Product Consulting Defined: What To Look For In A Product Consultant
Updated: Aug 6, 2021
Author: Stephen Newman, Founder Product Insight
Product Insight is a Product Consulting firm specializing in Product Management, Product Marketing and Pricing Consulting services
What is Product Consulting and Why Should You Engage?
Product Management Consulting | Product Marketing Consulting
For SaaS-based software companies looking to achieve rapid product adoption and recurring revenue growth, attaining, and sustaining product market fit is particularly important. You not only have to have the technology and positioning to win the customer with a solution to their problem, but the value you provide must continue to expand to retain high renewal rates year after year. The skills required to create a winning product strategy, marketing strategy, go to market strategy, customer success strategy, and then execute on all of them is immense. The charter of responsibilities on Product Management and Product Marketing teams is difficult to achieve even if you are staffed with the most amazing superstars in the industry and the best automatic espresso machine in the break room.
Product Consulting defined
Simply put, Product Consultants help organizations accomplish their objectives, both near term and long term. But their approach is different from staff augmentation and more strategic than hiring business management consultants. Product Consultants are experienced, field-tested practitioners of the dark arts of Product Management and Product Marketing. They have a passion for working with talented cross-functional teams to bring products to market, ready to dive-in and roll up their sleeves to accomplish whatever challenge you may face. But they are also experienced managers, coaches, and mentors who seek to transfer their knowledge and experience to your team so that your organization is stronger once a project is over.
When to consider a Product Consultant
There are numerous scenarios for when a technology company may consider using Product Consultants, but here are some examples:
A mismatch exists between business goals and product strategy
A need exists for competitive differentiation and innovation
No product vision to gain customer confidence
Daily struggles to have a strong product team while remaining a Sales focused company
M&A is driving the need for product reconciliation
Cross-functional communication is missing on product direction
Talented individuals running products, but need to develop additional skills
Pricing / packaging (learn more here) is complicated (a.k.a. - a mess)
Benefits of using a Product Consultant
Later we will share more specifics on the types of consulting services you would enlist Product Consultants to help you achieve your goals. But for now, what’s important is for you to consider the benefits you can achieve with Product Consultants:
High-quality deliverables to achieve your organization goals, fast
Objective, third-party guidance
Ability to jump in and get things done – big or small
Experience in achieving cross-functional alignment
Transfer of project knowledge through comprehensive deliverables and product skills through coaching and mentoring
Of course, not all Product Consultants will be a fit for your specific need. The next section will cover the key things to look for when hiring a Product Consultant, but one word of advice is to not fall into the trap of believing you need a Product Consultant that is a subject matter expert in your field. While in some cases that expertise may help, often it is the product management and product marketing discipline your team needs and not another subject matter expert.
“Product Consultants are experienced, field-tested practitioners of the dark arts of Product Management and Product Marketing.”
What to Look for When Hiring a Product Management Consultant or Product Marketing Consultant
Product Consultants should be considered to address challenges your team is facing, whether that problem is tied to bandwidth, skills, or the need for an objective third party viewpoint. When looking for a Product Consultant, consider their expertise, their approach to deliverables, their soft skills, and of course their fee structure.
Product Consultants must accelerate your progress, not slow it down. Seek Product Consultants who have devoted their life to their craft, ideally having started as an entry level product manager or product marketer and earned their way to executive management. It is these consultants that have honed their skills and understand the discipline necessary to be successful. In some scenarios having a Product Consultant who is a subject matter expert in your field can be critical (e.g., performing a competitive analysis), but often the intent of the Product Consultant is to knock a project out of the park by extracting your staff’s subject expertise and putting the consultant’s product expertise to work for you.
When checking the Product Consultant’s expertise:
Verify their Product Management and/or Product Marketing growth and experience
Ask for previous engagements where they have delivered the similar value you are seeking
While certifications such as SAFe™ or Pragmatic Institute (AKA Pragmatic Marketing®) can be valuable, they aren’t a replacement for real world experience. Understand what modern approaches the consultant practices for your project.
Expect any proposal to detail the planned approach for the project. If the Product Consultant is experienced, they should be able to layout their approach to tackling the project clearly and concisely
Any consulting project, big or small, will have deliverables, but the quality of the deliverables may vary tremendously. While a polished final report does illustrate the consultant takes pride in their work which is important, look beyond the style and examine sample deliverables for the following:
Conciseness: Consultants sometimes believe length of reports equals value. And while some deliverables may in fact require a significant volume of content, examine if the contents are communicated efficiently and effectively to achieve the goal of the project.
Comprehensiveness: While this may seem in conflict to the first point, it doesn’t. While final reports often are better in a concise format, ensure the consultant delivers comprehensive work product so your team will have both all the raw materials and derivative works so they may fully take over maintenance of the deliverable at the end of the project.
