Working with Experts in Your Industry

If you have investors on board, you’ve already heard them suggest this or that ‘industry expert.’ Usually, they’re referring to a business generalist, an industry savant whom they know well and who can offer general strategic guidance. 

These ‘experts’ are not agencies in that they don’t execute anything. They offer guidance at an executive level. They may or may not do an analysis of your business before they give their recommendations. They are idea merchants.

By the time you actually hire an ‘expert,’ if you ever do, you will have already hired many, many vendors to execute something for you. And therein lies the problem, just like it does for young marketers who are trying to work with a consultant their boss’s boss hired. You may accidentally interrogate them like a vendor. Oops. Big mistake. Remember, if they are actually experts, you are lucky even to have them on the phone. 

Here’s how you need to approach these folks if you want it to work out well:

  1. Let them set the questions to explore; let them diagnose your business.
  2. Don’t micro-manage their thinking (it contaminates the independence of their advice).
  3. Be coachable, knowing you can ignore almost anything they suggest (within reason).
  4. Be honest if you don’t want to work with them; don’t communicate at all with them if you’re just doing it to please one of your investors. Experts know when someone is reaching out disingenuously.
  5. Don’t piss them off, as they are incredibly well-networked influencers in many cases.

Industry experts are the most useful when you’re doing well but are approaching an inflection (usually recent acceleration). In this scenario, you want to ensure you’re not missing anything critical as you keep the growth going. This is where experienced pattern experts can help, especially if they have an excellent diagnostic process honed through case study and client work. 

Frankly, I would find your own industry expert, not the one your investors select for you. The latter almost always are working for your investors’ business interests and lack critical objectivity. Some are just investor-paid pit bulls on a leash. 

Dr. James Richardson

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