If you’re the owner or CEO of a business-to-business company, you may be asking yourself the question “Why hire a consultant for strategic planning?”
A consultant with expertise in strategic planning works with business owners and CEOs on identifying the best longer-term growth opportunities, developing the business strategy, and creating a detailed action plan to make it happen.
Why Is Strategic Planning Important?
Before exploring why you may want to hire a consultant to help with strategic planning, let’s look briefly at why you should be conducting strategic planning for your business in the first place.
Strategic planning involves setting the long-term direction of the company. It deals with making smart decisions about what the company is going to do to beat – better yet, avoid – the competition.
Strategy is about focusing the right markets, selling the right products. Which markets to enter, which ones to exit. It’s about defining a clear positioning and value proposition to stand out in the marketplace.
Good business strategy also involves thinking about partnerships, M&A, and joint ventures. Strategy touches on all aspects of the organization and considers the marketplace and all external factors to position the company for long term success.
Without a sound business strategy your firm is like a ship without rudder. Left to the wind and the currents, you have no control over where you’ll end up.
So, yes, strategic planning is important if you want to take the initiative and be in charge of your company’s future.
Why Hire a Consultant for Strategic Planning?
Planning sessions led by a company executive usually fail to produce breakthrough results. Old topics get rehashed, the status quo does not get challenged, and sensitive questions are avoided.
The result: little to no changes to the existing direction of the business. You’re likely to end up with basically the same “strategy” as before. Or, no strategy at all, but a number of short-term, tactical decisions without impact on the longer-term direction of the firm.
Working with an experienced consultant produces a better outcome: a well-defined, competitive business strategy and a detailed action plan. Clarity about the long-term direction of the business and where and how the firm is going to compete.
Here are a few areas where a consultant can make all the difference.
Facilitating the planning sessions
By facilitating the meetings the consultant keeps the process on track by:
- Coaching, advising, and guiding the team through the process.
- Keeping everyone focused and actively involved.
- Making sure the key issues are brought up and that no shortcuts are taken.
- Keeping track of all discussions, brainstorming sessions, and decisions.
- Maintaining documentation.
Management can now be actively engaged, without the distraction of having to run the meetings as well. This greater level of involvement results in management developing more ownership of the strategy. This is very important for successful implementation.
Supplying methods and tools
A consultant brings proven planning methods and tools. The methodology provides the framework for gathering market intelligence, conducting discussions, identifying and evaluating options, and sound decision making.
The result: a more robust outcome than what might have come out of an ad hoc approach.
Providing unbiased advice on business strategy
As an “outsider”, a consultant offers a fresh perspective, not influenced by corporate culture, groupthink, or any “not-invented-here” attitudes. The open and frank discussions create clarity and generate new ideas.
Working with a strategic planning consultant enables you to learn more about the process and become familiar with the methods and tools themselves. More importantly, you’ll learn to adopt a strategic mindset. This has benefits far beyond the initial strategic planning project.
In addition, on subsequent strategic planning efforts, management will already have a good understanding of the process. With or without the support of a consultant, the planning sessions will have greater focus and be more productive. The result is a more effective process for updating the firm’s strategic plan.
Effective and practical strategic planning for B2B firms
Assessing capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses
To learn about the state of the business and its competitive position, a consultant will conduct an objective, thorough assessment of the firm. Good or bad, they should always call it as they see it.
A candid assessment of the business is important to identify the strengths and weaknesses and it helps uncover opportunities that should be explored.
Asking probing questions
While being sensitive to corporate culture and professional “bedside manner” are important, a good consultant should not avoid bringing up sensitive topics.
The essence of strategic planning is about setting a new direction and creating a competitive advantage. If difficult topics are avoided, developing a business strategy is futile.
The consultant was brought in to assist management with developing a plan to grow the firm, not to rubber-stamp the present situation and leave things the way they were.
Conducting market research and analysis
Longer-term, strategic decision-making requires good information. It should be data-driven and fact-based.
An experienced consultant collects market intelligence, carries out research, and conducts analysis on markets, customers, competitors, and industry trends. This generates the insight that’s critical to identifying and evaluating the right opportunities for growth.
In addition to the market research, the consultant can create forecasts, financial models, and conduct “what-if” scenario analysis.
Developing an action plan
The strategic planning process and chosen business strategy need to be properly documented. A good consultant helps with developing the strategic plan.
In addition, the consultant makes sure that business goals, strategies, tasks, budgets, and timelines for the strategy implementation are properly defined and documented in the strategic plan.
Implementing the action plan
Without implementation the entire planning effort will have been futile. It’s in the implementation where the business strategy comes alive.
Unfortunately, research shows that many strategic initiatives flounder due to a lack of committed execution.
By being involved in the execution the consultant can continue to provide advice on the impact of the business strategy and the need for any course corrections.
The Bottom Line
Working with a consultant should produce a better, more robust strategy for your firm. A strategy that puts your business on a solid path to success.
Often, it takes an outsider to challenge the status quo, question weak assumptions, point to blind spots, and shake up corporate group-think. An experienced consultant does that and more.
Hopefully, this post has shed some light on why you may want to hire a consultant for strategic planning for your firm. Looking forward to your comments.