Knowledge Transfer: At a minimum, consultants should be willing to perform knowledge transfer sessions. However, depending on the project there may also be a need to specify the consultant to document and notate the aggregation of raw data and the analysis of the derivative work. The best consultants bring client personnel into the process so that there is an opportunity for inclusion, natural coaching, and knowledge transfer.
Most product consulting engagements require cross-functional interaction within your organization, often working with executives and at times board members. For the project to be successful, you will want to be certain that the consultant will be well received. As guidance, we will borrow from the concept of Emotional Intelligence (or Emotional Quotient / EQ) made popular by Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” and “What Makes A Leader” and make parallels of how they relate to soft skills you should look for in a Product Consultant.
Fees and Cost Structure
There is no right or wrong approach to consulting fees and cost structure, but here are a few typical structures and the pros and cons.
Types of Product Consultant Services
In general, there are three types of services offered by Product Consultants: Strategic Engagements, Tactical Engagements, and Coaching / Mentoring.
Strategic Engagements are typically forward-thinking efforts that have meaningful impact to your business. Organizations often have the raw ideas necessary to drive strategic changes to their business yet lack the bandwidth or focus to dedicate to the process of developing the strategy. Oddly enough, the benefit the Product Consultant brings is the tactical skills and discipline to lead your team through the creation of new strategy. Sample strategic engagements may include:
Product Strategy, Vision, and Roadmap
Go To Market Strategy
Positioning / Messaging
Product Team Transformation
Cross-functional Alignment Strategies
Tactical Engagements often are narrower in scope, seeking meaningful insight or data to inform important decisions. Often tactical engagements include performing an assessment on how a particular approach, process, strategy, or team is performing or it involves performing very specific market research. Some examples of tactical engagement for Product Consultants may include:
Product Team Assessments
Go To Market Gap Assessments
Win / Loss Assessments
Voice of the Customer Market Analysis
Product Launch Execution
Organizations turn to coaching engagements from Product Consultants most often when they have a talented individual in which they have chosen to invest in and help them grow into a position. These individuals are typically high achievers who bring immeasurable value to an organization but have gaps in their experience in some areas of the Product Management or Product Marketing role they are performing. Coaching provides a one-on-one engagement model that surpasses training classes or certifications. Most Product Consultants who offering these types of services have experience at every level and can offer:
Product Executive Coaching
Product Manager Mentoring
Product Marketing Manager Mentoring
How Product Consultants Differ from Other Consultants
Product Consultants are typically historically practitioners who have converted to consultants later in their career. They are field tested. They have built, marketed, and sold products from ideation to launch to end-of-life. They have honed their craft and bring experience to any project they engage in.
Product Consultants don’t view themselves as ‘staff augmentation’ although at times they might fill a role for a period of time. Instead, Product Consultants seek ways to enable and empower your team to achieve your goals through strategic, tactical, or coaching engagements. They seek to accelerate your progress, not maintain the status quo. Product Consultants bring their expertise to bare for their clients and typically have very quick ramp up times.
Most Product Consultants would also not consider themselves ‘management consultants’. While both types of consultants can offer tremendous strategic and tactical deliverables, Management Consulting is often about helping organizations improve their performance/execution in areas such as mergers, organizational design, operations, finance, IT, digital transformation, or risk management. Product Consultants focus specifically on value creation for product offerings.
Product Consultant Benefits
Organizations that engage with Product Consultants recognize they need assistance to maximize their offering’s value and want to accelerate their team’s ability to deliver. The benefits of engaging with an experienced Product Consultant include:
Product Consultants provide your organization an experienced, objective third-party who can respectfully challenge your ideas (and potentially groupthink), ensure you consider all your options, bring other insights or completeness to your strategy. They rapidly become familiar with your business, your team, and your goals and ensure your plans are built on solid grounds.
Product Consultants have the experience to ‘tactically’ execute on ‘strategic’ efforts. They can bring cross-functional teams together and lead them through a process to develop your product strategy. They don’t have to be a subject matter expert in your field, you already have that expertise. They bring their honed skills to the table to benefit your organization.
Product Consultants can take a ball and run with it. They typically don’t need much ramp up and they drive toward executing on a statement of work. Projects you and your team either haven’t had the bandwidth or the skills to accomplish suddenly get the attention they need. Your team’s goals are reached at an accelerated pace.
Whether the project is a strategic, tactical, or coaching engagement, the knowledge gained working with a Product Consultant is more than just the final deliverable. Product Consultants illustrate techniques that your team can learn from and use moving forward, enriching your team’s skills and experience.