Reader mailbag: Insiders vs Outsiders

In Alan Weiss’s world, a consultant earns trust through degrees, credentials, and a whiteshoe resume. Here’s some advice for the rest of us.

In my last email about personalized rhetoric, I tried not to go off on too many tangents.

For example, I didn’t comment on those who robotically use the same sign-off after every email (Cheers, Yours); that’s impersonalized rhetoric.

But I did go off on a footnote-tangent((When the phrase footnote-tangent is invoked, Sir Richard Francis Burton’s name must be invoked – in a footnote. I am pretty certain I have at least a couple readers who know why)) about Alan Weiss. I said:

“In ‘Million Dollar Consulting’ (the only book of Alan Weiss’s you really need to read), the strategy is to save up enough to live on for a year so you have the leverage to turn down prospects who aren’t an ideal fit; of course, he also assumes you have a prestigious MBA and have worked in an investment bank or Big 5 consulting. If that’s not you, you might need to demonstrate your expertise in your content marketing”

A reader urged me to expound on this:

Hey Rowan, Tell me more as it applies to why you feel the above is a “truth”.

Excellent prompt, thank you J. First of all, Alan Weiss does have another book that’s worth reading, Value-based Fees

Secondly, I don’t have a deep knowledge of Alan Weiss. My observation comes from (a) reading two of his books and (b) working with his tribe – the pedigreed consultants whom his books target. Key points on the pedigree are a brand name degree, an MBA or similar, and a work history at a Big 5 consulting firm, or one of their few hundred offshoots collectively comprising the management consulting world. 

Firms like these subcontracted work to the marketing technology and data consultancy I co-owned for 8 years. In theory, the subcontracted work was implementation, such as building a web platform or creating a new digital product out of a Drupal and CRM integration. But as my readers in the digital world know, it is impossible to separate “hands work” from strategic work in our space. So along with implementation, we gave them strategy – and they resold that as their own. I bear them zero ill-will because business is business. This is just what happened.

They leveraged their sales advantage to mine the expertise of digital firms and resell it. 

This is the same model as dropshipping – you don’t actually own the factory or know how to do anything at all, you but you find someone who does then re-sell their work to someone who needs it.

Why does this happen? Primarily trust and risk. For very large firms, it doesn’t make sense to risk talking to, let alone hiring, a non-pedigreed consultant to give you, in this case, a digital product when you could hire a pedigreed one to do so. You can trust a pedigree to deliver.

It doesn’t make sense to buy a non-pedigreed racehorse when you could buy a pedigreed one. It’s risky

But what if you’re a racehorse?

Then prove it.

The unknown firms, the niche digital, creative, and technical firms, have to create their own trust by becoming visible experts through content marketing. This means consistently writing and speaking about your work – by newsletter, blog, case study, podcast, book, youtube channel, webinar. The writing itself will make you an expert 3x to 4x faster. 3 years instead of 10 years.

Of course, Alan Weiss does not specifically say, “you must be pedigreed to be successful as a consultant”. But that is the clear implication. In fairness, that’s partly down to his own content marketing strategy – his audience is institutional management consultants needing advice and inspiration to make the leap to becoming independent consultants. And by the way, his advice is generally excellent – any owner of a business that provides complex B2B solutions can learn something from it.

Except about the value of content marketing.

Have a lovely weekend – stay healthy!