D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

Practitioners Are The Stars – What Consulting Companies Can Learn from McDonalds

Thursday, April 30, 2009 2:25 PM

Before my metrosexual development career took off, I spent time working in the restaurant industry; four of those years were with McDonald’s.

McDonald’s is a marketing wonder. While we’ve all made jokes about the food quality or service, you can’t argue that they’ve integrated themselves into our culture and our consciousness. But how did they do that? Consider the other competitors that exist: Burger King, Wendy’s, A&W…all sell the same types of products, all have similar offerings. And yet McDonald’s is what pops into our head when we word associate with the term “Fast Food”. The reason is because McDonald’s understood the power that children had to influence their parents, and exploited that.

All quick service restaurants have some kids meal. But McDonalds goes steps further: installing massive play structures, providing free treats-of-the-week, hosting birthday parties, and ensuring that kids have a positive experience. I remember, as a crew member, being trained to ensure that “kids were the stars”: you talked directly to children, you showed interest, you gave the treat of the week directly to the child, etc. You made sure that they felt that they were the most important person in that restaurant, even though their parents were the ones paying. Of course, you also made sure the parents were taken care of as well. But the kids were the key to the success:

Repeat Business and Wins Over Competitors

Kids would pressure their parents to return and eat at McDonalds time and time again, showing loyalty over other fast food options. A screaming kid has much power in the small confines of a mini-van. Eventually, parents may decide not to even suggest another option and go straight to McD’s for their next outing.

Generational Loyalty

As the kids get older they’ll continue having a positive opinion of McDonald’s as they become the next generation of parents. What parent would ever deny their children McDonalds after it was such a huge part of their own childhood?

New Business

Maybe a child had parents that normally wouldn’t go to McDonalds (I know of some). But one visit to McDonalds as a child can mean those parents bend their opinions a bit (note the aforementioned mini-van scenario). Adults who normally wouldn’t eat at the restaurants may find themselves won over by some menu item, resulting in new business.

So what does this have to do with technology consulting? Everything!

When you look at a potential client, there are some companies that will focus on the top level people: executives, CEO’s, CIO’s, CTO’s, etc. Relationships with these people are important, absolutely. But you will have a tough time making inroads with an organization if you don’t invest time into relationships with the practitioners. The developers, the business users, the middle managers…the people that don’t have a three letter acronym starting with ‘C’ as their title; these are the people that you cannot afford to neglect or ignore. In the same way that McDonalds focuses on children (those that don’t have control over the money but do have a sphere of influence with those that do), so too should a technology consulting company focus on those in an organization that have influence over those at the top.

Participating in user groups, community events, sponsorship opportunities, and on-site interaction…all of these give your people the opportunity to build up relationships from a bottom up approach instead of solely a top down (Note I’m talking with the standard hierarchical structure of a business in mind, not suggesting that practitioners are somehow a lower class or sub-standard from those above). You need both to be truly successful.

McDonald’s gets that. They continue to market to the parents and the children, and continue to have success. Pretty good for an organization run by a clown.

D




Feedback

# re: Practitioners Are The Stars – What Consulting Companies Can Learn from McDonalds

I have to tell you that although often you and I see eye to eye on things, I think I couldn't more thoroughly disagree with this post (and I don't mean on the whole "metrosexual developer career" thing either, although I'm pretty sure that one is debatable ;) ).

The business users, of *course* - they are the people utilizing the systems you're going to build. Then you lost me. Participation in user groups? Focus on developers? I don't mean to offend but what makes you think developers at any level are somehow more influential than the business client or the C-level officer? Especially when you are positioning bids (which is something major consulting companies would do - you know, you've worked for one (well, in theory ;) )), the developers are pretty much the *last* people you're going to be targeting in the hopes of approval.

I actually *would* go so far as to say in terms of level of influence, the developers are the "lower class", simply because in almost all cases they wield *very* little power when it comes to making or breaking bids or relationships. 5/1/2009 3:43 PM | Justice~!

# re: Practitioners Are The Stars – What Consulting Companies Can Learn from McDonalds

You missed the point of my post. I wasn't saying that you ignore the c-levels or business client. What I was saying was that you *shouldn't* ignore the practitioner levels. Those are the people that in years to come *WILL BE* the business clients and c-levels an organization will deal with.

