Sunday, August 24, 2008

Measuring the Value of a Marketing Measurement Project - Part 1

I’ve been toying recently with the notion that traditional consulting is being replaced by a self-service model. In this vision, “clients” would fill out standard scorecards to guide them through an analysis, and then use the results to tell them what to do next. For example, a “gap analysis” scorecard might list various Web analytics capabilities; seeing which were missing from the client’s own company would show where it is weak. Obviously an expert must still create the scorecards and define the actions implied by different answers. But once this is done, the consultant is out of the picture and largely out of a job.

I’m not yet certain whether this truly makes sense. Consultants have always had forms of their own, so that part isn’t new. Creating “intelligent” forms that present recommendations based on user entries is something that takes a bit of technology, but nothing major. You could do it in Excel. In any case, it’s logically no different from looking up the answers in a book. So there’s nothing significantly new there, either.

If anything material has actually changed, it’s the attitudes of the erstwhile clients. People today are simply used to looking up information for themselves instead of relying on experts for the answers. So maybe they’ve just now become ready for a self-service solution that could have been provided long ago.

As a professional consultant, I don’t find this a pleasant prospect. I certainly believe that my experience, intuition and judgment can’t be captured in a set of simple decision rules. But what I believe doesn’t matter: it’s what the paying customers believe. If they convince themselves that selecting a vendor can as automated as selecting an airline ticket, then I will be as obsolete as your local travel agent.

Of course, the way to avoid that fate is to demonstrate added value, and I do try. Still, it never hurts to hedge your bets. So I’ve been thinking about what kind of forms I’d need if my business evolved away from traditional consulting towards a self-service model.

(Incidentally, I’m very eager to coin the phrase “Consulting as a Service” to describe this approach. It’s a bit redundant, since consulting has always been a service. But it does capture the remote-access, plug-and-play nature of the thing, not to mention sounding delightfully trendy. Or is the whole “[Whatever]-as-a-Service” patter already passé? How about “cloud-based consulting” instead?)

The next post in this series will look at a specific spreadsheet: one to measure the value of a proposed marketing performance measurement project.

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