Where’s the story?

Most professional services firms today can’t generate enough good material fast enough to put distance between themselves and their competitors. But that's because they're not making the most of a source of intellectual capital right under their noses: their professionals in the field.

Why are they missing what seems to be an obvious trove of good stories that will reflect well on the firm?

“You won’t get original thought leadership material from our consultants” is a refrain we often hear. And sometimes with good reason. One CMO told us recently that her firm had incentivized its professionals to contribute articles for publication. That is, they paid them to write. Not surprisingly, they generated lots of content. Sadly, the material generally was so bad that it took months of work to make just a little of it useable.

Another CMO explained to us that “As soon as we ask our consultants to produce content, they become research analysts. They send us tomes that describe everything we already know about a topic. Some of them might make credible Wikipedia pages, but they don't do anything to differentiate us.”

So why bother to talk with consultants to get thought leadership? 

Because they have stories they don’t even know they have. The stories just need to be teased out.

Of course, they don’t all have great stories. But lots of them do. Indeed, anyone on the front lines who is getting good results for his clients and is proud of the way he does it should be a rich source of thought leadership.

For example: A medium-sized IT services firm in Richmond, VA, helps companies realize value from Big Data. It doesn’t try to compete with the IBMs of the world to implement massive technical solutions for global firms, but it does help firms of all sizes, including some rather large ones, get value from Big Data without huge investments in technology.

We recently spoke with some of their front line professionals and it quickly became apparent that they do, in fact, have a singular point of view — and a track record to back it up — on how to bring value to clients with Big Data without breaking the bank. Just as importantly, they've seen how companies waste money by buying some of the latest database tools before figuring out how the business ultimately will extract the data to make it useful for analysis. That point of view became the basis of a white paper, and within a week a column in Information Week, a journal for business technology executives.

So how do you get that interesting story, that special point of view out of a front-line consultant? There are probably lots of ways, but one of my favorites was once captured for immortality by John Gardner. He advised Jim Collins that he should spend less time trying to be interesting and more being interested.

When consultants try to be interesting, they too often turn into the research analysts described by that despairing CMO. However, when they are interested – when they are talking about their successes, their happy clients, and so on — they may (with a little luck) come up with pearls of real wisdom that are important not only at the front line, but all the way up to the C-suite.

And therein lies a story.

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