I disagree that those lower on the totem pole have less influence. Gatekeepers and influencers can exist at all levels of a company. Those that have the ear of the business manager may be the lead developer who had a great experience seeing someone present, or who's blog they regularly read, or who they heard on a podcast recently.

Look at our BC-Turned-Albertan friend who got offered a job because someone followed his blog, and who's notoriety came from giving back into the developer community. You can't ignore the practitioners, and you have to factor it in to any sales plan of attack.

D 5/1/2009 4:02 PM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Practitioners Are The Stars – What Consulting Companies Can Learn from McDonalds

Okay, I think I understand why you thought I misunderstood you now. =) I definitely didn't read your post to mean "D'Arcy says to ignore the c-levels and business client".

Your post title says, "What consulting companies can learn from McDonalds". There is a *very* marked difference between being a sole practitioner and being a full-blown consulting *company*, because you are not winning bid work on an individual basis at that point. You are winning bid work for entire teams. Assuming you are talking about DB when you use "our BC turned Albertan friend", his work comes from people hiring him individually as a coach and not to deliver an entire project from start to finish with his own team, at least not yet. And when that happens, mark my words, it will not come because he presented at a user group! =)

When you are bidding on $2M - $20M - $200M projects as a consulting company, it is not "other practitioners" you need to convince. Why would they even factor in? Take a look at some of the RFPs you fill out as a potential vendor.

I don't want to throw cold water because sure, developers are awesome, la dee da, etc. ;) But I think it's a little much to be saying that a consulting company needs to be concerned about their opinion when coming in to do a job. Heck, if a consulting company is being brought in while developers are still there, it either indicates:
a) the upper management of the enterprise knows that the development team isn't performing up to expectations and they need help badly (our friends situation)
b) the dev team is getting *replaced*, in which case why would their opinion be considered useful?

just saying, hombre. 5/1/2009 7:37 PM | Justice~!

# re: Practitioners Are The Stars – What Consulting Companies Can Learn from McDonalds

Dude, you have got to find your own schtick. Anyone who hosts or attends a tailgating party cannot possibly claim the label of "metrosexual." You get points for ripping it off of several prominent metrosexual devs, though ;)

In most organizations of notable size, change comes from the top. 95% of the developers I know have never successfully influenced their workplaces to the point of true change just because they read blogs and paid a few thousand to attend conferences. A cursory poll of your peers will reveal this.

Ask the ones who did change their workplaces, however, and you'll find that it has nothing to do with community involvement. 5/1/2009 7:41 PM | Ms Loquacious

# re: Practitioners Are The Stars – What Consulting Companies Can Learn from McDonalds

@Justice
"There is a *very* marked difference between being a sole practitioner and being a full-blown consulting *company*, because you are not winning bid work on an individual basis at that point."

That's a wrong assumption. There are many resourcing companies that will place one to a few consultants on a project, sometimes on a project made up of consultants from different companies and from the client's IT shop.

Companies don't all have the same hierarchical scheme as well. I've done work at companies where the number of hops between practitioners and CIO/CTO or eve CEO was only a couple of jumps, if that. And when I say I've done work, I mean as an independent AND as an employee of another consulting firm.

There are also other reasons why consultants are brought in beyond the a) and b) situations you mentioned. The client may not have experience in a required/chosen technology and need expertise brought in to help implement it while mentoring their staff. There may be resource issues, where a number of projects are considered high priority but they don't have enough people to fill those needs. There are many reasons for bringing consultants in, not just negative ones.

@Mrs. L
I think you missed the point of what I was saying. Let me rephrase: Consulting companies that are trying to make inroads with clients cannot ignore those in practitioner roles within those clients; you have to market your company to the c-level group, the management group, and the practitioner groups to give yourself the best chance of winning work.

My post wasn't about people internally changing their workplaces due to community involvement, although that is a great setup for another post.

D 5/2/2009 9:07 AM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

# re: Practitioners Are The Stars – What Consulting Companies Can Learn from McDonalds

I'm going to try this in two parts because I'm getting 500 errors from your crappy-ass server. =)

You are a *crazy man*! =)

"Companies don't all have the same hierarchical scheme as well. I've done work at companies where the number of hops between practitioners and CIO/CTO or eve CEO was only a couple of jumps, if that. And when I say I've done work, I mean as an independent AND as an employee of another consulting firm."

