status, luxury, fashion, beauty, etc. In advertising, social contradictions and class differences are hidden and workplace conflicts that may take place in the enterprise are not shown. Advertising campaigns suggest that solutions to human problems are to be found in individual consumption, presented as an ideal outlet for mass energies.

                  This again makes us wonder whether the target population is really happy buying these products because the can only be really happy if they buy something when it is them who decide to buy it. This does not necessarily mean that they are not manipulated; advertising can manipulate them and then it is them who decide that they want to buy what the advertisement shows. Manipulating, in any case, can be interpreted as creating wants from existing needs.

                  In this sense, brands often refer in their communication campaigns to the freedom of the consumer to buy whatever he wants… by buying the product of that brand. Although it is quite paradoxical, this also contributes to the happiness of the consumer. One example:


                  CONSUMPTION OF IDEAS

                  Ideas can be consumed, as well. Brands, political parties, religions, friends, etc. surround us with ideas that forge our mentality. Actually, in the era of materialism, we are overloaded by physical products and by services and brands are not interested anymore in selling such products and services referring to their functional features; a car is not a vehicle to drive to work anymore. It is a life as a successful businessman. The ideas that products are services appeal to have already been explained in greater depth in previous sections. The interesting part here is how political mentalities or religious beliefs can be consumed as a way to obtain happiness. When you choose a certain political party or you decide whether to have religious beliefs or not, you are choosing in some way a specific lifestyle that implies a specific culture, a specific social circle, etc. and this again is a way to achieve what we consider a happy life.


                  As we already explained in the beginning of this essay, the most obvious reaction to the title “Happiness and consumption” is to think whether consumption leads to happiness, but another approach would be to wonder whether consumption can be the result of happiness as well. When we are happier, we are in the mood to do more things that please us and one of them may be consuming, just like in the example of L’Oréal’s claim “because I’m worth it”. We have the energy to afford whims we wish and our bodies provoke the chemical reaction that makes us more creative, which eventually leads to consumption to express this creativity; for example, we may have much more ideas to combine different clothes.


                  The final objective of consumption seems to be happiness, but there is a point in our level of consumption from which utility does not seem to grow anymore and Western countries have reached this point by far-actually, there are some cases where utility may decrease with an overwhelming level of consumption. Increases of happiness occur only in the short term and then consumers return to their “standard” maximum level of happiness. What companies now do continuously is creating wants from pre-existing needs in order to make consumers desire this short term happiness.

                  Anyway, what we call happiness varies among different mentalities and so we could take the example of religions. Most religions argue that consumption just leads to false illusions and, focusing on Buddhism, its concept of happiness makes in no way possible that consumption of products and services lead to it.

                  Does one take his own advice!

                  We marketing and business consultants provide our clients lots of smart advice, and when they use that advice we brag on their intelligence. When they don’t, we predict their failure. This past weekend I spent some time thinking about that and decided to check myself and my marketing firm out. I evaluated how well we do in taking our own advice and analyzed our successes and failures based on that advice. We did well, but could do better.

                  The process made me realize that among the ways we could do better is in the discovery and new and unique ways to achieve success. Although new strategies might be hard to come by, I suspect that you can offer us new ways to launch and manage those strategies for success.
                  I challenge each of us to step up to the plate and swing for the fences. What one, two or three tips work best for your clients and how do they work for you? To be a good sport, I’ll begin.
                  1. Network: No matter my client’s products or services, my first piece of advice to grow their business and to build their brand and marketing image is to get out of the office and meet others in business. They need not be potential clients, as one of the best ways to grow a business is through referrals and leads. This strategy only works if we are committed to relationship building. Build relationships and within a year your business will begin reaping the benefits of those relationships. My unique tip: I reach out to all my competitors, take them to coffee, sometimes refer business to them, and in return, they do the same.
                  2. Know What Your Best Customer Looks Like: How can you market to your best customers if you don’t know who they are and what they look like? And how can you ask for referrals and leads if you can’t describe what those referrals and leads should look like? Identify your best customers by industries, positions of decision makers (e.g., CEO, CMO, CFO, etc.), size of revenue, number of employees, geography, values, their customers, their state of growth, and so on. My unique tip: When you visit a client, notice what they read. This will tell you much about who they are.
                  3. Writing and Speaking: This goes along with number 1. Get out of the office, get known, and build relationships. Write and speak about what you know that others want to learn or seek verification. Keep in mind, it is about the audience, not about us. My unique tip: Offer to speak in exchange for expenses. I do this for those I am trying to build long-term relationships with. First, it is a nice way to honor the relationship and second, a good way to grow referrals and leads and to spread word of mouth marketing regarding your speaking ability and availability.
                  Those are three broad strategies. Feel free to share tactics that spell out specific ways to achieve strategic success in any of those categories or share new and different strategies and tactics? What works and what doesn’t?

                  Personal Branding Is Not An Option – It’s Crucial To Success

                  More layoffs. Giving back bonuses. Fewer work days to save the company from firing people. Doing the job of the three people that were let go in your department. Not hiring the five people you were thinking about hiring. Trying to find a job in this climate…

                  Whether you are an employee in a big, medium or small business, or an entrepreneur, or about to enter the workforce, never has it been more important to understand the power of having, maintaining and developing a strong personal brand. Never before has there been more ways for you to connect and build your personal brand through digital channels.

                  Never has a simple search on Google been able to tell us more about a person, who they are, what they do, and why they matter.

                  What does Google say about you?

                  If brands matter more than ever (and they do, just ask Apple, Starbucks andTwitter), then the ability for individuals to build a personal brand has never been more important. Maybe the idea of "branding yourself" seems ridiculous. It’s not. It’s a subject that famed management guru and author of the best-selling business book, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters, first tackled in 1997 for an article in Fast Company magazine titled, The Brand Called You.

                  "Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. … You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike,Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop… To start thinking like your own favourite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times."

                  Peters gave us the beginning of an insight: like big corporate brands, all of the people we connect with have some kind of similar emotions and thoughts when they think about us as people. That mental tattoo that our personas and reputations create in their mind’s eye is the essence of our personal brand.

                  But Peters wrote this in a world where individuals were limited by how they could spread their personal brands Рthe Internet was just taking its commercial shape in 1997. Now, in a world of Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, our personal brands are resonating 24-hours-a-day, and the content we put in there and link to says more about who we are, as individuals than any one-page resum̩ ever could.

                  There’s a small caution.

                  People working on their personal brand sometimes seem a little snake-oil salesy-like. They would state that they were working on their personal brand in a way that made it look like they were trying too hard. They were the same kind of people who manoeuvred through the local chamber of commerce event dumping business cards in any available and open hand No need to be that person.

                  The amazing thing about developing your personal brand online in social networks and by blogging, is that you can hone in on connecting with those that have shared values and similar interests.

                  One of the best places to get started is a search engine. Start looking for blogs in your industry, and start following some of the more notable people on Twitter. After you get a feel for the type of content people are publishing, you can dip you toes into the personal branding waters by leaving comments on those blogs or spaces. You can even go neck deep and start your own blog to demonstrate your own, unique, perspective.

                  Personal branding and the new media space creates a unique and mutually beneficial relationship. Anyone can express who they are to the world. And, if you’re not sure what you have to say that is unique and different, just remember the immortal words of Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."

                  The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette andVancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

                  Montreal Gazette – Personal branding is not merely an option – it’s crucial to success.

                  Vancouver Sun – The importance of your personal brand.