CommCorner guest 005: John Soper

John Soper founded New Paradigms Marketing Group in 1994. He consults with his clients in market development and strategic alliance formation. A Silicon Valley native, John has consulted many tech companies in the Valley through their start-up phases and beyond. Clients come to John for guidance when establishing business partnerships and scaling their business products. His work is focused on building the infrastructure that will support the business as it completes its products, maximizes its distribution and differentiates from its competition. 

Whether you're an established business with clunky and inefficient partnerships or a start-up looking to establish and expand operations, John has decades of experience handling those exact scenarios. When he's not consulting big tech, John is probably sitting at the piano, composing and playing music. If you spend any time with him at all, it won't be long before you realize the effect his musical proficiency has on his intellect and the way he approaches the orchestration of organizations. 

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We love silos - on farms, not in your business.

Companies work hard at reducing silo disconnects.  But an increasing reliance on consultants encourages new silos.  Consultants specialize; that is how they add value.  However, it is that very value add that has the potential to introduce new silo issues.

We love multiple specialists, but only ones that work together.

We’ve all seen this play out in medicine, for example.  You go to a specialist because you want the very latest expertise and research to focus on your issue – their value-add.  But if you are unfortunate and are dealing with more than one issue, you might need to see another specialist.

And if you are unfortunate, you are now receiving more than one non-synergistic treatment.  If you are really, really unfortunate, you are now receiving treatments that potentially work at cross purposes. 

In the best case, you are being reasonably well treated, but there is often a lack of communication between your providers … so each of your providers (consultants) is providing you with good  treatment … but not the best holistic treatment your body (business) deserves. 

Hopefully problems only happen at the margin. But, to go back to business, our focus, the margins are where you get, or lose, your competitive advantage.

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Your business runs best as a tightly integrated ecosystem.

All the components of your business ecosystem -- product, marketing, sales, finance, R&D, HR, etc. -- need to share:

Information

For example, if your product, marketing and sales teams are not sharing margin information with finance, and vice-versa, you may end up with and end-of-quarter surprise.

Strategy

All your teams need to be working toward the same destination using the same road map and following the same route, or they may end up in different places! We all understand this obvious fact, yet it is surprising how difficult this is to manage. In the best case, managing strategic focus is just a matter of communication and alignment; in the worse case, it can involve employees going rogue.

Culture

Integrated information and strategy are not enough by themselves.  A common culture provides norms and practices that guide how information is used and strategy implemented.

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Then there's the addition of expertise...and walls.

By now you are probably saying, “OK, I know all this.”  We are highlighting these issues here to emphasize the tricky balance that occurs when you go outside your company for consulting expertise or capacity.  You get help that may be critical to your growth.  At the same time, by definition, you are bringing in people who may present issues in all three areas - information, strategy and culture integration - without the benefit of familiarity with the culture of your business.

It’s all about balance.  Understanding that you need to focus on achieving that balance is one of the most important keys to maximizing your consulting leverage — and it is often one of the most overlooked issues.

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A key balancing act

Consultants need to be read into your key information flows, strategy, and culture.  On the other hand, if you exert too much effort trying to achieve this integration, you might as well just hire your consultants! But too little integration, and you miss much of the value-add you are trying to achieve. Tricky indeed.