From reading your post though, you're not talking about targeting companies of that nature anyway, because you write:

"When you look at a potential client, there are some companies that will focus on the top level people: executives, CEO’s, CIO’s, CTO’s, etc."
followed by...
"The developers, the business users, the middle managers…the people that don’t have a three letter acronym starting with ‘C’ as their title; these are the people that you cannot afford to neglect or ignore."

So given the emphasis on all aspects of this, I gathered your post was actually talking to consulting companies that are targeting businesses that have a C-level structure, middle management, business users, and practitioners. If it was describing marketing a consulting company to startups, small business, etc. I guess I missed it. I would also note that I think it's a bit naive to think that marketing a consulting company to a startup is similar to marketing a consulting company, to say, a big telco or government-based agencies. There's *completely* different rules depending on the size of the company and its structure on how decisions even get approved! Heck, even companies of the same size often have somewhat different approaches. However, one commonality is that in a large company the successful CEO is not asking the secretary for advice on how to run his/her company, which to me is what you're describing here. This is not to say practitioners, secretaries, etc. do not have their role but I think you're overstating their level of influence, especially given your post title.

In fact, you go so far as to say:
"Relationships with these people are important, absolutely. But you will have a tough time making inroads with an organization if you don’t invest time into relationships with the practitioners."
and then in a followup comment:
"You can't ignore the practitioners, and you have to factor it in to any sales plan of attack."

Even if I were to agree that developers had some influence in bids and decision-making at this sort of level, I definitely can't agree that if I have a relationship with the C-level officers but I don't with the developers that somehow I'm crippled or hindered as to say above. Now, the business client, for certain they are important and I believe pretty key, but the devs? Perhaps the problem here is that by lumping the business client - who has far greater influence than the "practitioners" - into the same group with the developers there's an implication that the developers are somehow just as influential?

And there is *no way* you will ever get me to agree you *have* to factor that into a sales plan of attack! That implies someone who doesn't consider it will somehow fail to succeed in winning business - I'm pretty sure the world states otherwise! =)
5/3/2009 1:16 AM | Justice~!

# re: Practitioners Are The Stars – What Consulting Companies Can Learn from McDonalds

"So given the emphasis on all aspects of this, I gathered your post was actually talking to consulting companies that are targeting businesses that have a C-level structure, middle management, business users, and practitioners. If it was describing marketing a consulting company to startups, small business, etc. I guess I missed it."

Maybe you haven't done alot of consulting with the small/medium/large-but-not-enterprise type of organizations? Only reason I say this is that most all will have a CEO or President or some other title...the size of the orgnaization is irrelevent, the fact that there are these positions and some people focus *only* on relationships with those people was the point.

"However, one commonality is that in a large company the successful CEO is not asking the secretary for advice on how to run his/her company, which to me is what you're describing here. This is not to say practitioners, secretaries, etc. do not have their role but I think you're overstating their level of influence, especially given your post title."

Well first its 2009, most don't have secretaries...they have "administrative assistants" you sexist bugger. (Note, that was a joke :) ). In seriousness, my comments for this area come from experience: while past organizations have made connections with the c-levels, we also initiated relationships with the middle management, practitioners, and business users. These relationships *did* help us win future work because of the time we took. My suggestions here aren't just being pulled out of the sky, they're commentary on success I've seen in the past.

"Perhaps the problem here is that by lumping the business client - who has far greater influence than the "practitioners" - into the same group with the developers there's an implication that the developers are somehow just as influential?"

You need to think long term Justice. The practitioners may or may not hold influence today, but those practitioners may be the middle management or c-level people in the near future.

"And there is *no way* you will ever get me to agree you *have* to factor that into a sales plan of attack! That implies someone who doesn't consider it will somehow fail to succeed in winning business - I'm pretty sure the world states otherwise!"

That's ok...I kinda hope that other consulting companies share your view...it just means that business will be that much easier for us to get in the future. ;)

Now stop fighting me on this...I have politically charged posts to write on my other blog. ;)

D

5/3/2009 3:56 PM | D'Arcy from Winnipeg

Post a comment